Double Digits

On January 2, 2008, a group of people wearing caps and masks watched someone of similar attire plunge a knife into my neck. But the people gathered around me meant me no harm—in fact, they were trying to do me some good, as I had, it turns out, not one but two cancerous nodules inside my thyroid, so a complete thyroidectomy was in fact in order. The second nodule I never really told anyone about until now (other than some doctors) because I didn’t want to acknowledge it myself at the time, as two nodules is more worrisome than one and while #1 was the least dangerous form of thyroid cancer (papillary) #2 was some sort of papillary/other cocktail that increased the cause for concern (plus I was nearing 50, which for males especially makes those mortality charts change in ways you don’t want them to), that’s the stone cold scary truth.

I had woken up in an operating room before that day, so I knew what to expect: arctic temperatures (they help you to wake up) and chattering docs + nurses (that also helps). This time, though, I came to in a dark room by myself, and everything was silent. All I knew for sure was that I was still in a hospital. I couldn’t hear any voices, and no one was passing by in the hallway in front of me. I could tell it was dark outside, which seemed weird considering that my surgery began early that morning (or was it that morning?). What little voice I had kept asking if anyone was there. Finally a sixty-ish nurse entered the room. She stared bluntly at me and said in a most serious voice:

“You know what happened, don’t you?”

“No, and you don’t have to tell me,” I said.

She told me anyway: I had stayed under so long that standard post-operating procedure had been abandoned. My parents had left the building, and the hospital was now a very quiet place. Later, in my hospital bed, with plenty of morphine to keep me company, I watched television during the awake/asleep cycle that kept repeating itself that evening. In the middle of the night the local news showed some footage that looked like a helicopter crashing into the hospital where the surgery had been performed, and in my altered state I quickly imagined a narrative wherein, as the surgeon was about to make the first and biggest cut, the entire building wobbled. While that wasn’t entirely accurate (and in fact, I came to learn, the accident that occurred was slightly less dramatic than what I first assumed and actually took place the day before my surgery), I have sometimes embellished this story in order to impress my friends with just how tough I am. Much to my disappointment, thus far everyone has read through that particular tall tale.

Again, the date of that surgery was January 2, 2008, which makes it ten years ago today, which takes us to double digit years of cancer-free living, and that’s a really nice number. After the thyroidectomy, four months passed before we ran the tests that determined if the cancer had spread beyond my thyroid (it hadn’t), but I will always mark January 2 as The Big Anniversary because that’s the date (as we eventually came to learn) that cancer left my body. Surgery is no no fun, but those four months that followed were the hard part, and I’ll freely admit that during that time I experienced some good old-fashioned fear. Not a crazy amount, but it was tough sometimes. Everyone who has cancer handles it differently, and I’m well aware, as I’m sure you are too, that some folks respond to a cancer diagnosis with a burst of good karma and positive energy and do a superb job of dodging the heebie-jeebies. That’s a perfectly fine approach, but it isn’t universal, and if these words should happen to reach a person who either has cancer or is being tested for it, I hope you know you shouldn’t second-guess yourself if that diagnosis sends a shiver down your spine. It’s okay to worry, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

On the other hand, when it comes to the regimen of tests involved when suspicions of cancer arise and the treatment that’s required, you need to follow through on all that. Maybe you’re not the Rock of Gibraltar, but you need to give other people permission to save your life. One of the fringe benefits you’ll experience along the way is a deepening of friendships and other relationships that can only happen when you undergo such trials. I can vouch for that, and today, as I began a list of the people whose support during that time is still fresh in my memory, it really hit home how lucky I was to have them in my life. Here my mind travels first to Dr. Timothy Freeman, the primary care physician who ordered the test that revealed something we weren’t even looking for (“Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes” is how he put it); Dr. Fischer, the surgeon who performed the thyroidectomy, which included some intricate parathyroid work; Dr. Silberstein, the nuclear medicine specialist at UC Hospital; and my endocrinologist, Dr. Denny-Queen.

