HOME (ISN’T) WHERE THE HEART IS
Sixty-one year old Lee McCoy adjusts his blue windbreaker to fit over his head. His hands shiver in the 40 degree weather as he grips onto his sign: 3CDC Stop Stealing Homes! The sign reads, written in large, prominent block letters.
“I don’t believe nobody can walk in the shoes that I walk in,” he says, as he trekked through the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition’s (GCHC) Homeless Awareness March in Over-the- Rhine (OTR) on Oct.26. “But I haven’t given up hope. Homeless people are not lazy by any means. They are the smartest, the most surviving people I know in the world. You have to survive every day.”
McCoy is homeless. He has been, off and on, for a long time. Because of drug trafficking chargesfrom31yearsago,McCoy says that “nobody will rent him” affordable housing. He is one of many homeless people who have slept on the courthouse and justice center steps, where many feel safe because of the wide, well-lit area.
Earlier this month however, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office posted a “no trespassing” sign on the courthouse, calling the homeless’ use of the facility a “public health hazard.” Nearly two dozen people who sleep on the steps were evicted, much to the dismay of GCHC. For several weeks before the eviction, representatives from GCHC had met with the Sheriff’s department to discuss solutions to the department’s concerns to avoid eviction or arrest of the homeless.
“The numbers at the justice center were decreasing [at that time] because of outreach efforts,” Executive Director of GCHC Josh Spring says. “We had to inform them that there are not enough places for people to go, not enough affordable housing, [and that] the formal shelter setting doesn’t work for everyone. They still moved forth with pushing people deeper into the margins.”
Part of the reason that homeless were evicted was because of the use of the steps as a de facto restroom, which the homeless defended because of the lack of public restrooms available at all hours of the day.
“That was part of the issue. That was not the entire issue,” Jim Knapp of the Office of Media and Public Relations at the Hamilton County Sheriff Office says. “It was a public place that people needed to use for public business.”
Four homeless men teamed up with GCHC to file a lawsuit on Oct.16, claiming that the homeless have the right to remain “free from cruel and unusual punishment, including the right not to be criminally punished” for being homeless.
In an attempt to give homeless people temporary solutions, there are many different homeless shelters in the OTR area, ranging from gender specific shelters to family shelters.
The Drop Inn Center (DIC), which has been in operation in its location on Vine Street in OTR since 1978, takes in almost everybody that needs to be taken in—from a quick one night pick- me-up to a “step up” stay of about 45 days.
In addition to a small living space, three meals a day, and a case manager to help residents find a housing plan as soon as possible, “step up” residents of DIC are given the opportunity to seek necessary services including medical care five days a week, mental health services and alcohol and drug recovery programs.
“We don’t warehouse people,” Arlene Nolan, executive director of DIC says. “We actually provide good quality services and really help people get off of the streets. We have a lot of partner agencies that come and provide service here.”
For Nolan, one of the most notable aspects of the DIC is the diversity in people that come in. In DIC resident Amber Loy’s case, life was good. She had a place to live, was dealing with her battle with depression and held a job as a Reservation Specialist for U-Haul. That is, until she and her roommates were evicted and she lost her job. Loy was admitted into the psychiatric ward of a hospital for depression, and was left homeless soon after with nowhere to turn but DIC.
“I have a better understanding of homelessness being homeless myself now,” Loy says. “I see the way you’re looked at on the street when you try to pan handle for money and nobody wants to help you. People act like homelessness is a choice—but when you lose your place and you have nothing, it’s not a choice. It’s something that you just have to deal with.”
Although DIC boasts the fact that they help almost everyone that comes to them, getting in isn’t so easy for McCoy. In fact, he’s tried multiple times, but can’t get in for, as he puts it, “something simple on their computer.”
“I’m one of those guys that fits between the cracks. I’m not a sex offender or anything but I cannot get into DIC,” McCoy says. “[At night I have to] have a lot of blankets. I shiver a lot, and I [just] hope the morning comes quick so I can go so`me place warm.”
McCoy is one of a total of 7,013 people in Hamilton County living either on the streets or in homeless shelters in 2012 due to lack of affordable housing. McCoy and others at the march chanted “Democracy is under attack! What do we do? Stand up fight back!” in protest of OTR’s gentrification—a term used to describe the shift from an urban setting to wealthier homes and higher property values.
One of the organizations responsible for gentrification is 3CDC, a non-profit organization aimed at revitalizing and connecting Fountain Square District, the Central Business District and OTR.
Vice President of Communications of 3CDC Anastasia Mileham says that the cooperation found 500 vacant buildings, 700 vacant lots and almost 1,700 vacant residential units in the area in 2004 which attracted crimes such as drug trade, prostitution and gang activity numbering up to about 12,000 calls for police service annually.
“By adding market-rate residential units, service businesses, job opportunities in restaurant kitchens, safe green space where children can play without falling on hypodermic needles and streets clean of debris and human waste, we can help bring the neighborhood back into use as the vibrant, mixed-income neighborhood it once was,” Mileham says.
Despite the positives gentrification brings, it isn’t favored by everyone, including Spring.
“[In gentrification] people lose their home and [must go to] a shelter or outside and bounce from couch to couch,” Spring says. “Society and the government look at it and say ‘Well these people chose to be here. These people are lazy. They made bad decisions. Let’s just leave them in this situation.’ That’s not true.”
But McCoy doesn’t let the fact that he can’t get into housing stop him. Every day, for upwards of 11 hours a day, McCoy sells Streetvibes—a biweekly newspaper put out by GCHC that is distributed by 45 homeless people at a dollar profit per newspaper sold.
“I thought it was a silly idea when I tried it,” McCoy says. “I wanted to quit in the first week but I stuck with it. I love it now. I love meeting people. I’m on a fixed income, so that supplements my income.”
Editor of Streetvibes Justin Jeffre says that the goal of Streetvibes is to educate lack of affordable housing and jobs and to put a face on the negative stereotyping of homeless people.
“Most people that experience it, it’s only temporary,” Jeffre says. “A lot of times people won’t seek help that is available until it’s too late because they’re too embarrassed to ask for help. You can play by all the rules, you can work hard in school, you can go to college, and you can still end up being homeless.”
McCoy knows first hand how it feels to be stereotyped as lazy.
“I probably put in 11 hours a day selling Streetvibes,” McCoy says. “[But] I see a lot of people look down on homeless people just because they’re out of luck. I think it takes a strong person to be homeless. God has a purpose for me. I just hasn’t realized it yet.”
“I stepped on a screw and I didn’t realize it.”
Sure enough, there it was. She cringed at the one-and-a-half-inch rod of iron sticking out of her foot that had protruded through a thick layer of Nike tennis shoes. It must have been in there at least two to three hours already. Her parents rushed to the doctor for a tetanus shot, which to her, only felt like a small pinch.
But Lakota West High School sophomore Meggie Zahneis shrugged it off. No tears. No big deal.
She’s one of approximately 50 people in the world affected by Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy Type 2 (HSAN II), a rare sensory deficit disorder which leaves her with the inability to feel pain, temperature, and touch to the same degree as most people, as well as being totally deaf without the aid of her cochlear implants.
Zahneis’ handicap—(or as she likes to put it, handicapable)—is so symptomatic that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly the traits common of HSAN. Director of the Dysautonomia Treatment and Evaluation Center Felicia Axelrod, who is one of the few doctors in the world who sees patients with HSAN, says that 30 percent of HSAN II patients are affected with sensorineural hearing loss, and many HSAN patients have gifted intelligence.
“Although all the HSAN disorders affect the ability to feel pain, Type II is the one with the purest loss of pain,” Axelrod says. “[It can even reach] Type IV, in which patients also cannot sweat which results in inability to cool themselves and high fevers. They are more likely to have severe learning disabilities.”
Zahneis has been blessed with gifted intelligence, but her inability to feel pain the same way as most people has caused severe injuries. When Zahneis was 7, she scraped her foot on the bottom of a pool and didn’t realize it until her mom noticed blood in the water. Because she couldn’t feel it, she often would stomp her foot too hard and aggravate the injury, leading to a three-month confinement to a wheelchair.
“I would also put my arms around a tree and swing around, and scrape up all my arms without knowing. A lot of times I’ll just look and—” Meggie glances at a scab on her ring finger. “Like, where did that come from? Random injuries will pop up on my body.”
But Zahneis’ rare disorder distinguished her from more than 50,000 4th through 8th graders when she won the grand prize in a National Scholastic and Major League Baseball (MLB) Breaking Barriers essay contest that covered some of the effects of HSAN II on her life. The contest allowed students to share how they use the values of the first African-American MLB player, Jackie Robinson, to face their own barriers.
The winning entry received an assembly from Jackie Robinson’s daughter Sharon Robinson at his or her school, an all-expense paid trip to the All-Star game that summer in Phoenix, a laptop and several other helpful items for her school and classmates. But what Zahneis didn’t expect was a call from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig six months later offering her a position as MLB’s official Youth Correspondent reporter for MLB. com.
“I got that call, and I was literally rolling on the floor laughing because I couldn’t believe it,” Zahneis says. “To get my dream job at 14-years-old is pretty special.”
