Sunday, February 26, 2012

CINTI. Mains

Dear George,

As a fledging photographer, I’ve been trying to decide on my specialty. It’s difficult because there are endless possibilities, but I think I’ve finally narrowed it down: i.e., Cincinnati water and gas mains. The reasons are pretty compelling. First of all, water and gas mains are practically everywhere – a lot more common and accessible, for example, than strawberries, children on bicycles, or red-winged blackbirds. Second, mains are so mysterious. They are portals to a hidden underground world that we never see. Every day Cincinnati pumps 135 million gallons of water through 3000 miles of water pipes below our sidewalks and streets. I have no idea how you’d open a water main, have never seen anybody do so, and can’t imagine why they’d want to in the first place. Third, as the photos below attest, there’s an astonishing variety. You’d think all the mains be standardized, at least on the same block, but each one seems to have a unique design. Fourth, while water mains weren’t designed with aesthetics in mind, they are definitely aesthetically pleasing. They look like ancient artifacts, rusty and corroded. They must have been installed when the city’s infrastructure was put in place, and the originals are still there even when they’re embedded in sections of brand new sidewalk. Many are spray painted so that low-flying airplanes can take aerial photos of their location and engineers can draw maps. (That may sound made up, but a water company guy told me that.) Here’s a sampling of some of the water and gas mains within a few blocks of our house in Clifton. Just a mere tip of the iceberg.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Humpty Dumpty Week

Dear George,

They always talk about retirement as the “Golden Years. I’m beginning to understand why. My level of stress has dropped to practically nothing. My health is fine. We have no pressing money woes. I have lots of freedom to do whatever I want, and most of what I do is pleasing. We have darling grandchildren to ooh and aah about. All in all, I’d have to say that life has gotten pretty smooth and shiny.

This past week, though, has been a bleep on the radar. Suddenly, nearly all the pleasant pieces of my life collapsed all at once. Sort of like Humpty Dumpty, falling off the wall. The opthamologist had warned me that I’d be needed cataract surgery soon, but I didn’t believe him until my closeup vision got too blurry to read the morning newspaper. Then I developed a pain in my right heel which turned into a severe limp and eliminated taking the dogs around the neighborhood, hiking in the forest, walking to and from my office, and, worst of all, having to skip line dancing for two weeks in a row. If all that wasn’t bad enough, I’ve been displaced from my office while the painters and movers do their thing, so I’ve been barred from my home away from home. That’s practically my entire life gone down the tubes: doggies, reading, line dancing, office, hikes, etc.

Just as I was thinking that nothing else could go wrong, I reached for something on my desk at home and managed to knock over a full cup of coffee on my computer keyboard. I leaped up, grabbed a roll of paper towels from the hallway cupboard, and started soaking up liquid. I lifted the keyboard up, held it on end, and watched a couple of teaspoons of hot coffee slowly drain out onto the desk. I called one of my computer expert friends, and she advised me to use a blow dryer on it, then let it dry out for 24 hours. I followed the instructions to a T, but no luck. Fourteen keys did still work, but that’s not enough. I can’t tell you how horrendous it is to not have a computer for three days. My blog work was totally halted. I couldn’t send or reply to e-mails. No Google or Yahoo searches, no Wikipedia, no e-Bay, no checking the movie schedule, basically nothing. I just shut the machine down, then got entirely frazzled about what to do next. I can’t even remember what I used to do before we got a home computer. We rushed to the Apple Store as soon as it opened on Monday morning, and, for what suddenly seemed a bargain price of $50, they remedied my technological catastrophe.

Now life is again on the upswing. I expect to hear from the cataract surgeon soon and get my eye surgery scheduled. My foot is nearly back to normal, and I bought a pair of $111 running shoes to pamper it even more. I plan to return to line dancing next week and to resume all my other normal walking activities. The dogs will be happier and less barky. The painter finished my new office, my work computer is hooked up, and I’m in the process of unpacking endless boxes of stuff. I guess that having everything fall apart at once makes you appreciate things much more when they return to normal. They couldn’t get Humpty together again, but, fortunately, that’s the difference between an egg and a human being.



G-mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (2-25): Dave, A bad, bad week - so glad it's better..... pss

-Jennifer M (2-24): I didn't know about the surgery! When?

