Mysterious Object 

We’ve been doing some cleaning today, and I ran across this unknown metal object.  I put a buckeye next to it to give an idea of its size.

I have no idea of its function, but it’s nicely made and appears to be pretty old.  Anybody have an idea what this object is?  It’s destined to become a desk toy at my office.

Letting The Old Obsessions Go

Yesterday a Nevada parole board voted unanimously to grant parole to O.J. Simpson.  Simpson, who is now 70, has served nine years for robbery and kidnapping offenses stemming from a bizarre incident in Las Vegas.  He could be released from prison by October 1.

170720-oj-simpson-parole-lovelock-ew-311p_fea89e6c6b7d1f50e0397eabec2defd9-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Simpson told the parole board that he’s changed.  Whether that is true or not, only he knows . . . but I wonder if the world in which O.J. Simpson became the focus of seemingly unending national attention has nevertheless stayed the same.  Simpson’s parole hearing — normally a proceeding that happens without being noticed by anyone except the convicts, their attorneys and families, the parole board, and perhaps the victims of the crime — drew worldwide attention, and as soon as the decision to grant parole was announced it was immediately the lead item on all of the news websites.  It was an uncomfortable reminder of the American obsession with his murder trial — not exactly a sterling moment for the news media, the police, the legal system, the weird Hollywood world in which O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson lived, or anything or anybody else that was involved in that whole sordid spectacle.

At his parole hearing, Simpson said he just wants to reconnect with his family and has no interest in being in the limelight.  Of course, our crass culture being what it is, Simpson is reportedly being besieged by TV producers who want to pitch him as the star of a reality TV show, and no doubt he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get back on TV in some fashion if he wants to do so.  I sincerely hope he resists the temptation and sticks to his stated intention to just live out the rest of his life in as private a way as possible.

In America, we accept the verdict of juries and parole boards and other elements of the criminal justice system — whether we agree with them or not — because that’s how the law works.  Part of that process means moving beyond the old controversies and, finally, letting old obsessions go.  I don’t want to read anything more about O.J. Simpson, nor do I want to think, ever again, about a time when our whole country seemed slightly off its rocker.  But, will Simpson, the news media, and the Hollywood hype machine cooperate in achieving that goal?

Beautiful 

Last night Kish and I hit the Ohio Theatre to see the traveling production of Beautiful, a show that tells the story of the life and music of Carole King that, in the process, sounds larger themes about American music and the ’60s.  It’s a terrific production that will be playing at the Ohio through June 11 — although given the packed house on a Wednesday night, I’m not sure any tickets are available if you don’t have them already.

King’s story is a rich one.  As a teenager with obvious musical talent, she decided she wanted to be a songwriter, which was not a standard career choice for girls growing up in the ’50s.  After selling her first song, she met her future husband, became a wife and mother while still a teenager, and with her husband wrote a series of hits, had an office in a songwriting shop on Broadway, and became friends, and friendly competitors, with another songwriting couple.  But while her career is soaring, her marriage became more troubled.  After it ended, she headed to California and wrote the songs that made Tapestry a landmark album.  The show ends with King back in New York, performing at Carnegie Hall the year Tapestry is released.

The story is told largely through songs — both those written by King and her husband and those written by others — with short bits of dialogue mixed in.  It’s fast-paced, funny, and poignant, all at the same time.  The staging is amazing, with sets silently sliding in and out and pop acts from the ’50s and ’60s cleverly recreated.  And, of course, the music is great.  Julia Knitel, who plays Carole King in this production, is a tremendous talent who plays the piano and has the singing and acting chops that are perfect for musical theater.

If you’re going to the show, get there early.  Last night the show drew a decidedly older and largely female crowd, and you’ll need plenty of time to steer through the forest of walkers, canes, and slow-moving seniors.  But we’ll give them all a break, because we know they all owned a treasured copy of Tapestry that they played over and over until their turntables broke, and when they heard the music again they were transported back to when they heard it the first time, nearly 50 years ago.  The intervening 50 years may have made the listeners older, but the music itself remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.

Julius On The Lawn

Last night Kish and I legged it over to Schiller Park to watch The Actors’ Theatre of Columbus performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  It was a beautiful evening, clear and mild, and we sat on the lawn with a few hundred of our neighbors.

