Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The folks from across the pond in the U.K. are transforming Cobo into prehistoric Earth, thanks to their "Walking with Dinosaurs" show, playing downtown now thru Sunday.
I managed to get to opening night last night with my 16-year-old daughter while mom sat home. The good people at Olympia Entertainment were only able to provide me with two review tickets for opening night, not three, but it's still much appreciated.
Especially since they put on such a fantastic show.
"Walking" is a 90-minute romp through the hundreds of millions of years when dinosaurs roamed this planet. The show is narrated by a modern day "paleontologist" who, in full gear, guides you through the various stages of the dinosaurs' existence. He's on stage with wireless mike/headset, energetically explaining what it is that you're experiencing.
And it's quite a sight.
The dinosaurs---some mechanical, some manned by people inside---are every bit as realistic-looking as anything you've seen in the "Jurassic Park" flicks. And some of them are VERY big.
But the show starts with the very small---hatching eggs from which peek out babies who are gyrating and bobbing and weaving like newborn chicks. But alas, as the narrator points out, there were predators from the get go, and one of the babies isn't so lucky; he/she is carted off in the mouth of a hungry adult. All while the Cobo Arena crowd went "Awwww!" in unison.
We're treated to conflicts and territorial fights. Inflatable "vegetation" sprouts from the sidelines.
The main event is, of course, the appearance of a gigantic T-Rex, who arrives when her offspring is under attack.
The roaring is loud, the sound effects---especially when rain and fire are depicted---are spot on, and our narrator/guide comes off very credible and likable.
The show pauses after about 35 minutes for a 20-minute intermission, then gets rolling again for another 40+ minutes.
It's one of those rarities nowadays: wholesome family entertainment, performed live. The dinosaurs, while realistic, aren't so terrifying that youngsters will have nightmares. At least, I don't think so.
The tails sway and if you sit up close like we did, you almost feel like you have to duck at times.
Personally, I think I got more of a kick out of watching our daughter, who's been wanting to see "Walking" for over a year, enjoy the show than I did anything else.
Eventually, though, the narrator talks about the comet that hits Earth, and you know that the end is near---for the dinosaurs, and for "Walking."
All in all, "Walking" was a neat way to spend 100 minutes downtown, in venerable Cobo, where today's mayor used to make his living, back in the day.
Monday, December 28, 2009
The actor Sheen is in trouble again. With a girl, again. And this time it's a tad serious. Charlie was arrested on Christmas Day due to a domestic disturbance, and there are reports that a knife was involved.
The alleged victim is thought to be Sheen's wife, Brooke Mueller, though that's not been confirmed.
The star of the hit CBS television sitcom "Two and a Half Men" was arrested Friday in the ski resort of Aspen, Colorado, on suspicion of second-degree assault and menacing---both felony offenses---and a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief.
The celebrity gossip website TMZ.com is reporting that Mueller was drunk at the time, and that she initially had told police that Sheen threatened her with a knife but later recanted much of her story.
Knife or no knife, Sheen has been one of those "Hollywood bad boys" for too long now. His romps with girls who are not his significant other are part of his lore.
I mention Downey because, even though Robert's troubles were with drugs and alcohol, he nonetheless overcame them and got his life---and his career---back on track. Downey narrowly avoided becoming yet another cautionary tale in the entertainment industry. Now he's making one successful movie after the other, and he's wearing more than just orange jumpsuits.
Sheen is marvelously talented, too, though he basically plays himself in "Two and a Half Men"---a womanizing guy named, um, Charlie. But that's a bad example of his acting skills. I've always found Charlie Sheen to be the most talented of Martin Sheen's sons, by far. To some, that may not be saying much, but Emilio Estevez has had his moments.
If I was Charlie Sheen, I'd give Downey a call and ask him how he was able to pull himself out of the abyss and get the ship turned around. For no one had one foot in the career grave as far as Robert Downey Jr. had it at times in his life. Not even close. Downey was one crack pipe toke away from complete oblivion.
