Tag Archives: Otis Twelve

Eat ’Em If Ya Got ’Em

June 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To quote Monsanto’s 1970s propaganda: “Without chemicals, life itself is impossible.” The multinational agrochemical/biotech corporation is ostensibly in the business of helping farmers grow food. So, let’s just say, “Without food, human existence goes kaput.”

Okay, we need water, too. Oh, and oxygen. We gotta breathe, right? Food, water, and oxygen are three legs supporting the stool of life for us hunter-gatherers. Yes, we are hunter-gatherers. Although we do sport better clothes and haircuts thanks to the domestication of sheep and the invention of scissors, don’t let it fool you. In the geological sense, mankind has barely stepped from the Paleolithic Age.

You see, in the old days, we humans clumped together in small bands and clans as we wandered from one unmapped rock to another uncharted ravine. Oxygen was plentiful since most of the super-volcano eruptions were distant memories, and thanks to a few hundred-thousand comet strikes, the planet was positively soaked in water. We’d be on the move all day, always on the lookout for a bite to eat. Turn over a mossy rock and, by golly, some tasty bugs were revealed. Perhaps a bit tart, but with a satisfying crunch, they were proto-chips with dip included.

Pull up this scraggly plant and we are rewarded with a high-fiber edible root. Munch on this glistening leaf, add an odd berry and bean, and we’re good to go. Some scaly lizard sunning on a ledge might offer a good target for a well-thrown stone, and meat is on the menu. A scraggly prehistoric chicken could be snared and consumed. “Tastes like snake,” said Ug.

Nowadays, we hunter-gatherers have automobiles, so we can range farther than before, but nothing has fundamentally changed. We breathe—the air occasionally laced with hints of Febreze. We drink water—mostly now from plastic bottles—easier to carry than a tanned animal bladder but harder on our whale friends in the ocean. We eat.

We are no longer wandering blindly. Google Maps can guide us from the now-precise coordinates of the old rock visited by our furry ancestors to that ancient ravine, converted to a food court. Instead of turning over an old rock, we ask our electronic clan-mate Siri, “Where’s the nearest restaurant?” and a long list of eateries scrolls out on the screen.

Some of these locations even have salad bars, so we’re back to foraging leaves (this time from behind a sneeze-guard). More than a few places serve bugs. Well, OK, they serve shrimp. Did you ever look at a shrimp? It’s an underwater bug. There’s no denying it. If you spotted a few shrimp crawling around in your garage you’d call Terminix right away. Me, I’d be thinking, “Where’s the garlic?”

Yes, we modern hunter-gatherers now have a global reach. Thanks to technology, trade, and transportation, my clan and I have eaten bugs (shrimp) from Thailand, roots (carrots) from Canada, leaves (lettuce) from Mexico, and beans (chocolate) from Africa. We’re still on the same daily trek from waterhole to waterhole, only now we read Yelp reviews online. We watch Anthony Bourdain downing a bowl of soba on Okinawa. We are so connected to virtual experience that we are disconnected from real experience.

Here in America, we are in the Land of Plenty. Food is taken for granted by most. We have lost something in the bargain. We no longer experience the simple pleasure of putting something strange in our mouths, chewing, and hoping against hope that it doesn’t kill us. Food has lost a bit of its old sense of adventure.

It’s lonely at the top of the food chain.

This column was printed in the July/August 2017 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.

If I Were King

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I have difficulty falling asleep because I obsess about one thing or another that happened during the day—like the lobby door at the dentist’s office that lacks a “push/pull” label, or the person ahead of me at the checkout line who was just staring at the card reader in amazement while the cashier and I twiddled our thumbs, or the local news anchor’s nightly grammatical error. While I am ruminating over these signs of the apocalypse, waiting for Morpheus to bless me, I play a little game in my head to distract my worried mind.

If I were King:

I would decree that everyone get more stickers.

Everybody loves stickers. I feel great when I get my “I Voted” sticker. My granddaughter likes smiley-face stickers, and my grandson is hooked on Ninjago (don’t ask; he lives in Japan). The point is, we humans love stickers. Our woolly ancestors, after bringing down a mastodon, would stick bits of its liver to their chests as a sign of their hunting prowess. I’m sure I read that somewhere. More stickers! We should get stickers like “I opened the door for somebody with an armful of packages,” or “I didn’t lose my temper with the kid at the drive-thru who forgot the ranch dip,” or “I parked inside the lines,” or “My hair looks good today.”