Zahneis’ dream job doesn’t have too many rules and boundaries— the task is simple: Zahneis writes stories of her choosing when she’s available that are published to MLB.com, and MLB pays a constant amount every month with the intent of helping her save for college.
“She’s down in a press box with these [journalists] who had to work their way up there,” says Bob Zahneis, Meggie’s dad, as he eyes the Reds game on television—a pastime typical of the Zahneis family. “Yeah she’s handicapped but she’s doing stuff most people don’t do until they’re adults.”
Reds player Brandon Phillips even attended a ceremony at Lakota West Freshman School to honor Meggie’s acceptance of the Youth Correspondent position.
“Brandon has always been one of my favorites,” Meggie says. “He and I have a good relationship. Whenever I’m down there when he sees me, he’ll come over and give me a hug. He [even] kisses my mom on the cheek.”
But it’s not just famous athletes who have been affected by Meggie’s story. Last year, Meggie’s Honors English 10 teacher Ian Avery, who taught Meggie sophomore English as a freshman, says that while supervising an independent study Meggie participated in last summer while writing for MLB. com, he noticed how strong of an individual she was.
“Those stories [she wrote for MLB] had an impact on me,” Avery says. “I was impressed with how professionally written they were, and I thought the way Meggie was able to get the players to open up to her was marvelous.”
Despite her successful job, Meggie has been a victim of cyberbullying via Formspring, a website that allows anyone to ask users questions under anonymous names. Although some of the comments hurt, Meggie says that just because she has a disorder, she doesn’t want any special treatment or sympathy.
“If you’re gonna be nice and friendly to someone else, then be nice and friendly to me. But if you’re gonna backstab or say mean things, I can take it just as well as anyone else,” Meggie says. “I don’t want people to sugarcoat or do anything different because I’m [handicapped].”
In order to give Meggie’s fellow classmates a better understanding of her disorder, Meggie’s mom Cindy Zahneis used to come talk to Meggie’s elementary school classes at the beginning of the year and explain her situation. Now, however, Meggie does so herself.
“If kids understand, a lot of times they’re OK with it,” Cindy says. “It’s just when kids don’t know [that bullying occurs]. Some people might not understand what her cochlear implants are. She wants to make sure that people don’t think she’s being rude if she can’t hear them.”
But Meggie doesn’t focus on the negatives. As mentioned in her winning essay, she makes a commitment to focus on what she can do, not what she can’t. Even after her 15th surgery last December, which resulted in vomiting up to 20 times a day in a two-week hospital stay (and being released just three days before Christmas and her birthday), Meggie still insisted she was the luckiest girl in the world.
“Really, a lot of people had it a lot worse than me,” Meggie says. “I mean, it’s a hospital—there’s cancers and all sorts of stuff. So as awful as that was, I got a glimpse of what it would be like to have something that’s way worse.”
Despite the surgeries, scrapes and hospital visits, Meggie takes each day with a smile. While other kids groan at the thought of writing an essay for school, Meggie keeps her own blog to relieve the stress of her strenuous classes and busy schedule.
“A lot of people say, ‘Your life must be so horrible.’ It’s not,” Meggie says. “If I were like everyone else, I probably wouldn’t have a talent for writing. You can’t just pick the good parts. You have to take the good with the bad.
the knight shift
If 66-year-old Sir David Bukem and his fellow knights are to be believed, Loveland Castle is, and has been, haunted.
Just about every one of the knights and ladies that are at the castle on a regular basis have had their fair share of personal ghost encounters.
For Bukem, Dean of the castle, the “vibes” happen when no one’s around. And it always happens when he’s alone because according to him, ghosts don’t like people.
“I have felt them,” says Bukem as he leans in, his gray eyes gleaming through his thin-rimmed glasses. “If you get too close to a ghost, you’ll get goosebumps. And if you get real close and walk through a ghost you know what will happen? Whoosh!” He gestures wildly to his head. “Your hair will go up, like static electricity!”
Then there’s Sir Joe Carey, the Keeper of the castle. He says two spirits—or as he prefers to call them, angels—have turned the television up to the highest volume or pounded on the doors while he’s asleep. Usually, he says, when he’s woken up by the ghosts, it’s because they’re alerting him of some drunkard messing around in the gardens.
“I don’t hear too good, so they have to be pretty smart to wake me up,” says Carey, his voice laced with admiration. “They’re the guardians of the castle and they take care of the castle. If there’s something wrong, they let me know.”
Although the spirits put Carey at ease, the “haunted” castle is a bit eerie at night for Bukem—from the unlikely occasion of a bat flying over his head, or feeling like the ghosts of young twin boys that (according to legend) drowned in the nearby river, are watching his every move.
