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» 2008 » May

Monthly ArchiveMay 2008

Commentary 31 May 2008 07:26 am

Annual event

My wife and I went to the Sebring Fireman’s Festival last night. We watched what I consider the loudest parade in northeast Ohio, with visiting fire departments revving up their sirens throughout the 45-minute procession. It’s also the parade with the most plentiful candy. All around us, kids were scrambling for Tootsie Rolls, Jolly Ranchers and bubble gum.

After, we hung around the fire station to play bingo. The bingo caller made lots of mistakes. I know they’re all volunteers (you know the old saying — you get what you pay for), but it’s still annoying when, say, B24 is pulled but the caller announces it as B21. That happened a few times.

We also ate some greasy fair french fries (the best!) and walked around the festival grounds. I remember when Holly’s parents used to buy ride passes for our daughter and our niece; they would ride the Ferris wheel, the Tilt-A-Whirl and some of the other attractions. Now, our daughter drives herself to the festival and walks around with friends, too cool — or too big — to ride anymore. Time marches on.

The Sebring Fireman’s Festival never changes, though. That’s comforting. Maybe it’s why we go back every year.

Commentary 29 May 2008 04:09 pm

Give yourself a facial

This is my print column from May 29, 2008, as published in The Alliance Review:  

Sometimes, the wood grain on my bathroom cupboard looks like a vulture in profile.

Other times, it looks like a creature from “The Dark Crystal,” an old movie by Muppet master Jim Henson. But when I blink, it goes back to being wood grain.

Humans have a tendency to recognize images, especially faces, in inanimate objects. The scientific term for this is pareidolia, a word so obscure my spell-checker spits it out like rotten meat.

We practice pareidolia from infancy because life rewards it. The first time we smile up at our parents, recognizing them as separate and distinct from the swirls of light and color around them, we receive positive reinforcement in the form of hugs and kisses. This tells us it’s good to know people. Recognizing faces becomes so ingrained that we keep seeing them wherever we look.
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Movies 28 May 2008 04:42 pm

Join the debate


The year is 1935, and Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at a small, rural university in Texas, is preparing his debate team to take on the undisputed giants of the sport: Harvard. Chief among his challenges is that he and his team are black at a time when the nation was less tolerant of racial differences and more willing to categorize and judge a person by skin color.
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Books 27 May 2008 05:31 pm

All hail the King


Did you know that Andrew Ray Joubert, a character is Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, is mentioned in the book Insomnia? Or that the character Richard Dees, a journalist in the author’s 1979 novel The Dead Zone, also appears in the 1988 short story, “The Night Flier”?

The Complete Stephen King Universe: A Guide to the Worlds of Stephen King is filled with such ephemera, details that separate a casual reader from a hard-core devotee. The guide’s writers — Stanley Wiater, Christopher Golden and Hank Wagner — have
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Comic books 25 May 2008 07:59 am

Forget this war?


 Oh, to have been a fly on the wall the day Bruce Jones pitched his concept for an updated War That Time Forgot to DC Comics.

“What we’ll do, see, is take a bunch of half-forgotten characters — Firehair, Enemy Ace, the Viking Prince and a few others — and stick ‘em on this island with dinosaurs,” the writer might have said. “Don’t worry that they’re all from different eras. That’s part of the mystery. And don’t worry that they’ll all speak modern English; I’ll toss in a
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Commentary 24 May 2008 10:04 am

Up all night

I spent part of last night taking photos at the Alliance High School senior overnighter. The fun started around 8 p.m. at the high school. At 11 p.m., seniors boarded buses for Macedonia where they played more fun and games at an indoor amusement park of sorts. (I forget the name.)

It’s a good way to give seniors a last hurrah in a controlled environment. I didn’t go to Macedonia (and was long gone before the buses arrived), but the parts I saw at the high school were terrific. Kids got to wear inflatable sumo wrestling costumes and spar with each other, ride a mechanical bull, play cornhole and table tennis, dance, eat and enjoy each other’s company for what is likely the last time as a class. Many won’t get together again until class reunions, but those aren’t the same. I say this as a person who has purposely avoided all of his class reunions. I don’t know why.

