Happy Thanksgiving (sort of)

Today is Sunday, November 29, and the long Thanksgiving weekend of 2020 is drawing to a close.

For many of you, the four-day weekend may not have its usual significance. Perhaps you’ve been working from home, or (if you’re less fortunate) hit by the wave of layoffs that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully you and your loved ones have stayed healthy, at least.

I usually celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family. That was not the case this year. I rarely listen to government officials about anything. But even I decided to heed the advice—the pleas, really—to eschew large gatherings this Thanksgiving.

(I never win anything good; but I’ve been known to win the negative lottery. Had I attended a large family gathering, I would surely have either a.) caught COVID there, or b.) unknowingly contracted it last Wednesday, just in time to wipe out all of my family members.)

I didn’t really mind missing Thanksgiving. It has never been my favorite holiday. Turkey? Meh. I wouldn’t starve to avoid eating turkey; but a turkey to me is little more than a glorified chicken. Not inedible, but nothing to get excited about, either.

Another thing about Thanksgiving: this is the holiday known for political arguments that cause longtime friends and loved ones to shout things like, “Never darken my door again!”

And given the way 2020 has gone, there isn’t much to talk about this year but COVID or politics. My extended family is more or less evenly split between people who would have voted for Trump, and those who would have voted for Biden. Watching my relatives impale each other with salad forks doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. So, once again: hard pass on Thanksgiving 2020.

I hope the holiday weekend went well for you, though—or as well as could have been expected.

Distracted by the election? So am I.

Hey, folks. We have an election coming up in just a few days—four, to be exact.

The GOP and Democratic Party visions for the next four years are radically different.

If you’re a reader of this blog, then you already know my feelings about the matter. I won’t rehash old arguments again in this post. (And if you don’t know where I stand, poke around a bit; it will become clear enough.)

I will, however, mention two related points:

You should vote.

Most states allow early voting. I voted here in Ohio more than two weeks ago.

Unless you have a loved one in intensive care (or some similar personal emergency of a life-or-death nature) virtually nothing you have on your plate over the next 4 days is as important as casting your vote.

I’ve been watching politics since 1976, and voting since 1988. Not every election in my lifetime has been critically important. This one is.

It’s okay if you’re distracted by the election.

With four days left, you might find your thoughts drawn repeatedly to the upcoming election. You might be thinking about politics more than usual.

That’s perfectly all right. Politics are important. While US politics have generally tended to be moderate, there are historical examples of politics affecting real people’s lives in major ways. You should give politics at least some of your attention.

I have never understood people who become emotionally invested in say, professional spectator sports, and then claim that political outcomes don’t matter. They do. A lot more than the outcomes of the World Series and the Super Bowl.

I’m mostly an optimist. I firmly believe that whatever the result on November 3, life will go on. But the next four years will be very different, depending on next Tuesday’s results. Make no mistake about that.

Don’t obsess; but don’t tune out, either. If this all feels like a matter of great significance, well…that’s because it is.

First frost

There was a distinct chill in the air this morning, as the temperature in the Cincinnati area dipped into the upper 30s. When I awoke, the heater had kicked on. (I set my furnace’s thermostat to 64 degrees before going to bed last night.)

When I walked outside, I noticed a light frost on my lawn. If you look closely at the above photo, you can see the thin coating of the white stuff.

The first frost means that the summer weather is really, truly over, and the real cold is not far ahead. The first frost means an end to grass mowing, insects, and walking outside in shirt sleeves.

Winter, as they were fond of saying in Game of Thrones, is coming. It happens every year, you know.

Early voting in Ohio

Early voting in Ohio began on October 6. I figured that if I gave it a week, the crowds would thin out, right?

Boy, was I wrong.

I showed up today to vote, and this was the line.

Overall, it wasn’t too bad. Mid-October is one of the few genuinely pleasant seasons in Ohio: cool crisp mornings, and balmy afternoons. If you have to spend some time standing on a sidewalk in the Buckeye State, this is an ideal season in which to do so. I was at the polling location for about an hour, from the time I took my place in line, until I left, my ballot entered.

I live in semi-rural Clermont County, east of Cincinnati near the Ohio River. My early voting location was in the county seat of Batavia, about twenty minutes from my house.

The poll workers were friendly and did their best to keep the line moving. But the volume of early voting this year clearly stretched the infrastructure. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that the situation is much the same throughout the country.

I don’t know who is going to win the election. But as I’ve previously stated, I do not believe that any poll, carried about by any organization, is capable of accurately predicting the outcome on November 3rd.

Not this year. There are simply too many variables. That’s why it’s important to vote.

I’m glad that I can now check this task off my to-do list.

Less than three weeks until Election Day. It will all be over soon.

Remembering Eddie Van Halen and his music

I logged on to Facebook yesterday, and found that many of my friends were making posts about Edward “Eddie” Van Halen. The guitarist  succumbed to cancer yesterday at the age of 65.