But there’s more to the 19-room Loveland Castle than late-night ghost encounters—the place is a museum. A unique meeting spot for groups. And above all, a monument fraught with history.
Loveland Castle is, in the truest sense of the word, a castle. In the midst of a bulky forest and down a steep, narrow hill, Loveland Castle stands, each gray stone perfectly placed with the pride of its creator. Its medieval-looking balconies and walk-on roof overlook the Little Miami River. Inside, the first-floor walls are lined with faded photographs of former knights, photographic evidence of ghosts and countless portraits of Sir Harry Andrews himself, the sole builder of the castle.
Bukem beams at a black-and-white picture of his late friend Andrews standing in front of his masterpiece in his later days.
After he was discharged from being a military nurse in WWI, and after college and an array of different jobs, Andrews eventually moved to Cincinnati. There, he served as a school teacher, Boy Scout troop helper and Sunday school teacher for a group of about 140 seventh grade boys. It was common for the group to hold campouts and get-togethers along the river, and whenever they were out there, the boys liked to call themselves the “Knights of the Golden Trail.”
It wasn’t long before Andrews decided his knights needed their own castle, and so began his lengthy project in 1929 to build an identical castle to Chauteau Laroche, the castle that he lived in while serving his draft.
For 52 consecutive years, 26 of which he lived in the castle, Andrews built his constantly-expanding building from stones that he pulled out from the river by hand. And after that supply was exhausted, he used cement blocks molded from milk cartons. Andrews didn’t give up his work, despite the fact that that some of his knights aged and passed away.
But in mid April of 1981 when Andrews was 91 years old, he strolled down to his daily routine: burning the trash outside the front door. On this day, however, the fire caught onto the legs of his polyester slacks by accident—within seconds, his legs were burnt. He was rushed to the hospital and told that in order to save his life from the tissue-destroying effects of Gangrene, they would need to be amputated. Not wanting to live as a cripple, Andrews refused toconsent and died 30 days later.
“When he died, it was very—” Buken pauses and shuts his eyes, remembering his old friend. “It wasn’t so much when he died [as it was] when he first got injured. When you see someone suffering, sometimes you think maybe it’s best that they died.”
After his death, ownership of the castle was given to his knights, and these knights were given the power to knight other people who have served apprenticeships working at the castle. Today, 80 knights voluntarily run the castle including Carey, who was not one of Andrews’ original students, but has been friends with Bukem for upwards of 50 years.
“We actually knew each other when Harry was alive, but after he died we were together by necessity because we maintained the castle,” says Bukem. “We have different skills but we compliment each other, me and Joe do.”
While Bukem handles the finances, Carey typically takes care of the building maintenance, which has its surprises, like the time he found a secret bomb shelter after a flash flood knocked its walls in. Located underneath the garden, it was spacious enough to fit 11 people and be filled with enough supplies to survive 90 days in an atomic war.
Today, the castle serves not only as a historic monument, but as a fun getaway for the family. Visitor Bonnie Forbes had always known the castle existed but decided to take her family on a Sunday to visit.
“It’s something very unusual for Cincinnati to see a castle in the middle of the woods,” says Forbes. “And for my kids to see something medieval is cool. It’s interesting, it’s historic, it’s easy to come in and wander around at your own pace.”
Besides the occasional visitors, however, Loveland Castle has served as a meeting place for numerous groups. Last October, a costume-equipped Harry Potter Ensemble with 4,000 people met at the castle for seminars, singing and potion-making.
It’s things like these, as well as the small gift shop and three dollar entrance fee, that keep the non-profit castle in pristine condition for volunteers.
And meanwhile as visitors and knights come and go, Andrews’ portrait hangs in the first floor. Even though the knights say his spirit doesn’t haunt the castle, his spirit lives on through the memories of those who have crossed his path.
“Thousands of people that crossed paths with him come back now to say how good of friends they were,” says Carey. “You could tell he was a Sunday School teacher because he was always so nice to us kids. If you became his friend, he never forgot your name.”
Six years ago, a little action figure store named Cincinnati Sci-Fi was nestled between Valvoline Oil Change and Starbuzz Hookah Bar. The store, which belonged to David Silvieous, was stocked with toys, action figures and comic books that lined the tiny building with barely enough space to walk.
That is, until he sold it, and it became Total Concept Gaming. But the relationship between the retail store and the gaming community was lost.
The place was a wreck—it hadn’t seen a paint job in years and the entire back end of the store was used for storage.
