Up in the trees

Here are some of the photos taken of me just starting out on the ropes course Monday at Kennolyn.

Though I had actually been a ropes course instructor at the camp, it’s been six years since I actually went up on one. When these photos were taken the fear hadn’t really set in yet. That came after I got up to the Charlie Chaplin Walk – an element where two cables/wires are about a a foot apart and ten feet long between a redwood tree and a platform attached to two redwood trees – and about 50 feet in the air.

I nearly wet myself crossing the Islands in the Sky, the element after Charlie. About eight boards with four ropes attached to each corner come together and attach to a cable overhead. All of the boards swing freely, again, about 50 feet in the air. The plan: Walk across them to the next platform to get to do the really fun part: the Zip line.

Special thanks to Brad Elman for taking and diligently e-mailing these photos to me. Brad’s a former camper and counselor at Kennolyn who now has a son who has been to the camp six summers, I believe he said. Thank you, Brad.

Returning to Camp: Kennolyn Reunion

Sunday and Monday were interesting days out here. Mike Orlando – my kind host here in San Francisco whom I met while working at Kennolyn Camp near Santa Cruz – and I cruised down Highway 17, over the mountains and attended the 60th Summer Celebration and Reunion at our former stomping grounds.

It was good to be back among the redwood trees and to see so many familiar faces. Like the photo posted here inside the former Monie’s Boarding House, now Caldwell Lodge, of former fellow camp counselor, Fresno’s very own Michael “Funky Cold” Medina with the aforementioned kind host (who has sunshine coming from his behind, I might add).

It’s kind of weird going back to a place and spending time there as a former counselor six years removed. There were a few familiar faces from my time there. Of course the perennial Pat Veatch, the director Andrew and his wry, lovely and beloved wife Brenda and their three children (two of whom came along since I’ve worked there).

It was also just splendid to run into old familiar faces like Jo Mama (when she’s around I’m Joe Daddy), who, after losing a bunch of weight, is looking simply marvelous. She’s a hoot in her own right, but get her talking about her job, and wow-ee.

Joann works for David Gest. Remember that guy a few years ago who married Liza Minelli? And they were plastered everywhere? And they were weird together? Yeah, well, she’s worked for him on-and-off for as long as I’ve known her. Ah, the funny stories.

I also got up on the camp’s high ropes course. Though I went there for my first summer in 1996 to teach photography, I quickly became intrigued by the ropes. Being scared of heights as I am would likely forbid me for partaking in the activity, but somehow I managed to conquer those fears and by 1997 I was a fully certified ropes course instructor.

But it’s been six years since I was up on any course and Kennolyn’s course is higher and more elaborate than likely any other (thanks to those redwood trees – some of the tallest trees in the world) and the excellent design crew who built them, Challenge Works (run by a former counselor and administrator at Kennolyn).

I hope to post photos of me up in the trees later, but wow. It was so scary, so fun and so rewarding to have done this again after my fears had returned. I did it. Not pretty, but I did it, made it up the Jacobs Ladder, over the Charlie Chaplin Walk, onto the platform, over the Islands in the Sky (…with my partner Michelle Ogren – who was one of my photography campers back in 1996 and now is the camp’s program director and a college graduate. That’s a little sobering.), and then down the Zip Line… What fun! And besides the big scrape on my leg, I made it down fine and exhilarated.

Mike, Mike and I made it down to Santa Cruz, had a couple beers at a sadly deteriorating 99 Bottles of Beer (an old favorite bar/hangout) and walked down Pacific, checked out all the new buildings and businesses and talked about the good old times. It was great. Oh, and we also stopped in for a slice of Pizza My Heart – quite possibly the best pizza ever (and for $5 you get a cool t-shirt and a slice of pizza).

We also drove through Capitola and saw the ocean… It was a good trip. We finished it up with Miklos (aka “Meatloaf”), our Hungarian friend, at Tony & Alba’s. Tired and exhausted we headed back to San Francisco.

