Reader Request: Rod Blagojecvich

Graham Powell asked me what I think of Rod Blagojevich, the (allegedly) felonious, profanity-spouting governor of Illinois.

Not much.  Blagojevich is your typical machine politician.  I think slightly more of him than I do of Chicago mayor Richard Daly, who, as State’s Attorney, famously railroaded a father into prison for his daughter’s murder, then stuck to his story when the conviction was overturned.  (‘Cuz, yanno, that would suggest he became mayor because his daddy used to run the machine.)

Yeah, I think Rod’s a slightly better human being, which is kind of like saying Hitler was a slightly nicer guy than Stalin.  I read the indictment.  I heard the tapes.  Great freakin’ entertainment.  My wife’s father used to call guys like him “sunshine kids.”   They probably should send him to remedial prison.

It’s not that Ohio politicians are much better.  Hell, the entire Republican Party collapsed here in 2006 because 90% of the state office holders could not only not keep their hands out of the cookie jar, but they had a bad habit of getting caught every time they dipped in.  And our Democratic Attorney General/would-be future governor, Mark Dann?

Apparently, he spent his budget on expensive cars for relatives and hiring a staff who looked and acted like the casts of Rock of Love, Flavor of Love, and Charm School.

So Ohio is not immune.  Neither are New York (Elliot “Love Machine” Spitzer), California (Randy “Duke” Cunningham), or Alaska (Ted “Geritol” Stevens).  That said, Rod needs to see the inside of a cage.

Then his parole officer should get him a job.

I’d say at Wal-Mart, but that’d door alarm would go off every time Rod went outside for a smoke.

Reader Request: My Favorite Music

She who is my wife asked me to talk about my favorite music.

Since that’s like asking about the weather – five minutes later, you get a different answer – I’ll talk about a few acts that stick with me for the long haul.

Deep Purple – I am the odd Deep Purple fan.  I liked David Coverdale better than Ian Gillan.  I like Steve Morse and Tommy Bolin better than Ritchie Blackmore.  And I can’t for the life of me figure out why original bassist Nick Simper was fired for Roger Glover or why Glover was sacked for the stoned, minimalist bass player Glenn Hughes.  On the other hand – “Hush,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” “Burn,” “Perfect Strangers,” and the first post-Blackmore masterpiece, “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming.”  What can I say?  Purple saved me from an adolescence dominated by Haircut 100 and Naked Eyes.

Pink Floyd – We can go with Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall and just stop there.  But I won’t.  I think the only Floyd album I didn’t like was The Final Cut, which was more Roger Waters having daddy issues than a Pink Floyd album.  There is just something about the music of Messrs. Waters, Gilmore, Wright, and Barrett that keeps bringing me back time and again.

Marillion – They started out as throwbacks to the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, evolved into a prototype for Radiohead, and remain solid to this day.  The peak of their popularity was in the eighties, led by enigmatic Scottish singer Fish (who sang “Kayleigh,” “Lavendre,” and “Incommunicado”), when they frequently opened for Rush.  However, the band wasn’t fully formed.  (It took three albums to find their permanent drummer.)  In 1989, Fish went solo, and the band recruited a decidedly non-Fish singer named Steve Hogarth, aka “H.”  Marillion went from Fish’s backup band to five musicians and picked up where they left off.  As for Fish, he went on to have an interesting solo career, and his spoken word turns make me wish I wrote books set in Scotland just to have him do the audio.  I made Nita cry (happy tears, of course) when I sang Hogarth’s “Between You and Me” to her once.  For that, H will forever be on my Christmas card list.

Garbage – I never understood how insidious depression was until this cute, red-headed Goth chick named Shirley Manson sang it.  Ironically, I can honestly say I don’t have that problem anymore.

The Foo Fighters –  Just a good, hardworking band, unpretentious and a bit humble.  A dose of sanity after the mad genius of Nirvana was no more.  Without reinventing the wheel, they have become the band of the 2000’s.

Tom Waits – If you write noir, hardboiled, or thrillers, you gotta love the man with the gravelly voice.  He tells the story of life’s seedier side, occasionally pokes fun at himself (Nighthawks at the Diner), and manages to do more with a limited vocal range than other singers (Hey, Mariah Carey!  You listening to this?) do with multiple octaves.  Local writer Nathan Singer once told me, “He has absolutely no range, but he has at least thirty-two distinct voices.”  True enough.

Reader Request Week: MTM – Cincinnati

This week is Reader Request Week, although the number of requests was a bit anemic this time out.  What’s up?  Was there a holiday recently or something?

