Happy Birthday, VSSP!

Tomorrow my law firm will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP began on March 1, 1909. For 100 years it has had the same name (well, except for the “LLP” part), has been based at the same location at 52 East Gay Street in Columbus, Ohio, and has continuously provided its clients with thoughtful, capable legal representation.

I have worked at the firm, as an associate and then as a partner, for 23 of those 100 years, and they have been 23 very good years indeed. So good, in fact, that I want to say “thank you” to those who founded the firm, to those lawyers, paralegals, and staff members who have worked so hard to make it a success, to those who decided to hire me in the first place, and to those clients, lawyers, paralegals, and staff who have worked with me over those 23 years. The firm has allowed Kish and me to buy our house, to pay for our boys’ educations, to make many wonderful friends, to join a country club, to take some nice vacations, and to have an enjoyable life. The firm is an institution in the truest sense of the word, but it is a living institution that has had, and continues to have, an enormous impact on my life.

Happy Birthday, VSSP! May you enjoy 100 more!

Italian Journal, Day 2

St. Peter's

St. Peter's

June 10, 2003:

We got up at about 9 a.m. (which is really sleeping in for me) and after our gratis continental breakfast we hopped onto the Metro and headed toward the Vatican. The Metro is somewhat mystifying — for some reason you can’t get change for your fare money from the machines — and the train itself was hot and stuffy. However, we only had to go 3 stops, and when we got off we had only a few blocks’ walk to the Vatican. It was another extremely hot day, with temperatures in the high 80s or low 90s and not a cloud in the sky.

The Vatican tour began with St. Peter’s Basilica, which is superb. The epic scale of the building, the monumental statuary, the extraordinary paintings and artwork all combine to have an overwhelming effect. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the crowd of loud tourists clad in shorts and flip-flops help to return the celestial to the mundane. For every Pieta there is a loud, profane tourist who seems to be unaware that the basic thrust of St. Peter’s is to be a church.

One of the more interesting things about St Peter’s is the statuary of the Popes over time. Many of the Popes, as I understand it, were cynical and corrupt politicians, advancing the narrow agendas of their families and often responsible for fomenting conflict and war. Nevertheless, all Popes, good and bad, are pictured with hands templed in prayer and faces turned toward the heavens with looks of beatific pleasure. The Catholic Church apparently makes no effort to separate good from bad when it comes to Popes.

We then went to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum. The Museum, like the Louvre in Paris, is a case of sensory overload. Too many tapestries, ancient maps, globes, and painted cabinets to properly absorb and appreciate. The Sistine Chapel, however, cuts through the sensory overload and makes an indelible impression. The sheer beauty of the paintings on the ceiling is hard to grasp, and even more hard to fathom is the idea behind the paintings — such as the notion that there should be a minute bap between the fingers of God and Adam in the Creation of Man panel. That artistic judgment alone confirms Michelangelo’s genius. Sitting in the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by such brilliance, is an awesome and humbling experience. Kish managed to put it all in perspective, however, by falling asleep on one of the benches at the rear of the Chapel.

After the Sistine Chapel we left the Vatican Museum, had lunch at a neighborhood trattoria, and returned to our hotel. Kish and the boys decided to hang out at the hotel, and I decided to strike off on my own. With the digital camera in tow, I went to the Fountain of Triton — a bit of a disappointment — and then the churches of St. Mary Maggiore and St. Peter in Chains. Both churchs were fine, but in different ways. St. Mary Maggiore was an ornate, overpowering-type church, with statuary and gilt and huge paintings and multiple apses and chapels. St. Peter in Chains was much simpler, and seemed more like a real church. I preferred the latter, and not just because of Michelangelo’s Moses, which is magnificent. St. Peter in Chains had a certain and atractive dignity and solemnity that befits a true, operating church.

I was amazed, as we visited various churches today, at the boorish behavior of other tourists as they visited these religious institutions. They wear clothes that seem inappropriate and talk much too loudly. I would like to see these visitors show more respect for the idea behind these churches. These are placed of deep faith and religious meaning. Is it asking too much to have visitors dress and act appropriately?

After St. Peter in Chains I saw that I was close to the Colisseum, and I found myself drawn irresistably to the Roman ruins once again. I took many more pictures and stumbled across the plain of crumbling ruins, once again awed and humbled by the age of the ruins, by the ideas they represent, and by the sheer chance that separates one preserved block of stone from another that was taken away or crumbled to dust hundreds of years ago. I could easily spend hours at the Forum and Capitoline Hill.

