David Korff, 1942-2021

Sometimes we work toward a goal, knowing what we want and devoting our efforts toward achieving it.

Other times opportunities are presented unexpectedly, and if we take the chance it might change the course of your life.

David Korff

David Korff, who died on January 20, provided that opportunity to me in late 2008. David was the chair of the department of visual and performing arts at St. Clair County Community College, and late in the fall semester of that year, he had a problem: The department had an upcoming theater production in less than a month and he’d just lost the director, who’d left to take another opportunity. He asked the technical director, Roger Hansel, if he knew someone who might be able to come in and take over the production. Roger, a friend of mine from community theater, suggested me.

David asked Roger to give me a call and find out if I’d be interested. In other circumstances, I might have hesitated a bit, but late 2008 was near the start of the Great Recession; both my wife and I had lost our jobs, so any income was going to be welcome, and the idea of actually getting paid to do something I loved was an added incentive. I accepted and somehow we put together the production – Christmas Belles by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten – in about three weeks.

David and his wife, Katherine, came to see the play (they came to all of the plays and other arts events on campus) and she was very complimentary. David was more reserved, so I wasn’t immediately sure he’d liked the job I did. Plus I figured it was a one-off gig.

So when I stopped by the Fine Arts Building the following Monday to finish the cleanup and collect my things from the office I’d used for my brief time as a professional director, David stopped me in the hallway.

“You’re doing the next show, too, right?” he said.

“Uh, yeah,” I cleverly replied. Both Christmas Belles and the first show of the winter semester, two one-acts by Edward Albee (The American Dream and The Zoo Story) had already been selected by my predecessor, and Albee’s works are not easy to stage. But I had the feeling that if we could do Albee justice, this could turn into something greater.

The American Dream/The Zoo Story was well-received. My small troupe of actors, soon to be renamed The SC4 Players, rose to the occasion. As the semester ended, and I was again preparing to clear out my office, David stopped me in the hall again.

“What shows are we doing next year?” he asked.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I replied, not-nearly-as-cleverly.

“Well, the director picks them, and you are directing for us next year, correct?” he said.

“Of course, David,” I said, feeling a smile overtake my entire face. A full-year gig directing sounded pretty good, even if still part-time. Then he dropped the other surprise.

“And you’re going to teach acting for us, too, right?”

“Yes, sir,” was all I could think to say.

Eventually, I taught acting, improvisation, and oral interpretation of literature for eight years at the college. My colleagues and students and I built a small program into a much larger one, with as many as fifty students involved in our productions over the course of an academic year.

And it all started with a phone call, and someone who could see beyond the usual constraints, who wanted results, and who had the imagination to let those things happen. David Korff was that person.

One day, during the rehearsals for the Albee one-acts, I stopped by David’s office as I often did to give him an update. He patiently listened to my report, which I assumed he would want because every boss I’d had up to that point in my various careers always expected status reports. When I finished, he asked me why I kept telling him all of this information. I said I thought he expected regular updates.

“I don’t know much about theater,” he said, “except that I like it. I hired you to do that job for me. If I’m unhappy with what you’re doing, I’ll let you know.”

That was an incredibly freeing moment. I’m not sure I’d ever felt so trusted, and I’m not sure I’ve had that feeling since David retired a few years later. I’ve never forgotten it.

I got to work with David on the first grants committee devoted to the arts at our local community foundation, and got to appreciate his overall knowledge of arts and how they worked, including the value of art. Groups would come to us asking for funding for upcoming projects, and most of the time they would say that they intended to have no admission fee for their event. David would push back, suggesting they place at least a nominal price on admission, even 50 cents or a dollar, simply so people would understand that arts had value, that they weren’t trivial or throwaway parts of our society. Not everyone accepted his advice, but I did, and that advice continues to inform my decisions as an artist.

Honestly, I didn’t know David that well. We didn’t socialize outside of work. I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but certainly respectful colleagues. In the fall of 2011, we produced a collaborative celebration of all of our arts disciplines, including theater, music, dance, and visual arts. Afterwards, David wrote me a short note:

I did get to tell David on several occasions how much the opportunity he gave me changed my life. He would smile and tell me that I’d helped him as much as he helped me, but I’m not sure it’s even close to equal.

David Korff’s obituary closes with the following suggestion:

As a Living Memorial for David and those you love, take your family to a concert. Picnic along the River Walk. Acclaim the blue of Lake Huron. Visit Museums and Galleries. Buy a piece of Art. Eat more pie!

Thanks, David, for taking a chance on me.

Leave him to the prosecutors and creditors and get on with the people’s business

This may come as a surprise to my readership (such as it is), but I’m only lukewarm on the idea of the Senate actually holding an impeachment trial for He-Who-Shall-No-Longer-Be-Named (and who shall be hereinafter be given the acronym “HWSNLBN”).

I do believe that HWSNLBN must be held accountable for the myriad crimes he likely committed as president, up to and including his involvement in inciting a insurrectionist riot on January 6. However, I think the impeachment trial would be a distraction from the many good things that President Biden (who shall hereinafter be named, repeatedly and without acronyming) is attempting to do in his first few months in office.

HWSNLBN has been impeached – twice, now – and the stain of that will never go away. Fifty percent of all of the presidential impeachments in the nearly 232 year history of our constitutional government belong to HSWNLBN. Last year, in the first Senate trial, Republicans tried to claim that standards of evidence that would apply to a criminal or civil trial should be used. But an impeachment trial isn’t like that. Ultimately, it’s political. The standards of what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” are largely left up to the House to decide when they vote to impeach, and to the Senate to decide when they vote to convict or acquit.

HWSNLBN will also be facing numerous actual criminal and civil trials, perhaps fairly soon, now that he’s a private citizen and not president of the United States. Remember, the Department of Justice advice is that a sitting president can’t be brought to trial, but it doesn’t excuse any potential criminal acts that occurred while in office. Otherwise, there would be, as a point of law, no way to hold a president accountable for anything they do during their term. HWSNLBN may face quite a few charges, starting with possible tax fraud and evasion and potentially ending with liability in the deaths of the Capitol Police officer during the attack on the Capitol. Not to mention plenty of creditors, including Deutsche Bank, who are likely going to want to discuss repayment with a man whose primary business is already facing difficulty and whose brand is toxic to all but the unscrupulous and gullible.

Putting him on trial after he’s already left office – which hasn’t been definitively determined is even constitutional – accomplishes little, and might even give his supporters a weapon to wield against other criminal and civil actions against the former president. “You already tried him in the Senate,” they will bellow, “what more do you want?” (I’m sure they’ll use the key words “unity” and “healing” a lot, too, but I paraphrased my imagined quote from them.)

Let’s turn him over to federal and state prosecutors, who can potentially put him behind bars if that punishment fits the crime, and his creditors, who will put a whole other world of hurt on him. The symbolism of the impeachment trial is strong, I’ll admit, but I’d prefer to see us moving forward with real legislation and leave the repercussions of HWSNLBN’s tragic presidency to those who know how to build real cases and then get convictions.

Stumbling across the finish line

It’s Inauguration Day. As I write this, it’s just after 10 a.m. Eastern time, Donald Trump has flown off to Florida, and the dignitaries are arriving for the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.

I’d like to say I’m excited about the change, but honestly, I’m just exhausted. I’ve read stories about endurance athletes, like marathoners, triathletes, and distance cyclists, and how, as they approach the finish line, they’re more relieved than thrilled that their journey is over. Later, they can appreciate their accomplishment, but in the moment, they’re just happy it’s over.

I feel that way today. I think we’ll have things to celebrate in the days and months to come. Perhaps the work needed to fix our many serious problems will be accomplished with a new president and a Congress controlled by one party. A lot of that will have to do with how determined Mitch McConnell is to make sure that nothing positive happens, thanks to the filibuster. Chuck Schumer may have a big decision to make to restrict or eliminate the filibuster entirely, which is a Senate rule and tradition, not required by the Constitution.

But right now, I’m just exhausted. After living through four years of attacks on our democratic norms, culminating with the reprehensible attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, I’m trying to be positive and trying to be excited, but I can’t summon up the energy to believe that we’re suddenly going to flip a switch and go back to our regularly-scheduled democracy. Maybe that will happen tomorrow.

We’ll see.

Windmill tilting

As you may have surmised from reading my ongoing Cardboard Tigers series (see them here!), I’m a baseball fan, and specifically of the Detroit Tigers. Watching them on TV over the past few years has been tough, mostly because they haven’t been very good, but also because nearly all of their games are televised on Fox Sports Detroit.

The games are very well-produced. The announcers are okay (when they aren’t causing their own drama in the broadcast booth), though I wish they’d talk a bit less (it’s on TV, guys, we don’t need wall-to-wall chatter).

No, the problem has been, as everything seems to be these days, political. Fox Sports Detroit was, up until 2019, owned by 21st Century Fox, which sold most of its entertainment assets to The Walt Disney Company. As part of the agreement with the federal government allowing the sale, Disney, which also owns the ESPN-branded sports channels, was forced to sell the regional sports operations like Fox Sports Detroit. They found a buyer in Sinclair Broadcasting, one of the few companies both big enough to make such a deal while also somehow being even more right-wing than Fox. So both before and after the sale, I was unhappy knowing that my viewing was helping to make Fox – and then Sinclair – any money at all.

The point is moot, at least right now and at least for me, because my current streaming platform for local channels, YouTube TV, dropped Fox Sports Detroit when they couldn’t come to an agreement over rights fees with Sinclair. Sinclair will also be re-branding their local sports channels, apparently using the Bally name, sometime this year; they were continuing to use the Fox name under license through 2021. Won’t matter to me, they’re still owned by Sinclair, and frankly, the whole intermingling of sports and gambling is also disappointing. I know it’s a big part of sports and always has been, and I’ve been known to place some casual bets with friends and play fantasy sports, but the direct connection and the expansion of legalized betting in Michigan doesn’t strike me as a positive thing. So Bally Sports Detroit, or whatever they end up calling it, isn’t any more appealing than Fox Sports Detroit.

I’m sure executives at Fox Sports Detroit and Sinclair are shaking in their loafers over my extremely quiet boycott of their channel. But it makes me feel better, and I suppose if enough people did it, it might make a difference.

My other windmill-tilt involves CVS, a company I’ve always had good experiences with. Their Marine City store is clean, seems well-run, has good prices on the things I need, and their pharmacy is convenient. (They send a few too many text reminders, but I could stop those if I really wanted to.) However, the last time I went to pick up a prescription, they had a large display of Mike Lindell’s “MyPillow” next to the counter. Mike Lindell, if you’re unaware, is the entrepreneur behind one of the most successful “As Seen On TV” products of recent years, and is also a vocal supporter, both financially and personally, of Donald Trump and the effort to throw out the results of a legally-held election to keep his boy in office for four more years.

So I wrote the following note to the corporate complaint department:

I’ve been a CVS customer for many years. Our local store is staffed by friendly, knowledgable people, I’ve been happy with the value provided by both the local store and CVS.

I was disappointed yesterday, though, when I stopped to pick up a prescription at the Marine City, MI, store. There was a prominent display of the “MyPillow” product next to the pharmacy counter. The CEO of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, is a supporter of the false claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” from President Trump and was also involved as a financial supporter of the rally on January 6 that resulted in a mob invading the U.S. Capitol.

I recognize that Mr. Lindell has the right to sell his products and that CVS has the similar right to select and market whatever products you deem appropriate. I would prefer, however, not to purchase anything from a company that is aligned with someone who is trying to invalidate my vote and cause insurrection. I will be moving my prescriptions as soon as possible.

Again, I’m sure CVS isn’t going to change their decision to sell a popular product because of my complaint. But it felt good to write that measured, yet, quixotic, note.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have to take up my lance and find me a windmill or two.

Music Saturday: Tommy Oddsen

I haven’t done a Music Saturday post for awhile. Some other things came up, can’t imagine what they were but they seemed to demand my attention. Anyway, this week’s artist is Tommy Oddsen.

Tommy Oddsen is my musical alter ego. The name came about in 2019 when I was going to play a gig with one of my best friends with whom I share a Norwegian heritage, and whose name is Evenson. “Even” is a Danish/Norwegian first name (akin to “Evan” in English) and, interestingly, so is “Odd.” So Norwegian families had – and a quick check of Facebook profiles seems to confirm still may have – sons named Even and Odd, and their children would have been “Evensen” and “Oddsen” in the bygone patronymic method of last names.

Rather than bill ourselves as “Evenson and Kephart,” I had the idea of adopting “Oddsen” as my stage name so we’d be “Evenson|Oddsen”. It was supposed to be a tiny joke for a few performances, but this year, as I had lots of time on my hands to actually practice playing guitar and singing for my own enjoyment, I started to think of myself as “Tommy Oddsen.”

So now that I’m finally playing live on Twitch, I’m using that name. In case you’re confused trying to find my channel.

Right now, I’m only playing one evening per week, Thursdays at 6 p.m. Eastern time. I’m on for about two hours, playing almost entirely covers from the 1960s through the 1990s, mostly folk, singer/songwriter tunes, some old country songs, and the very small number of original songs I’ve written. (Hopefully, there will be more of those to share shortly.)

Stop by and listen at https://www.twitch.tv/TommyOddsen.