Category Archives: Oh My Ohio

Sometimes grace walks right into (and refinishes) your living room

There I was, trying to get a few things done at my mom’s dining room table, when Melvin arrived to pick up my great-grandmother’s couch. It will be refinished by homeless kids and adults, and Melvin is teaching them his trade. He’s done a few pieces for my mom and every one has been beautiful.

I hadn’t had the chance to speak with him before. It turns out he just got a grant from the city for his work.

His story goes like this: He was 14 and homeless after grandmother passed (his mom died when he was little). A small, older woman asked him if he wanted to learn to cane furniture, but wouldn’t pay him until he got it just right. And he did. Then he learned to rebuild, reupholster and refinish. He worked for her until she passed – fixing, beautifying and delivering old and antique furniture. Now he tears apart broken-down chests of drawers with a group of kids and shows them how to put them back together.

I have been really blessed in the past year to meet more than a few people whose lives have gone from desperate circumstances to surviving, to thriving, who then use their fresh success to help the next person. Melvin lights up with gratitude and hope when he tells you that a gang member handed him his gun, saying “I don’t want to do this anymore. You said I’m a keeper, that you can teach me to do this. So teach me.”

You meet a person like Melvin and you can’t help but want the whole world to open up for him.

Here’s a little video that Angie’s List did about him:

If you read this in Central Ohio and are in the market for some refinishing work (or know anyone who is), check him out at Browsers Welcome.

Related Posts:

Pimp walking ain’t easy

I wish I had gotten a better picture.

He spun one heel on the blinding white floor and started heading in my direction. His left leg went into a deep bend as his right extended forward, like R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural. He was wearing a brown disco hat, double-breasted tan pleather jacket, sunglasses stolen from Erik Estrada’s face and jeans that had been converted into bellbottoms with triangles of corduroy fabric hand-sewn into the seams.

He thrust his jaw forward to the rhythm of the lite funk Muzak piping into the room, and changed up his pimp walk every few steps. At one point, he was doing an exaggerated West Side Story-meets-The Hustle finger point/snap, other times bobbing his head with a small boom box hoisted to his ear. The computer-generated music had absolutely no business inspiring anyone to move that way. Clearly, he wasn’t just anyone.

He zig-zagged through several of the walkways of the department store, fully immersed in its soundtrack and his own universe. A small fleet of people chased him with cell phones, trying to catch a video clip or photographs. Others dove back into the sea of clearance racks with a nervous laugh, raised eyebrow or hushed “ooo-kay!” In a matter of minutes, he made it to the mouth of the mall and walked out of sight with a full upper-body swagger, one arm swinging behind him as he looked deeply right, then deeply left — never straight ahead.

There are plenty of places I go in Columbus where this might have been funny yet not entirely odd, like the Gallery Hop, any number of arts events and festivals, or anywhere on the Ohio State campus. They have all seen some share of  guerrilla theater (there can never be enough, in my opinion). But this guy chose to strut through the heart of a Macy’s department store in one of the city’s oldest surviving enclosed malls (Eastland). It’s a dinosaur of a place where the majority of the shoppers are either 16 and willing to buy clothes that have a logo stamped across the rear end, or 66 and looking for suitable pants with plain hindquarters for senior rear ends.

Shucking, jiving, mall pimp-walking dude, I salute you.  Your cartoon presence was just what I needed to combat the absurdity of sale shopping and trying on clothes in florescent lighting.

Related Posts:


I’ve run along the periphery of Columbus music for 16 or 17 years, and sometimes right through its center. I’ve written about it, talked about it, consumed it, even married and had a child with one of its central stewards.

Let me tell you, it’s a world full of dudes. Dudes who play, editorialize about, promote, gloat over or criticize, but ultimately love music. Several of those dudes have only ever referred to me by my initials. Why call someone Tracy when you can call her TZT? I’m okay with that. It makes me feel like an honorary dude.

