Tag Archives: column

Remember The Maine!

March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Remember the Maine?

Press baron and Citizen Kane archetype William Randolph Hearst told us to do just that in 1898, but most have forgotten these days because we have so many other things to remember, like our Amazon Prime password and debit card pin number, let alone where we parked the car in the shopping mall parking lot.

In our defense, we do still remember Pearl Harbor and some of us even “remember the kind of September,” though revivals of The Fantasticks do seem to be thankfully decreasing in frequency.

Anyway, here’s a refresher. The USS Maine, an obsolete, poorly designed battleship, plagued by cost overruns during its construction—there is nothing new about military budget waste—sailed into Havana harbor to “show the flag.” That is, America wanted to show a little newfound muscle towards Spain, the last colonial power besides us left in the Western Hemisphere.

Well, our “muscle” sat there in the harbor for a couple of weeks until, tragically, it blew up along with 200 of its sailors. Immediately the American newspapers put forth the story that the Spaniards had treacherously used a mine to destroy the ship. Hence the headlines: “Remember the Maine!”

A nifty little war ensued. In short order, Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila and sank the Spanish Pacific fleet, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, in support of the African-American 10th Cavalry, charged up San Juan Hill in Cuba. (Teddy got all the press, of course.) Cuba was independent pending the later outcome of Michael Corleone’s casino scheme with Hyman Roth, and the Philippines, freed of its old Spanish overlords, were then happy to be governed by new American overlords. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Sorry, I can never resist tossing in a quote from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. It’s my thing. Stick with me, I know where I’m going.

So—“Remember the Maine”—remember? Well, the thing is, it wasn’t blown up by a mine at all. Most experts now agree that the cause of the fateful explosion was a fire in a coal bunker. Yes, our old friend coal. It was big in 1898. Sure glad we’ve moved on from the stuff here in the “modern” world. The slowly growing fire in one of the battleship’s coal bunkers eventually ignited the ship’s powder stores. Boom! War! History!

And where do you keep the powder, and ammunition for a big ship’s guns? According to Merriam-Webster, you keep that stuff in a “magazine.” In this case, a magazine that changed the course of a nation.

Which brings me to my point—I know, finally, right?—a magazine.

Happy milestone to Omaha Magazine. This issue marks the completion of 35 volumes in print. Has this magazine changed the world? Maybe it has, a little here, a little there. Change does occur when facts and inspiration can join forces. Thirty-five volumes highlighting the people, places, issues, and interests of our community; giving writers, journalists, artists, and leaders a forum where they can share and inform; giving our city and region a chance to look clearly at our triumphs and tribulations.

So, here’s to more explosions of art and ideas. Here’s to Omaha Magazine.

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

What I Know For Sure

February 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We all “know” things.

I mean, we just believe this or are convinced of that, or we think another thing is probably true. But beyond all that, there are those things we simply “know.” They are the certainties programmed into our DNA—buried in our psyches.

We all know that the world is flat. As proof, we are all aware of people who have gone west and never come back.

We all know that lemmings go into a frenzy when the mating season tips things out of balance. We all know that the little rejected male voles, drowning in hormones, rush off in a column for the nearest cliff and follow on off the edge to their fluffy deaths on the rocks below. Millions have witnessed this phenomenon in a Max Fleischer cartoon from 1936.

We all know that the only man-made object that can be seen from space is the Great Wall of China. We heard it from a friend, who knows a guy, whose slightly tipsy aunt was told this by Buzz Aldrin at a Cold War-era cocktail party in Naples, Florida.

It is established in our heads that penguins mate for life. Never mind that none of us have ever seen a penguin engage in extra-marital egg cradling.

Napoleon Bonaparte was short. He was very short. The “little corporal” was a tiny man. We all know that this lack of stature caused the Corsican to overcompensate and prove himself the match for any “tall” man by conquering Europe. We’ve all known a short person who shares this “Napoleon Complex,” and we never invite them to our dinner parties because we don’t have booster seats handy. Randy Newman put it all into a song.

