About Damian

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

Thrift store score!

Sunday is “Senior Discount Day” at the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store near our house. My daughter always wants to go thrifting for vintage clothes (what’s “vintage” to her is “practically new” to me), so she drags her 50+ year-old pops along in order to save 25%. (It’s nice to be needed!)

However, I was the one who scored big time on a recent Sunday, at the record bin. Normally the St. VdP selection is heavy on the Ray Coniff singers and Andy Williams Christmas albums, and little else.

  

But check out this haul:

Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Carole King’s Tapestry, greatest hits albums from Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Chicago. The Stranger from Billy Joel. Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty. Aja from Steely Dan. Brothers in Arms from Dire Straits, the self-titled debut from Men at Work and Joe Jackson’s debut album Look Sharp. Plus a Southside Johnny album, a “South’s Greatest Hits” album from Capricorn Records (Allman Bros, Marshall Tucker Band, Outlaws, Dr. John, et al.), a live album from the Jackson 5, a disco single of Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage” and an album from Cincinnati jazz great Cal Collins. It’s the soundtrack to my formative music years, a cross section of the top-selling artists of the 70s and 80s (with a few chestnuts thrown in)…. all for the princely sum of $9.37.

I work from home on Tuesdays and have been trying to use the Pomodoro Technique to be more productive:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished.
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break.

The beauty of listening to these albums is that each side is roughly 25 minutes long, so they line up perfectly with a Pomodoro work unit, and my short break allows me to flip the album over for Side 2. That means these precious vinyl platters are both a time machine and a timer… win-win.

I doubt I’ll ever stumble across another mother lode like those albums at a thrift shop again, but I won’t need to for a while.

What have you done for everyone else lately?

In America, we’re obsessed with being #1.

“The best ever! Believe me!”

And we care deeply – waaay too deeply – about rankings and ratings. The top song on the charts.

Music was better back then… 

The Fortune 500. The highest-grossing movie. The most-watched TV show. The most views or “likes” or “shares” on social media. The highest-ranked football team. The five-star basketball recruits.

We do comparisons all the time, trying to determine who is better…. and who is the best.

But Seth Godin is trying to help us reframe that obsession. (I know I write/rave about Seth a lot, but the man’s a genius.) Here’s a post from his blog earlier this week:

Community rank

You’re probably familiar with class rank. Among all the kids in this high school, compared to everyone else’s GPA, where do you stand?

And you’ve heard about sports rank, #1 in the world at tennis or golf or chess.

But somehow, we don’t bother with community rank.

Of all the contributions that have been made to this community, all the selfless acts, events organized, people connected–where do you stand?

Maybe we don’t have to measure it. But it might be nice if we acted as if we did.

 

What a fabulous concept! Let’s measure what really matters… how good you are to your fellow human beings.

That’s a #1 ranking worth attaining.

 

 

A rude awakening. Repeat daily.

Well, my summer vacation was fun while it lasted… but today was back-to-school Day #1 in our house, so my leisurely mornings came to a screeching halt around 5:28 a.m. E.D.T.

Three teenagers (and one or two adults) trying to get ready every weekday and catch a bus.

Compounded by the fact that we have only one functioning shower at the moment. Packing lunches (my wife does most of that), signing permission slips, finding lost sneakers… every morning is an adventure.

This too shall pass. Our oldest will be heading to the dorms in a week, with the others soon to follow. Five years from now, I’ll be wistful about our early morning reveille.

But right now I’m just a wee bit tired. One down, 179 to go…

 

And now, in honor of my morning alarm, a new song from The Alarm

If music be the food of love, play on… and on… and on…

Wellsir (and madam), that was quite the music marathon that my ears just ran this weekend.

Friday night, I went to see Reverend Horton Heat doing a free show in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, at Fountain Square (as seen in the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati). I’ve seen the Reverend many times before, doing his souped-up version of rockabilly (he calls it “psychobilly”), but it had been quite a few years. My friend Todd convinced me to go (actually more like “cajoled”), and I’m so glad he did. Rev and his band sounded great, and he had Wayne “The Train” Hancock (an old school country yodeler ala Hank Williams Sr.) join him for part of the set, which was a lot of fun.