In this scene, there are jerk dudes, frustrated genius dudes, drunk dudes, well-meaning dudes, lecherous dudes, armchair comedian dudes and awkward dudes. And then there are the kind ones. The ones who are generous of spirit and might play in the realm of dudes, but you quickly discover that they are also good, decent men. They are the ones who don’t run away from you when they hear you lost your job or that your grandfather died. They see you out in the city and they walk toward you. They put an arm around you and acknowledge your loss openly, thoughtfully. They say something encouraging or offer a listening ear. The whole thing may last all of five minutes, and you may not see that person again for weeks, even months, but you walk away from a man like that and you just feel happy that you know him. Happy that you walk in the same circles and will surely see him again soon.

The city lost one of those good men this weekend. A man who gave body-crushing hugs and radiated warmth. The news broke last night that Andy “Andyman” Davis – a veteran of local radio – drowned Saturday while on family vacation, and the more that I sit with that fact, the harder I find it to accept.

I’ve seen a lot of friendships made through music. You find out that someone loves what you love, they relate to what you relate to, and suddenly, you are connected. You may drift apart or even have a falling out, but if that person introduced you to a song or artist that’s continued to keep you company, their dearness is never completely lost. Andy is that kind of friend to countless people that he hasn’t even met because he’s been the face and voice of one of our only local, independent stations for so long.

To me, he was a local media colleague and a social friend – someone I probably saw and shared words with weekly to monthly in my twenties and early thirties at my husband’s clubs, Andy’s bar or some other show in the Columbus universe.

He had been a dad for a while by the time I became a mom. Once I made that transition, I only saw him once or twice a year, but our casual conversations shifted. When I saw him at Comfest last year, I got one of his bear hugs before he held onto my hand and stood with me, looking at my son the same way I do – like something miraculous and joyful. He pulled out the pictures of his two boys and told me about his third baby coming. I don’t remember the words we shared exactly, but that feeling of belonging you get when you relate to another person about music? Change that to two music-bound people talking about being parents and the feeling is amplified by a zillion. I love being a mom. I know he loved being a dad. That’s what has my heart caught today.

I’ve been through a fair bit of grief and loss lately, but please don’t feel the need to console me for this one. There are certainly hundreds, likely thousands, who are feeling this loss. Between social media and the airwaves, you can sense our community grieving. My hope is that every one of us who has felt that warmth from Andy, be it first-hand or through the airwaves, can reflect it back to his family — especially his wife Molly and their three sons — and surround them with it for years to come.

You can find information about a memorial fund that’s been established for them at the CD101 web site.

Related Posts:

Let’s change the subject to breasts

I know I’ve been quiet since my brain dump a few weeks ago. Our “only way out is through” era continues with plenty of days that feel semi-normal, in spite of the fact that things remain anything but. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me here, in private email, on Facebook, in phone calls and in person. It made my tummy ache to hit “publish” on that post, but the compassion I’ve received since doing so has been overwhelming. I have some half-posts written that I’ll finish and publish soon. In the meantime, I’d like to change the subject for a moment because I really do need to talk about breasts.

Nearly 20 years ago, someone or other (via some lawsuit or other) realized that Columbus didn’t have any law on the books that outlawed the baring of female breasts in public. Women decided to start exercising that right at our long-standing, volunteer-run Community Festival (Comfest). I worked at a local alternative weekly at the time, and while I don’t remember all of the legal details, I do remember the small media melee, including a whirlwind of bad boob puns and fairly silly editorials on the matter. The spirit of the thing was clear – women of all shapes and sizes (and sometimes ages) would partake in the ritual, promoting positive body-consciousness in a sort of homegrown, goofy and easily misconstrued way.

Flash forward to today: Naked, painted boobs have become a tradition at Comfest, as well as the city’s massive Pride Festival (which sometimes share a weekend). It’s a central feature of the fest’s many eccentricities. There are still plenty of women doing it for body-positive reasons, but the phenomena has started to turn the corner into something kind of creepy. The vibe has become less of a bold feminist statement for the “party with a purpose,” more of a cruising spot for the producers of “hippie girls gone wild.”