My mind also travels my brothers and sisters (and I’ve got lots of ‘em), and I should also mention my brother-in-law, Ed Holder, who I saw during that time and was always supportive. Molly and Jack Bredl were there for me, as was Mary Jo Wilson. Greg Bredl and Kristin LaCroix, both cancer survivors, helped boost my spirits. And Jim Schwartzhoff, now deceased, was a pillar of strength.

The list of friends who helped me keep my spirits up during this time included Luke Domet, Pam Sweet, Laura Kristal (thank you for the flowers), Vivian Vinyl, Bill King, and Tom Wendel. The comedy team of Maarten and Ashu, whose wild antics during that four-month period kept me laughing, also deserve a shout-out. Also, Jeff King, who is now deceased, was a bedrock of support during that period.

My mind also travels to people I knew at work, including, definitely, Sonja McLaughlin and Anita Clary. And how lucky I was to have as an “officemate” Asmaa Gharbi Alami, who offered support and prayed for me—and made me laugh, for that woman has a wicked sense of humor. It’s been too long since the two of us have conversed, but we are friends for life, and she knows it.

Looking back on that time, I’m especially grateful for my parents, John and Gary Wilson, who, along with providing emotional and practical support, endured many inconveniences while dealing with the post-surgical logistics (and weren’t bothered a bit by it). Many decades ago, in Des Moines, Iowa, a friend of our family surreptitiously placed in front of our house a huge roadside sign announcing that it was my mother’s birthday and that anyone driving past was invited in for donuts and coffee. That sign brought in many visitors who were previously strangers, and it provided lots of laughs. Anyone who knows my parents will tell you that the same welcoming spirit so prominently on display that day has always defined them. Lest there be any mystery, that’s how we all should live.

Kamasi Washington at the Taft


Occasionally a jazz musician comes along who draws a crowd in both the jazz community as well as the music world in general. Esperanza Spaulding would be an example of such an artist, connecting with different audiences while retaining her jazz creds.

Similar words could be used to describe Kamasi Washington, whose work with such non-jazz names as Kendrick Lamar and String Cheese Incident—that and the blend of musical styles in his music—has added much to his visibility.

On Tuesday Kamasi played at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, and while the show didn’t sell out, there was an exceptionally good crowd for jazz as well as a buzz in the air, with rock concert-type yells during some of Kamasi’s fiery tenor sax solos.

The record that put Kamasi over was 2015’s The Epic, a release that, if you bought it on vinyl (and I noticed many concertgoers walking around with newly-purchased copies), was three LPs. No one will ever accuse The Epic of being false advertising, as it’s very big picture, hearkening back to the days when jazz musicians didn’t just record albums, they delved into current affairs and the cosmos. I’m thinking of the 60s and early 70s here especially, when much of the jazz you heard was often quite frenetic and also had a spiritual element. That music certainly resounded with me—two of the first jazz records I bought were Pharoah Sanders’ Village of the Pharoahs and John Coltrane’s The Other Village Vanguard Tapes.

You hear something similar on The Epic, along with a debt to Coltrane and other artists from that period, as well as a focus on civil rights that especially echoes the 60s and early 70s. That’s all well and good, but those are big shoes to fill, and there was never any guarantee that, all these years later, anyone would be able to step up and do justice to that heritage.

I’m a fan of Kamasi Washington and some of his bandmates (I think Cameron Graves’ Planetary Prince, which features Kamasi extensively, was one of the best jazz albums this year), but I had never seen him before Tuesday night. That concert confirmed my belief that he’s a worthy successor to the earlier jazz artists, both as a soloist and as a bandleader who has a penchant for choosing top-notch musicians.

