About Damian

Writer. Humorist (in my own mind at least). Smart aleck. Old enough to know better, but still young enough not to care.

Being trained to love Germany

Mrs. Dubbatrubba and I recently ditched the kids¹ and took a week-long trip to Germany. Our whirlwind tour took us to Frankfurt (home of the frankfurter… but not Dr. Frank-N-Furter), Rüdesheim (a lovely little town — and I’m not just saying that because it has an umlaut in its name) along the Rhine River, Berlin, Nuremberg (home of famous trials!), Munich (home of Oktoberfest… too bad it’s in September), and Rothenburg ob der Tauber (a walled medieval village that was the inspiration for the village in Pinocchio!).

We had fun at every stop along the way, but for me, there was just as much joy in getting there, because we rode trains. After our typical air travel experiences getting to Germany (i.e. being herded like cattle, stripped of our shoes and belts, scanned, patted down, waiting in endless boarding queues and being crammed into seats that would be cozy for Billy Barty), it was thoroughly refreshing to roll into a train station ten minutes before departure and stroll right onto a train where the “second class” seats were more spacious and comfortable than most plane seats, with free wi-fi and a place to charge your phone. Our 344-mile trip from Frankfurt to Berlin took four hours. Sure, you could get there a bit quicker by plane (one-hour flight + one-hour check-in + random delays) but our entire trip was stress-free.

I was able to buy a seven-day “twin pass” (two travelers) for under $400, and it was money well spent. Germany’s Deutsche Bahn national train system is well known for its efficiency. Traveling by train is also a great way to see a bit more of the country, and I was impressed by what I saw. Beautiful little villages and tree-lined hills… and plenty of solar panel arrays and wind turbines! Germany’s Energiewende program has helped them get 35% of their energy needs from renewable sources. Why the frack can’t the US do the same?

Other random observations:

The food is a total sausage fest. Not many choices for two vegetarians…

…so we just ate pastries instead!

German has a lot of words that are funny to someone with the mind of a 12-year-old boy (i.e. me):

    

You gotta love a country with beer in their vending machines.

They also have a miniature street grid for kids to practice riding bikes on the roads. Genius!

I’m cuckoo for Germany

Even if the last syllable of my last name is on toilet paper packages.

Auf wiedersehen!

¹ They were with Grandma – don’t call Children’s Protective Services on us.

You’ve got the power

It’s easy to feel powerless these days. At work, at home, in the political arena, in social circles… or just when your cell phone dies…

But Brené Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, claims there are two types of power, which she calls “power-over” and “real power.” Here are a couple excerpts from the book:

Unfortunately, when most of us hear the word “power” we automatically jump to the concept of power-over — the idea that power is the ability to control people, take advantage of others or exert force over somebody or something. We think of power as finite — there’s only so much, so if I’m going to get some, I’m forced to take it away from you.  

But real power is far more… you guessed it… powerful.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines power as “the ability to act or produce an effect.” Real power is basically the ability to change something if you want to change it. It’s the ability to make change happen. Real power is unlimited — we don’t need to fight over it because there is plenty to go around. And the great thing about real power is our ability to create it. Real power doesn’t force us to take it away from others — it’s something we create and build with others. 

Have a powerful day!

Gone but not forgotten

T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruellest month” but September and October have been pretty darn harsh for my college friends. We’re in our 50s, which means our parents are in their 70s and 80s, which means The Grim Reaper has been making a lot of house calls.

First to leave us over the past month was Alice, the mother of my friend Vinnie. Because I work in communications (and have always been good about keeping track of email addresses), I’m usually the one that gets the call (or text or email) and is saddled with the very un-fun task of letting the rest of our gang know about the “celestial discharge” as my wife and her nurse friends call it.

Two days after the celebration of life for Alice, my friend Robin sent word that her father Gil (a.k.a. “Gil The Thrill”) had passed away. When I sent out the note about Gil, my friend John emailed back to let me know that his mother Marilyn had gone to a better place. When I sent out word about Marilyn, I got an email and text back that our friend Jeff’s father had died rather suddenly. I’m starting to fear that my email notes are like those old chain letters, but in reverse. “If you DO pass this along, bad things will happen.”

I don’t want to be a complete Debbie Downer about it. All of these parents led full lives and raised great children. But I know firsthand that losing a parent is brutal.

