When Wings Take Thought

Preface — From a piece I wrote in the fall of 2010 for the Greater Mohican Audubon Society newsletter:

Nature and Nurture

“Birds,” I said, repeating the word each time I saw her little eyes catch and follow the flight of goldfinches, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers coming and going at the feeders.

My 4-month-old granddaughter, Kiley, and I were exploring, just as I had done with her mother decades ago. I carried her from room to room, pausing to look at artwork on the walls, our reflection in the bathroom mirror, the dog sprawled across a rug in the kitchen. But none of it caught and held her attention more than the birds flitting around outside the living room window.

I thought about why I was doing this, other than the simple pleasure of interacting with a baby – or “portable human,” as I like to call them. I wondered about why I had done this with her mother and my son before that. It seems to be an intuitive process, imprinting language, building associations between words and objects. It’s not something I learned from books on parenting or magazine articles. No one told me to do it; I just did it.

But this time was different because I realized that the educational process was a two-way street. Watching Kiley’s eyes, I began to see that mankind’s fascination with birds is universal. It transcends generational and cultural boundaries. It touches us regardless of our level of development and sophistication.

Later that day, after Kiley had gone home and the shadows in the yard grew deep in the fading autumn sun, the lesson began to sink in even further. It occurred to me then that someday the cycle of life will have come full circle, that I could be lying there, as helpless as a baby. The world that was once mine to explore could be constrained to a view of the yard through the windowpane.

But there will still be birds.

birdrelease

Kiley is all smiles after releasing a cardinal

Fast-forward to December 30, 2014. Four-month-old Kiley is now four years old. She’s spending a few days in north central Ohio during the New Year’s holidays — spoiling her grandpa.

Yesterday we took time out from playing — camping in a tent set up in the basement, hiding from the monsters in the monster-proof closet, trekking through the pasture and forest — and we fed the birds. Later in the morning, we found a dazed cardinal on the doorstep, a window strike.

After the cardinal convalesced in “the recovery room,” a pet carrier set up for that purpose, Kiley helped let it go. She was apprehensive about putting her little hand too close to the skittish cardinal, but we finally managed to release it together. The look on her face and the gasp of delight were priceless.

Lessons from the first four years of her life seem to have taken wing. That includes what she’s learned from her mom and other adults in her life.

Over the years, she’s learned to identify other birds by sight and by their habits, such as nuthatches with their peculiar practice of landing upside-down. During one visit, I introduced 2-year-old Kiley to turkey vultures, which roosted near her apartment in west central Ohio.

It didn’t seem to bother Kiley when I told her that vultures eat dead things. Why would it? This is a girl who, at the age of three, announced to her mother, “Everybody’s going to die.” Asked why, Kiley responded, “Because they’re alive.”

Even children can think deep thoughts when the sky’s the limit.

Make Be-lieve

Grand parenting

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

A few posts ago, I mentioned something about resisting the urge to do … about just being.

Spending time with my granddaughter this week reminds me that children are accomplished at being in the moment. She seems to spend her days just the way they should be spent — bounding freely through an ever-changing world of imagination and new experiences.

Back when I was working, I’d occasionally stop at the Bellstores on U.S. 250 to run the car through the automatic wash bay. I would throw open the shade on the moonroof and delight in watching the torrents of water blasting the glass. Sometimes I’d actually laugh out loud, hoping no one would drive up and see me.

Carpe diem!

Carpe diem!

Last night, on the way home, I stopped at the Bellstores to gas up. It occurred to me that my granddaughter would also enjoy the experience. Even though the car didn’t need washing, I splurged and spent $9 for a wash for her benefit. She loved it.

Almost as much as I did.

Kill This Word

A Memo from the Department of Redundancy Department 

proofreader

What’s wrong with this picture? “Currently” wasn’t deleted.

Perhaps things have changed since I retired from the newspaper business. Back then we considered “is” a present tense verb. If Gornall is out on bond, Gornall is out on bond. Period.

Yet, for reasons known only to them, writers and copyeditors insist on the redundant use of the word “currently.” You can’t pick up a newspaper without reading redundancies such as “Joe Blow currently is working at the DuSchnozzel Corporation.”

Nothing against writers or copyeditors. But, if you really want to save space, kill this word.

An argument could be made in the Gornall case that, perhaps by the time the reader picked up the paper, Gornall’s bond had been revoked and he was back in jail. But that would be a stretch. A reader would naturally assume that the writer meant Gornall was out on bond at the time the story was written.

Offhand, I can think of only one instance in which “current” would be necessary to clarify a sentence with a present tense verb. When I was a statehouse correspondent in the mid 1990s, we routinely reported on legislation amending existing law. In that case, it was helpful to specify what was being changed by saying “under current law.”

OK, I’m currently off my soapbox for now.

I’m not pro-anything, except procrastination

A belated river trip journal

johndam

John, our token kayaker, at Brinkhaven

I love retirement because it gives you the flexibility to do things you’ve never done. A few months ago I took full advantage of that, going from one canoe trip to another in the course of five days.

It all started when John, a guy I knew from my Columbus days, contacted me about setting up a Mohican River trip for him and his friends from BackpackOhio.com. (Since my “Other Mohican” series ran in the Ashland Times-Gazette and Loudonville Times last summerpeople have been asking me to help set up overnight trips on the Mohican.)

The river was low and so were the projected temperatures and it looked as though the trip with John and his crew wasn’t going to happen. On the day of the trip I had resigned myself that they weren’t going and decided to wait until the following weekend when the forecast was more favorable. At around 4:30 in the afternoon I got a call from John. He and his friends, Mike and Ron, were at Mohican Wilderness Campground, waiting for me.

I frantically crammed camping gear into my Canoebaru and headed for Mohican Wilderness. The plan called for me to spend two days and two nights on the river with them, then continue on my own if I felt like it. (When it comes to canoeing, “if” is never a factor for me.) When I arrived at Mohican Wilderness, they had their base camp all set up. These guys were seasoned backpackers and it showed. There was enough daylight left — or fleeting sunlight — to get a nice photo of John’s kayak.

johnskayakbest

Somewhere along the line, they decided that my river guide services should include a guaranteed eagle sighting. As the first day on the river wore on, I began to worry whether we would. I was confident we’d see an eagle on the second day while paddling on a more remote stretch of the river between Cavallo and the confluence with the Kokosing.

