Tag Archives: Columbus

Run like you

994503_20135338Last night on the freeway I came upon an accident that I must have missed witnessing by less than a minute. The white SUV, flipped on its side on the side of the road, had twisted metal everywhere. Its lights were still on and I could see the silhouettes of two people, still hanging in their seats. I did not let my gaze rest there, having that sick, gut feeling that I was in the presence of lives, if not at that instant lost, permanently altered.

In those same few split seconds, I saw people running. There were five, six, seven, cars pulled over, hazards switched on, with people running, full throttle, toward the people in that SUV. From the furthest car came a uniformed police officer who must have just gotten off his shift. He was, in the parlance of eighth grade, totally booking.

“Wow,” I said out loud. Then, “oh yeah… om mani padme hung.” This is what my teacher says to do when you are not a medic, when you know that you would get in the way of people who know what they are doing, but you wish to help. (I am not a very good Buddhist scholar, but I understand this mantra as basically a wish or a prayer for love and compassion for all of the people involved.)

Moments later, at my exit, a man in a car next to me waved for me to roll my window down. For some reason, I thought he was going to tell me I had a spent taillight or maybe that he liked my bumper sticker, but instead he asked me “did you see that accident back there?”

When I told him I had, he recounted a particularly grisly detail that he had witnessed about one of the passengers, how difficult it would be for him to release that image from his mind.

“I feel so blessed, I’ve never been in a bad car accident,” he said. “Have you?”

I nodded that I had.

“Are you all okay now? Everything better?”

“Um, yeah,” I said, knowing that the answer was more complicated than yes or no. I wasn’t physically hurt. But I was driving someone I love, and he was.  Our lives continued, permanently altered.

“Be safe tonight, okay?” the man said. “You’re too purty to get hurt.”

I thanked him, kind of bemused that purty-ness would or should protect one from anything, but I appreciated his wish for my safety.

This morning I woke up from dreaming about those people running toward that SUV. They were conflated with the memory of hanging from my own seatbelt in my car, at 17, seeing people running toward me and my brother with everything they had in them, having others seem to appear out of nowhere. Having people leave messages on our answering machine that said “was that your car I saw on the news?”

There are people in the world who charge toward people who are hurt with everything they have in them. Sometimes it’s physical injury, sometimes it’s a more subtle one, like shame or fear.

They are such a miracle, you know?

I’m not enough like them. But I want to be.

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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.

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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.

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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, Tinymantras.com, 2009.

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The art of being a kid

We cracked two eggs a few weeks ago, separated the yolks into two bowls and added green food coloring to one, purple to another. Declan swirled a paintbrush in each and went wildly at a sheet of watercolor paper two-handed.

“You’re like Giotto,” I told him. “Hundreds of years ago, most painters used eggs.”

The cacophony of swirls on his paper was the planet Jupiter, he told me. We hung it on the fridge and admired the shininess of the paint even after it dried.

Last week, we went through several of his paintings from home and school to choose one to frame for KidzArtz, a local event put on by Mother Artists at Work. We have a whole series of wild ones called “The Big Bang” and several named after a variety of nebulae. Lately, he’s been making pictures with unpredictable names like “Saturn Falling Apart” and “A Comet Raising Into an O.” He chose the eggy Jupiter.

I’m grateful to have an event like KidzArtz in our community. The only criteria for entering a work of art to exhibit was to be a kid, be registered and pay $1 per piece, so we submitted three. When we dropped off “Just Jupiter,” the painting, as well as two framed photo series: “Arrow, Dinosaur, Take a Picture of Your Foot,” and “Look at yourself in the glass, Daddy and Megan and the City,” the mother artists oohed and aahed over his submissions and listened to him talk about them a little.

At the event, all of the kids got a strip of stickers to show their appreciation for other kids’ art. It was a great mechanism for getting Declan to contemplate someone else’s work – he had already pulled off a snake sticker and tacked it onto the panel next to a painting called “Two Suns” before we realized it was made by a good 4-year-old friend. That surprise discovery – of liking something before you even realized you knew its creator – was so exciting to him, I think he ended up showing more people his friend’s paintings than his own.

He waited patiently for a very long time in three-year-old terms to get his face painted exactly the way he wanted it (very David Bowie circa Aladdin Sane, his dad and I thought). He put on a hat and stethoscope and held an inflatable guitar to have pictures taken by GroovyDoodle, whose proprietors wisely brought all kinds of stuff for kids to put on and ham in front of the camera with. But when we tried to watch some of the kids performances, he wept inconsolably, crying “but I wanted to perform,” which I honestly didn’t see coming at all.

I don’t suppose there’s much risk that Declan will grow up without an appreciation for the arts – he was born into a family full of people that perpetually write about, teach, consume, create and actively think about these things. But I can’t understate the value of having a place, even for just one day a year, where he is able to be appreciated for his creative mind by peers (and some adults who actually know how to listen to kids), without the structure of a contest, marketing formula or some other imposed standards.

I wish more children’s events were like this one. Thank you, Mother Artists at Work!

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A blue state of mind

I’m a staunch defender of Ohio. In my early twenties, I outgrew the need to see it as a geographic space somehow culturally inferior to others, or too stodgy for real ideas. But I still hear the echoes of that opinion from many who live here, and certainly from many who do not – who have formed their opinions driving across I-70 or the two-dimensional way we’re often cast by the media.

They see strip malls and corn fields and aw shucks values and test marketing opportunities. I see those things too. But I also see the home of the underground railroad and the one of the first colleges to admit women and African Americans. I see the state where the first women’s rights conferences were held and Sojourner Truth delivered her famous Ain’t I A Woman speech.

I see the Kent State shootings and the untold stories of massive anti-war protests at Ohio State. I see Toni Morrison, an author able to bring us to a new consciousness about how we understand history and race and ethnicity.

In my own town, I see James Thurber standing up to McCarthyism. I see many radical feminist collectives that thrived here in the late 1960s. I see the YippiesBlacklisted News and hear the songs of Phil Ochs. I see how we’ve preserved the work of visual poets and cherished the wild sounds of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

For every perception that this is merely a conservative or bellwether state that twists in the wind, that change and progress are something a place like Ohio can’t possibly understand, I know an alternate story. I know what’s in the roots of the buckeye tree, and there is much more than a love of sports and a fear of God.

The chance to be blue again, to think about everything that means and to remember that this, too, is who we are, is another gift this remarkable week has given us.

Sorry to those who got an unfinished version of this in their feed readers last night – this was part of my last post, until I realized it would be better on its own, went to save it for later and accidentally hit publish.

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The Confederate ghosts of my neighborhood

In the two weeks between closing on our house and moving in a couple of years ago, I had anxiety dreams about my neighborhood. Once home to Camp Chase, a Union military base and prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers, this cemetery is all that still stands.
I dreamed that the ghosts of these men wandered the streets here at night. And that there were so many of them, I’d have to drive through a fog of gray, opaque bodies just to get home from the grocery store.
We took a walk to the cemetery today — a perfect All Saints’ Day — just after watching pundits on HBO joke that this moment in history calls for a leader, specifically “someone like Lincoln, not someone who’s winkin‘.” It seemed appropriate to pay respects at the graves of 2,260 former countrymen, 2,260 former enemies, 2,260 men supposedly mourned by a “gray lady” at dusk who searches the tombstones for the one with her husband’s name.
The site is crunched between stark emblems of urban life. There is an ugly apartment building full of one-room flats and the “Dari Twist” – an ice cream stand with dozens of soft-serve flavors. A platform area that was likely built as a place for annual ceremonies that honor the dead is surrounded by a moderate amount of garbage and graffiti.
A group of skater punk teens filed in as we got ready to leave, settling in for a visit on the platform. They smoked cigarettes and noshed on Halloween candy. Two of them kissed each other as we took a last look at a cannonball that had been fired in a civil war battle, set in stone by the gate.

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Freelance scare campaign for McCain

My mother found this sheet, tucked into a white envelope on her front door a couple of days ago. She lives in one of Columbus’ more affluent suburbs (Bexley) and has an Obama sign in her front yard.

There’s nothing particularly new about the ugliness the flier contains, although it is kind of stunning to see so many paranoid lies that have been long since debunked collected on one white sheet of paper. Whoever left it clearly had no intention of speaking to her, only to send a bullying message which suggests, in the opinion of some anonymous coward, that her open support for the Democratic candidate impugns her patriotism.

There is no doubt that things can get really ugly in Ohio during presidential campaigns – especially in counties like this one, which is generally a slightly blue shade of purple. Small incidents like this just tell me that after eight years of divisive leadership from a president for whom no amount of legal bullying, menacing and damning of people with another point of view ever made him say “enough,” and even with a Republican candidate who finally just started to, we still have a long, long way to go.

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Small moments in democracy

Yesterday, we hung out in the parking lot of an urban carryout, looking at the side wall of a restaurant called “Chicken Gem’s.” During the years we lived in this Ohio State campus-area zip code, I don’t know exactly how many times I drove through and saw this exact lot in the Weinland Park neighborhood filled with police cars, investigating some neighborhood crime.

It was the official unveiling of this mural, featuring the brushstrokes of more than 40 adults and kids from the neighborhood (at the corner of 11th & 4th):
A friend got in touch with us Saturday afternoon, in need of a free PA for the event, and wondering if we knew how to procure one. Dan still has enough equipment left over from the club, that, with the help of another friend, he was able to cobble one together.

“Clean up the neighborhood, clean it good! Clean your room, too,” a group of kids told the crowd, in between Sunday school songs and a song they made up about Obama. There was a table of chicken wings, mac & cheese and peas & peanuts for anyone who came by to see what the fuss was about.
The organizers of the mural spoke, along with Max Kennedy (the ninth of RFK’s 11 children), who was there to pump up the crowd. Another local man offered a prayer for the neighborhood, for people involved in “bad things” that he said had happened just the night before.
Here’s the group portrait. There’s more about the event posted on Barack Obama’s Ohio campaign blog, tied to his “Plan for Urban Prosperity.”
“If you lose hope, you lose the vitality that keeps life moving. You lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (The quote on the mural.)

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