About Damian

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

Summer’s not a bummer

Happy Summer! June 21 is the Summer Solstice, the official start of summer and the longest day of the year. It’s also the wedding anniversary for my lovely bride and me. That’s not a coincidence. I had to pick a day that I’d remember, and I love Summer so June 21st made sense. (It also helped that the church was available on that date.) I tease Tina all the time that “the longest day of the year” was also “the longest day of my life” – but really we both know it was the luckiest day of my life.

This year is our 20th anniversary. Two full decades. A “score” in Abraham Lincoln’s parlance. 1997 seems like a long time ago (4 kids will do that to you) but it also seems like just yesterday in many ways.

My man John Hiatt captures the daily adventures of married life quite well in this pretty little ditty. It has some great lines, like “I always thought our house was haunted  ’cause nobody said boo to me” and

“Now I’m in my car
I got the radio on
I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back seat
‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts”

But my favorite lines are here:

Time is short and here’s the damn thing about it
You’re gonna die, gonna die for sure
And you can learn to life with love or without it
But there ain’t no cure

While we’re on an Americana jaunt, let’s keep the momentum going with a great duet from Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.

 

Field of Dreams… Cow Pasture of Reality

Last weekend I went back to Arkansas for the first time in nearly 30 years, for a high school reunion. While I was there, I just had to drive past my childhood home in Hagarville, Arkansas (population: 129).  I hadn’t seen it since 1985.

It’s changed a bit.

You can barely see the front of the house from the road in front of it.

And there’s cattle fencing all around the house. Because my dad sold the house to the farmer next door, and when my dad moved out (circa 1999) to live with my older sister in Brooklyn, Farmer Ocil just extended the cow pasture that used to be next to our yard, and used the house to store feed and supplies. Ocil died in 2012, and whoever took over is just letting the place go to seed. So the house is abandoned, and falling down. I had to peek through the overgrowth by the fence line on one side of the house just to try to snap a few photos.

Did it make me sad to see my old childhood home in such a sorry state? Sure. But then again, it was never a showpiece, even in its prime. And in an “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” way, it’s fine. That house served its purpose for many years – as a safe harbor for Herb and his four young kids after his wife died. The yard was a place for us to play football, and basketball, and baseball, and catch frogs (and run from snakes), and feed persimmons to the horses next door. But we outgrew it, went to college in Boston and and Omaha and Cincinnati, and really never looked back.

Who cares if cows (and bulls) are now roaming our old stomping grounds?

The house can fall, but the home lives on. And that’s no b.s.

“Where does it lie this reverie

like a distant land

it shines forever in my heart

we all go home again…”

 

Wednesday the 14th, Part VI: Jason Lives

Do yourself a favor and carve out 40 minutes and 17 seconds today to listen to the new album from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, called The Nashville Sound.

Jason’s been on a roll for the past few years, chronicling his sobriety, falling in love, becoming a dad… and doing it all with a unique perspective that comes from the crossroads of the Literary South and the country backroads of northern Alabama. The closest comparison I can make is he’s a male version of Lucinda Williams, and I adore Lu so that’s high praise in my book. His sound could probably be classified as “country” but his writing goes so much deeper than the truck tailgates and cutoff jeans of the “bro-country” set that you can’t even put them in the same category.

In the 1946 book “Confessions of a Story Writer” Paul Gallico wrote: 2

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.

Jason’s been bleeding onto the page for years now… with fantastic musical accompaniment… and it’s music to my ears. His sixth studio album is another stellar offering.

Here he is rocking out:

… and here’s his softer side:

Watch the entire session to appreciate the full spectrum of Jason and the 400 Unit:

 

The other Memorial Day

May 30th was my dad’s birthday. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about him on Father’s Day. Since only 2 people knew of this blog’s existence back then, I’m doing a “rerun”:

I think of my own father, Herbert, who also was the father of four. His wife died at age 33, of leukemia, just a few months after the diagnosis. Dad was left to raise four children under the age of 7 all by his lonesome. How do you survive that gut punch, that heartbreak, that total meltdown of your world? In many ways, my dad never did fully recover. But he did the best he could. We moved from Jersey City, NJ to Hagarville, Arkansas – from the big city to the tiniest speck on the map in the foothills of the Ozarks. “Culture shock” doesn’t do it justice. However, it was a great place for us to grow up with a single parent, and has made my life experiences richer.

We were dirt poor, but our dad bestowed gifts upon us that were priceless: kindness, integrity, compassion.

Herb passed away in 2010. I miss him every day. To anyone who has lost a father, this beautiful song by Billy Bragg is for you.

And to add a bit of “bonus footage” to the rerun, there’s another great song about missing your old man below. My friend Tim Condron (check out his Second Takes blog) lost his father, a Norwood, Ohio firefighter, while we were in college together. His dad contracted Hepatitis B on the job, while coming to the aid of an overdose patient.