And there’s something else that convinced me he’s a heavy hitter: his compositions. Yes, as a saxophonist he’s technically impressive, and he definitely emotes, but some musicians with the same qualities write songs that sound slapped together for the purpose of launching extended solos. Not so with Kamasi. A few of the highlights from last night: “Leroy and Lanisha,” a clever piece of songwriting inspired by the music from the old Charlie Brown specials; “Truth,” which presents five very different melodies at once—sounds interesting in theory, right?, but it also was very pleasant on the ears; and the closer, “The Rhythm Changes,” a gorgeous song with a nice groove to it. His ability to write music that does justice to his overall vision is central to his relevancy. Far from a flash in the pan, Kamasi Washington is that rare musician who can help battle the popularity-held notion that jazz exists in order to massage your cerebral cortex.

Funky Fridays with Freekbass is Back on the Air

Funky Fridays with Freekbass is a Cincinnati-based radio program that plays two hours of funk music every Friday from 6 to 8 pm. You can access it in one of two ways: if you live in Northside, you can catch it over the airwaves at 1660 AM; the rest of us can stream it online on radioartifact.com. Gaslight Property is a proud sponsor of the program, which basically picks up where the Friday-night funk show on WNKU left off.

Broadcast from Urban Artifact, Funky Fridays features funk, soul, disco, and hip-hop from all eras; interviews with George Clinton, Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr, Alan Light, Steve Arrington, Ghost Note, and Turkuaz, to name a few; and entertaining banter between the hosts of the show, Freekbass and Chris Donnelly.

Freekbass has been a staple of the Cincinnati music scene and beyond for decades. He formed SHAG in 1992 using the moniker “Freekbass,” a name bestowed by his mentor in funk, Bootsy Collins. Artists Freekbass has collaborated with include Bootsy Collins, Mike Gordon (Phish), Bernie Worrell (Talking Heads, P-Funk), DJ Logic, Steve Molitz (Particle), Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band), and Buckethead.

Along with playing guitar in SHAG, Chris Donnelly is a sales manager at Sam Ash Music in Springdale. As a music history raconteur (you’d be amazed at how many musicians he’s met/promoted/provided moral support for) Chris is nonpareil, and he’s perfect for a radio program of this nature.

Does anyone else remember this? Back in the Sudsy Malone’s days, I used to see Freekbass perform in a band called Sleep Theatre. They packed the place every time, playing music that I might call dark wave…something like that. Those were good times. They put out one vinyl album, and one of the songs on it was this, “Flesh Instructs.” Even in this dark pop vein, there was no escaping the funk:

 

 

 

The Proud Rooster Keeps Crowing


An old-school mom-and-pop restaurant in the heart of the Gaslight District, the Proud Rooster has been getting a lot of attention lately. It recently topped a list of recommended mom-and-pops on the Only In Your State website. And last week 94.9’s Sandy and Holly “DJ’s and Diners” tour made its first stop at the Proud Rooster.

The praise is well-deserved, as the Proud Rooster, located at 345 Ludlow Avenue, provides good diner food and the kind of casual charm that befits a family-owned restaurant that’s been an integral part of Clifton’s Gaslight District since Eisenhower was President. (Before that, it was the Hitching Post.) The Proud Rooster is open for breakfast and lunch, and the hours are 8am to 2:30pm Tuesday thru Saturday and 8am to 1:30pm Sundays; it’s closed on Mondays. It serves breakfast staples like eggs, bacon, sausage, and home fries; lunch items include burgers, fries, and fried chicken.

The Proud Rooster has a relaxed vibe, and in the mornings you’ll see plenty of half-awake morning customers rolling in wearing shorts or sweats. While there, you’ll also see lots of sports memorabilia on the walls—photos of Bob Huggins, Sam Wyche, and other well-known coaches. And you’ll see photos and trophies of basketball teams once coached by the owner of the Proud Rooster, Bob “Chicken Man” Doll, who coached girls’ basketball for 28 years at St. Dominic in Delhi. The team won three city tournaments and were runners-up three other years.

When I asked Bob what he loved most about coaching, he said, “To see kids believe in themselves.” The work was all volunteer, and he made it clear that the benefits of playing sports—and his connection with the students—extended well beyond the end of the season.

