Quaint Vituperations: the Glen House Inn Controversy

Miami Township map overlay bwBelow is the first section of a forthcoming nonfiction novella that chronicles the goings on of a small township in southwestern Ohio. I was sent to cover a township trustee meeting as a reporter for an area newspaper. Although nobody from the public normally attended those meetings, this was in particular was a hotbed of controversy and drew a dozen or so irate citizens. A rogue bed and breakfast was making waves in a neighborhood, and some neighbors wanted it shut down. The anti-B&B neighbors had a list of complaints against the inn that they said stretched back years.

However, a number of the B&B’s neighbors were friends of the owners and supported what the B&B was doing. The neighborhood was divided into cranky adherents on both sides, and the following trustee meeting was attended by pro-B&B neighbors refuting the points made by the first. To the neighbors, depending on what the trustees decided, the township was either tyrannical or ineffective.

While this may not sound like a riveting thing to write about, it was. The nature of the dispute and the personalities involved are fascinating, and the ways in which they clashed are hilarious, aggravating, serious, and quaint, all at the same time.

And this isn’t even taking into account the rest of the evening’s meeting, which involved everything from unknown remains found in an old cemetery to a visit to the Ohio Snow and Ice Removal Conference. My upcoming novella, logically titled “Dance of the Trustees,” discusses life in the township, from its history of burial mounds and murders to the storied careers of the township trustees who have taken it upon themselves to steer such a multifaceted ship.

Quaint Vituperations: the Glen House Inn Controversy

Trustee Mark Crockett is a man who speaks deliberately, delivering each phrase with the ponderousness of a court justice who has all the time in the world. He sat in an equivalent posture on the evening of September 9, slightly reclined in his chair behind the table at the head of the room, fingers interlocked over his belly. He looked out on the room with equanimity, observing the proceedings and taking them in.

Crockett, like the other trustees, was in an interesting position. He had lived in the area with his wife for almost 40 years, owned a business, and was otherwise just a man around town. But he, like the other trustees, made decisions on behalf of his fellow residents.

Neither Crockett nor any of the other trustees had previous experience holding political office. Spracklen was a farmer, Mucher used to own the area’s video store, and Crockett is a jeweler and guitar player. (Though Mucher was an in-law to the DeWine family, an Ohio political dynasty.) But civic management skills were picked up on the job, and the public had trusted them enough to reelect each of them multiple times.

However, President of the Miami Township Boards of Trustees Chris Mucher looked around the meeting room warily on September 9. He could sense tempers were a little high, and so the outcome of the evening would likely make some proportionally serious waves. Any decision made is bound to offend someone, and in the case of the first portion of that evening’s meeting, any official position would offend at least half of an entire neighborhood.

The meeting began shortly after 7 p.m.

Mucher stood up and introduced himself and the rest of the people at the table: fellow trustee Mark Crockett, Margaret Silliman, the financial officer, “number one road employee” Dan Gochenouer, Miami Township Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf, and StepIMG_20160505_164722337hanie Hayden, the Greene County assistant prosecutor, who had been called in specifically to give her interpretation of the B&B dispute.

Mucher’s right hand stayed in the pocket of his khakis as he gave a referee-esque preamble to the proceedings.

“In our opinion, the board of trustees is the bedrock of local government,” he said. “It’s the place where the balance begins between the rights of the property owner and the rights of society. Sometimes it gets a little messy, but I assure tonight isn’t going to be messy. It’s going to be polite and dignified.”

The balance between the rights of the property owner and the rights of society were indeed going to be discussed. The meeting was the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between a bed and breakfast and the neighbors it reportedly annoyed. The anti-Inn neighbors, the Concerned Circle Citizens (CCC), sat in the front row and nodded. Their de facto spokesperson brought with her a folder full of stapled documents to prove the soundness of their position. Nobody in favor of the B&B was there, as pains had been taken to avoid telling them the topic was going to be addressed at the meeting.

On the surface, the debate may seem a bit droll: how often does a quaint B&B drive neighbors mad? But such charming disputes are practically written into the township’s DNA.

An odd bit of Ohio Code allows the average residential homeowner to run a B&B out of her home with little official oversight.[1] In fact, a number of area residents were taking advantage of this allowance. Miami Township encompasses a number of picturesque hamlets, including the village of Yellow Springs, a progressive small town full of art galleries, a tourist destination most appropriately served by quaint B&Bs. A bumper sticker claims the area is “2.2 square miles surrounded by reality,” and the area’s pastoral vistas suggest this may be the case.

However, Crockett said most people who live in Miami Township just want to be left alone. The presence of a B&B in a quiet neighborhood a few miles outside of Yellow Springs was said to be aggressively challenging the desire to live unmolested. The Glen House Inn, located in a quiet neighborhood a few miles outside of Yellow Springs, was accused of hosting dozens of visitors and large-scale events like weddings, self-help workshops, and Solstice vigils, a far cry from the romantic (and manageable) couples who usually patronize B&Bs. The excess noise and people “undermined the quiet integrity of the neighborhood,” as one neighbor put it, and another said he never would have moved to the neighborhood in the first place had he known the Inn would so loud. Negotiations between the sides had deteriorated, if they were ever civil at all. Both sides accused the other of being obstinate and dishonest, and both accused the township of not acting with consistency in enforcing its laws.

As such, on September 9, the parties sought a definitive interpretation of code. Was the Inn operating legally or not? Should the Inn be found in compliance, the neighbors would just have to deal with it; should the Inn be found in violation, the B&B would have to scale back its operations, a change the owner said would ruin him financially.

Prosecutor Hayden was there to give an official interpretation of the law, and to offer suggestions about what steps could be taken to square everything with code. Throughout the meeting, her face held a look of intelligent skepticism, the fiercely judicious look of someone professionally capable of seeing through bullshit.

The crowd murmured, eager to get started. Richard Zopf, the wild-bearded township zoning inspector, tried to look relaxed while knowing that the whole room was eager to blame him for their troubles. Gochenouer, the road crewman and cemetery sexton whose official business didn’t have anything to do with the crowd, folded his hands and smiled faintly.

Genesis of the Dispute


IMG_20160501_185241489

Grinnell Circle, where the Glen House Inn is located, is a ten-minute drive from the MTFR building. Down Corry Street, past a nature preserve and a stable of therapeutic horses, is Grinnell Road. A left turn on Grinnell takes the visitor down a sizable hill and onto a road overlooked by the colorful buildings of a recently revamped wastewater treatment plant. A few miles further south and the visitor will come to a noticeably bucolic setting, a clearing with stone walls and an old mill with water wheel set among hedges and trees. The Glen Circle neighborhood is back in this splendiferous idyll.

Glen Circle is a collection of homesteads grouped around an acre of common area. Some neighbors have gates; some have none; most have a decent amount of money. Eric and Deirdre Owen, the owners of the Inn, spent $700,000 to build a large house on the Circle in 2005, largely because of its regal charm. Both grew up in Yellow Springs, and wanted to return. The house is based on a dream home they sketched on a cocktail napkin in Europe many years before.

Owen is in his late 40s, thickset, unkempt in a way that speaks for consistent productivity in his pursuits. He’s a kind of wheeler-dealer, active in the art world and owner of a few properties, including part of a hotel in small-town Michigan. He was thrust into bed and breakfast ownership when he had a falling out with the partners of a company he founded 25 years before. He took a year’s salary and retired, but quickly recognized the money was not enough to sustain him forever. He knew he had to do something to secure his retirement. A beautiful house was at his disposal, and he decided to turn it into a B&B. The Glen House Inn’s website was up and running within thirty days of his decision. He said it was the only way to save the house.

In the interest of being open about his plans and in order to get a permit to follow through with them, Owen met with the Board of Zoning Appeals in July 2011. The BZA overhears building plans, checks them against zoning code, and questions prospective builders about the effects the construction will have on the surroundings. All BZA meetings are open to the public, and citizens are encouraged to attend and weigh in with their concerns. Anti-Inn neighbors came to the BZA meeting, anticipating the B&B would be trouble, and wanting to register their reservations.

Both sides grant some kind of tenuous agreement was reached regarding the operations of the Inn, but none of the claims about what was said can be proven, as the official record for this meeting has disappeared. Video of any BZA meeting would ordinarily be available through the local cable access station or on a DVD at the library, but the master recording could no longer be found, and the person who took notes at the meeting no longer worked for the Township. Ultimately, Zopf recalled, “there was no reason not to grant Owen a permit,” as Owen’s plans seemed kosher.

With the impression everything was on the up-and-up, the Owens opened the Glen House Inn. Guests lined up to rent its five spacious rooms, lounge on its patio, appreciate the impressive art collection, and swim in its stream-fed pool. The whole Inn is bathed in that tranquil, sunlit green characteristic of 18th century paintings. It’s an objectively beautiful location, and business was steady.

However, perhaps because of the bacchanalia such locations induce, neighbors said their concerns about disturbed peace were immediately proven correct. Catering trucks parked on the berm of the already-narrow road. Fireworks – “nice ones, like you’d see in town” – were said to have almost hit two houses at 12:45 a.m. Guests playing in the pool were too noisy. One resident said he was unhappy with unknown people lurking in the neighborhood, and described a recent occurrence where a car circled around the neighborhood before parking at the Inn.

“Why would they do that?” he asked. “I think it’s a safety concern.”

(The Owens maintain that some of these events happened once and never again, and that the neighbors have been referencing them for years. And people drive on the road, Owen said, because it’s a public road.)

The neighbors maintain they complained to the township and the county, to no avail, for at least four years. But in 2015, action was taken after the Inn’s busted septic system began stinking up the area. The ghastly effluence was definitely coming from the Inn, one neighbor said. “A lot of sniff-testing confirmed it.” The Greene County Health Department investigated – they have jurisdiction over septic systems – and deemed the septic system completely inadequate for the amount of people the Inn hosted.

By this point the Owens had moved back to Michigan and the operations of the Inn were being managed by a live-in caretaker Jody Farrar and her husband Bill. The Owens and Farrars conceded the septic system was not working and fixed it. Other repairs were undertaken and the Inn continued hosting guests and renting out their facilities at a rate of $5,000 per weekend. The noise was alleged to have continued unabated.

The final straw was when neighbors got wind that Owen was talking about reworking the property into a winery. It was a clever power play, as viticulture is exempt from zoning. A winery is considered an agricultural practice, which Ohio Code explicitly states townships have no jurisdiction over, including the zoning of buildings as part of the agricultural operation.[2]

Owen had no qualms using this possibility as leverage. “I’ll convert it to a winery rather than face foreclosure,” he said. “Then there’ll be hundreds of cars per weekend versus just a few.” (When the viticulture possibility was brought up at the meeting on Sept. 9, Stephanie Hayden wasn’t impressed. “We have a lot of people threaten to open a winery to get zoning off their back,” she said.)

Credible threat or not, the neighbors ramped up their efforts to get the township to intervene, hence asking the trustees to invite Hayden and the neighbors’ collective appearance at the meeting.

At the Meeting of September 9, 2015

September 9 was it. Their big meeting, their big chance for an official showdown. The neighbors were sober and ready to go; partners held hands for encouragement. After his brief opening speech, Mucher introduced Hayden.

Hayden was Greene County’s prosecutor, and by statue, the township’s lawyer, she said. She clearly and concisely explained what roles the various boards and commissions played in the drama. She outlined the process of suing someone over zoning concerns, the difference between civil and municipal court, and the possible outcomes of such a suit. ($500 per day per violation, in one instance.) Her elucidations were illustrated with examples of other problematic zoning cases. “One guy was a junk property owner, an outdoor hoarder. We disagree what the definition of ‘junk’ is,” she said.

She then asked the neighbors to present their case.

“When did these problems start?” Hayden asked.
“First of June, 2011,” said the head of the CCC immediately.
Her ready answer prompted laughs.
“We’re on top of this,” the neighbor said.

The CCC enumerated the violations and complaints that plagued the Inn since it had opened. And not only was the Inn hosting many more guests than was legally allowed, the CCC spokesperson argued, but the Owens didn’t even live in Ohio, which meant that the Inn wasn’t owner-occupied, which meant that it wasn’t even technically abiding by the B&B guidelines set out in code.

Hayden listened to the neighbor’s complaints with total concentration, her body involuntarily twitching when she heard a particularly egregious violation. The neighbors were very thorough. “You’re the best witnesses I’ve ever had,” Hayden said. Her assessment was obvious: the parameters of what is officially acceptable, for bed and breakfast and everything else, are plainly spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code, the Ohio Administrative Code, Miami Township Code or any of the other official regulations used by a county or city agency. These laws are indisputable, and she was clearly baffled that the Inn was still in operation at all. Her expression also hinted at her feelings as a human being annoyed by other humans who think they’re special.

All things considered, Hayden said it made sense to convene representatives from all agencies involved in the dispute and file a formal complaint against the Inn. She suggested giving the Inn a “fill-in-the-blanks violation of notice,” a pre-drafted letter the agencies could just fill in with the violations they’d inevitably discover. Hayden and Zopf agreed they would pay the Inn a visit in a few days. The trustees sat back in their chairs with evident relief. A decision had to be made, and it was.

This decision reached, about 98% of the people at the meeting got up and gathered their belongings. “You’re welcome to stay for the rest of the…” Mucher began, but the attendees filed past him and went back outside. Snatches of their conversation could be heard as the door swung open and closed. The first part of the September 9 meeting had taken one hour and fourteen seconds.

A Visit to the Inn

IMG_20160501_185221238

Entering the Grinnel Circle neighborhood. The entrance to the Inn is to the left; straight ahead is the central common area.

The Inn was apparently subject to intimidation in the days following the September 9 meeting. Someone pounded on door in the middle of the night, and guests reported what sounded like guns being shot off right next to the house.

Things did not improve from there. Five days after the trustee meeting, on September 14, a contingent of county and township functionaries paid a visit to the Inn. The Owens travelled down from Michigan to lead the zoning and health code inspectors on what they thought was a “fact-finding mission” to determine what aspects of the Inn needed to be brought up to code. Instead, Owen said, they were surprised to find themselves served with a cease and desist letter, just as Hayden had suggested.

The letter said the Inn had two weeks from that day to scale back its operations or it would be shut down. The inn could have no more than five guests in its current incarnation, nor could it host any events. It also had to stop its activities as an art gallery (or venue of any kind), as it also violated statutes defining what constitutes a home-based business.

Eric Owen promptly called the Yellow Springs News, as he knew a reporter was at the Trustees meeting and wanted to provide the world with this most shocking update. He and Deirdre and the Farrars and his mother Luisa were sitting outside on deck chairs when the reporter arrived, gobsmacked by the morning’s events. Owen related what happened with the impassioned but disjointed cadence of someone thinking aloud. After a few minutes he paused and held out his lit cigarette.

“Look what they have me doing,” he said. “I don’t even smoke.”

The agencies’ letter effectively meant he would have to turn the B&B into a hotel, he said. In order for the Inn to host the number of guests it had been, Owen would have to install steel doors, fire dampeners, hood systems in the kitchen, and a 150,000-gallon cistern for a sprinkler system in his house, an expense he simply could not afford.

The CCC was basically a “lynch mob” that had their “tentacles” in county and township agencies. This was nothing like the community he used to know, he said. He said Greene County were toadies following the regulations created by and directly benefitting the worldwide hotel industry. Owen’s mother compared the Inn’s situation with the policies of the fascist regime she lived through as a young woman in a prison camp in Yugoslavia.

“Where I grew up, they would kill you for speaking up. If that were the case here, I would still speak up about the Inn,” she said.

But the caretakers got to work making two of the five rooms unavailable. They had to remove an illegal downstairs bathroom and take out some beds as a show of good faith that they wouldn’t secretly accommodate more guests than they were allowed. Jody Farrar said she had to call and tell people they couldn’t have their wedding at the Inn. The guests went from angry to devastated, she said, as some people had already ordered decorations specifically to go with the property.

All of this after the largesse the Inn has shown the area, Owen said, like the free use of the Inn for area cultural affairs and “at least 50 meals and $400 in wine purchased in town” by guests of a recent event.

They’d just have to wait and see if the Inn would still be sustainable.

The Second Meeting – September 21, 2015

IMG_20160501_185854460

Looking toward the Glen House Inn across the neighborhood common area.

 

Tempers ran high at the subsequent trustees meeting two weeks later. If the previous meeting was noteworthy for its attendance, this one was exceptional. Supporters of the Inn said it was their duty to show up and testify on the Inn’s behalf, as they were deliberately excluded from the previous meeting. The CCC was there to advocate again for their position.

The trustees filed in from the corridor. Trustee Lamar Spracklen wasn’t at the previous meeting, but he was this time. He sat down in his chair and stared out at the room. He looked like a grizzled boxing instructor commanding someone to punch a side of meat, and he had a bandage on his face that stretched from his lip to his cheekbone. His eyes scanned the crowd, like he was just waiting for someone to ask what happened. Gochenouer was at the table, and so were Crockett, Silliman, and Zopf.

Chris Mucher stood up, and with little official township preamble addressed the crowd. There was a slight tremble in his voice.

“If anyone thinks they’re in the wrong place, they’re not,” he said. “This is exactly where you want to be. This is a public meeting of the Board of Trustees.”

The Inn’s supporters were ready to go. A neighbor named Dan Rudolf spoke, lauding the operations of the Inn and saying he was not bothered by the occasional noise. His speech was delivered with an eloquence that bespoke serious conviction, or at least a lot of time rehearsing the delivery. Innkeeper Bil Farrar, tall, with a wispy red beard and long red ponytail, stood up and added his piece. He tried to make the difficult argument that the neighbors were being un-neighborly – a subjective characteristic that was hard to objectively prove, and a point that was difficult to understand because his speech was peppered with phrases like “maybe it’s not your job to promote community” and “losing the opportunity to eat potato salad with the Lithgows[3],” on top of referring to the proceedings as a “plot.” By the looks on the faces of the other attendees, the strength of his case was dampened by the profligate use of these rhetorical illustrations. Nevertheless, their abundance spoke for the seriousness of his convictions.

Owen’s eyes were sparkling with a barely-containable desire to speak. He leapt up. Did the Township know the position he and Deirdre were being put in? he asked.

“We’re basically vagabonds,” he said. “We have no house; we sleep when there are free rooms in the bed and breakfast.” He already worked eighteen hours a day, he said, and now he had to deal with this.

“If the neighbors wanted a gated community, why don’t they just create a gated community?” he asked.

He wasn’t inherently opposed to code, he said, and every time he was asked he tried to square his property with it. But the changes the Inn had to make were difficult to understand thanks the unclear information given by the Township and the fact that county and Ohio codes didn’t always line up. It was tough to tell which code took precedence, he said, but either way, he felt the Inn was being ganged up on.

“I don’t know what club you’re part of,” Owen said.

“I don’t have a club,” said Mucher. “This has absolutely nothing to do with any other department or political subdivision.”

“I mean the club we’re being beaten with,” Owen said.

More testimony was heard from Bob Bingenheimer, who had a letter to the editor entitled “Glen House Closing Shows Worst of People and Government” published in the paper earlier that week, though its incendiary title was changed to something less acerbic. Another innkeeper in town offered her take on the issue, arguing against the necessity of strictly following the owner-occupancy requirement for small-scale B&Bs.

Here trustee Spracklen weighed in. He sympathized with the Owens and told of his own troubles running his own B&B. He is the owner-operator of another picturesque area inn, and his B&B necessarily operates under the auspices of the same township code. Spracklen’s establishment had recently come under fire for serving a breakfast far too large for its permit, and he sarcastically explained how the Health Department demanded significant upgrades to the kitchen.[4]

“Don’t make me laugh or my tape’ll fall off,” he said, touching his bandage.

(A few weeks later he would basically be in Owen’s position, pleading his case to the Health Department and visibly trying to stifle his irritation at their inability to understand why he should just be allowed to do what he wants to do.)

The CCC was there and pleaded their case anew, going point-for-counterpoint with Owen’s. The argument got more convoluted as more people weighed in. There was a circuitous discussion of what defines traffic on the circle, and then a discussion on the nature of socializing itself. Mucher stepped in and gave a ten-minute warning, mentioning again that no real or enforceable resolution would be coming from this meeting, or the next one, or any future meetings. A change to the zoning code required advocating for the change before the Zoning Commission, who would render their expert opinion and eventually suggest a change for the trustees to vote on.

The public debate portion of the Sept. 21 meeting ran for the next ten minutes, and the trustees wrapped it up. There was not much more to say, and little that could be done at that moment. The attendees once again got up and left as soon as the debate session was over, the two sides avoiding further interaction and leaving the building to fume together or in private.

Ultimately, the case added up to this: because the Owens had more than five guests, because it was shown that the Owens are registered tax-payers in Michigan, because the property is zoned residential, and because they didn’t have the appropriate health, fire, and food licenses, the Glen House Inn would have to limit its bed and breakfasting operations to those allowed in residentially-zoned properties. The mandates of the letter signed jointly by the Greene County Combined Health District and the Miami Township offices were not up for debate – code was there for a reason, and that reason could not be selectively enforced, no matter how fascistic or unfair it may seem. There had to be some structure, and that structure was outlined in Miami Township Code.

“That’s the most dramatic thing about being a trustee – whether you like it or not, changes happen,” Crockett said. “Our job is to try to make the best decision for the majority of the people in the community.”

A decision had been reached on September 14, and it stood.

Update, Spring 2016: An article about this controversy was published in the Yellow Springs News not long after the second Board of Trustees meeting. The article presented an overview of the debate and reported on the cease and desist letter, suggesting the Inn was shut down as a result. Richard Zopf was quick to point out was not the case. He wrote a letter to the editor that said the article made the Zoning Inspector look bad and misinterpreted the township’s position. The Inn was not closed down, he pointed out, it just had to stop its violations. He maintained that this was his position all along – all of the suggestions he had ever given, all of the leniency he’s shown the Owens – were all in the interest of getting the Inn in compliance with Code. He, in his duty as Zoning Inspector, was simply trying to follow the letter of the law. He admitted he had been lenient in the time he allowed residents to comply, but no more. He had been taken advantage of by both sides, he said, and from that point on was going to be strict in his definitions of what was acceptable and not.

The Inn reduced its operations within the fourteen days demanded by the letter and has stayed at that level ever since. Its available rooms are booked fairly consistently. (It was determined that the Owens did have residency in Ohio, as the Inn was their registered address and Ohio law does not specify a length of time required for residency.)

Jody Farrar said it seemed like the authorities were trying to cover their tracks in going after the Inn. There are five B&Bs in the area, she said, but the Inn got “dissected” because the health department realized they were supposed to be monitoring B&Bs but weren’t, and went after one in order to save face. Bil Farrar, speaking with his customary grandiloquence, said “the shrapnel rained down and gave us all paper cuts; we didn’t die but we were severely injured.” Owen said members of the CCC have called them and pretended to be someone looking to book an event to see if the Inn would slip up.