The customer base was dying, and no one knew if it would ever come back to life. And so with $700 in his pocket and the choice of either paying his rent or buying the store, current owner of the gaming store and previous employee of Cincinnati Sci-Fi John Helt said, “Screw it,” and bought the store, renaming it The Illuminaudi.
On any given Friday night at 6:30, gamers swarm The Illuminaudi like vultures. Cars of all sorts squeeze into the 50-by- 80-foot parking lot—which is meant to hold only about eight to nine cars—some resorting to parking across the street at Ace Hardware and sprinting across Cincinnati-Dayton Road.
It’s a dilapidated, repurposed house with dead shrubbery lining the front of the building. Outside the front door are young adults smoking cigarettes, and above the door is a white sign with red lettering reading “The Illuminaudi.”
Inside is East alumnus Zach Schork, who graduated in 2011. He’s involved in a game of Magic: The Gathering, the card game that brought almost every patron into the store. He and his opponent aren’t talking. Rather, they communicate by moving their cards along their playing mats, biting their nails and glancing up at each other every now and then.
“[I come here] probably every other day at least,” Schork says with a laugh. “Six to seven hours a day. It’s like my second home, pretty much.”
Then there’s Aaron Reichert, a boy wearing glasses, a gray sweater and an anime necklace. He’s 20, and graduated from East in 2010. He’s looking to sell his $20,000 Magic card collection and move to Japan for a year, but tonight he’s just here to hang out.
“I’ve been playing Magic for two and a half years now,” Reichert says. “At this point I don’t really trade or play, I just know everybody. Really I just come because it’s Friday night and this is what I do.”
And there’s a 31-year-old named Jonathan Medina, whom Reichert says is the reason he got started in Magic. Medina’s black hair is slicked back, and his royal purple shirt is unbuttoned at the top. He has at least three boxes of cards stacked one on top of the other, keeping them close to his side as he explains the unknown lifestyle behind Magic.
“There’s actually celebrities in the Magic realm where people will ask them to sign their playing mats or sign their cards,” he says. “It’s kind of like being a rock star among the geeks.”
He’s being modest, but really, he’s talking about himself. Medina is widely known in the Magic community due to his articles on big-name Magic websites and his weekly podcasts on his website, Legitmtg.com. But when he’s at The Illuminaudi, he’s just another patron.
“When you come to a place like this where you all have something in common, it’s like a shelter,” he says. “Nobody’s making fun of anybody else because we’re all playing this geeky card game.”
To anyone else, this shelter is nothing but “a hole in the wall,” from the outside, as Helt puts it. But because The Illuminaudi is so different than other gaming stores, it attracts a different kind of weird.
21-year-old Jamie Kellum, current employee of the store, remembers when the place was once robbed of Dragon Ball Z cards, something patrons like to laugh about because Dragon Ball Z is worth nothing compared to the other cards that are sold in the store.
“The damage the robbers did to the door was way worse than anything they actually stole,” says Kellum, who calls himself “Second in Command” at the store. “Dragon Ball Z is a dead game. A Dragon Ball Z booster box was five dollars; they stole all of that while they passed up the hundred-dollar Yu-Gi-Oh cards.”
Then there’s the self- proclaimed “workaholic” owner, Helt, who claims he’s gotten into a physical tussle with William Shatner, been on a date with Natalie Portman, and met just about every actor from Star Wars.
“John’s a bit of a storyteller,”Kellum laughs.
And then there’s the store’s not-so-strict “Showering Rule.” “Shower before you come here,” 19-year-old Kurghan Horn, nicknamed Dragonlord, puts it simply.
But Helt says that The Illuminaudi really isn’t a typical “nerdy” store full of people who forget to use deodorant.
“I have the so-called geeks and dorks. I have the jocks. I have the preppy girls. I have the cheerleaders,” the 32-year-old says. “I’ve had football players from East and West come in and [people] would be like, ‘Aren’t you a football player? I didn’t know you liked Yu-Gi-Oh.’ Every [stereotype] that you can think of in high school. At one given time, they’re unified.”
Kellum, who likes to measure the time he’s been working at the store in Magic card set releases (12 sets, or four years), says it’s necessary to walk inside to understand that The Illuminaudi is more than just a store—it’s a little community of people who love to game.
“People come in here and they’re just like, ‘I’m home,’” Kellum says. “There’s a sense of camaraderie around here. We strive to not really be a store as much as we are a hangout place. We want you to come in here and spend money, but more than that we want you to come in here [and] then later say to your buddies, ‘Oh yeah, I went to The Illuminaudi and it was great.’”
For 31-year-old Joe Strickland, this camaraderie in Magic takes a more literal sense. During his 10 years in the Army Reserve so far, he spent a portion of his free time in Afghanistan and Iraq ordering cards and building decks.
