Saturday, October 31, 2009

Clifton Library Sets the Pace


Dear George,

 

Years ago J and I used to play doubles with an acquaintance named Tom who lived next to the Digby tennis courts and is an English prof at UC.  I ran across him as I was exiting the Clifton Public Library a while back, and he scolded me in no uncertain terms for checking out a movie on DVD instead of a good book.  He touched a sore nerve since I’m a regular movie watcher and my leisure book-reading has declined to virtually nothing.  Tom was very emotional about the topic, and I wondered if, being an author himself, he was just hanging out there confronting non-book borrowers all day long.  I decided Tom’s machinations were a little excessive.  After all, with the dominant presence of the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College in the neighborhood, Clifton is unquestionably the intellectual center of the region, populated by faculty, grad students, and well-educated professionals – i.e., scads of book readers.  If Tom wants to promote book-reading, he’d be better off going out to the suburbs and doing his proselytizing there.

 

I had the chance to confirm these impressions the other day when the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a front page article titled, “Video or book?  Library has both.”  The writeup included a table which reported last year’s circulation frequencies of books, videos (including DVD’s), and other items for all 41 branch libraries in Hamilton County.  Much to my surprise, wealthy suburban Anderson Township ranked very high, with 65% of  checked out items being books.  Aren’t those Anderson dwellers too busy drinking cocktails and swimming in their pools to read?  Other affluent suburbs were comparably high in book reading: Mariemont, 64%; Loveland, 64%; Wyoming, 61%; Blue Ash, 58%.  Clifton’s main competitor for prestige in the city, of course, is Hyde Park, the bastion of Cincinnati’s old wealth and elegant life styles.  At Hyde Park 63% of circulated items were books.  Not better than the burbs, but not worse.

 

We are snobbish about our East Side of Cincinnati being culturally refined while West Siders are stereotyped as eating brats, drinking beer, and watching TV.  Books, though, outweighed videos on the West Side: Covedale, 62%; Westwood, 55%; Delhi Township, 59%.  Traditionally blue collar communities did drop down a bit: Bond Hill, 47%, Madisonville, 43%, Reading, 43%, Norwood, 42%.  The West End, the poorest African-American neighborhood in the inner city, was toward the low end at 40%. 

 

I deliberately put off looking at the Clifton Library till last.  Could our book checkout rate possibly be as high as 90%.  Well, maybe not that high.  80% would be a more realistic (still definitely higher than Hyde Park).  You can imagine my surprise to discover that Clifton library patrons check out substantially more videos than books (a piddling 39%).  Our beloved library ranks near the bottom in relative book usage (38th out of the 41 libraries in the Metro area). No wonder Tom stationed himself at the Clifton Library door.  We are a pace-setter of sorts, but it turns out we are leading the charge by retreating from print media. 

 

I struggled to make sense of this.  For myself, I’ve long thought that I read all day long at work, and, when I get home, I want something lighter.  Maybe my University colleagues are the same.  Other times, I decide that books are an out-moded thing of the past and that movies represent the aesthetic wave of the future.  However, that reasoning seems forced, even to me.  Given the data at hand, I decided that Tom is on the right track, and we need some changes around here.  I’m not going to go so far as haranguing people on Ludlow Avenue.  But I am going to the Clifton Library first thing tomorrow to check out a book.  I think I’m going to start with Dave Barry.

 

Love,

Dave

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cincinnati: The Next Las Vegas?


Dear George,

At the fitness center the other day I was working out on a machine next to an elderly gentleman with a cane who I often see when I go there. Another guy walked by and asked him if he’d been to the boats recently. He said no, he’s had to hold off. The acquaintance said he thought he’d been doing very well, then asked how much he was out. The elderly man said he had been doing well, but now he was down five thousand dollars. I realized that “the boats” referred to the gambling casinos anchored on the Ohio River across the state line in Indiana. I felt sorry. Perhaps he could afford it, but $5000 struck me as a lot of money to throw away.

This was of immediate interest because Ohio voters will decide on November 3 whether or not to authorize casino gambling in the state. Casinos have been rejected by voters four times previously, but the severe state financial problems and the promise of job creation have generated increased support. Among others, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, and the Fraternal Order of the Police have endorsed the casino proposal. Here are some of the facts.

The proposed constitutional amendment calls for authorizing four casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo with tax revenues to be distributed to 88 Ohio countries and host cities. The casino proposal is backed by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, and the owners of a Pennsylvania-based gaming company, Penn National Gaming. Gilbert and Penn National have spent $32 million on advertising to sway voters. It’s estimated that these owners would take in $1.2 billion a year in gross profits. The state of Ohio would receive $600 million in tax revenues.

Nineteen percent of Ohio adults visited an out-of-state casino at least once in a recent year. Researchers estimate that there are currently approximately 252,000 problem and pathological gamblers in Ohio (2.98% of the adult population). Projections made in connection with a previous Ohio casino ballot initiative predicted an increase of 109,000 additional adults with serious gambling addictions if casinos are opened in the state.

Problem gambling is not randomly distributed. Men (3.7%) are about twice as likely to be problem or pathological gamblers than women (1.9%). Rates are significantly higher for African Americans (5.9%) than for whites (2.4%). A major national study found that gambling addictions were highest among the poorest twenty percent of the population (5.3%) and lowest among the wealthiest twenty percent (1.8%). These data, of course, suggest that if the state uses gambling profits to increase tax revenues, they will be drawing that money disproportionately from poor people and minorities.

Gambling is associated with high social and personal costs. Compared to non-gamblers and non-problem gamblers, people with gambling addictions have higher unemployment rates, have higher debt levels, are more likely to file for personal bankruptcy protection, are more likely to have committed crimes and served time in prison, have higher suicide rates and divorce rates, higher alcoholism, higher marijuana and cocaine use, and are more subject to a wide variety of stress-related health problems (.g., ulcers, migraines, allergies, respiratory problems, nausea, clinical depression). Based on data from four recent studies, between 30% and 41% of addicted gamblers steal money or property to finance their gambling

The state of Ohio currently provides 1.6 cents yearly per problem gambler for counseling and treatment of gambling addictions. Experts recommend a 5000% increase in state mental health funding if casinos are established in Ohio.