My favorite author is Ray Bradbury. My favorite short story of his, The Leave-Taking, is about death… but it’s as far removed from morbid as can be. If you’ve lost a beloved parent or grandparent, please take five minutes to read it. And remember what Ray says: “No person ever died that had a family.”

My friend Vinnie’s brother John wrote a wonderful tribute to their mother, and shared it at her celebration of life gathering. He’s given me permission to post it below. But first, the backstory: Alice and her husband had seven kids, six rowdy boys and then a baby girl. When their youngest was still an infant, her husband left her… and she was left with the gargantuan task of raising seven children all by herself. The fact that all seven have been successful is great, but the fact that they are wonderful human beings is even more important.

                                         Our Renaissance Mother

           Mom marched to the beat of several drummers—each uniquely her own.   Referred to as “The Duchess” in the Farrell family household back in Philly, she was not only captain of her field hockey and basketball teams in high school, but also homecoming queen. She drew high honors in her academic endeavors at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and at Trinity College.  She walked down the fashion runway as a model back in the day, and was an artist who picked out the perfect shade of yellow for our family’s front door on Stratford Road. A Jill-of-all trades; she turned an old cast iron claw foot tub into a flower garden, cooked homemade meals for people in need, and started a sharing library for her neighborhood at her last home in Severna Park.  Mom was somehow always transforming herself, never being ashamed or too proud to do so. She inspired us all to do the same.

          We all could sit here for weeks on end and tell stories about this lady. But I guess that is why Mom wanted this party–so we could share those stories and maybe create some new ones.  There is nothing more honorable than having your wisdom passed down in a story, and Mom (or “Grandma,” or “Aunt,” or “Sister,” or “Friend,” or just “Alice”) had thousands of them.

          Mom once told me she was born too early, and if she had come of age in this day and time she would have been a doctor, or president of a company or even of these United States.  While those titles could have been impressive, I am so grateful and honored to call her Mom. She often sacrificed her own dreams and goals for her 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.  Mom was our first caregiver, our first friend, our first teacher who helped shape and form all our strong foundations. Teaching us that there is no substitute for higher education, independence and a good upbringing, she passed down her wisdom, her values, her manners, her strength, her dedication, and her determination using tough love (and the occasional bar of soap in the mouth) helping prepare us all for what existed outside our front doors.  And by “all,” I mean every one of us gathered today since Mom was a true believer that “it takes a village to raise a person.” The tough part, she once told me, was knowing when to let go and let us all live our own lives.

          The whole family meant everything to Mom and she did everything in her power to keep it together.  The glue at times grew thin and dry, but Mom made sure it never broke. When I was young, she took night classes to acquire a second college degree in accounting to help keep the powdered milk on the table and the heat set at 52 degrees.  Even in the end Mom was thinking and giving of herself to her world family. She was always ready to send a small check to support various charities, and she asked that the final one be written to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She recently told me an interesting story about why she had wished her body to be donated to Johns Hopkins University Medical School.  Mom told me that her father had applied and was accepted to Johns Hopkins many years ago, but his family could not afford to send him there. Her grandfather (his father) was a coal miner. Her father eventually graduated from Temple University and became a doctor. But Mom wanted to make sure her father got to Johns Hopkins one way or another.

         Mom was always a task-oriented person — one who did not find fulfillment at the end of the day unless a project was completed or new one was underway. Well Mom… you have done your job and you have done it well.  Sit back and relax. We will take it from here and we will pass along your wisdom and unconditional love so the next generations can build upon it. Something you and the world will be proud of.

We will love you and miss you forever.  May God bless you and keep you.

 

 

Monday morning breakfast Patti

The punk rock poet high priestess Patti Smith is 71 years young, and she has a lot of wisdom to share about the power of positivity, even in times of despair. Please read this Yahoo! article and this one from the LA Times. Ostensibly they’re about fighting climate change (a cause Patti’s daughter Jesse is championing), but no matter where you stand on that issue, you can find some pearls from Patti in the articles. A few excerpts are below.