“People say, ‘I don’t know if I can do that, I’m gonna quit”—well, that’s too easy,” he explained. “You gotta fight for it, and all my kids have done that.

“They start to believe in themselves. Every time I see them now, I think, that’s all my kids. They seem to achieve more when they get out.

“Twenty eight years,” he added, “and I wouldn’t trade a second for it.”

Just as he had an influence on St. Dominic’s eighth graders, Bob had had a positive impact on the Gaslight District—and for that he deserves a yet another trophy.

 

Taft’s Brewing Company Opens in Spring Grove Village


Located at 4831 Spring Grove Avenue in Spring Grove Village, Taft’s Brewing Company had absolutely perfect weather for its grand opening last weekend. The event drew a large crowd that including children eager to show their strength at the high striker. The 50,000-square foot space includes a brewery as well as a tap room (“brewporium”) with a wide assortment of beer. Taft’s Brewing Company also serves a New Haven coal-fired, crispy Neopolitan-style pizza and sandwiches. The building benefits from some glass garage doors, which look great and gives the brewporium an indoor/outdoor feel. While there I ran into friends from Spring Grove, Clifton, and Northside, which makes sense as Taft’s is within a stone’s throw of two of those neighborhoods and is part of Spring Grove Village, where new stores keep popping up lately, including Sally’s Treats & Treasures and Flamingo Haven—and I should mention that Flamingo Haven is hosting a community yard sale this Saturday. Taft’s Brewing Company is located near the intersection of Spring Grove Avenue and Mitchell Avenue. Regular hours for Taft’s will be 3pm to 10pm Wednesday; noon to midnight Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; and noon to 9pm Sunday.

So Where Do You Buy A Book Around Here?

You may recall certain pundits proclaiming that books were dead – and by “books” we mean the actual three-dimensional objects with a spine and a cover and actual pages as opposed to words that appear on a computer screen. Turns out lots of people – way more than predicted, and not just the old-timey traditionalists – like the experience of reading an actual book, and now the online juggernauts are opening (whodathunkit) good old-fashioned bookstores around the country.

That’s all good and well, but that doesn’t wipe away that fact that the small independent (but infinitely resourceful) bookstore that used to be on Ludlow Avenue (New World Bookshop) is now gone. So if someone who lived ’round here wanted to purchase a book in an actual store nearby opposed to ordering it online (what fun is that?), aren’t they up a crick?

Well, no – but books aren’t always in the obvious places. One store that has expanded its book section considerably is Shake-It Records in Northside. And while you might expect music books (and Shake-It has ’em), the record store sells more books in other categories, including lots and lots of classic literature (including poetry and drama), plus philosophy and other liberal arts staples. Although Shake-It sells new books, it has greatly increased the number of used books it sells. It sells them cheap, and they have actually been surprised at how quickly they fly off the shelves, which is why their book selection and will only get larger. Here’s some photos I snapped at Shake-It a couple weeks ago, but I know for a fact that their selection has increased a lot (and sold) since then – but this’ll give you a taste:

Many people miss New World Bookshop, which only sold new books, but there is one place nearby that has lots of new books and is well curated. I’m talking here of the bookstore at UC’s university center, which along with a substantial local section had a lot of fiction, including lots of new novels, such as Sarah Domet’s The Guineveres – a humorous and intriguing debut novel by an author who grew up in Cincinnati and studied at UC.

And don’t forget Duttenhoffer’s, a used bookstore which has been around Clifton forever and is doing “extremely well,” according to the employee I talked to this morning. In fact, he said, other than December, which benefits from the Christmas rush, June of this year was the best month they’ve had since he started there five years ago. That’s good to hear. It seems like people are falling in love with books again. They’ve been referred to as “the new vinyl,” and like vinyl records books seemed passé for a minute but turned out to be timeless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herzog Music Opens Downtown

Herzog Music opened last weekend in downtown Cincinnati, 811 Race Street to be exact. Walking around the three stories devoted to celebrating Cincinnati’s musical heritage…and providing a bridge to the future, I thought that downtown Cinci just got a little more colorful and music-friendly. Herzog Music is a lot of different things at once, and I won’t pretend that this blog entry captures everything going on at the location, which feels like a combination of a retail store, museum, and performance space – but even an incomplete report should be enough to be of interest to any music lover.