-DCL to JM (2-24): Not scheduled yet. I’m eager to get it done.

-Terry O-S (2-24): Hi David - Just one of my periodic fan notes about how much I enjoy your blog. The picture of your Dad, my Dad and Pat Steffke in their uniforms ( I don't think I had previously realized that you and, I think, Peter were also in the picture) in the front yard at the River House is one of my life long favorites. I recall that for several years after the war all of them were determined to get into their uniforms for the Memorial Day events. I'm glad that your Humpty-Dumpty period is winding down and you can return to your deserved blissful retirement routine. Best. Terry

Monday, February 20, 2012

Keeping An Eye On The Sky

An artist’s representation of a UFO seen over Cincinnati

Dear George,

I was excited to learn that one of the world’s largest UFO research centers (which I’ll refer to by the acronym UFORC) has recently relocated from the Rocky Mountains to Cincinnati. While prospective presidential nominees are busy talking about jobs, energy, bank bailouts, etc., it seems to me that visitors from outer space should be given a lot more priority. Newt Gingrich has announced his plans to colonize the moon, but he hasn’t said a word about UFOs. We Cincinnatians are still feeling civic pride from obtaining the Creationism Museum down the river (which features the true Biblical account of evolution), so becoming a UFO center cements our position at the forefront. With over 3,000 members in 39 countries, UFORC has 800 trained investigators who receive reports of about 600 UFO sightings per month, and their data-base contains scientific records of over 33,000 cases.

According to a current UFO website, California has the highest frequency of UFO sightings in the U.S. and Ohio ranks second. That makes sense. With much of the population ingesting medical marijuana and/or magic mushrooms, Californians have a heightened sensitivity to extraordinary objects in the skies. Though Ohioans have less access to mind-altering drugs, Southwest Ohio is the home to thousands of zealous Tea-Partiers, Christian evangelists, anti-abortionists, and Ku Klux Klanners. All of these God-fearing people are attuned to the alien forces that threaten our country’s very existence.

It’s only appropriate that Cincinnati is now the UFO Capitol of the World. The government's Project Blue Book, established after the Second World War to investigate flying saucers, was based for decades at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Many UFO afficionados have longed believed that the base's Hangar 18 contains the wreckage, including recovered alien bodies, from the famous UFO crash near Roswell, NM, in 1947. Because we are in America’s heartland and consequently of particular interest to alien visitors, Cincinnati and Hamilton County have been a hot spot for UFO sightings for decades. Here are a few actual examples from the UFORC data-base for Greater Cincinnati over the past two years:

Pair of UFOs. My wife and I were in our pool talking and facing east. I looked up and saw what I first thought was a commercial aircraft, though it was flying too slow and too low. There were no wings or tail section, and it didn’t make a sound. Then it vanished. I looked to my right and here comes another one. It was like the first one was towing the second one. I know that airplanes don’t fly that low or that close to each other. I would like to talk to someone about this. (Hamilton County, July 29, 2011)

Red-Orange Sphere. My fiancĂ©e and I were at a local sports pub last night, having a smoke with two other people on the back deck. My boyfriend looked up and said, “What the heck is that up there?” All four of us looked up, and there was an enormous glowing red-orange sphere moving slowly and silently in the sky. It was simply enormous, and it moved very, very slowly, changed direction, and then just hung in the sky. It definitely didn’t have the feel of anything man-made or terrestrial, and it gave us all a really weird feeling in the pit of our stomachs. (Hamilton County, Sept. 3, 2011)

Football-Shaped. I was sitting in the living room engrossed in an online chat with my brother when I saw piercing white and red lights out of the corner of my eye. It was a football-like shaped UFO about the size of a car with a very thin lip around the edge that had the lights on it. I would say it was about 150 feet above the house. Then a second UFO just like it suddenly appeared where the first was seconds before. My heart was racing, I guess from adrenaline, and I called my aunt and mom who live less than 2 miles from here. (Cheviot, Hamilton County, Aug. 8, 2011)