It’s not the women who have changed so much as the festival-goers. For the first time this year, I saw more joke t-shirts on men that said things like “I love boobies,” and more guys cruising the street fair, hollering commentary towards bare-chested women (and the women that they felt should remove their clothing) than I saw actual bare, painted breasts.

When I went to Comfest as a teenager, it was probably less than a tenth of the size it is now. And it was the place where I met and connected with my first local, radical feminist elders, who loved the fact that a newly minted driver would come to their urban homes on a Friday night to discuss reproductive rights, body image and pay inequity. Comfest brought me into the political counterculture of a city which, by most other appearances, looked about as mainstream as you could get.

So it’s kind of breaking my heart that this year, if you happen to be a teenage girl visiting Comfest, it has become a place where you’re more likely to be confronted by men who are comfortable yelling “show me your tits,” even as they feign political progressiveness than feel the presence of interesting political women.

I also imagined the festival as a place where my son would see some of the better male role models in the city – men who are activists, who happen to care about the world and volunteer to improve it. Maybe even a few men that had a better grasp of what it means to respect women. I don’t have a problem with my kid seeing bare breasts, but I do have a problem with him seeing women treated like beauty pageant contestants or live snapshots in a street version of Hot or Not. I imagined him seeing women positively celebrating their bodies without a constant stream of commentary from drunken creeps.

Just so I’m not whining here, let me provide a suggestion or two for next year. Let’s change the nature of Comfest’s dialogue about breasts. Make the festival’s slogan one that educates the public about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Then take it one step further by designating one part of the park as a family friendly space (not the playgrounds, which sit in the crosshairs of three stages and are a sensory nightmare). Make it smoke-free. Put a cooling tent for nursing moms there with moderately comfortable chairs and changing tables. And preferably, drop it on the North end of the park to disrupt the place that everyone now refers to as “derelict teenager hill.”

I have no idea whether or not earlier closing times curbed the elements that the organizers wanted to see curbed. But I do know that Comfest’s social justice currency doesn’t only lie in its financial ability to give grants – it lies in the power of the event itself. It has the power to be hospitable to more than drunks and people whose perception of “hippie” seems to be entirely about fashion (or anti-fashion) and the use of substances instead of the values that brought the event into existence.

Copyright Tracy Zollinger Turner,, 2009.

Related Posts:

I hate art scavenger hunts

We had an hour or two to visit an art museum in another city the other day. No sooner had we hung up our coats than one of the volunteers asked my son, “would you like to do a scavenger hunt in the museum today? If you finish it, you get a prize!”

Being four and generally highly motivated by reward systems, he looked at me eagerly for permission to say yes. I gave it to him. If I deprived him of that kind of offer, I might as well have kissed my chances at a fun museum visit goodbye. (This scavenger hunt basically asked you to find particular pieces of art in the different galleries, then answer a question about each one.)

For the first several rooms, I tried to balance the tasks of the scavenger hunt with more meaningful conversations about the art and history we were looking at. Every now and then, I could get him to stop and ponder something like how a particular piece of art was made, how it might be used, the story it might be telling or what it even was. But as we pushed on, the tasks of the scavenger hunt became more and more pressing, pulling us away from other things we might have been able to talk about.

We saw another dad looking completely beleaguered as his 9-year-old son ignored his requests to talk about any of the 18th-century European paintings he wanted to share with him. The kid was just too far into the throes of his primal push to finish his scavenger hunt and earn his prize.

As far as I’m concerned, scavenger hunts are the equivalent of worksheet learning in the classroom. They don’t invite any real depth of understanding, and do not create a particularly meaningful relationship with their subject. They are more cheap marketing gimmick, something that seems to be designed for children to pass time while parents are supposed to either help, or meditate on paintings in solitude or something. In this case, they actually seemed to be depriving more than one family of an organic museum experience.