(You can read the entire article Tim wrote for Cincinnati Magazine here.) Tim and I took several classes together at Xavier, as we were both communications majors. Shortly after his father passed away, Tim put together a video of still photos of his father with this song as the soundtrack. It was one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever seen.

Here’s to you, Herb and Jim, and all the other good dads who are no longer here, yet always present.

 

Cover band, uncovered!

Church festivals are a big deal in Cincinnati. Every Catholic church in the area has a weekend where they transform their parking lot into a mini state fair (minus the livestock), complete with games of chance, rides, food booths, bid-n-buy, etc. Many parishes will even set up a stage and book local bands too.

Our parish festival is a couple of weeks from now, so they posted the schedule for it in the church bulletin:

I love how they had to emphasize that the local cover band called “Naked Karate Girls” wasn’t actually naked.

Because we all know the church ladies would NOT approve if they were.

The Friday night band is called Devils Due. Maybe that one needs a disclaimer too:

*This band does NOT feature any devils. But they may play some INXS.

 

 

 

This was their finest hour! (Actually, make that 19 hours.)

It wasn’t much of a story, really, just a brief blurb buried in the Cincinnati Enquirer on a few changes that Xavier University is making to their on-campus basketball and volleyball arena, The Cintas Center. But man, did it open a giant can of memory worms for my old XU crew.

Xavier is installing a new craft beer bar in an upper corner of the basketball arena, and the bar they are installing is the same 35-foot cherryback bar that was in The Norwood Cafe, a legendary hole-in-the-wall bar just off campus that was demolished a decade ago when Xavier expanded their campus footprint.

“The Woods” as it was called, was a throwback from a bygone era, when the city of Norwood had a General Motors plant. The bar would open at 5:30 a.m. for those GM third-shifters looking to have a beer — or a famous “Double Beamer” of coke and whiskey — before their morning bedtime. Long after the GM plant quit making Camaros, the bar hours remained the same. For Xavier University students, “opening the Woods” became a thing, a badge of honor, bragging rights: you’d stay up past the closing time of Dana Gardens (the other XU watering hole) at 2:30 a.m., and find something to occupy your time until you could stumble into the Woods at 5:30 a.m. for a nightcap that was really a morning cap. But there was also a legend (or myth) about a few hardy Musketeers who had both opened and closed the Woods – staying there from the time the bar opened until the time it closed… 19 or so hours. Well, straight from the “it seemed like a good idea at the time” book, my friend LJ and I realized that our senior year exam schedule would allow us to complete that feat. Challenge accepted!

L to R: yours truly and LJ. Men on a mission.

We knew we had to pace ourselves, so we limited our alcohol intake, and we also spent most of the daytime hours playing darts and doing yearbook-style legacies/prophecies for all of our buddies. When they showed up that evening, we had an impromptu ceremony, with the reading of the legacies and a gift exchange where each guy brought article that was unique to him. We pulled names from a hat and whoever’s name you picked, you got that person’s keepsake. Which is how Paul from Cleveland wound up with my treasured and oh-so-stylish “Hawg Hat” that no true Arkansas Razorback fan would be without.

Haters gonna hate the Hawg Hat

Bill Clinton has been called a pig by many.

When I read the article about the Woods bar being installed at the arena, I emailed a link to “the gang” figuring it would be good for a chuckle or three. But the response was overwhelming. Nearly every guy weighed in — including our friend Matt, breaking his self-admitted “radio silence” of several years. They brought up memories not only of that night, but of other notable events during our time together on campus.

 

Matt giving Ned his patented “helicopter spin”… he let go a couple seconds later.

I’ve read that women’s friendships are based on shared emotions, and men’s friendships are based on shared experiences. Or as this Wall Street Journal article puts it:

Researchers say women’s friendships are face to face: They talk, cry together, share secrets. Men’s friendships are side by side: We play golf. We go to football games.

Some of my best friends in the whole wide world are in the photos above. Just a bunch of kids from Cleveland and Akron and Strongsville in Ohio and Tampa and Middletown, Connecticut and Louisville and Indianapolis and the West Side of Cincinnati… and Clarksville, Arkansas, of all places. Thrown together in a dorm and learning how to get along. Doing some stupid stuff, but living to tell about it. And living to re-live it… even at our advanced age.

So thank you, Cintas Center, for installing the bar from the Norwood Cafe in your arena. As a season ticket holder for men’s basketball, now I’ll be reminded of good times spent with great friends at least 16 times a year. Maybe I’ll even have a Double Beamer to celebrate. But not 19.

 

No cause for alarm(s)

Three of our kids wrapped up their school year yesterday. Our daughter Leah has a Latin exam today (sounds like fun!) and will be finished before noon. That means I’ll have three glorious months of no kiddie wake-up duty.

And if you’ve never tried to wake up a teenager, I suggest you go poke a rattlesnake nest with your bare hands, it’ll be less painful.

