Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Remembering Jiro


You may have noticed that I've mentioned the name Fusayo Hattori in 2 or 3 of these essays recently.

Fusayo is a longtime friend from Japan with whom we exchange Christmas gifts every year, and exchange email messages frequently.

It wasn't easy reading some of things in an email Fusayo sent me a couple of days ago.

In it, she wrote, "Today, January 15 is the anniversary of Jiro's death 17 years ago. I remember, Ron, that you and Jiro were good friends. You always remembered Jiro. You sent me an email of some memories of Jiro. I was so glad, and I was touched by your email."

We became friends of Fusayo and Jiro a number of years ago through the Friendship Force, an international organization that promotes friendship with people throughout the world.

When the Des Moines chapter of Friendship Force organized an exchange with Japan, we were paired up with Fusayo and Jiro.

Consequently, we lived for a week in Japan with Fusayo, Jiro and their two daughters, Yumi and Yuki. 

The following week, we stayed in the home of a family in another city in Japan.

We had a tremendous time with Fusayo and Jiro. They were intelligent, fun-loving people who treated us to a fantastic week full of everything Japanese.

Money seemed to be of no concern to Jiro, who was connected with a number of Mazda dealerships in Japan.

We did all the things Americans are supposed to do in Japan, including visiting Mount Fuji [Japan's highest mountain], the nation's vast green tea fields and just about every type of Japanese restaurant anyone could imagine.

The way I recall it, most of the meals at Fusayo and Jiro's home was catered in.

But we ate out frequently, and one particular trip to a fancy sushi bar really appealed to me.

Jiro had me outfitted with an sushi bar worker's authentic uniform, including a bandana, and and arranged to have me treat diners to the best food a Japanese restaurant could offer.

I stayed behind the counter for a while before sitting with the other restaurant patrons.

I can't recall all the food we had--courtesy of Jiro--but it all was delicious. I'm sure I ate some stuff I hadn't dined on before, and haven't dined on since.

Our friendship with the Hattori family has continued ever since that first visit to Japan.

The year after that, Fusayo and Jiro sent daughters Yumi and Yuki to West Des Moines to stay for a week or so with us.

Yumi and Yuki must have given us a good report because Fusayo and Jiro flew to the U.S. and stayed with us in our home the following summer.

I reminded Fusayo in an email yesterday that the highlight of that week was football media day at Iowa City when Hayden Fry was the Hawkeyes' coach.

I had alerted the Iowa sports information office that I would be bringing Jiro to Iowa's preseason press conference and the activities that followed on the football field.

Fry made friends with Jiro immediately by saying a couple of Japanese words to him. That was a  very nice thing for ol' Hayden to do.

George Wine, Phil Haddy and others on Iowa's sports information staff went along with Jiro's visit in first class fashion.

Reporters wear name tags at media day, with the writer's name and employer included.

The sports information guys provided Jiro with a name tag that said: 

Tokyo Times

Jiro got a bigtime charge out of that, so did Hayden Fry and so did I.

Fusayo, who had gone shopping with Maxine in downtown Iowa City during the time Jiro and I were at the press conference and on the football field, couldn't believe it when she saw Jiro's name tag.

That wasn't the end of it.

In those days, Iowa's sports information people treated a few sportswriters and broadcasters to a media day dinner at The Lark, a wonderful restaurant in nearby Tiffin.

The two of us, plus Jiro and Fusayo, were included in the group that day.

Following a glass or bottle or two of something or other, George Wine & Co. told Jiro and Fusayo they could order anything on the menu.

When Fusayo and Jiro were finished eating some of the best steak and seafood anywhere, Jiro insisted on paying the bill for everyone.

But that was out of the question. Iowa paid for it, and I will forever be grateful to the very nice people there for their kindnesses.

On another night during the same visit to West Des Moines by Jiro and Hattori, Jiro said he wanted to prepare dinner for all of us at our home.

So I took him to the Dahls supermarket that then was located on 50th Street in West Des Moines.

Jiro ordered all the groceries he needed, and also found some high-powered sake [prounced sock-ee], the Japanese alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.

Let's put it this way, sake was served and consumed often when Jiro was around, whether we were in Japan or West Des Moines.

Sadly, the trip here by Jiro and Fusayo turned out to be the last time we saw Jiro.

I guess it was in 1999 that we were planning to fly to Japan again to visit the Hattori family.

However, I went to an emergency room the night before we were supposed to leave. One of the doctors there told me, "I think you have pneumonia and I'm worried about you."

An hour later I was in a bed at Iowa Methodist Hospital in downtown Des Moines. I sayed there 12 days, and underwent surgery on a lung so the pneumonia could be swept from my body.

Consequently, we didn't get to make the trip to Japan that year.