If I were King:

Cell phones would have to be converted to rotary dialing. Think about it: Texting would become impossible, distracted driving reduced, frustration with butt calls ended, and our memories would be improved because we’d have to remember numbers again. If you don’t remember somebody’s number, they’re not important to you anyway. There may even be health benefits as we strengthen our finger muscles. Think of it—a nation of healthier fingers. An added benefit: It would really make it hard to play irritating game apps. I hate you, Candy Crush.

If I were King:

FedEx guys would just leave the package on the porch and not ring the doorbell. It upsets the dog. ’Nuff said.

If I were King:

Naps would be required. Every day, all places of business, offices, factories, and telemarketers, would be required to close from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. As in, closed. Shut down. Not open. Everybody would have to take a nap. Why? Because, naps are good, and the King likes naps. I think the “Grouchy People Index” would drop. We’d all be happier. And after a few years’ practice, we’d be good enough nappers to send a team to the International Siesta Competition in Madrid. Snoozers are judged on sleeping position, loudest snore, and original costume. America needs to win this competition. Besides, I nap every day between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., and I like a little quiet. After all, I am the King.

Now back to sleep.

Wait…Can’t sleep…I’m worrying about my costume.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 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.

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 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

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

The Best Is Yet to Come

April 5, 2017 by

Wow! A city of “Bests!”

Omaha is filled with so many amazing businesses, innovators, artists, entrepreneurs, vendors, doctors, venues, restaurants, and… well you name the category. The “Bests.” They make us proud to be from Omaha.

And yet, how many times have you been on a trip to some exotic locale like Bora Bora, Paris, Costa Rica, Portland, or even Lubbock, and upon being asked where you’re from, you’ve mumbled, “Omaha,” furtively, under your breath?

Despite the fact that our hometown boasts a 6-foot-tall bronze statue of Chef Boyardee, and the archetypical power of our name emblazoned on the Wizard of Oz’s escape balloon, we feel shy about claiming our place as one of the best places on earth.

Admit it. We’ve always had a bit of an inferiority complex about where we’re from—where we live. But, why? Well, I suspect that bit of shame might be rooted in the lyrics of an old song that described this town of ours back in the early days:

“Hast ever been in Omaha,
Where rolls the dark Missouri down,
And four strong horses scarce can draw
An empty wagon through the town?
Where sand is blown from every mound
To fill the eyes and ears and throat?
Where all the steamers are aground
And all the shanties are afloat?
Where whisky shops the livelong night
Are vending out their poison juice;
Where men are often very tight,
And women deemed a trifle loose?”

Hardly a “New York, New York” or “April in Paris,” that’s for sure. The lyrics are no match for “Bombay Se Gayi Poona,” either.

We started with a pretty brutal musical self-image. Maybe this nagging sense of “less than” is rooted in the dearth of good tunes about our fair city.

Groucho Marx tried to lift our spirits with a ditty that included, “There’s a place called Omaha, Nebraska, in the foothills of Tennessee.” The geographical illiteracy, however, negated any positive image building.

Stan Freberg didn’t help with his musical Omaha! that included lyrics like; “Who me? Miss the weenie roast in Omaha?” and “Omaha moon keep shining. You shone on Council Bluffs last June. Leaving Dundee lovers pining. Please remember you’re an Omaha moon.”

Nobel Prize winner Robert Allen Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) sang, “I’m going to ride into Omaha on a horse. Out to the country club and the golf course,” in 1964—no comfort there.

Psychedelic ensemble Moby Grape did us no favors with their 1968 single, “Omaha,” which didn’t mention Omaha even once beyond the title.

Bob Seger sang about “A long and lonesome highway east of Omaha” in his paean to touring as a rock star but he never mentioned actually coming into town while he was in the neighborhood. So, thanks a lot, Bob.

We did hit it big in 1973 when Grand Funk Railroad sang about “four young chiquitas in Omaha,” in their No. 1 hit “We’re an American Band.” The problem was, Little Rock got top billing in the verses, and, after the chorus we ended up getting a hotel torn down.

So here’s the deal, we need an Omaha anthem. A song with the Omaha equivalent of “little cable cars,” and some parallel to “that toddling town.” We need to be where “little town shoes” are headed. Omaha needs a “Best Song About Omaha” winner next year. We need to patch up the psychic scars we’ve borne for all these many years.

It won’t be easy. Others have tried and failed. I’m counting on you, we all are.

Do you have an anthem for Omaha? E-mail a video of your song to Omaha Magazine at editor@omahamagazine.com to be considered for prizes.

This article was printed in Omaha Magazine’s 2017 Best of Omaha” issue.