After I strolled back to our hotel Kish and the boys and I walked over to Piazza Navono, where we sat in a cafe and enjoyed an appropriate beverage, then we came back to the neighborhood of our hotel for dinner. My entree was selected by the waiter and was excellent. After only two days in Rome, I can say I like it a great deal — the pace, the food, the antiquity found cheek to jowl with more modern buildings. It has been hot, and dirty, and filled with graffiti, but those attributes cannot mask its other charms.

Italian Journal, Day 1

The Colisseum

The Colisseum

It has now been almost six years since our trip to Italy. I kept a short journal during that trip, which has never been transcribed. What better place to transcribe it than in our family blog? So, over the next few weeks, I will transcribe the journal with appropriate pictures from the trip.

June 9, 2003:

We arrived at the Rome airport early, at about 7:30 a.m. We cleared customs and grabbed a cab to our hotel, which is near the Spanish Steps. Our cab driver was friendly, but spoke very little English. The most remarkable thing about the cab ride was the incredible number of scooters darting in and out of traffic as we came into Rome. Our hotel, the Carriage Hotel, is a charming, traditional Italian hotel wth unique rooms and friendly staff workers. Although the hotel advertises air conditioning, the rooms are still very muggy.

We then walked to the Colisseum after grabbing a bite for breakfast. It was a walk of about a mile in 80+ degree heat. The Colisseum is an extraordinary place. It is much bigger than I expected. It is not hard to imagine how impressive the building must have been in AD 73, just after it was completed. Kish bought a Venus de Milo replica at the Colisseum. The seller came down from 45 Euro to 20 Euro in the blink of an eye.

After the Colisseum, Kish went back to the hotel and the boys and I went to the Forum and the Capitoline Hill. We searched in vain for the Palace of the Vestal Virgins, but did find the arches of Constantine, Titus and Septimus Severus, the Senate, the Rostrum, and the remains of the Temple of Saturn. It is hard not to imagine what it must have been like when Rome was in its glory. It is a beautiful place, and very thought-provoking.

The boys and I then walked back toward the hotel, and stopped for pizza and refreshments. When we got back to the hotel, everyone took a midday siesta. It was about 2 p.m. We awoke at 4 p.m.and headed out for some more walking. We took a short stroll over to the Spanish Steps and had some ice cream at a small cafe. We reversed course and headed back to the Trevi Fountain. It was a magnificent site: an enormous, brilliantly rendered sculpture, a bright blue, sunlit sky, and the quiet murmur of the water from the fountain. It was not too crowded, and a most enjoyable spot for people-watching as we sat on the steps surrounding the fountain.

Kish, the boys and I then walked to the Pantheon. By that time, the sun was beginning to set and many of the streets were in shadow. We encountered our first beggars along the way, including a small, hunched-over woman dressed entirely in black. The Pantheon was another inspiring sight. The dome is enormous, and there is a solemnity and grandeur when you step into the huge structure, with the oculus high above and statuary surrounding you at all points of the compass. It does make you wonder what ancient Rome was like, before its noble facade was stripped away and its monumental architecture was allowed to crumble into ruin.

Our final stop for the day was the Argentinal Sacra, which is a relatively recently unearthed collection of buildings from the Republican era. Our main point of interest was counting the cats that stretched and played down in those ruins. There must have been two dozen cats visible amongst the pillars and stones. It’s hard to say what impressed Russell more — the number of cats or the incredibly small size of some of the Italian automobiles.

Our day ended with dinner at the restaurant next door and a slide show of our digital photography in the boys’ room. Now we need to figure out tomorrow’s itinerary, which I think will include the Vatican. I really can’t believe that I am in Rome, even as I write these words. What an interesting feeling, to walk the paths walked by Caesar and the Roman emperors and to witness more than 2000 years of living history. It makes you realize what a young country America is. I think every American should see Rome, to help put our nation’s current dominance into perspective. I am sure that the Romans of Augustus’ and Vespasian’s days thought the Empire was ever-lasting, and only a few centuries later the dust and debris was accumulating on the floor of the Forum.


Having talked about videos that suck, we need to talk about videos that are great. I admit, my knowledge of videos is pretty much limited to the 1980s — which is when MTV used to actually play videos, instead of broadcasting lame reality shows. This is my all-time favorite, and my favorite part of it is the dancing, plucked chickens. Great song, great video concept, interesting to watch — this video passed the 2 a.m. Alexandria rocker acid test.

Family Matters

In their house on Chamberlain Road, Gramma and Grampa Neal had a wall of black and white photos. Many of the photos were of long-dead relatives. Gramma particularly liked one picture, of a man sitting cross-legged at a desk, deep in thought, his chin cradled in his hand, as he read something on his lap. He wore checked pants — which Gramma found very humorous indeed — and small-lensed, wire-rimmed spectacles, like the “National Health” glasses that John Lennon wears in the photo included in the Beatles’ White Album. He sported long sideburns, a kind of frock coat and vest, and a watch chain. Unfortunately, Gramma did not know much about him, other than that he was a newpaperman and, from the looks of the photo, lived around the turn of the century. His name, what he was like, and other pertinent information was lost in the mists of time.

