About Damian

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

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.

 

 

 

End of the (car) line

Our youngest child, Andrew, turned 12 this past Thursday.

Older sister Leah is not impressed.

A week from today, he’ll wrap up 6th grade at Sands Montessori, the same school his three older siblings attended (and the first public Montessori school in the United States!).

We’ve had kids there since 2005, and have made great friends with fellow parents over the years. It’s hard to believe that a week from now, we won’t be “Sands parents” anymore. It’s the end of an era, the closing of another chapter in our lives.

I work from home most Tuesdays, and drop Andrew off at Sands in the morning. I won’t miss the school drop-off line – for some inexplicable reason I fully expect preschoolers and grade schoolers to disgorge from their parents’ cars with the swiftness of WWII GIs leaving their Higgins boat during the D-Day invasion… a sure recipe for frustration.

  

But I’ll really miss my time with Andrew in the morning – waking him at 8 (I call him “Lieutenant Lazybones”), serving him a nutritious breakfast of… whatever sugar-laden cereal happens to be handy…

… listening to music on our three-minute ride to school, giving color commentary on the other cars in line (“look at this one, stopping only halfway through the circle… c’mon, your snowflake can walk an extra 20 feet!”)…

… sending him on his merry way with a quick “love you!”… and getting back a “love you too” because he’s not a jaded teenager yet.

Come August, he’ll be getting on a bus with two of his older siblings, headed to Walnut Hills. He’ll still be my boy, he’ll still be our baby… but baby boy has left the building. And I really miss him.

 

If you like Piña Coladas…

Sunday is Senior Discount Day at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop near my house. While I’m not a full-fledged, card-carrying, early-buffet-eating member of AARP just yet, the discount applies for anyone 50 or older. (“Fifty is nifty!”) And I can’t resist a 25% discount, especially when my vinyl crate-digging unearthed this gem:

Yes, the masterpiece of Rupert Holmes oeuvre, the seminal Partners in Crime album, featuring the earworm entitled “Escape” but better known and loved by millions as “The Piña Colada Song.”

Don’t act like you don’t know it. Don’t act like you don’t like it. Don’t pretend that you’re not hearing it in your head right now, and singing along at the top of your inner-voice lungs.

It may not be the best song ever put to acetate, but it has its own unique charm. And it is, hands down, the single most unrealistic song about a relationship ever. Let’s recap it, shall we?

In the days before Tinder, when newspapers were still a thing, folks would use the “personals” section of the classified ads to find love. But wait, our Escape protagonist already has a lady. She’s sleeping right next to him… and he’s perusing the personals. Yet somehow he manages to absolve himself of any guilt or shame in the first couplet:

I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long/Like a worn-out recording, of a favorite song

Ergo, ennui is justification for cheating on your significant other. Who knew? So he sees a personal ad that piques his interest. Perhaps it’s a shared predilection for piña coladas and/or getting caught in the rain and/or intimate encounters in sand dunes. Or a mutual hatred of yoga/health food. So while his current “lady” is sleeping, he channels his inner Robert Browning and writes a reply, suggesting a rendezvous at an Irish bar (because those are the best kind of rendezvous – sidebar, the word “rendezvous” is plural – those wacky French!)

When the woman arrives at the appointed place and time – plot twist ahead – it’s his current paramour (a.k.a. “my own lovely lady”). And both of them laugh off the fact that they were trying to cheat on each other. Yes, that’s correct, in this song, there’s no righteous indignation, no hurt feelings, no screaming/yelling/divorce-attorney-calling. They laugh it off, presumably have a drink or three (when in O’Malleys…) and in all likelihood head to the Cape for an assignation. It’s not really a song so much as it is a fairy tale.

So when I saw the album in the thrift shop, I had to have it. Especially because it had held up rather well considering its 1979 release date. It still had the poly wrapping, it still had the record sleeve with liner notes, it even had the original receipt from the purchase:

Guess it wasn’t Senior Discount Day at Music World back in the summer of 1980. They paid $5.75 but I got the album for 37 cents. Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me (and The Village People) to introduce the world’s favorite non-philanderer, the inimitable Rupert Holmes:

 

Howdy, Non-Stranger

This blog is usually about as far as I venture into the realm of social media. I have a Facebook account that was created by one of my co-workers years ago — without my knowledge or consent. (We’ll save that story for another blog post.) And I never really have “activated” that account so the only two FB “friends” I have are the dude who created the account (thanks Gopal!) and my co-worker Jason, a great person and fellow Xavier grad (that’s redundant).