Junosmom, one the My Town Mondays bloggers, chimed in and said, “Well, I’m new to your blog, and coming back to it because you are Cincinnati-based, where I grew up but no longer live. I would like to hear about Cincinnati. What is your favorite place there? What do you dislike the most about Cincinnati or Cincinnatians? Has it changed much lately? Who owns the river anyway? (We Kentuckians claim it.)”

My favorite place:  I would have to say the Little Miami River Trail.  Two summers ago, I hiked a different section of the trail almost every weekend, making it to within five miles of Xenia, where the trail meets a hub before linking up with an unfinished hiker biker trail to Columbus.  The trail used to be the Little Miami Railroad and is dominated by cyclists during warm weather.  Last year, Nita and I went to Loveland, a small suburb north of Cincinnati, to pick up the trail and ride it to Kings Mills, home of Kings Island Amusement Park.  In Kings Mills sits an abandoned ammunition factory they say is haunted.  Which piqued Nita’s interest.  For me, hiking the trail was my meditation for one summer.

Dislike most about the city:  It’s a bit too conservative at times, and very in-your-face about it.  Part of it is a very puritanical faction that has a disproportionate amount of sway around here.  Yes, these people lie awake every night terrified that someone, somewhere in Hamilton County, is enjoying themselves.   City leaders point to a lack of sin and vice in the city as a reason to live here.  Visitors and companies looking to relocate point to a lack of sin and vice in the city as a reason to go look at Indiana, Kentucky, or even Columbus.

Has it changed much?  The pace of change in Cincinnati is maddeningly slow sometimes.  Yet, in the 17 years I’ve been here, there have been changes.  Fountain Square got a makeover, and now there are actual reasons to come downtown.  Soon there will be a new neighborhood on the riverfront.  The former Eastern Avenue is now Riverside Drive and is still enjoying a development boom.  Across the river, Northern Kentucky looked almost barren when I moved here in 1991.  Now it has its own skyline, including The Acension, a modern, asymetrical building designed by the same architect working on the new World Trade Center in New York.  Some things never change, though.  After two overhauls, I-75 is still a parking lot and the Brent Spence Bridge is still, at best, taunting death even on the weekend.

Who owns the river?  Kentucky, who also pays for all the bridges, though all ports and marinas on the Ohio side are part of Ohio.

Got a request?  Any topic is game.  Leave it in the comment section.

Back To School

At the ripe old age of 42, I’m headed back to the hallowed halls of Cincinnati State.  And only 13 years after I dropped out.  How’s that for procrastination?

I probably could have gone back any time in the last decade.  Hell, it would have made paying that student loan off faster.  But the time has come.

No, I’m not going back for English or teaching.  I’d make a lousy English teacher, and in fact, never really got along with most of my English teachers.  (One at Cincinnati State gave me a reduced grade for an essay on being a pizza driver because I wouldn’t admit to red-lining his neighborhood.  This was the white English teacher.  The black one thought I should have turned it into a book.)

I am going back for web design.  I do a little here and there, but not enough to scare up business in the amounts I need.  I also have pretty much reached a dead end in my job at BigHugeCo.  There’s only so much you can do with computer repair before it starts numbing your brain.

I hear stories like this all the time.  Someone goes back to college in middle age.  Of course, they’re usually finishing up that last year of the Bachelor’s they never finished or earning a second degree or doing graduate work.

I’m going for my associates.


Somehow, over the next 2-3 years, I’m going to have to just get to that first level, which I tried last time in my twenties.  At this rate, I should have my master’s and my AARP card about the same time.  I should be collecting my retirement when I get a doctorate.

Scratch that.  I’m not getting a doctorate.  Are you freakin’ kidding me?  No post-grad program should have to deal with that.  And I shouldn’t have to deal with post-grad work while explaining to my grandchildren how cars used to run on this smelly stuff called “gasoline.”

Of course, the student loans are proving a challenge.  Even with my credit rating and assets (not much, but better than average for this recession), my bank, Gianormous Bailout & Trust, has decided that owning my car, my condo, and, quite likely in the next 18 months, this house is all the cash I’ll ever need to borrow from them.  No need for them to own my degree, too.

I’ll get around it.  BigHugeCo is paying part of the bill.

In the meantime, it may mean an exit from standup comedy once more.  It may mean I focus only on writing instead of all that other stuff I wanted to do.

At least busy people are focused.  Are you?

Reader Request Week begins next week.  Feel free to toss in a request – any topic – in the comment section.

Christmas Eve At Chateau Nita

This time last year, I was expected to be alone at Christmas.  I expected to either be sitting alone in my house, worried about surviving on my own, or moping at my brother’s house.


The old Rancho Winter is someone else’s home now, a mere investment for me.  (Yeah, for once, I make a big investment during a recession.  That never happens.  So suck it, Wall Street!)  I now live at Chateau Nita.

