Little Gems

By Ron Ciancutti

I enjoy the sport of fishing, but I’m not much of a fisherman. It’s my lack of patience that makes it tough. I love all the perks that go with fishing—the water, the quiet surroundings, the casual conversation, the social aspect of the whole thing—but there’s not enough action. Waiting and waiting for a hit while the hook dangles in the water—it just gets to me. I know some guys cast well and adorn their lines with incredibly tempting lures, and they reel in and cause all kinds of action to attract the fish, but I just find no fun in that. I’m glad they do, and more power to them, but I just don’t have the appreciation for it.

I tried collecting things: Hot Wheels cars when I was little, stamps, rare coins, baseball hats. Those went the same route—too boring. Nothing really to it, you know?

Out Of Thin Air
People always tell me that I should write a book. They read one of my short stories and say, “Ronnie, when you retire, you must sit down and compose your novel.” It sounds good, very flattering, and I have tried it dozens of times, but I get bored trying to stay with it. Inevitably, I see a quick ending to what I’ve written so far, conclude it, and find I have written another short story.

But as I have written stories and dispensed advice to friends and family over the years, there’s one thing I did wind up collecting that I never really thought about until someone asked, “How do you do that?”

“Do what?” I asked.

“Pull a perfectly applicable quote out of thin air.”

“I do that?” I asked.

“All of the time.”

I guess I do. The more I think about it, the more accurate that statement is. I actually match a moment with an emotion and envision a scene that matches what I am sensing or feeling. If a quotation comes with the scene—all the better—but I also know that, if there isn’t a memorable line that goes with the moment, I will simply describe the scene.

Like the famous scene in the movie The Great Santini, when the overbearing father challenges his son to a one-on-one basketball match and the kid prevails. The strict father, a military hardcore nut, can’t handle the loss and browbeats his son when the game is over, instead of taking the loss like a man and admitting he lost.

In my years of coaching kids’ baseball, soccer, and football, whenever I would meet overbearing fathers, I often referred to them as “another Santini,” and immediately people would nod because they understood the reference.

Perfect Quotes
But the quotes hold up better, and they are remembered for a number of different reasons. For some quotes I just like their rhythm and cadence, like this one from My Fair Lady: “How poignant it will be on that inevitable night when she hammers on my door in tears and rags.” Henry Higgins’ (Rex Harrison’s) delivery of that bouncy line is just fun to say.

Some make a statement about life that is so heartfelt that I wind up memorizing it, like this one by William Saroyan in his preface to The Time of Your Life:

 “In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior of no man, or of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

And some quotes are intended to bring me back to earth:

“Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants, and slide on the ice,” Psychiatrist Sidney Friedman advises in M*A*S*H.

Some movie lines delivered by tough guys are meant to inspire:

“There endeth the lesson,” and “What are you prepared to do?” from Sean Connery in The Untouchables.

Or “I didn’t hear no bell,” as Sylvester Stallone retorts as Rocky Balboa.

Some of my favorite quotes remind me to keep things in perspective:

In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Willy remarks, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

“Just remember we’re all in this alone,” comedian Lily Tomlin once reminded her fans.

Here’s a life realization from The Big Chill:

Michael Gold: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

Michael Gold: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

On dealing with oneself from As Good as It Gets:

Receptionist: How do you write women so well?

Melvin Udall: I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.

And in the same movie:

Melvin Udall to Carol the waitress: “You make me want to be a better man.”

And don’t forget the homegrown ones. They can be very colorful:

  • My Hungarian buddy Miki used to say to people who were long-winded, “You better be shut up.”
  • My grandma once told a melodramatic aunt of mine who had thrown herself on the floor while at a funeral, “You have to get up sometime, and when you do you’re gonna feel so silly. Get up.”
  • My dad used to say, “Sometimes it takes a long time to be right.”
  • My mom always said, “There is never any shame in a full day’s work, no matter what or where it is.”
  • And my buddy’s 90-year-old grandma once whispered a great line to me as her grandson came walking down the aisle with a bride no one particularly cared for, “Betcha a nickel he’s sorry.” She nailed it; they lasted about a year.

Rattling Around In My Brain
This tapestry of life I have knitted together has provided me with a world of moments that all seem to rattle around in my brain like a tumbler of Bingo tokens. Lo and behold, I did, indeed, collect something. It’s not in a case or in a drawer or in a showcase, but it can never be lost or stolen either. It simply was accumulated wisdom from every resource I ever encountered.

Like Stephen Wright, the comedian, says, “I have an enormous collection of seashells which I keep scattered all over the various beaches of the world.”

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at