Tag Archives: not funny

Garbage In, Garbage Out

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Back in late 1969, America could do anything and meet any challenge. After all, those were the days of the Apollo Project. Neil Armstrong had taken his “small step,” and two days later blasted off the lunar surface, leaving behind the landing module’s descent stage and a collection of various scientific apparatus, tools, flotsam, jetsam, and flagpoles behind. In other words, we had successfully sent a man to the moon and back and left litter behind, because that’s what we humans do.

Speaking of garbage.

As a nation we were optimistic and sure of ourselves, and John Boyd of Falls Church, Virginia, was a visionary to match the times. Boyd had been working in the waste management field for years when he had his “Eureka” moment. What did America need? It all seemed so clear to him, America needed a household appliance that could convert our trash into neat little cubes—kind of like those bundles that Wall-E stacked sky high in that movie. It was a “can’t miss” idea, and Boyd got his patent. The kitchen trash compactor was born. The world was never the same.

Soon Kenmore, Whirlpool, and a host of brand names rushed the machine into appliance stores. The hydraulic power of the under-the-counter miracles would receive its daily allotment of debris and with a hum, a bit of a grinding noise, three or four clunks, a crack (no glass in the trash please), a slight ultrasonic hiss, and voila! That loose clump of garbage would be transformed into a super-dense odoriferous singularity. “What a boon,” the ads trumpeted, “Only take out the trash once a week!” 

The other thing we Americans are good at, besides having visions, is marketing. Trash compactor sales took off…at first…and then….somebody said, “Why would I spend $300 on a machine that turns 30 pounds of garbage into 30 pounds of garbage?” The light bulb went on above everybody’s head almost simultaneously, and the miracle appliance miraculously flopped.

Yes, Americans can achieve anything if we put our minds to it. The problem is that sometimes we achieve extremely stupid things.

Right now, some visionaries have a new vision, which of course, is what visionaries are supposed to have. They imagine our streets and highways full of driverless cars. Computers and little servo motors will, they say, seamlessly operate all our motor vehicles—even huge semi-trailer trucks—freeing us from the drudgery of paying attention to the traffic jam that surrounds us and giving us more time to stay riveted to our Twitter feeds for the latest absurdities of the dysfunctional electronic family we are all welded to these days.

Of course, the idea seems cool. Unless it’s foggy, or raining, or there’s a bit of construction on your route, or somebody tries to cross the street on foot. Yes, there can be, and have been, tragic consequences. OK, maybe it would be good news for Uber drivers, because none of them would work for Uber’s robot fleet anymore. Freedom! Other than that, it’s a cool idea that we should relegate to dystopic science fiction movies. Sometimes we humans have too many ideas. Ask John Boyd.

Driverless cars? Really? Why do we need a technology that will turn a freeway full of one million cars into a freeway full of one million cars?

Just asking.


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 column was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

What’s in a Name?

August 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Gertrude Stein continued, “A rose is a rose is a rose” in her poem “Sacred Emily.” NBC’s Craig Calcaterra concluded, “Pete Rose is a cheater.”

In my opinion, it is important what we name things. Take the “rose” in the above statements. Change “rose” to “salamander.” Juliet’s take on the scent of a salamander would not be quite so romantic. Stein’s poetic reflection on identity would lose its meter. And Pete Salamander would be in the Hall of Fame. Names are important.

When I was a precocious toddler on the verge of verbal proficiency, my family went to the beach. My young eyes took in all the new, heretofore unimagined, sights around me. The surf rushed in around my knees when suddenly, I saw it, and, in a flash, I knew what to say: “Clam!” I pointed at the new thing. I was naming the unnamed. The human need to understand drives us to categorize things in order to organize the universe in our minds. Naming things is an essential part of that process.

“Clam!” I said again.

“It’s a seagull,” said my father patiently. “Sea-gull.”

“Clam!” I liked the sound of my word better. What did I know? I was only a 1-year-old. I was transfixed as I watched the clam spread its wings and take to the sky, heading out over the waves towards the far horizon.