Flaming. At about 7:25 p.m. my son and I were traveling on Kilby Road in Cleves when we witnessed what appeared to be a flaming plane slowly descending. As we approached the object, it appeared to consist of a square base that rose into a pyramid shaped structure. Several other passing cars also slowed to view the object. Upon closer observation, it ws not engulfed in flame, but projected white, gold, and red flashing “shimmering” lights. The object did not appear to be an aircraft, did not emit sound, and was not shaped like any aerodynamic aircraft we are familiar with. Interesting, exciting, and disturbing. (Cleves, Hamilton County, Jan. 13, 2010)

The Grays. Three of my friends and I were flying a kite at night with a pen light when two discs from Orion’s Belt came dancing toward our kite, spun around it, then stopped and went right back to Orion’s Belt at the speed of light. Was I spooked? No. Because, I myself, have been subjected to the Grays since birth. I allowed them to read my mind as they allowed me to read theirs. Many encounters of the fourth kind. They have been watching and observing and changing DNA, replicating humanoid and other beings from other planets. They really want what’s best and want us to grow to understand. After many abductions, the men in black were everywhere till the Hubble scope was turned on me. I do know they will return. I will be ready…Will you? (Clermont County, May 23, 2010)

It seems like the only reasonable explanation of these extraordinary events is extraterrestial visitors from a faraway galaxy. So far they seem pretty benign and haven’t done destructive things. I think it’s to our credit that Cincinnati is a such a popular “tourist” destination, and I’m definitely going to walk the sheepdogs more often at night so we can keep an eye on the sky.



P.S. Since this is not a wholly serious account, I’ve used a pseudonym for the UFO research organization. If you reverse the five letters in the middle of the following web-site address (, you can visit it and read about thousands of UFO sightings around the world.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cleaning House, Shedding Identities

Packing up my office

Dear George,

The more I think about it, the more I’m struck by the similarities between retirement and getting divorced. Both typically involve the abrupt end of a significant long-term relationship. Like divorce, retirement can be amicable or contentious, forced or voluntary, liberating or destructive. But, whatever the details, the person is stripped of one of his or her most important adult identities and the social network and round of activities associated with it. As a consequence, one is likely to encounter a bunch of disorientation and distress.

In my own case, the impact of retirement has been softened somewhat by my keeping an office at the university. I “go to work” for at least a couple of hours most days of the week. Parts of my daily routine have remained much the same. I check my mailbox, make a cup of coffee, say hi to the secretary, read my e-mail, chat with colleagues, attend an occasional lecture, and do lots of writing at the computer. Thus I’m in a sort of twilight zone – formally retired, but not altogether.

I experienced a new retirement mini-crisis recently when the department head informed me that I’d need to change offices. I’ve never been any good at throwing things out, and I still have a ton of stuff in my office files. Because my new office won’t have as much storage space, there’s some pressure to consolidate my wares. I’ve been going through it all for a couple of weeks, manila folder by manila folder, struggling to weed things out. It’s a slow, almost agonizing process. I have endless yellowed lecture notes that I prepared over decades and which contain all the ideas that I strove to impart to students. While I’ll probably never do another lecture, there are literally thousands of hours and a lot of emotion invested in this material. It’s hard to simply chuck one’s teaching career. I have the same feelings for my files from unfinished research projects, drafts of manuscripts in progress, hundreds of Xeroxed journal articles, promotion review files, even Thank You notes from students. So far I’ve managed to rid myself of about twenty percent of this mountain of paper. Even if their functional value is next to zero, all these artifacts symbolize who I’ve been as a teacher, scholar, mentor, administrator, department member. Sending it all to the recycling bin seems so final and irreversible, like giving up a part of myself. If I were vacating my office permanently, I’d summon up the courage and cut my ties to all these past identities. Fortunately, I can hold off on that for the time being. The department secretary just smiled and shook her head when she looked at the thirty-eight boxes I’ve packed for my move. I sort of agree with her – it’s pretty silly -- but that’s my story.



