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The Interview: Hanif Abdurraqib

What the world needs now ... is more Hanif Abdurraqib. And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Hanif’s essays pivot from [...]
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What the world needs now … is more Hanif Abdurraqib.

And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Hanif’s essays pivot from pop culture to cultural politics naturally, but suddenly—like a Barry Sanders spin move—deftly weaving the experience of today’s black man and how his experiences separate from the shared nostalgia of the white world around him. He goes from Ferguson to Jersey, a Springsteen concert overlapping with Mike Brown’s murder. The NBA All-Star game or the Super Bowl halftime show, in his words, are given entirely new value and meaning. There’s few people that can talk about pro wrestling and emo and race and inequality with equivalent credibility. He’s Lester Bangs and Kevin Powell and Stephen A. Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

He’s a new narrator in a world that is always threatening to lose the plot.

And best of all, he’s ours.

Now, much more of the world gets to share the little black nerd in the Ohio hoodie with us, but when he shows up on MTV.com, or Pitchfork,  or when They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us gets dap in Oprah Magazine and on NPR, we’re not just celebrating him, but Two Dollar Radio for publishing it, and for every little local mention in it to get a little more light.

I love the chapter about Iverson and the night he crossed up Jordan. He seems a touchstone for the shared, but very different experience between white and black folks in America. Why is he so compelling to you?

I never had NBA aspirations, but I remember trying to model my subpar game after his. Practicing crossovers on leaves that had drifted to the ground on the basketball court near my house. He also refused conformity at a time when the NBA was trying to force players into a box. It’s hard to imagine now in the post-David Stern era. Players have more freedom over how they express themselves. LeBron James called the president a bum on Twitter and the NBA didn’t even blink in his direction. I love that, in part because I imagine Allen Iverson would have thrived in this era of expression. When the NBA enforced its dress code and told him to wear a suit, he stood up for himself. He said “No. Where I’m from, we wear jewelry and baggy jeans and you aren’t going to make me forget where I come from.” He paid literal thousands in fines, just to keep his hood close.

You’re dressed more like Iverson. So are CEOs. So was Mike Brown. How has fashion and its place in the language of race changed?

I don’t know if it has, really. I mean, I still walk into most rooms and I’m black first—no matter what I have on. For the first time in my life, I don’t own a tie. I have some blazers and a few nice shirts, but I don’t own a tie. If I’m home, I spend at least 40 percent of my week in sweatpants. I’m saying all of this to say that it’s the things we cannot take off that most define us when the stakes are at their highest, or most violent.

Much of your work strikes at the duality of a place like Columbus, like Bexley. When did that start to crystallize in your head, in ways you now express in your work?

I think maybe around my mid-late 20s, I became interested in what it is to love a place that doesn’t always love you back. And then, of course, what it is to love a place as a type of replacement for loving the people inside of that place. I’m still figuring that out, and I think a lot of my work is always reaching towards an unraveling of that. If there is to be injustice on every land—if the very obtaining of this land we’re all on was an injustice from the start (Christopher Columbus statue still looming downtown as we speak,) then how do we reconcile our places here? How can we best honor where we live and how we live and the people we’re sharing all of this living with? I don’t have an answer to any of that, which is great. Which is what keeps me writing and eager. Not to find answers to how to best live in a place I still work to love, but to find new ways to complicate this place that I love, and see if I can still find it within myself to love it as all of its complications are laid bare.

What’s the place in this town that still feels like “old” Columbus?