My friends and I are all part of that generation that reached adolescence just as the rock band named for Eddie Van Halen was taking off. From my early teens through my early adult years, Van Halen’s music was indeed a fixture. I remember all the songs on Diver Down (1982), 1984 (1984), 5150 (1986) and OU812 (1988) when they were brand new, and no one had ever heard them before. I enjoyed most all of those songs, and I really liked a handful of them.

Eddie Van Halen did not try to change the world with his music. A few of of Van Halen’s songs contain vaguely mystic or generically motivational lyrics. (“Love Walks In” and “Right Now” come to mind here.) For the most part, though, Van Halen’s music was simply fun. It was music to listen to while you were working out in your high school’s weight room in 1983, or while you were driving around on a late summer afternoon in 1987. I still listen to Van Halen’s music on occasion, and I suspect that I always will.

But then there’s the man, Edward Lodewijk van Halen, who is being mourned today—especially by those of us old enough to remember his band’s heyday.

I have always been a bit ambivalent in regard to the effusive mourning of celebrities who did not know us, and who, therefore, would not have mourned us had we preceded them in death. I’m not sure that it really is possible to mourn someone we did not know personally. What we miss is their artistic output, and the era they were associated with in our lives. Eddie Van Halen’s music is certainly bound to an era in my life, as I’ve noted above.

Eddie Van Halen had a good run. He was wealthy and famous for most of his adult years, and he was able to spend those years doing something he loved. He did not live as long as he might have. But he lived long enough to become a senior citizen. That is something.

By all accounts, Eddie Van Halen had loving relations with family and friends, especially his surviving son, Wolf, who eulogized him on social media yesterday. He seems to have been a genuinely good-hearted and personable individual. In all the years he’s been in the public spotlight, I can’t recall a single negative news story or scandal involving him. That is something, too.

Yesterday marked the passing of a significant musical era, and also the passing of a life well-lived.  Edward Lodewijk van Halen, dead at 65. R.I.P.

Barry Farber: talk show host and author

Amid all of the loss and chaos of 2020, there was one death I missed: that of radio host and author Barry Farber. Barry Farber died on May 6, 2020.

I became a fan of Barry Farber’s radio talk show during the 1990s. I was in my twenties then, and my life circumstances necessitated a lot of driving. I don’t mind music; but a little bit of music goes a long way during a two-hour drive. For a really long drive, talk radio is a much better alternative. (Yes, audiobooks and podcasts are even better alternatives. But audiobooks in the 1990s were expensive, and mostly distributed in packages consisting of multiple cassettes. Podcasts were still twenty years in the future.)

Farber was a political conservative. As those old enough to remember the 1990s will know, this was the age of the bombastic Rush Limbaugh, and the outspoken G. Gordon Liddy. Rush Limbaugh declared America during the Clinton era to be “America under siege”. G. Gordon Liddy once advised listeners to “go for a head shot” if their homes were invaded by federal law enforcement officers.

Barry Farber was different. He was a soft-spoken man who appealed to simple standards of common sense. He saw both sides of complicated issues. In the aftermath of the LAPD’s beating of African American suspect Rodney King in 1991, Farber condemned the LAPD’s excesses. But he also condemned the excesses of those who insist on running from and fighting the police. Extreme actions invite extreme overreactions, Farber pointed out. Continue reading “Barry Farber: talk show host and author”

The value of old friends

I have many things to be thankful for. Among these is the longevity of certain friendships. I am 52 years old, and I still have friends from literally the first grade. These are people whom I met for the first time in the now antediluvian year of 1974.

This past Thursday night, one of those old friends planned a get-together at a little restaurant/bar here in Clermont County, Ohio. We had a good time catching up.

As the photo implies, I had coffee rather than an alcoholic beverage. I’m a teetotaler, more or less; but that’s another story for another time.

Irish on YouTube

Like a lot of Americans, I have Irish ancestry. My grandmother’s people came from County Cork around the turn of the 20th century.

I’m also fascinated by foreign languages. (I’m always reading at least one book in Japanese, and another in Spanish.) It is only natural, then, that I should be drawn to the Irish language.

One of my great-great grandmothers came to the US by herself as a young woman. (This was actually a common pattern with Irish immigration.) She died about ten years before I was born, so I never met her. I’ve been told, though, that she spoke English with a heavy brogue. But she spoke no Irish. Continue reading “Irish on YouTube”

The Headless Horseman returns

How I wrote a horror novel called Revolutionary Ghosts

Or…

Can an ordinary teenager defeat the Headless Horseman, and a host of other vengeful spirits from America’s revolutionary past?

The big idea

I love history, and I love supernatural horror tales.  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was therefore always one of my favorite short stories. This classic tale by Washington Irving describes how a Hessian artillery officer terrorized the young American republic several decades after his death.

The Hessian was decapitated by a Continental Army cannonball at the Battle of White Plains, New York, on October 28, 1776. According to some historical accounts, a Hessian artillery officer really did meet such an end at the Battle of White Plains. I’ve read several books about warfare in the 1700s and through the Age of Napoleon. Armies in those days obviously did not have access to machine guns, flamethrowers, and the like. But those 18th-century cannons could inflict some horrific forms of death, decapitation among them. Continue reading “The Headless Horseman returns”

Ayn Rand and me

I had a brief flirtation with Ayn Rand the year I turned twenty. The most torrid part of the relationship lasted only about as long as some of Dagny Taggart’s warm-up love affairs in Atlas Shrugged. Officially, I broke off the romance; but it remains a memorable phase in my formative years.

Twenty is probably the perfect age to have a fling with Ayn Rand. In the enclosed terrarium of your teenage years, it is easy to hold any hifalutin concept of yourself that you can imagine. When you are twenty, though, things begin to change. The adult world looms large in the windshield. You realize that you aren’t quite as special, quite as brilliant, or quite as destined for spectacular success as you fancied yourself to be, only a few short years ago.

Ayn Rand, with hyper-individualist titles like Anthem and The Virtue of Selfishness, is the perfect salve for the twenty-year-old who suddenly fears that he might turn out to be quite ordinary, after all. The twenty-year-old’s brief burst of Ayn Randian egoism is a final cry of rebellion for the self-important teenager that is slipping away.

I first heard of Ayn Rand around 1983, when I was in high school. My favorite rock band was Rush. Neil Peart, Rush’s drummer and main lyricist, wrote at least two songs based on Rand’s novels and philosophical tracts. Continue reading “Ayn Rand and me”

Cincinnati in TV and the movies

My hometown of Cincinnati isn’t exactly Paris or New York. It is therefore somewhat understandable, I suppose, that our local news media is making a big deal of the episode of The Brady Bunch that was filmed here nearly a half-century ago:

47 years ago, The Brady Bunch visited Kings Island

While I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, going to Kings Island—Cincinnati’s only real amusement park—was a “big deal”. Much of the scenery in the above clip from The Brady Bunch therefore looks familiar. 

Kings Island is still there, by the way. But it’s changed a lot since 1973.

***

A few feature-length films were shot in Cincinnati in the 1980s. Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, comes immediately to mind. This movie was filmed in various locations in and around Cincinnati.

I’ve had lunch in the Italian restaurant Pompilio’s, in Northern Kentucky, where Rain Man‘s iconic “toothpick scene” takes place. Continue reading “Cincinnati in TV and the movies”

Remembering ‘Red Dawn’

80sThen80s now is one of the few accounts I follow on Twitter, because, well…I’m nostalgic for the 1980s.

Today the account tweeted this post about the movie Red Dawn (1984). In response to the poll, I gave the movie a 9. 

Red Dawn wouldn’t necessarily be a 9 if it were released today, mind you. But you have to evaluate a movie by the filmmaking standards of its era. A lot of movies in the early 1980s were pretty rough, compared to the slick, CGI-enhanced productions of today. And so it is with Red Dawn. Continue reading “Remembering ‘Red Dawn’”

52 years old

Today I turn 52 years old. I am not making a big deal of the day in my real life, because well, when you’re this old, what’s another birthday but a step closer to the grave? (We’ll get to that matter shortly.)

Due to a misspelling on my Ohio driver’s license, I recently had to order a copy of my official birth certificate from the State of Wisconsin. My Certificate of Live Birth lists my parents’ ages as 22. It is difficult for me to imagine either of them as twenty-two today. For that matter, it’s not so easy to imagine myself as twenty-two.

Not that I have much to complain about, mind you. During my teen years, I developed a habit of moderate diet and daily exercise, and I’ve stuck with it. I’m not going to say that I feel like a 19-year-old. I don’t. But I don’t feel much different than I did  when I was in my thirties. That’s something. Continue reading “52 years old”

McDonald’s Arctic Orange Shakes

My coming-of-age supernatural thriller, Revolutionary Ghosts, is set in 1976.  The tale’s hero, an Ohio teenager named Steve Wagner, has a summer job at McDonald’s. 

One of the recurring jokes in the book surrounds the Arctic Orange Shake, which McDonald’s did indeed introduce in the summer of 1976. Continue reading “McDonald’s Arctic Orange Shakes”

Walking and your brain

I’ve been systematically walking and running for going on 40 years now. 

I mostly do this for the fitness benefits. I’ve long noticed, however, that I seem to get some of my best ideas while I’m out and about, on my feet.

I’ve also noticed that when I’m perplexed or upset about a problem, a long walk often makes me feel better about it. Continue reading “Walking and your brain”