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Archive: Vic's Photos, #3

Family portrait at YMCA camp (circa 1949): Steve, Dave, Vic with Vicki, Doris, Peter

Dear George,

This file is the third cumulative archive of “Vic’s Photos” that have previously appeared in this blog’s righthand column. Past archives can be accessed by scrolling down to “Labels” in the righthand column and clicking on Archives. “Vic”, of course, is my dad, V.A.L. Jr., who was an excellent amateur photographer and who documented our family’s world from the late 30’s to the late 50’s and beyond. These photos have been changed every week since July 2009, and, because they don’t get automatically saved, I’ve decided to store the old ones here in groups. My brother Peter restored and shared with our family many of these images from Vic’s original negatives, and his project is the source of most of the photos contained here. The subjects pictured include my parents Doris and Vic; my brothers Steven and Peter, my sister Vicki, and myself; my grandfathers Guy Cramer and V.A.L. Sr.; and various family members and friends who will be identified as they appear. Lots of family memories.




Getting a new bike on one’s birthday was a major highlight of growing up in our family and home town. Here’s my brother Peter, around age 8 or 9, with his exciting new acquisition. Bikes gave us a lot of mobility, signaled becoming a big kid, linked us to packs of friends, and were a major source of enjoyment, pride, and exercise.


I don’t know about kids nowadays, but being lethal gunfighters was paramount in our Menominee childhood in the 1940’s and early 50’s. Here’s my brother Steve decked out in his full cowboy attire and engaged in a dangerous gunfight behind the sofa in the the living room at river house. Despite the hazards, he looks pretty relaxed.

WORLD WAR II VETS (circa 1947)

My dad and many of his friends served with great pride in World War II. Here’s Vic in his Navy uniform, Pat Steffke in his Army uniform, and Mike O’Hara in his Marine uniform. Also my brother Steve and my Boy Scout self. The adults kidded about the merits of the various branches of service, but it was clear that they all respected one another’s sacrifices. World War II shaped our entire generation, including families and kids, and fostered strong idealism about America’s role in rescuing the world from fascism.


All of us took turns working at my grandfather’s drugstores. We spent most of our time at the Marinette drugstore which my dad was given from his dad. We would sweep the floors, shovel the sidewalks, re-stock shelves, help with inventory, ring up sales, and do whatever was needed to make ourselves useful. Occasionally we would also help out at the Menominee store on Electric Square which was owned and managed by my Uncle Kent. This is my sister Vicki at the Menominee store. She looks pretty young to be a clerk – it might be her first day.


This is my mom Doris and my brother Steve at the Chicago Art Institute, probably about 1951. My parents would take us on a vacation trip to Chicago each year, and the Art Institute, along with the Museum of Science and Industry, was a standard stop on our tour. The Art Institute was only of modest interest to the children. They had a gallery of miniature rooms, each the size of a small cardboard box, which held interest, as did the exhibit of knights’ armor. Despite our childhood nonchalance, our family visits instilled a lifelong appreciation of art museums, so it turned out to be a good investment. This photo looks staged to me – I don’t think Steven was nearly as involved as he looks.


This is my mom, Doris, and her best friend, Jean O’Hara. Jean and Mike and their kids, Terry, Michael Dennis, Kevin (Kiera), and Patrick Sean, lived on M-35 on the Green Bay shore, and our families spent a lot of time together at their house or at ours. The O’Hara’s were gracious entertainers, and they and our parents had wonderful times together. We kids, in the meantime, had a lot of fun swimming in Green Bay or in the Menominee River and engaging in mischief.


My grandfather Guy Cramer lived in Omaha and moved to Menominee is his older years. He was an insurance executive and a veteran of the Spanish-American War. In the early 1940’s he built a summer cottage on the river which later was to become our family home. He regularly gave me metal toy soldiers, and I accumulated a grand collection. Guy died when I was 5. I have a positive memory of him as a loving, generous grandpa.


Our family spent a lot of time on the Green Bay shore just north of Menominee at friends’ homes. This is my mom and myself. One day at a young age I decided to walk out as far as I could in the water. I got up to my neck and then panicked, unable to move in any direction. I screamed and cried, and my mother who’d been sitting on the beach with friends ran out and rescued me. It made me appreciate how important it is to have a mom.


My mother enjoyed horseback riding in her youth, and she rode from time to time at a stable located near Highway 577 just outside of Menominee. I won’t swear to it, but my recollection of family stories is that she went out west to recuperate at a dude ranch right after I was born. This infantile trauma might account for why I get nervous about horses.


Many of my dad’s photos picture idyllic relationships of Doris with her children. This beer-drinking depiction of my mom and myself might be more true to life. The photo reflects my father’s sense of humor and probably his experimenting with different social themes and modalities.