Since I rarely visit my own Facebook page, yesterday I stumbled upon a message written by Jason a month prior. But the suggestion he has for all of us still applies:

So that’s our mission for the day: say hello to someone you normally wouldn’t. A simple way to make the world a bit kinder.

 

 

I’m your (second) biggest fan

Regular blog readers (all three of you) know about my love for the Boston band called Buffalo Tom. (Yes, they’re from Boston and they have “Buffalo” in their name… might help explain why 99% of America has never heard of them.) BT (that’s what we hardcore fans call them) had their moment in the sun back in the early 90s. (OK, it wasn’t exactly a moment in the sun, maybe more like a moment under mostly sunny skies.) Now they still get together to make music occasionally — a new fan-backed album is due out soon — but also have day jobs. The lead singer is a real estate agent – if you’re looking for a mid-century modern in the Boston ‘burbs, Bill Janovitz is your go-to dude.

Bill Janovitz has also been involved in a Boston sports charity for many years, called Foundation To Be Named Later. It was started by former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein (hence the wacky baseball-related name) and his twin brother Paul. Each year they do a “Hot Stove, Cool Music” benefit concert in Boston, and Bill is an organizer of that concert as well as a participant. Now that Theo is the President of the Chicago Cubs, the charity has expanded to Chicago as well.

At this year’s Boston gig a couple of weeks ago, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder played a Buffalo Tom tune called “Taillights Fade,” trading verses with Bill Janovitz. Listen to the first 20 seconds to hear Eddie pay tribute to Buffalo Tom.

“Taillights Fade” is from Buffalo Tom’s 1992 album Let Me Come Over, which is my all-time favorite album.

The cover of Let Me Come Over

They’re putting out a 25th anniversary edition as a double LP/CD with a 1992 concert included.  It’s also worth noting that Bill has a heart of gold – he called out ticket resellers who were marking up tickets to the Boston charity concert.

And a co-worker of mine tipped me to a blog called “One Week/One Band” where:

Every week, one trusted music aficionado showcases a band or artist they feel particularly passionate about. Any artist from any country or decade will do — no rules and no canon. Some of those bands you might know very well; some of them you might have never heard of.

Week #1 was The Replacements, one of my favorite bands. Week #2 was….(drumroll please)…. Buffalo Tom! The writer, Andrew Necci, talks about BT’s song “Birdbrain” which is another favorite of mine. If I were a major league baseball player, “Birdbrain” would be my walk-up song.

Obviously I’m not a MLB player (still working on that knuckleball), just a big fan of Buffalo Tom. It’s nice to know that their music had such a big impact on other folks too. Eddie Vedder and I are practically brothers. OK, at least we’re friends.

 

166.7% awful

A bank based in Cincinnati — Fifth Third Bank — unveiled their new tagline about a week ago. If you already put your socks on this morning, apologies in advance, because they are going to get blown right off by this gem:

This is banking. A Fifth Third better.

OK, you can pick your jaw up off the floor now. What an amazing, stupendous… piece of garbage.

“You know the saying: ‘He gave 110 percent?’ We give 167 percent,” said chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius.

The ads quickly make a point of explaining that five-thirds equals 166.7 percent, then pledge to serve customers that much better.

Yes, that’s right, while customers are expecting Fifth Third to take care of their money, Fifth Third (aka 5/3) is asking their customers to do fractions. Welcome back to 4th grade.

The Fifth Third name is rather unwieldy, coming from the merger of the Fifth National Bank and the Third National Bank way back in 1908.

So I’ll grade on the curve. But their slogans have gotten progressively worse over the past couple of decades. They used to be “the only bank you’ll ever need.” That morphed into “working hard to be the only bank you’ll ever need.” Then came the decidedly lame “the curious bank”…

Customer: “Where’d my money go?”

