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.”

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!

Best New Artist

Surely you remember my good friend Dale Doyle? (OK, maybe you don’t… and I should stop calling you “Shirley.”) Dale and I worked together at an design agency for many years, and remain concert buddies. Three years ago, Dale was “downsized” by that agency — the place where he spent 23 years of his career. I wrote about that here, and a year later, I wrote about how Dale was killing the game at Holotype, the agency he co-founded. (He still is killin’ it, btw.)

Yesterday, this happened:

The album, Serpentine Prison, is from another Cincinnati kid, Matt Berninger, who also is the lead singer of The National.

I’m thrilled for Dale, not only because he’s a great guy and an amazing artist, but also because he loves music so much. A Grammy nomination is like a perfect storm of elation.

With Turkey Day just around the corner, I am thankful that I got to work alongside Dale and other super-talented artists like Keith Neltner, Tommy Sheehan and John Ham (to name but a few). A lot of their art is tied to commerce, and sometimes art snobs can look down their noses at that. But their work is as good as anything in the Louvre.

Why yes, I do have the album, signed by the Grammy-nominated artist…

A Fascinating Life

While he was still in high school, he was the lead actor on a radio show that aired in Cincinnati and later nationally on NBC. One of his high school friends was crooner Andy Williams.

In college, he was a drum major who gained renown for twirling lighted torches.

He toured the world with the Harlem Globetrotters, and was roommates with Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens for a few days.

He made and operated puppets on a kids TV show.

He worked in advertising and directed the first TV commercial for the Easy-Bake Oven… and cast his daughter Molly in it.

He borrowed $10,000 from a college fraternity brother to make whiskey-flavored toothpaste, and wound up on “What’s My Line?”

Life magazine sent a photographer to his assembly line, but Poynter didn’t have one. He was mostly a one-man operation. So, he enlisted some friends to play-act in a warehouse with empty boxes in the background because he had nearly sold out of the toothpaste.

Source: this Cincinnati.com article

He invented dozens of novelty toys, including a Little Black Box – when you turned it on, gears would move inside the box and a hand would emerge to turn it off… this same mechanism was later used to make a hand that grabbed coins, marketed as “Thing” from “The Addams Family” TV show.

He dreamt up dry cleaning bags printed with dresses from Disney Characters so kids could use them as costumes. Walt Disney called it “the best promotion I have ever seen.”

He invented this:

And this:

His toys were featured on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman.

“Almost everything I’ve ever done is either making someone laugh or giving them pleasure, and if I didn’t, I’d be out of business.”

Don Poynter, in a 2015 interview.

Don Poynter passed away in August of this year, at the age of 96. He said “I’ve had a fascinating life” and he wasn’t kidding.

You can read more about Poynter and his inventions in this Cincinnati.com article and two Cincinnati Magazine articles, here and here.

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