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.

 

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….

 

 

 

 

And then there were none

Got a call from my cousin Tom yesterday, letting me know that his mom/my aunt had passed away over the long weekend. Aunt Pat was one of my dad’s two sisters, and never really strayed far from her Jersey City roots. She and her husband (a.k.a. Uncle Vince) lived in Verona, NJ for most of their adult lives. After Vince passed away a few years back, she moved to Virginia and moved in with her daughter and son-in-law to be closer to family. She loved her kids. She adored her grandkids. She was over the moon about great-grandchildren.

Aunt Pat was pushing 90, but you’d never know it. “Young at heart” fit her to a tee. I remember when she was in her 70s and several members of our family had gathered at my older sister’s place in Brooklyn. My sister’s kids were riding Razor scooters on the promenade along the Hudson River, in the shadows of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Aunt Pat promptly commandeered one of the scooters and took it for a spin, as fun-loving and carefree as any teenager. That was Aunt Pat in a nutshell – when her peers were riding Rascal scooters, she was on a Razor.

Aunt Pat loved Seinfeld too…

She had a joie de vivre that always came through, with a smile on her face and a joyous lilt to her voice. Now she’s gone – the last of that generation to leave us, preceded by Uncle John, my dad, Uncle Vince, Aunt Virginia, Uncle Don… and my mom, Uncle Remo and Zia Inez on the maternal side of my family. Which means I’m now part of the eldest generation of the Dotterweich/Osellame family. The connective tissue with the greatest generation has been severed… we still have the stories they shared, but it’s not the same without them here.

There’s not much we can do about it, but we can live the rest of our lives like Aunt Pat lived hers – with fearlessness, with a fun-loving attitude, with a smile on our face and a joyous lilt in our voice. Aunt Pat never let us down, and there’s no way I’m letting her spirit fade away. Hand me that scooter and get out of my way.

 

Reading is fundamental

Reading truly is fundamental. Don’t just take my word for it – take it from two members of the “Hill Street Blues” cast:

 

Here are three articles I’ve stumbled across recently that are worth reading.

  1. The supremely talented singer/songwriter Iris DeMent has an interesting take on her career in general, and performing in particular. Read the entire Boston Globe article here. As someone who loves live music, I love this quote from the interview:

“I feel really close to the world. Close to the people in the room. Unobstructed. I feel like everything’s going to be OK in a way I don’t really understand. I feel part of something that’s timeless and ancient. I feel a lot of love. That’s probably what I’m describing — love. I feel love.” 

2. Staying in the music vein, but on a sadder note, this article on Uproxx uses the Conan show decision to axe musical acts from their new half-hour format as the lead-in to a larger lamentation about the lack of exposure for up-and-coming artists. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Regularly putting on musical acts that are virtually unknown to a mainstream audience, making a late night show an avenue for actual discovery — not to mention spontaneity, surprise, and plain old genuine excitement — who is doing that now?….

Things are far too staid in late night, musically and otherwise — which is the opposite of how it should be, and yet reflective of how culture generally feels right now. We live in a time where there are more media outlets serving a wider range of people than ever in the history of human civilization. And yet, those outlets feel more homogenized, sanitized, centralized, and corporatized than ever. Whether the driver is ratings, web traffic, or algorithms, the pull of culture now is always toward the familiar, fatuous middle of franchise reboots, comic book adaptations, and pop music “perfection.” This inevitably influences how we see that world — the middle assumes outsized importance, and the margins are further, well, marginalized.

3. And it isn’t just late night musical experimentation that’s dying… it’s also your refrigerator. This great Washington Post article about the tradeoffs of technology is equal parts entertaining and enlightening.

That’s the irony of modern life in so many ways, multiplying all our choices while taking away the most fundamental one: the ability to choose something simpler and more likely to endure.

Happy reading!

Image result for burgess meredith twilight zone

Going, going… gone

A couple of days ago, I helped our oldest child move into his freshman dorm room (and it was on the 11th floor, and the elevator line was too long, so we hauled his stuff up 11 flights of stairs… and it was snowing… wait, now I’m mixing up my hardship stories).

He’s not going far from home. He’s enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, which is about 8 miles from our house. But if home is where you hang your hat, he’s now living “away.” It’s been a long goodbye. He started checking out when he moved into his own room a few years ago. (It’s the one above the garage, the former guest room, a.k.a. “The Fonzarelli Suite.”) Then he got a job at a swimming pool one summer and was away even more. He added another job at Ramundo’s Pizzeria, and started driving, and hanging out with his friends more, and spending the night at their house quite a bit on the weekends… but that slow fade from our house doesn’t make his departure any easier. He doesn’t have to check in anymore, doesn’t have to text when he arrives at a friend’s house. He’s on his own… at least until laundry day (which for an 18 year old boy could be months).

As an alum of crosstown rival Xavier, I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed in my parenting. Then again, Xavier doesn’t have an engineering program.

His room at home has been empty most of the time for the past few months. But now it’s a different kind of empty.

It feels more hollow… in a way it mirrors the hole in our hearts, the void in our lives. I’m so happy for him as he starts his next adventure, and I’m trying to focus on that part of the equation. But it’s tough.

 

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.

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

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.”

Not ready for Prime time

Take a gander at all the fabulous things I bought during Amazon Prime Day:

Sorry that I didn’t get sucked (or suckered) into your retail vortex, Mr. Bezos. First of all, “Prime Day” is a contrivance intended merely to get us to open up our wallets, much like the Tooth Fairy, Sweetest Day and Cincinnati Bengals home football games. And secondly, what you’re peddling is all just “stuff”… and “stuff” doesn’t bring long-term happiness. In fact, buying stuff actually brings us down.

All the gadgets, gizmos and geegaws are no substitute for a walk in the park, playing catch with your kids or having lunch with a friend. When you start selling that, let me know.