I Claudia: My lie was smellin’ when I visited Ellen

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

The truth shall set you free! 

            It’s 2015. I’ve decided to start this year by exposing a skeleton in my closet. Journalism is a profession that requires trust and credibility.

It is best I own up now before I become famous and the entertainment journalists’ get a hold of this. 

            Sigh! Here it May of 2008, I won a 2008 Buick Enclave on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show’ under false pretenses.

            I know. I know. You’re shocked and disappointed. Me too! 

But, I can explain.

            I love the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.’’ I discovered it when I left corporate America to become a stay-at-home mom, when my daughter, Donae, was born seven years ago.

 I was flicking through channels one afternoon and witnessed this trendy, white lady, breaking it down to hip-hop music. Not only was the audience engaged, they were practically forming a “Soul Train” line with her.

It was contagious.

With Donae strapped on me in her baby sling, I busted a few moves myself. 

            I found Ellen to be fresh, entertaining and funny. From that day forward, I held a standing reservation with her program. During one of those episodes she announced she’d be taping a show in Chicago and I declared, “I will be in that audience!”

            The problem was, despite my efforts, I couldn’t get tickets.

            The Mike Haggerty Buick GMC dealership in Oak Lawn was one of Ellen’s sponsors.

 They had a ticket sweepstakes but I didn’t win there either.

I started begging family members to enter and my brother-in-law became the one to manifest my win. However, retrieving the tickets wasn’t instantaneous and he didn’t want to play any further. So, I told him I’d take care of everything, all he’d have to do was attend the show. He acquiesced and gave me the producer’s information so I could complete the process of securing our seats. I had an unsubstantiated theory that Ellen’s producer might be reluctant to communicate with anyone other than him, so I claimed to be his wife.

            BIG MISTAKE!

            The producer I corresponded with was Kara Hogan. Her infectious personality was alluring. She appreciated my enthusiasm for the Ellen show. She asked if my husband and I would be interested in arriving to the show early so she could thank us in person. She said we would be joined by a few other Ellen fans and we’d also receive preferred seating.

            “Would we?” I said. “We’d be thrilled.”

            I now needed to inform my fake husband/brother-in-lawof this honor we were being bestowed. He wasn’t happy about the façade but he didn’t figure my little lie would pose a problem. Well, that little lie began to snowball and became a boulder that couldn’t be concealed. And, I wasn’t the only person hurt when it rolled.

            On the day of the taping, we were grouped with about 20 selected fans. All audience members are required to sign waivers upon entry. And, it’s explained that anyone can be randomly selected by Ellen from the audience during the show. Knowing that gave me a surge of desire.

            “Pick me. Pick me”, I said in my mind. The law of attraction did not disappoint.

            Ellen has a game segment where audience members get to compete for prizes. I nearly jumped three feet when I heard her call me and my brother-in-law to the stage to play.

The memory holds extra significance because the late Robin Williams was her celebrity guest that day. He was still on stage when we were called up. I couldn’t believe I was sharing the stage with Ellen and Robin Williams in front of a live audience of 5,000.

We chatted, danced and joked. Then, we started the game segment. Me, my brother-in-law, along with about 15 audience members, including Robin and Ellen all had to cram inside a Buick Enclave within a certain period of time in order to win.

            Robin kept yelling, “Get the seats down. You gotta get them seats down!”             I just remember rolling into a ball, eyes closed, praying we were all in before hearing the buzzer sound. I thought we were playing for a Tivo or maybe a TV. But, when the game ended, Ellen handed me the key to a 2008 Buick Enclave valued at $45,000. 

            I screamed until I depleted my lungs and nearly fainted.

            My fervor dissipated when it came time to officially claim the prize. The waivers my fake husband and I filled out revealed different addresses. Mine in particular, had my actual husband, Don’s name listed as my emergency contact.

               We were BUSTED!  I won a car and lost my credibility.

               I felt awful! I e-mailed Kara to apologize and she replied saying, “Was this really for the ticket? I liked you the minute we chatted... I was really looking forward to meeting you and loved your didn't have to lie...we would’ve wanted you there no matter if he was your husband or in-law... life is too short for betraying who you are for a ticket to the Ellen show.”

               I’ll always regret losing the opportunity to become Kara’s friend and that I left her with the impression I was a dishonest person. But, I also recognize what happen wasn’t my intention. And therefore have released the shame and self-condemning thoughts of association. No-one exercises perfect judgment 100 percent of the time. A common best practice is to own your mistakes by confessing them and asking forgiveness. If your heart is sincere, you will feel free. The truth always prevails.