Saturday I drove an hour north of Cincy to Waynesville, Ohio (home of the annual Sauerkraut Festival!) to the debut Bellwether Festival. Saturday’s lineup included a nice mix of new and classic bands (and by “classic” I mean “bands that I used to play on 97X back in the 90s”).

Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards:

Allah-Las:

My latest obsession, Japanese Breakfast:

The Psychedelic Furs:

Echo & The Bunnymen:

And the headliners were The Flaming Lips, who seem to headline 50% of all outdoor music festivals in the country. Probably because they are so darn fun, and have a larger-than-life stage show (balloons! confetti! giant pink robot inflatable!) that’s perfect for an audience that may only be casual fans. It’s truly a spectacle.

After that long day (and 8 hours on my feet), you’d think I’d rest up on Sunday. But no, I could not rest. Mr. David Byrne was in town, at the PNC Pavilion. The former frontman for the Talking Heads is an artist in the true sense of the word, a renaissance man, a man of letters. How many other folks in rock would start a website about positive civic engagements called Reasons To Be Cheerful? His stage show is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and his band was amazing. I’ve seen hundreds of shows over the past 30+ years, but this one was easily one of the best, and certainly one of the most memorable.

Yes, it was a lot to pack into one weekend for an old man like me. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat. As David Byrne says:

Every day is a miracle
Every day is an unpaid bill
You’ve got to sing for your supper
Love one another

 

Art for art’s sake, not for Martin’s sake.

Band of Horses was in town last night, playing a sold out show at Bogart’s. Having seen them seven times already, in seven different venues, in four different cities (including an amazing acoustic set/electric set show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville), I decided to sit this one out. So did my friend Dale Doyle (the original d2), who has joined me at five of those gigs. But Dale’s an artist, a graphic designer by trade, so he made an oversized gig poster just for grins.

Simply brilliant!

I had the pleasure of working with Dale for five years at Landor (where I also worked with other amazing artists like Keith Neltner and Tommy Sheehan). Dale was at Landor for 23 years, working his way up from entry-level designer to Executive Creative Director, thanks to his skills and his dedication to the craft. His reward for all those years of service? He was unceremoniously dumped earlier this summer. Call it layoffs or budget cuts, or a “reduction in force” or a “restructuring”… to paraphrase Shakespeare, bullsh*t by any other name would still smell as stinky. (Sorry Big Willie!)

Yes, Landor’s Cincinnati office was struggling to make their numbers, and that’s part of the equation. But the other part is why their “numbers” were probably unattainable in the first place. Landor is merely a cog in the universe of WPP, a publicly-traded company that’s the world’s largest advertising conglomerate. It owns scads of well-known ad agencies, brand consultancies, PR firms, media buying companies and digital agencies. For 33 years, WPP was run by Martin Sorrell, a man whose ambition was outstripped only by his ego. A shark who swallowed up other ad agencies whole, usually via hostile takeovers. A man whom advertising legend David Ogilvy called “an odious little sh*t.” A person who could squeeze blood out of a turnip, and was never satisfied with the revenue numbers and profit margins of the dozens of companies and hundreds of offices under his thumb. Last year, “Sir Martin” (he was knighted in his native England) earned 70 million pounds. His net worth is listed as 495 million pounds.

Artist’s representation of Sir Martin

Creative artists like Dale are a dime a dozen to him, and if it came down to keeping a Dale or earning an extra nickel, he’d take the latter every time.

Dale did get a severance, so he has a few months to figure out his next move. He also has a freedom he hasn’t enjoyed in two decades. The freedom to create art whenever the muse strikes. To use his talents for self-expression rather than marketing campaigns. To make a band poster just because. You can’t put a price tag on that.

Oh, and what of our friend Sir Martin? He was sacked by the WPP board earlier this summer over allegations of “personal misconduct.”