Parents organized and chaperoned the entire overnighter, and they deserve a lot of credit for what was obviously a labor of love.

Commentary & Family life 23 May 2008 07:32 pm

Making memories of prom

Here is my print column from May 22, 2008:  

My daughter attended her first prom Saturday night.

I played the stereotypical father with views on the dress (too much money, not enough material), the curfew (too late, 9 p.m. would have suited me fine) and the pre-dance build-up (too much hype, starting too soon).

The height of ridiculousness, however, was the photo coverage.

Back in the day — said the old man, voice shaking, glasses low on his nose, hand massaging a sore back from the days of walking to and from school, uphill both ways — taking pictures before the prom meant two blurry Polaroids or, if Mom really splurged, a roll of film that would stay undeveloped in the camera until Christmas.

Today, however, the prevalence of digital images means prom gets the kind of photo coverage once reserved for presidential inaugurations or Hollywood premieres.

My daughter, some of her friends, and their dates gathered in a central location for what can only be described as an orgy of picture taking. There were inside photos, outside photos, photos of gowns and tuxedos from front and back, close-ups of jewelry, feet, corsages and boutonnieres.

What’s worse, we took pictures with three different cameras. My wife handled the big gun, a digital video recorder. I was her wingman, working two digital cameras — my own and my daughter’s. I had explicit instructions: Stay close (which meant not to run off and talk with other fathers) and keep snapping.

That’s the peacetime variation on the soldier’s vow to keep the powder dry and not to fire until you see the whites of their eyes.

I had both cameras hooked over my right wrist, so I could pull a Quick Draw or Billy the Kid with my weapon at a moment’s notice. Armed with memory cards that could hold 100 and 300 images, respectively, I was a one-man photographic army.

I wasn’t alone. Every parent and grandparent on site was similarly armed and ready to snap. And with all those shutters going off around us, I was ready to snap, too, I assure you.

How many possible photo variations can there be given eight boys, eight girls, at least two parents each, various other relatives, all the poses mentioned above, and psychotic mothers bent on capturing it all for posterity?

It’s a real-world math problem — but the answer, when you figure duplication among cameras, has to be somewhere near the national debt. (Which, as of May 19, was $9.3 trillion, for those keeping track.)

After an hour of snapping, the promenaders promenaded off, and many of the parents made a beeline for digital developing services at area drugstores. I say many because, surprisingly, we weren’t part of the crush of humanity who wanted hard prints in hand before their kids actually reached the dance. We went out to eat instead, a rare concession to common sense by my wife.

As the height of irony, my daughter text messaged during the meal to tell us the batteries in her digital camera died before she got to the dance. There has to be a lesson there somewhere.

Kids remember the prom in their way, and parents remember it in theirs.

For my part, my memory will be of taking hundreds of pictures. After we get them developed, maybe I can look at them and figure out what I missed while I was busy making memories

Media 22 May 2008 07:53 pm

Idol finale

Waiting almost 24 hours to post comments on the American Idol season finale makes me a real latecomer to the discussion, but so be it.

I usually avoid the early episodes of each season because I tire quickly of watching people mug for the camera and sing badly. But when things get down to the later weeks where only three or four contestants remain, my interest is piqued. That’s how it was this year.

I’m tempted to say the victory of David Cook over David A. (too lazy to look up the spelling of  his last name) is a case of age over youth, but Cook is only 25, so that doesn’t work. Cook was by far the better singer, although A. had legions of teenybopper fans.

Fox did a nice job of parading out some has-beens (George Michael, Bryan Adams) to keep the festivities lively, and its whole boxing theme on night one of the finale was fun. Overall, it was one of the better seasons. I read somewhere that ratings are beginning to slump, although most networks would kill for the numbers that the aging American Idol still pulls down. Maybe it’s time to shorten the no-longer-funny auditions in the early weeks and increase the age limit to widen demographics. Couldn’t hurt.

Movies 18 May 2008 02:11 pm

Call the next Witness


Living as close as I do to Amish country, I don’t really know much about the people or their beliefs.

I’m not kidding myself into thinking that watching Witness (1984) is a substitute for non-fiction reading on the subject, but it was a heckuva good movie that was very sympathetic toward the Old Order Amish.

