20/20 BEHINDSIGHT

When the world ends, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times. –Mark Twain

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Today being the 20th day of the month, and me being a Cincinnatian of long standing (and other less upright positions), what better time than now and what better person than your humble scribe to put history in context with 20/20 hindsight, and delve into stuff you need to know. Why? You don’t want to go out as an ignoramus when the world comes to an end (20 years sooner for you than me), do you?

Starting with the basics, are you aware of the etymology of  the word TWENTY? It’s from ye olde English twënig (literally “two tens”). I hope you agree that lacking this knowledge makes it evident that your imagination was in need of intellectual stimulation. For example, now you should be able to see how much more memorable Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address could have been had it begun: Four twënigs and seven years ago….

Speaking of “two tens,” by counting the letters of the alphabet on the digits of your two meat hooks twice, you will find (unless you’re missing a finger) that the twënigth letter is T, which may come in handy in situations where you wouldn’t want to take off your stinky shoes and socks (not that counting on your toes is anything to be ashamed of).

Moving on as I sit on my behind, there was once a quiz show on radio and TV titled TWENTY QUESTIONS, based on an old-timey traditional game called TWËNIG QUESTIONS. While I am not quite ancient enough to give eyewitness to the latter, I was around in the 1950s when the former appeared weekly (or weakly, if you had bad reception) on the DuMont Television Network. If you are too dilatory to have been around at that time, here’s a DuMontstration of what you missed:

I could go on, but my vast research team and I don’t want to feed you more knowledge than you can digest at one sitting. Tune in again May 25, when (if I feel like it) I shall once again attempt to enlighten you with more of same. Remember, you heard it here last, because we are committed, and you can be too.

 

VAS YOU EFER IN ZINZINNATI?

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything happens there ten years later. –attributed to Mark Twain, perhaps apocryphally

As a native Cincinnatian who began this blog in Jan. 2009, I think it’s high time that I compose a post (com-post, for short?) about my home town….but do the math: ten years have yet to pass, so I’m actually more than three years ahead of “Cincinnati time” with this humorous (humus-rich?) travelblog.  Further more, it is my fondest hope that by the time I’ve finished de-composing this tour de farce, you will know every bit as much about Cincinnati as you do now (as, I hope, will I).

Cincinnati, for the benefit of the geographically challenged, is located in Ohio on the Ohio, not to mention under the Ohio — on occasions like the Great Flood of  January-February 1937. I can bear witness to this, as I was 3 1/2 months old at the time and remember thinking the second-story-level deluge I found myself awash in was one bitch of an ice-cold bath/where the hell did my rubber ducky float off to (my language skills were rather advanced for my age).

Incidentally, some so-called experts are skeptical that Mark Twain (like Yogi Berra a century later) said what he said, but I am not….skeptical, that is. I am mistermuse, and I say the above quote is just the kind of thing Twain might say after spending months working as a printer in Cincinnati from late 1856 to April 1857, printing news that happened in 1846-47. Imagine his shock after leaving Cincinnati for New Orleans on April 15, 1857 to find that the world had aged ten years in less than six months.

But enough about me. It may interest you to know that Twain’s jaded opinion of Cincinnati was not shared by other famous personages of yesteryear. Here are just a few of the two examples I found who found Cincinnati to be the fairest of flowers in America’s bouquet:

Cincinnati is a beautiful city; cheerful, thriving and animated. I have not often seen a place that commends itself so favourably and pleasantly to a stranger at the first glance as this does. –Charles Dickens, 1842

The most beautiful inland city in America. -Winston Churchill, 1932

You may be vondering vhy this post about Zinzinnati is so titled. Vell, after the town vas founded in the late 1700s and settled by Revolutionary Var veterans and pioneers, the first large influx of immigrants vas Germans. Reminded of their native Rhine Valley by the Ohio River Valley, the vord spread back to der homeland, bringing increasing numbers of Germans by der thousands. D. J. Kenny writes in ILLUSTRATED CINCINNATI:

One has no sooner entered the districts of the city lying beyond Court Street, than he finds himself in another atmosphere — a foreign land. The people are Germans, their very gossip is German. They cook their food by German recipes, and sit long over their foaming beer, ever and again shaking it ’round their glass with that peculiar motion which none but a German can impart to the beverage he loves.

To this day, that district is known as “Over-the-Rhine,” but sadly, a city vhich vas once second only to Milwaukee as the beer capital of America, gave up almost all its breweries (including The Burger Brewing Company, whose slogan vas Vas you efer in Zinzinnati?). To explain what happened, I quote Greg Noble and Lucy May in this except from their post titled Cincinnati’s rise and fall as a brewery town:

Back in 1902, when Carrie Nation was busting up saloons with the swings of her ax during the temperance crusade, she arrived in Cincinnati determined to leave her mark in splintered bar tops and broken windows. But Carrie glanced up and down Vine Street, started counting the 136 saloons on that one street alone, and fled in retreat without taking one swing.. She later confessed that she “would have dropped from exhaustion” in the first block.