Oh sure, I’ll still get up at the crack of dawn. I’m a 52-year-old guy… nature calls early and often for me. But it’ll be nice to have just a few minutes to spare.

Now that the kiddies are ready to sleep in, I just need to work on the kitties

Enjoy your summer!

 

 

Make every day a Ray Day

I work from home on Tuesdays, and if the stars align, I’m able to sneak in a workout at the Mt. Washington Recreation Center near my house between the time my oldest son heads to high school and the time I have to wake my youngest for grade school.

I used to go to the Rec Center nearly every weekday morning, back before my kids started high school and had an earlier wake-up call. There was a morning crew of about five to eight “regulars” at the Rec back in those days, including an elderly gentleman named Ray Neyer. He was a friendly chap, always smiling, sharp as a tack even in his 80s. Ray became the unofficial mayor of our assemblage.

Yesterday morning I went to the Rec, and one of the other morning workout warriors had made some muffins and brought in some oranges to celebrate “Ray Day” – because he died on May 23, 2015 at the age of 86. Think about that for a moment: someone who only knew Ray from their gym time together each morning was so impressed by him that they were celebrating his life two years after he passed away. That tells you what kind of person he was. His obit certainly shows that he led a fulfilling life:

Ray was a graduate of St Xavier High School (’47) and University of Notre Dame (’52). He was a decorated Korean War veteran. After an honorable discharge Ray worked in and owned the family business Al. Neyer, Inc. with his father, uncle, brothers, sons, nephews & niece until retirement. He received numerous industry awards and held various industry association officer positions. Ray was an active (to say the least) volunteer with The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, Mt. Washington School, North Fairmount Community, Meals-on-Wheels, and Mercy Hospital. In retirement, he was also a regular patron and friend at Mt. Washington Recreation Center. He was also a Board member/Trustee at the Reserve of Turpin Condo Association. Ray received numerous community and organizational awards due to his many contributions and accomplishments: St. Xavier HS’s Insignis Award, the ACI Spirit of Construction award, the WCPO Hometown Hero award, and the AARP Andrus Award for Community Service among others. His final act of giving was to donate his earthly being to the University of Cincinnati. He was an exemplary son, brother, husband, dad, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather, friend, mentor, sounding board, citizen, and all-around great guy. He always left everyone with a smile on their face. 

May we all be so lucky. But it’s not really luck, is it? Ray could’ve stayed home watching Matlock reruns, but he chose to stay active, he chose to get involved, to give back… and he put in the effort to leave folks with a smile on their face. We can do the same, in our own way, to brighten the lives of those around us. Let’s make every day a Ray Day.

 

I just wanna stop… but I can’t quit Gino

I did a bit more Senior-Discount-Sunday crate-digging through the LPs at my local St. Vincent de Paul, and I’ve got a bit of sad news: the biggest Gino Vannelli fan in the Cincinnati area has moved on…

Six, count ’em, six albums from Gino’s heyday were available for four bits each. I’m not sure if the Gino fan has moved on to other soft rock stars of the 70s (we’ll have to check the iTunes sales numbers for Seals & Crofts) or to the Great Beyond. Either way, it’s a sad day.

My favorite GV album cover has to be the one from the ’75 release Storm at Sunup:

A poodle-permed Gino stares forlornly at the camera, satin shirt open to reveal his hirsute chest and his “lack-pack” (i.e. lack of a two-, four- or six-pack). A scantily clad woman is in the background, clearly disappointed with her choices in life.

But there is good news for Gino fans (and really, aren’t we all Gino fans?):

a. He’s still alive

b. He’s still touring

c. His hair is still amazing.

And now, a short-distance dedication from Gino to the Cincinnati area person who dumped him at the Mt. Washington St. Vincent de Paul:

500 channels and nothin’ but the same two guys on

It made my heart so happy  (in a fake Kelly Ripa way) that Kelly Ripa decided to replace one overexposed co-host (looking at you, Michael Strahan) with another overexposed co-host (Seacrest…in).

[Sidebar topic: Kelly Ripa is the black widow of TV hosts – discuss amongst yourselves.]

Seriously, are Strahan and Seacrest on a not-so-secret mission to take over every airwave that exists? Michael Strahan is a host on Good Morning America, and an analyst for FOX NFL games, and hosted the reboot of $100,000 Pyramid. Before he got the heave-ho from Kelly, he was basically on the air about 12 hours of every day. And Seacrest covered the other 12, with American Idol, E! News, all those E! red carpet shows, the annual New Years Rockin’ Eve… in addition to his daily four hour radio show and the weekly American Top 40 countdown. I hope they own stock in 5-hour Energy.

Actually, I kinda hope they get laryngitis.

I’m not a regular viewer/listener to any of the shows listed above — in fact I barely watch any TV at all — but even I can’t escape the two-headed host-beast named Stracrest.

All that on-air time must be cutting into their prep time:

The Boss was right.