Today being the first Tuesday of the month means I’m off to check out museums in San Francisco. Tonight, sleeping in the Marin Headlands at a youth hostel. Tomorrow, taking a train to Palm Springs…

Chalk It Up To Sacramento: Art festival turns park into canvas

Every Labor Day weekend in Sacramento’s Fremont Park – just catercorner from where I lived from 2001 to 2003 and just blocks from the heart of downtown – there is a mini-festival called “Chalk It Up To Sacramento“.

The park where this all happens is one city block big and surrounded by sidewalks. Each square of the sidewalk is then sold off for the weekend so that local artists can use chalk to decorate their square. Proceeds go to support children’s art education. And some of the results are amazing.

I was there Saturday, September 3 and artists of all different calibers, talent and intent were working making some of the most beautiful designs – all out of chalk. Some squares are sponsored and artists might draw a logo in the square for that business. Others are just being creative and drawing whatever comes to mind. Some use grids to copy photographs or other artwork.

Jim Primrose is a Sacramenten (that’s what they call them out there) and this was his third year filling a sidewalk square at the event. He had two squares this year, in fact, side-by-side and seemed to be working with another artist. They were doing an beautiful, elaborate mural with a mermaid in the corner.

“I don’t know what it’s called yet,” he said sitting on a piece of cardboard over a corner of the drawing. He used the cardboard to reach a lower corner of his work that he was adding detail to and so that he wouldn’t damage an already completed portion of his artwork. His dark face had chalk streaks where he might have wiped sweat off his face on this typically hot Sacramento summer day.

People stroll on the grass on the outside perimeter of the park between the sidewalk and the street to look at the artwork (for some reason all the artists orient their work facing away from the park). Because it seldom rains in Sacramento (the first rain doesn’t usually fall until late autumn), this project stays on the sidewalk long after the weekend is over and the artists don’t have to worry about rain ruining their work. This way, too, many people get to see their work long after the festival is over.

When I lived in Sacramento this was one of my favorite events to go see. An outdoor studio full of artists working very hard to make something that will only be visible for a few months is pretty remarkable, too.

Too bad the weather in Cincinnati doesn’t afford us the opportunity to do the same kind of project. Or would it?

Writing abot my trip: Joe now in California

Through the gracious help of a kind girlfriend (who took me to the airport at, as she will tell you, 4:27 a.m.) and a Boeing 777 and United Airlines, I made it to San Francisco in one piece.

Then a screeching BART ride later, a short ride on Muni, I made it to Mike’s “dungeon” in the Presidio, dropped off my stuff and walked a short jaunt down the hill and had lunch at a coffee shop overlooking the Lucas Film offices. Pretty cool stuff.

A few minutes later I boarded another Muni bus headed for the BART again, under the Bay and on to Richmond where I got on the Amtrak and went to Sacramento. That’s where I am now, staying at my friend Niki’s house.

More to come later…including my thoughts on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina…

Margaret Garner: Powerful and profoundly disturbing

This evening – well, yesterday now – I was given the fortunate opportunity to go to the open dress rehearsal of the Cincinnati Opera‘s local premiere of Margaret Garner, an opera they co-commissioned. Based on a local Cincinnati story, the opera, though not completely historically accurate, is good – very good, in fact – and extremely heart-wrenching, disturbing, thought-provoking, sad and, at times, hard to watch.

And though I never ever will profess to be a musical critic, the performance, the music and the pace were excellent. Another fine performance by Cincinnati’s opera production folks.

To give you an idea how hard it was to watch, in the crowd of about 500 people of mostly friends and family of Opera employees, there were several children. During the opera’s pivotal scene where Garner takes the life of her two young children, an approximately five-year-old child in the audience broke out into loud sobs. It further drove home the horror – the historic, real-life horror – that was being played out on the stage.

Ever since I first heard of this opera early last year I couldn’t wait to see it. As I’ve been privy to some of the preparation employees of the opera went through to get ready for this week, I was amazed at the passion and devotion they have given to this project. It’s hard not to also mention the outlay of cash also needed to commission an opera- easily more than $2 million.