Sheen was released from jail Friday night on $8,500 bail. A decision about charges is unlikely to be made before February 8, when Sheen is due back in court in Aspen.
Sheen, 44, and Mueller, 32, married in May 2008 and had twin sons in April 2009.
There are precious few stories of triumph in Hollywood---the kind that involve personal rectifying. Sheen has a chance to be one of those, if he has it in him.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Cherry holds the position of Lieutenant Governor of Michigan, which is like being Vice President of the United States, only much, much worse. You could join the Witness Protection Program and have more notoriety.
Yet from this role, Cherry hopes to be governor. He aims to follow his boss, Jenny Granholm, into the big chair in Lansing. There are naysayers. Skeptics. Derisive comments are being made.
And that's from within his own party.
There are serious concerns within the Democratic camp whether Cherry is a strong enough candidate to fend off the higher profile Republicans who are about to duke it out for the GOP nomination, come next November.
Those concerns are well-founded, me thinks.
But don't come crying to me. I made a perfectly good suggestion a couple months or so ago, but heaven forbid anyone listen.
Yet all might not be lost.
I also told the story, in this space, of John Engler, and how his gubernatorial hopes seemed folly in 1990, until I unwittingly helped screw things up for my man Jim Blanchard.
Granholm, despite two terms, hasn't grown coattails long enough, or strong enough, for someone like Cherry---or any lieutenant governor, for that matter---to ride them to victory without some help.
And since when do lieutenant governors ascend to governor in Michigan?
John Cherry: The Man Who Would Be Governor?
Even the Obama Administration has some doubts about Cherry, and has reportedly whispered them to the Dem leaders in Michigan, a state which, if it went red, could be a bad omen for 2012.
But aside from my idea (hint: it's Bob Ficano, in case you decided not to click on the above hyperlink), there really isn't anyone else who seems to have the temerity or name recognition to get anyone excited.
Not that name recognition is always a good thing. Just ask Tiger Woods.
Andy Dillon, Michigan House Speaker, doesn't have enough experience. Rumors are that U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow was even approached, at the behest of the Obama people, and she politely (I assume) declined.
John Cherry hasn't done anything in eight years, though it's not his fault. It's the job he has. The party needs to brand him with some sort of accomplishment, even if it's somewhat contrived. They need to point to Cherry and say, without him, such-and-such wouldn't have happened.
And they have only a few months to do it.
If Granholm wasn't term limited (don't get me started), I think she would survive whomever the GOP ends up nominating, albeit barely. But it would absolutely be no cakewalk.
Ironically, the Democrats might be better served to point out the differences between Cherry and Granholm, as opposed to the similarities. That's about as un-coattails-ish as you can get.
But there are eight months before the primary. As John Engler showed us, that's practically an eternity. Kind of like his tenure as governor.
But that's another column.
UPDATE (Jan. 8, 2010): Cherry dropped out of the governor's race on January 4, 2010, citing an inability to raise enough funds. Later in the week, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano announced that he would not seek the Democratic nomination, despite Cherry's dropping out. House Speaker Andy Dillon appears to be the frontrunner, as of January 8, 2010.
Monday, December 21, 2009
But I happened upon the David Letterman show a few years ago---I remember this distinctly---and I was taken by the bubbly, perky young woman chatting up Dave to the audience's, and Dave's, bemusement.
She was breezy without appearing loaded. Engaging without being ditzy. She just seemed like a lot of fun; there was nothing bimbo about her. It wasn't very long after that when I caught her in a movie with Ashton Kutcher, a comedy called "Just Married." She was terrific in it.
That's how I remember Brittany Murphy.
Murphy, who died suddenly at age 32 yesterday in California, wasn't typically mentioned when the discussion turned to America's finest young actors. She had her moments, though.