From the Yahoo! article:

And in terms of everything else, I would just say that each of us, we each have one life, and we cherish the lives around us. We cherish our family. We cherish our children. We cherish life itself, and I think in these times that are so dark and seem so overwhelming, partially because also the social media and the media in general, we’re being bombarded, and also by our own government, bombarded, bombarded with so much conflict, so much negativity, so many fear-inducing statements or news, that we just have to find some way every day to be grateful to be alive, to be grateful for what we have, and try to just take a beat every day.

I know that sounds so simple, and it’s not a religious or philosophic thing. It’s just a human thing. It’s really hard starting the day quick looking to see what bad thing has happened [on the news]. So start the day, drink a glass of water, think about what you want to do today, think about what makes you happy. Any small thing to start the day feeling some energy for and enthusiasm for life, because it’s so easy to get beaten down as soon as you wake up. And that’s what I do, because I felt myself getting caught in that loop, starting with the election process. I admit that, and I’m not usually a person that can be brought down or made anxious. And we have to fight that, because it becomes its own addiction. We have to fight that inclination and try to enter the day just glad to be alive, because no matter what is the stuff is going on around us, it’s beautiful to be alive.

We only have [one life]. This is what we have. Despite our belief system, if one believes in afterlife, resurrection, or all these things, right now on Earth, this is the life that we have. And there’s so much beauty and so much wondrous things. We have to find a way to save a little for ourselves every day. And remind ourselves why it’s beautiful to be alive. Go to the botanical gardens and look and think, “This is what we want to preserve.” Go to the river and say, “This is what we want to be clean.”

And from the LA Times piece:

Well, I think, like anyone else, it can be debilitating. It can be depleting, humiliating, every single day. It’s amazing that there’s not a single day that goes by that something is said — our so-called president carries things out in such a way that he can’t make one gesture without trying to magnify himself.

Truthfully, I have found it so difficult. But my philosophy has been in the last several months just to do my work. I keep attentive to what is going on — I know exactly what’s going on on the news. But I have to put it in a certain place, because I’m 71 years old. I have a lot of work to do — a lot of positive work to do. And I think that if I can’t change the things that are happening right now, what I can do is just resonate positivity, strength, unity, individuality.

You know, when others articulate things in a strong and dignified manner, we have to magnify that type of response. In the end, no matter how bad things get I always believe that good will prevail. So I just try and do as much good work as I possibly can from the smallest gesture on, and that’s why I am supporting my daughter’s work.

All I can say is, focus on the good that you can do. We want a pandemic of good. We want a pandemic of positive change. I think that we all just have to find each other, step through the mire, find each other, support each other and do good work.

 

 

We’re more connected than ever. We’re less connected than ever.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

Thanks to our smart phones, our tablets, our laptops… heck, even our “smart refrigerators”… we’re more connected than ever. We can get the information we need (or a bunch of time-sucking listicles and memes) easier than ever before. But there’s a tradeoff: what we’re losing is our ability to connect with other people, face-to-face (sorry, FaceTime doesn’t count).

… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Exhibit A: Tourists. “Back in my day” when you were in a strange city or country, you’d have to stop and ask a local. “Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the museum?” Mundane, sure, but also a chance to connect… “Where are you visiting from?… Oh, I have an uncle who lives in Albuquerque!”

Now, we use Google Maps to help us navigate (even though Google Maps doesn’t know the shortcuts). We use Yelp to figure out where to eat. Heck, even hailing a cab required a bit more conversation than Uber or Lyft… “Where to, Mack?”

Seems like we’re forgetting how to strike up a conversation with any stranger who isn’t named Siri or Alexa.

…we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

But don’t worry, there is a cure for this social malady. It’s lederhosen. Yes, that unique German combo of cargo shorts and overalls. Allow me to explain. A couple of days ago, I went on a Pub Run with a bunch of co-workers. We ran (or walked) from one pub to another, from downtown Cincinnati across the Roebling Bridge to Northern Kentucky and back again, and had a beverage at each stop (or some of the stops, depending on when you had to pick your kid up from soccer practice). The pub run organizers, John and Jay, decided to give this run an Oktoberfest theme. So they dressed up in lederhosen (and in Jay’s case, a mullet wig – don’t ask).

At our 4th stop, a couple came up to us and — wait for it — struck up a conversation! They had spotted us at one of our previous stops, then saw us again half an hour later, so they just had to know what was going on… especially because there were lederhosen involved. Les and Amy were co-workers, in town from Tucson for a conference, and looking for a good place to eat. We were happy to meet them; they were happy to meet us. We were more than happy to explain the lederhosen (the mullet remains inexplicable). We were thrilled to be able to share our local knowledge and offer several restaurant options.