For that very reason, photos don’t have much appeal to me. They can capture what a person looked like at a particular point in time, but not much else. Was Mr. Checked Pants someone who had a good sense of humor? Did he have children and, if so, was he a good father? What were his political views? Was he a leader in his community? Did he follow a baseball team? Did he enjoy an adult beverage from time to time? What was he like to be around? All of these kinds of qualities and characteristics that make a person unique were not known to Gramma, and the only people who might have known were long since dead.

I don’t want that to happen with members of my family. It so happens that, as we get ready to move into March, we also are moving into the season of birthdays for members of my family. I therefore plan to post some information and recollections about members of my family on or around their birthdays, in hopes of providing some information that adds a bit of flesh and blood to the two-dimensional family photos. I would hate to think that my relatives might someday end up like Mr. Checked Pants — known only for his outlandish attire on a day when his photo happened to be taken, but not remembered for whatever qualities made him a memorable person.

In Response To Richard’s Link . . . .

You can make a lot of arguments about James Tiberius Kirk. You can point out that he put on a few pounds over the years. You can contend that no rational Captain of a Starship would routinely beam down to an unknown planet with the initial exploring party, equipped only with a phaser and tricorder and a security guy in a red shirt who inevitably would be killed within seconds. You can argue that there is no way that Kirk could have defeated the Gorn, or could realistically have battled Spock to a draw in the thin, hothouse atmosphere of Vulcan. You can dispute whether, when all characteristics and traits are taken into account, James T. Kirk was a better Starship Captain than Jean-Luc Picard.

So, yes . . . you can make a lot of arguments about Captain Kirk — but I don’t think you can reasonably argue that Kirk was not attracted to women and instead harbored secret passions for his friend Mr. Spock. The only reason we didn’t see more obvious sexual activity between Kirk and his various female partners is that the original Star Trek was filmed in the 1960s, when TV shows were much less sexually explicit than they are now. After all, this was in the same time period when a young married couple, Rob and Laura Petrie, was depicted sleeping in separate twin beds on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In that time and place, Star Trek was pushing it with scenes where Kirk was shown sitting on a bed putting his boots on.

The best thing about Richard’s link, though, is that it is a good reminder of how there were many really crummy episodes of Star Trek. Some of the worst (or perhaps, most annoying) that I can think of right now are Charlie X, And The Children Shall Lead, the episode where Jason Bolt from Here Come The Brides was fighting himself from a parallel universe, the episode where the “Yangs” were fighting the “Comms,” and the episode where two guys who were literally half-white and half-black turned out to be bitter enemies because one was black on the right side and the other was black on the left. I’ll take an episode where Kirk is getting some action — even if implicit — over the episodes that hit you over the head with an overt political message any day.

Lunatic Fringe

Russell’s post made me think of this song, so I thought I would post it.

This song is a terrific song — in fact, you could argue that it is one of those songs that helps to change the direction of popular music, by being so different from the run-of-the-mill songs being made at the time — but the video is hilariously bad. It looks like they spent about $4.98 to make it.

Woodburners and Vacuforms

Toys may be more violent than they used to be — I’m not sure it’s a good idea, for example, to expose children in their “formative years” to the mindless violence of video games like Grand Theft Auto — but I think they are much safer than they used to be. A kid playing a video game is not likely to sustain an injury much worse than a thumb sprain. When I was growing up, on the other hand, toys — or even a visit to the playground, with its “monkey bars” and acres of asphalt — involved significantly greater risks of physical injury.

As a kid I had three toys that now seem, in retrospect, extraordinarily dangerous. One was a “woodburner” kit. The woodburner was like a pen that plugged into the wall and became red hot. After the device became red hot, you could use it to burn designs into wood — or if you weren’t careful, into the table on which you were working, the carpet, or your arm. The box the kit came in showed kids my age presenting their beaming mothers with beautiful renderings of flowers or dogs. Who were those guys? I never managed anything better than the crudest stick-figure type drawings. (In that respect, the woodburning kit was similar to an Etch-A-Sketch, which required the deftness and touch of a safecracker.) And, of course, once you messed up while burning your artwork into a plank, the plank itself was useless. I could burn through enough wood to build Noah’s Ark without producing any artwork that even remotely resembled a recognizable object. The woodburning kit ultimately proved to be good for only three things — burning your initials into the bottom of your Louisville Slugger, showing your friends how you could hold the woodburner close enough to your forearm to cause the hairs to shrivel away yet not burn your flesh, and producing a very cool smell.