Last February, I met a woman who completely took my breath away.  Actually, we’d met through my on-and-off standup career.  But after a few casual emails, I suggested meeting for drinks, just to have some semblance of a social life again.

The only available day was Valentine’s Day.  She was divorced, her ex not opting to be much a part of her son’s life beyond the weekly child support check.  I was, of course, in the process of dismantling my own marriage.  I said, “We’re not with anyone.  Let me spoil you for Valentine’s Day.”

They say love at first sight and whirlwind romances are the stuff of myth.  In fact, I usually have my doubts about such stories.  Yet it happens.  It happened to us.  By my birthday, I had proposed to Nita.  She accepted.  We married in June, her son – and now my stepson – AJ giving away the beautiful bride.  And now?

I am spending my first Christmas tomorrow as a family man.  Something I’d all but given up on in 2007.

It’s been a strange, rough, but very good year for me personally.  Here’s hoping more of the same for everyone.

May our 2008 be everyone’s 2009.

A very Merry Christmahannukwanzaakah to you all.

Coming In The New Year…

Well, I’m not going to tell you yet.

But it’s going to be really, really cool.

No, nothing evil, yet awesome.  I can’t afford velvet paintings and don’t know who I’d send one to, anyway.  (Well, I’m tempted to send one to Laura Lippman, but I’d like to stay on Laura’s good side.)

My agent okayed this, so I can work on other stuff.

There is one thing evil, yet awesome, about this.

1.)  I stole the idea from Scalzi.

2.)  And I did something evil (but not quite awesome) to Scalzi in its creation.  And he has no idea.  (No, not a velvet painting.)  Hopefully, he’ll be flattered.  (That or a character named Winter will get eaten by aliens in an OMW novel in retaliation.)

Because I can, and Ken Bruen would kick my ass if I did it to him.

So what is it?

To quote Gollum, “You will see.  You will see.”

[Actually, I did three things.  I also stole “evil yet awesome” from Scalzi, but how could I not?  It’s just a friggin’ cool phrase that deserves to enter the English lexicon.  Try to use it in conversation today, especially in a meeting.]

MTM Cincinnati: Krohn Conservatory – Christmas Edition

[While Travis is on vacation over the holidays, you can find the other My Town Mondays here and here.  Check back often as Chris and Cathy update their lists as new posts go up.]

This past Friday was date day for me and Nita.  She had to burn off her last vacation day, and I had the time off coming, so we took in Cincinnati’s Krohn Conservatory.


This being the holidays, we’d hoped to take in the Conservatory’s Christmas display.  No, it wasn’t the tree you see above.

Continue reading

I Need…

A hug.

But that’s why I married Nita, so I’m good there.

What I also need that Nita may have some trouble scrounging up is a black 1962 Cadillac DeVille.

I don’t want to buy it; I just need to photograph it.

Needs to be mint or near-mint condition and within about an hour of Cincinnati.

That is all.


A Very Tom Waits Christmas

[Originally posted on Northcoast Exile, December 24, 2006]

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
Christmas Eve was dark, and the snow fell like cocaine off some politician’s coffee table
Rudolph looked to the sky. He had a shiny nose, but it was from too much vodka
He said, “Boys, it’s gonna be a rough one this year.”

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
The elves scrambled to pack up the last of the lumps of coal for deserving suburban brats
And a bottle of Jamie for some forgotten soul whose wife just left him
Santa’s like that. He’s been there.
Oh, he still loves Mrs. Claus, a spent piece of used sleigh trash who
Makes good vodka martnis, knows when to keep her mouth shut
But it’s the lonlieness, the lonliness only Santa knows

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And the workshop reeks of too much peppermint
The candy canes all have the names of prostitutes
And Santa stands there, breathing in the lonliness
The lonliness that creeps out of the main house
And out through the stables
Sometimes it follows the big guy down the chimneys
Wraps itself around your tannenbaum and sleeps in your hat
I pulled on Santa’s sleigh

We all line up for the annual ride
I’m behind Vixen, who’s showin’ her age these days
She has a certain tiredness that comes with being the only girl on the team
Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix
She’s got a tear drop tattooed under her eye now, one for every year Dancer’s away

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh and
I asked myself, “That elf. What’s he building in there?”
He has no elf friends, no elf children
What’s he building in there?
He doesn’t make toys like the other elves
I heard he used to work for Halliburton,
And he’s got an ex-wife in someplace called Santa Claus, Pennsylvania
But what’s he building in there?
We got a right to know.

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And we’re off Off into the night
Watching the world burn below
All chimney red and Halloween orange

I’ve seen it all
I’ve seen it all
Every Christmas Eve, I’ve seen it all

There’s nothing sadder than landing on a roof in a town with no cheer.