We all are certain that our mothers were right to warn us that we should not go in the water for an hour after eating. If we jump into the overcrowded municipal pool 55 minutes after the bologna with Miracle Whip sandwich, we will immediately cramp up and sink to the bottom of the over-chlorinated water and go unnoticed by the cute lifeguard who is flirting with the bad boy outside the chain link fence. We all trust our mothers.

It is simply true, and we absolutely know it to be true, that Vikings had horns on their helmets. We all saw the drawings in our history books picturing Eric the Red doing something, or Leif Erikson doing something else, and they always had horns.

It is an established historical fact (and oft-repeated) that though Mussolini was a fascist thug, he did make the trains run on time. I think that’s supposed to excuse all of his other sins.

Those are just some of the things we “know.” Of course, they are all wrong. All of them. Every single one.

The world is round. People actually return from California, even if they are not pleased with having to come back after not making it in Hollywood.

Lemmings do not blindly follow other lemmings over the edge of cliffs. I mean, it would be cool if they did, but they just don’t.

It’s actually very hard to see the Great Wall from space, but you can see I-80, or the huge San Bernardino Walmart parking lot (larger than 45 percent of incorporated towns in America) easily from the International Space Station porthole.

Penguins do not mate for life. It’s just that they all look alike and private detectives have problems tailing them when trying to catch them in flagrante delicto. “Is that Paul on the left in the tuxedo?”…“Beats the hell out of me.”

Napoleon was not short. He was 5’7”, which is one full inch taller than the average male in the era. Historians know this because they measured a lot of old clothes. Sorry, short people, you do indeed have no reason to live.

You could eat a Thanksgiving feast with all the tryptophan-laced trimmings and start your channel swim straight out of your chair. The biggest danger you would face is falling asleep, and missing the Chargers vs. Cowboys game.

Vikings did not have horns on their helmets. I don’t know why they didn’t because it would have been cool, but the whole horned helmet thing is Richard Wagner’s fault.

Finally, it turns out that Mussolini wasn’t good at anything, except making people think he got the trains to run on time. He didn’t. Plus, he was a monster.

Yep, it turns out we know less than we think. Maybe that’s a good thing. It’s hard to learn when you know too much.

All I know, I know, I know, I know…is, there ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone.

Otis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This column was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Invest In Yourself

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is nothing easy about running a business. But if keeping going is akin to spinning grandma’s good china while juggling flaming knives as you tame a coterie of ill-tempered badgers with little more than a spork—while blindfolded—actually starting the business is doubly so. Ask me how I know, assuming I can manage to get the badgers tranquilized and carted back to Wisconsin.

One of the most difficult things about starting a business is acquiring money. And, if you’re thinking of striking out on your own after 15 years as a roofer, you’re probably not going to find an angel investor at the Colab Construction Incubator who wants to float you a year or two’s operating costs and a pallet of roofing nails. So, maybe you get a loan. Maybe your friends and family invest. Maybe you scrape along project-by-project trying to make the cash flow actually live up to its name. Regardless, you don’t have a fistful of dollars to drop on anything inessential. Which is why you absolutely must lessen your kung-fu grip and drop some bread on your brand.

Notice that I said “brand” and not “marketing.” While I do think you should start making a habit of spending actual money on marketing as soon as possible, I believe in putting first things first. And your brand is first. Because you shouldn’t market what you don’t yet have figured out.

Chances are, you didn’t set aside much (any?) startup money for brand development beyond promising your cousin with the mad Creative Suite skills a case of microbrew for doing your logo. I understand the desire/ necessity to be as frugal as possible. But while it is technically possible to fix your brand later, it’s neither strategically nor financially sound to go that route.

So, here are the things you should consider paying money for from professionals who know what they’re doing: Business name, brand platform, logo, color palette/design standards, tone-of-voice, and doughnuts. Even if you think you have a good name for your company, at least consult someone with no emotional attachment to it or an in-law relationship to you. If you don’t know what a brand platform is, that’s all the more reason to have one—it will keep you focused on doing the right things while targeting the right people. The logo, standards, and tone- of-voice are the embodiment of your brand in the marketplace—it’s easier to stand out when these are done well. The doughnuts speak for themselves.