There was her turn in "8 Mile," as Eminem's love interest; "Don't Say a Word," in which she played a young girl suffering from post traumatic stress, who holds the clue to another girl's abduction; "Love and Other Disasters," in which she played a matchmaker at Vogue magazine; "Girl, Interrupted," when she played a sexually abused mental hospital patient; and over 200 episodes as the voice of Luanne Platter in Fox's animated "King of the Hill."
That, plus "Just Married," a comedy about a newlywed couple and their misadventures on their honeymoon in Europe.
Brittany Murphy: 1977-2009
No, she may not have been recognized as one of this country's best at her craft, but she was only 32 and she's dead and that tragedy supercedes everything.
2009 has been unkind when it comes to celebrity deaths---both in terms of their lives and their reputations. Things got off to a bad start with the Natasha Richardson skiing accident early in the year and that, sadly, set the tone.
Just last week, we lost NFL player Chris Henry at age 26 after he fell out of a truck during a domestic dispute. And we lost the Tiger Woods that we thought we knew, to multiple instances of philandering. Michael Jackson was lost, largely thanks to an inner circle who looked the other way and doctors who were too mealy to take a stand.
So the latest is Brittany Murphy, who by all accounts was the light that lit up any room in which she occupied. This, according to those who knew her best.
I found her to be very refreshing when I saw her on Letterman's show.
I'm not going to go too heavy-handed here because I knew little about Murphy, other than what I've mentioned. But I thought she was a pretty damn good actor.
But you don't have to know someone to know that, at 32, they've gone too soon.
Murphy's bio at www.imdb.com says she's due to be seen in no less than five movies in 2010 and beyond, that have already been completed. So you'll get a chance to see her perform again. There's that, at least.
Friday, December 18, 2009
from March 25, 2009
Used Book Smart
If I didn't have a wife, a daughter, and the need to earn a living, I believe I could survive with two things: a used bookstore, and a bathroom. And maybe a chair. But don't go searching for one on my account.
I have a thing for used bookstores. Seriously. Some folks, when they arrive in a new town, seek out a cool bar or a trendy restaurant. Or a copy of USA Today. I go looking for the nearest used bookstore.
Oh, I've done that -- so don't go calling me a liar. I've done it in St. Louis, New York, and Chicago. And I'd do it in Peoria and Fort Myers and Altoona, if I ever found myself in those burgs.
It's daycare for me. If you ever need to ditch me while you go off with other, more exciting people -- like, say, for a week or two -- then simply drop me at the steps of the nearest used bookstore and have yourself a great time in my absence.
But I'm warning you -- I'll fight you to the death when it's time for me to leave.
I don't even know when I became fascinated with the musty smell and the creaky floorboards and the creepy cat who roams around amongst the shelves and customers' feet. Not sure when I took to the soft, classical music playing on the sound system. But I think it was in college.
I attended Eastern Michigan University, a school whose biggest amenity -- but don't tell the Board of Regents this -- was its close proximity to Ann Arbor. And Ann Arbor has itself some marvelous used bookstores. So it probably all started there, circa 1981.
The used bookstore comes in all shapes and sizes.
I've been to the cozy ones, typically occupying the upstairs floor of a two-story building in town. With their narrow, claustrophobic aisles -- the kind where your back grazes the books behind you as you browse. I've been to the well-lit, open-spaced ones; usually those types occupy an out-of-business retail space in a strip mall. And I've been to most every other kind in between.
But nothing -- and I mean NOTHING -- prepared me for what lie in store for me at John King Books in downtown Detroit.
First off, the store is located in a four-story building. Correction: the store IS a four-story building. Yeah.
And each floor is big. I mean, huge. With all the shelves and counters and display chests, you could hide out there for days and I don't think John would know you were even there. I used to wonder whether they ever closed up shop and left customers inside, unknowingly. Then, after several visits, I began wondering how MANY customers they left inside. Forget the "if".
I used to spend lunch hours in King's store when I worked in Detroit and had the occasion to find myself downtown due to business. No, I never ate.