The situation worsened after that.

I received an email from Fusayo saying Jiro had died of lung cancer at 63 years of age.

We were able to go to Japan to visit Fusayo at some point after that, and she and I have been communicating electronically and we have been exchanging Christmas gifts ever since.

At the end of Fusayo's email to me this week, she wrote: "I hope you are in good health. Please drink Japanese tea. Good for the health."

"Good for the health" was always what Jiro would say to me when he and I drank Japanese green tea together.

Sad stuff.

A note from both of us to Fusayo: Jiro was a wonderful man and you are a wonderful woman. We miss Jiro very much, and we miss you very much. Hopefully, we will visit you soon. We love you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Brass Monkeys & Other Stuff


I'm discovering that a lot of you enjoy reading these essays when I write about the occasional visits My Neighbor Al makes to my home.

One of the pleasures of Al's life is drinking Italian Dark Roast coffee, and he knows the pot is always on in my kitchen.

I've found from experience that when Al starts drinking coffee he gets more humorous and more opinionated by the minute. 

He tends to stay that way until his wife Diane calls his cell phone to tell him she's got a long grocery list and that they'd better get their fannies to Fareway.

The reader response on my Facebook page was extremely high after I wrote about Al showing up at my home late last month to ask about the Christmas gifts I had received, and to encourage me, for various reasons, to pray a lot in 2017.

I'm trying to follow Al's advice, but it's still just January, so it's anybody's guess on how it's all going to work out.

That brings us to today....

Al rang the doorbell late this morning, and when I served up his first cup of Italian Dark Roast he wanted to know if I was feeling all right.

"What do you mean am I all right?" I asked.

"Well, I thought you were under the weather because you haven't been doing any writing lately," Al said.  "Ronnie, my boy, I miss you when you're not on Facebook--especially when you write about me."

"Al, you're right about me not writing lately," I said. "I decided to take a week off after the trip last weekend to Minnesota for the funeral of my nephew."

"What do you mean you took a week off?" Al said. "You're retired, aren't you?"

"Yes, I'm retired, Al, but what I meant was that I took a week off from writing. It's supposed to be a hobby at this stage of my life, you know.  Some guys make birdhouses in their garage when they retire. I write stuff on my laptop. The writing comes easy to me, but it seemed to be turning into an every-day job in recent weeks.

"I thought I was emotionally drained after writing about so much sadness in a short amount of time.

"It was tough enough to write about my nephew's death, but I also wrote about the deaths of Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher, the death of an Iowa guy who was run over by a tractor, and the train wrecks that Iowa and Ohio State had in their bowl games.

"I decided to fly under the radar for a while after all of that. A lot of what I did for several days was listen to Fifties music on that computer/keyboard gizmo Mark, my son, installed here at home, with some daily trips mixed in to a place where I do my indoor walking.

"I didn't completely shut myself off from the world.  I made sure I went to Valley's gym Tuesday night so I could watch the Tigers sweep their boys/girls doubleheader against Dowling, and I plan to go to tonight's Valley-Ankeny doubleheader, too. I also made it to Wednesday's pie-and-coffee session. But I wrote nothing.

"Mostly, I got some quiet time and relaxation. Now I feel a lot better. Maybe even recharged."

"Recharged? What the hell does that mean?" Al asked. "I thought that only happened to batteries. Whatever, I'm glad you're doing better, and I'm pretty sure what I tell you today won't cause you to have a relapse."

"Go with it, Al," I said. "I'm ready."

"Well, I'll bet when you have an appointment to visit one of your many doctors, there will occasionally be a student doctor coming into the room with him or her.

"I don't particularly like it when my doctor has a student--particularly a female student doctor--with her."

Why not, I asked.

"Because I maybe want to discuss my prostate, my 
hemorrhoids, a particular itch I might have below my belt, or some other personal issue, that's why," Al said. 

"In fact, I had an appointment a couple of days ago with my family doctor, and a female student doctor came into the room, too. Made me nervous."

Not so nervous that Al wasn't able to ask the student doctor a question or two.

"I asked her if she was a student at DMACC," Al said. "The student doctor said, 'Not DMACC. I go to DMU, which is short for Des Moines University.'"

Al said he apologized to the girl for thinking she went to DMACC.

"I told her I knew she wasn't going someplace where she could learn to be a welder," Al said.

"That upset the real doctor. She told me there's nothing wrong with being a welder."

Getting back to Al not being comfortable when a student doctor is in the room, I said, "Hey, Al, I know you're old-school, but worrying about saying something about your hemorrhoids or an itch in your crotch in front of a female student doctor is really old-fashioned behavior," I said. "Grow up already. The female student doctors have a lot more savvy and maturity than you.

"So how did it go at your appointment?" 