Combined, these elements give you a foundation for your business that should last for years. And it is even possible to find really great people and agencies who can do them at a cost that won’t cause heart palpitations. Also, even though you can list these things as expenses on your tax return, it is best to consider them investments. Because that’s what they are. And you’ll never have to pay capital gains tax on the brand equity you start building today.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

It’s True, Tourism Touches All of Our Lives

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Astonished. That’s the word that describes colleagues, friends, family, and groups when they learn what tourism looks like in our city. Ask a family member or friend to guess how many visitors come to Omaha each year and chances are their answer will not even come close. New research shows 12.3 million visitors travel to Omaha each year—that’s more than the total population of Portugal or Greece. They visit for weekend getaways, to see family and friends, to attend conferences, sporting events and concerts, and to conduct business. And while here they spend money. Visitors spend $1.2 billion every year at our restaurants, attractions, hotels, retail shops, and other enterprises. Their spending contributes to our local economy, tax revenue, community development, and other important benefits we all enjoy.

Visitor spending also creates jobs—17,280 of them. One in every 17 jobs in Omaha is supported by visitor spending, which means you probably know someone who has a job in tourism, or has a job thanks to tourism. In fact, tourism is the eighth largest private sector employer in Omaha. 

Still don’t think your life is touched by tourism? Let’s talk taxes. Taxes generated by visitor spending saves each Douglas County household $730 per year. If visitors stop coming to Omaha and stop spending their money here, your taxes would go up or the current level of government services would go down. We would also see a significant number of jobs lost in the tourism industry if visitors did not show up.    

You can help Omaha’s tourism numbers grow even bigger. Keep inviting family and friends to visit. If your business, association, or industry hosts meetings, conferences, trade shows, reunions, or any other special event, invite them to Omaha and provide an economic boost to our economy.

After seeing the numbers, people get it—tourism is a big deal and a great deal for our city.

Visit Omaha can help.

If bringing a meeting home seems overwhelming to you, Visit Omaha, Omaha’s official tourism authority, is here to help at no cost.  Visit Omaha has the expertise and resources to help make your meeting or event, a success. Check out visitomaha.com/meetings to start planning your event.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Four Steps to Strategic Planning for Startups

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One of the keys to starting a new business successfully is having a strategic plan in place. This helps companies determine their direction, plan for the future, identify opportunities, and anticipate issues. It also helps companies keep up with changing client needs and market trends, stay ahead of the competition, unite employees around a shared vision, and ultimately make better business decisions. Although a strategic plan is critical for business success, it can be difficult for new owners to know where to start.

Start with your vision. What do you want your company to be like three to five years from now? Be specific. What will you have achieved? What will your competitive advantage be? What will your culture be? How will people work together? How will your company treat customers? How will people communicate with one another? What markets will you have tapped into? How will people make decisions? What new services will you offer? How will people demonstrate accountability? What will your reputation be? How will other organizations and the surrounding community view your company?

Identify the roadblocks. They could be policies, procedures, attitudes, etc. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes less so. Consider what issues exist for your new company. Limited startup capital? Hiring warm bodies instead of true talent? Unfocused marketing strategy? Outdated technology platforms? Inconsistent pricing model? Squirrel syndrome? Figure out what could get in the way of achieving your vision and write it down.

Identify your strategies. What actions will you take to destroy your roadblocks and achieve your vision? These strategies may be projects, initiatives, events, etc. For example, what will you do to overcome an unfocused marketing strategy and achieve brand recognition? Establish partnerships with recognized brands? Identify competitive differentiators? Generate strategies for each of your roadblocks and be as specific as possible.

Nail down the specifics of implementation. What strategies will you focus on in your first year? What specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, time-bound steps need to be taken? Who will do what and when? Divide your first year into quarters, and drill into the specifics of what will take place in each quarter to keep your plan moving forward. As you look at your overall plan, consider whether the timing seems feasible and whether anyone has too much on his or her plate. Prioritize and rearrange as necessary. Next, decide how you will hold yourself and others accountable to the plan. Schedule regular follow-up meetings, and review and revise your plan each year.