That was the golden era of beer and breweries in Cincinnati. For decades before and after the turn of the 20th century, Cincinnati was one of the beer-drinkingest, beer-brewingest cities in America. Big local breweries established a rich, proud heritage — only to meet their demise in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. How did that happen?

To use a baseball analogy, think of it as the Cardinals and Brewers spending so much on player salaries that the Reds couldn’t compete. The brewing giants — notably St. Louis’ Anheuser-Busch, Milwaukee’s Miller and others — out-spent, out-produced and out-marketed Cincinnati’s breweries and eventually overcame local brand loyalty.

I could go on, but my eyes are out of focus from crying in my beer thinking about this. Wie schade!

 

 

DO YOU HATE “OUT OF DATE?”

If you answered “yes” to the title question, this is not for you. This is going to be a post I’ll write almost entirely for my own enjoyment, about a musical artist you’ve never heard of, whose era and style have been out of fashion since the day she died on this date in 1956. But I love the music and I love the artist and it’s my blog, so there!

The artist in question is Una Mae Carlisle (12/26/15 – 11/7/56), a local (Cincinnati) area gal born in nearby Xenia, Ohio, who played as a pianist in Cincinnati while still a youngster. As it happens, Fats Waller, who was the staff pianist/organist at radio station WLW in Cincinnati in the early 1930s, was in New York to make records, concluding with a session with Billy Banks Rhythmakers on July 26, 1932. Fats’ son, Maurice, picks up the story from there in his bio titled simply FATS WALLER:

In Dad’s last recording session before coming [back] to Cincinnati, Una Mae Carlisle had done the vocals on “Mean Old Bed Bug Blues.” Una Mae, an exceptionally gifted pianist, was in New York during her summer vacation when she cut that record. I don’t know why she was picked to sing if she was a pianist, but she must have made a lasting impression on my father, because he remembered her in December [when he invited her to Cincinnati to perform with him on radio].

My own speculation is that Fats already knew, or at least knew of, Una Mae, and was instrumental in getting her the “Mean Old Bedbug Blues” gig, on which Fats was the pianist and Una Mae shared the vocals with Billy Banks. Fats, after all, had been the organist in 1931-32 on “Moon River,” a popular radio program on Cincinnati’s WLW (not WWL, as Maurice erroneously states in his book). How else could an unknown 16 year old Ohio high school girl on vacation in NYC have gotten such a gig? Whatever the case, here is that recording (Billy Banks takes the first chorus, Una Mae the second):

Continuing from son Maurice Waller’s book: Una Mae lived with her family in Xenia, Ohio. Dad knew that she was still attending school, so he waited until Christmas vacation to invite her to Cincinnati to appear on his holiday-week shows. Her parents were reluctant to let her go, but eventually they gave in. In short order Una Mae became Dad’s shadow. Everywhere he was, she was close behind. Pop taught her to drink and stay up late and party. Their relationship soon went far beyond the protege-master level.

You’ll have to buy the book to learn how that turned out. Suffice it for my purposes to close with an audio of an Una Mae/Fats duet, followed by a video of Una solo:

TO MARKET, TO MARKET

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
–Nursery rhyme

I suspect that every large city in America has at least one public market, which is similiar to a farmers market, but on a larger scale and in a permanent structure, open year-round. Here in Cincinnati, we have the oldest public market in Ohio, the venerable Findlay Market located in Over-the-Rhine, an area north of downtown which was once home to one of the largest German immigrant populations in the country before falling over time into inner-city blight. Here’s a look:

http://www.findlaymarket.org/
http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Findlay_Market

Today, the area is making a comeback, and gentrification (a progressive or derogatory term, depending on your point of view) is in the air, creeping ever-northward from downtown as real estate investors, entrepreneurs and residence-seekers buy and renovate century-plus old buildings, increasing property values. It’s an oft-repeated story — low-income tenants are no longer able to afford higher rents, and the demographic shift accelerates as the poor are squeezed out.

Change, of course, is inevitable. I recognize that. As a lover of “old stuff,” I don’t like change just for the sake of change, but I accept that change is going to happen — it’s how and to what degree change is managed that determines for better or worse. The extremes are often completely unrealistic or supremely shallow — witness the Tea Party’s ideological fixation with an idealized ante-bellum America,  and contemporary culture’s superficial noise: “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Where is the humanity in all-or-nothing? Albert Einstein said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” I’m not that altruistic, but I figure his words should be at least half the equation.