Heads I win, Tails I Kinda win

I went to my first-ever NFL playoff game yesterday. (Uh, to be clear, I was merely a spectator… although I could’ve been an All-Pro defensive back except for one minor thing: a complete and utter lack of skill.)

Las Vegas Raiders (still feels weird typing that) versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The team I’ve loved since I was six, against the team from my adopted hometown, the place I’ve lived for more than 30 years.

True story: my co-worker moonlights as the Bengals mascot, Who Dey

The “more than 30 years” is significant because the last time the Cincinnati Bengals had won a playoff game was 1991. So while I was rooting for my long-suffering Raiders — they haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years — part of me wanted the “Bungles” to end their drought.

My Raiders have had to deal with a ton of off-field issues this year. Their former coach, Jon Gruden, resigned mid-season after reports emerged of him using homophobic, racist and misogynistic language in emails from several years back, while he worked as an ESPN analyst. In early November, their 2020 first-round-draft-pick wide receiver Henry Ruggs III killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog while driving drunk and going 156 mph, and was released from the team. A week later, another 2020 first rounder, cornerback Damon Arnette, was released after posting a social media video where he was waving a gun and threatening to kill someone.

Yet somehow, some way, the Oakland… er, Los Angeles, er, Oakland, er, Las Vegas Raiders managed to eke out victories in their final four regular season games and make the playoffs. Sure, now that they were in the playoffs, I wanted them to win, but to use a term popular in their latest hometown, they were “playing with house money.”

Watching the game was a blast… and not just because my friend Whit got free tickets in the Miller Lite Who Dey party deck, although free tickets, free food and free beer never hurt.

The game was fairly close throughout, and with 30 seconds to go, the Raiders had first and goal at the Bengals 9-yard-line, needing a touchdown to tie the game and send it to OT. But on 4th down, the Bengals intercepted a pass at the goal line to seal the victory.

The fateful interception. Photo credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Watching your favorite team lose is never easy, but this was probably the easiest loss to take ever. Because watching 70,000+ Bengal fans cheering and high-fiving as their team exorcised decades’ worth of demons was pretty cool. And if you listened closely, you could hear the entire city breathe a sigh of relief.

Photo credit: Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Or maybe that was just the free beer talking.

For Those About to Folk Rock, We Salute You

Ellis Paul celebrated his 57th birthday last night with a few dozen friends. Pretty standard old guy stuff. Except Ellis was on a stage, at a small theater, and his friends were in the audience.

Ellis Paul is a singer-songwriter. A folk musician. A traveling minstrel, really. He’s been doing his thing in similar settings for three and a half decades.

No strobe lights, no smoke machines, no flash pots, no video projections. Just Ellis and his acoustic guitars. Here’s the thing: Ellis Paul doesn’t need all the rock star stage frippery to blow an audience away. It’s the songs, the stories, the music… connecting with the audience at their souls, instead of on the surface. That’s what really matters. And Ellis Paul delivered in spades last night, as I’m sure he does every night.

He’s a kid from rural Maine — potato country, apparently — who went to Boston College on a track scholarship, hurt his knee, picked up a guitar, and never looked back. All those open-mic slots on the Boston folk scene decades ago helped him hone his craft. It’s great that artists like Billie Eilish can release albums from their bedroom, but they’re not learning the nuances that can only come from a live setting. Mic technique, vocal dynamics, the pacing of a set, when to throw in a joke, when to break out the most popular song.

Toward the end of his set last night, Ellis unplugged and wandered out into the audience to sing “Annalee”…. so simple, yet simply amazing.

It was Ellis Paul’s 57th birthday, but the folks in the audience are the ones who got the unforgettable gift.

I went to the show with my buddy John Sandman, who often will go up to the artist at the merch booth and give them some cash, saying “I listen to your music on Spotify, so here’s some cash to replace what I would’ve spent on your albums.” Not a bad philosophy – if Spotify isn’t paying much in royalties (and they aren’t), we can!

Touring and merch sales are how indie artists survive, and gigs have been few and far between these past couple of years. So if you go to a show and love it, give the artists some “certificates of appreciation.”