The entire encounter took less than five minutes, but I guarantee you that Les and Amy left feeling much better about the friendly folks in Cincinnati. And they probably had a better meal than Siri could serve up.

Next time you’re on the road, put down the smart phone. Act dumb. Talk to a person. Especially if they’re wearing lederhosen.

 

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

I attended a taping of the Jerry Springer Show yesterday. Don’t worry, it wasn’t that bottom-feeding TV show of his… there were no midgets married to horses, no clown strippers, no trailer park homewreckers (at least as far as I could tell – it’s not something that you ask in polite conversation).

This was the Jerry Springer Podcast.

If you’re not from Cincinnati (and old like I am) you may not know that Jerry was once a city councilman for our fair burgh… albeit a councilman who got caught in a scandal because he wrote a personal check to a call girl. His political career survived that incident and he later became mayor of Cincinnati, then a local TV news anchor. And his syndicated TV show wasn’t always the hot mess that it is now.

In 1990, his TV station’s owner (which also produced Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael) recruited him to host a new daytime talk show. “There was no expectation that it would last at all,” Springer recalls. “My first contract was six weeks.” At the beginning, The Jerry Springer Show emulated Donahue and tackled serious subjects. But the success of Ricki Lake in 1993 convinced Springer and his producers to target a younger audience and go full tabloid. “Young people are much more open in their lifestyles, so every once in a while the show would go crazy,” Springer says. By the late 1990s, Universal had bought the show—and dictated that Springer up the crazy. (Source: https://www.tvinsider.com/47933/jerry-springer-picks-10-of-his-best-of-the-worse-episodes/)

But Jerry’s podcast is something completely different. My friend Jene Galvin is Jerry’s sidekick, and they tackle political topics, along with some amusing banter among Jerry, Jene and co-host Megan Hils, plus a live performance from a roots/Americana band. (Last night’s musical guest was Wild Carrot.)

Jerry’s a lifelong liberal, so the show doesn’t just lean left, it’s a full 90-degrees left of center. But the man’s no dummy – he earned his law degree from Northwestern, spent more than a decade in local politics and won mutiple local Emmys for his TV commentaries. So he has an interesting take on the current political shenanigans (which often make the antics on his TV show look tame in comparison).

The podcast is certainly worth a listen. And if you’re in the area, I highly recommend that you attend the show, which takes place every other Tuesday at a neat little place called Folk School Coffee Parlor in the quaint Kentucky town of Ludlow, along the Ohio River. There’s also a local brewery/taproom next door called Bircus Brewing… but go after the show, not before… we don’t want any fights breaking out (save that for the TV show).

 

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Matt Damon…

This clip is about as Bahston as it gets…

“How do we have this?”

“We need to negotiate heah…”

“We got connections…”

The banner went missing for 48 hours but is now back with the Red Sox. And apparently there were no negotiations. But in tribute to the city where the banner was “found”, here are the Pernice Brothers with an underappreciated gem of a song called Somerville.

 

The ‘chunk is still punk

On Monday evening, I made the 100-mile drive north to Columbus to see Superchunk. They haven’t played anywhere near Cincinnati in eons, so a two-hour trip was a small price to pay. Besides, I’m on “staycation” thanks to Hurricane Florence… if I can’t go to North Carolina, at least I can see a great band from Chapel Hill.

It’s a very “Puppet Show & Spinal Tap” sign

The show sold out the day it was announced (can you say “pent up demand”?) but I managed to snag a last-minute ticket via Craigslist. I’m so glad I did, too. They absolutely rocked!

I’ve seen Superchunk before, but it’s been a couple of decades. Things (including hairlines) have changed.

Superchunk Reflect at Full Throttle on 'I Hate Music ...

They still have that same fire, that same punk rock energy (bassist Laura Ballance no longer tours due to a hearing issue, but Jason Narducy ably takes over her spot). Lead singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan is 51, but he acts like a teenager on stage, bouncing around like a pinball and singing and playing with reckless abandon.

Superchunk’s latest album What A Time To Be Alive is very punk in its subject matter too, turning their righteous indignation toward the powers that be (especially the powers that reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).

