Why a Naked SunFish?
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The Best of Shadowbox Live 2012

Brewery District
Columbus, Ohio 

By Rick Brown  

Jeff’s Backyard

by Rick Brown

There were four of us. I met Doug in kindergarten. Then Jeff and Donny somewhere along the way. And by late 5th grade we were all friends. We hung out as a quartet, a trio, or various configurations of two. Regardless, our little universe of pal-ness lasted through Junior High … 8th grade. Of course on many levels we were still buddies after that. But for about 3 years we explored the mysteries of life in Olmsted Falls, Ohio together. Our loyalty for each other lasted through Ricky and Donny becoming “Rick” and “Don” to everyone, except our families. And when you are a tender 13 years of age that is a very big chunk of your life.

School may have brought us together. But it was the time spent with each other’s families … their homes … and especially the summers spent in each other’s backyards that I recall most vividly. This is where Donny, Jeff, Doug and I had the freedom to be exactly who we were becoming … together.

Our yards were all distinctive. I grew up in an old farmhouse with a fenced in backyard. Our lot being five acres, there was a field big enough for kickball (or window pain smashing baseball) beyond the yard, followed by an apple orchard that had a tree house.

Doug’s house and backyard resembled mine the most, with the exception of having a farm next door. A few times we snuck over and fished in the farmer’s pond late at night … or stole a watermelon. And he would see us, yell out, and chase us back home in his beat up old pickup truck. As much as this made our hearts race, I really don’t think he ever intended on catching us. Hell … he may have enjoyed the experience as much as us.

Donny lived in a newer ranch style house with a barn and fields behind. His family had a couple horses … and Jeff kept a pony there as well. At first this seemed the coolest of cools. But sleeping over had its price. In the morning we all had to help clean stalls. This didn’t make me hate horses. But it certainly did make me appreciate dogs a lot more … goldfish even.

Jeff’s yard was exotic compared to the rest. His family’s house was a sprawling (for the time) single story, California style building. It was set on a slight hill so the furnished basement (where Jeff and his older brother Chris’s bedroom was) had an outside door. The yard was deep like mine, but the terrain varied and the house next door sat a long way from the street. My yard had withering fruit trees … aging cherries and plums plus the orchard. While Jeff’s had evergreens, oaks and white ash. There somehow was an air of sophistication … at least to my young mind. The people next door had a daughter in college studying to be an artist. She painted a nude on the back of their shed … tasteful of course … but to 12 – 13 year old boys we knew nothing about artistic taste … or naked women.

Of course in the warmth of summer we slept out in our backyards, many times just under the stars. This was always an adventure … whether it was getting bit on the lip by Doug’s duck or having to abandon our homemade clubhouse due to Donny’s cousin setting it on fire trying to light farts. Each yard had a personality. But for some reason the most exciting events occurred in Jeff’s backyard.

Like the time the four of us were playing “kill the guy with the football”. This was a game we made up as we went along. It didn’t have many rules really. And here they are:

1). Kick the football to the guy at the other end of Jeff’s yard.
2). The receiver catches the ball (this was not a given) and tries to single handedly score a touchdown.
3). The other three try to kill the guy with the football.

Okay … we really weren’t trying to “kill” anybody. But this IS how I got a broken wrist.

I caught the ball (maybe), tried to run to the left of the tacklers, got piled on, and as I went down attempted to brace my fall with my left hand. This is not a wise thing to do in this game … better to just take a dive … or hit someone in the face with the football.

Anyway, I put on my best macho and told Jeff, Donny and Doug that I “sprained my wrist”. I honestly thought this. I even rode my black and orange Schwinn Hornet 3 miles home. A few hours later, I had a cast on my left arm.

This was nothing compared to the anthill incident. It was just Jeff and I on this occasion. There was this GIANT anthill in the backyard … maybe 2 feet high. (I’m not exaggerating here.) Ants were going to and fro like it was an Ant New York City! I suggested we blow the anthill up! And Jeff thought it was a great idea! So we got about 3 gallons of gasoline out of the garage and began pouring it all over the giant anthill. Now this was probably enough to kill most of the ants to begin with. But a concept like this is foreign to a 13-year-old boy.

Then I had yet another epiphany.

“Let’s make a long trail to the anthill and we’ll stand way over there!”

I think this idea saved our asses.