“Finding other military members who do play Magic is really rare,” he says, “but it’s really nice when they do because you instantly have a friend on two fronts.”
Not only is Magic a recreational game, but some people whom Kellum likes to call “Magic economists” don’t even play the game on a regular basis. They simply collect decks to buy, sell and trade. For these people, the little two-by-three-inch pieces of cardboard are gold.
“It’s like a stock exchange,” Reichert says. “Except you’re physically holding your stock.”
In addition to the location on Cincinnati-Dayton Road, The Illuminaudi is in two other locations which Helt owns in Amelia, OH and Alexandra, KY. But his primary focus is The Illuminaudi, on Cincinnati-Dayton Road.
“This place [on Cincinnati- Dayton Road] has been identified as a card gaming place and a toy store since 1997,” Helt says. “I’m the original employee from Cincinnati Sci-Fi, and I kept that going. There’s no story behind the other stores like this one.”
Whether it be to play, trade, or just hang out, The Illuminaudi is open for everyone.
“Some stores like to charge people [an admission fee]. I don’t,” Helt says. “I really want people to have fun and game for free. I’ve had people who have fought each other at school and then found out that they both play Magic. Its amazing how one store can reach out to so many people.”
sounds from the basement
The gray wall in the basement of Grandma’s house is painted, but only halfway. It’s a storage space, with Christmas decorations packed in plastic boxes and red leather bar stools scattered in random areas. Drum heads line the walls, one with “my very first” written on it in black Sharpie. Another says “prove them wrong,” and the last one says “commit.” As the boys start to arrive at their band practice, a clamor fills the basement—the setting up of instruments, extended guitar riffs, and warm-up beats on the drums. This cluttered basement is where the magic happens.
After some practicing, the three boys move out to the porch for a break. They sit in maroon, flower-patterened chairs under a sign on the wall reading “Grandkids welcome; leave parents at home.” Cigarette butts are arranged in a pile next to a broom. One boy wipes his hair off of his forehead, sweaty from marching band prac- tice. Another, with hair below his shoulders and three-quarter-inch gauges, casually lights a cigarette and leans back. The third sits up straight in a tie-dyed shirt ripped at the sleeves, black Vans and an assortment of bracelets decorating his wrists.
“… so I took my hat, and I threw it on the ground, and I said ‘I quit!’ and walked out!” the barefooted marching band boy tells the others in a broken Southern accent. “So now, I am an unem- ployed indie musician fighting for food on the streets.”
“Anybody else want a glass of milk?” interrupts Grandma, poking her head out the porch door after handing a glass to her grand- son, Senior Randy Clark.
“No thanks,” Junior Kyler Davis answers, as he pockets his makeshift guitar pick made from the corner of a Max and Erma’s gift card.
“Alright guys, let’s be serious,” Senior Dominic Franco announces.
This proves a hard task for the boys, who are nothing short of goofballs. They break out into random accents, sarcastically use language they wouldn’t want their parents to hear, and burst into songs with ridiculous lyrics. But they all share one thing that they are serious about—an undying passion for playing music.
“Our goal as a band is to help people understand that music is just an audible emotion,” Franco says. “I think that’s what people are going to get out of our music when they hear it.”
Misnomer, the trio’s name for their band, is composed of Clark on the drumset, Davis on guitar and lead vocals, and their newest edition to the band, Franco, on bass.
Misnomer came out of Davis and Clark’s last band, Idio, which was composed of the two with the addition of Andrew Dickieson, a mutual homeschooled friend. After Dickieson moved to Canada in March, Davis and Clark didn’t let the band die, deciding to change its name to Misnomer. The band was only two-man until August, when they agreed that a bass guitar was necessary to give the band a “denser sound.”
“Now that I think about it, it’s like magic that we’re all together now,” Davis says. “I remember seeing him play in [in his previous band] Abandon Ship and being like, ‘damn, look at him!’
They’ve made an adequate amount of money from these shows. The Underground pays $2 for every person the band brings in and once 50 people is passed, they pay $3 per person. The Warehouse and The Edge put the money in a pot and divide it among all the bands that played.
But they haven’t spent a dime of it on themselves. The money Misnomer makes is put solely into the band. Before they spend it on amps, snare drums, and repairs, they give a fourth to their booking manager, 19-year-old MaKenzie Southward.
“They told me, ‘we want everything to be completely even because you are part of the band, you’re just offstage’,” says Southward, who plays drums in her own band. “The way we describe it is that Misnomer is four people. Three players, and me. I [book their shows] and take them water while they’re playing.”