Bank Teller: “I’m curious about that myself.”

It would be hard to lower the bar from that curious slogan, but somehow 5/3 found a way. If my math is correct, they lowered it 166.7%.

“Wow, they really make banking seem simple and not at all intimidating!”

Thanks to my contacts in the Cincinnati ad agency community, I was able to find the runner-up slogans:

  • Turning fractions into actions
  • 4 is between 5 and 3, and we are working 4 you
  •  Invert your divisor and multiply your savings
  • Fifth is really Third if you subtract the illegal voters
  • 1.666 – the number of the beastly bank
  • You’re gonna need a Fifth of whiskey when we take a Third of your money

I’m 166.7% sure that I’m not going to be banking at Fifth Third anytime soon.

“You passed the math test…. have a golden lolly!”

Pop goes the… cupcake?

My wife Tina is a registered nurse, and works in a wound care clinic at a local hospital. She actually enjoys the gorier aspects of her job… she is a self-proclaimed “picker and popper”… whereas I get squeamish at even the mention of a blood draw, much less an actual blood draw.

She comes home from work and wants to tell the kids and me all about the latest and greatest (read: grossest) wounds she had to treat that day. I immediately go into full ‘ear muff’ mode.

But then a co-worker of mine sent a link to these cupcakes. They’re inspired by an internet sensation known as “Dr. Pimple Popper” who shows videos of her popping all sorts of zits, cysts and other unsightly blemishes.

I immediately knew that Tina had to make these treats for her co-workers. She did, and they were a big hit.

I’m thankful every day for the people who work in healthcare. And I’m even more thankful that I’m not one of them.

 

Cinco de Mayo is Quinto maggio to me

I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t feel like celebrating today. Not only is it a dreary day in Cincinnati, but 5/5 was my mom’s birthday. As most of you know, she died when I was quite young. Three years old, to be exact. Leukemia stole her away from her husband and 4 young kids, at the age of 33 (a.k.a. the “Jesus year”).

Let’s get the easy answers out of the way first:

  1. No
  2. No

Sorry, I forgot this isn’t Jeopardy. The questions are:

  1. Do you remember her?
  2. Did your father ever remarry?

Those two questions are usually the ones I get when I tell someone about my mom’s untimely departure from this world. #1 is a lot tougher to wrap my head around. Trust me, I’ve tried my best to remember her, but to no avail. So how do you miss someone that you didn’t really know? It’s a weird feeling, for sure.

I know the time from birth to age three is a crucial period, and so my mom was my first/best teacher. But when I try to conjure up some sort of happy memory, a warm glow from those halcyon days… nothin’.

I’ll tell you what I do know. My mom was a first generation Italian-American.

She too lost her mom young… and a sister as well. She played basketball in high school. (We had her b-ball jersey at our house in Arkansas… long after we moved from Jersey City, where my mom and dad met and married. I studied that jersey like it was the Shroud of Turin.)

When she went into labor with her third child (yours truly), my dad took a route to the hospital that featured a few cobblestone streets… and my mom gave my dad some good-natured grief about that. (The extra bouncing might also help explain why I’m wired differently.) When she was trying to teach me how to tie my shoes, I got mad and kicked off one shoe, and it flew up and cracked one of the window panes in our front door… or at least that’s what my older siblings told me… or something like that. It’s been too long.

 

There’s a Superchunk song call “Void” that expresses my feelings very well:

I look for you
And all I see, all I say
Is a void
All I see, all I say
Is a void
“Pity? Party of one? You’re table’s ready.”
OK, I’ll stop wallowing now. Cinco de Mayo’s for celebrating, right? So rather than focus on the negative space, I’ll celebrate the fact that my mother laid such a strong foundation in our short time together that I do miss her to this day, even if my “miss” is different from most. Diamonds are forever, but so are DNA and “imprinting.”
I’m far from a masterpiece, but my siblings and I are her masterpieces.  Superchunk, bring it home:
Don’t go wait for me,
No, don’t go Wait for me
Because I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see
No, I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see