               What happened to the car? Well, since me and my brother-in-law weren’t an actual married couple, it was awarded to him because he was the official ticket winner. He gave it to my mother-in-law, who had been praying for a new vehicle.

               She still drives it today and gives God total credit for the blessing, as she should. 

Thanking those with thankless jobs

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineEach Christmas season, I get up early on garbage pickup day, and wait.
 I’m not worried about getting the garbage cans out to the curb. I’m always worried I’ll miss giving the drivers their Christmas gifts when they drive their routes, grabbing and dumping each of the huge containers lined up along the curbs.
They have thankless jobs. We’ve been taught to look down on them. But we shouldn’t. We should thank them. They do the hard work we take for granted, even if the technology has changed.
Years ago there were three workers on a sanitation truck, and they had to lift the huge cans themselves. Now, there is one driver, and the truck has a mechanical arm that lifts and empties the containers.
Of course, now we also have three trucks. One for garbage. One for recycling. And one for yard waste, three seasons of the year.
(ON a side note. This change was never planned. The garbage can is larger than the recycling can, but these days, recycling is 90 percent of my waste. The recycling can is packed and the garbage can is near empty.)
Every year for the past 24 years, the same kid (now a man) has been picking up the garbage at my house in Orland Park. He has one of those jobs where you have to be out there when everyone else is usually enjoying the day off.
We don’t often get a chance to talk. I don’t even remember his name – age has taken a toll on the memory. But he deserves a Happy Holiday greeting, too.
“Merry Christmas,” I yell, the truck noise makes it hard for me to hear myself.
“Merry Christmas,” he yells back, standing in the door of the truck where he manages the controls wearing a red bandana. “I wish I could be home this morning like everyone else.”
“Yeah, I know. You guys have the toughest job. This is just a little something to thank you for all you do. I hope you and your family have a great Christmas.” I said as I handed him the gift.
 When it’s over, it makes me feel good, because that’s what Christmas is supposed to be all about.
Not taking.
Helping others, not being selfish.
It shouldn’t be about shopping, sales discounts, or buying the latest high-tech gadgets. 
A few minutes later, the recycling driver pulls up to the driveway and I wish him Merry Christmas with a small gift, too.
You should have seen the surprise and smile on their faces. It made my day.
Later, I’ll catch the mailman. The mailman’s dad used to own a pizza place back when I was a kid in Burbank. His brother was one of my classmates at Reavis High school. They lived only a few blocks away.
When I happen to be home when he delivers the mail, usually on Saturdays, we spend a few minutes remembering “the old days.” It was a better time, I think.
It’s a great feeling, folks. If you are able to give, you should take a moment to think of the people who help make our homes real homes.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to thank the people around you. Not just the ones you work with every day, but the ones you might take for granted. If you can’t give them cash, a simple thank you will do.
A “thank you” can go a long way.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Battle to replace Topinka is all about the politics

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineYou get a honeymoon when you win office, but there is no honeymoon in the political afterlife.
Before Judy Baar Topinka was buried, a battle between the Democrats and Republicans was already erupting over who would take Topinka’s place as Illinois comptroller.
It’s not like the office of comptroller is the most important state office. Sure, it isn’t.
But the real issue is that Topinka was a Republican who held a statewide office and that is not so common in Illinois, which is a deep Blue State held by Democrats 
Although the new governor, Bruce Rauner, is a Republican, it’s more of a reflection on outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn’s failures as a state executive than any seismic shift in Illinois politics that gave Republicans an edge.
Quinn blew this election with one of the worst election campaigns I have seen in 40 years driven by his lack of loyalty to supporters, and an enormous failure to reach out to mainstream suburban Cook County voters.
It wasn’t a surprise at all.
Quinn argues that for the sake of voters, the person appointed to replace Topinka should be forced to seek election in two years in 2016 rather than in four years in 2018 when the Topinka term actually would expire.
Quinn is driven by bitterness – the kind he showed on election night when he refused to man-up and concede defeat. But his colleagues are driven by spoils. The bottom line is the state Democrats want the comptroller’s office back that Topinka, a Republican took.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a ruling last week that basically said that outgoing Governor Quinn has the power to appoint a person to take over Topinka’s remaining term, which ends in January at the swearing in of a new comptroller.
Madigan, a bright and brilliant state officer holder herself, said that incoming Gov. Rauner has the power to appoint the person to replace Topinka in the new four-year term that she won in the November election.
Topinka died at a very politically inopportune moment, between winning the election and getting sworn in to a new term.
Madigan’s ruling was based on existing state law that does not require a special election to be held in two years, but instead should be held when the state elections are next scheduled in November 2018. She did say she believed that voters should be given the chance to elect a replacement in two-years.
Quinn has called the legislature back into special session Jan. 8, a week before Rauner is sworn in to succeed him, which is an unneeded added cost to taxpayers.
The Republicans won the office fair and square.
Voters, despite being heavily Democratic in Illinois, soundly backed not only Rauner to replace Quinn but also re-elected Topinka by a wide margin.
Those calling for the costly special election argue it best reflects the interests of the voters.
 But I think the interests of the voters were clearly determined in November 2014, when voters overwhelmingly endorsed Rauner and Topinka as the only two Republicans to hold statewide office in a field crowded with Democrats. 
Topinka’s successor should be a Republican chosen by the Republican Party. 
That should be respected. And I happen to be a Democrat. A “Reagan Democrat” but a Democrat nonetheless. 

