About Damian

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

Not all heroes wear capes. Not all champions get trophies.

Morgan Hentz is an all-universe volleyball player. Two-time All-American, and two-time NCAA champion with Stanford.

I worked with Morgan’s dad Mike at an ad agency eons ago. We still get together for the occasional happy hour, but those are few and far between, for reasons that will become patently obvious when you read this wonderful article about Morgan and the Hentz family on the Stanford Athletics website.

Morgan’s younger brother Louie had a cancerous brain tumor at age one. Louie and his mom, Kerin, spent a year at St. Jude’s in Memphis… yes, a full year… while Mike mostly stayed home with Morgan and her sister. Wrap your head around that for a moment: a mom separated from her young daughters, a father 500 miles away while his infant son was fighting for his life.

Then the other shoe dropped: at age 3, Louie was diagnosed with autism.

Louie does not interact through spoken language – other than simple wants and needs. He’s 16 and weighs 300 pounds because of his meds, and can be difficult to control physically. His life has been one of appointments and therapists. His development has been slow — hopeful on a good day. He is repeating some lines from familiar movies and videos, creating some optimism about brain development. But there’s no way to know.

Morgan is a superstar, but so is the rest of her family.

photo from GoStanford.com article. ISIPhotos

Long ago, Kerin and Mike learned to sacrifice things that other couples take for granted – nights and weekends away, dinners out, and even time with their other children. Instead, they’ve learned to roll with whatever happens and be prepared for whatever comes next.

Every day is a new challenge. Mike and Kerin have been playing at the highest level for 16 years. They’re world champs in the game that matters most.

“I feel like I would never wish what Louie had on anyone, but I think that because of my family and being able to make the most of the situation, I’ve learned a lot from him and my parents. They are the biggest role models in my life — the sacrifices they have made for our family. They have always put us kids first.”

photo from GoStanford.com article

Please read the article by David Kiefer. It’s a beautiful profile of a beautiful family.

Rictile unleashed

About a month ago, my old radio pal Ric “The Rictile” Cengeri was unceremoniously dumped from his Vermont Public Radio gig, after 12 years of faithful service.

Full story is here.

I worked with Ric for three years at 97X. We were roommates for much of that time, and morning show co-hosts for a year. So we spent a ton of time together. You won’t find a nicer guy, or one more passionate about creating great radio programs.

His energy was off the charts. His sense of humor was keen. His joie de vivre was contagious. His ability to remember listeners’ names was Rain Man-like. The way he mentored our college co-ops was admirable.

You could drop Rictile onto an uncharted desert isle (not Gilligan’s Island) and come back in three weeks to find a full blown party with hundreds of people. (He earned his Dirty Mayor nickname from his local pub, where he made so many fast friends that they called him “the Mayor.” He even has a cider named in his honor.)

After such a shock, Ric could’ve chosen to wallow in self-pity. But that’s not the Way of the Rictile. Instead, he’s doing what he’s always done. Going to concerts, to museums, to sporting events, to restaurants, to the symphony, to poetry readings, to the pub, to farmer’s markets, and volunteering in the community… The Man stole his livelihood, but he’s not going to mess up his life.

The Facebook post below from a former co-worker — and Ric’s reply — speak volumes about the kind of person he is.

Ric’s VPR job ended on a sour note, but the Dirty Mayor’s life is a thing of beauty. I can’t wait to hear about his next adventure.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

I’m not talking about the “holiday season” (I’m a USDA Certified, Grade A Grinch about that nonsense).

I’m talkin’ ’bout the college basketball season. And in particular Xavier University basketball. As an alum, as a 25+ year season ticket holder, I love it — it gives me something to look forward to during the dreary days of winter. Even the cheesy hype videos give me goose bumps.

I used to just have a single season ticket, sitting with a few friends. But last year, I added another season ticket, so each game is also a chance to spend some quality time with one of my kids, or my wife, or a friend. The games have created some fantastic memories over the years…

Here’s to many more magical moments. Let’s go X!

California is fired

Last Thursday morning, my lovely bride and I boarded a plane bound for San Francisco. We were supposed to run in a 12-person Ragnar relay race covering 200+ miles from San Francisco to Napa. One of my co-workers organized the team, just as he had done in 2017. That year, raging wildfires caused the cancellation of the race about a week in advance.