On Sunday, a friend of mine and I took our kids to the local museum, which is under construction, so all that is open is an illuminated Dale Chihuly exhibit and a couple of rooms with highlights from its permanent collection. We led our four-year-olds through and asked them what they thought the abstract glass forms were.

“That looks like an upside-down turkey!” my son said about a glumpy shape slumped over in a forest of spears.

“That’s like a shoe, all opened up,” said his friend about a floppy, shell-like piece.

We ventured past the people watching a movie smack in the middle of the gallery, which seemed like an unnecessary obstacle with this inherent message: “shut up and don’t talk about the art.” We squirmed out of that room. My friend’s daughter peeked around the corner, and then ran back to grab my son’s hand and pull him in, howling – “come look! It’s SPACE!”

Their imaginations and curiosity ruled the rest of the visit. A chandelier was an erupting volcano from another planet. A sphere was a “giant Jupiter that’s all dead.” In the permanent collection galleries, my friend, who grew up in Holland, had her daughter jumping up and down with excitement over her obvious connection to Dutch paintings. We all sat on the floor in front of a George Segal sculpture and talked about what plaster is and how you might go about making a person out of one.

Of course, there was a room with the dreaded reward-based scavenger hunts, which just seem to be everywhere kids may show up now, but thankfully, no one bypassed us and offered them to ours. When my friend’s daughter asked what all the kids with clipboards were doing and if she could do it, her mother dismissed it with a smooth “you have to be able to read to do that.” We sidestepped the issue and took in the grandeur and mystery of a ride back downstairs in the giant elevator instead.

Granted, I’m the daughter of an art educator, so I was raised with a particular love and appreciation for art. But I didn’t find that love via lectures or gimmicky games. I was simply given the room to respond to and be inquisitive about it – to use my brain to make of it what I may before getting down to the facts of who made it and what they thought it meant or why it might be historically or culturally relevant.

If you want a child to love art, don’t make him or her whisper about it in a gallery or do some glorified word search to earn some 3-cent superball or a sticker. I also had a total blast on Sunday… and it was the interpretations and questions of our two four-year-olds that made it so much fun for all of us, pure and simple.

At a time when there are endless books out there espousing the value of “creative” people to the richness of our lives – even our economy – why are museums, of all places, bent on such ordinary engagement with kids, who are by nature some of the most innately creative people in the world?

Related Posts:

Geek love in real life

I read Geek Love by Catherine Dunn when I was in my mid-20s — a novel rich with wicked and sympathetic details about a family of carnival geeks and the social pecking order of people who market physical differences or deformities as entertainment.

I had seen the sideshow tents on the midway of the Ohio State Fair since I was a little girl, but never ventured in. The first time I decided to pay the admission so I could be an armchair anthropologist at the so-called “freak show” – shortly after reading Dunn’s novel in the mid-1990s – I found only sword-swallowers, characters with a few corny costumes and some poor optical illusions. I was told that “political correctness” (a term that I loathe) had driven the traditional sideshow characters into obscurity. Geek love had supposedly become something only seen through a Diane Arbus camera lens to the past, even as the value of “Outsider art” was skyrocketing.

So I was surprised when Declan and I were walking into the Midway hell portion of the fair last week and a carnival caller yelled out for us to watch “the fire-eating Pygmy King.” Wasn’t “Pygmy” a pejorative term? Was “king” supposed to mitigate that? And weren’t these shows the domain of illusionists and heavily tattooed self-mutilators who like to shove hooks and nails into themselves now? (I cannot stand to watch those things, by the way.)

So we stood there in the walkway and watched the “Pygmy King” eat some fire and then guzzle a bottle of Pepto while the caller heralded the other “wonders” inside of the tent, like hirsute and two-headed women. It was an evening special – only $2 for the show. And if I hadn’t had Declan with me, I would have gone right in.

Related Posts: