Friday, January 30, 2015

Death in the Slow Lane

Traditions are terrific things. Whether they run in families, bring together communities or even entire nations, there is no mistaking the notion that honoring tradition is a noble and cozy thing to do, when not misguided.

But let's do away with the funeral procession, shall we?

In simpler, less crowded, less rude times, the funeral procession, particularly when done using the horse and carriage, was a fine way of respecting the newly-deceased.

Today, it's more along the lines of a nuisance and, frankly, it can be dangerous.

The journey from church (or other nonsecular place) to the cemetery or mausoleum can certainly be a somber one. There isn't a limousine leading the way with cans and string attached, with a hand-painted sign that says "Just Died."

So I get it that commuting during an occasion of burial isn't the most pleasant thing in the world. And I have nothing against respecting and honoring the dead.

But the funeral procession has worn out its welcome.

Today, with roads packed more than ever with vehicles, the idea of stringing together dozens of motorists and allowing them to pass through intersections and running red lights with impunity, simply isn't very bright.

It's nothing against the processioners, per se, although there does always seem to be one car that lags behind the rest, creating a potentially dangerous gap. It's more about the rude, disrespectful motorists who aren't part of the procession.

I just don't think we need to drive en masse to a burial.

I think you can give folks the target address and driving instructions and say "We'll see you there."

An exception would be for something more stately, such as the funeral of a police officer or political figure.

If one of the purposes of a funeral procession is to show, in a very visual way, how beloved someone was, I am reminded of some sage words uttered by a wise person.

"The only thing that is going to determine how many people show up to your funeral is the weather."

My inspiration here isn't because I was recently inconvenienced by a funeral procession, though Lord knows that I have been. Nor is it because I have encountered strange and exasperating moments whilst driving in a funeral procession, though I once drove the entire way behind a car with no functioning brake lights (that was fun).

In fact, this really has nothing to do with inconvenience. It has everything to do with practicality and safety.

I don't have the numbers, and maybe they don't bear me out anyway, but I still think that you increase the chances of an accident anytime a funeral procession rolls on by.

Besides, they're depressing.


Enough.


What's a more in-your-face reminder of mortality than watching 30 cars drive slowly by, following a hearse?

I see enough images of death and destruction on TV and the Internet to last me a lifetime, thank you very much.

Would death be any less significant and the occasion of a funeral be any less morose or somber if we stopped traveling to burials in herds?

I recall a stand-up comedian once remarking that as a show of life's cruel irony, the only time you get to drive through red lights and stop signs is when you're dead and can't enjoy the gratification.

Besides, in my non-funeral procession fantasy world, if I really want to drive miles and miles in a tight-knit pack while pumping my brakes, I have that opportunity, twice a day: my commute to and from work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Kept in the Dark

I think one of the most depressing parts of winter is that we spend it cloaked in darkness.

It's dark when you wake up to get ready for work. The afternoons are often overcast and everyone has to drive with their headlights on. It's dark when you drive home from work. You can go days without seeing any serious sunlight.

In Michigan, you can pretty much put your sunglasses in the drawer in October and not pull them out again until April---if you're lucky.

It's like in wintertime, we've all forgotten to pay the light bill.

That's why, when you get a day of sunshine in the winter, your eyes hurt. You spend the day squinting. Everyone looks like Robert De Niro in every movie in which he's ever appeared.

But there's something called the Winter Solstice, and we actually passed it a few weeks ago---December 21 to be exact. And when you pass the solstice, you're in for longer days, slowly but surely.

When I was a kid, I remember folks talking about December 21 as being "the longest night of the year."

Kids, as we know, tend to take phrases literally. I was no exception. One year, I heard all the blather about December 21's "longest night" and when that night actually came, I thought it would be dark for the whole next day.

The "longest night" aspect, of course, is an astronomical phenomenon rooted in minutes, not hours.

But that's not what kids hear.

So here we are, 23 days past the Winter Solstice and while it's still mostly dark out, the commute home from the office isn't quite as depressing anymore. I take heart in the fact that from this point forward, nightfall stays away a tad longer, day by day.

But it's still dark a lot.


This photo was likely taken at 1:00 in the afternoon during a Michigan winter


I like December 21 in the same vein that I dread June 21, the Summer Solstice.

Because after June 21, the days start to get shorter.

I love it that in the summer, the clock will read 9:25 p.m. and you could still mow the lawn if  you want. There's that much sunlight still available.

But after June 21, sunset creeps closer and closer. It's like a slow water torture.

By August, 8:00 becomes the point where you need flashlights outside. A couple months later, with the leaves on the ground and with more chill in the air, sunlight becomes a precious commodity.

Then we start the whole depressing winter thing all over again.

This blog post may seem like an exercise in futility, because no amount of complaining in the world is going to change the Earth's axis. We can't rally and join hands to make our winter days filled with more sunshine.

But I write this because today it hit me---I made it home after work with a sliver of sunshine left in the sky. It was gone a few minutes later, but this is improvement.

Plus, in Michigan, the longer the days get in the winter, the more we get to see all the snow that needs to be shoveled.

Give and take, you see.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

(Not) Getting Carded

So how many Christmas cards did you get this year?

Are they adorning the wall? Do you have so many that they outline the closet door frame? Or are they stuffed in a holder on the coffee table, bursting?

No?

Not at our house, either.

The Christmas card is a dinosaur---like drive-in movies and transistor radios.

Nobody sends Christmas cards anymore. It's another example of how Americans today just don't like to slap a stamp on anything and ship it via the United States Postal Service.

Sending Christmas cards was a feeling of accomplishment but not of gratification. I mean, you were never there to see the recipient open yours.

But getting Christmas cards? Now that was some fun.

They would start to come, slowly at first, usually the week after Thanksgiving. Those cards were sent by the early bird folks.

But as the month of December moved along, the Christmas cards moved along with it, filling the mailbox more voluminously as the days ticked down toward December 25.

You almost had a mental checklist of from whom to expect cards, and crossing them off as you received them. It was fun to see the different styles, the cozy illustrations and the heartwarming words inside.

Everyday, it seemed, you got at least one card in the mail during December.


This is not a sign of the times anymore

The envelopes usually gave them away: red, of course, and also by shape and size. The electric bill never came in an envelope the size of a good, old fashioned Christmas card.

About 10 years ago, the cards didn't come with the same frequency as in years gone by. It got to the point where the propped open cards could fit on the coffee table without much trouble.

Today, you're lucky if you get ten cards, total. I think we've received about that many, though we sent out far more than that.

However, even our sending has decreased, mainly due to attrition, i.e. people passing away.

That's the thing, right there: the older folks are much more likely to send holiday cards than the second generation of Baby Boomers (those born in the mid-to-late 1960s and beyond). And the older folks are dying off.

The thing now, of course, in the digital age, is to send an "e-card," which is basically an online link that takes the recipient to an animated feature, about 30-45 seconds in length. They're cute and all, but it's not the same.

I can't tape e-cards around my door frame, can I?

It's a losing battle, I know. Christmas card sending isn't coming back. Soon we won't receive any at all.

It's sad, but what are you going to do?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A True Miss America

Today's Miss Americas serve their term and then they're never heard from again. Or so it seems.

There's no prerequisite, of course, that the winner of arguably the most famous beauty contest of all time needs to stay in the limelight when she hands the crown over to her successor.

But there was a time when Miss America was often the springboard to bigger and better (or, at least, more profitable) things.

Mary Ann Mobley was one of those Miss Americas who stuck around in our consciousness long after she sashayed down the runway.

Mobley, 77, passed away the other day after a battle with breast cancer.

She was the first Mississippian to win the legendary contest, and she parlayed that distinction into a pretty decent stage and film career as an actress.

Like so many other women of her era, Mobley was able to star opposite Elvis Presley on screen, and like her brethren, she out-acted him.

Mobley had a smile that went from ear-to-ear and her dark beauty was a stark contrast to the blond, lighter handsomeness of Gary Collins, an actor and game show host (and fellow Mississippian) who she married in 1967.

Mobley captured the Miss America crown in 1959 and six years later she was a winner again---this time with a New Star of the Year Golden Globe.

But despite all her credits on stage and screen (big and small), it was in charitable causes where Mary Ann Mobley was a true Miss America.



She served on several councils and contributed to many charities and her work was exemplified by the naming of a pediatric wing after her, at a hospital in her hometown of Brandon, Mississippi.

Mobley and Collins formed one of television's most well-known couples, particularly in the 1980s. For many years they were both in our living rooms in some way, shape or fashion, with Mobley doing turns on shows like "Falcon's Crest" and Collins chatting up folks on talk shows and helping them win money on game shows.

Mobley was the first woman to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame.

But Mobley's sweet-as-pie good looks and her Mississippian, southern belle demeanor shouldn't have fooled you, because she was also a very competent filmmaker.

You heard me.

For years, Mobley documented the "young victims of war and starvation in places like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan," according to a release from Warner Brothers.

That probably doesn't sound like the Mary Ann Mobley with whom you're familiar.

The Chairman of Miss America, Sam Haskell, sang Mobley's praises after word of her death reached him.

"She challenged me, she loved me, and she made me laugh! I shall miss her!"

Mobley once spoke of her ever active life, when she was knee-deep in acting, fundraisers and volunteer work.
"I'm home about two days a month, and on those I have to pack."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Alco-Haul

My bar-hopping days are long gone, so maybe I know not of what I type.

So call me naive, but do we need bars to be open until 4 a.m.?

A hurried-through bill by the Michigan State Legislature would allow some bars to stay open until 4 in the morning on weekends.

According to the bill's sponsors, it's a matter of competition.

Senator Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), the bill's sponsor, says the measure is needed so Detroit can compete with other big cities, like New York.

Come again?

We are going after the lush crowd? Tourists will decide their destination based on bars being open further into the wee hours?

Another legislator said that the bill merely gives businesses that serve alcohol the option to stay open later.

"Who are we to tell bars how late they can stay open?" was the quote.

OK.

That seems to be a shocking display of being short-sighted. I mean, we are talking about alcohol consumption here. There figures to be some degree of consequence to this bill, one would think.

As you would imagine, the law enforcement folks aren't crazy about this, for multiple reasons. One is that the 4 a.m. thing just happens to coincide with when police staffing is thin. Another is that those stumbling out of bars and taking to the roads will now start to overlap with the people who leave early for work.

Ah, but there is a financial component to the bill. Money talks, as you know. Usually.

The bill lets bars and restaurants that pay a $10,000 annual fee sell alcoholic drinks until 4 a.m. Eighty-five percent of the money would go to local police, 10 percent to the state Liquor Control Commission and 5 percent to the communities where the permit is issued.

But even though the police are the beneficiaries of the extra cash, they are down on the bill.

What does that tell you?

Why stop at 4 a.m., by the way?

Some bars open as early as 7 a.m., which is a whole other blog post. So those establishments could close at at four and re-open three hours later. Seems kind of silly.

The bill passed in the Senate, 22-14. It now moves to the House.

Supporters like Smith say that the extended hours would help put illegal "blind pigs," which are open past 2 a.m., out of business.

Not so sure about that. Seems to me that blind pig patrons will stay blind pig patrons, for the most part.

Nico Gatzaros, whose family owns Fishbones and the London Chop House, lauds the bill because it will help certain businesses, like taxis.

That reasoning should be filed under the "if you don't laugh, you'll cry" category.

In other words, with this bill, we hope the taxi business booms, driving home the soused.

Nothing from Gatzaros about how he proposes to get the drunks to call a taxi to begin with. Gobs of alcohol isn't exactly a precursor to common sense and wise decisions.

But hey, who is the state to tell bars how late they can serve booze?

It's not like it's a public safety issue or anything.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cos and Effect

In 1984, Bill Cosby helped save an entire television network.

Thirty years later, he's toxic to an entire industry.

It was in '84 when NBC, lagging far behind brethren CBS and ABC in ratings to the point of being a national joke, brought in Cosby and built a sitcom around him.

Cosby was 46 years old and though he'd been canceled in the past with other television vehicles, his star power on TV was still heavy. Viewers still had "Fat Albert" and Jell-O commercials fresh on their minds.

The sitcom idea was novel. NBC decided to cast Cosby and his TV family as well-to-do African-Americans living in a tony brownstone in upper Manhattan. This was no "Good Times" scenario.

The presentation on TV of blacks living a life that wasn't in poverty wasn't new (witness "The Jeffersons"), but Cosby was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. With all due respect to dry cleaner moguls, this was different. Plus, Cliff and Clair Huxtable had kids---lots of kids. George and "Weesie" Jefferson's TV lives were pretty much presented sans children, even though they had a son, Lionel---but he wasn't emphasized.

So here came Bill Cosby to save NBC in the fall of 1984.

It worked.

"The Cosby Show" ran for eight seasons (1984-92) and was a phenomenal hit for NBC. The case could be made that Cosby did, indeed, save the network at a time when it was floundering.

I grew up with Bill Cosby, as did tens of millions of Americans. I am old enough to remember his "Bill Cosby Show" of 1969-71, when he was high school gym teacher Chet Kincaid.

I owned a couple of his comedy albums. I saw him perform live at Pine Knob in 1985. I must have watched his video special, "Bill Cosby: Himself" at least a dozen times. I liked that he was into sports, as well as having played football at Temple University.

I have history with Bill Cosby.

It would have seemed unfathomable to me as I grew up with Cosby's comedy, to think that one day he would be toxic.

But he is.

As accusations swirl that Cosby drugged women to have sex with them, dating back to the 1960s, no one on TV wants to have anything to do with him.

A potential new sitcom featuring Cosby, to be aired on NBC, has been scrapped.

TV Land has pulled reruns of "The Cosby Show" indefinitely.

Think about that last one for a moment. TV Land doesn't even want Cosby's likeness on its airwaves from a show produced 30 years ago.

This is O.J. Simpson-like toxicity.

Precious few in the entertainment business have come to Cosby's defense. He and his camp have been mostly silent as one woman after the other comes forward with a "Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me" story.

In America you are innocent until proven guilty.

That's in the courtroom. In the court of public opinion, it works the opposite.

Right now it seems that too many women with nothing to gain, really, from fabrication, are coming forward for at least some of this disgusting behavior to not be true.

There often isn't a "smoking gun" when it comes to sexual assault allegations, particularly when the alleged incidents happened many years and even decades ago. It's classic "he said/she said" stuff, except that in this case, it's pretty much all "she said."

Cosby's radio silence is ear piercing.

All we've gotten from the Cosby people is that they're not going to dignify these allegations with a reply.

That may be good enough if it was just one woman calling Cosby out. But there seems to be a whole cadre of women allegedly victimized by Cosby. The sheer number of women coming forward makes it no longer acceptable to just roll your eyes and shake your head, if you're the Cosby camp.

Could there be one crackpot looking for a buck or her 15 minutes? Possibly. But do you really think there is a growing faction of crackpots? Or is it a growing faction of victimized women feeling empowered now that the first domino has been tipped?

The answer is probably the latter.

Personally, I feel victimized as well---though not at all to the extent of the women that Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted.

I'm in that other boat of victims---the fans who, like me, have fond memories of Bill Cosby's comedy attached to our childhood hips.

I don't know about you, but I certainly can't look at Cosby the same way again. How can you?

Now, you can stick to your legal guns and urge everyone to wait until the courts have at this brouhaha before we render judgment.

Fine.

You would, technically, be on the right side of the argument if you took that tack.

But emotions and memories and gut feelings don't ride technicalities.

I am sure that many of us have tried and convicted Bill Cosby in our minds. That's our prerogative, frankly. We are all entitled to our opinions.

The challenge now is to put aside our personal disappointment in Cosby, should these allegations prove to be true, and focus our empathy on the women he may have victimized.

If Cosby is proven to have drugged and sexually assaulted even one woman, it's Olly olly oxen free. All bets are off and his image should be sullied forever.

If Cosby did these despicable things, we've all been victimized. We've all been made fools of, for decades. We would have fallen in love with a fraud and a sexual predator.

But we still would not have suffered as his alleged victims have, for lo these many years.

Let's not forget that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keep on Truckin'

Why does the ice cream man have the market cornered on driving trucks around the neighborhood, selling his wares?

Think about his clientele---six-year-olds, who aren't exactly loaded. How much disposable income does a first grader have?

This may seem like a strange time to bring this up, because we're hardly in ice cream truck season, but I say this is the perfect time to discuss this.

With ice cream no longer a viable purchase option at your curb, why not consider other items that a grown up would run out of his/her house to snatch up?

Liquor, for one.

Can you imagine if there was a liquor truck that cruised the neighborhoods? The driver would make a mint. Adults would be lined up down the street as far as the eye could see.

The possibilities are endless.

How nice would it be if you could purchase an apple pie from a truck in front of your home? Or a dozen doughnuts?

The items for sale wouldn't have to be limited to food stuffs.

I'd have killed at times to be able to buy batteries off a truck. I would have been forever grateful if a Tylenol truck drove by, ringing its bell.

I wonder why ice cream became the item of choice when it came to retail trucks rolling down a neighborhood street.

The ice cream truck was one of the few American creations that never really spawned any offshoots.

Despite the popularity of selling ice cream from a truck, catering to grade school kids who don't have any money, no entrepreneur ever considered marketing toward adults (who actually have cash) with items that don't even need to be frozen.

I think an enterprising person could make a killing driving around residential areas the day before Valentines Day, selling greeting cards, chocolate and flowers. Or even a birthday card truck, because birthdays happen every day, and every day people forget to buy a card.

Following behind could be a postage stamp truck.