Startups face many risks, but some of them can be avoided through proper strategic planning. Regularly review and revise your plan to keep up with a fast-paced, ever-changing world.

Lauren Weivoda, M.A., is a​ ​human​ ​capital​ ​strategist​​ at Solve Consulting LLC.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

From the Editor

December 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I recently told a colleague the story of how Carmen Clark, former administrative assistant at Make-A-Wish Foundation, told me several times that she was always surprised when she saw me, because she thought of me as a tall woman. (At 5’0”, I certainly am not tall.) Usually we conducted business via the phone, and apparently I emit a tall presence.

My last name is also frequently mispronounced. Admittedly, Hutzell-Rodman is a mouthful. Yet a surprising number of people think my last name is Rodham, as in Hillary Rodham Clinton. Politics aside, one cannot deny that she has been a career-minded woman.

Perhaps part of the reason why people mispronounce my name is because my normal attitude towards life is “I can,” as in “Yes, I can find sponsors for an annual car show.” “Yes, I can write another 800-word article and turn it in today.” While I cannot do everything, this attitude has helped many women in their careers.

That’s one common theme with the women in this issue. They can. Our second annual Women in Business edition highlights some incredible businesswomen. They can collaborate, code websites, manage banks, move boxes in high heels, run a bar, head a school, even own a
mobile business.

I loved reading about the strengths of the incredible women in this magazine.

Along with being the Women in Business special edition, this magazine includes the Best of B2B ballot, which can be found on pages 55 and 56. Now is the business community’s chance to vote on everything from best commercial cleaning service to best place to eat a business lunch.  We’ll reveal the results of the contest in April.

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is the managing editor of B2B, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.

This letter was printed in the Winter 2018 edition of B2B.


November 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not a “Best Of” category that we consider, but we should.

There’s a guy who works on the Yard Waste Truck that services my neighborhood, who I noticed one day, who should be considered for one of our “best.” It’s easy to forget the folks who keep everything going—the people who are at the foundation of our society. This guy is great. I don’t use the word great lightly. His greatness can be traced back 2,350 years. Let me explain.

Back in the fourth century B.C.E., Alexander of Macedonia won so many battles, and marched his army over such great distances spreading Hellenistic culture, and named more entire cities after himself than our current president’s eponymous towers, he became “the Great,” or Alexander “the Best.”

Then other conquerors came along to challenge Alexander. Julius “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres” Caesar made his claim. He spread the Roman Empire across Western Europe right up to the Rhine—where my tree-worshipping German ancestors on the far side of the river gave him reason to yearn for another summer on the French Riviera. He was good, but Julius had a rich, united, populous, hyper-organized society at his back, a society that knew the difference between X and C. Alexander came from a cultural backwater. A rocky province far from the core of a quarrelsome, city vs. city, fragmented Greek civilization that had been weakened by years of internecine warfare and hemlock overdoses. Julius falls short—Alexander the Best.

Mehmed the Conqueror took down the last vestiges of the Roman Empire when he took Constantinople in 1453. He spread the Ottoman Empire across the Middle East, the Balkans, the Crimea, and into Central Europe where he even bested Prince Vlad III, best known as Dracula. But he too, was the beneficiary of a well-organized, large base of operations—the Macedonians were but a speck on the map in a time when most maps were covered with dragons, monsters, and blank spaces. Again, Alexander the Best.

Napoleon humbled army after army sent against him by the scions of a post-feudal, aristocratic system, that was, even then, feeling the tide of “modern” culture as it dampened the careworn threads of its fraying cloak. (But Napoleon had gunpowder, artillery, muskets, factories, powdered wigs, and crepes. Alexander had a one-eyed father and a homicidal mother. Nowadays the lad would have needed some serious therapy, but back then, he translated his trauma into a career of conquest. Alexander outranks him.