Shortly after we arrived, it was, as Yogi Berra would say “Deja vu all over again.” We received notice that this year’s race also was cancelled due to raging wildfires in Sonoma.

It was a bummer, dude, but we managed to make some lemonade out of the lemons we were given. The entire team met at the starting line at Golden Gate Park on Friday morning, when the race was supposed to begin, and we ran to (and across) the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then we had lunch on the bay in Sausalito. Then Muir Woods. And sunset back at Golden Gate Park’s beach. And we still did the winery tours that we had scheduled for Sunday. So don’t cry for us.

Nice shirt…

But do cry for California, which has been devastated by wildfires over the past few years. It’s a beautiful piece of the globe, but idyllic has turned dystopian. Infernos are the new normal.

Source: CBS News 11/1/19 at 9 a.m.

And cry for the residents who have lost their loved ones, their homes, their businesses, their power… their way of life. (Check out this NPR article for more.)

Photo credit: Lesley McClurg/KQED from this NPR article

The Golden State has lost its luster. Climate change is real. Now it’s up to us to change.

Sedaris. Rhymes with hilarious.

I attended a performance by author David Sedaris last night. You may think it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “performance” when he was merely reading his stories, followed by an audience Q&A. But that means you’ve never seen David Sedaris live. And I was in that group prior to last night.

I’ve read most of his books, and love them. I knew he’d be funny, insightful, witty, [insert other adjective for a writer of humorous, satirical essays here]. But I didn’t expect it to be bust-a-gut, rolling in the aisles, laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying funny. Yet it was. I haven’t laughed that much, or that hard, in ages. He’s not just a masterful writer, but also a powerful performer.

The promo blurb for the show was spot-on:

If you love David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think that you know what you’re getting into at his live readings.  You’d be wrong.  To see him read his own work on stage allows his autobiographical narrative to reveal a uniquely personal narrative that will keep you laughing throughout the evening.  

Best of all for a hack like me was the fact that the laughs were powered by David’s written words. No props, no fog machines, no show business shtick. Just short essays read by a 62-year-old man standing at a podium on an otherwise bare stage. Observant. Trenchant. Moving. And Hilarious.

David’s tour continues in the U.S. through early December. If he’s performing anywhere near you, you simply must go.

[David also used a bit of his stage time to promote another writer’s latest book. He raved about Ann Patchett’s new novel The Dutch House. I’ll have to check that one out.]

Thanksgiving in October

I love the sentiment of this quote, and especially the vivid language of it. “Your universe has tilted”… “irrevocably lost”… “bow before the mystery”… “let gratitude wash over you”…. “brief walk on our fragile planet”. It’s note-perfect.

This quote comes from Gratefulness.org. You can subscribe to their “Word of the Day” email. It’s usually a phrase instead of a single word, but it truly is the thought that counts.

I know you probably don’t need yet another email in your inbox, but this one takes mere seconds to read each day, and the heightened awareness can last a lot longer. Maybe even the rest of your “brief walk on our fragile planet.”

[I’m grateful to my good friend Phil Roberto for sending me the link to Gratefulness.org a few years back.]

You know you’ve chosen a horrible name for your blog when…

… the blog hosting company suggest this as an alternate name:

I suppose I really should start washing dogs – it would contribute more to society than my blogging.

The poor get poorer

Nick DiNardo is a fellow parent of Walnut Hills High School kids. Our sons played on the same junior high soccer team, and our daughter participated in the Ultimate Frisbee club that he leads/coaches.

(Photo: Jeff Dean/The Enquirer)

Nick’s day job is Managing Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio. He was featured in a Cincinnati Enquirer special section a couple of Sundays ago. The Enquirer is doing a four-part series on the lingering effects of the Great Recession, and it’s well worth the reading investment. You quickly realize how the economic collapse of a decade ago created an even greater divide between the haves and the have nots, and how the cards are stacked against the poor.

The article that featured Nick is about payday lenders. After reading it, the term usury comes to mind.

The article is a great example of how hard it is for the poor (including the working poor) to keep their heads above water. All it takes is a single, solitary, unexpected expense — an urgent care visit or car breakdown — to crush you.