So that’s not a very pretty picture. Curiously though, little of the above information appears in mainstream media discussions of the casino issue. Instead critics of the casino proposal focus on the state tax revenue being too low (33%), churches losing income from their own gambling ventures, hidden costs of casinos (e.g., upgrading roads and bridges), bars and restaurants losing money to casinos, and the fact that obtained tax revenues would only constitute a tiny proportion of the state budget anyway (less than 3%). A statewide poll last week found that 57% of voters favored the casino proposal, and 39% were opposed. The polls haven’t always been good predictors in the past though, so it will be interesting to see. Whatever else, I feel certain that a casino in downtown Cincinnati is not in the interest of the elderly guy at the fitness center.

Love,

Dave

Internet Sources:

http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/; www.casinogamblingweb.com; www.cleveland.com; http://ohiogaminginfo.org; www.truthpac.org

Monday, October 26, 2009

Washington School Days: 7. The Playground

            Peter L. (center) on the Washington School playground (VAL photo)


Dear George,

 

I asked fifth-grade acquaintance Martha what her favorite subject in school was this year, and she promptly replied “recess”.  That brought back memories.  At Washington Grade School we spent a lot of time on the playground at morning and afternoon recesses, and I’d say recess was my favorite too.  Like nowadays, play was mostly sex-segregated.  The girls spent a lot of time at hopscotch and jumping rope.  While boys would occasionally join in, they were less skilled, and they mostly did it for a joke.  The boys specialized in marbles which we bought at the candy store down the block and brought to school in a cloth bag we carried in our pants pocket.  To play, you would scoop out a circular depression in the dirt and use your shooter to knock marbles into the hole.  Kids would decide first whether they were playing for funsies or for keepsies.  Keepsies was more serious – the winner kept the other guy’s marbles.  Funsies were for practice or when you knew you were out-matched and bound to lose.

 

Every once in a while the division of the sexes would be temporarily halted, and all the kids would join together to play one or another of two games: (a) boys chase the girls; or (b) girls chase the boys.  The idea was pretty much the same.  All the girls lined up in a row along the fence on the east side of the playground, and the boys formed a row on the west side.  For “boys chase the girls,” the girls had to run across the playground to the west side fence without being grabbed by a boy.  If a girl was captured, the boy took her over to a holding area at the playground’s corner, then returned to grab somebody else.  “Girls chase the boys”, of course, was the identical game, only in reverse.  These were the most exciting games at Washington School and were accompanied by a lot of yelling and squealing, excitement, and embarrassment.  The other boys would tease you for chasing after whoever it was you were chasing, and likewise for the girls.  The boys caught the girls more often than the girls caught the boys.  This could have been because the boys were faster runners, or it could be that the boys were more highly motivated to escape.  In fact, some complained that, in “boys chase the girls,” girls would run toward certain popular boys rather than trying to escape from them. 

 

Whenever we got a heavy snow in the winter the boys would play “Tackle”.  We needed at least two inches of snow because of the hard cinder playground.  An individual kid was designated the runner, given a football and a headstart, and the crowd of 20 or 30 other boys chased after him in an effort to tackle him.  Whoever tackled the runner then got to be the runner himself.  Tommy Hannon was the fastest kid in the school, and it would sometimes take ten minutes for the mob to bring him down.  One time Tommy ran straight at me.  I dove down and grabbed his ankles and down he went.  I don’t know who was more surprised, Tommy or me.  But I did get to be the next runner.  It was exhilarating to have the whole school chasing you, but I only stayed on my feet for thirty seconds, if that.

 

There was a big hickory tree at the southeast corner of the schoolyard, and it produced an abundant supply of nuts every fall.  A kid named Arnold, who was reputed to be a little socially backward, lived directly across the street.  After kids came back from lunch, Arnold would come out in his back yard, give a yell, and the rest of the boys would gather on the playground across the street next to the hickory tree.  Then we would start throwing nuts at Arnold while he would dodge back and forth.  He could do pretty well dodging single throws, but when we coordinated efforts and threw 15 or 20 hickory nuts simultaneously we would be bound to hit him.  This was met with loud cheers.  Shortly before the afternoon school bell rang, Arnold would pick up all the nuts from his yard so his parents wouldn’t notice and bring them back to the playground so we could use them again the next day.  This was a lot of fun for all concerned, and it was Arnold’s daily moment in the limelight, even though he got a few bumps and bruises in the process.

 

Love,

Dave


Gmail Comments:  Phyllis S-S (10-30-09):

Dear Dave,
This letter brought back so many memories.  Among them the same, exact games from my recesses untile the teacher police took over and organized recess.  That's correct.  Organized play.  None of boys chasing girls, vice versa and tackling.  They were deemed too dangerous and not socially acceptable.  Well, you can imagine what happened - the aggression was not repressed but went directly into the classroom.  The teachers prevailed with the organized play though.  It was a huge loss that I still mourn.
Phyllis-

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Miami Whitewater

Dear George,

 

The doggies, Mike and Duffy, and I went camping in Miami Whitewater Forest this week.  Here are a few photos.




Miami Whitewater is one of my favorite places in life these days.  It’s a huge (4700 acre) Hamilton County park, mostly undeveloped forest, located 20 miles west of Cincinnati near Miamitown.  It’s great for hiking and camping.  There’s an 85 acre lake at the park’s center, popular for fishing, kayaking, paddle-boating etc. 



There was only one other campsite occupied when we arrived, so we got our pick and chose site #45.  These are spacious, set off from the road in groves of trees.  That’s my new tent that I bought for $2.50 at St. Vincent de Paul.



Miami Whitewater has 35 miles of well-constructed hiking trails.  Here we are on our favorite, the Badlands Trail, hilly with lots of gullies and pretty views.  With not many people around, the dogs get to run free.