In late March of 2016, a pro-Inn neighbor wrote a letter to the editor to be published in the Yellow Springs News. It was entitled “Unintended Consequences: An Essay About Community, a Cautionary Tale” and decried the Township’s decision, saying that all semblance of neighborly cooperation had been bulldozed by the CCC’s intractable opposition to the Owens. The letter ran almost 3,000 words, and the editor of the News said it had to be cut down by about 75 percent in order to be published. The author said she couldn’t do this, the argument had to be presented in its entirety, and she said was willing to pay the full $800 to run the essay as a full-page ad. The staff of the News was unsure about this proposition, as a mockup of the full-page version of the essay looked a lot like the screed of a maniac demanding its publication in order prevent further tragedy. The News was unsure if they wanted to open the paper up to that kind of thing.

Ultimately, Owen asked the well-intentioned neighbor not to go through with publishing her lengthy missive. He had a prospective buyer for the property and didn’t want to dredge up problems associated with the house. As of April 2016, the house is en route to be being sold and will revert back to its first incarnation as a private residence. According to Owen, it just wasn’t worth it to keep the Glen House Inn going.

“I’ve dealt with this same provincial shit before with my hotel in Michigan,” Owen said, “but this was something else.”

[1] 5.308 Bed and Breakfast Operations, under the following conditions:

5.3101 All operations hereunder must meet the definition of Bed and Breakfast.
5.3102 Are operated totally within the principal dwelling and not within a garage or accessory building.
5.3103 Does not have exterior evidence of operation other than one (1) square foot wall sign as permitted under Section 2.14
5.3104 Shall contain no additional, separate kitchen facilities for guests.
5.3105 Shall provide one (1) off-street parking space for every guest room in addition to the off-street parking otherwise required for the principal structure as provided in each district.
5.3106 Shall permit access to the guest room only through the principal structure.
5.3107 Shall obtain an occupancy permit from Greene County Building Inspection Department prior to the commencement of operations to ensure compliance with all applicable building and safety standards.

[2] 519.21 Powers not conferred on township zoning commission by chapter: Except as otherwise provided in division (B) of this section, sections 519.02 to 519.25 of the Revised Code confer no power on any township zoning commission, board of township trustees, or board of zoning appeals to prohibit the use of any land for agricultural purposes or the construction or use of buildings or structures incident to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which such buildings or structures are located, including buildings or structures that are used primarily for vinting and selling wine and that are located on land any part of which is used for viticulture, and no zoning certificate shall be required for any such building or structure.

Section B of the above references includes exceptions such as a parcel of land of five acres or less or one located in a platted subdivision containing 15 or more lots. On a lot that is one acre or smaller, zoning may prohibit or regulate all agricultural activities.

[3] Sometimes the Inn was rented out by Antioch College as a home for its special guests, which once included actor John Lithgow and his family. Lithgow’s father was a theater professor at Antioch, and John Lithgow attended daycare in Yellow Springs.

[4] A few years before, a local woman named Nora Byrnes began serving free breakfasts to the community from her home on a residential street. She’d take custom orders and had an impressive buffet anyone could help themselves to. Everyone was welcome, and donations were tacitly accepted. Breakfasts at Norah’s grew to be so well liked that Norah would have between forty to sixty people eating at her house. Friends volunteered as waitstaff, and the breakfast operations began to look like a professional restaurant, though the community-minded approach (everyone sat family style) was said by her fans to engender a uniquely communal environment. Of course, regularly serving food to sixty people caught the eye of the Health Department, who said she was totally unlicensed and had to shut down. The community was in an uproar that her generosity was being circumscribed, and so Spracklen began letting Byrnes use his B&B to host her breakfasts once a week. These breakfasts likewise drew the attention of the Health Department. Byrnes was forced to stop serving breakfast at Spracklen’s inn, but in a case that may give hope to the Owens, Byrnes later appeared before the BZA to lay out her plans to resume serving breakfasts in her own home, and the reasons why she should be allowed to do it. She gave a persuasive interpretation of code, and a dozen or more citizens from the town testified on her behalf about how wonderful her breakfasts are. While the specifics of the BZA’s decision are too lengthy to address, suffice it to say code was creatively interpreted in such a way that she could resume breakfasts at her home in a limited capacity.

“You’re not going to have GFS semi-trucks delivering to your house this time, are you?” asked one BZA member.
“No,” she said.

Advertisements

The Flying Octopus

Dispatch from the Outer Banks –

Meanwhile on Okracoke Island

Meanwhile on Ocracoke Island

Recently on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, a sixty-foot octopus was flying above a family’s encampment on the first beach outside of town. The family had their towels and umbrellas and fishing supplies as most beachgoers do, but they were also fielding questions of amused passersby. Their octopus was flying halfway between the ground and a geometric craft another thirty feet above, two giant kites perfectly representing the family’s whimsical hobby. The octopus’s eight tentacles fluttered playfully in the breeze, and two googly eyes took it all in as the creature spun on its line.

“My mother-in-law makes them,” the Mom of the troupe said, “in a little room in her house on a little sewing machine.”

The kites are two of over one hundred in the family’s collection. Her mother-in-law has sold a few to those persistent in wanting to buy one, but all are initially made for the fun of it. The family selected the octopus and the box kite carefully before they left Ohio for the Outer Banks, taking a bunch out of storage in their garage and going over which ones hadn’t been flown in a while. Their kites are made of parachute silk and most are larger than life – the family has everything from an eighty-foot frog to a hundred-foot spinner. The frog weighs twenty-five pounds folded and bagged. (Storage demands no special conditions aside from keeping the kites dry.) The end result is tremendously impressive considering the kites can’t be seen in all their glory (or potential mistakes) until they are billowing aloft.

Kite DiagramThe Mom said that circular kites like the octopus are fairly easy to fly as long as there are holes for air to enter and exit. The exact physics of it all evades her, but the octopus essentially flies like a giant cephalopodian windsock. But geometric kites require a little more planning. “Certain angles” have to be calculated and many more strings and outflow holes have to be taken into consideration. The box kite they were flying had at least four compartments. Six cords made up the bridle – the set of strings between the kite – and the line, which is the cord running back down to Earth. (The part where the strings of the bridle meet the line is called the “connecting point,” if you’ll pardon the obscure kite-fan parlance.)

But the real difficultly lies in keeping such a huge kite tethered to Earth.

“See that drag mark there? That’s from the kite pulling the sandbag cause there wasn’t enough sand in it. See that other one? That’s where we dragged it back. I had to sit on it as we filled the bag with more sand.”

The drag marks zigged and zagged for about thirty feet. After the octopus’s near escape, a ditch was dug and the sandbag was filled with five-hundred pounds of sand. A wall was built around the outside of the ditch so the sandbag would have to travel out of the ditch and over the hump if the wind picked up again.

Adelir Antônio de Carli, 1966-2008

Adelir Antônio de Carli, 1966-2008

(The strength of giant kites is nothing to be sneezed at. In November 2010, gale force winds rocketed a kite surfer in France in from the beach, sucked him high into the air, dragged him across at least three rooftops and a pier, and then dropped him fifty feet into a courtyard, killing him instantly. And somewhat relatedly, a priest in Brazil was carried away in 2008 by one thousand balloons. He had successfully completed a balloon stunt before – his nickname was Padre Baloeiro, roughly translating to Father Balloon – and was undertaking his fatal trip to raise money for a spiritual rest stop for truckers. He made it to 19,685 feet and they stopped hearing from him. Pieces of balloons were found soon after contact was lost, and his legs were found floating in the ocean two and a half months later.)

Fortunately everyone was able to enjoy the kite without it escaping or dragging anyone over the dunes. An already incredible day on the beach was made that much more fantastical by the family’s additions. The Mom said that as far as she knew there are no regulations prohibiting the flying of giant kites. She looked a little eager to get back to her family after curious beachgoers interrogated her for minutes on end, but it was no doubt rewarding to inspire so many smiles. “They’re a curiosity, that’s for sure!” she laughed, and then walked back to her umbrella and a waiting fishing pole.

Can Older Brothers Be Trusted? (Probably Not.)

The elder deceiver and his innocent brother, circa 1996

When I was younger, I would try to get my brother to believe outrageous things. I made a game out of seeing what “fact” I could pass off as real. The idea was to tell him something that was plausible enough to sound legit but ridiculous enough that if he believed it, he would look dumb and I would look hilarious.

I was able to pull this off thanks to my status as the older brother. It wasn’t a matter of adoration or that he thought I was an implicitly trustworthy guy, just that some knowledge could be assumed because I’d been around longer.

The first thing I remember trying to get him to believe was the existence of a giant map. But the map wasn’t just giant – I told him a guy in Arizona had a 1:1 scale map of the world. Essentially, some guy out in the desert had a map that if unfolded would be the exact size of the Earth.

CSX - now owned by Disney. NOT!

CSX – now owned by Disney. NOT!

I didn’t include many more details than this. Repeatedly insisting one thing was true was more effective than laying out a lot of evidence for it, as I realized that the more info you include, the more info you have to account for. The lack of details worked in my favor, and my little brother went from refusing to listen to me to believing there was a giant map.

The next thing I got him to believe was that they were building a bridge to Hawaii.

Later I told him that his favorite train company CSX sold out to a bigger company.

Another strategy I employed was not telling him these things very often. A well-placed story every couple of months was easier to pass off as true. An outright lie wouldn’t be expected if mixed in with other (actually true) facts. Over the course of a few years I also told him:

  • that you could have a number with two decimal points (like 1.456.6548);
  • that our parents were no longer on speaking terms with some of their closest friends;
  • that the best way to impress his 9th grade English teacher was to swear at her, because that’s what I did when I was in her class and for some reason she appreciated the boldness and rewarded me instead of punishing me.

The stories would only go on for few minutes before I couldn’t hold it in any more, or until he’d get sick of being strung along and go confirm the truth or lack thereof with my parents. They’d laugh and gently tell him I was an idiot.

To be fair, in most circumstances he wasn’t that aloof. He was always at least 25% skeptical of my claims. After a few years he stopped believing anything I said at all, even if it was something basic, like what we were having for dinner or something funny someone said at school. I ended up having to work just as hard to convince him I was serious as I did to convince him of something implausible. I still have to swear up and down how honest I’m being, even about things that wouldn’t ever demand that level of scrutiny.

Much to his credit, however, he has been able to exact his revenge.

Once my family and I were all driving somewhere on vacation. We were talking about animals and my brother told us an interesting fact.

“Did you know that a group of flamingos is called a ‘plantikon?’” he asked. “A plantikon of flamingos – like ‘a crash of rhinos’ or ‘a murder of crows’?”

He was interested in animals from an early age. He worked at an open-air nature park at the time and was considering going to vet school. We had no reason to doubt him.

“How interesting,” we all agreed.

He closed his eyes, bit his lip, and looked around at all of us to make sure we fully believed him.

“Yes! YES!” he screamed. “I GOT YOU! ALL OF YOU! AT ONCE!! I totally made that up! A plantikon of flamingos? A plantikon of flamingoes? That’s not even a real word!

He yelled almost with relief, but there was a healthy – and deserved – amount of gloating as well. He was vindicated. He got me back for years of half-baked factoids and he got my parents back for laughing at my mendacities. His joy was infectious and we all laughed at ourselves.

 

This girl was cannibalized by her own family - PSYCHE!

This girl was cannibalized by her own family – PSYCHE!

More recently, he got me again.

He was in Omaha, Nebraska for a couple weeks of job training and sent me a picture of a statue he found when he was out exploring. It was a little girl smiling and running and holding a basket of flowers.

He said the city is basically overrun with statues and explained why he sent me a photo of that one in particular: ‘So apparently in Omaha back in the mid-1800s there is a really famous case: a girl was brutally murdered in public, then roasted and eaten by her crazed family.’ He then quoted the plaque: “This statue is a memorial to that horrifying event.”‘

I asked whether the statue was a memorial to the event or the girl, as I thought it odd that the people who built the statue would inscribe it so ambiguously.

 

Woah, I said. Weird commemoration. You rarely see a statue that so openly discusses an event like that. I told him as much and even started to type “Glad you made it safe!” when he called me.

Hello?

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Got you! GOT YOU! Yorrrrrre DUMB!” (The ‘you’re dumb’ was drawn out and exuberant, like an umpire relishing the chance to call someone out.) “Of course that girl wasn’t eaten by her family! That statue commemorates the bravery of pioneers. I can’t believe you would think they would make a statue for the cannibalization of a little girl! HAAAAAH!”

Again, his laughter and celebration was infectious and I laughed at my own gullibility. I imagine I’ll have to dust off my lying abilities and get him back soon. (Everyone else can trust me though!) I expect this will go on for a long time. In fact, once when my mom was going to the dentist she saw two eighty year-old men walking across the parking lot. One abruptly cut in front of the other and made him stumble. They laughed and the stumbler pushed the guy who cut him off. One of their wives was with them and rolled her eyes.

“They’re brothers – it never stops!”

 

Delirium – Church – Forced to Rot – The Dark and Bleak – Coathanger Abortion: an Overwhelmingly Positive Experience

Bernie’s, Columbus, Ohio
5/17/14

“I’d like to see a small mosh pit.”

FlierBernie’s – perhaps the most odiferous of Columbus’s institutions. It is a subterranean bar/bagel shop/music venue that always smells like a state park pit toilet but whose importance as a venue cannot be overstated. It exists literally underground – just by being there, no matter what kind of music, you have shown where your affinities lay. You have to be in the know, you have to want to go there, you are happy to go there, and this is why I went by myself two weekends ago.

Bernie’s non-descript doorway opens to a graffiti-covered stairwell that in turn opens to a lunch counter and booths and tables. Fliers with the evening’s schedule were taped all over the venue and said the show wouldn’t start until 9. I was there at 7:30, as the Walgreens 5×7 photo fliers said the doors opened at 7. No matter, there were ample places to sit. Time flew by as I watched band members run in and out on desperate pre-show errands and confused college students huddle in a corner of the bar as a form of nervous self-preservation. The substantial wait was worth it, as it turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve been to in years.

Each member of the opening band appeared to be no more than fifteen years old. Delirium were all seventeen (though one kid ruefully owned up to being sixteen) but looked years younger. They played a sort of noodly metalcore, the kind that could be assumed from their high school-shag haircuts and pattern-print t-shirts. Yes, it’s probably be the case that I’m old and think everybody under twenty-five looks the same, but their youthfulness worked in their favor when it came to surprising the crowd with their incredible musical abilities. The first few seconds of their first song proved the larger point that high school bands today are so much better than high school bands when I was younger. I feel that the bar has been raised because metalcore is predominantly a teenage phenomenon and with it has come an overall enheavying of what’s palatable to mainstream ears – kids today learn arpeggios and syncopated double-bass patterns where kids back in the day learned some shitty Nirvana riff and were considered the epitome of greatness.

Delirium’s talent was evident as soon as they started playing: arpeggios, sweeps, scales, and weird tapping occurred with such gratuity that it made me chuckle. It wasn’t like the music of Viraemia or Monumental Torment (intended to baffle you with otherworldly musicianship/brutality) but the product of a band replacing traditional riffing with a lot of little guitar tricks, as if they have no experience with the former because they started out learning only the latter. It was interesting to see that you can transmit the same level of nuance with a series of untraditional guitar playing as you can with chords or riffs. Their abilities, from vocalist to drummer, were impressive enough to gain the approval of the old metalheads in attendance, a notoriously stodgy crowd. (Years ago a gray-haired metalhead wearing an empatched vest over his leather jacket told my friend to take off his flap-eared winter hat because it was an embarrassment to metal. “Did you even know that guy?” “No.”)

Delirium

Delirium – Canton, Ohio

Delirium were clearly having fun and were really excited that people were enjoying them. They were playing like pros while still not quite being able to pose and headbang as confidently as their older brethren. The friends that came with them were excited as well, obviously having as good a time on the road trip as they were at the concert specifically. Delirium: a band of friends having fun and being friends and stunned at how fun being a band can be. Hold on to it my young friends! Soon you’ll have to put up with the flakiness and mercurial personalities of adult musicians.

Delirium stuck around for the duration of the show and moshed and cheered for every band that followed. Every compliment they received was repeated among themselves with wide smiles and disbelief. The older dudes in the other bands had to feel like they were the coolest people on Earth for being so revered by the next generation. Delirium’s bass player was overheard telling his mom that no, no he wasn’t ready to leave – the headbanging must continue!

The show was put on by Jonathyn Arthurs, a 17-year old theistic Satanist who performs under the moniker The Dark and Bleak. He also books shows and shoots promo photos as Crystal Moonlight Studios. TDAB will be discussed later, but suffice it to say that like Delirium’s set, the whole affair had the charming naiveté of an excited kid – the fliers with set times were posted everywhere (“set times are approximate”) as were signs noting that

“Neither Crystal Moonlight Studios or Bernies Distillery are responsible for any injuries or stolen/missing property. Any damages made to the venue or any of the bands equipment is YOUR responsibility and you will be required to pay for the damages within a short period of time. Please stick around for all the bands and just have a good time.”

The enthusiastic professionalism of the signs aside, this professionally-run ship did make for smooth sailing. The show was a little ahead of schedule and nothing appeared to have been broken at the end of the night.

Assorted parents and grandparents were in attendance – what did they think of the name Coathanger Abortion? The name Coathanger Abortion was even conspicuously absent from the illuminated dry-erase board that lists the evening’s bands. Coathanger have been a band since 2000 and have toured extensively since then, so you also had to wonder what they thought of everything, the parents and teenage bands and the promise of a one-man black metalish band playing right before them. It is brutal death metal so it’s always going to be a little weird, but still.

After Delirium was a band from Columbus, and they were unfortunately called Church. The vocalist noted that the band can be found online at facebook.com/notyourmomschurch, leading me wonder if the whole point of the name was to be able to make that joke. They were all metaled out – wallet chains, beards, sleeveless shirts, etc. – and played beer-drinking metalhead-metal, a fist-pumping force one or two steps heavier than Lamb of God. They actually sound a lot like the bands on underground metal comps from the late 90s/early 00s and reminded me of Deceased, if Deceased were actually good. (I recently re-listened to Blueprints for Madness and it is fucking terrible. [Aside from ‘the Triangle,’ which is a killer song with cool lyrics about the Bermuda Triangle.])

Church

Church – Columbus, Ohio

Church is good but the tepidity of their moniker carried over to their song titles: “False Redemption,” “The Lack of God,” “Sheep to the Slaughter,” etc. etc. I want to hear stuff like “The Vault of Ancient Bone & Poison Saliva” and “Genesis of Putrescence” – how is one supposed to lead the charge against moronic religious bullshit when your battle hymns aren’t particularly inspiring? But their bassist is a towering dude who looks like Peter Stormare from Fargo and we all know that guy didn’t need to be a wordsmith, so whatever. But the band was good enough. Delirium loved them and the power of their set made a dad shout something between songs. “What did you say?” his companion asked. “I don’t know – I just wanted to yell!”

Forced to Rot was like Church, but tighter and with better equipment, and they too played no-frills underground Metal. They were a little more brutal overall than the previous band, as they opted for guttural vocals instead of throaty old-school roars. Like Church is one step heavier than Lamb of God, Forced to Rot is one step heavier than Church.

Aside from having a really cool name, Forced to Rot were fantastic. Watching them play made me re-appreciate x100 why metal is cool: it’s unparalleled musicianship, you get enveloped by sound, and there are parts so universally good that you headbang involuntarily. Plus seeing a bunch of long hairs headbanging in unison is super sick regardless of what kind of music you normally listen to.

Forced to Rot

Forced to Rot – Loveland, Ohio

But it is always awkward when only one guy in a band is wearing corpsepaint. One and only one member of Forced to Rot had his face painted like a skull. I guess my feeling is that it is kind of goofy and a little bit distracting, but if it helps him get in the zone, who cares…? I’m personally taken out of the zone when I look up and see not a misanthropic ghoul but a guy who just really wanted to wear corpsepaint. But it’s not really his fault – how many times has a band’s corpsepaint looked genuinely creepy in high-contrast album art only to lost its entire forest-dwelling mystique when you see the band live and you realize it’s just a bunch of sweaty men dripping white paint down the front of their distended tank-tops? (This wasn’t the case here; no sloppy paint, it was just kind of out of place.)

But again, who fucking cares? It was a metal show – it’s not often you get to unabashedly celebrate this thing of ours with a bunch of people who totally get it. Forced to Rot’s vocalist got it and definitely appreciated it. All night he was positive and happy. Between songs he made a point to complement each one of the bands. “Delirium – if I played guitar like that I’d have no fucking fingers left! Church – give it up for the only kind of church I enjoy!” It wasn’t just the music that made this show great – it was cool to see that this thing, the metal scene, an international subculture, a thing that few people inside and outside of metal really understand the value of, continues to exist on its own terms with camaraderie and insouciance.

The singer was positive through the end of their killer set:

This is the last song. It’s time to go crazy. But more importantly, it’s time to have some fun. If that means committing mass murder, then so be it. If it means getting yourself hard and jacking off in the mosh pit, do it! If it means…oh, whatever, just play the fucking song!

The Dark and Bleak

The Dark and Bleak – Columbus, Ohio

The Dark and the Bleak is apparently somewhat of an institution in Columbus. It is the solo project of the aforementioned Jonathyn Arthurs, a young man who epitomizes the idea that working hard will bring success. According to the collection of flyers on his Facebook page, he has played everything from high school battles of the bands to a Used Kids Monday Matinee to the Obetz Zucchinifest, where he opened for Bret Michaels. I can’t imagine how crazy the last show must have been – the Dark and Bleak, in Obetz, at the Zucchinifest, wearing a black leather trench coat and face paint, on stage playing shredding metal by himself, to people who are there to see Bret Michaels. But I was admittedly skeptical – how many trenchcoat and nail polish-wearing teenagers really have decent solo projects? What is the likelihood that a band with a plain font logo will actually rule?

He explained his MO during his set at Bernie’s: “Some of you may be wondering, ‘why is he up here by himself?’ And the answer is because I promote independency. You all have the power within you to reach your dreams. You know that fear you feel? Take that and turn it into motivation!”

The Dark and Bleak live

Jonathyn Arthurs – The Dark and Bleak

Right on, man! I like this message not only for its general application but because it allows him to fearlessly do what he does. But I got nervous for him when I heard him sound-checking his mp3 drum tracks. It was a Casio-keyboardian 4/4 beat, and he was being really particular about it. He walked around the stage, then out in front of it, then smiled and shrugged at the sound guy. He introduced himself, thanked everyone for being there, and started playing. And it was fucking KILLER. I was stunned at how good it was. He was shredding as well as any of the known one-man death metal bands that routinely play festivals and put out records. There was conveniently a brick on stage, and this allowed him to stand with one knee bent, a position taken to maximize brutality. (He reportedly sometimes brings his own fan, for maximum hair enblowment.)

Goddammit, though. I hate to say it, but the second song he played confirmed my initial fears. The song starts with bells that sound like a sample from the ‘Home Alone’ soundtrack, and is followed by a metal-voiced recitation of poetry over mid-paced melodic metal. The stylistic change completely caught me off guard. It’s the kind of metal that people who like metal without getting too hooked by a specific subgenre listen to; the midpaced triplet-driven song is a staple on metal albums, and I guess he wanted to make a contribution of his own. It was well-played and the title “Masquerade” implies an important reiteration of seeing through society’s bullshit, but the gothic flavor nonetheless killed the momentum of the first excoriating attack.

Fortunately the next song he played was more like the first. He said that he wrote the song in 2008. This means he wrote it when he was around eleven: “This next song is about pollution. But first, I’m going to take this [leather trenchcoat] off – this thing is ridiculous!”

He laughed as he said this. He seemed at home on the stage but was humble and appreciative and very polite. His modesty throughout the night was endearing. “I have one more song before we get to the real talent.” Pointing at the kids in Delirium: “I’d like to see a small mosh pit.” More than half his set was ripping death metal, and I was continually impressed and was able to look past a long solo that was only incidentally in tune. This kid rules. Support him in doing what he’s doing: leading a metal life because it’s satisfying on the deepest possible level. (And according to a recent Facebook post, there are “64 things left to finish in terms of recording the new album. But with 3 things or more getting done each day it should be done in great time.”)

Coathanger Abortion was sitting quietly in a corner of Bernie’s. They were manifestly brutal death metal dudes – Gutrot shirts, camo shorts, hawking the requisite color-logo-with-gruesome-white-art shirts almost mandatory in BDM. Stylistically, I knew I would be really into them – they are on Comatose Music and will be touring with Devangelic and Lust of Decay this summer – but I couldn’t help but be annoyed by their name. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Disgorged Foetus and Nailshitter, and that Scatorgy record is great; it’s not baroque grossness that’s the issue but the kind of grossness their the name implies: the kind of really, genuinely eerily violent and misogynist brutal death metal that makes you realize that maybe some people involved with this musick really are terrible assholes and not just dudes trying to outdo each other with scenes of zombie and medical violence. Lividity, Incestuous, Female Nose Breaker – dudes who seem to take pride in being as fucked up as they can as a supremely juvenile form of revenge against women they probably routinely creep out. I was prepared for Coathanger to say something ultra-degrading between songs but they totally did not. They have a song called ‘Leaves,’ about smoking weed, and they have a song ‘Mall Monster,’ whose lyrics are the following:

Now as darkness falls over me, sitting at the hotel waiting to leave
Just waiting to get this night over
Down on your knees
Crawling toward a break
I can’t escape from this place that I hate
I can’t wait to leave this place in the morning
I can’t wait any longer
Waiting for dawn
Mall monster. Muzak insanity, its driving me crazy
Mall monster. Glaring at security cops
Seeing constant pop culture
Yuppie fashions under surveillance
Surrounded by a mass of idiots
Money blowing fools
Dollar signs are everywhere
Pick me, buy me, I am what you want
Food court terrorizer strolls by you
Cover your children’s eyes
The mall monster has consumed you
Shit on sale

CA album

Coathanger Abortion – “Dying Breed”

I admittedly passed on their album “Dying Breed” because of the band’s name, but now realize I was totally remiss in doing so. As a review on Encyclopaedia Metallum goes, “Within the grotesque heap of muck known as modern brutal death metal there are some albums floating around out there that no one has and know one [sic] even knows about that are insanely sick.” (Seriously, get this album. It’s really, really good.)

I like brutal death metal way more than I like regular metal, so the pleasure I derived from watching Forced to Rot play was multiplied tenfold when Coathanger started playing. I was entranced watching everyone in the band go about their business. They are so tight and the riffs are so patently interesting that the brutality almost took second stage to the joy of watching the songs unfold. Almost but not quite, since the fact that it was brutal death metal made everything that much more enjoyable. The drummer was absolutely incredible (and sports killer sideburns), the guitar players were astounding, and the vocals were awesome grunts that sounded like someone was turning on and off a faucet running with the sound of inhuman roars echoing through a drain. (And it wasn’t even the regular vocalist – the bass player handled vocals since the vocalist couldn’t do the tour.)

And within watching Coathanger Abortion play is the essence of Bernie’s – it’s not your mom’s church but an even higher and much more genuine form of affirmation. You feel proud of what you are into; you can’t believe you are witnessing something so powerful – on a small stage in a dank basement in a random city on a random evening, something is going on unlike anything else on earth. You are moved to headbang, to smile hugely in appreciation of an insane riff or Neolithic mosh, to celebrate it all with thirty other people, the number not a poor turnout but a hush-hush klatch that makes the evident secrecy that much more profound. Thank you Jonathyn Arthurs/the Dark and Bleak/Crystal Moonlight Productions for setting up the show – it was totally fucking sick.

Delirium: https://www.facebook.com/DeliriumBandOhio
Church: https://www.facebook.com/NotYourMomsChurch
Forced to Rot: https://www.facebook.com/forced.torot
The Dark and Bleak: https://www.facebook.com/thedarkandbleak
Coathanger Abortion: https://www.facebook.com/CoathangerAbortionOfficial
Bernie’s Bagels: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bernies-Bagels-DeliThe-Distillery/117607638316419

Today is Tomorrow: 24 Hours of Groundhog Day

That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers! It’s GROUNDHOG DAY!”

Groundhog Day posterIt is a genius meta-challenge: do you have what it takes to subject yourself to twenty-four hours of a movie in which the protagonist is himself subjected to a horrifying twenty-four hour loop? Would you lose your mind doing it or have a total blast? These are questions posed every February 2nd by the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio, when they host their annual Groundhog Day viewing party/endurance marathon. The movie in question is of course Groundhog Day, and they challenge you to watch it twelve times in a row. Completing the marathon yields a year’s worth of movie tickets, a very coveted prize considering the average theater’s tragicomic ticket prices. On the contrary, a ticket to the Gateway event is only fifteen bucks, and fifteen bucks for twenty four free movie passes is certainly a gamble worth taking, to say nothing of the singular weirdness of staying in a movie theater all night with three hundred other entranced revelers.

7660 days have passed since Groundhog Day was released on February 12th, 1993. The movie chronicles the surreal hell of Phil Connors, a TV weatherman played by Bill Murray, who learns some important life lessons when he finds himself reliving Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA, over and over and over again. Andie MacDowell plays the sweetheart TV producer who inspires him to be a better man and Chris Elliot plays the unnerving odd guy Chris Elliot is known for. Initially Bill Murray is excited at the surreal turn of events, as he realizes he can steal money and perfect his wooing techniques, but he grows increasingly despondent when it doesn’t seem like the loop will ever end. The only way out seems to be to win Andie’s heart by becoming a good person, and some genuinely warm n’ fuzzy moments makes up the last chunk of the movie as this transformation takes place. But it takes Phil a long time to get to this point, and the movie becomes a bit darker when you realize the enormity of what his character is actually facing. At minimum, it is estimated that he relives Groundhog Day for at least forty years, though Stephen Tobolowsky, the guy who plays Ned the Insurance Salesman, said one of the writers “felt something like 23 days were represented in the movie, [but the total time Murray is trapped lasted] over 10,000 years.”

The same day over and over again for 10,000 years – not that my friends and I were worried that watching a movie twelve times in a row would be equally as maddening, but the prospect of watching the same movie twelve times in a row was kind of daunting: an entire day in one place, in the same seats, with hundreds of other people eating, farting, snoring and talking, all of us experiencing the difficulties inherent in doing the same weird thing over and over again. My good chum Pat and I were both new to the contest, but our friends Tess, Afton, and Kevin were old hands and explained that the viewings break down like this:

1-4: You sleep through most of them.
5: “This is a good movie.”
6: “This is the best movie ever made.”
7: “…”
8-10: “I can’t comprehend anything that is happening in this movie.”
11-12: Fun because everyone is going crazy, but also excruciating because you’re almost done.

I figured my point of no return would be 16 hours – I had to stay if I made it that far, and Pat assured me that he would convince me to stay. I legitimately didn’t know what to expect.

 

Dylan and Pat in the building

Dylan and Pat in the building

****

The rules of the challenge are as follows:

  • You must be present in the theater for every screening of Groundhog Day in its entirety.
  • Cell phones may be carried into the theater, but must be powered down during the screenings.
  • No laptops, tablets, or other devices are permitted in the theater.
  • Your lanyard must be in your possession at all times during the marathon. This is very important, as the lanyard is punched after every viewing, and you must have all twelve punches to win the tickets.
  • Every time Phil says “Ned”, you must say “Bing!”

“I think it would be funny if they wouldn’t let you socialize, like they make you watch it,” Pat said. “I want them to fucking crack down. I want them to make it a challenge.” I know Pat would fare well in a contest like this, even if it were one of those sinister experiments where you are strapped to a chair and your eyes are pried open as you are bombarded with all kinds of horrible sights and sounds. Pat is up to stuff like that – he has a competitive drive that has made him successful business owner and allows him to be infuriatingly good at every sport. People come to the event in pajamas with pillows and blankets; he firmly considers the people stretched out on sleeping bags in the front of the theater to be cheating. How hard can it be when you are essentially allowed to camp?

A valid point, but I don’t think the theater has psychological trauma in mind when they host the event. The marathon isn’t intended to toughen you up mentally; it’s supposed to be ridiculous fun, and it is. Attendees are encouraged – If not expected – to join in chanting lines, which range from quotable insults to a horrified “UGH!!” when poor Andie MacDowell makes a woodchuck face at Bill Murray. The experience inspires exuberant narration, and attendees yell whatever they want from the anonymity of the theater. A lot of the commentary is genuinely hilarious, but this anonymity also lends itself to some cringe-worthy unfunniness, attempts at humor that make you feel bad for the person who said them. But no worries, you can try again soon – the open invite for audience participation gives everyone a second chance to shine, and indeed, there is nothing quite as affirming as cracking up the people in the rows around you.

****

The first American reference to Groundhog Day comes from a diary entry from 1841, where it is explained that if the groundhog emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, winter will last another six weeks. This is the same tradition as it stands today. Appropriately, the diary is that of guy from Pennsylvania. The world’s most popular rodent arbiter resides in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the movie takes place and where real life Groundhog Day crowds have numbered up to 40,000 deep. The tradition seems to come from a mix of ancient weather lore involving prognosticating animals and contrasting calendrical systems. The pagan festival Imbolc celebrated the seasonal turning point on February 1st, but other traditions held that spring did not begin until the Vernal Equinox, about seven weeks after Groundhog Day, the traditional first day of spring for us in the US. A groundhog or hedgehog was used as a way to settle the disparities between the two calendars, and either choice he makes corresponds to one of the calendars’ first day of spring. Groundhog Day organizers say that the Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts are accurate 75 to 90 percent of the time. Thirty-three percent accuracy could be expected by chance, and a Canadian study unfortunately shows that weather pattern predictions made on Groundhog Day are right only 37% of the time. Buzzkill scientists from the National Climatic Data Center have described the forecasts as “on average, inaccurate,” saying that the groundhog “has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.” (Spoiler alert: in the movie, Punxsutawney Phil predicts that winter will last another six weeks.)

Our night started off not in Punxsutawney but in a restaurant next to the theater called Mad Mex. Tremendous plates of nachos were necessary to carry us through at least the next couple of hours, and after 10:00pm everything is half-off. The waiter noted that the new margarita flavor was good because “nobody has sent it back yet,” and it was thus ordered and consumed. Not too long into our meal, a guy sat down next to the hostess’s stand, right across from our table, and promptly broke down in tears. “I hate boys,” he said, explaining that his boyfriend puts everyone else before him.

Patrons of Mad Mex soon began getting up and leaving. It was clear where they were going. They were carrying sleeping bags and backpacks and were dressed in sweats and pajamas, and some people even had laundry baskets full of games and enough food for the next 24 hours. We too left in order to claim the perfect spot. The sad guy from Mad Mex was in an impassioned argument with his presumptive boyfriend on the sidewalk when we walked outside, and they too would likely enter a time warp of their own, arguing in endless circles as they tried to sort out the complications of love.

****

The Marathon Begins…

Back row clique
Back row clique!

12:00 – We quickly realized that the undertaking wouldn’t be as big a deal as we thought – we sat in the middle of the topmost row, with nobody on either side of us for at least three seats. We were able to put up armrests and stretch out and sleep as freely as we wanted to. Sitting in the back row seemed crucial to our success since nobody could hang their stinky feet over our heads, and we weren’t in danger (or as much danger, at least) of something like the hurricane-level of puke that annihilated the area behind some seats in the middle of the theater. But I did begin to understand why the challenge might yet be pretty difficult. Stills from the movie that precede each showing tell you how many times you’ve seen the movie and how many you have left. These stills are supplemented by key soundtrack music played on a loop, so not only did you hear the same songs multiple times throughout the course of the movie but you’re stuck listening to them over and over again before the movie even starts. Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” was followed by a ridiculous number called “the Pennsylvania Polka.” The tradition of clapping along with the latter started as soon as it began playing over the still, and we caught on to that aspect of the event.

Welcomes were given by the staff and the rules were read. The concession stand would be open the entire twenty-four hours and alcohol sales would stop at 2:30am but would begin again at 6am. The first viewing felt more like a normal night out at the theater than the beginning of a ridiculous challenge. I hadn’t seen this movie since 2010 (I remember this specifically because I was housesitting for a guy that had it in his collection) but I pretty quickly fell asleep. I woke up in time to see a surprisingly amazing truck explosion. The truck drives off a cliff and smashes below; its intense smash is satisfying and incredible. The resulting explosion is great too – big, full, multi-layered, good expansion, deep oranges and reds – as is the way the gate bursts open when he drives through it. Note that the grill of the truck breaks when this happens. It became a scene I greatly looked forward to.

2:00am – I was wide awake as the movie began again. On top of the quoted lines and random quips, nonstop talking and settling occur for the first fifteen to twenty minutes of this and every subsequent showing. The atmosphere was that of a giant slumber party.

Pat was lying on the floor resting; he overhears the scene where the local yokel shows Bill Murray a half-full or half-empty glass and says Billy Murray looks like a half-empty kind of guy. “That’s the whole message of the film!” Pat realized. He told me with the sureness of an inebriated philosopher that Groundhog Day is a metaphor for our search for happiness – you could look at the groundhog’s augury like glorious spring is just six weeks away, or that winter will brutally oppress us for six more. In other words, look on the bright side! Life is what you make it! Pat imparted this wisdom and fell back asleep.

4:00am – I was tired and kind of grouchy as the third viewing began. I was worried that perishable food I brought would go bad before I had a chance to eat it but I was too full to keep eating. Nachos were raffled off by theater staff. I noticed that the stunt double used when Bill Murray jumps off the tower looks like Ben Stiller, and that the bath water Murray sits in to electrocute himself is probably ice cold, judging from the cold shower sequence earlier in the movie. I began appreciating the attention to time-related details, like taking into account how doing thing A for a few seconds longer the second time means that subsequent thing B would happen differently the second time around. But sometimes the movie wasn’t as accurate as I’d like in this regard (some events take place in the exact same way regardless of how long Bill Murray takes to do the thing that precedes them), but I realized that I had ten more viewings to obsess over these disparities and so I would be better if I put them out of my mind. It’s just a movie, anyway, right?

Groundhog Day factoid

Groundhog Day factoid

6:00am – I realized I hadn’t even seen the movie all the way through yet. There are scenes that I didn’t remember seeing the first three times around, and there are scenes I saw between naps that I wasn’t sure where/why/how they fit in the narrative. An announcement was made that the concession stand had started serving breakfast burritos. The paper towel dispenser in the men’s bathroom was jammed, but the front had been pried open by attendees desperate to dry their hands.

8:00am – “Now it gets difficult,” a veteran told me, “Most of the sleeping you’ll do has already been done.” I was increasingly annoyed by the peppy song that accompanies the opening credits. The song is called “Weatherman” and was co-written by the film’s director, Harold Ramis. Heard nowadays, the song is totally anachronistic – it is one of those catchy, distinctly American-sounding rock songs that play during the opening credits of comedies from the 80s and 90s. (Which are themselves a very distinct and sorely missed breed.) But I soldiered on. I got an encouraging text from a friend at 8:50: “You can do it!” My parents also cheered me on when the night got started.

10:00am – Somebody nearby started a story that begins with “I didn’t work at PetCo but…” but unfortunately I don’t hear the rest. After five viewings, I still hadn’t seen the movie all the way through, but from this point on, I watched the movie pretty much in its entirety from this viewing until the end of the challenge. The ten o’clock showing was different, as there was markedly more shouting, clapping, and merrymaking, and it increased with every viewing.

Unfortunately this increase in volume also applied to our neighbors and their wellspring of criminally unfunny comments. It was kind of awkward because other unfunny comments fade into the darkness but you are hyper-aware of failed humor when the perpetrators are only a few seats away from you. There is a scene where Bill Murray says he is going to go back to his room and read Hustler; our neighbors yelled “Go read Hustler – everyone likes to see naked ladies!”

12:00pm – I found that I always happened to be looking up at the screen when Andie MacDowell’s name is listed in the opening credits. I also found that the opening sequence of clouds rolling backwards is simple but really cool, and somewhat haunting. I was also able to study McDowell’s distinct mouth, as her twenty-foot visage was on the screen pretty frequently. People in the audience continued chanting at choice moments: each scene with Needlenose Ned the Head is repeated word for word every time. The diss Chris Elliot delivers about the Home Shopping Network is always awarded with a tremendous “OOOOOOoooohhhhh!” Everyone clapped in time with the slaps of the slap sequence and everyone claps sarcastically when the waiter drops his tray. Brian Doyle-Murray’s speech as the mayor is also a beloved moment in the film, as attendees love to help him call Punxsutawney Phil the “Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators.” The increasing dollar amounts are chanted when Bill Murray get auctioned off as a desirable bachelor.

2:00pm – Two young kids were in attendance with their dad. One of the two became a sort of celebrity for the occasion, as he was the first to lead claps and cheers and even yelled a bunch of comments of his own, at the screen and in response to other people who are yelling stuff too. Between showings, everyone around him observed that not only was he having a FaceTime chat with his Grandma but that they were talking in another language. Everyone who saw this looked at each other knowingly, nodding at how hard this kid rules. As the day wore on, the two kids and the dad change seats from time to time, leading one person in the audience to ask “Hey! Where’d that kid go?!” in fear that the family would miss part of the action, or, worst case scenario, that they had left, which would have been a bummer for the kids but also worrisome to the rest of the crowd, for what would it mean for their own endurance if their totemic spirit decided he had finally had enough? Not to worry – his commentary resumed quickly enough, just from different seats.

Pat noted that the scene in which Bill Murray steals the truck/varmint-naps the groundhog occurs almost exactly one hour into the film. We took this into consideration for the rest of the viewings, almost like a breather that the movie is two-thirds of the way over. The coffee served by the movie theater is surprisingly good, and refills are free. Pat noted that Bill Murray gives the finger to the camera – during the second newscast he does on the first day, the 3-2-1 countdown ends with 1 being his middle finger. Lots of details like this are noticed, including the unsettling layer of reverb/creepy frequency placed over top the ‘Pennsylvania Polka’ when Bill Murray gets freaked out.

“Ohhhhhhh…SIX!!!!”

4:00pm – This was the wildest showing yet. The hootin’ and hollerin’ reached a hilarious, exuberant pitch. The audience has taken to yelling “SIX!!!” every time Bill Murray’s alarm clock goes off at 6:00am. A wag in the audience also yelled “3:02!!” when that time was shown on a clock. One of my favorite shots is the giant alarm clock face switching from 5:59 to 6:00. I found myself yelling along with everyone without even intending to.

Our genius neighbors got told for the second time to put away their electronic devices during the showing of the movie. They take huge offense to this despite the rules’ clear prohibition on devices, and the scolding was a topic they discussed with the utmost derision every twenty minutes for the rest of the contest. “We’ll give her an anti-bitch coupon if she’ll let us use our phones,” they snickered. The also took to calling the attendant a “device Nazi.”

The audience’s sense of humor reflected the fact that we’d been there for sixteen hours: “That’s Shia LaBeouf’s stepdad!” someone yells when Production Assistant Alecia LaRue’s name rolls by in the credits.

6:00pm – I began getting kind of antsy. My stomach was weighted down with food, as I’d eaten all my provisions out of fear that they’d go bad. I wondered if I could sneak into a different movie. I wasn’t too bothered by the ethical dilemma of not seeing every single showing, as sometimes self-preservation trumps morality. But just getting up and walking around is good too:

Pressure ulcers, also known as decubitus ulcers or bedsores, are localized injuries to the skin and/or underlying tissue that usually occur over a bony prominence as a result of pressure, or pressure in combination with shear and/or friction. The most common sites are the sacrum, coccyx, heels or the hips, but other sites such as the elbows, buttocks, knees, ankles or the back of the cranium can be affected.

A simple example of a mild pressure sore may be experienced by healthy individuals while sitting in the same position for extended periods of time: the dull ache experienced is indicative of impeded blood flow to affected areas. Within two hours, this shortage of blood supply, called ischemia, may lead to tissue damage and cell death. The sore will initially start as a red, painful area. The other process of pressure ulcer development is seen when pressure is high enough to damage the cell membrane of muscle cells. The muscle cells die as a result and skin fed through blood vessels coming through the muscle die. This is the deep tissue injury form of pressure ulcers and begins as purple intact skin.”

The customary ‘SIX!’ yell started off a ‘7! 8! 9!’ succession. Someone yelled “You can count!” in response, to which the initial yeller yelled “I’m a math major!” This was actually true – the proud math major was observed doing math homework between each showing.

Our neighbors’ choice comment from this showing addressed the motivations of the “creepy” psychiatrist Bill Murray sees: “Mommy touched me when I was little so now I’m going to help people,” they narrated.

In 2012, Bill Murray embarked on a nationwide party tour in which he would come to your house and hang out, provided you call him Keyser Söze and had a banner out front that says “Bill Murray can crash here!” There was some speculation/hope that he (or anyone from the movie, for that matter) would make a surprise appearance at the contest, especially since Murray reportedly has a house in Dublin, a nearby suburb.

(Bill Murray was also said to have this trick where he’d walk up to you and steal your hat [and not return it] just so you could tell your friends that Bill Murray stole your hat. Yes, it would be funny, but reckoned I would also be pretty annoyed if he stole my lucky hat. As he hadn’t shown up, it did not seem that this was in danger of happening.)

8:00pm – I got up and walked around for the last forty-five minutes of this showing. I met Max Vokhgelt in the lobby and he told me that he and his friends were keeping some tallies: “I’ve Got You, Babe” plays ten times in the movie, as does the “Pennsylvania Polka.” I added this to my own list of tallies: Bill Murray is slapped ten times, once because he asks to be slapped, once in the bedroom, and eight times during the sequence showing his repeated failure to woo Andie MacDowell. Fifteen snowballs are thrown during the snowball fight sequence, the last being a particularly (some may say unnecessarily) forceful throw at a kid. There is an uncomfortable scene when Bill Murray tries to get Andie MacDowell to stay with him – she offers ten refusals to his fifteen inducements to stay. He hits himself in the face three times in the psychiatrist’s office. “Strrrriiiiiiike!!” is yelled by the audience when the guy gets a strike at the bowling alley, and someone pointed out that, come the final showing of the movie, the guy will have bowled twelve strikes, a perfect game. Candice at the concession stand said that everyone was cheery and optimistic when the day started but by this point everyone was red-eyed and looked defeated. Alcohol sales were steady. The staff was commendable for the quality of the bathrooms – I was worried about potential hygienic disaster but it had all been managed perfectly. The movie theater itself did not take on the offensive odor one might expect from three hundred people sitting around and eating all day, so that was a relief too. This was the penultimate showing and people seem to be gearing up for an explosive final viewing.

9:00pm – someone in the first row was clearly using a tablet. It was a dark theater, so any source of light was completely noticeable from anywhere in the room. A few people started booing, and a few people yelled warnings at the dude to put it away. Suddenly, the movie stopped and the lights turned on – a staff member walked up to the guy and told him he committed his final error and that he’d have to leave. My neighbors renewed their colorful invectives against the fascist theater staff, as they were beside themselves that such an affront was actually taking place. Not that I encourage submitting to some arbitrary authority, but the rules for the marathon were very clear, not to mention the offending party had been repeatedly warned that devices are verboten any time the movie was playing.

10:00pm – the last showing was great and worth the 22 previous hours. Everyone immediately started yelling and cheering when the movie began, and everything yelled throughout the night was repeated again, but much louder and more enthusiastically, if that was even possible. People got up and danced to the opening credit music and the music used to transition between scenes. The warnings for Bill Murray to watch out for a shovel that’s about to hit him reach a fevered pitch, with the awesome kid in the audience noting sadly that “he never heeds our warnings” after Bill Murray gets clocked. Someone yelled ‘HOGROUND DAY!’ and for some reason this was utterly hilarious. The scene where Gobbler’s Knob is named for the first time was an audience favorite: “Wait for it….wait for it…. [‘Gobbler’s Knob’] YEAH!!!!!” “Why is that funny?” someone asked. Uh, what? The place is called Gobbler’s Knob for crying out loud! The last viewing definitely felt like the shortest. I wanted the movie to progress not so I could go home but to hear the new commentary to our favorite parts of the film. But before you knew it, the challenge was over. No more stills or Pennsylvania polka or card-punching once the credits finished scrolling. People gathered their belongings and shuffled out of the theater as easily as if they were leaving a normal night at the movies.

The movie originally ended with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell waking on February the 3rd to find that Andie is trapped in her own time loop, and I’m sure there would be more than enough people willing to stay for another twenty-four hours. I’m sure Pat would have been up to it.

 

11 down, 1 to go!

11 down, 1 to go!

****

As is the case with any fun event, once it is over you can’t believe all of the anticipation and antics have finally come to an end. It is weird experiencing something unusual with hundreds of other people and then leaving as if nothing had happened. It was kind of a bummer to bid goodbye to all these intimate strangers.

Walking home was a little strange because my sense of time was genuinely kind of skewed. Not that I am by any means whatsoever comparing myself to people who have actually experienced some kind of horrible real life imprisonment, but I had the briefest glimpse into what confinement-induced time disorientation must be like. It felt like ages ago that Pat and I walked from my apartment to the movie theater, but it also felt like no time had passed at all. Fortunately I was already wearing sweatpants and comfortable tennis shoes – the discomfort of my compressed ass could be addressed by running a few laps around the block.

Would I do the challenge again? Possibly, as the last couple of viewings are definitely worth experiencing again. Will I do it again? I’m not sure, for right now the idea of seeing a movie in a theater sometime even in the next month is pretty unappealing. But I do have a year’s worth of free tickets, so a night at the movies might be in order to simply to celebrate my dubious accomplishment. Having ate and slept and lived there for a day, the theater almost felt like a home away from home.

(Apparently a musical adaptation of Groundhog Day in the works, which I will absolutely not be seeing once, let alone twelve, times. A musical marathon would be tantamount to torture, even if it is based on a story I have come to know intimately.)

 

Rebuffed and Disappointed at the Threshold of Sexapalooza 2014

“Sex is like snow – you never know how many inches you’re going to get or how long it’s going to last.”
“Sex without love is mating; love without sex is philosophy.”

Fortunately it is not often that this author experiences significant disappointment. Cancelled dinner plans, rescheduled hangouts, the heater of one’s car not working on a long drive in the middle of winter are all part of being human, and these mild inconveniences can usually be dealt with and forgotten with little difficulty. But a run of relatively painless living made the collapse of a recently scheduled meeting with Liz Lewis all the more of a letdown. Lewis is the proprietrix of Black Kat productions, and she was in town to oversee Columbus’ third annual Sexapalooza, an adult expo offering a “diverse collection of exhibitors, entertainment, educators and non-profit community groups that represent each city’s sexual community.”

I wanted to speak with Liz Lewis for a book I’m working on about the ins-and-outs of a variety of occupations and hobbies: what is done differently do make Sexapalooza a more female-oriented show? The parent company is Canadian, so what kind of international rigmarole do you have to go through to plan things from afar? What kind of sponsors jump at the chance to partner with such an event, aside from the obvious? Was it possible to work in this field without being, ahem, pleasantly distracted all the time?

I initially made a phone call to the marketing and graphic design department of Black Kat productions, the assumption being that the marketing behind a kink convention would be substantially different than that of something a little less edgy. The woman responsible for this department said she was too new to give a comprehensive overview of working for Black Kat, and she said that Liz Lewis, the president and founder, would be the person to talk to since Sexapalooza is her brainchild. She offered to try to set up a meeting with Lewis on Sunday at noon, as early Sunday is the calmest time of the event and there would likely be plenty of time to talk. I got confirmation the next day that the meeting was set up, and I immediately got to work researching the event.

Lewis was originally in the magazine business, publishing Touch, a magazine for the swinger community, and then Whiplash, a magazine for the BDSM community. As the internet made print BDSM community-building increasingly obsolescent, Lewis ended her run as a print publisher and started Black Kat Enterprises, a company that distributes adult toys and novelties. This side of the business led her to exhibiting at the Western Canada Taboo shows and various other sexpos, which in turn led her to start her own adult consumer show. Thus Sexapalooza was founded in 2007. Sexapalooza is now an international affair, with events held yearly in Canada and the US. According to Men’s Health magazine, Columbus has the honor of being the third most sexually active city in the country. And because of its statistical averageness, it is also a city known as a reliable test market for various new products and foods. The city’s refreshing openness yet familiar consumer values make Columbus the ideal place for an upscale adult expo.

Unfortunately, the questions I wanted to ask were to remain largely unanswered. The parking lot monitors were typically unpleasant (seriously, try to talk to them) and their gnarliness augured nothing good for the interview. The $7 parking fee didn’t help, and neither did getting yelled at by the same people for trying the wrong door. Lewis was located by the staff and we were introduced, but I was told immediately that she wasn’t going to be available. Her time was very valuable, as was made clear by repeated mid-conversation bids for me to Hold on just a minute! while she addressed the concerns of whoever was on the other end of her earpiece. (Though it should be noted that the stress inherent in running a major adult expo can be assumed, and it is absolutely understandable that my ideal, hours-long, conversation couldn’t realistically take place.)

The look of disappointment that greeted this author when he was introduced to the interviewee was enormous, as the lack of major press credentials was clearly a letdown:

“Who are you with?”
“Uh…myself?”
*Sigh*

All further interactions involved trying to impress someone who doesn’t respect you professionally in the least. I was told to come back in half an hour. Agreement on my end was assumed, as Lewis was already walking away before the initial sound of the word ‘yes’ was even completed.
Sexapalooza 2014 was held January 17th-19th at the Vets Memorial building in downtown Columbus, a building worth noting for its historical status/impending implosion and for the larger than life statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger that flexes out front. (Arnold and Columbus go way back – a promoter named Jim Lorimer set up the first Arnold Sports Festival in 1989 and it has been a mainstay in the city ever since.) The building’s foyer is stripped of all accoutrements; the interior is a strange light blue and the color is punctuated almost exclusively by homemade signs that direct people to the main hall or parking payment machines. Maybe the paucity of décor is deliberate in order to accommodate the maximum variety of events, but the near total lack of signage can also be confusing, as was the case when a mom walked in with her two children. People collectively held their breath as she strode in confidently and looked for the ticket booth. Was she actually trying to bring kids into the sex show? There is a wall of dildos right inside – you can see it from here! Regardless of the intensity of one’s sexual proclivities, everyone else in the foyer looked ready to break out in protest had the lady tried to argue that her kids should be admitted. But it was an honest mistake – it turned out she was looking for the AAA Great Vacations Travel Expo, which was to be held at the same place the following weekend. They promptly left, and it was unclear if the mom even registered what she and her kids accidently almost walked into.

That scene of confusion was witnessed while waiting next to the drinking fountains for the rescheduled interview with Mrs. Lewis. The incident had just finished when Mrs. Lewis came striding back across the room to talk to a paunchy middle-aged guy who was asking for a refund, since he had only stayed for a couple of minutes and didn’t think he should have to pay full price for only a few minutes’ worth of admission. He had time to buy a few things, judging from the heft of the bag he was carrying, but wanted his money back since he didn’t have time to check out any of the product demonstrations or hang around until the “Intro to Burlesque” seminar started at 1:30. (There was a “second-generation professional magician” scheduled to perform as well.)

Lewis listened to the guy’s request politely but with the look of someone who is utterly repulsed by not only the tackiness of such a request but that a person would even think to ask such a lowly thing in the first place. True, the refund request was odd and tacky, and the patron was promptly denied a refund. She then spotted me and rushed over to see what this interview was all about.

Lewis is slightly taller than average, 40s, with long blond hair. She has a small overbite and was clad in an all-black pants suit. The author’s spiel about getting a “comprehensive understanding of what she does and how she does it” didn’t do much to change the low esteem in which he was already held, and his attempted investigations may have furthered her annoyance that she had not only agreed to speak with someone but that that someone was poised to ask multiple pages’ worth of questions. A tacit glance at the stack of papers held aloft made her eyes narrow; she suggested email instead. A hesitant email agreement was struck, and a further attempt to (politely) stress that the project was all about thoroughness resulted only in the comment that she would be answering the questions with one sentence replies only.

There was one last plea to be made: would it be possible to talk about just a few key things, since both author and interviewee are both present? Yes, she sighed, fine, and powerwalked over to a set of stairs in the foyer, where the following conversation occurred. The exchange lasted exactly five minutes and ten seconds:

Did you make a conscious choice to work in the adult industry?

No, I just kind of fell into it because I met somebody and started selling advertising for a magazine. Then I started my own fetish magazine and distributing a line of products and started exhibiting at consumer shows and then I started my own consumer show.

Are the rules that govern this event markedly different than any other event?

The only difference is the by-laws, whatever the local by-laws are regarding nudity. Because I’m in a number of different cities, I have to make sure that were not breaking any of the local by-laws.

Are there any venues for advertising that balk at advertising Sexapalooza?

Oh sure, not in Canada but definitely in the States. The first year we were here, they wouldn’t do billboards. There were a few radio stations that turned me down, some of the entertainment weeklies put me in the back with the prostitutes and escorts and the strip clubs and whatnot. This is the third year now and we’re in the front [of the weeklies]. All of the radio stations want my ads and we’re on billboards and digital boards.

And this event is intended to be a little classier and female-oriented than your average adult trade show?

Definitely. It’s not a porn show. There are other consumer shows that are similar to this that bring all the porn stars in; we don’t. We are more the burlesque, pole dancing, belly dancing, product demonstrations, seminars. There’s more education here, I think.

Taking that into consideration, do you have to turn down certain advertisers that want to take part in Sexapalooza?

Not at all, but we don’t really go after the porn stars or porn producers, so that hasn’t really been a problem. They haven’t come to me, so no.

I understand that you are a devoted Rotarian. How does Sexapalooza and Rotarianism overlap?

I just try to run my business following the beliefs of being a Rotarian, which is being honest, trusting people, trying to be fair, and I try to make sure that when I do business with somebody it’s beneficial to both of us.

Is there any consternation on their part about what you do?

Nope. When I joined the club in Peterborough, everybody knew what I did for a living. There are two clubs in Peterborough – I did join the younger club because I thought they would be more accepting, and there was no problem.

Why did you publish a fetish magazine in particular?

I enjoyed the people, I like the fashion, I like the parties. They were cerebral, they were artsy.

Is there still a misunderstanding about what this event is about, or are people starting to understand it a little bit better?

I think it takes a few years. This is our third year here in Columbus and definitely people know what to expect now. Other cities where I’ve been for six, seven, eight years, yeah, no problem. In Ottawa, for instance, that was my first show, everybody considers it a fun night out, they’re gonna go out and buy some toys and have a good time.

Is the publicity that these events receive fairly accurate in representing what it is supposed to be about?

I think the media is pretty fair with me.

Is there an “average” attendee?

No, not at all. It runs everywhere from whatever the age limit is to get in – back in Ontario it’s 19, in Quebec it’s 18, here it’s 21 – right up to people in their 70s. I started a Sexy Senior discount program a few years ago and we get a lot of seniors coming to the show now.

Is it distracting to work with subject matter like this?

All in all, it’s a business like any other. I get up, I go the office, I get on my computer. I think it’s more fun than selling, I don’t know, office supplies or something boring. It’s more fun because of the subject matter and the people I get to interact with.

Do you see yourself doing this for the foreseeable future?

Probably ‘til I retire, yeah.

The internal debate about whether or not to pay twenty dollars to walk around inside for a little while didn’t last very long. Sexapalooza ultimately was not attended by this author despite the promise of a bondage bed demo and a G-Spot and Female Ejaculation how-to video. (And I certainly didn’t want to commit the same faux pas the refund-attempting guy did in asking for my money back.) The Vets Memorial employees who had helped track down Liz Lewis gave me a card that waived my parking fee, as they had looked on sympathetically as I was rebuffed and dismissed by the organizer. It’s ok though; I’ve never organized a major expo of any kind and so the amount of running around required shouldn’t be underestimated, and I don’t blame her for not wanting to sit down for a leisurely chat. If nothing else, the brief insight I had into Sexapalooza demonstrated that despite the sexiness of an event, the logistical necessities that govern it are the same as those which goes into organizing the Dilbertian insurance company expo that takes place every year at a hotel conference center where I used to work.

Things Left Behind by the Guy Whose Lease I Just Took Over

In celebration of my new apartment (which I actually really like), here is a list of the things I found when I moved in not too long ago. The previous tenant left:

  • a black futon mattress, on the ground, folded into quarters;
  • a porn DVD: “Video Magazine Nineteen, vol. 13: College Girls” (under the futon);
  • a miniature grill with two full cans of lighter fluid;
  • a J°S. A. Banks tie still wrapped in tissue paper, with a $79.95 price tag;
  • a drawer full of loose plastic utensils and a stack of paper plates;
  • a double-boiler;
  • corduroy pants and a blue button-up shirt;
  • a pair of underwear and scattered socks;
  • an almost untouched (still mostly shrink-wrapped) bulk package of peanut candy (which was, ahem, pretty good);
  • a small box of rice;
  • a Harry Potter beer stein, which is about a foot tall, has a heavy silver lid, and features the full-color insignias of all six houses; on the bottom is a price sticker reading $40;
  • a suit hanging in the closet in one of those suit bags you take when you’re traveling;
  • various plastic lids and tops to appliances;
  • a huge pack of paper towels;
  • a wobbly black desk with three white trash bags taped across the top like plastic sheeting, covered in crumbs and featuring one small chemical symbol drawn in pen;
  • and a plastic double-edged skull axe Halloween decoration.

Naturally I contacted him to return some of the valuable stuff. He didn’t want any of it.

(But this was nothing compared to one roommate experience I had. I arrived in Valencia, Spain for the year without arranging anywhere to live beforehand. Through a Craigslist-type message board, I found an apartment for rent and was able to see it that afternoon. I liked the apartment and was eager to stop paying for a hostel, so I was able to work out a deal that I could move in ASAP with the understanding that the remaining two rooms were to be filled as quickly they could, either with people I’d found myself or people that answered an ad the realtor posted online.

A day or two later we got a call from the realtor saying that she had found someone for us. We could come and meet him as soon as we wanted, because at that moment he was in the realtor’s office around the corner, waiting to move into the apartment. We walked over to meet him. We were introduced to his aunt and then to him. My roommate and I exchanged a subtle look because the roommate that the realtor was trying really hard to pretend was a great choice for us was sitting in the corner of the room, breathing heavily, sweating heavily, and looking at us in a way that can only be described as “distraught leering.” He was a big, solid guy and his hair was soaked through. His aunt had actually found the apartment for him and co-signed his lease, as she was looking after him while he was in town.

He seemed nervous and exhausted and his aunt explained that had been on a bus all day, traveling from the northwestern corner of Spain all the way across the country to Valencia. We talked with him and tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, as maybe his deranged appearance would lessen in severity after a shower and a good night’s sleep. He told us that he liked to cook, and we decided that a good way to get to know each other was to make a meal the next evening, after he finished moving in. My roommate and I shrugged as we walked back, trying to empathize with his journey and the stress of meeting new people.

Long story short, the meal was surprisingly good and the awkwardness was more or less only that which occurs when you have to spend time with someone new. A few days go by and it’s fine, though I do start to wonder what I’m going to do when my girlfriend comes to stay for four months, because I definitely wouldn’t feel safe leaving her alone with the new guy when I was at work. He hadn’t yet stopped breathing heavily and interjecting strange exhortations into our conversations and so I wasn’t sure if he was as socially adept as one might hope, a notion that I was trying to pretend was my only worry about him.

One night I went out with a bunch of people and end up staying on someone’s couch across town. My original roommate was going to have some people over, and I was told that there would probably be people crashing on our couch. Cool, the bohemian lifestyle; fine by me. But I got a phone call at about ten thirty the next morning from my roommate. He isn’t home, he says, because he almost got in a fight with the new guy. Why? Because earlier that morning, a girl that was staying on our couch woke up to find the new guy giggling and taking photos with his cellphone as she slept.

She got up and shut herself in the bathroom. She called my roommate, who came out into the living room and asked what was going on. The new guy immediately got super-defensive and says that it’s his house and he can do whatever he wants. The conversation got heated and so my roommate and all his friends leave the apartment. A little while later the new guy’s aunt calls my roommate and asks him why he threatened to punch her nephew. My roommate is gobsmacked and really wanted to ask her how she could possibly think that it was he who should be worried about in this situation.

Shit. I went home and tried to talk to the guy. He was wildly pacing around the apartment and continued to chain smoke. He snapped at me when I suggested he stop smoking because it’s against the lease to smoke inside. Finally we talked for a little while and he seemed to acknowledge that he did something really sketchy, but it’s one of those situations where the shame of it makes him not contrite but want to lash out in the embarrassment he can’t handle. (My roommate said the aunt told him that he made the new guy cry when he threatened him to punch him.) He calmed down a little but then flared up again when my roommate name came up. He pushed his way out of the apartment after calling me a ‘fucking American scum’(!).

My roommate and I met at a bar to discuss the situation. ‘We can’t go back there when he’s there. I won’t go back there when he’s there,’ he said. I agreed. I had a backpack with all of my valuables in it and we both had floors to sleep on that night. We would tell him he had to leave tomorrow. But do we confront him alone? What if he won’t leave? What if he gets violent?

But not too long after we got to the bar, I get a call from the guy’s aunt asking me to meet her. I go to the apartment to talk with her, hoping that this will somehow be resolved but not looking forward to how. We agree we’ll let each other tell our respective sides of the story, and I’m trying all the while to come up with the most tactful way to explain that her nephew is and was being super creepy to people. She was actually a genuinely understanding person, and fortunately for us it turned out that the guy was already on an overnight bus back to where he came from, and she just wanted to clear everything up and suss out what might have really happened.

We went home that night and looked into his room. We stood in the doorway for a second feeling a bit of trepidation about actually walking in, like the guy was in there waiting for us, or that his essence was adrift waiting to be breathed in. We walked in and looked around the room, trying process the weird couple of days we’d just experienced. We started opening drawers to see if he’d left anything behind. Right after nervously laughing about the discomfort we felt having him in the house, we discovered that he had stashed a long kitchen knife in the drawer of the table right next to his bed.

Despite this debacle, the landlord still thought she had the ability to select sane roommates and her search continued. (She also insinuated as long as we lived there that we were somehow at fault for running the guy out.) Unfortunately anyone we might know who needed a house had found one at this point, and so the next two people that lived in the house were people found somehow by the realtor.

Roommate A and I had a few days to ourselves before we were introduced to the next guy one afternoon. We came home from work and he was unpacking in the spare room. He seemed decent enough. He was happy-go-lucky, a moderate soccer fan, and was studying economics. He was from Portugal.

In time, we learned he liked to sing loudly and would belt out tone deaf renditions of 90s US pop songs, but only the choruses or a line or two from a verse repeated over and over. This happened a lot but wasn’t that big of a deal, and it was actually kind of endearing. The weirdest thing that happened with him was a result of my girlfriend and I agreeing to go out with him and his friend. We went to the bar down the street. We hung out and talked on the sidewalk about nothing in particular. The bar always had this incredible deal on tiny bottles of beer, and so every table around us was piled with literally dozens of bottles. Anyway, his friend was nice enough but we were distracted by the act of talking to him, since his face was engineered in such a way that his mouth was always open really, really wide and would blast out pressurized puffs of air into your face every time he used certain syllables. An hour or so later we ended up in a bar that was blasting the ‘Friends’ theme song when we walked in, a song much enjoyed by the patrons, almost all of who were all jumping up and down and clapping with the claps in the song. The new roommate had been really flirty with my girlfriend all night to the point where I was wondering if I should say something to him about it. (And I’m not a needlessly upset guy). But suddenly his attention shifted to me, and he started dancing high up on my thigh, with his eyes closed and head shaking in time with the music. Then he licked my neck and kissed me a couple of times before acting like nothing had happened. Thus the flirtation balance was restored and we continued on into the night.

Roommate A moved out a little while later (supposedly because he wanted to be closer to the center of town) and was replaced with a fresh-faced eighteen year-old kid from Morocco who had never lived outside his parents’ house. I learned that he could usually be found in his room laughing at top volume with his friends on Skype or watching soccer games. Sometimes he would leave to go to the Halal market around the corner, but that was about the only place he went aside from going school, which was down the street from our apartment, on the same block.

His most perplexing behavior was his bathroom behavior. He would shut himself in there for at least a half an hour a time, and when he finally left literally every surface of the bathroom was as soaking wet as if he’d sprayed the entire room with the shower. The toilet seat had drops of water all over it, the towels were damp, the walls were dripping. This never changed and I never learned what he did; I would only hope that I got to the bathroom before he did.

One day I walked in the kitchen as he was microwaving the collapsed remains of a rotisserie chicken, but not on a plate. It was just sitting on the rotating microwave tray. A little while later his dad came to visit for a week. His dad was always neatly dressed in a suit and tie. We didn’t speak any mutual languages so he just smiled at me or shook my hand profusely every time we passed. One evening I met them in the kitchen. They were preparing dinner by microwaving a box full of popcorn shrimp, again without a plate, just sitting on the rotating tray. The shrimp had a breading that in the oven would have been crispy and nice but in the microwave completely melted and turned into a gross glop that covered even a wider section of the microwave plate. I finally asked him why he did this. Not out of anger or disgust, just genuine curiosity about what was going on. He said that he didn’t use a plate because he didn’t know you could microwave them. But what about the soup you regularly microwave in a bowl? I asked. It’s the exact same principle. I saw him consider this and agree.
The last problem I experienced in this apartment happened in August, when I was moving out as almost the entire city of Valencia goes on vacation. I left a pair of shoes and sandals and a sweatshirt and some magazines there to get later but when I came back to get them, I found that the other two guys had already gone home, the realtor’s office was closed until September, and the guy who actually owned the place was far away on vacation as well. Thus the apartment consumed a handful of my belongings.)