On the first floor the main attraction is a huge selection of musical instruments, with many dating back so far that they predate some of the historic recording sessions that took place in that same building. In a room where guitars, basses, mandolins, dobros, and other instruments hung on the wall, a left-handed girl strummed skillfully on  a right-handed ukulele (“You just do it in reverse,” she explained).

I asked her father if this was family where everyone played, and he said no, that was all her. And it’s funny: after the family disappeared for a few minutes, she slipped back in and grabbed a left-handed guitar off the wall and strummed some more. I believe she’s found her calling!

And there were some other strummers.

The second floor had lots of used LPs, and many more will be put out in upcoming weeks.

And here’s a nice touch: you can play the records that you’re curious about. I threw on Maxayn, an old funk album on Capricorn.

After pawing through some records, I noted to Little Billy Catfish, seen here with Bonnie Speeg, that this particular Three Sounds LP was recorded at a club in downtown Cincinnati. Remember the Living Room?

Herzog Music is also a good place to shop for stereo equipment, including speakers, amps, receivers, equalizers, cassette decks, and turntables.

And don’t forget PA speakers, mixing boards, mics, and all that other stuff you need to perform live:

Speaking of live, when I walked up to the third floor I witnessed a live performance from the same gentleman I saw strumming an acoustic guitar on the first floor. His name is Andrew Hibbert, and he recently recorded an album (some or all of it at Herzog) that will be coming out pretty soon – we’ll have to keep track of that, as he’s a very talented musician whose skills include some first-rate yodeling a la Jimmie Rodgers.

There will be other musical performances at Herzog Music, and there will also be music lessons. So far I’ve only scratched the surface, but that’s okay – you can get a fuller picture by visiting yourself. As I left the building, it struck me that, as much as I enjoyed looking at records and vintage guitars and historical photos, what I liked best about Herzog Music was the way it brought people together. There’s a lot of history in that building, but there’s more to come.

 

Have You Been to It’s Yoga?

This summer It’s Yoga, located at 346 Ludlow Avenue in the Gaslight District, is offering a deal for brand new students to the yoga studio. Their five-class pass for $25 is good for two weeks after purchase.

The yoga studio, which is located above Ace Hardware, has been an active yoga studio and yoga teacher training school since 2000. All instructors have a minimum of 200 hours of certified teacher training and several have 500 hours.


Whatever your interest and experience level, It’s Yoga has a class that will match your needs. The types of yoga It’s Yoga offers include:

  • Beginner’s Yoga for those curious about yoga and brand new to it. Beginner’s Yoga explores the different styles of yoga, proper alignment, and will build one’s confidence to move on to some of the other classes offered at It’s Yoga.
  • Yoga for 50+ classes are offered several times a week, morning, and evening, and have become increasingly popular with older and wiser adults looking to maintain or add flexibility and strength for aging gracefully.
  • More athletic forms such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow and Core Power Yoga that incorporates some Pilates and Yoga moves to create a stronger abdomen and back muscles.
  • Yin Yoga is a very popular Thursday evening class that uses long deep seated postures and stretches to release deep fascia and promote physical flexibility and emotional stillness and relaxation.

So get in some comfortable clothing, grab your water bottle, and join It’s Yoga on the mat. Good stuff for the body, mind, and soul.

To learn more about classes and purchase passes, check out It’s Yoga’s website, like their Facebook page, stop in the studio, or call at 513-961-9642. Namastè.

Guess Who Makes Great Pizza?