The shorter circular Oakleaf Trail winds past this small pond.



We climb a big hill, then come to a larger pond where we sit on the bench and take in this view.



Camping is a good time to relax. Mikey shows us how to do it.

 

Love,

Dave


G-Mail Comments:

Jennifer M:  I love these pics.  We'll have to check out Miami Whitewater next time!

Ami G:  Ahhh!  So nice!

Phyllis S-S:  Dave, loved the picture of Mikey.

Donna D:   david, this is the BEST ever!


Monday, October 19, 2009

FUN IDEAS WITH AMBIEN


Dear George,

 

I told Rhys at a family gathering about one of my silly experiences with Ambien, and she laughed and laughed.  She said she’d heard other funny stories of this sort from her forty-something friends about their parents’ strange behavior.  She explained that my age cohort just missed out on the student drug culture of the 1960’s, and we were only now belatedly discovering mind-altering substances.  Rhys’ opinion was that it’s preferable to go through this phase in one’s twenties, but better late than never.

 

Katja got a prescription for Ambien years ago, and, when she found it put her to sleep readily, I tried it too.  At first I would browse through albums of antique postcards while waiting for the drug to take effect.  I quickly discovered that Ambien creates remarkable visual sensations.  In particular, two-dimensional postcards become three-dimensional with Ambien, much like looking through a stereoscope.  This was interesting and got me wondering what else Ambien could do.  My subsequent late night adventures have been so inspiring that I’m now working on a how-to manual.  My tentative title is “Fun Ideas for Ambien Users: Hot Tips on Achieving Weird Psychic States.”  Here is the book prospectus that I will be sending soon to The KookyBird Press:

 

Chap. 1.  Watch Conan O’Brien twice.  This first chapter highlights unusual visual experiences.  In particular, Ambien greatly enhances late night TV viewing.  Double vision sets in after half an hour, and so you can see two side-by-side Conan O’Briens interacting with two Britney Spears.  This is twice as exciting as normal TV.  I watched Peyton Manning on the news the other night, and it was amazing to see him and his identical twin brother throwing spiral passes in perfect synchrony to their identical twin wide receivers.

 

Chap. 2.  Go Driving Around Town.  Ambien is a lot more exciting if you get out of bed and do things.  The first week I tried it Katja said that she was craving Skyline Chili, so we got in the car and drove down Ludlow Avenue.  Everything was normal until I drove home.  Each approaching car had four side-by-side headlights and appeared to be taking up both sides of the street.  This was a challenging test of my manueverability skills and showed that Ambien can make one feel and act like Indiana Jones.

 

Chap. 3.  Indulge Yourself -- Do Gourmet Cooking.  Ambien people like to get up at night and make  snacks.  While I only remember some of these, they have been so delectable that I’m working on an Ambien cookbook.  Here’s my first entry which I typed on the computer the other night after gobbling up this unique recipe:

 

AMBIEN SANBDWGUCG RECUOE,’’

ANBUEB SANDWICH RECIPE.

AMBIEN SANDWICH RECIPE.

 

TWO PIECES OF 15 GRAN BREDAD. WUTG MUSTARD ON IT

3 SLICES OF MOZZARRELLA CHEESE SPREAD ACROSS BREAD.

COOKED ASPARAGUS TIPS IN BETWEENB CHEESE SLABS.

LAYER OF HARD SALAMI CIRCLES.

HARD BOILED EGG SLICED INTO 6 SLICES AND SPREAD

MORE SALAMI ON TOP OF EGG.

TWO SLICES OF SARA LEE OVEN ROASTED TURKEY BREAST.

TOP LAYER OF BREAD WITH MUSTARD.

 

MY RATING: EXTRAORDINAIRE.

SUCH RICH AND VARIED FLAVORS.

THE EGG COMPLEMENTS THE SALAMI COMPLIMENTS THE CHEESE, AND ALL THIS IS HAPPENING AT ONCE.

THIS SANDWICH COULD BE SOLD AT THE FINESTSOHO BISTRO FOR $25 OR MORE.

 

Chap. 4.  Surprise Your Loved Ones with E-Mails.  Ambien and the computer are a match made in Heaven.  It is exciting to send off e-mails to family and friends even if they are so touched that they are emotionally unable to reply.  A high point came when I decided to send a collective message in which I recounted my deepest thoughts and feelings toward each of my family members.  I woke in the morning with a sudden recollection that I’d done this.  I rushed to the computer and checked my “Sent” mailbox.  Nothing was recorded there.  Then I found an Error message which said that I’d made a mistake and my transmission had failed.  I took this as a sign that the gods found these sentiments a little too authentic, and so I dumped my innermost feelings into the computer’s Trash box. 

 

Chap. 5.  Buy Big on eBay.  If sending out deep personal feelings is not your thing, eBay auctions offer another excellent late night activity.  eBay bidders who are otherwise frugal become much more expansive with Ambien.  For example, one night I bid $6.00 for a couple of ordinary postcards from Mexico (which were worth no more than fifty cents).  However, I found, when I checked eBay in the morning, that I’d mistyped my bid and had actually bid six hundred dollars.  Fortunately, none of my eBay competitors tried to outbid me, and I avoided fiscal disaster.  I recounted this error to my Ambien eBay compatriot, Linda, and she described how she had spent several hundred dollars for a dozen identical unwanteded cashmere sweaters on the Shopping Channel.

 

Chap. 6.  Produce Inspired Works of Art.  At my last doctor’s appointment I recounted some of these interesting experiences to my physician, and he recommended that when I take Ambien I should just go to bed and stay there.  I’ve been trying (halfheartedly) to follow his advice.  Katja gave me a sketchbook, and I started drawing pictures in bed after Ambien had set in.  My specialty is self-portraits.  Here are a few examples:






Chap. 7.  Keep a Journal.  Social science authorities have documented the mental health benefits of keeping a journal.  Because of the clarity it provides, Ambien is ideal for journalling.  So far I have many many single-spaced pages of midnight  reflections recorded on my computer.  Here is just one of the more thought-provoking observations:

 

“BRUSHING TEETH:  I have mjhjust had an ambient teethburshing experience, a neww sensation.  As I brushed, it felt like the brush was peeling off layers of perhaps cheese or clay or perhaps the soft sement that whas holding my crowns on.  I fully expected some of my teeth to fall out with when I finished, but I was happy when this did not occur.”