I think I have lots of old Columbuses, really. I love to pop over to the Junior’s Tacos food truck, even when I’m not that hungry. I’ll purchase a taco, sure. But I mostly just appreciate the lively conversation. The way laughter can shake the trees there. Everything at Resch’s Bakery on the eastside is still so inexpensive, almost as it was when I would go there in my younger years. If you are lucky, you can find some change in your car and walk out with a donut. I also love that you still have to take a number upon walking in. There’s something about that anticipation that I love—looking at your number and watching the screen slowly tick in the direction of your coming blessings. On the right day, I see Goodale Park as I saw it in my late teens and early 20s. Those days have become few and far between, but sometimes if the sun leaks through the trees in the right spot, it feels like I’m there, back on a blanket with my pals. I will call it Crew Stadium for as long as I can, and I believe that is a vital part of Old Columbus. I don’t know what will become of our beloved Crew, and I don’t know what will become of the stadium. But I have felt alive there more times than I have almost anywhere else. I still like to slip into a booth at Tommy’s Diner when I can. The Book Loft makes me unbearably anxious, but for some reason, my phone doesn’t get service inside of it. And so I enjoy walking into that anxious invisibility for a spell. On the blacktop of what used to be Fifth Avenue Elementary School, there’s a haphazardly drawn and colored map of the United States. My class drew it when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It’s maybe the only thing on the school grounds that has endured, save for the rusting playground accoutrements. That is my favorite bit of Old Columbus. A thing tattooed on a corner of the city’s ground from when I was small.

Of the new bits, what are the places you feel are an organically good addition to the city?

I’m obviously biased, but I love the new Two Dollar Radio store. I’m starting a monthly series there in February called “Ships At A Distance” where I pair two black artists of different disciplines and have them perform brief sets before being in conversation with each other. I think that’ll be really fun, and I love that the space is open to doing that. It has to be remembered that I just moved back home in April, and so I’m readjusting to the city as we speak. Still—it’s not brand new, but I love Si Senor. Best sandwich spot in town, for my money. The one in Grandview is not only great, but also very forgiving of the fact that I often burst in 30 minutes before they close, because I’ve lost track of (or poorly managed) my time. Since I’ve been here 95 percent of my life, “new” is kinda relative. Sole Classics isn’t brand new, but it’s newer than what I consider Old Columbus to be. And as a committed sneakerhead, I really value having one of my favorite sneaker spots walking distance from my apartment. I do think there are a lot of good organic additions, and I’d like to see more places and people holding hands with existing communities they move into, and not just trying to rush ahead in the name of some vague idea of “improvement.” I like places like Sole Classics and Spoonful Records because it feels still very community-based. I can go in these shops and have conversations with the people working there. It can feel like a city inside of a city.

Who inspires you in this town?

There’s a long list. I’m inspired by the Black Pride 4, and by young black activists. I hope to see the work of activism continue to be pushed here, and I hope to see it led by young black folks, queer black folks, black women, and intersections of all those identities. I’m really heartened by the idea of looking to people younger than me to light the way. I’m not all that old, but I am old enough to know that there is something exciting happening inside of the way young activists are looking at the world, and it serves me to get out of the way and support them how I can. I’m inspired by Scott Woods and the work he’s done (and continues to do) to bridge gaps in the black artistic community here. I’m inspired by Will Evans, who built Black Nerd Problems out the city and took it worldwide. I’m inspired by all of the Two Dollar Radio folks, and how they created and sustained a vision. But, beyond that, I’m inspired by my friends here. My dear friends who live in this city, and have lived in this city, and who have found a way to make the most out of living and loving here. Who will come over to my house for a movie night and make a late night UDF run with me and sit with me in a diner booth. I’m really inspired by the folks who have lived here for a long time and still decide to make the most of it, even through their sighing on some days. On my walk to the gym every day I’m in town, I walk by the old Union Station arch in the Arena District. And when you see something magnificent every day, it’s easy to forget its magnificence. One Saturday, I was walking by it and a guy was just standing in front of it, marveling at it and taking pictures, smiling as wide as he could. Because this is generally what tourists do upon seeing it, another passerby approached him and asked the guy if it was his first time in the city. The guy replied, “No, I live here. I can just never get over how cool this thing is.” I think that guy inspires me the most.

I feel like you’re the kind of person who has a personal timestamp for all these moving moments in pop culture. Can you think of a few that you haven’t written about?