By the mid-60’s my dad has stopped doing much photography, but he did take this picture of my Ph.D. graduation from Michigan in 1968 in Ann Arbor. I’d started my first real job two years earlier at the university in Cincinnati, and both Katja and I were relieved and pleased when I finished my traumatic dissertation task. I was so nervous when I walked up on the stage to get my diploma that a worker held me by the shoulders with two hands and pushed me in the correct direction, sort of like herding sheep.


The circus came to Menominee every summer and set up at the Ogden Ave. circus grounds, a block or two west of the Interstate Bridge. Our family would get up at 5 a.m. to go over and watch the tents being erected. Just as in Dumbo, the elephants pulled on the ropes to set up the big tent. When it was all ready, they held a circus parade down Ogden Avenue with elephants, camels, clowns, and beautiful trapeze artists. The entire experience was magical.


My grandfather, Guy Cramer, built a house on the river as a summer cottage in approximately 1941. The grand fireplace was constructed with stones hauled in from nearby fields. Our family moved there shortly after the war, initially with kerosene lamps, drinking water from a pump outside the front of the house, an outhouse next to the garage, and no telephone. Family friend John S. helped us keep a generator in the garage running which produced electricity. When a few more families moved out on the river, we got a party line telephone and felt more like a part of civilization.


Vic and Ruth Mars were close friends of my parents, and we were friends with their kids Mary and Charlie. Each December the Mars invited the children in their social circle to their house on Christmas Eve. As night fell, the children hid behind the chairs and sofas in the living room, and, before you knew it, there was Santa himself, delivering presents under the tree to all assembled. It was amazing to the younger kids and remained exciting for the older, more cynical ones as well.


The Caleys, Florence and Bill, were among my parents’ closest friends, and their kids, Bill Jr., Tom, and Bruce, were among our regular playmates. Florence was a former English teacher and a very kind, sensitive person with a good sense of humor. She served as my informal counselor on a couple of occasions during my rocky teen-age years.


This 1940 family portrait includes (in the front row) my paternal grandmother Olga, my mother Doris, myself, my maternal grandfather Guy, my aunt Martha, and my paternal grandfather, V.A. Sr. In the back row, my uncle Karl, my dad Vic, and my uncle Kent. My grandmother Olga died when I was 3, and I have no memories of her from my childhood. She was very prominent in Republican politics in Wisconsin, serving as the state chairperson of the party. We grew up in a staunchly Republican household, though it didn’t rub off on all the children.


Here’s my first childhood friend Sally F. and I with my mother in about 1940. Menominee winters were cold, and we were bundled up. We lived a block away from the Michigan Tourist Information Lodge, which offered a steep hill for sledding. About two years after this photo was taken, Sally and I began kindergarten at Boswell School, a half mile away from our house, and we children would walk there together every day, even in the bitter weather of January and February.


This is my mom with Katja’s parents, Helen and Buck, at Katja’s and my wedding. When we were married in Yellow Springs in August of 1960, our families drove there from Philadelphia and Menominee respectively. There was some tension because Katja’s folks were not enthusiastic about our marriage, and they expressed their doubts to my parents. Everybody did their best to maintain good behavior, and it all did come off in the end.


This is Steven and myself with our cousin Anita from Sweden. Anita came for a year of study abroad at Marinette High School and lived with my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha at Pine Beach. She was several years older than I, and we thought she was very beautiful. Her English was very good, and she was a charming teenage girl. I still remember that it made me nervous to stand so close to her for this picture.

G-mail Comments

-Sue S-P (3-8): Dear David, Vicki steered me to your blog a few years ago and I loved it - then I lost it. I am so glad someone posted a link to it on "You know you're from Menominee when...." I have just looked a lot of the pics you posted. My mind is flying down memory lane so fast that I am dizzy. I have not seen a picture of Jean O'Hara in 50 years. You know the love I have always had for your family. Now I get to peek into the family album. Your letters to George are wonderful. No more to be said. I hope I get to see you this summer at Farm. Vicki swears she will be coming.

Love to you all,


-Phyllis S-S (2-13): I loved seeing these photos - personally, I think the little black (a beanie) you're wearing in the photo with your grandfather Cramer is adorable. Do you still have the soldiers he gave you? pss

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Brief Career as a Boxer*

Dear George,

Antioch focused heavily on the life of the mind, but the college did require freshmen to take a token year of Phys Ed. I signed up for tennis the first quarter because I’d played a lot and that seemed easiest My roommate, Ross, however, took boxing, and he let me know each week how great it was. I was already jealous of Ross from his constant bragging about his high school experience in New York City, and his boxing stories just made me more bitter. Ross was short and overweight, and I couldn’t believe he was such a masterful boxer. I was busy struggling with late adolescent masculinity issues, and boxing seemed like a really manly thing to do. I decided that Ross’s boxing class was just what I needed.

I signed up for the Winter quarter. The teacher was Coach Mike O’Geary. Mike was Antioch’s only Phys Ed teacher, and he taught football, basketball, golf, swimming, badminton, volleyball, archery, and whatever else the college needed. Boxing, however, was Coach O’Geary’s forte since he had been a professional boxer himself (and had the remnants of an oft-broken nose to prove it). I was taken aback at the first class meeting because nearly all of my classmates looked like villains from James Bond movies. I started keeping track in the college cafeteria, and, literally, all the tallest, heaviest males on campus were in my boxing class. There was one other kid named Andy who was my size at 150 pounds, but everybody else was at least 6-1 and weighed upwards of 200 .

During the first two weeks Coach O’Geary taught us the rudiments of the sport – footwork, feints, hooks and jabs, uppercuts, offense and defense, etc. Then all our class sessions consisted of dividing up into pairs and sparring with one another. Needless to say, I was paired up with one burly opponent after the next, and they pretty much used me as a punching bag. Though we wore headgear and Coach O’Geary had given advice to keep people from getting hurt, I left every class session with a throbbing headache. My only relief came when I fought a muscular senior named Jack. Jack was the best boxer in the class, and he used me to practice his defense. He’d instruct me to try to hit him in the face as hard as I could, and he promised not to hit me back. As first I was wary, but then I’d start throwing lefts and rights until I got exhausted. Jack fended off my every punch with ease. I don’t think I ever connected a single time. Then for the last thirty seconds of our bouts, he’d practice punching me. Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat, machine gun blows to my forehead and chest, one after another. Jack didn’t hit me that hard, or otherwise I would have been killed, but it was clear that he could have knocked me out any time he chose to.

There were nine other guys in the class, so one-ninth of the time I would get paired up with Andy, the other boxer in my weight class. We’d often commiserate after class about facing such big opponents. However, when Andy and I would fight, we would go all out, each of us trying to knock the other to the canvas. Andy was the only person I ever got to hit a lot, and vice versa. Neither one of us was very effective, but, because it was our only chance, we were each insanely determined to pulverize one another.

A few weeks after I’d started I confronted my roommate Ross about boxing class. I said it was like going in and being murdered every time. Ross said that’s how it had been for him too. He said it had been a terrible experience, and he was overjoyed when the quarter came to an end. Incredulous, I asked him why he’d told me it was so great. He looked kind of apologetic and said he hadn’t wanted to appear like a wimp. A couple of months later we were at a party in the women’s dorm, and, after a few beers, I told Ross I wanted to duke it out with him. I said that, since we’d both taken boxing, we should go outdoors and see who was the better boxer. Ross laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. He thought I was joking. I was worked up and completely serious, but Ross just said I’d had too much to drink. That was the last time I’ve ever tried to pick a fight with anybody. It’s just as well. But, if the occasion ever arises in the future, I still have those fisticuff skills that Coach O’Geary instilled in me. I’m not sure if boxing was my best college class. But it was definitely the most memorable.



*Pseudonyms used in this story

G-mail Comments

-Jennifer M (2-8): :-)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Reveries

Super Bowl XLVI, N.Y. Giants vs. New England Patriots

Dear George,

I’ve woken up at 4 a.m. every morning for the past week dreaming about the Super Bowl. Like zillions of Americans, I seem to be possessed with Super Bowl fever. I blame it on the media. TV, the newspapers, and the Internet have been saturated with the big event for the past two weeks. Well over a hundred million people will be watching the kickoff today, probably shattering last year’s all-time record of the most watched show in U.S. TV history. Katja and I don’t know that much about football, but we like to get swept away by huge mass events. We like the commercials, we’re eager to see Madonna. Katja buys lots of paraphanelia. Yesterday I was wearing my Green Bay Packers T-shirt, my Green Bay sweatshirt, and Katja’s New Orleans Saints cap. We’ve watched every Super Bowl since the beginning, way back in 1966. It wasn’t even called the Super Bowl yet.