 

In the bright light of day, you might think this sounds like nonsense.  However,  if you read it 30 minutes after taking an Ambien, you’ll discover it has deep meaning.

 

Chap. 8.  Winding Up.  Ambien has some side effects though most of these are desirable.  One, for example, is labeled in the medical literature as “impaired cognition”.  This wording was coined by crabby old doctors.  What it really means is that the enjoyable effects of Ambien carry over to the next day so that one can prolong one’s happy psychic journey.  The main negative side effect of Ambien is that it causes you to fall sleep.  I’m trying to solve this problem, but am still working on it.

 

Love,

Dave

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vic's Photos: Dunlap Square



Dear George,

My dad was an excellent photographer, and an important part of his legacy is the many family photos and albums which he passed along to us.  Peter worked from his negatives, sending many images to us all via e-mail as well as printed postcards, and that’s where this shot comes from.  When we were kids, Vic had his darkroom in the utility room of river house where the oil furnace and the washing machine were located.  Steve and I would be his helpers and watch as the image from the negative was projected onto a sheet, then reproduced on the paper in the tray of chemicals.  The whole process by which a black-and-white or color photo slowly emerged on the paper under water was like magic and inevitably elicited cheers of wonder from us helpers.

This photo is of Dunlap Square in downtown Marinette, just as you come off the Interstate Bridge from Menominee heading to south into Wisconsin.  This is the intersection of Marinette’s two major thoroughfares.  Main Street, where our family drugstore was located, goes off to the left, and Hall Avenue is straight ahead.  Riverside Avenue, heading west to the Hattie Street Bridge, goes directly to the right though not visible in this photo.  The Marinette public library is on the square, behind and to the right of where the photographer was standing.  The building at the left edge of the photo is Lauerman Brothers, the Twin Cities’ biggest department store and our primary family shopping destination for clothes, furniture, and household goods.  As I grew older, I frequented the Boy Scout department in the basement to look over and occasionally buy camping gear and the record department in the second floor where you could play demo records and listen to Patti Page or Frank Sinatra. 

The building at the right of the photo is the Marinette Hotel which included a fancy dining room where Katja and I joined my father for lunch once in a while after we were married.  Next to the hotel, around the corner and out of sight, is Goodfellow’s, a dingy tobacco and variety store, where we kids would sometimes stop for candy and watch the older kids playing the pinball games.  Grizzled old men sat at the soda fountain counter, and rumor had it that Goodfellows sold dirty books, though we never saw any.  One of the two movie houses in Marinette was in that same block, and our parents would drop us off for Saturday afternoon matinees there (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Charlie Chan, etc.)  As we got older, we were allowed to walk home after the movies across the bridge and over to Sheridan Avenue in Menominee.

As you can tell from the photo, Dunlap Square is to Marinette what Times Square is to New York City.  Bright lights, fancy Xmas decorations, busy traffic, the very center and symbol of the city’s life.  Well, maybe the comparison to Times Square is stretching it a bit, but when we drove around the loop as teenagers, this was definitely the center of the action. 

Love,
Dave





Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Proof That Dogs Are the Best


Dear George,

 

I’ve been writing a lot about dogs lately because they are so important in our lives.  However, Katja and I have had lots of other kinds of pets too.  Thinking it over, my conclusion is that dogs are definitely the best.  I’ll tell you why, and you can see if you agree.  (Caution to Sensitive Readers: This report is rated X because it contains horrors.) 

 

After Katja and I lost Heather, our darling German Shepherd puppy, in our first year in Ann Arbor, there was a big vacuum in our lives.  That Valentine’s Day I went to the Arborland Mall pet store to look for a substitute and wound up buying two brownish-gray mice.  The salesperson cautioned me that one of them was pregnant, and I said that was fine because we wanted babies anyway.  While Katja didn’t regard mice as an adequate replacement for a dog, she was pleased that I remembered Valentine’s Day, and she thought the mice were sort of cute.  When the mother mouse produced a litter of half a dozen hairless, pink, eyeless babies, we both became enthused about our new teeny-tinies.  I built them a multi-room cardboard house which I set on a TV tray in our bathtub so they couldn’t escape into our apartment.  Because I was busy learning about social interaction in my graduate studies, I spent hours watching pairs of mice move about on an empty table top.  They didn’t pay much attention to one another, and very few insights came out of my mouse observations.

 

We didn’t know anything about mice beforehand, but it turned out that they are capable of reproducing at three or four weeks of age.  That was pretty exciting since, every time we turned around, we had a new litter of little mouselings.  By May our bathtub colony had reached a population size about 80, and I had expanded the mouse house to a large multi-floor apartment dwelling.  We got caught up in the frenzy of year-end graduate school exams, and I’m sorry to report that we became pretty negligent about taking care of the mice.  I came home late one day, and it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t fed the mice in some time.  Worried that they might be very hungry, I brought their container of food to the bathroom.  I was in for a severe shock.  At first I didn’t see any mice at all.  Then what I did see was a large number of unattached mouse tails (apparently the only inedible part of a mouse).  When I took the mouse apartment roof off, I found one huge mouse with a bulging stomach.  Apparently all the other 79 mice had eaten one another in an orgy of collective mouse cannibalism until only one very well-fed animal was left.  I called to Katja, and I won’t even try to describe her state of mind.  We put the sole remaining mouse in a shoebox and carried it two blocks away to the special field where we often watched the Michigan Marching Band practice.  We regarded the survivor as sort of a super-mouse, and we wished it well as we set it free.  Sometimes I wonder if there might be millions of his descendants running about Ann Arbor today.