Most payday loan customers are poor, earning about $30,000 a year. Most pay exorbitant fees and interest rates that have run as high as 590%. And most don’t read the fine print, which can be unforgiving.

Cincinnati Enquirer article

Read the article to find out how a working single mom wound up paying $3,878 for an $800 loan. And she’d still be on the hamster wheel if not for Nick’s intervention.

Payday lending may not be illegal, but it sure as heck is unethical.

DiNardo hopes the new Ohio law regulating the loans will mean fewer cases like hers in the future, but he’s not sure. While mortgage rates go for 3.5% and car loans hover around 5%, poor people without access to credit will still turn to payday lenders for help.


And when they do, even under the new law, they’ll pay interest rates and fees as high as 60%.


In DiNardo’s world, this is progress. 
 

Cincinnati Enquirer article

It’s not “just business”…. and it’s not anywhere close to being just.

The Marty Party ends today

Marty Brennaman, who has been the Cincinnati Reds play-by-play radio announcer for the past 46 seasons, will step away from the mic following this afternoon’s “titanic struggle” (that’s a Marty-ism) with the Milwaukee Brewers.

When I was 6, my family moved from New Jersey to Arkansas… sparing me the ignominy of being one of those obnoxious fans of the Yankees or Mets. With no geographic allegiance to a particular team, I was an MLB free agent fan.

In those pre-cable dark ages of the early 70s, all we had was the NBC Game of the Week (Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola) and the radio. I quickly latched onto the Cincinnati Reds, also known as The Big Red Machine. Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Concepcion, Geronimo… they were my heroes.

The Reds flagship radio station was — and still is — 700 WLW-AM, a 50,000 clear channel station. The station’s signal covered dozens of states at night, including Arkansas. So I would tune in nearly every game. Marty joined in 1974 (replacing Al Michaels), teaming up with former teenage major league pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

Marty & Joe were the soundtrack to my baseball life. Marty’s signature victory cry of “… and this one belongs to the Reds!” has been the source of thousands of smiles over my lifetime.

Marty’s last call is today. They’re giving away transistor radios to kids who attend, which is certainly anachronistic in the streaming media/smartphone era, but it’s totally fitting for the generation that grew up with him.

Illustration: Clinton Reno (clintonreno.com) from this cool article from a fellow Reds fan

I can’t attend the game (don’t you hate it when work gets in the way of play?), but I’ll be sure to tune in for one last party with Marty.

Source: Cincinnati Reds

Will the (pizza) circle be unbroken

Our daughter Leah started her first real job Monday. She’s working at Ramundo’s Pizzeria. It’s a family-owned small business, but it looms large within the dubbatrubba family.

Our oldest, Gabriel (age 19) has been working there since the location in our neighborhood opened two and a half years ago. Son #2 Peter also started working there when he was 16. Now he’s away at college, but Leah (who turned 16 in June) slid right into his old slot, working the sandwich/salad bar. She didn’t even have to interview – her older brothers’ work ethic got her a free pass.

Gabriel has moved up the food chain (pizza chain?), starting as part of the pizza-making crew, then doing deliveries (which pays better), and now he’s the night manager a couple times a week, working around his class schedule at the University of Cincinnati.

The owner is super nice. The pay is good… the freedom it affords our kids is even better. Gas money for the car. Yet another guitar for Gabriel, some Doc Martens for Leah, and funding for a Robinhood investment account for Peter (dude doesn’t buy stuff… he still has every nickel he ever made).

The owner is named Tony Ramundo… but you probably could’ve guessed that. (Photo credit: Forrest Sellars, Community Press, in this article)

But it’s not about the cash, really. It’s learning to show up when you’re supposed to, working hard when you’re there, treating customers with courtesy and respect, getting along with your co-workers, earning promotions through your efforts. All the habits they’re forming now that will serve them well, well beyond when they’re serving pizzas.

Free shift meals too!

It’s said that small businesses are the lifeblood of a community, and the American economy. I’ll raise a toast to that! (Craft beer buckets available at Ramundo’s for the incredibly low price of five cans for $15…)

photo credit: Yelp