 

 

 

Carping about the diem… and other random thoughts

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

— Wu Men

Great poem, wonderful sentiment. But it mentions nothing at all about 110% humidity. Therefore, I reserve my right to carp about the diem rather than carpe diem.

———————————-

My friend Robin had a birthday not too long ago. She’s an Elvis fanatic, so I sent her this text:

Here was her reply:

Yes, that’s Robin’s face superimposed on the woman.

—————————

On a recent trip to an antiques mall, I found a cheesy 70s rock album by a band called Starz. Check out the great hairstyles on the back cover of their 1976 debut:

If you look more closely, it seems some smart aleck has “tagged” the dude at the top right:

“I’m Wm. Shakespeare’s Reincarnation”

———————————–

Here’s hoping your Monday isn’t crappy… but if it is, play to win!

 

In a festive mood

Cincinnati loves its festivals. Every weekend during the summer, a Catholic church in the area has a fundraising festival. They all follow the same script: raffles galore, a silent auction, games of chance (lollipop pull and fish pond for the younger set, poker and blackjack for the adults), food and beverages (including alcohol). Some of the larger parishes will also throw in some carnival rides and local bands as the evening entertainment.

With the proliferation of casinos, bingo isn’t the fundraising juggernaut it used to be, but the summer festivals still draw a decent crowd.

I made it to two festivals in Cincinnati this weekend, but they were quite different in style. On Friday night my wife and I went to a church festival to see Cereal Killers, a local band featuring two friends of ours. They were stellar as always (see this blog post for more about them), which is especially noteworthy when you consider the fact that they really only play gigs a handful of times each year. But they do practice quite a bit. The lead guitarist Matt and his wife Amy are neighbors of ours, and in Amy’s eyes, “band practice” is just a convenient cover story for a guy’s night out every week. (If that’s the case, I may have to join Cereal Killers as their lead cowbell player.)

Saturday morning, I got up bright and early and rolled down to the Ohio River to participate in Paddlefest. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds… it’s just 2000+ folks in canoes and kayaks (and on paddleboards) taking a leisurely paddle down the mighty Ohio.

I’ve posted about Paddlefest before, so I won’t wax rhapsodic here. But suffice it to say it’s always a great time.

The only festival in Cincinnati that I didn’t attend this weekend was Goettafest. Yes, we have an entire weekend festival dedicated to a pork-and-oatmeal food that was popular with Cincinnati’s horde of German immigrants back in the late 1800s, and remains a Cincinnati staple to this day.

They even have a vending machine where you can purchase rolls of goetta.

Nein, danke.

I’m in a centerfold!

Yes, you should probably avert your eyes.

Don’t worry, it’s just my words… on second thought, you still should avert your eyes.

Wait, there’s a great illustration that redeems it. The illustration is not by me, of course… surely you’ve seen the hideous “design” of my blog site?

OK, without further ado or doo-doo…

It’s my first published magazine piece, in the August issue of Cincinnati Magazine. Tada!

You can read the entire thing here. It just a short intro and a few callouts in a two-page spread, window dressing for the visuals, really. It mentions beer a lot (go figure!). It won’t win a Pulitzer Prize. But it’s a milestone of which I’m proud.

 

Location, location, location… or just plain loco!

The first house that my wife and I ever owned is up for sale.

It was built in 1919, yet when we bought it in 1997, we were only the second owners. (More on that below.) The price tag was $80,000, but we took out a loan for an extra $25K to make some long overdue upgrades (HVAC, roof, windows, upgrading the wiring, remediating termite damage… the unsexy stuff you never see on HGTV).

In 2001, with Baby #1 being quite ambulatory and Baby #2 on the way, we knew we needed more space on a street with less traffic. We sold our house for $115,000 and felt lucky to do so, seeing as was right off a busy four-lane throughfare, right across the street from a used car lot and right next door to a 24-hour chili restaurant that didn’t attract the most desirable clientele, especially in the wee hours of the night.