 

We moved to Cincinnati, first to the Williamsburg Apartments, and then to Clifton Avenue.  Our landlords on Clifton didn’t permit dogs, so, as pet people, we considered various alternatives.  My brother Steven, an ardent fisherman in Seattle, raised tropical fish as a hobby, and he described how relaxing it was to come home at the end of the day and watch them in their tank.  We decided to give it a try.  I quickly discovered that Steve was more adept at raising fish than I was.  I bought all sorts of tropical fish, usually for 19 cents apiece, at the pet store in the Brentwood Shopping Center, but most of my fish only survived a week or two.  I’d just keep replacing them every weekend so that we maintained a colony of 30 or so.  December came, and we were scheduled to leave for Xmas vacation in Philadelphia.  We asked our upstairs neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Storelli (who were also the landlady’s parents), to take care of our fish while we were gone.  The Storelli’s were in their eighties, had come over recently from Italy, and spoke only very limited English.  They were uneasy about taking responsibility for our fish, but I assured them that there was nothing more to it that sprinkling some fish food in the tank each evening.  Being sweet people, they agreed to do so.  When we returned from Philadelphia, the Storelli’s came downstairs soon after we arrived.  Mr. Storelli was very distressed and gave us an animated, barely intelligible account of our fish’s fate.  The day after we’d left, the water in the tank began getting cloudy, until it finally turned into an thick wall of silt. The filtering mechanism had broken down, and all the fish had promptly died.  I cannot tell you how despairing Mr. Storelli was as he tried to translate this tragedy in his broken English.  He took us into the kitchen where he opened the freezer door on the refrigerator.  There were 30 brightly colored frozen fish, neatly arrayed in a row on top of a folded paper towel.  I tried to console Mr. Storelli by saying that all my fish died anyway, but nothing I could say lessened his sorrow.  Our new hobby came to an abrupt end.

 

Katja took matters into her own hands.  Several weeks later I came home from work, and there, hopping about the kitchen, was a chubby gray and white rabbit named Thumper.  Katja has always had a great fondness for soft, fuzzy things, and she had located a young woman in Clifton who bred rabbits.  Thumper cost about sixty times more than a fish (i.e., $12), but he did have a much broader repertoire of behaviors.  He was not that sociable.  But we were able to catch and grab him, hold him firmly in our laps, and pet him regardless of his wishes in the matter.  Thumper actually preferred to hop around, sniff with his little pink nose, and leave little rabbit pellets on the floor.  My father-in-law Buck suggested that we set up a business called “Power Poops”, offering packages of Thumper’s vegetable-based products to local gardeners. 

 

Because Thumper’s other favorite activity was to chew on electric cords, we wound up moving him to a backyard hutch.  After a while we bought our house on Ludlow Avenue, and our neighbor Bill built us a larger rabbit hutch on the back porch.   When Thumper died, we replaced him with a small black rabbit who we named Blazer because of his exceedingly high energy level and speed.  We only owned Blazer for one day.  He was so wild that he kept jumping up to the top of his hutch until he managed to make his way through the small crack between the wall and the edge of the roof.  We always imagined that Blazer had made his way to Burnett Woods and gone on to live a life of freedom and rabbit joy.

 

Katja then bought two rabbits who she named Sunbeam and Moonbeam, one gray and one black.  I built an octagonal enclosure of window screens which I put on the side lawn and would sit there with the rabbits so that little children walking by with their parents could play with them.  A friend told me after a few months that I had come to be known around Clifton, a neighborhood already full of eccentrics, as the rabbit man.  Sunbeam and Moonbeam lived a quiet life in their hutch.  One day we came home, and our neighbor Bill called over to us.  He said that a pack of stray dogs had come up on our back porch and had tried to get at the rabbits.  He had chased them away with a baseball bat, but he was too late.  We looked, and the rabbits’ lifeless bodies were lying on the floor of the hutch.  The dogs hadn’t been able to break into the hutch, but the rabbits had literally been scared to death.  I took them into the house and thumped them sharply on the chest with my forefinger, hoping to revive their tiny hearts.  Finally I covered them with a towel and set them aside in the basement with a vague hope that they might somehow return to to life on their own.  They didn’t.  We buried them in the garden, each with a pretty stone on top of his or her little rabbit grave.

 

Now that we owned our own house, we could have any sort of pet we liked.  We decided we were finished experimenting with non-dogs.  After an appropriate period of mourning, Katja bought a Bedlington Terrier who we named Winston.  I will tell you about more about Winston on another occasion.  Suffice it to say that he worked out better than mice or fish or rabbits.  This is why I think dogs are the best.

 

Love,

Dave     

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vicki and I Do Minnekaunee



Dear George,

At a family reunion some years ago Vicki and I decided we should check out the rough and tumble bars in Minnekaunee.  Vicki mentioned this to Suzy P., her local best friend, and Suzy replied, “Oh, you’re going to do the Minnekaunee Death Walk!”  I said to Suzy quite sincerely, “Are we taking our lives into our own hands?”  “Not really,” Suzy said, “it’s just that if you try to have a drink in every bar in Minnekaunee, you’ll probably wind up dead.”
           
Minnekaunee, as you know, is at the eastern end of Main Street in Marinette, nestled in with the coal docks, the lumber yard, and the fishing boat docks on the Menominee River.  It has a reputation as the toughest neighborhood in the Twin Cities.  The business district consists of one variety store and ten bars in a row.  When I was in high school my friend Grant B’s dad had to deliver beer to the Minnekaunee bars at lunchtime, and he literally considered his life to be in peril on a daily basis.

Vicki and I set out at 10:30 on a Tuesday night.  I’d had second thoughts and suggested Van’s or the Waterfront as more congenial alternatives, but Vicki had her mind made up.  She was in prime shape from her weight training regimen, and my impression was that she was interested in punching somebody out. 