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Social media shows we're not as racially tolerant as we thought

  • Written by Bob Rakow


“They” were at Chicago Ridge Mall the Saturday after Christmas.


I know this because some people who post on Facebook said so.


As you know by now, there was a melee, riot, fight, disturbance at the mall that caused stores to be locked down and the building evacuated.


Police from several communities—some carrying rifles, others joined by their canine companions—descended on the mall at 95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue as shoppers as well as teens who were simply hanging out ran for the exits.


It turned out that a fight in the food court led to chaos when word that gunshots were fired spread throughout the mall. Turns out the sound of gunshots was really restaurant worker in the food court banged some pots together to disperse the crowd.


A few hours later after the incident, several local Facebook pages blew up. And while many posters voiced genuine concerns and raised serious questions about mall security, others spoke using the not-so-difficult-to-decipher code words that said “they” were responsible for the incident at the mall.


It’s the same disgusting code that substitutes the word “Canadians” for blacks or led a woman I once knew to run her fingers across her hand when she was referring to African-Americans. Her objective, I guess, was to indicate a different color of skin without speaking.


Saturday’s incident was shocking and disturbing. No one goes to the mall and expects to be threatened by sudden mob action that causes crowds of people to scream and shout with fear as they head for the doors.


Similar incidents happened at other malls throughout the county over the weekend. It’s a situation that Chicago Ridge Mall management in cooperation with the village of Chicago Ridge has already addressed by considering a youth escort policy that would prevent teens from gathering in the mall during certain hours without having an adult companion.

North Riverside Mall has had such a policy in place for more than a year.


The action at Chicago Ridge Mall reportedly involved some black youths. To say so does not make one a racist. The problem is, once some people discovered that black teens were involved, they were off to the races.


One poster noted: “Nothing but savages. And they wonder why good people don't want them in their schools, in their stores, in their neighborhoods.”

First, who are the good people? And who gave them control of the schools, stores and neighborhoods?

Scary mindset, no? Not for some. Not for those who lack the ability to stand back and place an incident into context. It’s easier, you see, to blame an entire race for the actions of a few members of that race.

Let’s face it. Times have changed. White folks can’t drop the N-bomb or make openly disparaging remarks about various minorities like they did 50 years ago.

As a result, I believe we’ve been lulled into a false notion that the last remnants of racism have disappeared.

Think again.

Many Facebook posts I saw over the weekend proved that a more subtle, camouflaged racism is still alive and well among some people. And when an incident such as the one at Chicago Ridge Mall occurs, they pounce on it to reinforce their racist thinking.


My daughter and two friends were in the food court when the melee broke out. One of her friends is African-American. She’s an honors student, plays in the school band, is heavily involved at school and is exceeding polite.


She’s clearly never going to be involved in a mob action at a mall. But when Facebook posters toss around words like “savages” and other hateful epithets, they wound my daughter’s friend and her self-esteem all the same.


I recall an evening more than 35 years ago playing softball at Rosenwald Park on the Southwest Side of Chicago. I looked over my shoulder as I stood in the outfield and saw a group of white boys chase a black boy who was riding his bike. This kid was pedaling for dear life. No question he’d have taken a beating if the white kids caught him.


Back then, Western Avenue was the line of demarcation between black and white neighborhoods. As long as both sides stayed where they belonged, we’d all be fine. It’s the way we thought back then. Sadly, it’s how many of us were raised.


It didn’t work out that way. Many racial barriers dissolved and we’re better for it.


While many Facebook posts were difficult to read, I found one that was especially encouraging.


“I understand that there are a lot of things going on in our country and our own backyard, but please be respectful and watch how you phrase things. Using words and phrases like “them,” “animals,” “savages,” “ghetto” (and) “cage them all up” is very offensive. I don't support this inflammatory wording on either side of the race card and neither should any of you.”