200001: A Car Odyssey (but it isn’t an Odyssey)

Our 2008 Honda CR-V hit a big milestone a couple of days ago:

I bought it used three and a half years ago… when it already had 181,000 miles on it. Some folks would question the wisdom of buying a 10-year-old car with that many miles on it. But this car was a real cream puff…

(true story, this photo was part of an ad campaign I worked on more than 20 years ago)

I did my research, I trusted the seller , and the price was right. (Heck, with the tight used car market these days, I could probably sell it now for more than we paid for it nearly 20K miles ago.)

“Chad” (that’s the car’s name… dubbed by my daughter) recently went in for an oil change and passed his 30-point inspection with flying colors.

Ostensibly ol’ Chad was for our son Peter, who was 17 at the time. In reality, it’s been used by Peter… and by me for kayaking because it has a roof rack… and by my wife when she’s picking up gardening supplies…. and by all of us when we need to haul bulky stuff or take the dogs to the dog park… and when it snows because it’s all-wheel drive…. and by our now-16-year-old son Andrew, who has his driving permit. We’ve certainly put the “utility” in SUV.

The beauty of buying a used car with that many miles on it is you don’t have to sweat the small stuff. It already has a few dents and door dings and paint scratches. It’s been through the wars and lived to tell the tale. So you can beat it up a bit more and not be too precious with it. Because this ain’t the Miss America Pageant. Looks don’t matter – getting from Point A to Point B is the mission.

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato… Hell Yes!

In case you missed this Twitter thread from John Darnielle, the lead singer of The Mountain Goats, when it came out on New Year’s Eve:

In 2022, may we all find moments when we can appreciate “the ten trillion small things that ease the path a little — colors, shades, sounds, flavors, sensations, moods, fleeting thoughts, moments of transcendence when you’re very lucky…”

Warren Zevon taught us to “enjoy every sandwich.” Now John Darnielle has taught us to enjoy every potato. Will it be enough to get us through another year? Hell yes!

Print’s not Dead

But Betty White is. Before she turned 100.


To be fair, People Magazine isn’t the only one left holding the Betty bag. A movie called Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration was slated to be shown at more than 900 theaters on January 17th (which would have been Betty’s 100th birthday). It was originally going to show live footage of Betty’s actual BD party. In true show biz fashion, the show will go on.

“We will go forward with our plans to show the film on January 17 in hopes our film will provide a way for all who loved her to celebrate her life—and experience what made her such a national treasure.” 

Film producers Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein

You can cancel that order for a birthday cake. Especially if Sue Ann Nivens was going to bake it.

Just wiser, that’s all

I don’t have any Ojibwa blood in me, but today I feel a bit Ojibwa…

The Ojibwa people called old people “wisdom keepers.” They are treasures. They’re also the funniest people in the community. Elders have the freedom to tease anybody.

author Louise Erdrich

“Wisdom keepers”…. yeah, that’s the ticket! Not over-the-hill, or outdated, or just an old fart. I’m a “treasure.” And I can tease you all I want.

Very grown-up of me to say that…

The quote above (uh, the Ojibwa one, not the nanny nanny boo boo one) came from the November AARP Bulletin… which showed up in MY mailbox for some inexplicable reason. Oh wait, I know the reason… it’s because I’m OLD full of wisdom!

But that beats the intro from a Golden Palominos song:

Now if only I could find a receptive audience for all the wisdom I’ve accumulated.

Today’s the Day… every day!

Just a few quotes to ponder as we get ready to turn the page on 2021.

A miracle happened: another day of life.

Paulo Coelho

Life, what an exquisite privilege.

Katie Rubenstein

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.

Omar Khayyam

Funny how we tend to put too much stock in our resolutions for the “new year” based on a calendar that came out in the 1500s… and we don’t spend nearly enough effort making today count. Because it’s the only day that counts.

The true spirit of the season

If you’re looking for the true spirit of the holiday season, here it is:

Uh, I’m not saying that the true spirit of the holiday season is to gain 10 pounds from gorging on delicious baked goods. Although the bathroom scale at my house might beg to differ.