The current owners (the folks to whom we sold) have made some cosmetic upgrades, but nothing elaborate. The layout is still choppy, two of the three bedrooms are small by today’s standards, the kitchen is still tiny (and still features the tile floor that my college roommate Art helped me install… and by “helped me install” I mean he did the work while I watched.)

Nice job, Art!

I’ll grant you that the neighborhood has improved dramatically since we departed. In fact, my wife and I always joke that the powers-that-be waited until we moved out and then said “OK, now that they’re gone, we can finally turn this area into a hipster hotbed.” The 24-hour restaurant is now a fitness studio. The Hardees a block away has transformed into an Indian restaurant. The old Red Wing shoe store site has become one of the hottest brunch spots in town. The big-box home improvement store a block east (R.I.P, HQ) is now a megachurch where 30,000 attend services each weekend. The old cardboard factory across the main drag from the church is a local brewery’s gleaming new HQ, complete with a ginormous taproom that’s constantly packed. (You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting five bearded millennials.)

But the view from the master bedroom windows is still a used car lot.

And the house is still on a lot the size of a postage stamp (remember postage stamps?).

Here’s the new price tag:

$309,000? Are you crazy? This isn’t San Francisco or Seattle.

The Cincinnati housing market is hot, but it ain’t that hot.

More power to them if they can get that much for our old house. I just hope they take a page from the book of the original owner and manage their money wisely, as explained in this column that appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer shortly after we moved into the house:

Thursday, December 11, 1997 
Miss Koehl’s million-dollar
finance lesson


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ruth Koehl left almost $4 million to strangers. No strings. Except that the money must be used to help people in Cincinnati. What a nice string.

And what an exceptional woman. Described by a friend as ”an astute businesswoman who could dominate a corporation, well before it was fashionable to do so,” she walked to her neighborhood hardware store to use the copying machine for her Wall Street Journal clippings.

It cost her only a nickel there. Copies are 10 cents most everywhere else.

Miss Ruth Caroline Koehl (pronounced Kale) was born in 1903 in the family home on Reading Road near Florence Avenue in Walnut Hills. When she was 16, her father, Harry, built a house on Appleton Street in Oakley for his wife, Emma, and Ruth and her sister, Elmira.

Miss Koehl lived in that house until June 1996, when she died at age 93 of a stroke. A nice brick house, small with some pretty stained glass, it sold recently for $80,000. She drove a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass sedan, immaculately maintained, just like her little house.

This money, $3.8 million in an unrestricted endowment to the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, belonged to her. She earned it as a business executive and tended it as a shrewd investor. A 1921 graduate of Hughes High School, she attended the University of Cincinnati Evening College while working during the day.

Her last job, her favorite, was as comptroller of a Bellevue, Ky., company that made hardware, medicine cabinets and light fixtures. She retired while only in her 80s, so she had a lot of energy left to complain about, for instance, zoning.

”We had our differences,” says Jack Staudt. Miss Koehl opposed the zoning change that let his restaurant move next door to her. ”She was very well spoken and very professional. But she could be a pain.”

I feel confident that Miss Koehl would revel in that last bit of information.

She was not a helpless, lonely little old lady. She was a strong and confident woman who lived a long time. Long enough to outlive most of her family, except for a few second cousins. Elmira died in 1987. But she had people. People who chose her.

She spent holidays with Bonnie Powell and her family. ”She was terribly intelligent, could think rings around almost anybody else,” says Mrs. Powell, who knew Miss Koehl for 50 years. ”She was brilliant. And fun.”

Jane Greene, daughter of the family that owned the Delta Queen, remembers her as a frequent passenger, ”very popular and a great dancer.” Jane’s brother, Tom, says she looked like Fay Wray, King Kong’s beautiful blond co-star.

”She liked the idea of educating women in business,” Mrs. Powell says. ”I always thought maybe she’d fund some kind of scholarship. She never got to it.”

Well, let’s see. What has Miss Koehl taught us?