So what made Alexander the “Best?”

Was it his tactical skill in battle? His force of personality? His legendary horse Bucephalus? (Forget Roy Rogers and Trigger. Bucephalus was, by all accounts, the “best” horse ever.) All these factors are important, but the root of Alexander’s greatness starts in the forests of Macedonia’s rugged mountains and valleys. There was a tree in that wooded landscape that lent itself to being cut into long shafts. Tipped with a spearhead, these lances, known as sarissas, stretched up to 20 feet long. The Macedonian army, organized into square formations known as a phalanx, bristling with these elongated, fearsome weapons were simply unbeatable—at least until they ran into enraged elephants in the Indus. The wood of these trees has the perfect grain, the perfect blend of flexibility, weight, and strength that could be assembled in sections like fishing pole and used to conquer the world.

Which brings me to those same trees, the trees that made the lances, the trees that grace my front yard—the mighty ash.

My ash trees have grown old. They shed branches like I shed hair. I take those branches and cut, cut, and chainsaw them into shorter lengths that I bundle and leave at the curb. And then he arrives.

Announced with the rumble of the green Deffenbaugh truck, he balances with one foot on a pad and one hand holding a rung at the rear of the vehicle. He performs a perfect semi-jeté off the running board towards my pile of wood before the truck has even made a complete squeaking stop, pirouettes as he snags the broken bundles, and flings them without a single wasted motion into the maw of the compactor. Then, in a blink, he is back onboard and the truck moves on, now carrying scraps of the same wood that made Alexander immortal.

I watched it all from my porch. I thought to myself, “This guy is great.”

He is the best.

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This column was published in the 2018 Best of Omaha results book.


August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“What if” questions seem to be a big thing on social media these days.

Like…“What if you were dying and could listen to one more song before the end—what song would it be?” 

It’s not so much the “what” that bothers me. I just avoid anything to do with “if.” 

Except, of course, Rudyard Kipling’s great poem of that very title, which begins: 

“If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you…”

But then, as wise as Kipling was, no one took his advice about invading Afghanistan—don’t. So, it’s just more evidence that folks never listen to poets. If we’d listened to Kipling…well…sorry…there’s that “if” again.

But, back to the questions at hand, here’s one that was popular for a while: “If you could have just one super power, what would it be?”

The top two answers by far are: the ability to fly and invisibility. You can tell a lot about someone by his or her choice in this category. Being invisible is a selfish, perverse, and unacceptable answer. We all know what you’d do if you were invisible. It wouldn’t be saving lives, or rescuing people, or anything unselfish. We know what you’d do, so don’t try to make up some scenario where invisibility is used for the common good. Just don’t.

Flying, on the other hand, is a noble, useful, ennobling superpower. You can swoop in and save people in all sorts of dangerous situations—like on boats drifting toward the edge of Niagara Falls. You could take deserving people on really cool vacations while avoiding embarrassing pat downs in the TSA lines at airports. You could save kittens in tall trees and be famous because of the resultant viral YouTube video. You could speed up your friend’s move from that fifth floor walk-up apartment, stuff like that.

Another posting that bothers me is, “If you could give your 12-year-old self advice, what would it be?”

Aside from the implausibility of this whole time travel scenario, I mean, what if when I was back in time looking for my 12-year-old self, I accidentally gave my grandfather some bad advice, and he invested the family fortune in Studebaker? But that aside—that and the fact that there was no “family fortune” to squander—giving advice to myself seems to be a pointless conceit. I never took any advice from anyone. The fact that my older self was offering counsel would not have made the slightest difference. Being the pubescent lad I was, I would have simply laughed, put on my lucky socks, and gone back to the baseball diamond shaking my head.

So what advice would I try to give? Simple. Don’t sign with the Cardinals. If only I had listened.

“If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would you choose?”

Lots of people say Jesus, or better yet, God. I think they’re just trying to impress. Besides stretching the definition of “historical figure,” God just wouldn’t be a good dinner companion. Think about it. What could you say that he hadn’t already heard a few billion times? And what could he say that you would understand? No. And I’m not interested in dining with Abraham Lincoln—I’ve read all his folksy jokes—or Jefferson, or Mata Hari, or King this, or Kaiser that, or any famous author—trust me, you never want to sup with a writer. 