In the 1960’s there were two separate professional football leagues in the U.S., i.e., the National Football League and the American Football League. The NFL had been around since 1920 and was much more well-established. The upstart AFL had been formed in 1960, and, though it competed with the NFL for players and fans, it was commonly seen as a second-rate newcomer. Because the competition was hurting both leagues, they agreed that they would merge in 1970 and also that the top-ranked teams in the two leagues would begin playing an AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

Packers Coach Vince Lombardi is carried off the field after his team defeated the Oakland Raiders, 33-14, in the Super Bowl

The first “Super Bowl” was played in L.A. in January 1967 and featured the NFL’s Green Bay Packers (14-2) versus the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs (12-3-1). Because it was the first, it had its own special excitement. With the legendary Vince Lombardi as their coach, the Packers had already become a dynasty. Thanks to my folks, we’d being going to Packer games at Lambeau Field during visits home for several years. Menominee was only fifty miles away from Green Bay, and local residents were completely obsessed with the team and its fortunes. Star players in 1966 included quarterback Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung (injured early in the season), Willie Davis, Jerry Kramer, Forest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Willie Woods, Boyd Dowler, and many others. The Packers beat the AFL’s Chiefs decisively, 36-10, and Bart Starr was the game’s MVP. The next year the Packers returned again to the world championship game and beat the Oakland Raiders, 33-14. Bart Starr was MVP that time too. There was talk about discontinuing the game because it seemed obvious that the NFL was so vastly superior that the AFL could never catch up.

Joe Namath, Quarterback, New York Jets

Lombardi retired after the 1967 season, and, much to the dismay of their loyal fans, the Packers suffered their first losing season in years. The Baltimore Colts with Johnny Unitas won the NFL championship. Following the two Packer blowouts, they were favored by 18 points over the AFL’s underdog New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Nonetheless, Jets quarterback Joe Namath (“Broadway Joe”) brashly guaranteed a victory before the game. To everyone’s astonishment, the Jets did win the game, 16-7. As NFL-ites, we were crestfallen. The competition between the NFC and AFC conferences has been balanced ever since, with the NFC earning 24 victories and the AFC 21.

Joe Montana, 49ers; Ken Anderson, Bengals; Super Bowl XVI

Our Cincinnati Bengals were founded in 1966 by Paul Brown as the tenth and final team in the AFL. We hometown fans were thrilled when the Bengals represented the AFC in Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1982. Ken Anderson was the Bengals quarterback, Pete Johnson the fullback, and Chris Collingsworth and Isaac Curtis the wide receivers. We played Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers. Though the Bengals gained more yards in total offense and scored more touchdowns, they also had five turnovers and wound up losing, 26-21. Seven years later we played Joe Montana and the 49ers again in Super Bowl XXIII in Miami. This time Boomer Esiason was our quarterback. Frankly, at least for Cincinnatians, this was the most heartbreaking Super Bowl – no, the most heartbreaking pro football game – of all times. The Bengals were winning 16-13, with a mere 3 minutes and 10 seconds left on the clock. The 49ers got the ball way back on their own 8-yard line. They promptly marched all the way down the field, and Joe Montana threw the winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in the game. We were watching at a Super Bowl party at Bob and Wanda C’s house. At the end of the game all the guests simply got up and walked out the door like zombies. We were still talking about that tragic day twenty years later.

Eli Manning (left) and Tom Brady, dueling quarterbacks in Super Bowl XLVI

There have been many other exciting Super Bowls. The most memorable for us included the Brett Favre-led Packers victory over the New England Patriots in 1997, the Saints win over the Colts in 2010 (Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning), and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers just last year. The recently completed 2011 season was the best year yet for the three teams we follow most closely, i.e., the Bengals, the Packers, and the Saints. The Bengals finally made it back to the playoffs this year, and we entertained an optimistic wish that they might make it all the way to the Super Bowl. The Packers and the Saints both had jad dominant seasons, and we were positive that we would be cheering for one or the other of them in the Super Bowl. Much to our dismay all of our three favorites lost early on in the playoffs. So now it’s the New York Giants vs. the New England Patriots. The Patriots’ Tom Brady will doubtlessly go down in history as one of the great quarterbacks of all times, and commentators are starting to refer to N.Y. Giant Eli Manning as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. We’re not sure who to cheer for. Eli Manning’s a New Orleans native, and we do have that family New York connection. I guess we’ll go with the Giants. But whichever way it goes, we’re primed for the occasion. I just hope that tonight I’ll start sleeping better again.



G-mail Comments

-Gayle C-L (2-5): Yes. Go Giants. ;)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

We'll Miss You, Sweet Titus

Dear George,

Our son J sent an e-mail this morning letting us know that their family dog, Titus, had died in the night. I think Titus was about nine or ten. He’d been diagnosed with diabetes two weeks ago, and he’d declined steadily since then. J had been with him during the night, and the children, V and L, got to say goodbye to him in the morning. Needless to say, it was very sad for everyone. Both Katja and I got teary-eyed when we heard the news. The death of a pet isn’t identical to the death of a human, but it has many of the same ingredients – sudden loss, disbelief, pain, grief, a flood of memories.

I’m sketchy about Titus’ history. To the best of my recollection, I think he’d been abandoned on the streets of New Orleans, and one of J and K’s friends had been taking care of him. The friend couldn’t keep him, so J and K took him in. They’d been in their new house in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, and their entire Mid-City neighborhood was completely flooded. J and K stayed with friends in various temporary quarters for a while, and J brought Titus up to live with us in Cincinnati for a couple of months. We’ve always enjoyed being a three-dog household, so Titus was welcome. In fact, Katja strongly wanted to keep him permanently, but he did wind up going home. Titus was an extremely mellow dog who simply adjusted to the sheepdogs and tried to fit in. Mike and Duffy rarely play together, nor did the three dogs play with one another, though they liked to hang around as a pack. Titus, in his own quiet way, showed his affection to the humans. He wasn’t pushy, but he’d come up and rub against our leg, looking up with his soulful eyes. I think he’d had a difficult early life, and he didn’t ask for much other than a little occasional attention. In particular, he’d like Katja to rub his tummy. I’d put all the dogs on a single three-way leash and take them out on Ludlow Avenue. On several occasions African-American men asked me where I’d gotten the pit bull. I told them about Titus being a refugee from New Orleans. One guy said that, because of his clipped tail, Titus had probably been used in dogfighting. If that were true, I could see why Titus had been abandoned. He was so sweet, he would have made a terrible dog fighter. Sort of like Ferdinand the Bull. I asked J about his breed, and J said that Titus wasn’t a pit bull. He thought that he had a lot of American Bull Terrier in him.

Titus has always been an important part of our family visits to New Orleans. I enjoy walking in J and K’s neighborhood, and Titus has always been my faithful companion. A little chubby in his older years, he was poky walker. Like Ferdinand, he liked to stop and smell the roses. But I’d say, “Come on, Titus,” and off we’d go. Despite his masters’ initial worries, Titus was excellent with the children. J and K were careful to keep the kids’ “manhandling” to a minimum but Titus seemed to understand that gentleness was the appropriate demeanor. Last year K brought home a second dog, a small black terrier who they named Iko. If Titus was low-key and kind of mopy, Iko was the exact opposite, high in energy and very engaging. He made lots of overtures to get Titus to be his playmate, but Titus just sort of put up with it and didn’t reciprocate much.

It’s going to be a sad time for a while in J and K’s household. Everybody’s going to miss Titus. In some ways, it’s all incomprehensible, especially for the children. We’ll miss him when we next visit. So long, sweet Titus.



G-mail Comments

-JML (2-3): Thanks Dad, what a sweet tribute to a great dog.

-Phyllis S-S (2-2): Dave, Please accept my condolences. What a lovely personality Titus had. pss

-Donna D (2-2): oh, david, how very sad. i remember you all wanting to bring him home with you.... i'm so sorry. donna