Another toy was called the Vacuform. Like the woodburning kit, the Vacuform was based on the concept that growing boys would like toys that featured extreme heat. The Vacuform consisted of a plug-in device to which you attach iron molds; after the molds became sufficiently heated you would place squares of plastic on the iron mold and the plastic would assume the shape of the mold — say, a race car or a jet plane. Then, you were supposed to paint the plastic, apply decals, and end up with a cheap plastic toys much crappier looking than a ready-made Hot Wheels. With a heating unit, melted plastic, and paint in close proximity, what bad could happen? That toy could have been dreamed up by Irwin Mainway, the character played by Dan Aykroyd who used to be exposed on the original Saturday Night Live for selling kids toys called “bag of glass” or “invisible pedestrian.”

The last toy was closely analogous to the Vacuform, in that it featured electricity , a heating unit, and metal molds. In this case, though, the molds were indented with the shapes of spiders, snakes, and other scary creatures, and you were supposed to fill it with a rubbery goo that would harden after being heated and assume the shape of the mold. Then, you could use the spiders and snakes to scare your sisters and girls in the neighborhood. The end product, though, didn’t really looks like a real spider or snake, because you inevitably poured too much of the goo into the mold, and as a result the legs of the spider, for example, would be connected by a translucent sheen of plastic that you were supposed to trim off with a knife. Apparently, the heating unit and rubbery goo weren’t sufficiently dangerous, so the toymaker had to add knives to the equation as well.

The striking thing about all of these toys is not only that they seem awfully dangerous, but also that — especially when viewed from the perspective of an age where self-esteem is viewed as so important to child development — they were carefully designed to make most kids feel like abject failures. It’s hard to believe that any normal boy was able to produce anything of value with any of these toys. On the other hand, one can easily imagine Nikita Khrushchev chuckling gleefully and rubbing his hands together at the success of a plot that caused thousands of American youth to be maimed, physically disfigured, or psychologically crippled by these diabolical devices.

Countdown To Freeport

We are less than a month away from a much-anticipated visit with our old (in the sense of long-time, of course) friends Chuck and Laura Pisciotta at their excellent vacation getaway home on the outskirts of Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island. While there we will sleep in, drink Kalik beer, have great conversations on their deck, and luxuriate in the sun — weather permitting. Russell, we will try to say hello to Mr. Sun on your behalf!

I have attached a link to some video of Deadman’s Cove, where we snorkeled during our last visit. We saw all kinds of fish and other aquatic life, including watching a flock of rays glide majestically past as we floated in the warm, tropical water. I can almost taste the fried lobster now . . . .

The Forever War

Thirty years ago, during the winter quarter of 1979, I took one of the best classes I ever took at Ohio State, which introduced me to my all-time favorite book. The class was called Science Fiction as Literature (or something with a similar, college curriculum-sounding name) and the book was The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. The book was part of a great reading list that included A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Behold The Man, by Michael Moorcock, and works by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and others. Never was it so easy to finish the required reading for a course!

The Forever War is the first-person story of William Mandella, who somehow manages to retain his humanity and the love of his life, Marygay, while fighting in a war that lasts for thousands of years due to the time dilation predicted by the theory of relativity. As the broad wheel of history turns about him, Mandella finds himself increasingly out of place as culture, social mores, and even language change in ways he can barely comprehend. Yet the book’s voice is bright and accessible and filled with humor. The book features my all-time favorite line from a book, spoken by Mandella after returning from years in a spacecraft and self-contained fighting suit: “There are no words to describe a cold beer and a chicken sandwich after two years of recycled shit.”

I’m not sure why I have found the book so enormously appealing, even after 30 years. I just know that I have read and re-read it more than I have read and re-read any other book, and at some point I am confident that I will read it again. It is like a comfortable visit from an old friend, where the stories are all known but there is great pleasure in the re-telling.

… Not Much To Say On A Sunday Afternoon …

Well, it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and Dad is pestering me to write a blog entry. I’ve told him I’m not nearly as fluid as he when it comes to this, but I’ll just check in with a quick entry. Last night we had dinner with our good friends Paul and Laura Williams, and today I’m hoping Dad will pick up a NY Sunday Times for me. I spent my usual Sunday morning watching the morning talk shows. Topic #1, of course, is the economy. We were talking last night about how even if one is not directly impacted yet (and never spit in the wind, as they say), it’s impossible not to be affected psychologically by what’s going on in our country right now. I, of course, remain eternally hopeful with our new president, while Dad maintains his (he would say healthy, I would say not) usual level of cynicism (particularly when he learned our own taxes will be increased soon).

Well, that’s it for now … will return soon.