“If” I gotta pick a historical figure with whom to have a long, conversation-filled meal, I choose my dad, Vincent Henry. He’s the bit of history I’d like to spend more time with… and…and…and maybe Mark Twain, who is way beyond the category of “writer.” Dad would understand if I brought him along.

Right, I haven’t answered the original hypothetical. “If you were dying and could listen to one more song before the end—what song would it be?”

It depends. If I’m having one of those peaceful, romantic death scenes like Garbo in Camille, then I’d want to stretch it out a bit, and I’d go for Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony. It clocks in at around 105 minutes. If we’re talking a painful, traumatic exit, well then, The Minute Waltz if you please.

But all these are just “ifs.”

And as my grandfather said, “If Grandma had had wheels, she’da been a wagon.”


Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This column was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Listen to Otis read this column in his own words here:

Transitorily Yours

May 31, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

Since we all know millennials are prone to nostalgia and the whole “Netflix’n’chill” bit, I recently watched the series The Get Down.

In the Netflix production, a couple of kids work their way through the economically famished world of New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Set amongst the cultural landscape that later was identified as the roots of hip-hop, the show is a brilliant representation of historical fiction. But unless you have a deep understanding of what was going on in that time period, you may have only picked up on half of the storyline. The stones that were dropped in America’s cultural pond during this era are still rippling all around us today. So let’s dive deeper into a few things.

In episode 3 of The Get Down, there was the citywide blackout. That actually happened. It was in the steamy summer of 1977 during the time of serial killer Son of Sam, when Times Square was filled with prostitutes and drug dealers—when the city was in the midst of bankruptcy and at any time, dozens of buildings were burning in the Bronx.

In the midst of this calamity, one night a flash of lighting caused all of NYC to erupt into darkness. Citizens switched on their reptilian brains and proceeded to vandalize and plunder. Interestingly enough, this is the very situation hip-hop needed.

Why? Before the blackout, only a handful of hip-hop DJs­—such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Jazzy Jay—resided in the Bronx. Mixers, turntables, and sound systems were cost-prohibitive. After the blackout, hundreds of new DJs and battle crews popped up across all five boroughs.

This unforeseen tipping point allowed hip-hop to spread throughout the city, and later to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Here’s another cue: In one episode, Jaden Smith’s character “Dizzee” discovered an underground disco club that was brimming with drag queens and Quaaludes.

TV critic Lisa Liebman speculated this scene was portraying David Mancuso’s The Loft and/or Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage.

Heard of these real-life nightclubs? Probably not. That’s because when we think of disco, we often think of Studio 54.

But the only reason why Studio 54 is relevant is because all the rich, famous, and mostly straight white folks went there. It’s the Paris Hilton of legendary nightclubs—famous for being famous. The “real” happened at spots like Nicky Siano’s Gallery, as well as the aforementioned Paradise Garage and Loft.

From alterations, to sound systems, to the founding of the first record pool, to turning unknown records into mega hits in a time when DJs determined what was played on the radio (as opposed to vice versa today), the legacy of these venues created the blueprint for modern nightclubs.

Heavily frequented by the gay, black, and Latino populations, these spots were pioneers of inclusivity. This was a time when being gay meant you often had to project a false image to your family, co-workers, and community.

Could you imagine what it would feel like to hide your identity on a daily basis? Imagine what it would feel like to be an LGBTQ person walking into a club for the first time, seeing like-minded people dancing with wild abandon, and then suddenly realizing you weren’t alone, and you could, perhaps, for the first time in your life, freely express yourself.

For more than a decade, my studies of this time period have been a big source of inspiration for the work I’ve done as a DJ, promoter, and club owner. While this era was set amongst dire economic poverty, it was incredibly rich with cultural breakthroughs—disco, hip hop, emceeing, breakdancing, graffiti, street art, Basquiat, Keith Haring, CBGB, post-punk, and the post-Stonewall sexual liberation movement.

