Sunday, November 11, 2001

Separating the wheat from the stuff

        I have been getting in touch with my inner kitchen. Cleaning. I don't mean the counters or floors. And whatever is growing in the crisper drawer can wait for the exterminator.

        I just tried to deal with the stuff. Freebies. Bad purchases. Junk. Out-of-date items. My drawers and cupboards were full of things I have been keeping out of habit or sloth.

        First to go were the free samples of muesli, which the dictionary says is probably food but the Swiss think is a breakfast cereal. I believe there should not be this kind of ambiguity about something that you intend to eat. So I pitched it.

        Ditto for two boxes of frosting mix. Do they even make this anymore? I must have been toting this around for 25 years, waiting for an unrealized compunction to bake a cake.

The Sam's Club trap

        I found five bottles of Worcestershire sauce, which probably came from Sam's Club. Everything there is packaged as a lifetime supply. You go in intending to buy a loaf of bread and come out $400 later with a block of cheese the size of a Volkswagen, a vat of pickle relish and a 100-pound bag of rice.

        Stuff just accumulates. Things other people give us. Things we used to need. Things we're afraid to throw away. I decided to simplify. And once I finished with my kitchen, I decided to try to simplify every time I have a chance.

        Here is a simple truth:

        It makes no sense — none — for a community to spend a half-billion dollars on a facility used only eight or 10 times a year. High school marching bands were permitted on the field at Paul Brown Stadium Saturday as part of the Division I playoffs. Did the kids leave marks on the grass?

        Well, Bengals, get used to it.

        No less a sage than Barry Larkin's mom, Shirley, told me once that when her neighbors complained about the appearance of the Larkin lawn, she and her husband told them proudly, “We are raising children, not grass.”

        A simple truth. Here's another one. Art is not a frill. Art is a community asset, as surely as a sports team. Something we can brag about and nurture and exploit. Something we already have, something we don't have to buy.

        A half-day after he was elected, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken outlined his plan for a revitalized city. Tucked among steps to improve race relations and fund economic development was a promise to create an arts and cultural committee.

Artful plan

        If this doesn't get mired in bureaucracy, it could be one of the best things to happen to us in years. A University of Cincinnati study reported that last year's Big Pig Gig brought $59.4 million to stores, restaurants and gas stations. During the pigs' five-month gig, 968,000 people came to see them, nearly half from out of town. The study estimates a total economic impact of $122 million. That's on an investment of $1.2 million.

        Not to mention the fun. Not to mention the artists it showcased. Not to mention that it was available to everybody.

        This was, on balance, a pretty good week. High school kids, in view of thousands their fans, had an amazing and memorable day in the sun at Paul Brown Stadium. Our mayor put culture and art into play. We went to the polls and changed our government again. Without a shot fired.

        Family. Community. Country.

        The rest is just stuff.         E-mail Past columns at


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