First off, how was I going to hold my food, with both hands occupying books?
Second, who can eat at a time like that, anyway?
I'm a mystery guy, first and foremost. That's the section I head straight for in any store I happen upon. I'm a sucker for the small, pulp-style paperbacks that fill that section. Sometimes I like to just pick up one of those "pocket books" and look at it, wondering thru how many hands it's passed.
Then it's off to the movies/TV section, to check out the coffee table books with titles like The History of Paramount or Film Noir. Those are picture books, essentially; large, thick books with tons of photos and with text that amounts to mainly captions.
Sports, of course, gets a once-over. Same with history.
Once, at King's store, I bought a book on how to best pack and smoke a pipe. It didn't really have anything that I didn't already know (I'm a closet pipe smoker; that is, until this very moment, I guess), but I was drawn to its style of writing: very sophisticated and obviously trying to appeal to the men of high society. I think it was written in the 1950s.
King has another, smaller version, located in Ferndale. Spent hours there, too.
A couple weeks ago, my wife (who likes them too but knows when to leave) introduced me to a store in Clawson that she enjoys and exchanges books with. It was a nifty little place, at the end of a short strip of retail. I bought a detective novel. She went for a few romances.
I get a kick out of the employees. I don't think I've ever been in a used bookstore where the person behind the register (and that's where they plant themselves and don't move) wasn't: a) older than 50; and b) a candidate for a Diane Arbus photo shoot. Sorry for the obscure Arbus reference, but Google her and you'll get it.
But they're friendly folks, the cash register sitters. They say hi to you when you walk in, and say bye to you when you leave, and they don't seem to mind it if you've just spent a couple hours browsing and didn't buy anything.
They don't even sic the cat on you.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Roy Disney is dead. Roy, the nephew of Walt---and avid competitive sailor---the brilliant leader of Disney's Animation Department, is gone at age 79, from cancer.
For over 56 years, Roy was associated with the company empire that his father, Roy Sr., and Uncle Walt built.
But for the past year, Roy Jr. battled stomach cancer.
"As head of Disney Animation, Roy helped to guide the studio to a new golden age of animation with an unprecedented string of artistic and box office successes that included 'The Little Mermaid,' 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Aladdin' and 'The Lion King,' " the company said.
There are some companies whose family name will forever resonate. Maybe none more so than Disney, which began way back in 1923.
Roy E. Disney: 1930-2009
Roy Disney was a Harvard kid, and got started in the entertainment business in 1952 as an assistant film editor on the "Dragnet" TV series, working under Jack Webb. Disney took the same job a year later at Walt Disney Studios.
It's mind boggling in a way, but think back to all of the Disney animated features you've ever seen, since childhood---not to mention all of the shorts. Then know that just about every one of them was overseen by Roy Disney Jr.
But Roy was no one-dimensional entertainment kind of guy.
He received two Oscar nominations. One was as a writer and production associate on the 1959 short subject film "Mysteries of the Deep," and the second was for his work in 2003 as executive producer of "Destino," a film based on storyboards and original art by the iconic artist Salvador Dali.
And there was his sailing.
Roy Disney held several elapsed-time records for offshore races in the Pacific Ocean, including multiple wins in the 2,225-mile Transpac race between Hawaii and California, according to the company.
Cancer got Walt Disney, too, in 1966, but Walt was only 65. And there's this---Walt died on December 15; Roy succumbed on the 16th.
A private funeral service and cremation are planned, the company said. His ashes will be scattered at sea, it said.
Monday, December 14, 2009
The boss is six years old today, weighs 19 pounds, and rules with an iron paw.
He's our Jack Russell Terrier, Scamp, and I've resisted writing about him until today because his head is big enough as it is. But it's Scamp's sixth birthday today, so why not toss him a bone---pun intended.
Scamp rules the house because whatever he wants, he gets. This includes walks when he wants a walk, treats when he wants a treat, food when he wants food, play fetch when he wants to play fetch, and even our bed, when he wants that---which is nightly.