Al said he avoided talking about his prostate, his hemorrhoids and his crotch, instead concentrating on the persistent cough he has, which he's always blamed on 25 years of 2-pack-a-day smoking as a younger guy.

"The doctor said I had some mild bronchitis, and prescribed an antibiotic," Al said.

"Good, that should make you feel better in a few days," I said.

"Not if this weather doesn't improve," Al said. 
"On days like we've had lately, my dad used to start talking about what freezing weather does to brass monkeys."

"Why brass monkeys [one of which is pictured]?" I asked.

Then I remembered.

"Hey, Al, don't tell me any more about freezing weather and the anatomy of brass monkeys," I said. 

"I'd prefer not writing R-rated stuff like that on Facebook. A lot of my church friends read what I write here, and I don't want them to think you and I sit around talking about stuff like that when we drink coffee."


"Ronnie, my boy, I think you'd better take another week off, and fly under the radar some more," Al said. "You still seem emotionally drained to me. Besides, I thought you were praying a lot like your pastor and I keep telling you to do.

"Pour me another cup before Diane calls my cell phone."

Friday, January 6, 2017


This is a very difficult one for me to write.

I mean, how do you make any sense out of a guy my age going to the funeral tomorrow morning
for his 50-year-old nephew?

It's not supposed to be that way.

Lance Maly died Monday of brain cancer.

The young man fought that devastating thing as hard as anyone has ever fought a disease.

He volunteered for medical trials in hopes of ridding his body of the cancer.

He battled valiantly for a year. He battled valiantly right up to the end.

 A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata, MN.

Many of you knew Lance's dad--my brother Phil,  a longtime sportswriter and sports editor in Des Moines, Davenport and Decorah.

It shocked us all when Phil died at 53.

Now his son is gone at 50.

That shocks me even more.

Like I said, it makes no sense.

Lance, born in Des Moines and a 1989 graduate of the University of Iowa, made it big in the business world.

He owned his own company, he had a beautiful family, he had a beautiful home.

He was a great family man, a church-going Catholic, a runner, a golfer. 

He lived life the way it's supposed to be lived.

Lance [pictured] is survived by his wife of 23 years, Maureen; daughter Caitlin;  son Luke; mother Mary Jane Maly; sister Michelle Hanson; brother-in-law Carter Hanson, and many others.

Lance was a very good man.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

It's a French Silk Afternoon


You'd have thought the big spenders had arrived at Village Inn on this mighty cold afternoon.

The eight of us--Mike, Chuck, Larry, Bob, the two Daves and the two Rons--had just sat down at the circular table in the middle of the room when the restaurant manager came over to greet us.

"So you're back after a couple of weeks," the guy said. "Someone here was wondering where you'd been, and we figured you took the holidays off."

It was Wednesday.

Free Pie Day.

Big spenders these guys aren't.

Most of 'em pay something like $2.53 for their coffee and plenty of refills. Someone might have ice tea, and that costs a little more.

Like I said, the pie is on the house.

Mine was French Silk [pictured], and, yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

The manager was correct. We took the Wednesdays of the holiday weeks off.

But it was back to business today, rehashing the bowl games, how Iowa simply didn't have enough speed  to keep up with Florida  in the shocking 30-3 Outback Bowl loss, whether any of our state's four major-college men's basketball teams will make the NCAA's Big Dance, whether Drake's women's team can win the Missouri Valley Conference championship, stuff like that.

Lots of ideas, few solutions. That's how it goes every Wednesday.

The French Silk was outstanding.  Everyone went home happy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Be Careful Out There


Even though I live in a state famous for its farms, I know little or nothing about them.

I have visited just 2 or 3 Iowa farms in my
entire life.

One visit was when I was kid, the other 2 were when I was an adult.

I enjoyed all of the visits, especially one when I was an adult.  I liked the serenity associated with the farms.

I also happen to own a T-shirt with the words "AMERICA NEEDS FARMERS" on the front, and I wear it proudly.

I certainly know how important farms are to this state. Lots and lots of food is produced on them.

That said, I also know farms can be very dangerous.

As a kid, I  would hear gruesome stories about farmers dying when their tractors overturned on them.

I once was told about a farmer being killed when he gored by a bull he owned. 

Before I get too deep into this, I want to say I realize that there are plenty of dangers in Iowa's cities and towns, too.

I know people are getting killed by guns, knives and cars every day and every night.

I guess I began thinking about farm tragedies  when I heard news reports about a horrible accident this week on an Iowa farm.

One man was killed and one was injured while they were repairing a tractor.

The tractor somehow slipped into gear and ran over both men.

One man was pronounced dead at the scene. The other man was taken to a hospital with injuries.


Once I began thinking about this subject, I began doing some research.  On the Internet, Brady Preston Gronlund PC writes that the most common types of serious farm mishaps are:

Tractor overturn deaths. Each year approximately 100 U.S. farmers are killed when their tractors roll over while being used.

Farm structure falls. Many farmers suffer serious injuries in falls from grain bins, ladders, haymows or other farm buildings.

Farm machine entanglements.  Farmers can be seriously maimed, disfigured or killed when they  become caught in farm machinery such as augers.

Suffocation accidents. Farm workers may become trapped in grain bins or silos where they are suffocated. Others may become trapped in enclosed spaces that do not have proper oxygen levels or that are contaminated with silo gas or manure gas.

I realize that none of that is pleasant reading.

Now I'm sorry I got into this subject.

Next time I promise I'll write about movies, football or My Neighbor Al.

Meanwhile, be careful out there--whether you live on a farm or in the city. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Fifth Straight Iowa Bowl Loss


You know it's an ugly day for Hawkeye football when the most positive development  is that athletic director Gary Barta announces the price of season tickets for next season won't increase.

Otherwise, Iowa fans would like to forget the rest of what happened today at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

On the field in the Outback Bowl,  the situation was awful.

Iowa [8-5] was clobbered by Florida, 30-3--the first time a Hawkeye team went without a touchdown in a bowl game since Hayden Fry's 1993 squad lost to California, 37-3, in the Alamo Bowl.

The paper was still paying me to watch and write about football games in 1993.

It was no more fun writing about the 34-point loss than watching it.

Today's defeat was Iowa's fifth in a row, and the Hawkeyes' all-time bowl record fell to 14-15-1.  

"It was a tough day for our football team," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters after the game. "Our team really had a good month, they practiced and prepared well. I'm not sure there's a thing I'd go back and change. Ultimately, we didn't play well enough to come up with a victory."

Austin Appleby [who I assume is not related to the late Bud Appleby of Des Moines] was the Florida quarterback who engineered the victory, and he was named the player of the game.

Appleby passed for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Oddly enough, this was the fourth time Appleby had played against Iowa. His first three were when he played at Purdue.

However, he lost his starting job with the Boilermakers, and transferred to Florida.

Wise decision, Austin.

The loss tacked a sour close to Iowa's season, which had impressive November  victories over Michigan, Illinois and Nebraska in the Big Ten.

However, Florida [9-4] scored more points against the Hawkeyes than those 3 Big Ten teams combined.

Don't ask me what the  Gators' lopsided victory today says about the proud old Big Ten.

Iowa quarterback C. J. Beathard didn't play well in his final collegiate game, completing just 7 passes in 23 attempts for 55 yards.

He was intercepted three times and played much of the last half with a hamstring injury.

TV commentator Ed Cunningham kept telling viewers on ABC that Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz should get Beathard out of the game because he was favoring his gimpy leg.

Cunningham must've said it a half-dozen times that Ferentz needed  a quarterback change. But it didn't happen until the final minutes.

 Iowa's offense wasn't a complete flop.

Akrum Wadley ran for 115 yards, giving the Hawkeyes two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time. 

Wadley, a junior, finished with 1,081, and LeShun Daniels wound up with 1,058 after gaining 45 today.

But in today's Florida sunshine, it didn't matter.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Buckeyes Embarrass Themselves


This was the New Year's Eve laugher to end all laughers--New Year's Eve or any other eve.

At halftime tonight, here's what I wrote: The stadium scoreboard reads: Clemson 17, Ohio State 0.

Evidently the Buckeyes' team plane has not yet departed the airport in Columbus, Ohio.

They are no-shows in their Fiesta Bowl collegiate football playoff football game at Glendale, AZ

Well, sports fans, coach Urban Meyer and his Ohio State never did show up for this game.

Clemson demolished the Buckeyes, 31-0, in a game that thoroughly embarrassed Ohio State, Meyer and the Big Ten Conference.

It was the first time a team coached by Meyer had been shut out and the first time Ohio State had been blanked since 1993.

I guess Penn State, which whipped the Buckeyes during the regular season, belonged in the four-team national playoff instead of Ohio State after all.

It's hard to believe the Buckeyes could be so bad in a game of this magnitude.

Even Woody Hayes had to be rolling over in his grave after this one.

Hayes, of course, was the guy who became the face of Ohio state football in the previous century.

He coached the Buckeyes for 28 years, before leaving in disgrace. He was fired after punching a Clemson [yes, Clemson] player, Charlie Bauman, late in the 1978 Gator Bowl.

I'm wondering what Hayes thought of tonight's debacle against Clemson.

Whatever, it will be Alabama against Clemson the Jan. 9 game that will decide collegiate football's national championship.

Believe me, those are the two teams that belong in the title game.

It figures to be a dandy.