These homemade goodies came courtesy of my co-worker Kelsi and her husband Tommy. Last week, they baked, boxed, and delivered similar batches to nearly a dozen friends all over town, with no expectations of reciprocity. Just because.

That alone is pretty cool, but Kelsi and Tommy have really and truly embodied the spirit of the holiday season all year long… even longer, actually. When the pandemic hit, they started making similar “Baked Boxes” (as they dubbed them) once or twice a month, and distributed them to friends and co-workers in exchange for a donation to Crayons to Computers, a local non-profit that provides free educational supplies to teachers, many of whom would otherwise have to dip into their own pockets to purchase them for their students.

Yep, for months on end, Kelsi and Tommy spent their own money, and their own precious time, making goodies for others… while raising funds to help low-income students get the school supplies they need. Bringing joy to friends, bringing joy to teachers, bringing joy to students. If that doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes, you might want to see your cardiologist.

Imagine what a difference we could make if all of us opted to forgo — or at least downsize — our own holiday wish list, and instead redirect those funds to folks who truly need help. Giving over receiving. Other’s needs over our own wants. Sounds like the true spirit of the season to me… thanks, Kelsi and Tommy, for showing us the way.

Say it ain’t so, Joe

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow recently gave his city (and mine!) a backhanded compliment, by saying this:

“Fortunately, there’s not a ton to do in Cincinnati. Nobody is going out to clubs and bars and getting COVID every weekend.”

Joe Burrow, Bengals QB (not a member of the tourism board)

As someone who has lived in Cincinnati for 30+ years and loves this city, I’m slightly offended. But as someone who could gladly go the rest of his life without going to a “club,” I’m fine with his comment.

And as someone who doesn’t want to see our fair burg turn into a “destination” city that folks move to in droves, creating traffic headaches, killing the “vibe” and making home ownership unattainable for the “Average Joe” (looking at you, Austin, Texas), I’m secretly thrilled with what Joe Burrow said.

Let’s keep that “sleepy town” perception in the national media.

Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau rep

That way we Cincinnatians can enjoy all the amenities that the area has to offer — the wonderful parks system, a thriving arts scene, the pro sports teams, the great universities (Xavier is at the top of that list, of course), the extensive hike/bike trail system, the scenic rivers, the easy commutes, the unique neighborhoods, the amazing architecture, the affordable homes, the Midwestern friendliness, etc. — without a bunch of turistas getting in our way.

Thanks for keeping Cincinnati off the radar, Joe!

The Magic of Music

I’m not much of a Beatles fan. [I know that’s a blistering hot take for someone of my vintage, but so be it (not “let it be…”). I’d much rather hear new music than songs that have been played a bazillion times. And if I do have to listen to “oldies” I’d prefer the Who, the Kinks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones… pretty much any other band from that mid-to-late 60’s era. I’m not saying the Beatles weren’t good and ground-breaking… it’s just I could go the rest of my life without hearing another of their songs and would be fine with that.]

Basically BTS of the 60s.

However, last night the internet rabbit hole led me to an article about a guy that semi-stalked John Lennon, several years before Mark Chapman did the same, with more tragic consequences.

The article was quite interesting. As noted above, I’m no Beatles superfan, so I’d never heard the story of “Claudio” before. But what really stood out for me was a footnote… it contains one of the best descriptions I’ve ever seen about the emotional power of music.

[11] If you’re ready to stop reading because you think I’m a deluded hippie no more rational than Claudio, hear me out and think about what music actually is and how it affects you: someone you do not know and have never met creates a series of sounds and combinations of words that, once recorded, you might eventually hear and it will bring you absolute joy, or cause your body to move wildly, or reduce to you to tears, or create an unbreakable bond between you and another person, often times achieved in about three minutes or so. If there is such a thing as magic in this world, this is a solid example of it.

Ryan H. Walsh

Wow! He really hit the nail on the head… it’s amazing when you stop to think about it. Or maybe don’t think about it and just enjoy it!

[ The author of the article also wrote a book called Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968. I’ve read that book, and it’s a fascinating look at several wild events (some music-related, some not) that happened in and around Boston back in ’68. Well worth checking out.]

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