Witness is directed by Peter Weir, who also helmed The Truman Show, the only Jim Carey movie I enjoy. The bonus features on Witness show Weir to be a very sensitive artist who thinks deeply about his movies and works with actors, screenwriters and cinematographers to make the best works possible.

Harrison Ford plays Philadelphia homicide detective John Book, who goes undercover in Lancaster County after a young Amish boy (Lukas Haas) witnesses a murder that implicates a high-ranking police official. Living among the Amish, he adapts to their ways and falls in love with the boy’s mother, wonderfully played by Kelly McGillis.

It’s a measure of Weir’s achievement that I thought the extras in the film (and many of the principals, as well) were real Amish. Knowing the sect’s aversion to cameras, I wondered how he managed that. Turns out, he didn’t. While he filmed on location, all the “Amish” in the movie are actors, and they do a phenomenal job.

I guess I’m warming up for this week’s big Harrison Ford release in the new Indiana Jones film by watching some of the actor’s greatest hits. Witness certainly qualifies as one of his best performances, aided and abetted by a great ensemble cast, a thoughtful script, and some perceptive direction. Highly recommended.  

Commentary 16 May 2008 04:51 am

Duck, duck, goose

I was chased by a goose while jogging recently.


To be honest, I’m not sure if it was a duck or a goose. Let’s call it a doose ” or a guck.


I’m not sure if I was jogging or running either. Let’s call it junning. It starts off at as a jog, morphs briefly into a run, and then degenerates into something that probably looks like a fish flopping in the bottom of a boat.


Previously, I jogged only when people chased me, and progressed to a run only if my pursuers were really fast or throwing rocks.


At the ripe old age of 22, I ran ” once ” around the block. No warm-up, no stretching, nothing. I just ran. And then fell into the bathtub and didn’t move for two hours until crawling into the kitchen for a Coca-Cola and a Hostess Ho-Ho.


Seventeen years later, I’m back at it. For my health, I guess.


Prevailing wisdom is that running is bad for you, that it pulverizes muscles and joints and is no fun besides. Certainly, the people I see running don’t look like they’re having much fun. Usually they grimace like they’re passing kidney stones.

I probably look like that too. It doesn’t matter. I’m still junning.


They say you need good shoes to run. Doesn’t apply to me. I’m junning. When my feet hurt, I slow down. When they feel better, I speed up. You can tell I’ve really researched this.


But back to this goose/doose/guck thing. I was junning on a very nice paved track around a small pond in Canton. Goose-zilla was shepherding some goslings across my path. I moved several feet off the path to give the family plenty of room, but the goose creature still hissed menacingly and moved toward me.


I imagined the creature in hot pursuit, mere inches from my ankles or buttocks. Remembering the words of an animal expert who said the only way to escape an angry animal that can run 10 mph for 30 seconds is to run 11 mph for 31 seconds, I ran faster.


On my second pass, the goose hissed again, even though I made a wider detour. If looks could kill, both that feather brain and I would have dropped. As a newspaper person, I’m cursed always to think in headlines, and the thought of going mano a mano with the creature conjured a doozy: Goose Gets Guy’s Goat.


But discretion won out over valor ” well, over public embarrassment anyway ” and I cut my run short and headed for the car, in a foul (or is that fowl?) mood.


Part of me wonders if my new dedication to junning isn’t some kind of midlife crisis. I’ll be 40 in a month, and in the last year, I’ve gone through new hobbies like food goes through a goose ” the harmonica, learning Latin, silent films, old-time radio, drawing, bicycling and ballroom dancing. OK, not so much with the dancing.


I do find a certain peace in junning, and not only because the ear buds vibrate off my head when I try to listen to music while doing it. I like the slower pace, the time to think things through, the sounds of birds singing in trees overhead and kids playing in backyards as I pass. It’s like looking at a Norman Rockwell painting while holding a jackhammer. You miss all that in a car.


Still, I can’t say for sure that junning isn’t another fad I’ll grow tired of in a few weeks. A lot depends on my body, and how long it will endure the pounding.


If junning doesn’t work out, maybe my next hobby will be cooking.


Anybody have a good recipe for goose? 

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