He also helps himself to towels off the rack to roll around in, and guards our yard zealously against squirrels and birds. He packs, pound for little pound, more of a wallop than a Great Dane.
But he rules because we let him, and we let him because he's so damn cute. And somehow, he must know it, for he uses his cuteness against us, like some sort of force field.
Scamp has one brown eye and one blue eye and they both look at you with equal amounts of profundity and love.
I walk him four or five times a day because, well, that's what he wants. He has the gait of a cartoon dog---on his tip toes with his head moving from left to right. I half expect the scenery around us to repeat every six seconds, like a Hannah-Barbera short.
If humans could move objects per his strength that Scamp can move human beings with his 19 pounds, then you'd see a man shove over a Redwood tree---without nary one swipe of a saw.
I know this to be true because if you were to divide our bed into thirds, vertically, Scamp would end up with his body overlapping a portion of each third. While we, meanwhile, are slowly but surely nudged closer and closer to the edge. He, with his 19 pounds, can move over 300 pounds of human beings out of his way.
Scamp also has seizures, which we're trying to control. Another way he keeps us on our toes.
Yep, Scamp's the boss. But if you're going to have a boss, it may as well be a snuggly, lovable, adorable dog with a heart the size of Texas.
Besides, I know he'll never fire us. As long as he gets what he wants.
Friday, December 11, 2009
from June 22, 2009
If it wasn't for Lou Gordon, that is.
It's a shame that we have grown a whole generation of people who have no idea who Lou was.
Lou Gordon was a media tyrant, in that he put you on his show and sweated the truth out of you under those big TV lights in the WKBD, channel 50 studios.
He made 60 Minutes look like child's play, at times.
Gordon was a Detroit icon, back in the 1960s and '70s. He hosted The Lou Gordon Show on Sunday nights, and when my parents let me stay up to watch it, I usually got an eyeful.
He would bring on everyone from the silly to the serious, and often they ended up the same way: grilled, with marks on their back.
Uri Geller, the reputed mentalist, came on one night and purported to bend spoons. Until Lou humiliated him and exposed him as a fraud.
Lou would get his guests so angry that a familiar scene was said guest ripping off his microphone and stomping off the set -- including Alabama Governor George Wallace, one night.
That's the stuff I especially liked as a kid.
One night, Lou was going to have different reps from different utility companies on, and two of them showed up and one didn't -- yet Lou kept the empty chair on the set the whole show, to constantly remind us that someone was too scared to appear.
Not that I blame that person for taking a pass.
Lou Gordon was a grizzled old journalist whose eyes you couldn't pull the wool over. He saw through the phonies and didn't take just any canned answer at face value.
And it was Lou who derailed, indirectly, George Romney's presidential bid, in 1968.
Romney, the governor of Michigan at the time, went on Lou's show to talk about his experiences in Vietnam, from where he recently returned.
Lou asked him, basically, why Romney had changed his stance, from being pro-war to more anti-war.
"Well, you know, they do a great job over there," Romney said, of the military and the U.S. government's propaganda effort.
"When I came back from Vietnam, I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone could get. Not only by the generals, but by the diplomatic core."
A presidential candidate...brainwashed?
Romney's words, too. Not Lou's.
Lou only provided the rope. George did the rest.
Needless to say, the comment gained legs and ended up destroying Romney's chances to become dog catcher, let alone president.
The "brainwash" remark is among the most infamous in U.S. political history--certainly in the TV age. The moment ranks up there with Senator Ed Muskie and his crying jag when he defended his wife's honor in 1972, as far as torpedoing a presidential bid before it really got started.
Lou's assistant on the show was his wife, Jackie, who screened the calls and was seen on set frequently.
Lou Gordon was also a newspaper columnist and that's where he got most of his journalistic chops.
As one person described him, "He was fearless. I don't think Lou cared if anyone liked him or not."