To see the rot in no disguise
Oh what a time to be alive
The scum, the shame, the f***ing lies
Oh what a time to be alive
Oh what a time to be alive

 — from the title track

Hate so graceless and so cavalier
We don’t just disappear
Shifting shapes you’re just an auctioneer
But we’re still here

— from “Erasure”

It’s not all bile, though, and there’s always melody in Superchunk tunes.

30 years into their career, they’re still playing small clubs, but honestly, that’s where they need to be – Mac admitted as much from the stage. There are no barriers between the band and the audience, literally and figuratively. And that’s the way we like it.

 

Green acres is the place to be, farm livin’ is the life for… not me

Yesterday afternoon the Neltner Family hosted their annual pig roast on the family farm. They’ve been hosting a pig roast for two decades – inviting generations of neighbors and friends to their place for an evening of great food and even better company. It’s old school all the way, like a church picnic… “bring a side dish or dessert to share.”

The Neltner family has been farming the same patch of land in Northern Kentucky since the late 1800s. Farming was their main occupation for generations. Plant some corn and tomatoes and apple trees, grow enough to feed your family and if the weather gods smile down upon you, sell your surplus. Nowadays, it’s more of a side hustle – the hardest side hustle ever. My friend Keith Neltner and his brother Rick are both graphic artists, and Rick does photography too. Which makes for an interesting mix of people at the pig roast:

But Keith and Rick and their siblings (and now their offspring) spend a lot of their “leisure time” working the farm.

Keith is one of the most talented artists in the world. Yet he spends his weekends doing manual labor to keep the family business going. That’s a tough row to hoe, literally.

The Neltners host a family festival at their farm several weekends in the fall. You won’t find a nicer family, or one more deserving of your hard-earned dollars. And it’s an honest-to-goodness working farm, not one of those “dump a bunch of pumpkins next to some hay bales and call it a ‘farm'” places.

Load up the family truckster. Stop by, say howdy, have some fun. And show a little appreciation for the hardest working folks around.

The (Radio) Kids Are Alright

This past weekend, I got to catch up with three folks whom I first met in my 97X radio days, when I was the morning show co-host and they were student interns. (Actually, we called them “co-producers” of the morning show because we felt that the term “intern” had some negative baggage, even in the pre-Lewinsky era, and we also wanted them to know that they were integral to the show.)

It’s been a quarter-century since those salad days, and it had been that long since I’d seen one of them, and 15+ years since I’d seen another. They’re not kids anymore, but they’re a decade younger than I am, so they’ll always be kids to me.

Jessica, Steve and Joe

Jessica (far left… in the picture… I don’t know her political stance) is a suburban Chicago native (a lot of Miami University students are) and returned home after graduation. Ditto for Steve (a.k.a. “Roemie da Homie” – center square in the photo). Joe (at right) was an army brat, so he grew up all over, including a stint in the Chicago ‘burbs in junior high. He stuck around Cincinnati after graduation.

Joe and I drove up to Chicago to see Buffalo Tom in concert. (Meaning I’ve now seen 28.6% of the shows on their North American tour… 2 of 7). On a whim, I emailed Jessica prior to our trip and asked if we could meet up. As fate would have it, she too is a Buffalo Tom fanatic (the few, the proud…) and was already planning to attend to the concert. Next thing you know, she was graciously offering to host Joe and me in her home. Meaning she is still just as kind-hearted as she was in college (and perhaps just a bit naïve, given the proximity of the guest beds to the basement beer fridge… hic!). We managed to meet up with Steve both nights too, and shared many a laugh over the radio station foibles (it was like an indie rock WKRP) and the sweatshop-like conditions of their internships (they got “paid” with promo CDs, band t-shirts and free concert tickets).

They’re different now – they’ve morphed from college kids into adults with real jobs, and real kids… and all the chores that come with that – the daily commute, the carpool line, homework reminders and sports practices. Yet they’re still the same great people that they were back then – smart, witty, kind, enthusiastic about life.

It’s great when you can go a couple of decades without seeing someone and pick up right where you left off.  The only difference is, as you get older, you cherish those moments more.

Seems like I was just a kid not so long ago
So many arrivals
So many hellos
Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead. Save up the minutes like flowers before they’re all dead and gone….