But Misnomer woudn’t have that same success in shows without their weekly practices in Grandma’s basement, which she gladly welcomes them to use.
“They can come here and go down to the basement and feel comfortable and they’re not bothering anybody,” says Debbie Webb, Clark’s grandma. “They call it the Ghetto Basement. They recorded something and they said, ‘Grandma, we made it in the totally ghetto basement of yours!’”
What sets Misnomer apart from from typical high school garage bands is that every one of their songs is written from scratch by Davis, Clark and Franco. It’s something that the band members put a lot of pride in doing.
“When bands do a lot of cov- ers, what’s the point?” Franco says. “It’s not your emotions, it’s not your music, and it’s not your sound. You’re just copying—it’s plagiarism is what it is.
Davis says that he and Randy have always had chemistry when writing music with one another, feeding off of the other so well that after their first practice, they had one of their most popular songs, “Settle on the Stars,” written in ten minutes. Writing lyrics is something that comes naturally to Davis—they’ll hit him at random times of the day, in class, or before bed at night. Taking advantage of his active mind, Davis has what he likes to call his song book, a little notepad he keeps with him at all times to fill with lyrics.
Describing him and his fellow band mates as “hopeless romantics,” Davis has incorporated dark romance concepts into his songs he writes, including “Advice,” which includes one of his favorite original lines, “make it quick and make it sick.”
“[The line] is about a girl that I entered a sort of relationship with knowing I’d get hurt. I knew all along that something wasn’t go- ing to work out,“ Davis says. “It means I can’t wait until you destroy me, but when you do, just make it quick, and make it sick so I cry.”
Clark remembers a night when he and his friends were at a bon- fire and Davis played a song on his acoustic guitar that he had recently written about situations that he and Clark had gone through. The song had a huge impact on Clark.
“I was crying and shaking because I just loved it,” Clark says. “The one line that got me was, ‘You’re so set on leaving that you’ve already gone and I caught you red handed, putting gloves on.’”
That’s the effect Davis wants to have not only on his friends and family, but also on anyone who lis- tens to his music, so they can form their own open interpretations.
“I feel like a lot of the stuff I write is relatable and I want that effect on a lot of people,” Davis says. “When you’re able to transfer that emotion and passion to someone, it’s a really beautiful thing.”
So they play like who they are. Each one of them has his own story beyond Misnomer—Randy spends his free time playing in the drum line in East Marching Band and fishing. Dominic takes post- secondary classes through Miami Hamilton and works 45 hours a week between The Bounce House Guys and Starbucks. Davis used to be a “gangster” and football player who would deck out in flat bills and Jordans, but now he’s a talented skateboarder who lost 60 pounds.
But all of them take music to a whole other level. The writing on that last drum head in that half- painted, packed to the brim Ghetto Basement describes Misnomer’s attitude towards its passion in one word.
the duff report
He is the king of snow day predictions.
Five years ago, what started as a project to get kids to focus on watching the weather during their meteorology unit turned into a tradition. If inclement weather is expected, one can expect to find East Earth and Space Science teacher Larry Duff in his dark room with a zebra- print stretchy book cover over his head and his face pressed against a snow globe. And chances are, he’ll be summoning up his great-great grandmother, the Cherokee Indian snow princess.
That’s when East alumnus Jake Chestnut and a few friends took pictures and then tweeted Duff’s predictions under the twitter handle @Duffosaurus also known as “The Duff Report.”
“We thought it would be a good idea to make the account so we could spread his predictions a lot easier,” Chestnut said.
And not long after, Duff’s predictions “went viral” around West Chester.
“People all over the district emailed me asking for my prediction,” Duff said. “You know I’m not God, I’m not an official, I can’t predict the weather real well, but I do watch it closely so I make an intelligent prediction.”
East Tech Education teacher David Koger follows The Duff Report twitter account and will often text Duff about his prediction.
“My wife teaches in the district as well, and if the weather channel says we’re getting snow, I’ll get a text message from her saying, ‘What does Duff say?,” Koger said. “It has traveled further than this building, and the kids really enjoy it.”
When he’s performing his seance with the kids he might not actually be summoning up his great-great Cherokee Indian grandmother, but he does have a logical system behind his self- estimated 95% accuracy rate. After watching “four or five” weather channels to get a general idea of professionals’ predictions, first thing’s first: check the predicted temperature.
“If it’s cold, the snow will stick. If it’s on the border, it will melt,” he said. “I always figure with three inches, school will be closed unless it melts right away depending on temperature.”
Then he’ll check to see if the trucks have started spreading salt not only on the main roads, but also in the subdivisions the night before. Without the subdivisions cleared, he said, busses can’t get through and school is a no-go.