We drove over to Marinette and parked next to Helen’s Lake Edge Inn.  In my childhood days, this was the site of the Sailors Inn, which sported a huge World War II era sign on its southeast exterior wall, “No Japs Allowed – Now or Never.”  The sign had disappeared some years prior, and Helen’s, in fact, was a colorful and comfortable place.  Bright lights, a thirtysomething barmaid, a crowd of local characters, and a trio of bleached blond Marinette beauties holding court at the end of the bar.  “I can do this,” I reassured myself.  Vicki ordered a Red Hook, but that was too exotic for Helen’s limited stock, and we wound up with Miller Lites.

After a couple of beers, we moved off down the strip.  Because it was a weekday night, several places had already closed: The Marriner, Mike and Jean’s, even the infamous Korn Kob.  “Maybe we can do the Death Walk by just looking through the bar windows,” I suggested.  “No way -- look at that guy!” Vicki said, pointing to a huge tattooed man with two women inside Cactus Joe’s.  “He is so mean-looking; let’s go in there.”  I grabbed her upper arm and pulled her down the street.

We settled for a place called Rey-Tech on the corner.  A sign on the door read, “Abatement of the Poker Run – Freedom of the Road.”  We puzzled over this for a moment, then went in.  Rey-Tech lacked Helen’s ambience.  It was big, dark, unadorned, and filled with loud, angry music.  The bar was crowded and noisy.  I didn’t see anybody I would normally hang out with.  A bleached blond guy at the bar said, “Over here, I’ll make room for you and your lady.”  “She’s not my lady; she’s my sister,” I thought to myself, but gave him an appreciative smile.  Vicki whispered to me that the barmaid looked high on something, but I thought she was just acting dramatic.  We ordered 50-cent draft beers, and I avoided eye-contact with the other clientele who were busy with their own thing anyway.  When Vicki went to the john, a woman two seats over tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a grin and an up-raised thumb.  I smiled and raised my thumb back to her, then feigned absorption with the foam on my beer.  Vicki returned, reporting that she’d been harassed on her way to the ladies’ room, but that she’d taken care of it.  I didn’t ask how.  The barmaid invited us to roll five dice for a quarter and win a case of beer (if all five die came up with the same number).  I invested a couple of quarters but had no luck.  The barmaid refilled Vicki’s glass without asking, and I handed her some more money.  We left after a couple more beers.  Out on the sidewalk, two sodden characters made some remark that I didn’t hear, and Vicki made an obscene gesture at them.  “Why did you do that?” I admonished as we got in the car.  “I couldn’t resist,” she said.  We looked around to see if the police were watching for drunk drivers, then sped off into the night.

The next morning we told our friend Mike S. about our night on the town.  I said, “Minnekaunee had a really bad reputation when I was a kid.”  “It still does,” Mike said, “there are some really mean people in those bars.”  He described jogging by there a couple of weeks before at 7 a.m. and finding a bloodied and beaten man lying unconscious on the sidewalk.  The abatement sign on Rey-Tech’s door designated it as one of a half dozen stops on the Lake Michigan circle tour for biker gangs from Milwaukee and Chicago. 

We did, of course, get home intact.  I told Vicki, “I don’t think I want to go back to Minnekaunee for a while.”  “You don’t have to,” she said, “you’ve already had your breakthrough.”  That made me happy.

Love,
Dave

G-mail Comments (Vicki L, 10-13-09)
David,
Yesterday, I was of the opinion that you, like Jack Kerouac, have routinely carried a small spiral notebook in your jacket pocket as long as I can remember, in order to faithfully record everyday happenings. Today, I have my doubts.  First of all, where did the picture come from? I don't specifically recall your whipping out your camera during our 'death walk'. And surely, this tale includes embellishments...for example, I have no memory of declaring what might possibly have been my intention to punch someone out (in my field we call this 'projection')....nor do I have any memory of throwing dice for a case of beer. But then....I suppose all the beer consumed during our 'death walk' may have compromised my memory. So good to be reminded of the good old days. I'm busy working out again...that is, working up to punching some unsuspecting character in the nose. Perhaps we could again collaborate in an adventure. Love, Vicki
 Vicki,
I’m afraid you caught me embellishing.  The picture is of a biker bar, though not one we attended.  While we did toss dice, I must admit I invented your wish to punch somebody out as a dramatic device.  We should collaborate in an another adventure, and I promise to be a more faithful recorder.  Love, Dave

From Phyllis S-S (10-15):  Dave,  To be a fully bar-experienced person I think you need to add  a Saturday night tour of  the bars of Monmouth St. in Newport. 
Phyllis, That's an excellent suggestion.  I'll get to work on it.  Dave

Friday, October 9, 2009

Let's Do Haiku!

                                                Matsuo Basho

Dear George,

 

I got interested in haiku as a college student in the 1950’s.  We fancied ourselves  members of the beat generation and read a lot of Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, both of whom wrote haiku poetry.  Kerouac, in particular, was a serious student of Buddhism and introduced haiku to American readers in his novel, The Dharma Bums.  He reportedly always carried a small notebook in his shirt pocket in which he recorded his everyday experiences in haiku form.  He wrote, “a real haiku’s got to be as simple as porridge and yet make you see the real thing.”  His poems have recently been collected and published in Book of Haikus, edited by Regina Weinreich. 

 

Here’s what I know about haiku.  It’s a form of Japanese lyric poetry that combines three unrhymed short lines which include a noticeable grammatical break (termed a kireji).  Haiku is one of the oldest written forms of poetry, originating inn the 16th century.  Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) and Yosa Buson (1715-83) are the best known traditional poets. Haiku employs sensory descriptions and objective words instead of interpretation or analysis.  Thus, feelings are suggested by natural images rather than being stated directly. James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Richard Wright, and many other prominent Western writers produced haiku.  Here are a couple of examples of classic haiku by Basho, translated into English:

 

            an old pond –

            the sound of a frog jumping

            into water

 

            the first cold shower;

            even the monkey seems to want

            a little coat of straw.