Oh, absolutely. I will now always remember climbing the steps to an arena to watch what would be one of Tom Petty’s last shows. I remember being very young when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. But more importantly, I remember the bus ride to school the next day. Back when buses played the radio on the ride to school, and WVKO had KC Jones on the morning show, and he was just so stunned that Tyson was knocked out. I remember not really understanding the weight of it all until hearing KC Jones on WVKO the morning after. I think all of the time about KC Jones, and how Columbus morning radio shaped me when I was younger, because it was all that got played on the bus to school. Shoutout to KC Jones, a legend.

Do you remember where you were when you found out about Trayvon? Tyre? Eric Garner? Mike Brown? Marshawn McCarrel?

I do, and there’s a series of pieces in my book about the murders of Trayvon, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice. Marshawn was really difficult for me. I lived in Connecticut at the time of his death, and my then-partner came upstairs to my office to tell me that she saw news floating around that Marshawn had killed himself. Finding out about death in the moment is always difficult, for me. I have had to endure that so much that I’ve kind of made an accelerated processing mechanism—going from disbelief to acceptance in mere minutes. I remember that on my desk in my office, I had some kind of red candy. I used to always eat candy when I wrote—a habit that I just broke this year. I stared at the candy for a long time, I think because when I saw Marshawn alive last, he had on a long red shirt. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and we hugged. It was an awkward hug, balancing both love and the tension that exists when you haven’t spoken to someone you love in a long time. I want to remember him like I knew him best, always. He was so immensely gifted. He was a better and more eager writer than poets twice his age. He’d come into the Method Gallery for the Writing Wrongs open mic and kick some shit that would make me not want to follow him. He was flawed, but singular. Like all the best of us are.

Purchase They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us at twodollarradio.com. For more of his work, visit abdurraqib.com.

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Community

A Columbus icon has announced his retirement

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The man who has been synonymous with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for decades is stepping down after 42 years of service.

Since 1978, Jungle Jack Hanna has played a pivotal role in inspiring positive change in the local and global zoo communities. His work as a wildlife ambassador and conservationist has transformed the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium into one of the world’s best since he took on the job. Hanna will still be recognized as the zoo’s director emeritus, a title he’s held since 1992.

Hanna had this to say in a press release:

As I approach my mid-70s with more than four decades at the Columbus Zoo, I believe it is time to wind down and officially step back while CEO Tom Stalf and the Zoo’s great leadership team continue to guide the Zoo into the future. Together with many friends and partners, we’ve come a long way to make the world a better place for people and wildlife!

Jack Hanna

Hanna wore many other hats throughout his 42-year career. Those include television personality, author, and all-around pop culture icon. As he steps away from his professional role, Hanna says that he still plans to maintain a close relationship with the zoo as its “No. 1 fan.”

At 73-years old, Hanna is the father of three and grandfather of six. His retirement will be made official on Dec. 31.

The Zoo will host special events dedicated to Hanna through the remainder of the year. Those include:

  • Jack Hanna Weekend – Oct. 3 and 4
  • Jack Hanna’s Home for the Holidays – Dec. 12

The Zoo reopens to the public on Monday.

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Coronavirus

Penzone shares: what to expect with salons

Julian Foglietti

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With the closing of Hair Salons on March 18th, buzz cuts and bowl cuts have made an appearance on the heads of Ohioans, young and old. Luckily for those desperate for a do, Dewine has announced that hair salons may begin to reopen on May 15th. To guide us through the transition, I spoke with Debbie Penzone, President and CEO of Penzone Salons, about serving on the Governor's salon advisory board, dealing with the business effect of the virus, and what we can expect from hair salons moving forward. 

I understand that you served as the chair of the Governor's committee board regarding reopening salons. What did you do in that role? 

On the committee, my role was pulling from my experience as a cosmetologist and business owner to assemble a group of individuals that represent our business in Ohio. We had everyone from 10 person salons to one person barbershops. braiding salons and nail salons, to schools and three health commissioners. From there, the job was building an agenda and listening to members while consulting health professionals on how to expand upon existing sanitation guidelines.  The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology has been enforcing for years. Beyond that, it was a lot of keeping time, guiding the conversations, gathering information and reporting it.  We also wanted to build plans if something did happen in a salon, and make sure that everyone could abide by these practices so we can remain safe and open.

In what ways has the virus caused you to rethink the way salons will function moving forward?

One of the things we did was go through a COVID specific certification process with Barbicide, which produces a lot of the sanitation products already used in salons and barber shops. A lot of people don’t realize that in the Ohio Administrative Code, there are very specific sanitation guidelines that you have to follow when you get your license, and there is a major component of constantly learning new sanitation practices all the time. The main difference you’ll see is us taking that sanitation to the next level: social distancing between booths, or barriers put in place, as well as reduced capacities in many salons. There will be more emphasis on reducing contact points and sanitizing things like doorknobs and counters as well. The biggest change will be the way we interact with our clients. We're a very emotional industry. We’re huggers, and we’re very close with the people we work with. Our clients are like family to us, so having to distance ourselves and not engage in that way will be different. 

What has been the greatest challenge to overcome over the past months? 

It’s really been adapting to the constant change we're all facing. We might spend all this energy sharing with our team new knowledge, but the next week it will change again. It’s been difficult to coordinate and continue to train everyone and update them with the new practices, as well as provide support for them while we're all distanced from each other. We're all scared right now, and it’s important to not lose our community so we can give each other confidence in the direction we’re heading in.

What have you witnessed over the past few months that gave you hope?

The biggest hope for me was serving on this committee. I’ve always felt so strong about our industry, so bringing so many people together and supporting one another during this difficult time. This whole thing has really brought us together as an industry, and shown that we can work together to support each other and raise each other up. There's enough clients for everybody, and it’s beautiful to see the incredible diversity of salons and see us all coming together to work with one another.

Are you worried about customers returning?

We’ve opened our booking today, but were not opening on the 15th, because we want to have a few days to go over the new procedures with our teams before we start to bring clients in. Every salon will only be operating at 50% capacity, and then we’re extending the hours to make sure everyone has the same hours they used to, and some of them are already booked out to July.

What would you say to ease the concerns of customers?

Really that we’re regulated by the state board and have so many sanitation practices in place. We have printouts posted showing the guidelines for clients that come to the stores, and for those who are high-risk, we are opening up early so they can be the first people to come in right after the salon is sanitized. What's important to remember about salons is that the regulators randomly check our spaces to make sure we're complying, and as we build on regulations, these checks are going to be taken to the next level. 

As a hairstylist, do you see any hairstyle trends emerging from this?

I definitely think there's gonna be a boom for bobs and pixie cuts, ‘cause people are just done. Maybe some bold colors, because everyone just wants to come out and say, “I’m back, baby.” Maybe just a little more attitude with the cuts people are getting.



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Coronavirus

Meet the Saviors: from doctors on the front line to PPE makers

Mitch Hooper

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While searching for Columbus’ helpers, we found that they come in many different shapes and sizes. And this month, we are telling as many of their stories as we can.

These are the stories of the saviors on the front line, working at hospitals, and assisting patients on a day-to-day basis. Or these saviors are at home and providing essential resources to these same folks on the front line. These efforts are quite literally saving lives and risking their own in the process.

Saviors: Pauline Vales, COVID-19 ICU Nurse at Riverside

It was just a little more than a week before Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would be going into social distancing orders when Pauline Vale and her husband had already begun leaving for a vacation to Texas. And when she returned home on March 10, the events preceding have been a rollercoaster ride of long days and nights, moments of sacrifice, and above all, bravery in the face of danger.

“We have to be mindful about what we need to do each time we enter a patient room because we can’t just run in and out when we need something. It’s harder to connect with our patients because they can’t see our faces, we can’t hold their hands without gloves on, and it’s harder for them to hear us talking through a mask,” Vales explained. “It seems like there is something new every single day, so we have had to adapt and evolve many times over in the last weeks. And there is just more stress and worry in general, but my unit has really come together as a team and done so many amazing things.”

The challenges are seemingly endless for nurses in the ICU like Vales. She said beyond medical professionals having limited contact with patience, hospitals are not allowing visitors unless it's a life situation or fits a different protocol.

There’s also the battle of resources; now more than ever, folks on the front line need protection like gloves and N95 face masks. Luckily, that call is being heard by larger corporations who can do something, such as Battelle. Battelle now works with hospitals, including Riverside, to decontaminate face masks for these front line workers.  And coincidentally, Vale’s husband works as a virologist at Battelle while she was also a former microbiologist for Battelle.

“I have been able to share my knowledge about virus research and testing with my co-workers at the hospital. It has been very helpful to understand the challenges in developing reliable testing and treatments,” she said. “When we first realized that PPE supplies were a real concern, we were worried about how we would be able to protect ourselves and still care for our patients. The relief of having enough PPE available was really palpable on the unit.”

Vales also faces challenges in her personal life. As a mother to a six-year-old boy, the outbreak of COVID-19 has severely changed his day-to-day without much preparation. Like most young children, social distancing is stopping him from going out and playing like he normally would.

“It’s difficult to convey the situation without scaring him,” she said.

But still, Vales and the rest of the team at Riverside continue to fight on the front line, day-in and day-out. And through all the adversity and tough times, she is still taking a moment to recognize the silver lining on these cloudy days.

“The outpouring of support for health care workers has been amazing and people have been so generous to our unit. We have gotten sweet treats, thank you cards, coffee, and so many encouraging words, which has been very much appreciated,” she said. “Different departments in the hospital have been doing kind things for each other, and our food service staff have been a huge support. I have seen many kind acts across Columbus as well. Food drives, to organizing financial help for families in need, to the support of local businesses. It has been great to see so many people doing what they can to help others.”

***

Saviors: Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP

Sometimes the battle against COVID-19 in Columbus means taking your talents elsewhere; and that’s what Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP, is doing. And even then, it’s an uphill battle.

“The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with is that I’ve been applying and registering to help New York City for multiple weeks,” Ulmer said. “But extensive red tape has prevented me from being where the healthcare workers are truly overwhelmed and need us the most.”

Ulmer specializes in emergency medicine here in Central Ohio. As someone who has worked on the front lines here, he’s been reminded of the importance physicians like himself can have—especially during an international pandemic. And all the extra steps medical workers have made to further protect their families, he said the outbreak has been eye-opening within his own life.

“I will never take for granted the impact and importance of being present for our families when we are home,” he said.

But, while there have been many struggles, he’s found the silver lining in moments like this.

“The most beautiful thing I’ve seen is that so many people appreciate the entire medical staff, not just us as physicians. There is an incredible workforce that collectively cares for patients. I am so glad they are being recognized and appreciated for the heroes that they are.”

***

Saviors: Kim and Kallie Mallett, Mask Makers

Life was normal for Kim and Kallie Mallett just a few months ago. While Kim worked at Burn Boot Camp, Kallie was busy as an American Sign Language interpreter. And then in a flash, as it has been for most of us, life was far from normal.

Gyms were one of the first of businesses to close due to COVID-19 so Kim was out of work. And Kallie was also temporarily laid off from her position. Though the financial losses have been tough to manage, the biggest thing the two said they miss is getting to interact with and help all the people they meet through their jobs. So it makes sense that the two found a way, even through social distancing and shelter-in-place, to help by making face masks.

“I have been sewing off and on for years so when an EMT friend expressed a need for homemade masks as a way to extend the life of hers and her fire stations N95 masks, we felt called to help,” Kim said. “We quickly realized how significant the shortage of PPE was across all essential workers and just kept going. In the three weeks we’ve been making masks, we have completed almost 700.”

Through mask making, they’ve been able to raise more than $900 in donations—$700 of which will be donated to the Mid Ohio Food Bank and the rest will be used to purchase more fabrics to make more masks.

“It’s been amazing to see Ohio come together and lend a helping hand to their neighbors—from six feet away, of course,” Kim said.

“I’m further reminded of how interconnected we all are and how we need to continue to rely on each other because we truly are all in this together.”

And of course, they’ve learned lessons along the way.

“I’ve learned to take it slowly and one day at a time,” Kalie said “I will be more appreciative of time with friends, the ability to workout with my gym family—really, just normal life in general.”

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