Lou passed away in 1977, leaving us far too soon -- not that his targets would agree.
For more info about Lou's show, courtesy of his son's company, click HERE.
Here's the clip with George Romney:
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
For years---and we're talking at least 20---I was unable to munch on a fresh apple. It was some sort of allergy, because my throat would close up a tad and I'd have hay fever-type symptoms: sneezing, watery eyes, and even my lips would tingle.
Cooked apples were fine, as in pies, turnovers, etc. Applesauce was good, too.
Then, a change. Divine intervention, maybe.
I hazarded an apple a couple months ago, on a whim. Our daughter's band had a fundraiser and there was a whole box of apples sitting there, waiting to be consumed. I chomped into one and waited for the usual reaction. For the past several years, every so often I'd try an apple, and every time I'd be disappointed.
This time was different.
A few seconds went by after the first bite. Nothing. I tried another. Still no reaction. I kept eating.
I finished the thing, and it was deLISH. You have no idea how good an apple can be if you haven't been able to enjoy one for two decades.
I found out the apples were called Honeycrisps (I'm finding out a lot about the different strains of apple) and I won't buy any other. Of course, they're the most expensive ones out there---about $2.49 a pound unless you can find them on sale.
But a Honeycrisp almost bites itself. You just press your teeth against one and the skin is pierced and inside you're treated to a sweetish tartness that's fantabulous.
A Honeycrisp apple; YUM!
I've been on an apple-eating jag since before Halloween. Our daughter asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to slice my apple and swipe the pieces into some caramel dip that we had on hand.
"No," I told her. "I don't want to dilute the flavor."
I have no idea why my body isn't rebelling against apples anymore. Fresh cherries gave me the same reaction---and I love fresh cherries---but I'm sad to report that I tried ONE cherry this summer and it was bad news.
But that's OK. I have my apples back in my life.
At this rate, I'll never have to see a doctor again.
Monday, December 7, 2009
"Sarah Palin just might come back," she said, or something to that effect.
I nearly choked on my corned beef.
I made sure we were talking about the same Sarah Palin. It was confirmed.
It wasn't April Fool's Day. A "Candid Camera" crew didn't burst in. Mom wasn't, that I knew of, running a fever.
Mom's no more Republican than I am, which is about as un-Republican as the Clintons. So this wasn't some partisan pipe dream. She just thinks that ole Sarah has a legitimate chance to rise from the ashes of her failed VP bid in 2008 and land on top of the GOP ticket in 2012.
Well, I tell ya---it would be a first.
In U.S. political history, failed VP nominees don't end up being president material. The closest you can come is Bob Dole, who ran with Jerry Ford in 1976 and, 20 years later, was ill-equipped to run against Bill Clinton's re-election campaign.
Key words: 20, years, and later.
To come back four years after losing at the bottom of the ticket, only to emerge as the party nominee, is pretty much unprecedented. I don't count Walter Mondale/1980-84 because Walter was a sitting VP who lost with Jimmy Carter in 1980 before turning around and being stomped by Ronald Reagan four years later.
But Sarah Palin is sure acting and talking like someone who's got her four eyes on the 2012 prize.
She won't win---I was very adamant about that with dear old mom at dinner---because she's too polarizing and too intellectually challenged. But Mom's point---at least I think it was---was that Sarah is vivacious, determined, and indeed well-liked by a fairly decent sampling of the population.
And she's been pretty much at the forefront when it comes to the political right criticizing President Obama.
Palin penned a rather formidable---the cynic in me wonders if it was ghostwritten---plea to Obama to boycott Copenhagen's Climate Change Conference because of controversy surrounding some hacked e-mails, which she alleges compromises the credibility of scientists who researched global warming. I was actually impressed with how she presented her argument, which you can read here.
But something still tells me that if the Republicans are going to put all of their eggs into the Sarah Palin basket, then it will be a catastrophic move for a party already looked at as being too rigid and conservative and polarizing.