 

In traditional Japanese haiku the first line has five sound units (akin to syllables), the second has seven, and the third again has five.  Modern haiku, however, commonly departs from this rule.  Most English haiku have between 10 and 14 syllables with the second line slightly longer than the first or third, e.g., 3-5-3.  Some haiku depart from the three-line rule, using 2, 4, or even 5 lines.

 

In English haiku the grammatical break after the first or second line may be signified with a comma, semi-colon, hyphen, or dash.  The implied break, as if the author said “semi-colon”, divides the three-line haiku into two separate segments.  The shorter part, whether line 1 or line 3, is called the “fragment” and provides a contextual overview of the poem’s topic as a whole.  “An old pond” in the first haiku above is the fragment.  The other two lines are called the “phrase” and depict a specific detail, e.g., “the sound of a frog jumping/ into water.”  Likewise, in the second example above, “the first cold shower” is the fragment; the other two lines, the phrase. 

 

The purpose of the break is to create a juxtaposition, leading the reader to implicitly contrast, compare, or associate two events, images, or situations.  A good haiku creates a little “click” or insight for the reader at its end.  Traditional Japanese haiku typically denote a season, contain a topic dealing with nature or humans’ place in nature, and convey the essence of a given moment.  Kenneth Yashuda in Japanese Haiku describes haiku as a poem that expresses a “haiku moment” whose “quality is eternal, for in this state, man and his environment are one unified whole, in which there is no sense of time.”  Contempory haiku have been expanded to deal with virtually any topic, e.g., urban experiences, romance, technology.

 

I got sort of burned out and took a break from haiku in my junior year of college.  Now fifty years have gone by.  That seems like a long enough break, so I’ve gotten interested in haiku again. This has been both enjoyable and difficult.  Here are some of my products this week, prompted by recalling experiences of swimming in the Menominee River:


Trudging out through murky mud,

Seaweed tickles our legs.

Hurry, hurry, dive soon!

 

Stroking on my side,

Flipping to my back.

No Muskellunge can do this.


Crusing underwater,

Eyes opened wide --

Watch for snapping turtles.


We sidestroke with all our strength,

Push push against the current.

Pig Island, still far in the distance.


Kids swimming over their heads;

Mothers drink beer in lawn chairs

And watch erratically.


We tip the green rowboat

Upside down.

Where are the children now?


Take a deep breath,

Breast strokes to the river's floor,

Scan the brown sand, find lost treasures.


The pine log raft anchored deep --

Children play underwater tag,

Dodging a dead catfish.


We wade cautiously

Up the long shoreline.

Deadly quicksand looms ahead.


Swimming all done,

I bring my new friends ashore.

Two bloodsuckers.



So that’s fun to do.  I’d like to invite readers to compose some haiku of your own.  If you e-mail them to me, I’ll post them here for virtual people to come and see.

 

Composing haiku –

It strains our weary brains,

But, voila, our brains don’t mind!

 

Love,

Dave



E-mail Comments:

Vicki L. (10-11):  Loved your haiku.  Seems to me your writing was very much influenced by this tradition.


Gayle C (10-13):  Hi David, I saved your e mail. Because I wanted to understand and digest this poetry. It's wonderful.  Your poem was great. I could feel the water and the almost era of your time. I would love to learn someday. Keep up the writing. Please send more enlightning poems.
Lots of love to all.). G


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

WE ♥ THE GREEN BAY PACKERS (& BRETT FAVRE)

Dear George,

 

Katja and I watched the Packers-Vikings game last night on Monday Night Football.  ESPN hyped this as the greatest Monday Night game of all times, and they weren’t exaggerating too much.  The occasion, of course, was 39-year-old Brett Favre’s return, after 16 glorious seasons in Green Bay, to quarterback their arch-nemesis, the Minnesota Vikings, against the Pack.  Favre’s retirement from Green Bay in 2008, the Packer management’s disinterest when he changed his mind, his successful season with the Jets, and his second retirement and subsequent hiring by the hated rival Vikings have been a media soap opera for the last year and a half.  Green Bay fans, of course, have been in a constant state of consternation, perhaps expressed most cogently by a popularly selling T-shirt, “We’ll Never Forget You, Brent.”  We’ve pretty much worshipped Brett Favre for his success in returning the Packers to the top of the heap since the early 90’s, and we’ve continued to cheer for him in the Vikings’ undefeated season to date.  I asked Katja at the outset of last night’s game whether she was rooting for the Packers or for Brett Favre.  She didn’t have to think about it -- she went with the Packers, and I did too.  

 

Menominee is less than fifty miles north of Green Bay, and the community, like the whole region, has been pretty much insane about the Packers since the inception of professional football in the 1920’s.  “Curly” Lambeau, who’d begun as Packer coach in 1919, was still the head coach throughout my grade school years, and Don Hutson, who many regard as the greatest wide receiver of all times, was winding up his astonishing career.  In football season in Menominee, you couldn’t then and can’t now go anywhere in public without hearing a constant buzz of Packer football talk.  

 

Vince Lombardi was in his second year of coaching the Packers when we started grad school in Ann Arbor in 1960.  Each year during the 60’s my parents arranged to get tickets to Lambeau Field from their friend Jess Jacobsen when we came home to Menominee for Xmas vacation.  Despite a snobbish anti-intercollegiate athletics attitude which we’d cultivated at Antioch, Katja and I had already been transformed into rabid Big Ten football fans by attending Michigan games, but pro football in Green Bay was a brand new experience.  It usually was freezing, but we bundled up in hunting camp garments and fortified ourselves with Jim Beam whiskey throughout the games.  Lambeau Field was the wildest place we’d ever been in terms of an unrestrained expression of primal emotions.  The Packer heroes were Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Ray Nitschke, and Willie Wood, among others, and Green Bay was the center of the pro sports world.  The Lombardi Packers, of course, won the NFL Championship in 1961, 1962, and 1965, and, when the Super Bowl was inaugurated in 1966, they won the first two Super Bowls decisively.  We got to go to some of the key championship-deciding games, and they’re among the most exciting experiences of our early married years.

