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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Still no heart for Radiohead

[Radiohead is playing a concert in Cincinnati tonight, so I’m reposting a blog entry from May of 2016 below – I’m 53 now, but the sentiment still holds.] 

I’m an old man, but I have young ears. I like to listen to cutting edge indie rock/alternative/never-heard-of-them-before artists. I go to way more concerts by up-and-coming bands than a 51-year-old should. Pitchfork would give me a 7.9. But I’ll go ahead and risk losing all my street cred with a single, solitary statement: I don’t really care for Radiohead. 

I know that’s considered blasphemy among the music snobs, but I don’t care.

95% of the Radiohead songs that I’ve heard put me to sleep, including the ones from their brand new album. Sure, there are a few that I like… the usual suspects like “Creep” and “Karma Police”. But by and large, I find them to be supremely soporific. We have satellite radio in one of our cars (not the 2003 Honda minivan) and I listen to Sirius XMU, the hipster station. Sometimes when I’m driving and listening (in that order), if I hear a song that’s boring to me, I’ll reach to change the station and realize that I’m changing from a Radiohead tune. Same goes for Thom Yorke solo stuff… actually I find that even more bland.

Music cognoscenti, including many of my music-head friends, will wax rhapsodic about how amazing, brilliant, mind-blowing and genius Radiohead is, but I’m not hearing it. And I’m certainly not feeling it.

(Yawn)

 

 

Rock and Soul

If you can sing, I’m jealous of you. I can’t carry a tune, even if you give me a five-gallon bucket.

Let’s don’t.

If you can really belt it out, with a voice that sounds like a gift from the heavens, I admire you. This past weekend, I saw several singers with “killer pipes”… Thursday night, it was local performer Krystal Peterson, a jazz/soul/funk dynamo.

Friday night, it was Fleet Foxes. Their lead singer’s voice is not of this earth, and the vocal harmonies are jaw-droppingly good.

Last night, it was a triple bill. I went mostly to see the middle act, Drive-By Truckers, and they were great, as always. But I was also blown away by the opener, Marcus King, who sounds (and plays guitar) like the love child of Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

And the headliners were Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and Susan Tedeschi has one of those rafter-rattling blues voices that sounds timeless.

All those great singers were so inspiring that maybe I’ll start to sing more…

… or maybe I’ll just go to more concerts. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

 

 

 

A poet disguised as a rock star

Jason Isbell is a wonderful poet. He just doesn’t get as much credit as he should because he sets his poetry to music.

I saw Jason Isbell and his fantastic band The 400 Unit a couple of nights ago.

There were several “goose bumps” moments during the set… I just love his way with lyrics. He’s also a heckuva guitar player, and has one of the most soulful voices around. With his band, he can turn on a dime from all-out rockers to heartbreaking ballads.

Anxiety deals with the internal struggles he goes through, even when to the outside world he has it all – successful career, lovely and talented wife, adorable daughter:

It’s the weight of the world
But it’s nothing at all
Light as a prayer, and then I feel myself fall
You got to give me a minute
Because I’m way down in it
And I can’t breathe so I can’t speak
I want to be strong and steady, always ready
Now, I feel so small, I feel so weak

Anxiety
How do you always get the best of me?
I’m out here living in a fantasy
I can’t enjoy a goddamn thing
Anxiety
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I’m wide awake and I’m in a pain

White Man’s World deals with “white privilege”:

I’m a white man living on a white man’s street
I’ve got the bones of the red man under my feet
The highway runs through their burial grounds
Past the oceans of cotton

I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes
Wishing I’d never been one of the guys
Who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke
Oh, the times ain’t forgotten

There’s no such thing as someone else’s war
Your creature comforts aren’t the only things worth fighting for
You’re still breathing, it’s not too late
We’re all carrying one big burden, sharing one fate

I’m a white man living in a white man’s nation
I think the man upstairs must’a took a vacation
I still have faith, but I don’t know why
Maybe it’s the fire in my little girl’s eyes
Maybe it’s the fire in my little girl’s eyes

Last of My Kind is a fish-out-of-water tale of a farm boy from Arkansas living in NYC:

So many people with so much to do
The winter’s so cold my hands turn blue
Old men sleeping on the filthy ground
They spend their whole day just walking around
Nobody else here seems to care
They walk right past them like they ain’t even there
Am I the last of my kind?
Am I the last of my kind?

Daddy said the river would always lead me home
But the river can’t take me back in time
And daddy’s dead and gone
The family farm’s a parking lot for Walton’s five and dime
Am I the last of my kind?
Am I the last of my kind?

And Cumberland Gap reflects the struggles of a guy in coal country when the industry is fading and his town is dying:

Remember when we could see the mountain’s peak?
The sparkle off the amphibole?
Like a giant golden eagle’s beak
Now they say no one wants the coal

I thought about moving away
But what would my mama say?
I’m all that she has left and I’m with her every day
As soon as the sun goes down
I find my way to the Mustang Lounge
And if you don’t sit facing the window
You could be in any town

Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole

I highly recommend that you catch a poetry reading this summer or fall.