Depending on who you ask, NYC was either a complete shit hole, or it was a totally unique creative and cultural utopia yet to be matched.

When taking that dichotomy into consideration, a larger lesson comes into focus about the role of the human condition. Simply put, struggle breeds the need to find an outlet. When society presents us with a problem, we often turn to culture for the solution. Creativity becomes a form of adaptation and escapism from the bleakness. This process is a beautiful call-and-response that pushes us beyond mediocrity, urging us to collectively create lasting legacies.

So now that we’ve re-contextualized a few things, I suggest you go even deeper and get on YouTube to watch VH1’s documentary NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell. Not only will it flip your perspective on life, but also give new dimension and relevance to The Get Down.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

This column was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

Drunk on a Truth Binge

April 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

What does a medieval murder have to do with your television viewing habits?

How could a bit of historical treachery lead to a description of your propensity for watching endless hours of Netflix, abandoning family and friends for 28 consecutive episodes featuring a British actor playing an epically depressed Swedish detective, or your continued, addictive retreat into the vast canon of Sex in the City?

Indeed, the old saw is all too true: “Those who do not know history are doomed to re-watch it.”

There’s a Shakespeare quote from Henry VI, Part I that offers our first clue. “A base Walloon, to win the Dauphin’s grace/Thrust Talbot with a spear in the back.”

“Who the heck was Talbot?” you wonder as you search for your Amazon Fire remote. “Glad you asked,” I reply. Sir John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, was an English commander during the Hundred Years War. (Yes, back in the 15th century warfare was a more leisurely pursuit.) He was defeated by Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orleans, and eventually killed by the aforementioned “base Walloon” at the Battle of Castillon in 1453.

“What the heck is a Walloon,” you inquire half-heartedly, as you browse the menu looking for that eight-episode series starring the onetime “King of the North,” post-Red Wedding, Medici: Masters of Florence. “Once again, glad you asked,” I answer. The Walloons are an ethnic group, who populate a region in Belgium centered on the Sambre and the Muese rivers. Descendants of Roman soldiers and Gaulish collaborators who stood on the lower Rhine against the Germanic barbarians back in the day.

“And I should care about them, because?” you interject as you give the Turkish miniseries about Suleyman the Magnificent, Muhtesem Yuzyil, a single star review because you didn’t like the music. “Well, because they have a Carnival,” I explain.

“Get on with it,” you’re getting a little exasperated now. “Where is this going?”

You see, at this Walloonish carnival that precedes Lent just like Mardi Gras, the citizens of one old walled town parade around wearing scary wax clown masks and ostrich feathers, throwing oranges at people. Everyone gets wild and does crazy things they couldn’t do any other time of year. They go wild. Excess is the rule of the celebration. If you can avoid being struck by too many oranges, or being traumatized by a feathered waxy clown, you can indulge yourself without pause.

“Indulge myself without pause?” Now I’ve got your interest. “And the name of this town?”

I thought you’d never ask. The tiny walled city is called Binche.


Yeah, Binche. Say it out loud. Repeat. Binche. It’s the origin of our new favorite word.

“Oh! I get it! Binge!” Your face lights up. Not from any sudden understanding, but from the glow of your 77-inch black matrix LED big screen as episode one of Breaking Bad starts. You’ve got a long weekend ahead. You’re starting your latest binge.

So, Shakespeare mentions a murder, which brings attention to an obscure ethnic group who have a yearly party in a walled town full of fruit-tossing creepy clowns, and that gets us a word that describes us stuck on our TV room sectionals.

Stop, I confess! I made it all up. Well, everything about Henry VI, the dead Talbot, Walloonish clowns, and the walled town of Binche was true. Unfortunately, none of it applies to the origin of the word in question. It’s another case of fake lexicography. In reality the word “binge” comes from the Northampton, England, dialect, “To binge,” meaning to soak. Yes, even the truth can be wrong.

Ain’t that the way it goes these days?

Otis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.