We emptied the gas can with a trail of about 30 yards, moved the can out of the way and lit the end of the trail with a match. It didn’t take long for the fire to reach the anthill. And when it did it literally BLEW UP in what I swear to God was a MUSHROOM CLOUD! We both felt the heat from the explosion. And we looked at each other with a look that said, “Gee, I didn’t think it would be like THAT!”

Soon enough Jeff’s older brother Chris came running out of the house, dragged us away by our collars, and called us lots of unflattering names. He then slapped us around enough to make us realize the seriousness of our ignorance.

One of the tamer, but semi-regular activities in Jeff’s backyard was smoking. Jeff would steal a cigarette from his mother’s pack of Benson and Hedges (later on it was Virginia Slims and that made us brave enough to buy a pack at a gas station). Then the four of us would go out in the wooded area of the yard and PASS IT AROUND! This was waaaaaay before any of us ever heard of marijuana. Oddly enough, it was much the same communal kind of experience … but with a different dizziness.

But the best smoking memory I have is with the GIANT CIGARS!

One hot, humid August evening all four of us went to Olmsted Falls’ Homecoming. This was an annual event in late summer where folks would come back to visit and congregate with the citizens. It had nothing to do with school homecoming. It was a mini-carnival with games of skill, a few rides and such. And this year there was a game booth with prizes that included enormous cigars. No kidding, these cigars were about 3 inches in diameter and 2 ½ feet long! What pubescent boy wouldn’t want one? And each and every one of us (Doug, Ricky, Donny and Jeff) spent as much money as it took until we were each the proud owner of a super sized cigar!

And what better place to smoke these giant rolls of terrible tobacco than Jeff’s backyard? It was close. It was big. It certainly had the ambiance.

So there we are, all four of us, trying to ignite these gargantuan cigars with a simple cigarette lighter. This proved fruitless. Jeff got a propane torch out of the garage and that seemed to do the trick. And we’re all looking cool, puffing and sucking away on 2-foot cigars on a very hot, humid and incredibly STILL night in August.

We soon realized, because there was no breeze, Jeff’s backyard was filling up with a blue cigar smoke haze. And we all thought this was pretty frikkin’ cool! I suggested we take our shirts off so our parents wouldn’t smell cigar smoke on us. We all did this … four bare-chested boys sucking away at giant cigars in a blue smoke fog as thick as a Basil Rathbone movie scene. Of course by now our mouths felt as if we would never be able to taste food again. Still, we were enjoying this.

Then suddenly, Jeff’s mom’s car pulled into the driveway some 20 yards or so from us. We all began frantically trying to stub out our giant cigars in the grass. Sparks were flying EVERYWHERE and the lawn looked as if it had been sprayed with Fairy Dust. The air was thick with blue haze. The ground was covered in bright red, glowing tobacco coals. And we all stood there half naked staring at the car. Each of us had a 15-inch cigar butt clutched in our hands.

Jeff’s mom got out of her car. She looked at us. She looked at the scene. She saw the cigars … the blue haze. And she laughed out loud … shook her head … and walked into the house.


I hope kids today have special places like a yard … or someone’s yard. I am grateful I did. These places are one of the many stages where your life plays out. And I pray kids live, experience, play and survive as I did.

Oh yeah … I also hope they don’t break any bones … and give up smoking.

Jeff and Donny are both gone now … have been for quite a while. I don’t see Doug … but he’s close by. They all are really. Every time I think back in time … to a special place … in the past … in Olmsted Falls, Ohio … Jeff’s backyard.

Unlikely Angel

Morris Jackson

View Morris' Works July 25-August 4 at the
Ohio State Fair Fine Arts Exhibit

Good Scents

C. Mehrl Bennett



Abby Suelter

Rick's book, Best Bites is available at:


Rick Brown

Hmmm # 44

When commas
get high
their behavior

Hmmm # 45

I try
to live
every day.
Even my regrets
I do not

Hmmm # 46

There is no
“die” in
Yes there

Hmmm # 47

I’m thinking
just a
tiny tattoo,
simply reading

Hmmm # 48

I am
nothing is

by Sue Olcott

Click Here

Burlesque de Voyage

Shadowbox Live
The Worly Building
Brewery District
Columbus, Ohio

by Rick Brown

A third of the way through Act I of Burlesque de Voyage I sensed the show’s pace was a bit slow. But upon further reflection I realized that, at least for myself, I have felt this way about most plays I have reviewed. Witnessing a performance with the intent of writing about it is very different than simply watching. And with such a large cast it takes time for character development, storyline, and staging to hit a groove. That, and the foibles of any opening night make for such vibes. This is one reason why I usually see every show twice.

Head Roustabout Stev Guyer barks out instructions to his traveling troupe while Busty Slingshot (Julie Klein) belts out Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain” to begin Burlesque de Voyage. Staging is quite sparse, with ladders and chairs serving whatever purpose necessary. Much of the action is staged within the audience. And as the crowd began actively engaging our collective imaginations, I thought of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”. Like that American classic, the actors use this sparseness effectively while the comings and goings of a hard working acting troupe begin to unfold.

Early on, Lilly (Leah Haviland) quits without notice, leading to abrupt auditions, etc. Real show biz situations with realistic show biz characters: singers, dancers, musicians, and writers … the subtext here is Shadowbox Live exposing their personal process for all to see. Burlesque de Voyage, with the exception of the music, is authentically homegrown, making the performance the perfect metaphor for one of Columbus’s finest gems. Nuanced nakedness that is brilliantly revealing. Burlesque indeed.

Shadowbox Live’s penchant for ensemble renditions of popular music is prevalent here again. Only this time, in keeping with the stark minimalism of the lighting and staging, the song arrangements are stripped down. Voices are singular. Bits and pieces of tight harmonies seemingly sneak in to give a fullness that is wonderful. All while the band understates instrumentally. Bravo to vocal arranger Jennifer Hahn and fellow bandleaders Matthew Hahn and Keith Gibson.

Musical standouts include Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” (Nikki Fagin), Bob Seeger’s “Turn the Page” (ensemble), “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel (Leah Haviland and JT Walker III), and The Doors’ “When the Music’s Over” (Stev Guyer and JT Walker III). I especially enjoyed JT Walker’s riveting “Fame” (David Bowie) to conclude Act I. His performance is implicitly vulnerable without losing the song’s intended edginess.

Katy Psenicka (as Kat) gives a delightful non-rock song presentation of “If I Can’t Sell It” (Karen Gallinger). I’ve seen Ms. Psenicka sing this before and it is a delightful, campy addition here … perfect for a burlesque show.

One sour note … for me at least. Jennifer Hahn and again, Mr. Walker sing Emily Browning’s “Sweet Dreams” very well. But I found the choreography violent and creepy. I realize such subjects entertain some people, but for myself it seems out of place in burlesque.

While Act I concentrates on getting ready for a show, Act II is the show. Julie Klein is terrific as Busty Slingshot, the emcee. Ms. Klein manages to be a lot Mae West and a little Dixie, her Santa Babies persona. Amy Lay (as Dani playing a nurse) steals the scene in “Miracle Curves” as much with her sexy scatterBRAIN as her curves.

And the baggy pants, suspenders and bow tie comedy is true to burlesque roots. Jimmy Mak, David Whitehouse, Robbie Nance and Renee Horton … among others … do shtick that would do Henny Youngman proud! (Take my wife --- PLEASE!!! … A hooker walks up to me and says “I’ll do ANYTHING for 50 bucks!” I said, “GREAT! Paint my house!”) It is refreshingly hilarious to see a sketch comedy troupe perform old school stand up so effectively.

The writing of Jimmy Mak and directing of Stev Guyer are again both proof of the depth of Shadowbox Live’s talent and range. This is a great show that will keep getting better. It is unlike any other show, musicals included, that I have seen the troupe perform. Burlesque de Voyage is a well crafted tribute; entertaining, sexy and funny. Shadowbox Live has again reinvented itself in this Stage 2 presentation, making it the best Thursday (and select Wednesdays) night out in Columbus!

Burlesque de Voyage runs through August 16th. For more information please go to: www.shadowboxlive.org

Dog Grooming Parlor, Queens, NY.

Amy McCrory


Dennis Toth


The River

The muddy river
Spirals like a striking snake,
The shore always moves

The Deer

Deer in the cross-hair,
Eyes focused on the twilight.
Life should be so calm.

A Bird

The bird trills each day
In dank woods and dry fields.
I can never sang.

Early Spring

The cherry blossoms
Fall and drift in currents free.
I must sweep today.

In Winter

Frost cakes the roses,
Snow makes lace upon the glass.
The robin couldn't fly.


Issue 1 - January 2002