You can do a lot worse in life than live in a nice house in a real neighborhood, where you could pick the occasional fight and still get the polite respect of your opponents. And you can’t buy or rent the friendship of somebody like Bonnie Powell. Or the admiration of a boy who thinks you look like a movie star.

Her money will go to whatever we need around here. The arts, health, human services, the environment and education. No strings. Whatever we need.

Or she could have built a mansion with a gazillion bedrooms and hot and cold running servants. And she could have driven a car that cost more than the house on Appleton.

She could have.

But, of course, Ruth Caroline Koehl knew the value of a dollar.

 

 

Skip. School.

11 years and two days ago, the world lost a great teacher. He also happened to be a heck of a college basketball coach. No doubt he would want them listed in that order: teacher first, coach second.

His name was George Edward Prosser, but everyone called him Skip. He joined Xavier as an assistant coach under Pete Gillen way back when I was in school there, and later went on to become head coach at Loyola of Maryland, Xavier, and Wake Forest. He took all three teams to the NCAA tournament, and had a top five recruiting class coming in when he died of a heart attack on July 26, 2007, after jogging around the Wake Forest campus.

An avid reader and lifelong student, Skip was just as likely to wax rhapsodic about Thoreau or James Joyce as he was to talk about a full-court press. He was always humble, but he did pride himself on passing along life lessons to his student-athletes. His favorite quote was from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can.”

As Skip said, “I thought that was a powerful statement that we need to be around people who challenge us to be as good as we can be.”

On the day Skip returned to Cincinnati to take over as head coach at Xavier, I was dropping off a friend at the airport and saw Skip in the terminal. I went up to him, introduced myself as a Xavier alum, and said “welcome back to Cincinnati.” He replied, “thanks, it’s good to be back.”

This is what he said about returning to Xavier in 1994 to replace Gillen after serving as head coach for one year at Loyola (Md.): “I felt like I was coming home. Xavier wasn’t just a job for me. It was my first opportunity to coach at a collegiate level. I loved the city. Bellarmine was my parish. It was my church, my school. It was a town I considered my home. The minute I left Loyola, I felt great about being back at X.”  (Source: this Cincinnati Enquirer article)

A year later, I started working at the ad agency that handled the Xavier b-ball account, and went to a kickoff meeting with Xavier’s associate AD and Skip. He was kind, gracious, humble, funny, totally unassuming and completely engaged. His AD at Loyola, Joe Boylan, said Prosser was “a renaissance man coaching basketball” and that’s a great description.

Skip left this world too soon, but his lessons are still with us.

From this 2017 article:

On July 26, 2007, George Edward “Skip” Prosser, head basketball coach of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, passed away. Only 56 years old, Prosser’s death shook college basketball and the sports world in general. Widely revered in coaching circles, he was one of those individuals about whom you never heard a bad word spoken.

Fully living up to the reputation of a teacher on and away from the court, Prosser was beloved by the players he coached. During an interview with The Seth Davis Show, Chris Paul, who played for Prosser from 2003-05, discussed the immense impact his college coach had on his daily life.

“For me, it’s funny. You think about some people that you’ve known your whole life and they don’t necessarily make an imprint on your life,” Paul told Davis. “I knew coach for all of four years, and I think about the imprint that he had on my life.”

Diving deeper, Paul offered up a couple maxims that he learned from his late coach.

“The words that he said. He used to say, ‘Never delay gratitude.’ That was one of his favorite sayings. ‘If you can’t be on time, be early.’ Aside from what he taught me about the game of basketball, he taught me about life and about being a man.”

“Someone asked me as I was leaving, what do I want people to remember?” Prosser said. “It would make me happy if they thought I stood for what Xavier stands for. That was my challenge and my charge all the time, to stand for what Xavier stands for.”

“Coaching isn’t wins and losses,” Prosser said. “It’s teaching. That’s the reason I got into coaching and the reason I’ve stayed in coaching. I hope that I remain in the business of education.”