What I’m trying to say is, it is good to name things, but it is also a good idea to do it correctly.

When I was a somewhat older kid, I fell in love with baseball. I would take every opportunity to head down Brooklyn Avenue in Kansas City to watch my beloved Athletics at Municipal Stadium. Yes, the field was called “municipal” because it was a municipal building, that is, it was owned by the city. Cleveland had a Municipal Stadium, too. No one was confused. The name made sense. Here in Omaha the baseball park was named after Johnny Rosenblatt. That made sense because Johnny was a good guy and there would not ever have been such a stadium had it not been for his efforts.

The Bears play at Soldier Field. The Bills used to play at War Memorial. The Yankees played at Yankee Stadium—where else? Now some fields had names like Wrigley, but that was because Mr. Wrigley actually owned the stadium. He built it with his own money. Wrigley Field as a name makes sense.

But…here comes the old codger part…now we have this thing called “naming rights.”  Companies pay money to have their logos stamped above the entrances and scoreboards. It’s getting ridiculous.

If not for “naming rights,” whoever would have thought of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix, or the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento? And the latest worst and most terrible, stupid, regrettable stadium name of all time is…wait for it…

ENRON Field in Houston. Ouch. The perils of selling naming rights.

Here in Omaha we have a beautiful downtown venue. It was called the Qwest Center, then the CenturyLink Center, and now it is tagged as the CHI Health Center. We could have done worse, I guess, but I still wonder, when I hear the name, should I take an Uber to the concert or an ambulance?

I hope to hit a Powerball someday. I’ll buy the naming rights and proudly watch the letters go up on…wait for it…Municipal Arena. Wouldn’t that be nice?


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 September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Food for Thought

August 5, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A couple months ago I was in Copenhagen.

No, I did not see the “Little Mermaid” statue in the harbor. I know everybody goes to photograph it when they visit the city. But I remember that this Little Mermaid is based on the Hans Christian Andersen version, not Disney’s romantic feature film.

In the original telling, the mermaid does not get to marry the prince of her dreams and live the happily ever after. Instead, the young scion is married off to a genuine princess, the daughter of a neighboring king. Yeah, turns out the fix was in even before she gave up her fins.

Her mer-sisters offer a nice, sharp knife to gut the prince—a chance to void her contractual deal with the sea witch (which had stipulated marriage to the prince or death). But instead of stabbing her beloved, the mermaid dives into the waves, turns into sea foam, and becomes a creature of the air. The prince never realizes how close he came to being assassinated.

Fairytales are often a bit darker than we choose to remember them. I mean, for accuracy’s sake, shouldn’t the poor heartbroken thing have a knife in her hand?

Whatever, I skipped the obligatory visit to the scorned gold digger’s monument. 

I was in Copenhagen for food.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel here and there around the globe, and my first goal is always food. I believe you get the best idea of what a country is all about by discovering what the natives eat.

In Italy, the Mediterranean diet rules with divine pasta, fresh vegetables, and seafood. I’ve had the best roasted lamb in Trastevere, great liver (yes, liver) on the Via Sistina, and Genoese salami to die for.

Germany is where a Midwesterner can go for comfort food. Schnitzel is basically chicken-fried steak, and potatoes and gravy are everywhere you turn. At a street fair in Cologne, one booth specialized in deep-fried bacon. I felt like I was at the Iowa State Fair.

In Hong Kong, I recommend you try the spicy chicken feet or the hairy crab. Or grab a fish from one of the tanks at the street market and hand it to the woman in the next stall who will kill it, clean it, and turn it into the freshest fish stew you’ve ever eaten.

In Japan, everything is good—everything from street vendor yakisoba to Okinawa-style soba. Everything is good except the natto. Do not eat the natto. Just don’t (unless you enjoy munching chunky booger goo).

I wish I could time travel, because (according to Reddit) archeologists recently discovered the oldest ever recipe on a tomb wall in Egypt. It’s for a soup that includes hippopotamus and sparrow, two delicacies I have never had the opportunity to try.
I suspect the dish represents our primitive ancestor’s first attempt to deal with leftovers.

So anyway, there I was in Copenhagen, skipping the unarmed Little Mermaid statue, looking for good food. And what did I find?

Well, during my short stay, I had great Italian food, some of the best sushi this side of Osaka, along with fish and chips that beat anything in London.

I even found a Neolithic restaurant serving only what our hunter-gatherer forebears might have found while walking from here to there (basically plants and prehistoric roadkill). I skipped that place.

I did try the frikadeller and rugbrød with gherkins. Meatballs and bread. It wasn’t bad.

But here’s the point of the column. If you’re in Copenhagen, try the Danish.

Which, for accuracy’s sake, should be called “Austrian.” The pastry was originally introduced to the country by Austrian bakers when their Danish counterparts went on strike in 1850. After more than a century of acceptance, the pastry has become genuinely Danish. Kind of like an American, Disneyfied version of the Little Mermaid. But more delicious, and you don’t need a knife.


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 column was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Choose Your Own Adventure

May 3, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Somebody once said, “Life is an adventure.”

I don’t remember who said it exactly, maybe Aristotle. He was a wise man, or at least we take the word of the ancient Greeks that he was. It might have been easier to be wise way back then—fewer people, less competition for the title.

But what is adventure? Do you have to be Magellan circumnavigating the globe, or Admiral Byrd headed for the pole, or Geraldo Rivera about to open Al Capone’s vault to have an adventure? I think not. You could dive out of an airplane tethered to a former mall security guard, or bungee jump into a gorge with the taste of Jägermeister fresh on your tongue, or try to sneak a family-size bag of Vic’s popcorn into the multiplex. Or, if you’re like me, you could find adventure in books.

Do you remember those books, those little Bantam books by Edward Packer? The books with “Choose Your Own Adventure” headlined above the title? You know, the ones where you dove into the stories written in second person and where the journey was actually determined by your own decisions at critical moments? The stories where your friend, Dr. Nera Vivaldi, always showed up with a clue or advice to help you choose your path through the tale? Dr. Vivaldi seemed to show up in every new volume, whether you were in outer space with Moon Quest, or on a cruise with Terror on the Titanic, or dealing with the undead before the undead were cool in Zombie Pen Pal. Nera was ageless and omnipresent, kind of like Helen Mirren. I loved Nera Vivaldi.

You got to choose where the plot led you. Do you open the airlock when you hear the mysterious knocking from the vacuum on the other side of the bulkhead, or do you fire the rockets and incinerate the multi-tentacled alien threat, or, if you’re wrong, your desperate, oxygen-starved friend outside? Do you get in lifeboat No. 6, or wait a while longer for another way off the ship while you steal the Kaiser’s gold in stateroom 6B? Should you answer the bloodstained postcard that shows up in your school locker or “return to sender” and go to the Snow Ball with Sally forthwith?

Every choice you made prompted a turn in the saga. You might discover a diamond in the lunar dust or perish when your helmet visor cracks. You might be able to warn the captain before the unsinkable liner hits the iceberg, or you might find yourself trapped in steerage far away from Jack, Rose, and the floating door—I still think there was room for two on that bit of flotsam, I just do. Do you decide to make friends with the zombie and then become buddies like Gibson and Glover, or do you suddenly realize that your body is numb and your brain is the featured dish at Undead Golden Corral? The point of the books was that your choices had consequences—just like real, regular, ordinary, day-to-day life.

Of course, unlike real life, if you made a bad choice and came to a premature ending, in the books you could go back and change your decision. You could follow the next thread of possibilities to an alternate climax. No matter how many wrong choices you made, you always had the ability to invoke a do-over—unlike real, regular, ordinary, day-to-day life.

I loved those books. I shared them with my little ones. I remember them, and in that remembering, I recall the greatest adventure of all, the adventure that begins with three little words.

“Let’s have kids.”

Nera Vivaldi, where are you now?


This column was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

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.

Remember The Maine!

April 7, 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.

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.

“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.