A Hole Truth

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are two things everybody has…” Those are the wise words of my grandfather, Johannes, who hated Kaiser Bill, loved bacon ends, and worked the hard soil of northern Iowa for most of his life. I won’t complete his sentence because people are easily offended these days by references to certain anatomical features of the human animal. 

One of those things is an opinion. I’ve got one—an opinion that is—that matches up with about any subject. So do you. We’re all opinionated.

In fact, we live in the Golden Age of Opinions. They’ve never been easier to access: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, pundit TV, talk radio, YouTube, and your inebriated uncle at every family gathering no matter whether it’s a funeral or a feast.

Surveys and polls suggest that 95 percent of us have an opinion about everything. We opine about subjects left and right with barely a breath in between. Vapor trails in the sky, head football coaches, the kids today, whether pumpkin spice flavor has any place in a sane world, and politics—whatever the subject, we have our own personal take on the matter. The five percent who answer “no opinion” are bald-faced liars. At least, that’s my opinion. As for “undecided” voters, don’t get me started. As the Mean Farmer once said, “They know. Oh, you know they know.”

Now, it is also true that most of the opinions we have are not original. Mostly, we just parrot other people’s opinions that our sources are repeating from other sources that are sourced somewhere in the same mysterious underworld where dirty jokes come from. For example, it’s likely that we all have some political opinion that a pithy, made-up quote from Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, or Nelson Mandela will back up. As Lincoln himself once said, “There are two things everybody has…” Again, I can’t complete the sentence.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned religion. That’s because Faith is a special case. Our own religious beliefs are just that, beliefs deeply held—a whole different basket of loaves and fishes. Our creeds are beyond any mere earthly opinion, except perhaps what we thought about last week’s sermon. We do, however, have any number of opinions about other people’s religions because…well, just because.

You may have also noticed that I have not mentioned “facts.” There is a simple explanation for that. When it comes to opinions, “facts” don’t matter. They are troublesome things that, most of the time, don’t fit comfortably into our mental pockets. Besides when my grandfather said, “There are two things everybody has…” trust me, he was stating a fact.

Anyway, that’s my opinion. Omaha Magazine

OtisXII

The Revenge of the Lawn

July 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Being a suburbanite—a classification that gnaws at the very fabric of my bohemian soul—I find myself more and more obsessed with the vegetation that surrounds my mid-century modern home.

It is as if there is some hidden sequence buried on the double helix of my aging DNA that has been triggered—some drive to surround my humble abode with a flawless blanket of lush, manicured, green carpet. But why?

I suspect this growing compulsion is rooted in the most primitive parts of my brain. I’ve read articles by anthropologists who theorize that our love of lawns is an expression of our evolutionary history. These deep thinkers say that when our furry ancestors came down from the tree branches and ventured out onto the savannahs, we were compelled to stand erect on our hind legs so that we could see over the tall grasses and spot large saber-tooth predators before they snuck up on us.

Standing tall, we were thus able to minimize the numbers of clan members who were snatched and dragged off to some stupid, sharp-toothed quadruped’s Sunday dinner. The upside of this was that, as a species, we thrived. The downside was that many more of our bothersome relatives also survived to make holiday gatherings, like The Invention of Fire Day, emotionally challenging for the rest of us.

Walking on our hind legs, the scientists surmise that our forelimbs were freed to learn to manipulate tools. Thus, we could also develop weapons to defend ourselves against the large variety of meat eaters I referenced earlier, with the added benefit that we could on occasion dispatch a few of the aforementioned extended family members, or even strangers, who offended our bipedal sensibilities.

So, 4 million years ago we dropped out of the branches of an ancient Ginko biloba tree, stood up, and looked out over the tall grasses of a primitive world full of existential threats. We acquired digital dexterity. We learned how to make sharp sticks and to throw rocks. That was basically the story for 4 million years, though our sticks got sharper and the rocks got bigger. Bottom-line—we killed most of the animals that wanted to eat us, and a good number of our fellow primates on the side.

Nothing much changed until that defining moment when evolution took another quantum leap. One hundred and eighty-six years ago Edwin Budding invented the lawn mower. Human beings could now cut down the tall native grasses and rest secure in the knowledge that, even though they are mostly extinct, large hungry carnivores could no longer sneak up on us or our children.

I mow because I am.

Je tonds parce que je suis.

I hope the Toro starts this week. The neighbors are starting to complain. They are beginning to suspect there may be a hungry Sumatran panther in my front yard.

OtisXII