Well said.


Accuracy in Reporting


Note to Facebook posters: knock it off with dangerous misinformation like “shots fired at the mall.” The situation was bad enough without people insisting, even after police officials reported otherwise, that they heard shots. 


I get that everyone wants to be first to social media with information, especially when it’s something critical like a crime or emergency. But try to follow the “better to be right than to be first” credo we journalists abide by before you comment.


'My best Christmas ever'

  • Written by Don C. White


 Don C. White of Palos Hills shares a lemonade toast with his grandson, Samuel, in Joliet last week.   Don recovered from complications after an open-heart surgery and said he hopes to be around many years while Samuel grows up. photo by Jeff Vorva.

 Editor’s note: The Reporter’s history columnist, Don C. White of Palos Hills, had open heart surgery in October and we were dismayed to find out during a phone call shortly after the surgery that there were some complications. After a longer-than-expected recovery, White, 76,   was back to his computer keyboard earlier this month and writing with a fresh outlook on life. The following column contains his thoughts after what he calls his “adventure”:

This will be my best Christmas ever.

Two years ago, my grandson, Samuel, said “Grandpa, are you going to be around when I grow up?’’

He was about eight years old then and it was a pretty profound question, I told him “Samuel, I’m doing everything I can to be here for you.’’

I had open-heart surgery performed on Oct. 15 and it didn’t go quite as planned.  But when it was over, I thanked the surgeon and told that he just accomplished will help me be there for Sam.

 I was admitted to the hospital on Oct. 14 to prepare for the next day’s surgery. 

The surgeon stopped by and explained that the procedure would be two by-passes, not four as he had originally thought.  Another doctor stopped in to mark my legs for the location of where they would harvest the veins to be used. 

The surgeon explained to my wife, Helen, and son, David, that the double bypass surgery should take around three or four hours.  They spent the entire day and late into the night waiting and getting updates from the surgery team and the surgeon.

I was taken into the surgery prep area and work began to get me ready for my adventure.

One of the last things I remember was one of the nurses from the pacemaker clinic coming in to adjust my settings lower for surgery.  I was introduced to some of the surgical team and a general anesthetic was started to mellow me out. 

And it did. 

I do remember being wheeled toward the surgery center and then it was lights out for a while.

The procedure went smoothly, but when they were getting ready to close me up that’s when the problems began.  When they removed a clamp from my aorta a small tear developed and bleeding occurred.  Because the aorta wall was so thin, they were unable to suture the tear.  They had to put me back on the heart-lung bypass and cool me down to 28 degrees before they could make the repair. 

After the repair, I was rewarmed and taken off the bypass machine.  The surgery had taken between seven and eight hours.  Needless to say, my wife and son, as well as the surgery team, were stressed. 

Me? I just enjoyed a little longer nap and was oblivious to the entire procedure. 

After I was closed up -- wired and glued back together and stabilized in the operating room -- I was taken to ICU for recovery.   The next couple of days were not even a blur for me,

I don’t remember anything that happened to me.

I was told that at some point they attempted to put a feeding tube in through my nose and down my throat – but I tried to fight them off. 

I wasn’t trying to be a pain the butt, but I guess sometimes I was.  Again, I don’t have memory of much of this. 

 Samuel called me and said, “Grandpa I love you.”   But I didn’t know what Samuel said.

At some point the feeding tube was taken out and I was able to start eating a regular healthy diet.  Well, one of the problems that sometimes occurs after surgery and sedation is that your taste buds go on vacation. Mine did and seven weeks later they pretty much still are.

This is one of the reasons that I wanted to get home as soon as possible so I could get some tasty food in my system.  So far that has not helped much, but is getting better each day.

I spent a total of nine days at the Hines V.A. Hospital.  I was discharged on Oct. 22.

 I just want to say how much I appreciate the wonderful care that I received. 

Was it perfect? 

Well, no, but the T.L.C. (tender loving care) that I received made me want to do the best I could to help them help me.  I think it worked and I know that my hospital care helped me get better and on the road to recovery.

I am writing again. I am driving. I am back to work at my Ace Hardware job and Helen and I are looking forward to going back to our volunteer duties at Hines.  It has been an uphill battle and I could not have done it without Helen, David and the rest of my family’s love and support.   

 At this Christmas season, I want to give thanks to God for guiding the surgeons’ hands.  Also, thanks to all of you who prayed and sent your good wishes for my recovery.  I have been truly blessed to have Helen by my side throughout this adventure.  God bless you my wonderful wife.

Again, this will be my best Christmas ever. This surgery makes understand what’s important of what’s going on in my life and to be here for my family.