But it isn’t always easy being the reason some students choose to do or ditch their homework the evening before. For the times that he’s right, however, he’s happy just making his students laugh.
“The students love it. They love to watch me do that silly skit,” he said. “It’s fun, I’ve interacted with people I’ve never interacted with before [because of it.]”
As his last year with Lakota before retirement, Duff doesn’t plan on continuing The Duff Report from home, but hopes that a fellow teacher picks up where he leaves off.
“Once I get home, I’m going to have other things to do,” Duff said. “[I’m glad I could] do this for fun but also to get students focused on thinking about the weather.”
friend or faux
“I used to be like, ‘as long as I’m comfortable I don’t care,’” says East senior Sihame Amlal as she toys with the gold Michael Kors watch on her wrist. “[But now] I do think the way you dress is the way you present yourself to the world. I feel like it gives you a stigma kind of, to other people like, ‘oh wow, she can wear Tiffany’ or ‘oh, she can wear Michael Kors because she can afford it.’ You feel kind of elevated from everybody else if you can wear a brand name.”
And five days out of the week, when she’s not working at Tommy Hilfiger, you can find Amlal wearing anything from her $350 black peacoat with “MK” inscripted into the golden buttons, to her huge square Prada sunglasses, to her brown and black Michael Kors boots. Amlal believes in dressing to impress, and has found that her high-end style has paid off—literally—like the time she went to court for a speeding ticket.
“The judge was really impressed with me because she had just seen [another] kid go in with messed up converse and jeans,” Amlal says, noting that the boy, like her, was charged with going 20 over the speed limit. “I was wearing dress pants, heels, a blazer, and a fancy scarf, [all name-brand.] She was like, ‘you know what? I think a fine will be okay. Just pay this fine and be careful next time.’ But he [had] to pay a fine and do two sessions of Car Teens.”
So it isn’t difficult to believe that Amlal rates the importance of fashion to her a nine out of 10. But according to Jessica Blumenthal, the Senior Director of trend research at Trendera, a trend forecasting firm, there has been a large decline in the number of people wearing brand-name clothing since 2008.
“Since the recession, there has been a big stigma around wealth,” Blumenthal tells Spark. “Logos are one way that people have traditionally shown wealth, and there’s definitely been a move away from that.”
Even what is considered the world’s most valuable luxury brand Louis Vuitton (LV), known for its incessant monogramming on just about every accessory, is beginning to move away from flaunting it’s “LV” all over its products.
“[One bag] originally came in the monogrammed canvas which is that trademark, most recognizable print, but now they make it in solid colors,” says Ana, a client service representative from LV that preferred not to give her last name. “In the last few years, I’d say you can notice that this is the direction [LV] is going. In the 90’s, there was that big emphasis on brand names. I think that was a tendency of the whole fashion market switch from the 90’s to the 2000’s.”
But don’t expect to never see a logo on a shirt or scarf again. Blumenthal says that high- end brands such as Opening Ceremony (OC) and Will Fry have taken the once logo-obsessed culture and twisted it into ironic pieces. Will Fry’s signature item, the “Expensive Sweater,” for example, is a print mash-up of tags of so-called “fancy brands.” OC released a line of white t-shirts that simply dawn the words “opening ceremony,” and additionally created a DKNY collection that Blumenthal called “more of a reference to the 90’s” than “a reference to the glamour of DKNY today.”
“It’s kind of like an anti-consumer movement toward influence that the influences are driving,” Blumenthal says. “They’re kind of making fun of the logos that we really valued and would pay so much money for in plastering them all over shirts and making fun of brands in a way you would not have seen pre 2008.”
To some East students, it doesn’t matter if their plain white T-shirt dons Ralph Lauren’s well- known logo of a little man riding a horse, which is regarded as the most widely recognized logo in the fashion industry. East sophomore Cate Strunk, for example, wears a striped sweater and jeans tucked into fuzzy Ugg-like boots. According to Strunk, as long as the product is quality, the generic route is more than okay with her.
“[Generic items] are cheaper. It usually has the same amount of quality and I can get the same look for less money, so it makes sense to me,” Strunk says. “But I have had stories of friends that have gone the generic route and people have made fun of them for not getting the brand-name nice clothes.”
In the near future, Blumenthal thinks that many teens will follow in Strunk’s footsteps and eventually begin to trash the logo. Perhaps not for less expensive options, but simply because the trend research shows logos on the decline.
“I think the move away from logo is not a move away from expensive clothing,” Blumenthal says. “I think it’s a move away from declaring that you’re wearing expensive clothing to the world in such a forward way. The evolution of high-end retail in fashion is really going to be toward quality products.”