Besides the Opera’s hard work, I have been sadly dumbfounded and left in disbelief at the brazen and contemptuous telling of Margaret Garner’s story at the plantation where this story started. The “farm” is just across the river from Cincinnati (near the airport). The way the docents tell the story that happened there isn’t benign or just wrong or inaccurate, it’s hurtful and extremely insensitive to the decedents of slaves that tour the site. On a more positive note, I have been blown away and deeply touched by Oprah Winfrey’s telling of Toni Morrison’s story in “Beloved“.

Though my West Coast friends knock us (hey, kiss my butt Ess Eff), we are lucky to be here in Cincinnati – a city on the move, evolving and changing and wanting to be better. But long before the Fountain gets slid 50 feet north and Bill Butler delights us with a mirror image along the Ohio River bringing us form to the mud pits nestled next to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, we had a kick-butt arts scenes. From Playhouse in the Park to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to the Contemporary Arts Center or that delightfully-free (thanks again Dick and Lois) Cincinnati Arts Museum – we’re lucky to be here. Even right now.

Jesus gave me a woman

Well, okay. So I made it through nearly a week posting everyday and then not only did the wheels fall off, the axle broke. But we’re out of the shop and ready to roll.

Walking back recently to my home with co-host Brian from a movie viewing at Newport on the Levee got me thinking about the blatant religious brainwashing going on in my little neighborhood.

As we crossed Central Parkway and left the comfy confines of the CBD (that’s “central business district” for suburbanites, or what many deem as the actual downtown area) and headed along Race Street to my apartment, a guy tried to stop us on the median and tell us about his experience with Jesus. Tonight, as he quickly explained, Jesus had given him a woman, a giant smile adorning his unshaven, scruffy-haired, nearly toothless face.

“Praise Jesus,” he said as he kept walking southward into the CBD.

Just about five days earlier, the Sunday morning before we celebrated our Independence Day, I had the windows open in my apartment. Around 10:30 a.m. Jesus-music started to fill the innards of my living space and gave momentary pause to my two cats. Really, really loud Jesus music. At first it was beautiful. I kept thinking I need to get dressed and run over to Washington Park and hear this choir. They were something else. Then it didn’t stop. And I realized it wasn’t live. They had a Jesus-deejay spinning the music, interspersed with God-speak. Really, really loud preaching.

When I finally stepped outside a couple hours later the sight across the park was deeply disturbing. There in the gazebo a loudspeaker was set up, microphone, mixer, looked like a CD player, maybe a turntable. And this large woman was standing in the gazebo, dressed in a pink and white dress, and was yelling Bible verses and espousing on the virtues contained therein at ear-piercing (maybe ear-exploding and bleeding – it was so loud) levels to people standing about 15 feet away.

What got them to stand there? Hot dogs. They were standing there in a long line to get hot dogs. Meanwhile, this woman and others throughout the day blared Jesus-talk at these people.

“If the drugs had you, now you have Jesus,” one said.

“If you were addicted to drugs and alcohol, now you can be addicted to Jesus,” screeched another.

Eat our dogs, get God and be thankful and respectful of those that brought you over to get a wiener.

It made me sick – way beyond the thought of eating a ground-up pig tail ‘n ear ‘n lip seasoned with pepper and spice. What’s worse – and being a journalist I like to check these things out first, but I think I can safely assume – they weren’t allowed to be there. They didn’t get a permit to shout at these people in these denigrating tones. They didn’t get a permit to yelp into my apartment windows. And they didn’t leave until nearly 6 p.m.

The Drop-Inn Center is just a half-block away and serves three square meals a day for free. What I want to know is why hot dogs for free, coupled with insulting rants, when free, rant-free meals are served nearby? I understand that the Drop-Inn folks get a little puzzled when every so often a van will pull up outside their facility and hand out bags of food. What’s different? Inside those bags of food are Bible verses.

All this commotion and sound pollution got me thinking. I wonder why no one complains just about the sheer intensity of the sound shooting out of the park? Is it status quo in a neighborhood full of people who already feel so abandoned and helpless and pushed aside that they think another cry from Over-the-Rhine would go unheeded? Or is it wrong to question religious leaders? Or were those dogs some Hebrew Nationals, that plump when you cook ’em, and served with the freshest relish ever that the folks in line actually look forward to Hot Dog Days?

I have to admit I didn’t walk over – I was in a hurry to get somewhere – but spoke to a person who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly a decade. This happens fairly regularly. We’ve had at least two Hot Dog Days in June. Am I nearly the only one wondering what the heck is going on? And cares?

Trying to have more interesting days…

Today and this evening have been spent, in large part, getting ready for tomorrow’s radio show. It’ll be our fourth show in what has turned out to be a very fun experience. It’s a lot of work, but, in my opinion, totally worth it. We’ve also received a tremendous response, with an article in the Dayton Daily News, mentions on popular local Blogs and a snippet in The Cincinnati Enquirer.

We’ve been very fortunate to have on great guests – tomorrow no exception – and it appears we’re going to march on with more interesting folks in-studio or on the phone. Hope you’ll take a listen, either live or in our archives (with Podcasts enabled, too).

***

Since March I’ve been a stay-at-home Pa to my cats, more out of forced necessity than by choice. Nonetheless, being a freelancer has been a great experience allowing me the freedom I’ve really grown accustom to in my adult life. At the same time, though, it can be boring. I miss having colleagues (even if in the past they’ve often been rather drab – but not all of ’em), a place to go everyday and, well, a 401(k).

There have been some days where it’ll get to be 5 p.m. and I am still wearing what I wore to bed and I haven’t stepped foot outside of my apartment, though I’ve worked my ass off. That’s a little disconcerting. I’m lonely, I guess, and I find myself craving some social interaction. Cats are great, but, hey, I can only interpret so much from a meow, not matter how hard I try.

***

Bought tile this morning for the new house. Stopped into Ohio Tile & Marble in Northside and had the nicest clerk help me and help boost my creative confidence. She was really cute, too, which is always a bonus. Ended up with this grayish black-speckled tile for the black bathroom and this nifty “starry” galaxy tile for the hearth downstairs.

In an attempt to keep me writing daily, here I Blog. Though tonight’s entry is rather blah. My apologies, and I hope tomorrow yields better material.

G’night.

Wal-Mart in the wind

At, oh, around say 6 p.m. or so my mother called to double-check that I wasn’t now changing my voter registration to Precinct YBR in Oz, Kansas or something after the kaboom surprise thunderstorms swept through the area.

Living in Over-the-Rhine the sound of thunderclaps have to be weighed against the sound of gun shots against the sound of fireworks being shot off against the whatever-the-hell-that-was sounds of everyday life down here – just to determine the best save-your-life way to react. Shall I: Go to the basement, run full speed to my car bent over at the waist, turn on my weather radio, call the police, get under my bed, request medical attention, carry my baseball bat around, just write in my Blog or step away from the window? It’s a tough call sometimes, but for those not familiar with the area, usually stepping away from the window is a good call no matter what.

No rain in OTR today, which is odd with the permanent black cloud overhead. (It’s worth noting here that I truly love living in this neighborhood, but it has its challenges. I think I have a right to poke fun at my leisure.)

But anyway, way out in the suburbs from whence I came and my parents still live and have moved farther out into, my Mother found herself at Wal-Mart when the rough weather struck. And here’s where my funny tail begins, told from my Mom to me, and now to you, with some embellishment…

Judy (my mom) walks into the Colerain Avenue Wal-Mart, gets about 50 feet in and the front doors of the store blow open and hail and heavy rain begins to fall outside. Undoubtedly filled with shoppers about that time, the Wal-Mart blue-smocked workers started ordering people to the ground. Every shopper for themselves.

I could only imagine witnessing all this. To me, this conjured up images of Wal-Mart worker-heroes putting to use the employee training they never thought they’d need. That sleepy day in training just hours after they were handed their pin-less bright blue polyester smock with the “How May I Help You” emblazoned across the back, told the dress code and given a load full of crap about teamwork. And then there was that sorta interesting part of the training manual about what to do in an emergency, Code Adam gone awry, or when the flimsy construction of the store’s roof blew off in a stiff breeze. Just like today, when Judy, my Mom, was picking up some sundries.

Snapping into action, I can only guess those workers were thinking it’ll be just mere hours before the Bentonville, Ark. television commercial production staff would be setting up movie lights in the parking lot. That bouncing yellow smiley face would be there applying make-up in a trailer nearby. Then they’d all star in a community-oriented Wal-Mart TV commercial, aired nationally during the Super Bowl.

But alas, the roof stayed intact and the circular clothing racks presenting the Chinese-made sweat pants cushioned the fall of the people ducking for cover. No need for the clerks to tear their blue smocks into long, narrow strips to apply tourniquets to the wounded or administer CPR to Granny as the stress ‘o the moment caused blood to clot in her elderly lungs. Also no need for leg splints for those caught in the cinder-block rubble.

Surprise, though. Target, brand-new and just a few miles south and only a quarter mile from where the new Super Center Wal-Mart is being built along Colerain Avenue – that place was blown to bits. Workers and shoppers strewn everywhere… There is a God. And he loves Wal-Mart. Okay, just kidding about this last part.

Okay. I admit, that was odd. How ’bout we talk about my black bathroom? Alright? Good.

I’m in the process of buying a little home. In it, there’s a little bathroom. In that bathroom I’ve chosen to put in black elements, like a black whirlpool bathtub and a black sink and a black toilet.

Never have I known the costs associated with blackness. Take your average toilet. It costs like $400. My word. A toilet? That much? I have a whole new respect for toilets. But get this: My black toilet? Like $800. That’s ridiculous. The matching black pedestal sink was like $400. On a per square-foot basis I think I may end up having the single most expensively-equipped room in Northside – maybe even the city. And you’re all invited to pee in it when it’s done.

G’night.

So, uh, iPods. They been ’round long?

Well, I guess I ought to start writing something, so here goes…

This Blog got lost. I created it sometime a while back, then did nothing with it. I accidentally rediscovered it just a few weeks back when a friend started her own Blog and I wanted to add a comment.

One for saving passwords in my nifty Password 2000 (which I highly recommend), I scrounged up my user name, posted then clicked on my hyper-linked name. Wa-la. Imagine that…There was Report This! right where I left it… and empty, nothing written.

Anyway, so here goes the journal of mundane-ness so popular on this here Internet(s)…

I’ve had this remarkably musical day. Earlier I went to a recital/benefit concert performed by and benefiting my friend Mary K. Koehler. The soprano is perfecting her amazing talent in hopes of furthering her career – and her dream – to become a professional, full-time singer-lady.

She’s so good. Amazing, in fact. The concert was beautiful, she was gorgeous and I was utterly amazed by another one of my pals and their own unique special-ness. And I have to say, after the concert, she said one of the most nice, heartfelt things anyone has said to me in a long, long time…

MK’s talent was spewing from her – all tucked into her tiny frame, belting out, reverberating the walls of the less-than-ideal acoustics of Xavier University’s Bellarmine Chapel. No matter, it just filled me up. I loved it. And I couldn’t help but wonder during her performance (it’s my first time hearing her sing) if I might be listening to a future opera star. And unless her opera tutor is some sort of huckster working us over for money like some public television telethon aficionado, she agrees. That’s really neat.

So, that’s music experience number one. But before I arrived at Xavier, my pal’s brother, Peter, and I stopped into the Apple store and I bought myself an iPod. And now, tonight at home playing with it…now, Oh my Lord Jesus! I’m in love. What took me so long? I had no idea what the potential of a measly four gigabytes could do for my insatiable music buds. Dammit, this is awesome. So, awesome, in fact, that it prompted me to start my Blog. I finally had something to write about.

Here’s what’s so cool about these quaint little music lover dream machines, and there’s a few cool things… First off, the color of the case (mine’s blue), the firmware inside (that’s the stuff that makes the music play and makes it easy to use the device and find music). It’s also the fact that I have so much music I’ve obviously never heard before and upon listening to some selections randomly on my iPod mini I discover I love a new song. “Cycles” by Frank Sinatra. What a great song. Who whudda known?

Apple – those differently-thinking intuitive geniuses of our time – has struck gold once again. And okay, I know I’m about two years too late on all this (and seriously, I’m a gadget nerd), but better late than never, right? I’ve arrived… and am ready to sign my union card.