 

The Lombardi era was followed by a couple of lackluster decades, until the Packers hired coach Mike Holmgren in 1992 and traded with the Atlanta Falcons for quarterback Brett Favre.  The rest is legend.  Favre replaced injured starter Don (Majik Man) Majkowski in the 1992 Cincinnati Bengals game, and he started every game thereafter for sixteen seasons.  The Packers had the NFL’s longest string of winning seasons during this period and went to the Super Bowl twice, defeating the New England Patriots 35-21 in 1996 to win the World Championship.  While we paid most attention to our local (dismal) Bengals during this period, we would tune in the Packers when we couldn’t stand it any more and needed to see a victory.

 

The Packers, of course, lost last night, though they played well, and the game wasn’t completely decided until the closing minutes.  Brett Favre had one of his greatest games, completing nearly 80% of his passes and throwing for three touchdowns, with no interceptions or sacks.  With the victory, Favre became the only quarterback in history to have beaten every team in the NFL.  We decided that this was the best outcome.  Let the old guy have the glory – he deserves it.  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have a lot of opportunities in the future.  One of the upcoming ones will be when the Minnesota Vikings come to Lambeau Field on Nov. 1.  We’ll be tuned in.

 

Love,

Dave

Sunday, October 4, 2009

MORE ON RIVERSIDE BLVD: A LETTER FROM VICKI


Hi David,

What a wonderful picture...I don't think I have any of these era. It would be great fun some day for you to look at my albums and me yours. Also the albums retrieved (or not) from the barn. I never went so far afield in my adventures as you (being a girl). I'll never forget, though, the tarring of Riverside Blvd. ... that unique smell and the wonder of my Schwinn bicycle soaring along without the usual intense vibrations and jarring pot holes; this memory may never be matched in my column of euphoric experiences. Certainly I played in the woods on either side of the driveway - always impressed by the forts you produced out of birch and various twigs. You were quite the innovative boy scout. I do recall searching for Indian arrowheads along the banks of the cemetary. Later..Peter and his sophisticated bunch would take slides down the dam ... but that seemed very scary to me. Do you remember the arbutus across the road? I was always required to bring a bouquet to the Principal at Menominee High (probably as a 7th and 8th grader) - it felt very embarrassing. Peter and I once went out after dark, crawled through the tall grass toward the Orth's house (this felt a lot like Mission Impossible) and stole carrots from the Orth's vegetable garden. To me it was like being a Russian spy and I was certain we would be caught and put in jail.




I was always the young, shy little girl ... if my big brothers were water skiing, for instance, I might get a turn if I hurried and pushed in line, but of course, no one taught me the mechanics of water skiing. I remember spending hours digging for clay next to the banks of the river .... and eventually figuring out that I could make a form of pottery from it. This fit in nicely with my fantasy of being an Indian, one of Kiera and my favorite woods games.  Snowball fights, acorn fights, marbles, (boys playing basketball), football games in the yard and very exciting excursions to Mason Park where we swung off a rope tied to a tree and plummeted into

the water, were seasonal and happy if daunting, death-defying events. (By the way, I'd love to hear the story of how Steven fell out of the Oak tree and broke his arm.) . In later years, Mason park was a spot to go and make out - inviting different sorts of hazards and thrills. The Popkey boys were major figures....Ross was your peer (why was he crippled? polio?), Dolly was Steven's but the older Billy and younger Johnny were mine. Peter and I were somewhat dominated by them (without supervision of course) ... we played strip poker up in their barn and once Billy and his friends forced Peter and I to pretend to have sex at Brewery Park. These were 'country kid' experiences which I still don't know how to regard except that I notice that I continue to be both hyper-vigilant, naive and somewhat reckless. I spoke to my therapist not long ago about a memory involving standing in the midst of gravestones at Riverside Cemetary at dusk, facing a soldier in full dress uniform who was intent on (at least) kissing me. This was a friend of Steven's who was visiting on leave from the army (I must've been around 12 or 13). No comment.

 

                              Vicki, Kiera, Peter


My true playground was the river and the bay. Kiera and I were equally committed to our favorite waters. But the river held mysteries and challenges far beyond those of the Bay. Green Bay was in most ways benign except for its incredibly cold water. The River, on the other hand,  had a lagoon down a ways which not only harbored snapping turtles, algae and weeds but god knows what other kinds of monsters. I dreamt about the lagoon for years. The waters of the Menominee were deeply comforting to me .... the water felt soft, was amber and rich with minerals, the small waves lapped gently against the bank, and suffused our property with a warm and delicious smell. Bloodsuckers and weeds were a fright - an obstacle to be faced and overcome in order to reach the safety of the raft. Of course, we played King of the Raft - my training ground for learning to push others around. Swimming across the river represented many nature experiences I lived out in Menominee: at once, the thrill of being immersed in the splendour of it all and the ever present fear of losing my life. It was sort of like the raft: on the one hand, it had a ladder and solid platform and provided a serene resting place; on the other, we 'had' to play the game of who could swim under water around the most number of barrels before needing air. Eros/Thanatos. The pride in making the swim across the river was for me like getting a PhD from Berkeley. And then to clamber onto the shore of the 'island' and hunt for wild blueberries or wintergreen berries was nothing short of ecstasy. (Except for Lemon Flake, of course). I remember the celebration when you swam all the way to the little island that lay off the far end of Pig Island. To me, that seemed an impossible task....a faraway land. I remember one day walking up the road in the direction of Mason Park. Perhaps half way there, on the right, was an apple orchard belonging to some unknown neighbor. I climbed the fence to fetch some apples and perhaps make friends with the little horse for whom that orchard was home. Much to my surprise, the horse charged me and bit me on the shoulder leaving clear and horrifying imprints of its large, strong teeth. I quickly climebed a tree where I spent several hours hoping for an opening to escape before the horse noticed and took me down forever.  As a child, I would often put myself to sleep dreaming of living in an underground house which I'd carved out of clay soil. This was always a comforting image to me. Do you think we might have some native american blood? I figure we had some pretty rigorous training for the realities of life. Love, Vicki