Since the beginning, one of the consistent themes of this blog has been this: The Gaslight District is a great place to live because there’s lots to do AND it’s super convenient. Well, it just got a little more convenient. Clifton Market continues to add more and more new features, and now the deli makes pizza that’s modestly priced and immodestly yummy. Let’s take a look at the menu:

You’ll note that there’s a gluten-free option, and you’ll also notice some veggie options. Note also that you can customize your pizza to your heart’s content – and again, you can’t beat the prices. A couple days ago, based on a rave review from a friend of mine, I visited the deli and ordered a pizza. I got the lowdown on all things pizza-related from Ray and Anthony:

Our conversation ended up drawing a crowd that included Jeremy (“Tell everybody he’s the reason this deli is so good,” one of his co-workers said), Sharon, and Brandy, and they were up for a picture as well:

Our banter as we discussed the pizza (“You better make this good! This guy’s writing a blog!”) and the sense the employees really cared about their customers points to one of the best things about Clifton Market: its friendly and personable employees. Okay, so I ordered a Groovy Pizza, and while I was waiting for it I visited the beer selection, as one needs to wash down the pizza with something.

While there I remembered a conversation I’d overheard recently where someone standing in front of these doors was surprised to learn that the Brewery District also sells beers behind them. I can understand his confusion, as the wording is a little ambiguous, right?

After I took the pizza home I allowed the pizza to cool down a little…or long enough, at least, to snap a photo of it. Like my friend Suzanne, who recommended I try the pizza in the first place, I loved the crust, I thought the proportions were just right, everything tasted fresh, and it was one hot pizza. And somehow the personal touch added that extra something to it. Grab one the next time you visit Clifton Market!

Mediterranean King Has New Owner + Offers Expanded Menu

Mediterranean King has been in Clifton for almost five years now, serving its tasty blend of Authentic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Cuisine at 3307 Clifton Ave. for both dine-in and carry-out. Recently the restaurant came under new ownership. It’s very much a family operation, as the new owners and most of the staff are a Syrian family. Also, the Manager and familiar face, Kerry Ann McGrath, has been with Mediterranean King since the beginning, behind the scenes and in front. The restaurant also does a lot of catering, and interested parties should call (513) 221-7222 to arrange the perfect, custom spread for their event. The classic, original menu items customers expect and love remain, but there are some new items as well. One new item is the Cheese Boat (Fatayir bi Jebneh), “a Syrian savory pastry filled with a mix of herbs and cheese inside our handmade dough, baked to golden perfection.” I happened to stroll into the kitchen right after these Cheese Boats were baked, and I think you can tell just by looking at this picture, just how succulent they were.

Another new goodie is the Samboosa, “a savory Cheese or Meat filled dumpling in a handmade flaky, golden shell.”

And what about Qatayaf, which are “light, fluffy pancakes filled with “Ishta”(Cream cooked with half and half & cheese) topped with simple syrup.”

And there’s Fatayar Asafiri, “little fluffy pancakes filled with cream and cheese, topped with crushed pistachio and simple syrup!”

And don’t forget Baklava!

Here’s another dessert dish, Kunafa, “a pastry made of shredded Filo dough, filled with Ricotta Cheese & cream, topped with simple syrup.”

Other new dishes and exciting renovations are on their way, along with, as I said before, the original menu. To find out what else Mediterranean King is cooking up, like and follow their Facebook page. And if you have any questions or want to order carryout, call (513) 221-7222. We’re glad to have Mediterranean King in the neighborhood, cooking delicious, authentic food and offering a calm, peaceful atmosphere. I always found the previous owner and his staff to be warm and welcoming and personable, and I got the exact same vibe when I walked in today and met Hanan, the mother in the family (she’s the woman on the right).

This restaurant has long been a dream of Hanan’s, and one the owners, her family, have made a reality. Mediterranean King encourages everyone to stop in and meet the new family, as they love to welcome and personally chat with patrons. That was also the case with the previous owner, and he searched a long time for the right family to take over the business. Fortunately, he found them.