Shakespeare’s tale of intrigue, conspiracy, and foul murder in Ancient Rome is one of his better plays, featuring Marc Antony’s brilliant funeral oration for the murdered Caesar and lots of memorable lines, like “Beware the idea of March!” and “Friends, Romans, and Countrymen, lend me your ears!”  The ATC performance is top-notch — I thought the actors playing Brutus, Antony, and Caesar were especially good — and there is just something intrinsically enjoyable about outdoor theater on a lovely evening.

Julius Caesar will run for another two weeks and is the first of four plays that will be performed by ATC this season, which also will feature Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  If you’ve never been to one of these shows, I encourage you to stop by Schiller Park, enjoy some live theater, and toss a few bucks into the kitty for ATC.


Officially A “District”

I was walking through the Columbus airport on may way back from Denver last night when I passed a painted wall map depicting some of the different cool spots in Columbus.  There was the Short North, of course, and the Arena District, and the Brewery District, and the University District, and the Discovery District, and the Gay Street District.

Wait a second — the Gay Street District?

Well, if a painted wall on the airport says it, it must be so.  Good old Gay Street is now officially a “district,” right up there with the other established hot spots in Cbus.  If you’re a “district,” you know you’ve arrived.

Gay Street deserves to be a “district,” too.  It’s easily the coolest street in the core area of downtown Columbus, and it’s getting cooler by the minute.  With the recent addition of the Buckeye Bourbon House, the opening this week of Tiger + Lily, an Asian fusion restaurant, and the forthcoming opening of an Irish pub just across the alley, Gay Street offers a wide range of food and liquor options — and there is even more coming, with the Veritas Tavern set to open next year in the Citizens Building at the corner of Gay and High Street.  The street is bustling from noon onward, and it really shines during the spring and summer months, when the outdoor dining venues like Plantain Cafe, the Tip Top, and Due Amici all seem to be filled to overflowing when the workday ends and the fun begins.

For those of us who worked on Gay Street in the early ’90s, when the area was a kind of ghost town after 5 p.m., the transformation to the Gay Street of the modern day has been both exciting and amazing.  And I like to think that our firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP — which has remained in its offices on Gay Street through thick and thin — helped to make that transformation happen with its large array of hungry and thirsty lawyers, paralegals, and staff helping to fill up the coffee houses, restaurants and taverns that now call Gay Street home.

“The Gay Street District.”  Yep, I like the sound of that.

Live On Sixth Street

Everybody knows Austin has a thriving bar and live music scene.  Last night we started our pub crawl in the very cool Rainey Street area, which I’d never visited before, stopped to have a beer at the Container Bar, which is largely constructed out of those enormous corrugated containers used by the shipping industry, then legged it up past Stubb’s to a bar called Cheer Up Charlie’s, where a kind of light show projected against a white bluff entertained us.  After noshing at Stubb’s we headed over to Sixth Street, the traditional strip of bars and live music venues that keeps getting bigger — and louder.  

Around Austin you see people with t-shirts that say “Keep Austin Weird,” or something like that.  After our foray through Sixth Street, I’d say that goal is being accomplished.  You see people wearing flags as capes, masks, wigs, glitter, and just about any combination of clothing, or lack of clothing, you can conceive.  On Sixth Street, you can still freely let your freak flag fly.

Dead Or Alive?

Don Rickles died today.  The insult comedian who was a mainstay on The Tonight Show and the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and who delighted in calling people “hockey pucks” was 90.

abc-don-rickles-obit-jc-170406_mn_4x3t_384And this sounds terrible to say, but my first reaction to the news was:  “That’s interesting.  I guess I thought he was dead already.”

I feel very guilty about this reflexive response, but it happens all the time these days.  Some musician, comedian, movie star, or sitcom actor from the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s kicks the bucket, and you could have sworn they’d already gone to meet their maker.  I think the reason for that response is that, during their period of great fame, those celebrities are seen so frequently that they become expected, everyday sights on talk shows, in magazine articles, on game shows, and in guest roles on sitcoms.  Then, when their period of fame ends, as is inevitably the case, you associate their ongoing lack of presence on the popular scene with . . . death.  In fact, the only way you know for sure that they’re not in fact dead is if they suddenly get hauled out to award an Oscar or give a tribute to one of their just departed colleagues.

So, Don Rickles is officially dead.  Doc Severinsen, on the other hand, is still with us.

A Year Without Spending

Some people celebrate “Buy Nothing Day” — which aptly falls on Black Friday — as a protest against the rampant consumerism in modern culture.  The idea is to avoid buying unnecessary items and, instead, to spend more time with family and friends, and, literally, “live freely.”

Rolls of Dollar BillsA British woman took the concept more than a few steps farther, and decided to go for a year without buying anything beyond the basics.  That meant that she paid her mortgage and utilities and not much else, bought food in bulk and cooked her own meals, and rode her bike to work rather than taking the subway.  No dining out or drinks at the pub, no trips to the movies, no new clothes, no travel or vacations, and no luxury items like fancy foods.  She also turned down friends and family who wanted to buy her gifts.

To her surprise, she made it through the year, with the winter months being the toughest.  She saved a lot of money — about $27,000, all told — and found that she had come to enjoy simple things, like a picnic in the park or a walk through a museum that didn’t charge admission.  She also feels that she became closer to her family and friends.  In short, she says she learned that money didn’t buy happiness.

The most instructive part of the woman’s story of consumerist self-deprivation is this admission:  “I’d set myself budgets and spending plans in the past and they’d always fallen by the wayside on my next night out.”  People spend themselves into oblivion because they don’t have the self-discipline to control their behavior, whether it’s sticking to a budget or simply exercising good judgment on spending and refraining from making impulse purchases.  And then, at some point, they look around at a place cluttered with stuff they don’t use and clothes they don’t wear, and wonder where all the money went.

I wouldn’t want to go for a year without traveling, or enjoying a drink out with friends, or savoring a good meal on a special occasion.  Those are some of the things that make like special.  But avoiding unnecessary spending, living a more minimalist, possession-free life, and feeling a certain sense of pride that you’ve got your finances under control affords its own satisfaction, too.

Chris Rock’s “Total Blackout”

Last night Kish and I went to see Chris Rock with Mr. and Mrs. Jersey Cavalier.  Rock is on his new, “Total Blackout” tour, and Columbus is one of the first stops.  In fact, he’s got another show here tonight.

chris-rock_12-06-2016-827x620Rock was flat-out hilarious, but if you’re going to the show, let me offer a word to the wise.  Don’t take your cell phone!  Presumably because Rock doesn’t want any pictures taken during the show, or annoying rings from the audience, or recordings of any part of the show, all cell phones are taken and placed into Yondr pouches that are then locked.  People get to keep their bagged and locked phones with them, but they can’t use them until they walk to the unlocking station at the end of the show.  The Virginia Cavalier graciously walked all of our phones back to our office, which is nearby, so we didn’t have to hassle with the locking and unlocking, which expedited our departure from the theater.

This phone-locking process caused two interesting effects.  First, the area outside the Palace Theater was an absolute scrum before the show.  Security did nothing to put people into orderly lines, so you basically had a mob of impatient people who didn’t know why it was taking so long to get into the show, pushing and jostling and hoping the show didn’t start before they got to their seats.  It was a totally unnecessary melee that could have been avoided by some decent planning and security — which presumably will come later on the tour.  For now, my suggestion is to get to the show early.

Second, after the first two warm-up acts, there was a 20-minute intermission before Rock came on.  Imagine — in the modern world, a 20-minute intermission in which people can’t use their cell phones to check emails and text messages, post a selfie to Facebook, and otherwise pass the time!  When the intermission started, people seemed confused by the absence of their cell phone security blankets and unsure of what to do.  Ultimately, they ended up actually talking to each other, or intently watching the backdrop slide show of covers of vintage comedy albums.  The lack of cell phones sure made that 20-minute intermission seem a hell of a lot longer, but by the time it was over everybody was definitely primed for the show.

Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars - ShowAs for Rock, he was brilliant.  The topics he addressed were wide-ranging, encompassing racism, the police, guns, his own celebrity status, the Trump era, religion, his daughter’s freshman orientation, the need for bullies, his divorce, men and women, and of course sex — with a lot of other subjects touched in between.  He’s got a knack for looking at the world in a different way and then capturing his observations in hysterical one-liners.  He’s got to be one of the best stand-up comedians to ever grace the stage, period.

A few other points about Rock.  First, he’s the consummate professional.  Those of us, like Kish and me, who sat in the cheap seats in the back of the theatre appreciated his carefully modulated volume and clear delivery, designed to reach every corner of the venue.  He paces back and forth, so everybody can get a good look, and gave the people in the front row high-fives both before and after the show.  How many big stars will do that?

Second, although Rock uses more profanity than any other comedian I’ve seen live — in the barrage of MFs and f-words, you quickly start to not even notice the “shits” — in his performance the obscenities somehow seem less profane.  They’re just part of the act, helping to set up the one-liners, providing segues from one topic to another, and preserving Rock’s urban street cred.  And, in a way, the profanity masks the fact that some of what Rock has to say isn’t in line with the current PC worldview.  He’s the detached observer, skewering both the silly justifications of the pro-gun lobby and the bland reassurance offered by school administered with equal flair.  His willingness to tilt against all sides is one of the things that makes his shows so interesting.

I’ve been to a number of stand-up shows, and the show last night was the funniest I’ve ever seen.  It’s a must-see if you live near one of the towns on the tour.

Columbus Jazz Orchestra

Last night Kish and I completed our Christmas cultural gift exchange by attending a performance of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.  Entitled Ella Fitzgerald & The great Ladies of Swing, the show featured the CJO in full throat and two superb guest artists:  Marva Hicks and Nicki Parrott.  

It’s the first time I’ve seen the CJO in a long time, and the show demonstrated what I’ve stupidly been missing.  This is a tight group with a big sound and lots of talent to display, and when they get a chance to play classic tunes from the American songbook with two brilliant female vocalists (and, in Parrott’s case, a fine double bass musician, besides), you’re going to get a great show.

The program was top-notch from stem to stern, but I particularly liked Parrott’s rendition of Fever and I Will Wait for You and Hicks’ version of Stormy Weather, and Kish and I always relish Blue Skies, which was played on our wedding day.  I also enjoyed CJO artistic director Byron Stripling’s  tasty trumpet fills and deft vocal efforts to channel his inner Louis Armstrong– but the high point for me was Hicks’ powerful and heartfelt performance on My Man’s Gone Now, from Porgy and Bess, which was a knockout punch if there ever was one.

The CJO is another artistic asset in a city that is full of them.  If you’re in the mood for some great lives music, you can still catch this show tonight and tomorrow.

Crossword Morning

It’s another grey winter day in Columbus.  I woke up early and started puttering around the house.  I picked up the German Village Gazette, our local weekly newspaper, saw it included the New York Times Magazine crossword, and thought: this is a perfect day to tackle a crossword puzzle.

I used to do crosswords from time to time — often on planes, if the people who sat in the seat before me hadn’t already marked up the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket — but it’s been years since I’ve dusted off the mental thesaurus and given it a go.  In the Webner clan, however, crosswords are a long and storied tradition.  Dad was a big crossword fan, always doing them with a back felt-tipped pen, and Aunt Corinne is an ace.  She would particularly like this one, because the unifying theme is grammar, and that’s her bread and butter.

If you haven’t done a crossword in a while, getting the knack again takes some time, but I got a few words and acronyms at the bottom of the puzzle, and it started to come easier.  Once I figured out the puns for the theme — i.e., “Santa’s nieces and nephews” = “relative clauses” — it came easier, and an enjoyable hour later I was done, and set my pen down with satisfaction.

The experts say crosswords and other mental puzzles help to keep the brain synapses sharp, and I think it’s true.  There’s a strong pun element to crosswords, of course, but the clues also often make you think of the world and the words in a different, slightly off-kilter way.  A three-letter word for “Bull’s urging”?  Red, perhaps?  Nope!  It’s a Wall Street “bull” that we’re supposed to think of, and the correct answer is “buy.”

Sometimes, thinking of things in a different way is a useful exercise.

Mission:  Seraglio

Last night I got one of my Christmas presents when Kish and I attended Opera Columbus’ Mission:  Seraglio.  Opera tickets were one of my stocking stuffers.

The timing was excellent for another reason.  Mission:  Seraglio is a reimagining of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, and yesterday just happened to be Mozart’s birthday.  The wily Wolfie, were he still among us, would have been 261 yesterday.

Opera Columbus’ production features all of the same beautiful music, but the setting and dialogue of the opera are transformed into a ’60s James Bond caper with a dashing spy, an archvillain apparently bent on world domination of a sort, and “Bond women” galore.  The modifications turn Seraglio into an outright comic romp, from the point at the outset when a tiny doll figure parachutes through the Southern Theatre, to the suggestive rearrangement of topiary plants by a sex-obsessed gardener, to a clever use of the lyric translation display, to the finale where one of the characters is securely wrapped in a straitjacket and hauled away.  The sets are great and the new dialogue is clever and occasionally laugh out loud funny.  And, while the characters clearly enjoyed their light-hearted trip down James Bond Lane, they also did justice to the lovely, often passionate songs that Mozart created.  I think he would have approved.

Mission:  Seraglio shows that opera is a vibrant, flexible art form where there is still lots of room for creativity, even for a work that was written more than 230 years ago.  It’s another job well done by Opera Columbus, and you can still see it at the Southern this weekend.

End Of The Circus, Start Of The Circus

The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced that it will make its last performance in 2017.  Home to acrobats, trapeze artists, clowns, high wire acts, men fired from cannons, ringmasters, jugglers, elephants, bareback daredevils, and lion tamers, the self-described “Greatest Show on Earth” has been thrilling Americans for 146 years.

11036258_903260603028849_2049055517179799220_nIt’s another American institution clanking to an end.  Once, people in America were excited when the circus train rolled into town, with a circus parade down Main Street to let everyone know that it was time to come out to some nearby lot, sit under the Big Top, smell the sawdust, eat some peanuts, and watch the spectacle.  But tastes change, and the organizers of the circus have cited those changing tastes, reflected in declining attendance, as one of the reasons for the end of the circus.  Other reasons include high operating costs and the impact of a long dispute with animal rights advocates about using animals in the circus — a fight that ended with the decision in 2015 to cease using elephants in the show, which itself caused a significant drop in attendance.

I remember going to the circus when I was young.  I wasn’t one of those kids who dreamed about running away to the circus and romanticized the itinerant life of circus performers, but I did enjoy the show, and so did UJ and my grandparents.  I remember the bustle of the place, and the constant activity in the three rings, and the awesome sight of the people way up on the flying trapeze so far overhead.  I also remember the distinctive smell — a wild, heady combination of animals, dust, and human sweat, all charged with a kind of electricity running through the crowd when one of the more hazardous acts was being performed.  Now, though, kids apparently don’t have the same attention span; they won’t sit still for the hours needed to watch the full run of the circus show and end up fiddling with their cell phones and texting their friends.

It’s ironic, too, that the real circus is announcing its end just as the Trump Administration is getting ready to take office.  Based on what we’ve seen in the run-up to Inauguration Day, from both the new President and his Administration, its protesters, and its diehard opponents, American politics is going to be a wild, death-defying ride, full of surprises and unexpected actions at every turn.  Who knows?  Maybe these days we can only deal with one circus at a time.

My Grilling Walkabout

I’ve been thinking about buying a grill for a while now.  I got some much-appreciated suggestions from friends, but it has been a busy summer and I just hadn’t been able to pull the trigger.  A few weekends ago, though, Kish and I went to Lowes resolved to buy.

Of course, when we got there the grill choices were mildly overwhelming.  There were dozens of different devices, each gleaming with its own seductive, burnished metal, “come cook on me” glow.  The grills seemed to come in two sizes:  huge, and huger.  Most of the grills had two side tables, sliding trays, and enough grill space to cook for the 101st Airborne Division.  And the gas grills had an impressive array of knobs and dials that would have been comfortable in NASA’s Mission Control.

IMG_2630We nosed around, and I entertained visions of standing behind one of the big units, grilling fork and spatula in hand, drinking beer from a bottle still speckled with ice and preparing some impressive grilled item like skewered shrimp.

But then I looked deep within and realized that I simply wasn’t going to use the grill that much, or for anything too special.  I like to cook steaks, chicken breasts, burgers, and brats — and that’s about it.  There are only two of us at home now, and I just don’t need something with a football-field sized grilling area.  And our back yard is cozy, without any good place to store a metal device the size of an aircraft carrier.  So, after taking a few swings through the big grill display area, we gravitated back to the shelves, where the simple and small charcoal grills were to be found.

Ultimately, we settled on an Aussie Walkabout — a simple, square, light grill that cost all of $49.99, will be easily tucked into a small spot on our patio, and can be quickly folded up and stored in the basement when winter comes.  It’s not going to produce any wild grilling dreams, but it will work for us.  And I liked the name, too.  “Walkabout” refers to the walking journey of personal discovery undertaken by Australian aborigines.  I felt like I had undertaken my own little foray into grilling self-discovery.