However, I dreaded the prospect of not seeing a bald eagle on the first day — mainly because I knew that they would rag on me mercilessly at our campsite that night.

Real or animatronic? Only your river guide knows for sure.

Real or animatronic? Only your river guide knows for sure.

Fortunately, we did see an eagle. It was perched in a tree at what I’ve come to call Trash Island. The eagle sat very still in the tree, turning its head as we passed. I was afraid they’d accuse me of planting an animatronic bird there just to make good on my guarantee.

As I said, they were seasoned campers and it was a joy to be out there with them. The big question mark would be how well they handled the paddling part of the trip. I’m happy to report that they passed with flying colors — making it unscathed over the rubble of the old Brinkhaven Dam.

From left, John, Don and Mike after clearing the dam.

From left, John, Ron and Mike after clearing the dam.

After we made it over the dam, the guys stopped for a change of underwear. On our second day on the river, we spotted several more eagles. We parted company at the confluence of the Mohican and Kokosing, which marks the beginning of the Walhonding River. They enjoyed the trip, which is journalized on the BackpackOhio.com website. They got some great photos, too. Better than mine, quite frankly.

Mike sent me an interesting message afterward. He told me that he had no trouble finding me online. All he had to do was enter “Irv” and “canoe.” Talk about being typecast!

I loaded up my canoe and gear at the confluence and drove downstream to start a second canoe trip — this one from Coshocton to Dresden. It occurred to me as I was setting up that trip (with a taxicab shuttle) that I could claim to have covered seven rivers in five days. We had already been on the Mohican River and paddled upstream into the tail waters of the Kokosing. On the next leg, I would be on the Walhonding and Muskingum rivers. During that phase, I could also paddle up into the Tuscarawas River, Wills Creek and Wakatomika Creek.

Sunset near Tyndall from my Muskingum River campsite.

Sunset near Tyndall from my Muskingum River campsite.

I craved solitude at this point and found it, spending the first night camped near Tyndall.

After another glorious day of exploring the river, I camped near Wills Creek. Typical fall weather finally caught up to me just before dusk. It rained all night long.

The rain let up in the morning and I was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and break camp before it started again.

On the last day of the trip I paddled through an off-and-on drizzle. At least it was warm enough that it wasn’t unpleasant.

It was a far cry from the last day of my 60th birthday trip, when I paddled all day in pouring rain with temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s.

On my next canoe trip, I’ll try not to wait so long before posting it on my blog. But there’s no rush. Being retired allows much more time for procrastination. 

 

Is this the reel life … or just the sequel?

1950s street scene near the Denison Theater. Photos courtesy Paul Hubina.

Early 1950s street scene near the Denison Theater. Photos courtesy Paul Habina.

   Postscript: ‘Cleveland’s Neighborhood Movie Houses’

It’s not every day you set out to take a stroll down memory lane and find yourself in the middle of a busy highway. That’s pretty much what happened earlier this week after I reminisced in my blog about Cleveland’s old neighborhood movie theaters. I shared the post on the Facebook page Growing Up on the West Side of Cleveland. During the next 24 hours, about 200 people lit up the post with comments, sharing their memories of Cleveland’s movie houses.

A spontaneous dialogue erupted among people of widely varying ages and backgrounds. Some merely listed the movie theaters they frequented while others shared memories of the good times, the movies they saw and even their favorite theater snacks. Others posted pictures — including some wonderful old black and white photos.courtesypaulhabina

Those who were content just to name their favorite movie houses contributed small but significant brushstrokes in a panorama of the bygone days of Cleveland cinema. By creating a mental map of the locations of theaters they listed, you could pretty much guess where they lived. Prior to the mid ’60s and the advent of malls, shopping centers and multiplexes, people walked to the movies for the most part. That’s why there were theaters in every neighborhood.

Some of the comments made me aware of theaters I never knew existed, even though they were within a few miles of my house. Some had gone out of business when I was a baby. Of course, many would follow over the years as the business model evolved to favor multiple-screen theaters and video rental.

If you’re curious, here are a few excellent online sources for Cleveland movie theater history: Cleveland and It’s Neighborhoods, Cinema Treasures and, for those who frequented the Variety Theater on Lorain Avenue, After the Final CurtainFriends of the Historic Variety Theater  and Westown Community Development Corporation.

I’ll share a few of the posts here, minus the names. I realize that people who post on Facebook shouldn’t expect anonymity, but I have a bad habit of respecting people’s privacy. (That was a serious handicap when I was a journalist.)

The comments are pretty much in the words of those who posted them. I made a few clarifications and added comments, which are in parenthesis.th

§ The Madison Theatre was where we, my brothers and I, went to the most. Loved those Slo Poke suckers.

§ I used to live on Rocky River Drive. Used to go to the Riverside often. Used to cut behind and down the alley to get to school. There used to be a little donut shop on Rocky River Drive very near Lorain Road. This little old man used to run it. He had to be close to 80, or at least it seemed so when I was a kid.

§ We did drive-in shows. Memphis, Autorama, Canal Road, Cloverleaf, Pearl Road.

§ Broadview Theatre, Canal Road Drive-In, Cloverleaf Drive-In, and Memphis Drive-In. I recall as a kid seeing the original “Night of the Living Dead” at the drive-in and being so very scared, even when I was in my own bedroom.

§ I miss the old theaters, sitting in the seat in front of the big screen and seeing a matinee … eating popcorn. Those were the days … smelling the popcorn popping. So sad it’s all gone now.

§ The Lorain Theater on 45th and Lorain. We called it the rat hole due to rats running across the stage when you were watching the movie. (I mentioned stories of rats in the previous blog post.)

§ The Lyceum. My mom worked there when I was a kid. My grandmother and I walked there every Saturday to see the movies. We lived on Storer Ave. Later it was the Stillman in downtown Cleveland and I worked at the candy counter as a teenager. Made 75 cents an hour, big bucks for a kid back then in the ’60s.

§ I loved the Garden on W. 25th, and next door was the caramel corn store! Yum!

§ My dad would tell us about the Willow Theatre. Unfortunately it burned down. In fact, growing up going to the movies was a very very special treat. Any time mom would say to dad, “You want to go to the movies?” Dad would reply, “Is it playing at the Willow?” Of course the answer would always be no, so (there would be) no movie night.

§ The Homestead Theater was on Detroit, just west of W. 117th. It closed in 1972, re-opened as the Showboat Cinema West from 1974 until 1975 and managed by my sister for a month, then re-opened in 1976 as The Last Picture Show until 1978, when it closed for good. I believe Phantasy uses the auditorium section for live concerts now.

§ The Garden Show at West 25th and Clark … Had my first date there when I was 14. (It was common then to call movie theaters “the show,” as in “We’re going to the show.” The term seems to have fallen into disuse.)

§ Almira until I was about 12 years old, then Variety. In high school, it was the Riverside every Friday night. Sometimes Saturday date nights were at the Palace, with a stage show.

§ Here are my childhood theaters. Broadview. We would walk from Denison (actually run) across the old bridge to the theatre. I recall going to the Denison and Garden theatres also. Next to the Broadview, though, we would walk up Archwood (Avenue) to Fulton Road and go to the Lyceum. As I recall they had a balcony in the back. I was young and was told that was the make out section.

§ Broadview Theatre. My aunt and uncle took me to see classics like “Charade” and “House on Haunted Hill.” I loved the scary and murder movies and still do!

§ The Lyceum. We were able to walk there from our house. Saw “The Ten Commandments” there. Oops, does that mean I’m kinda old? Ha ha. (My response: Not as long as you weren’t around for the event on which the movie was based.) Her second comment in response to mine: Oh wow, didn’t realize it came out 1956, which is the year I was born. Think I was around 10 years old when seeing it at the Lyceum, so (that would be) about 1966 or ’67.

§ Mostly the Lyceum. Sometimes the Broadview. I got to go to the Hippodrome downtown once with my older brother and sister to see “Ben-Hur” when it first came out.

§ (Comment from a female) Paris Art Theatre, W. 25th Street. Just kidding. Variety Theatre on Lorain Avenue.

§ The Detroit Theater in Lakewood on Richland Avenue. My grandfather was the projectionist until 1973.

§ Madison Theatre, W. 95th & Madison. Grew up on W. 95th. Lots of memories of sneaking in the side doors. The best was going behind screen while a movie was playing. Fun memories!

§ Detroit Avenue. It was my aunt, myself, and my mother. All three of us cried our eyes out. I think the name of the movie was “Terms of Endearment.”10850255_10202478922848418_6162596302502743603_n

§ Saw “Mary Poppins” at the Memphis Drive-In. We were in our pajamas, and the last scene I remember was the one with the chimney sweeps dancing on the rooftops. I still get that excited feeling when we watch that movie.

There you have it — in the words of the people who lived it.

Now that’s a tough act to follow.

 

 

 

 

Is This the Reel Life?

Remembering Cleveland’s Movie Houses

The Riverside Theater back in the day. This photo was taken a few years before I took my son there to see "Star Wars” — about five godzillion times!

The Riverside Theater back in the day. This photo was taken a few years before I took my son there to see “Star Wars” — about five godzillion times!

In the previous post, I mentioned a movie theater on the West Side of Cleveland where they were still showing serials well into the ’60s. This was the Garden Theater on Clark Avenue.

It’s gone now, as are most of the movie theaters I frequented as a kid and young adult. Multi-screen theaters and home theater gadgetry rendered them obsolete.

From time to time, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my life story based on the cars I’ve owned or all the restaurants where I’d hang out and socialize with my extended family. Yes, there are times in your life when you prefer the company of cranky short-order cooks, bitchy waitresses and derelicts skilled at wearing out their welcome over a cup of coffee.

The movie houses also played a major role in my life. Please indulge me while I stumble down memory lane and revisit some of them — at least, as many as I can recall.

I went online to jog my memory and found a great source: Cleveland and Its Neighborhoods. It has a comprehensive list of old movie theaters complete with dates and, in some cases, a brief history.

The Garden Theater is among them. It opened in 1925 and closed in 1968. The Garden reopened briefly as the Pussycat Theater. I don’t suppose they named it that because they were showing “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

That was a common scenario for a lot of theaters in town.

The Lyceum, which was at Fulton Road and W 41st Street, showed skin flicks in the 1970s. These were much milder than modern pornographic films, which have strayed far from the realm of subtle titillation. Apparently, sometime in the ’90s, pornography evolved into what could best be described as gynecology for laymen. Not that I’ve ever watched any of it, mind you.

The Lyceum was less than a mile and a half from home. In the early ’60s, my sister and I would walk there and watch movies — mostly of her choosing. This included the Tammy series, which featured a lot of corny love songs. My sister would make me stay and watch part of the movies when they replayed so she could listen to the songs again.

Ironically, the Lyceum, born-again porn theater that it had become, was razed and replaced with a branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

The Lorain Theater on the 4600 block of Lorain Avenue also resorted to screening skin flicks. The name was changed to reflect the transition to “art theater.” (I don’t recall what the new name was.)

This was common practice among porn-again theaters, claiming that the new fare was “art.” Theater owners did this, if you’ll forgive the pun, to cover their asses. They’d claim that their fare was protected free speech and not pornography under standards established in the Miller vs. California case. They had to demonstrate that their “artistic works” passed at least one of three prongs established by the ruling. The most notable prong was whether the work, taken as a whole, had literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Call it poetic licentiousness.

At any rate, the Lorain Theater, commonly known as the “Little Lorain” never drew much of a crowd. We didn’t go there even though it was only five blocks from home, mostly because of the horror stories about rats running across patrons’ feet during the movie. That would have been a real scream during the showing of “Willard.”

The Lorain opened in 1923 and closed in 1969.

Another reason we didn’t bother going to the Lorain was, for several years, we lived in the alley behind the Lorain-Fulton Theater. Built in 1921, it was another product of the golden age of movies. Unlike the Lorain, it was spacious and clean.

My parents took us there when we were very young. It was just around the corner, so we were allowed to go there on our own once we reached school age.

Like the Garden, the Lorain-Fulton was a holdout from a bygone era. It was one of the theaters in the late ’50s and early ’60s that still had “bank nights.” This was a franchised lottery game in which theatergoers could win a little cash. I still have a silver dollar my father won one night. I also recall that, as a grand prize, they had what looked like a go-cart without a motor. I think it was powered by pedals or a sail. I wanted so badly to win it.

I remember watching Tarzan movies there as well as “King Kong” and a bunch of ’50s horror films. Sometimes, when I didn’t have a quarter to get in, I’d go around back, press an ear against the steel exit doors and listen to the dialogue.

The Lorain-Fulton closed in 1963. A Pick ’N’ Pay supermarket replaced the theater and the house in the alley where we had lived. The supermarket later became a junk store.

In the mid to late ’60s, my sister and I occasionally ventured out to the Madison Theater. Our cousins, who lived on West 94th Street, would meet us there. We probably saw dozen films at the Madison including our first James Bond movie, “Goldfinger,” and the Beatles movies, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”

The theater opened in 1915 and closed in 1969.

By the later part of the ’60s, my family had moved further out on the West Side. Our house was a short walk from the Variety Theater, which is on Lorain Avenue near West 118th Street.

Of all the movie theaters I went to as a youth or young man, only the Variety and one other movie house remain. The Variety closed in 1984. At last report, a group called Friends of the Historic Variety Theater  and Westown Community Development Corporation were in the process of restoring the 1927 vintage theater.

Interior of the Variety. Copyright 2014, Matthew Lambros & After the Final Curtain: http://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2012/07/06/the-variety-theatre/

Interior of the Variety. Photo copyright 2014, Matthew Lambros & After the Final Curtain: http://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2012/07/06/the-variety-theatre/

The times they were a-changin’ and so was I when started going to the Variety. During the years I lived in the neighborhood, I saw a few mainstream movies and several counterculture films, including the Beatles animated feature “Yellow Submarine.” One fellow became disgruntled because the projectionist decided to show something a little less to his liking before screening “Yellow Submarine.”

The dissatisfied patron shouted, “Put on the good movie; I came high!”

I believe the last thing I saw there was Frank Zappa’s “The Dub Room Special!” in the early ’80s.

We also lived close to the Memphis Drive-In. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was the best movie I never saw there. My date and I took a break from our mutual grooming ritual long enough to watch part of the movie. I had gone to the refreshment stand for popcorn and a drink. After I got back and settled into the car seat, I reached over for a handful of popcorn and dipped my hand into her drink by mistake.

Things went downhill from there. After the movie, we stopped for a snack at the Red Barn on West 117th Street. There was a sign saying “Bad Bills — $5.” Wow, I thought, for five bucks that must be a hell of a sandwich. So I ordered one. The girl behind the counter rolled her eyes at me and explained that the sign was meant as a warning to watch out for counterfeit bills.

The Memphis Drive-In once made headlines when a patron filed a lawsuit after being beat up by a railroad cop. Rather than walking to the concession stand to use the restroom, the patron slipped to the back of the lot and urinated off the edge of an embankment overlooking the railroad tracks. A railroad cop happened to be walking by and got doused. The cop scrambled up the embankment and throttled the pissing patron. As I recall, the lawsuit was tossed out of court.

I don’t know about him, but I think I would have cut my losses with the ass-kicking and left it at that.

The Memphis Drive-In closed for good in 2006. For many years, the owners managed to keep the theater open by hosting flea markets during the day on weekends.

My former father-in-law, rest his soul, was quite a horse trader and managed to make extra money selling things there — mostly stuff he’d scavenged. Keenly cognizant of the fact that, as a breadwinner I left much to be desired, he suggested that I try my hand at it. I gave it a go, but I wasn’t much of a wheeler and dealer. However, one weekend I salvaged about a dozen furnace blowers and motors from an apartment complex where I worked. They were replacing all the units and pitching the old ones. I jammed them into the back seat and trunk of my 1961 Comet, took them to the drive-in and instantly unloaded the whole lot for $150. That was more than my weekly wages at the time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the downtown theaters in my life. I could probably count the number of downtown theaters I’ve been to on one hand and have a couple of fingers left over. To the best of my recollection, I went to two of the palatial downtown theaters when I was a kid and the infamous Roxy Theater when I was about 16 or 17 years old.

The Roxy was a burlesque house. According to information posted on the website Cinema Treasures, it originally opened in 1907 as the Family Theater. The name was later changed to the Orpheum, but it continued showing mainstream movies until 1929. It reopened in 1931 as the Roxy Theater and quickly became one of the country’s top burlesque venues, attracting big-name comedians and strippers.

By the ’60s, the Roxy was pretty run down — as were the strippers. When I went there with a couple of buddies, I felt more embarrassed than titillated. I felt sorry for the women on stage, who were older than my mother. Between acts, which included a lame old standup comic, they would show porn films — pretty much the same fare as the stuff I described in the account of the Lyceum Theater.

When we were elementary school age, my mother and maternal grandmother would take us to see movies downtown. I don’t recall which theaters we went to, but they were on Euclid Avenue and very large.

One time, when my maternal grandmother took us to a movie, we asked if we could sit in the balcony.

“No,” she responded. “That’s nigger heaven.”

Grandma wasn’t the most enlightened member of the family. Fortunately, the rest of the family — my father in particular — had very healthy attitudes about race relations. Dad made it a point to instill those values in us.

When my son was growing up, I had moved to the east side and took him to see “The Wiz” at the Colony Theater on Shaker Square. “The Wiz” was an African-American adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. People in the auditorium were settling in and waiting for the movie to begin. My son, who was four or five at the time, stood up on his seat, looked around the theater and announced, “Gee, dad, we’re the only white people in here.”

People were still laughing 10 minutes into the movie.

The theater, now called Shaker Square Cinemas, has been renovated and is showing first run, foreign and indie films.

“Star Wars” was huge when my son was growing up. He insisted on going to the theater to see reruns of the first “Star Wars” movie every chance we got. For a while, it was running pretty much constantly at the Riverside Theater on Lorain Avenue near Riverside Drive. By then, the theater had been split into a duplex and the Star Wars audience continued to dwindle. It had come to the point that, on one occasion, my son and I had a private screening of the movie.

Like most neighborhood theaters, the Riverside succumbed to market pressures from multiplexes and home video rentals. The theater was razed in 1994 and replaced with a Walgreens store. Wonder if there’s a Redbox kiosk in front of it.

Postscript:

On Jan., 8, 2015, I received the following update — and welcome news — from the Friends of the Variety Theater:

We (The Friends of The Historic Variety Theatre) are working on a long-range plan for the building (which includes the attached apartments and storefronts along Lorain Avenue to W. 119th). The intention is to bring the entire building back to productive use. Plans for the theatre space, while not finalized, we are looking to utilize the space as a combination (ie Variety) entertainment/restaurant space. More information to come here as plans for the building begin to “gel”. The best news is that we intend to save the entire building for use by future audiences. 

Motion (Picture) Sickness

I’m sick of all this puking in movies and TV. 

gv

It’s become pandemic. You can’t watch a movie or turn on a TV show without somebody hurling on-screen. And it keeps getting worse — in frequency and intensity.

I did an online search for vomiting in movies and TV and turned up dozens of articles — many of them written by critics — complaining about gratuitous and excessive vomiting in popular entertainment. They’ve been griping about it for at least 15 years and all the critics seemed to agree that it’s becoming more prevalent.

In a 2010 article Anne Billson wrote in The Guardian that the taboo against explicit on-screen vomiting was first breached in the 1953 film “The Wages of Fear.”

Billson said the “barf gates” really opened in the 1970s, most notably with pea soup projectile vomiting in “The Exorcist.”

Things went downhill from there. Thirty years later, Monte Python’s “The Meaning of Life” further pushed the envelope when the humongous Mr. Creosote flooded a fancy restaurant with vomit. (Legend has it the scene required 9,000 gallons of fake puke.)

In the article, Billman lamented that it would only be a matter of time before actors were throwing up in 3D.

In March of this year, New York Times TV critic Neil Genzlinger complained that on-screen vomiting had become a TV cliché “that deserves to die.”

Genzlinger indicated that, unlike other obsolete taboos such as sex and violence, puking generally does nothing to further plots or reveal the essence of characters.

Apparently on-screen puking isn’t just for the unwashed masses. In 2007 Joe Queenan wrote in The Guardian about an experiment he conducted. He rented five videos at random, watched them with his family and all but one had vomiting scenes.

“So there you have it,” Queenan concluded. “They’re puking in award-winning Franco-Algerian Films, they’re puking in mainstream animated films, they’re puking in Steven Soderbergh films, they’re puking in Korean horror movies, they’re puking in spellbinding indie features about enigmatic rock stars, and now they’re even puking in iconoclastic TV series.”

Not just the critics are saying, “Enough already!”

My online search turned up scores of discussion threads on the topic and even a Facebook page called “There’s Too Much Vomiting on TV Nowadays.”

fbpukepage

In a 2013 online discussion, participants talked about their struggle with emetophobia, the fear of vomit or vomiting. They bitterly complained that they could no longer enjoy movies or TV because of all the puking.

Had I been a part of the conversation, I would have added that it’s not so much a fear of puke; I just don’t want to see it. I have two kids — now adults — and a houseful of cats and dogs. There’s more than enough puke in my life already.

Who’s to blame? We are. We keep watching this dreck.

While we’re in mea culpa mode, I have to take at least some of the blame for puking in the movies.

When I was young, my friends and I sometimes went to the Garden Theater on the near West Side of Cleveland. It was the only movie theater in town still showing serials along with the Saturday matinee.

The entertainment was stale and so were the refreshments. Long story short, while sitting in the back row, I did my Mr. Creosote impression.

What followed can best be described as the parting of the Red Sea in super slow motion. Row by row, the people in the seats directly in front of us got up and scurried for the exits.

It was far more entertaining than what was on the screen.

If they make a movie about my life, I’m going to ask that they omit that scene.

Tree muggers vindicated – trees ARE evil!

Proof that monster trees are everywhere, they’re stalking us and they want to kill us.

Until last Sunday, I never understood tree muggers. That’s a term I use for those who seemingly never saw a tree or a forest they liked.
Thanks to a harrowing experience, I’ve come to appreciate where tree muggers are coming from. Trees are not the benign inanimate objects many of us take them for; they are intimidating and sinister. Given a chance, they’d trip us with their roots, ensnare us in their gnarled limbs, drink our blood and replace it with sap and turn our brains into mulch.
Last Sunday I came to realize that trees are lurking everywhere, in the woods, along city streets, in nurseries … watching our every move, waiting until no one else is looking. While hiking in the park, I felt the trees staring at me. A chill went up my spine when I turned around and came face to face with this:

tabanga3

I turned and I ran until I came to a spot under a huge oak tree, lost my footing on a bunch of acorns, and went into a pratfall with arms flailing and blue language spewing from my lips. Then, I looked up to see this:

treeface

I regained my footing and sprinted out of the forest. Out of breath, I hastily walked down the road toward my house, constantly looking over my shoulder. Then, I heard a sound coming from the tree line along the road, looked over and saw this:

clearforktreeface

It was enough to convince me that tree muggers aren’t irrational after all.
When I got home, I did some research on the darker nature of trees. Lo and behold, there it was — images from our popular culture depicting sinister, evil trees. Like the ill-tempered apple tree from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz:”

oztree

It’s widely known that, during the making of the film, one of the Munchkins, after having been spurned by a lady Munchkin, hanged himself from a tree on the set. Movie buffs claim he can be seen in the background dangling from the tree with his legs kicking as Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow dance down the yellow brick road en route to Oz.
Skeptics have countered that what you’re actually seeing is a large bird, a crane of some sort, meant to add some realism to the set.
Popular culture also gave us a glimpse into the true nature of trees in the 1957 horror classic “From Hell It Came.” The star of the film, an evil tree monster called Tabanga, terrorizes the natives and their American visitors on a remote desert island. Tabanga can best be characterized as a zombiefied version of the evil apple tree from “The Wizard of Oz.”

tarbanga3 copy

The hit TV series “Twin Peaks” demonstrated that not only are trees sentient, but have supernatural powers. Remember clairvoyant talking log?

enhanced-buzz-4459-1365460335-11

The mysterious Log Lady’s psychic log had a lot to say, but its counterpart from “Sesame Street’s” parody “Twin Beaks” had just one thing to say. Tired of people pumping it for words of wisdom, the log finally spoke up, saying, “How should I know? I’m a log!”
Which only goes to show that, not only are trees sentient and endowed with supernatural powers, they’re smart asses.

TwinBeaks&Log

Next time you’re out hiking or just walking down the street, be on the lookout for sinister trees. Get photos and email them to me. I’ll add them to our watch list. Together, we can stop the spread of these knotty hooligans. Remember the tree muggers motto: “I came, I saw, I sawed.”

From the back of a station wagon to the canoeing capital of Ohio

A History of the Loudonville-Mohican Area Canoe Liveries

By Irv Oslin

Editors Note: This story was commissioned in 2011 by the local convention and visitors bureau and had been posted on their website. However, it doesn’t seem to be available any more, so I’ve revived it here.

This plaque honoring Dick Frye is posted at Mohican Adventures

This plaque honoring Dick Frye is posted at Mohican Adventures

 

In 1961, a slender, bespectacled man named Dick Frye started renting canoes on the banks of Clear Fork of the Mohican River. This humble venture spawned a canoe livery industry that would make the Loudonville-Mohican area the canoeing capital of Ohio.

The area’s canoe liveries have weathered many changes in 50 years. They managed to stay afloat through floods, draught, economic doldrums and the changing tastes of generations of paddlers.

Over the years, liveries have come and gone or changed hands, but some of the early players remain. They continue to be a guiding force for the area’s livery business.

The First Livery

All of those involved acknowledge that they owe a debt of gratitude to Frye, the man who started it all. Frye, a Crestline, Ohio, native, died in 1992 at the age of 71. He had a passion for canoeing, downhill skiing and life itself. Frye died while skiing on opening day at Snow Trails near Mansfield, Ohio.

“He died doing what he loved,” his daughter, Cindy Nickles said.

Like the children of many canoe livery owners, Nickles has fond memories of working at the livery from an early age.

In fact, the liveries spawned many fond memories for the young people who worked there in the summers. Among them was Ashland University director of professional development services Tom Lavinder, who worked for Frye 1969-1973. He was in high school and college at the time.

“To tell you how great a guy Dick was, he would always slip us a $5 or $10 bill on weekend days when we would bring the canoes back via trailer from the Wally Campground, so we could keep the canoes rotating for people waiting back at the livery to take their trip,” Lavinder said. “He always wanted to keep the canoes coming back from pickups so people wouldn’t have a long wait to take their trip.”

One day, Lavinder took the corner too fast at the State Route 3 bridge and wiped out a couple of storage racks and canoes on the trailer.

“As I pulled in, Dick walked up to the van just as he would have if he was going to give me a $5 or $10 tip,” Lavinder said. “I was pretty sure he was going to give me an earful about destroying the racks and damaging the canoes. He just calmly slipped me a $20 bill, smiled and said, ‘I’m sure that will never happen again’.”

Frye was right; it didn’t happen again.

Before Frye started the canoe livery, Nickles and other family members worked at a 20-unit motel he had built in Ontario, Ohio. They sold the motel after the livery was established.

Frye got the idea for the canoe livery in the 1950s. He took a trip to Michigan, rented a boat from a livery and paddled the Au Sable River. He was convinced that canoe liveries would catch on back home.

Frye started by renting his own canoe, operating out of an old Mercury station wagon at State Routes 3 and 97. He bought the canoe while in junior high school, paying a dollar a week for it from money he made on his paper route.

The idea caught on, so Frye bought 14 canoes, built an A-frame hut and Mohican Canoe Livery was born. It was Ohio’s first.

On July 4, 1969, the area was struck by one of the worst floods in history. A local teenager named Doug Shannon helped the Frye family retrieve canoes from the rain-swollen Mohican River. So began Shannon’s immersion into the area’s canoe livery industry.

The Mohican Canoe Livery was built on land Frye leased from the state. He was becoming uncomfortable with the arrangement, so he bought land on State Route 3 along the banks of Black Fork of the Mohican River and started a second livery, Dick Frye’s Canoe Livery.

Shannon and his wife, Patty, took over operations of that livery, leasing it in 1974. They bought it and Frye’s original Mohican Canoe Livery in 1979 and combined the two. The Shannons moved Frye’s A-frame hut and canoes to the site along the Black Fork. The A-frame remains on the livery grounds to this day.

The Shannon’s operation, now called Mohican Adventures, had grown to include go-carts, miniature golf, camping and cabins.

The Shannon family at Mohican Adventures

The Shannon family at Mohican Adventures

Over the years, other entrepreneurs operated a livery at the original site on the Clear Fork under the name State Park Canoe Livery.

 Other Early Players

Meanwhile, a few other area businessmen took note of Frye’s early success. In 1965, Howard “Hezzy” Nave started Loudonville Canoe Livery on West Main Street. A few years later, Ken Wobbecke, who started Mohican Wilderness Campground on Wally Road, got into the livery business. In the mid to late ’60s, Clayton Drouhard started Pleasant Hill Canoe Livery on the Black Fork in Perrysville.

Nave died shortly after this article was written. He was  76 years old. Wobbecke died in 2009 at the age of 89. Wobbecke was widely recognized as a pioneer in the area’s campground and tourism industry. Right up to the end, he was working on expanding recreational opportunities at Mohican Wilderness and the entire valley. Drouhard died in 2006.

Loudonville Canoe Livery is still going strong. Ken Wobeccke’s wife, Ann, and other family members continue to operate the livery at Mohican Wilderness. Pleasant Hill Canoe Livery changed hands a few times. George and Amy Smith ultimately bought the livery and operated it under the name Pleasant Valley Canoe Livery, which ceased operating in 2004. Like other area campground owners, the Smiths now arrange with area liveries to provide canoe trips for their campers.

A double rainbow at Smith's campground.

A double rainbow at Smith’s campground.

Former Cleveland Browns football player and State Senator Dick Schafrath bought Loudonville Canoe Livery in 1973. He and his family owned and operated it for 24 years.

“I was very happy working with my brother, Mike, and his kids,” Schafrath said. “You can’t buy that kind of happiness.”

He remembered that things were different in the early days. Liveries operated in a more casual atmosphere. Teenage helpers drove rickety shuttle buses and towed canoe trailers up and down the narrow winding roads. Though not officially condoned, drinking on the river was common. That changed over the years. Adults now drive the buses and are required to have commercial driver’s licenses. The buses are inspected annually by the state. Livery owners work with the Ohio Division of Watercraft to discourage drinking on the river.

In 1997, Schafrath sold Loudonville Canoe Livery to Chris Snively and Mike Heffelfinger. They own Mohican Reservation Campground on Wally Road and had been contracting with Loudonville Canoe Livery to provide canoes for their campers.

Mel Reinthal, another early player in the Loudonville-Mohican canoe livery industry, has stayed in the thick of things. He bought Pleasant Hill Canoe Livery from Drouhard in 1973. He sold the livery to the Smiths in 1999, but retained the rights to the name. He still works for folks in the business including the Shannons. In the summer, Reinthal runs a concession stand called Mel’s World-famous Hot Dots on the grounds of Mohican Adventures.

“This still allows me to talk with the livery customers, which I dearly love,” Reinthal said.

 Competition

By and large, livery owners have enjoyed being in a business where the chief product is fun. But, it is a business and not always fun and games. Competition drove the evolution of the industry. That’s been particularly evident on State Route 3 south of Loudonville, where most of the liveries are clustered.

After his early success with Pleasant Hill Canoe Livery, Drouhard registered the name Mohican River Canoe Livery and set up shop just north of Mohican Canoe Livery. It was one of several that came and went over the years on that stretch of State Route 3.

The Shannons bought Mohican River Canoe Livery in 1980, ending Drouhard’s involvement in the industry. They operated it as a separate entity for three or four years before merging it with their livery.

South of the Shannons’ operation was Black Fork Canoe Livery. Larry Rogers started it in 1973 or 1974. While in high school and college, Rogers had worked for Frye.

“When I started with him, I thought nobody would really rent a canoe,” Rogers said. “I remember more than once asking him whether he ever thought it would turn into this. He said yes, but I wasn’t sure whether he really believed it.”

One thing the early players had in common was a vivid imagination — and a tendency to act on it. Rogers was no exception. He built his own fiberglass kayaks. They were later made by John Barnhill. This was at a time when the liveries only offered canoes.

“It was a really hard sell,” Rogers said. “For the first couple of months, I’d tell them take a kayak and, if you don’t like it, don’t pay me.”

It turns out that Rogers was decades ahead of his time.

“Kayaks are definitely the growing trend,” said Patty Shannon of Mohican Adventures. “Over the years, we went from aluminum to plastic canoes, then rafts. Now we’re expanding our kayaks.”

Rogers sold Black Fork Canoe Livery to Schafrath in the mid ’80s. Schafrath ran it for about 10 years.

Anchoring the south end of “livery row” on State Route 3 is Mohican Valley Camp & Canoe. Recollections of current livery owners and tax map records indicate that it was started — perhaps in the late ’60s — by the Ziegler family. It originally was called Ziggy’s Canoe Livery. The Shannons recalled that it was once run by a man named Norm Heller or “Stormin’ Norman,” as they called him.

The livery appears to have changed hands a couple of times over the years. The current owners, Al and Sheila Bechtel, bought it in 1990 from Sheila’s cousin, Robert A. Guisinger.

The Bechtel’s bought it because they “were looking for something to do.” It’s been every bit of that.

“It’s very intense, I’ve gone 40 hours straight without sleep,” Al Bechtel said. “But I enjoy the independence and the people I’ve gotten to know over the years, the regular customers who keep coming back.”

A number of canoe liveries up and down the river came and went over the years, including Clear Fork (later Webster’s Mountain Sports) and Blue Lagoon in Butler. Doug Shannon said there were also liveries upstream near Charles Mill Dam and downstream at Brinkhaven.

Patty Shannon believes the Butler liveries didn’t survive because that stretch of the Clear Fork is too shallow most of the summer.

On the other hand, Amy Smith of Pleasant Valley Canoe Livery believes it’s hard to compete with the allure of the Loudonville-based liveries. They tried to entice paddlers to try a more remote stretch of the river upstream.

“We marketed and marketed and marketed that trip, but people told us they wanted to be where the action is,” Smith said.

Lake Fork Canoe Livery was an exception. The livery has operated on an isolated fork of the Mohican River for more than 30 years, offering quiet trips for families and nature lovers.

Lake Fork Canoe Livery on State Route 3

Lake Fork Canoe Livery on State Route 3

Jeff Gilman started it in the late ’70s. His family bought Long Lake Campground in the early ’70s  and he decided to test the waters in the canoe livery business. But he didn’t enjoy it.

“After three years of running the livery, I was exhausted,” Gilman said. “I sold the canoes to Reinthal and sold the livery.”

Sherman Lavinder owned the livery for three or four years before Britt and Nancy Young bought it in 1983. (Sherman Lavinder was the father of the previously mentioned Tom Lavinder, who worked for Frye in the ’60s and ’70s.) The Youngs started Camp Toodik in 1969, a campground downstream from the livery. They originally didn’t plan to offer canoeing.

“Our campers got us into the canoe business,” Nancy Young said. “At first, they asked us to buy a few canoes for them to paddle around in front of the campground. Then they said, ‘Hey, you have a pickup truck, why not take us upstream?’”

The Youngs eventually bought a trailer, a van and 16 canoes and built the business from there. They later changed the name of the livery to Toodik on the Lake Fork. Before buying the livery, they used a county road right-of-way for a put-in point. Their son, Matt Young, recalled that it was quite a chore lugging canoes, two at a time, down a drainage ditch to the bank.

Britt Young loved to entertain his passengers on the shuttle bus by telling the stories behind various points of interest as he drove through the countryside. He died in 2002.

 New Blood in the Livery Business

Nancy Young retired and sold Toodik Campground and the livery in 2007 to Bill and Brenda Lucas.

Asked why they bought the campground, Bill Lucas replied, “We’ve camped all our lives. While we were camping, we decided this is what we wanted to do.”

The Lucases are from Portage County and had never been to Camp Toodik before. They found out about it being for sale through the Internet.

“The livery came with it,” Brenda Lucas said. “You have to have a livery; that’s why people come to this area.”

They enjoy being on the quiet fork of the Mohican River.

“Some people like the crowds,” Brenda Lucas said. “But there are people who like it quiet, especially families with young kids.”

River Run Canoe Livery had a similar history. It’s affiliated with River Run Campground at the confluence of Black Fork and Clear Fork of the Mohican River. Bernard and Barbara Lassond developed the campground in the ‘70s.

Rick Osborne, who now owns the campground, started the livery. He was not a camper and had only canoed a few times. His father, Dennis “Duke” Osborne, was an executive with Kroger, the grocery store chain. Rick Osborne was following in his father’s footsteps, but his father discouraged him.

“He told me I wasn’t going to like it,” Rick Osborne said, referring to the corporate culture at Kroger. “He was looking through a Columbus paper, saw this place for sale and bought it.”

Like the previous owners of River Run Campground, they had contracted with a livery to handle the canoe business, in this case Loudonville Livery.

“When Schafrath sold the livery, I thought I could purchase my own equipment and do a good job of providing that service for our customers,” Rick Osborne said.

In 1997, he started a livery just upstream of the campground, directly across the Black Fork from Mohican Adventures. He built his business by emulating the area’s more successful operations.

“You look at who’s doing things right — like Doug and Patty,” Osborne said. “I’ve always tried to follow their example.”

 Going With the Flow

There’s an old saying among paddlers: Go with the flow. That philosophy helped the Loudonville-Mohican area canoe livery industry stay afloat for 50 years.

It’s clearly not a business for the weak-of-heart. Over the years, it has taken plenty of patience, perseverance and a passion for an activity that appeals to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons.

The liveries have weathered generations of economic and meteorological ebb and flow. In some cases, such as Mohican Adventures, there has been continuity from within. About 30 years ago, industry pioneer Frye passed the torch to the Shannons. Now their daughter, Michelle Gray, and her husband, Josh, are running the business.

Other liveries have evolved through ownership changes with a few new players coming aboard.

They all seem to have one thing in common — an appreciation for the challenges and rewards of the business. River Run Canoe Livery owner Osborne summed it up.

“It’s hard work, but there really isn’t anything I dread about it,” he said. “Where else can you make a living watching people have fun?”

 

In Pursuit of the Elusive Happy Plate

Journalism that leaves you hungry

As a journalist I was at my best when I had nothing to do.happyplateman

Creativity is stifled when you belly up to your desk to find yourself gazing at a calendar cluttered with interview appointments, special assignments, staff meetings and deadlines.

Sadly, rigid scheduling has become the norm in a profession that has come to value productivity over product.

Journalism has suffered for it. Ask any reader. They’ve become cynical and for good reason. Readers can tell when a journalist is writing from the heart, when he has a passion for his subject. They can also tell when he’s churning out stories to fill space. It was the beginning of the end for newspapers when newsrooms became copy mills.

When that happened, it sucked the life out of newsrooms. They no longer had character — or characters.

When I retired, my editor lamented that I was the last of a dying breed. He called us “characters,” old-school beat reporters who brought plenty of attitude to the job and weren’t shy about wearing it on their sleeves, reporters who kept things lively in the newsroom.

We used to call our newspaper archives “the morgue.” These days that also describes the newsroom.

Or, as my editor would say, “Newsrooms have become more like insurance offices.”

The lack of competition is partly to blame. Competition breathed life into the newsroom. It created camaraderie among co-workers bent on scooping the competition or, better yet, pulling pranks on them.

Sadly, competition has gone the way of the typewriter and pica stick. The advent of the one-newspaper town killed competition; the concentration of media ownership drove a stake into its heart. It was bad enough having only one newspaper in town, now one corporation will own newspapers in many different markets. Welcome to the era of the news franchise — McNewsbites.

In our fast food world, we now have fast news. In order to compete with electronic media, newspaper reporters have been relegated to the role of hash slingers. They’re compelled to dish up the same bland gruel, not just day after day but minute to minute. Which makes the news even less palatable — for them and readers.

For journalists, the workload keeps piling up — more meaningless interviews, more assignments, more meetings, more deadlines. This is known as having a full plate in contemporary newsroom jargon. Your worth as a writer is gauged on how much they can heap on your plate and how fast you can chew it up and regurgitate it.

Reporting was a far more fulfilling profession when our plates were nearly empty. We walked into the newsroom at the start of our day hungry to stay on top of breaking news and eager to go out and pursue fresh stories, stories we could sink our teeth into.

When we finished writing articles, we traditionally typed the number 30 to indicate that it was the end of the piece. These days it might be more appropriate to type “WYLFWT” — shorthand for “Would you like fries with that?”

Get the Flock Outta Here!

Wrong Flock Evicted from Zanesville Lock

Lookin' a little rough around the edges after a night of camping on the Zanesville Lock.

Lookin’ a little rough around the edges after a night of camping on the lock.

I was saddened by a recent report in the Zanesville Times-Recorder about the eviction of more than 100 Canada geese from Putnam Landing Park on the Muskingum River.

On many a night, I’ve camped on the lock across the river from the park and enjoyed watching the people feed them. The geese would be scattered up and down the river. They specifically recognized the vehicles that brought humans to Putnam Landing to feed them. When the vehicles arrived at the park, the geese would converge on the parking lot hell-bent-for-leather, flapping, honking and jockeying for position.

The geese were just part of the entertainment on the Zanesville Lock. Depending on what time of year it was, you could count on seeing a steady parade of locals strolling, jogging, fishing or conspiring to commit some sort of criminal activity. (Another recent article listed Zanesville as the violent crime capital of Ohio.) Then there’s the guy who lives on the hillside above the lock — holed up in a fortress walled with old wooden pallets. Years ago, the papers ran stories about him hoarding hundreds of gallons of gasoline in plastic containers. After I read about this, the law against having campfires on the lock didn’t seem all that unreasonable.

Local officials don’t expect the evicted geese to return. According to the newspaper article, they were trapped and moved to an undisclosed location out in Muskingum County. The animal control contractor who relocated the geese told the Times-Recorder the geese had become semi-domesticated. He claimed that the geese had grown so fat and inept that, even if they could figure out how to get back, they couldn’t fly more than 50-100 yards.

The geese are in a better place now, he said. When they say that of humans, it usually means they’re dead. Apparently, that’s not the case with the geese. They were taken to a farm with several ponds and hundreds of acres of land where they can eat healthier and poop to their hearts’ content.

The latter was the main reason they were evicted from Putnam Landing, otherwise known as “Poopnam Landing.”

Rest assured, the geese will be back. Maybe not those geese, but there will be geese converging on Putnam Landing — honking, flapping and crapping to beat the band. Unless the city can get the animal control contractor to trap and relocate the people who were feeding them.

I’d make it a point to camp on the lock just to see that.