 

 

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.

 

 

Getting to the non-meat of the matter

Over the weekend, my older sister sent me a link to this article in Time. WeWork is taking meat off the menu, and won’t pay for meals that include meat:

The startup has told its 6,000 global staff that they will no longer be able to expense meals including meat, and that it won’t pay for any red meat, poultry or pork at WeWork events. In an email to employees this week outlining the new policy, co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the firm’s upcoming internal “Summer Camp” retreat would offer no meat options for attendees.

“New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” said McKelvey in the memo, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.”

This is bad news for Arby’s.

But it’s good news for a planet that desperately needs it. WeWork’s new policy is a bold move – one that’s sure to get some backlash, yet one I applaud with my wimpy vegetarian hands.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go full Morrissey on you.

I gave up meat 27 years ago for health, environmental and economic reasons, and it’s worked for me, but I try to avoid prosthelytizing… usually. To each their own.

But “going veg” doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Perhaps there’s a less-meaty middle ground. Even a “meatless Monday” every week would be a big boon in reducing greenhouse gases, improving health and saving the planet.

Livestock alone account for more than 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and by 2050 the food sector could account for half if cuts are implemented in other sectors along the lines that countries have committed to doing. A vegan or vegetarian diet could cut those emissions by 70% and 63%, respectively.

Changing dietary patterns could save $1 trillion annually by preventing health care costs and lost productivity. That figure balloons to as much as $30 trillion annually when also considering the economic value of lost life. And that doesn’t even include the economic benefits of avoiding devastating extreme weather events that could result from climate change.

(from the Time article… and below are a couple  more fun facts from a CNN article about going vegan)

 

Perhaps it’s time for all of us to give peas (and pea proteins) a chance. Veggie options have come a long way in the past couple of decades.

Take a page from the WeWork workbook and ban the beef, chuck the chicken and pull pork from the menu, at least every once in a while.

C’mon, give it a try. The planet needs you.

 

 

Sunday morning coming down

A trifecta of odds and ends for your morning perusal.

  1. It’s the finals of the World Cup, with… that one team… playing… some other team. (Sorry, I know fútbol is the most popular sport in the world, but I just can’t get into it.)

I’m with Michael Cera

 

2. It’s hard to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor in a backyard garden when your garden looks like an illustration from a Beatrix Potter book:

Sorry for the fuzzy shot… my flip phone is only 3 megapixels, and I didn’t want to bother the bunnies while they were having dinner.

Those little buggers ate all of my cherry tomatoes. But they don’t like basil, apparently. Pesto, anyone?

 

3. I may not be into soccer, but it’s been fun watching the Reds lately. After an abysmal start, they’re actually playing decent ball. And they have the best defensive centerfield in the game:

It’s not the first time Billy’s stolen a homer from Matt Carpenter:

 

Enjoy your Sunday!

 

 

 

 

Odds and ends

A few leftovers on a Monday morning:

Heartbreak for the Hogs

It’s been a couple of weeks since this happened, but I was on vacation at the time (also, still smarting from it). The Arkansas Razorbacks were one strike away from clinching their first national title in baseball at the College World Series. One pop foul away, actually. Then this happened:

Great Bill Buckner’s ghost! You know what happens next… Oregon State ties it, then wins that game and the next one. What a way to lose. But the Razorbacks will be back.

The Great Pretender

I saw The Pretenders in concert on Friday night, and now have firsthand evidence that Chrissie Hynde is the coolest chick in rock and roll. (I’m using the term “chick” because I’m pretty sure Chrissie would use that term also.) While the set list was a bit short on classics (I’d be happy if they played their first album in its entirety), it was still a darn fine show, and Chrissie is still going strong at 66. (Must be that vegan lifestyle.) Props to original drummer Martin Chambers, too, working overtime keeping time on the kit.

I didn’t take this photo… Chrissie doesn’t allow audience members to take them, and our seats were much farther away.

Good news/Bad news

Good news: Superchunk is finally playing a show within 100 miles of Cincinnati. It’s been eons since that happened.

Bad news: The show sold out in 13 hours… before I could snag a ticket.

  

Ending on a happier note

 

 

Bridging the digital divide

The excerpt above is from the introduction to The Moth, a book of 50 stories from The Moth storytelling organization, which includes a radio hour on 400+ stations around the country.

The book came out in 2013, but those lines are even more relevant (and incriminating) five years later. We’ve all done it, to varying degrees. Sending a text instead of making a call. Trading a birthday lunch for a Facebook “like.” Netflix binging instead of getting together with friends over the weekend.

Often our noses are so buried in our phones that we don’t even look up anymore… at the trees, the sky, or our friend sitting across the table from us.

Do your friends a favor: meet with them, face-to-face, and leave the phones out of sight and out of mind. And just listen.

And now for fans of 80s tunes and/or videos that feature copious amounts of rouge on both male and female performers, here’s Missing Persons with their 1982 semi-hit, “Words”: