Archive for the ‘Grump About Town’ Category

The Museum of Lies

I had planned something light-hearted for today but after the experience I had last evening you get this:

I was meeting Ben at Neon’s for a drink at 5. Ben had a balky back and couldn’t make it. Other friends were there instead as part of a Museum of Advertising event. I was prepared to get comfortably numb with or without Ben but the gregarious MOA’s slapped a badge on my shirt and insisted I join them. The Museum of Advertising is a virtual museum they want to turn into an actual museum. A museum that isn’t real is perfect for advertising. They should leave it the way it is.

One of the MOA spokeswomen announced that we were “celebrating advertising”. I didn’t have the heart, intruder that I was, to say that I didn’t want to celebrate advertising. I admit that ads can be clever and funny and, at rare moments, can even rise to the level of art. But at they’re core, they are propaganda. Celebrating advertising is celebrating consumerism and lying to encourage consumerism. We as Americans absorb commercial messages at an absurd rate compared to educational ones. I’m not sure that’s something worth celebrating.

Once the MOA crowd had largely dispersed, my friends stayed and we engaged in conversation with a couple of MOA remnants. Somehow health care became the topic. I don’t know how we wandered into that thicket. Did I mention the comfortably numb thing? One young MOA gentleman began to defend the travesty that is the American health care system. In the same way that Americans who are fed a steady corn based diet with empty calorie, high fructose corn syrup can become, simultaneously, obese and malnourished, Americans who are fed a steady diet of corporate propaganda can become Intelligent Idiots (I.I.). They feed us this bullshit and we lap it up. We smile and wallow in it and ask for more. Advertising has taught us not to just accept lies but to expect them. To hunger for them. That’s why we’re not shocked when our politicians lie to us. Give us the lies. More gruel, please. Please master, please! 

I.I. defended 45 million uninsured Americans. I.I. defended spending twice what the rest of the world spends on health care despite the legions of uninsured and without better outcomes overall (Socialist Germans outlive us by more than a year largely based on superior health care). I.I. defended the obscene profits that health insurers earn off our broken health system: profits that go into the pockets of health care industry executives and shareholders rather than being spent on, say…health care. I.I.‘s claim to fame was having the shortest waiting time for health care services.

The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. We say our health care system is the best in the world when it clearly isn’t and we tell ourselves that it provides the shortest wait for services when it doesn’t. Our wait times are, on average, longer than what Canadians experience (with specialty exceptions) and longer than the Germans. The French, who enjoy the best health care system in the world, despite spending half what we do, have virtually no waiting lines. Think of what our wait times would be if 45 million of us weren’t doing our waiting in the emergency room. France provides basic health insurance for all its citizens. The French see any doctor or specialist they want, any time they want without the intrusion of a gatekeeper. I know this is stuff that propaganda fed Americans don’t want to hear…especially about the French.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure Cincinnati needs a Museum of Advertising, virtual or otherwise. This country has become a giant museum of corporate propaganda; a nation-wide museum of lies. It isn’t a virtual museum. It’s real and it’s killing us.



A Haircut Aboard the Titanic

Ferrari’s Barber shop on Garfield Place, the narrow strip of urban park that runs between Vine St. and Elm St. A short walk from the public library. Three barber chairs. Two barbers. Old, Italian brothers who came to America after the war. W.W.II. The big one.

I prefer Fausto. Most of the regular customers will wait for Fausto, while his brother Emilio’s chair remains empty. Emilio gets the newbies. Guys who wander in for the first time and wonder why a chair is available while others wait and read the newspaper or glance through old magazines. The novices soon find out.

Emilio rushes through his work. What Emilio really wants to do is go outside and smoke and get a cup of coffee from Cafe de Paris a few doors down. Emilio does this about every twenty minutes. He mutely gives fast haircuts without all of the flourishes and extras provided by his older brother. He charges the same amount non-the-less. Emilio is good for business. Not his business, but the haircutting business in general. After an Emilio haircut you’re ready for another haircut. Maybe tomorrow. Emilio only knows how to cut hair one way. You leave the chair looking a lot like Emilio. Sort of a Moe Howard thing.

There are pictures and framed news clippings on the barbershop wall. The clippings are short, human-interest write-ups about the barbershop and the brothers over the decades.  They are yellowed with age and pretty much unreadable. There’s a picture of George Washington. The one from your grade school classroom where George looks like a stern grandmother. The brothers, like a lot of immigrants of their era, are fiercely patriotic about their adopted country. There’s a picture of a Pope. I couldn’t tell you which one but I’m sure he isn’t a recent one. I’m not up on my Popes. There’s also a photo of the Titanic, a big, beautiful, stately ship floating serenely at sea. I want to ask if there’s a story behind the picture but I never do.

Fausto doesn’t like to talk about the past. At least not to me. I try to talk to him about Italy, which I have visited numerous times. Apparently the brothers haven’t been back to their home country since they arrived on the boat. Our conversations don’t go very far. Fausto would rather be here than in Italy. I’d rather be in Italy than here. That’s how it goes.

Fausto must be in his late seventies to early eighties. His brother somewhat younger. Fausto still delivers a credible haircut despite his age but he’s a little unsteady. He grasps my shoulder and holds on as he moves around to get a better angle on my head. The scissors clack without pause even when not engaged with my hair.

Fausto is easily distracted. If the phone rings and Emilio is out (he usually is), Fausto will shuffle to the back of the shop to answer it. It rings until he gets there. There is no answering machine. He speaks Italian on the phone and sounds irritated. I imagine that his wife is on the other end of the line. His barber chair is at the front of the shop, right in front of the plate glass window. Garfield Place is a busy pedestrian street and Fausto acknowledges passersby. Sometimes he goes to the door to say a word or two. You need to make sure you fill your meter before you go in, even if there is no wait. Fausto’s dalliances have led to some pretty expensive haircuts. You don’t want to be in the chair when the mail arrives. It’s an important and diverting event.

A haircut costs $12.00. It used to be $10. Be sure you have exact change. If I hand him a twenty he’ll tell me that he can’t break it and send me to the quickie mart around the corner. He’ll say this even if the guy ahead of me paid him with all one’s. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s payback for prying about his history, about Italy.

Fausto finishes my haircut by dabbing my neck and hairline with a lime scented concoction from a bottle. He massages my scalp and shoulders with a vibrating device strapped to his hand. I need this calming treatment after he shaves my hairline with a straight razor. I always tense up when I hear the razor slapping against the strop. Fausto’s hands are steady but there’s something unnerving about an eighty-year old man scraping a razor across my jugulars. I can’t take my eyes off the Titanic.


Social Networking Exposed

Categories: Grump About Town

The Great Railway “Bizarre”

Welcome aboard. I’m your tour guide. We’re going to follow the proposed Phase I Street car route so I can show you some of my favorite places in Cincinnati.

 Where’s the streetcar?

It hasn’t been built yet?

 Why not?

Because there is opposition to it.


Sit down and shut up Billy. We’ll get to that later.

 I know you’re all just in my head but…please be careful…sorry about the clutter…Hey! Put that down…but I’m going to talk through the tour in case you can’t read my mind, feeble as it is.

We’re starting here at Great American Ballpark where Joey Votto plays baseball. I’ll talk about the ballpark when we get back.

 Please remain seated at all times.

On your left, you’ll see Government Square.

 Mr. Tour Guide. With all of those buses why do we need streetcars?

That’s a good question Billy…

Voice from the back: “First of all the streetcar is a valuable transportation alternative.  Streetcars are friendlier than buses especially for visitors and newcomers. You don’t have to memorize bus numbers and routes and schedules. If you want to ride the streetcar you just follow the tracks. At the stop you’ll always see the time posted for the next streetcar. They’re also easier to board and exit than buses because they have 6 sets of doors, 3 on each side, so a lot of people can board and exit at the same time. With buses you have to board one at a time single file after people have exited one at a time, single file. Streetcars unlike buses induce new, “choice” riders on public transportation. Streetcars aren’t just for people who can’t afford a car.

 Holy Moses, who’s that guy Mr. Tour Guide?

 He’s one of them Billy. I call them Railheads. They’re always spouting facts and statistics showing how good streetcar systems are for cities like Cincinnati.

 Are they right?

 Sure they are, Billy. But they’re so damn boring.

Railhead: But the most important reason might be because of the economic development streetcars bring with them. They deliver a 2.7:1 benefit to cost ratio and a 14:1 economic impact to cost ratio. The streetcar system would lead to 1600 additional housing units, $7 billion in new investment, $17 million in additional spending from new residents alone and $1.5 billion in additional local and state taxes revenue in Downtown alone…

 Getting drowsy. Must. Remain. Conscious.

 And off to the right on 8th St. just a couple of doors down is Arnold’s, one of my favorite restaurants and bars. Arnold’s has a bathtub on wheels, and Flying Pigs sometimes play in the courtyard and it’s the only place in America without air conditioning.

 I think you’re making this stuff up Mr. Tour Guide.

 Sit down Billy.

We’re crossing Central Parkway into what used to be a thriving Main St. nightlife district in Over-The Rhine. Boy, Mr. Tour Guide had some fun here back in the day. We’ll turn left here on 12th St. past the Art Academy, which used to be Barrel House Brewery. Did I mention how much fun I had around here back in the day? Maybe the Streetcar can bring this district back to life.

 And you wouldn’t have to drive after you’ve had a few, right Mr. Tour Guide?

That’s right Billy.

We’re crossing Vine and the new Gateway District. We’re turning right on Elm and going past beautiful Music Hall and Findlay Market. Findlay Market is among my very favorite places in Cincinnati.  Kroeger and Sons Sausages has about a million kinds of sausage with interesting stuff in them like pine nuts and fennel. They even have a Camel with Moroccan spices sausage. It frightens me but I like to come and look at it anyway.  I buy my cheese at Krause’s. And Silverglade’s. I’m a cheese two-timer. Gouda thing Carol doesn’t know.

 That was really bad, Mr. Tour Guide.

There’s also a wine shop that hosts weekend tastings of wine or beer. The owner Mike Maxwell knows a lot about wine and beer. I buy much more interesting food if I taste wine before I shop. Some of it I don’t recognize when I get it home.

 We’ll loop around McMicken.

 There’s a lady on the sidewalk waving at you Mr. Tour Guide.

Ignore her Billy.

We’re heading down Race St. There’s Findlay Market again from the other side.

We’re on Central parkway now driving past what will be the new S.C.P.A.

Can we stop and get a puppy?

 Not S.P.C.A., Billy. The School for Performing and Creative Arts.

Can we stop and get an actress?

Railhead: Fifty or more cities are currently planning or building streetcar systems. Places like Portland, Oregon, have shown that streetcars can make cites denser, more walk-able, more vibrant and safer.

Give it a rest Railhead.

We’re on Walnut driving past the Hamilton County Public Library, one of the best public libraries in the nation. There’s Jeff Ruby’s and the Aronoff Center. Nada Restaurant. Nicholson’s, which has like a hundred scotches and Shepherd’s pie which isn’t really pie at least not the kind that you put whipped cream on. And the waiters wear kilts.

 What’s a kilt Mr. Tour Guide.

It’s like a skirt Billy.

 There’s the Contemporary Arts Center and Fountain Square just a little ways off to the right.

That lady’s leaking.

That’s the Fountain.

And now we’re heading down to Second St.

Hey Mister Tour Guide. There’s the slave museum. 

That’s the National Underground Railroad Museum.

Bill Cunningham calls it the slave museum. My dad was listening to him on the radio when he said that all the Streetcar would do is go from the slave museum to Over-the-Rhine and back again.

Did he mention all the stuff between the Underground Railroad Museum and Findlay Market?

No he didn’t. He didn’t make it sound like what we’re seeing at all.

Railhead: Maybe Willy Cunningham wants the streetcar to take you to Omaha and just leave your ass there. Especially if you’re from Over-theRhine.

That’s the spirit Railhead. Now you’re getting it.

Gee Mr. Tour Guide, the streetcar sounds great. Why would anybody be against it?

People like Jason Gloyd and Chris Finney from C.O.A.S.T. think it costs too much money even though the Railheads show that it more than pays for itself. I think C,O,A.S.T. has some other objections that we shouldn’t get into in polite company.

What does C.O.A.S.T. mean Mr. Tour Guide?

I don’t know. Conservatives Opposed to Anything relating to Sex or Transportation? Something like that.

Railhead: They just spew propaganda. They don’t want to talk about the facts. They just want to belittle the project by inaccurately referring to the streetcar as a choo choo train or a trolley or a coal burning locomotive in disguise. A streetcar is public transportation that runs on rails and is powered by overhead electricity. A trolley is an electric bus on rubber tires.

I like Choo Choos.

We know you do Billy.

Raihead: C.O.A.S.T. wants to prevent the city from spending money on any rail project including the high-speed passenger rail project that will link Cincinnati and Columbus and Cleveland.

Dad says we don’t need to go to Columbus or Cleveland. We don’t need to go anywhere because we’re living in the best city on earth.

Railhead: And the tinier it gets the more precious it becomes. Maybe we should change our nickname from the Queen City to the Incredible Shrinking City. We could become a theme park, with tiny buildings and tiny people and tiny thoughts. The Queen City nickname has always been a little awkward for Chris Finney and his buddies anyway.

Do you need this paper bag, Railhead? You look like you’re hyperventilating? Coal burning locomotive, huh? Things have been a little tough around the Tour Guide household these days maybe I could get a job shoveling coal into the streetcar furnace.

Railhead: They called it that because the streetcar would get its power from the electrical grid that is supplied by utility plants that burn coal. But that’s like calling all of the office towers downtown coal burning factories which are also powered by the same grid. Besides, for every ton of CO2 that is produced by burning coal to provide electricity for the streetcar two tons of CO2 are removed because people are riding the streetcar instead of driving. The utilities aren’t going to need to generate any more power than what they already do to service the streetcars anyway.

Maybe I could get a job shoveling coal into the furnaces in the basements of the big office towers.

Railhead: Sigh!

Now we’re back to Great American Ballpark. I’d love to take you into a restaurant or pub for lunch but, well, there aren’t any restaurants or pubs around G.A.B.P. because there aren’t any properties for private investors to redevelop. There’s just water and concrete and traffic. Sure they’re building The Banks but it is being done with public money that wouldn’t need to be spent if the ballpark had been put in a location conducive to private development.

Then why did they put the ballpark here, Mr. Tour Guide?

Politics Billy. Some people wanted the ballpark at Broadway Commons where experts told us it would result in the redevelopment of O.T.R. But some powerful people didn’t want the new ballpark at Broadway Commons close to “those people”.

Who are those people, Mr. Tour Guide?

 Ask Bill Cunningham.

Watch your step ladies and gentlemen. It’s a little slippery in here.

This was a lot of fun Mr. Tour Guide can we do it again? Cincinnati sure is an interesting place with guys in skirts and people eating camels. Can you tell me more about the pigs that fly at Arnold’s?


July 2009

Categories: Grump About Town