Palin's aspirations seem presidential, though. I give her credit for one thing: she's trying to portray herself as more than just "that nutty woman from Alaska." Palin is trying to broaden her brush and her mind. She's giving herself a crash course on international politics and foreign policy. At home, Palin is quick to move to the front of the line when it comes to domestic bones of contention.
The woman is trying, I'll give her that.
But the odds---and history---are against her. Of course, that never stopped anyone before, did it?
Like Eugene McCarthy once said: "It's a whole lot easier to run for president than it is to stop."
Friday, December 4, 2009
from August 3, 2009
A Gym Brat
I apologize to Mr. Flynn. It's been a long time coming.
I was a ringleader of sorts, who made Mr. Flynn's life more difficult than it needed to be. But I just wanted to win so badly.
Mr. Flynn was my gym teacher in grade school---we called it "elementary school" then, and the folks before us called it "grammar school"---and again, I'm sorry, sir.
I was the Billy Martin and Earl Weaver of my day, traits not endearing to an 11-year-old boy. And Mr. Flynn was the unflappable but exasperated umpire.
Never was my competitive spirit higher than as an adolescent. Baseball, touch football, Monopoly, Uncle Wiggly, you name it---I wanted to win. Very badly.
My own mother ejected me from a game of table hockey, though she likely doesn't remember it, nor would choose to believe that about her only kid.
But it's true. She and I were playing---I'm around nine or ten years old---and she scores a goal on me and I lifted the game off its hind legs and let it drop with a clank. Actually, she ejected herself---leaving me alone to stew about my actions.
"This is for the birds," I remember her saying.
I just hated to lose. I guess I was also like Ty Cobb in that regard. And if you thought a mini Earl Weaver was ghastly...
So in gym class, Mr. Flynn would preside over all sorts of games---both indoor and outdoor.
Volleyball. Kickball. Floor hockey. And so on.
Me, on the left, and Mr. Flynn, or may as well be
The choosing of the teams was very scientific.
We'd line up around the perimeter of the gym and Mr. Flynn would say, "OK...ones and twos!!"
The first person would say "ONE!", the second would say "TWO!!"
Very scientific, like I said.
So it was the ones versus the twos. Sometimes Mr. Flynn would get creative and we'd count to four. Then, he'd announce the teams as we all waited with baited breath.
And the threes and twos would race onto the gym floor to partake in the game du jour.
Some of the more sly folks---no names mentioned---would try to be twos AND ones, or some combination that allowed them to play all the time.
Regardless of the team I was on, I was the leader---in whining.
It got to be an inside joke.
A "controversial" play would occur---and for fifth and sixth graders you can imagine what that might have been---and there I'd be, in Mr. Flynn's face.
No joke---I'd race from wherever I was and plead my case as the teacher gave me a bemused look and a smirk.
The other kids would groan and roll their eyes. OK, I didn't see their eyes rolling but I sure as s**t heard the groans.
Sometimes I'd hear, "Eno!", my name drawn out in exasperated fashion by one of the other students---on occasion even a girl.
"No way" was one of my pet phrases.
Mr. Flynn would call a shot a goal that was suspect, in floor hockey for example.
Then I'd be upon him.
At first it was me and some other whiners, but then they tired of the act and it was left to me to plead the case, solo.
I like to think I kept Mr. Flynn and the proceedings honest, but I was likely just ruining things for everyone else.
So, sorry, everyone else. You deserve an apology, too.
I heard that Mr. Flynn, in the summer months, was a bet-taker at DRC, the old horse racing course at Middlebelt and I-96.
No doubt he had to settle some disputes while in that role, too.
What, you disagree?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Rummaging in the fridge the other day, in the post-Thanksgiving version of nuclear winter, I happened to take a gander wayyy back on the third shelf down.
There they were: a few six-ounce cans of V8, "Extra Spicy" version.
I actually enjoy V8. A lot. Yet it's not something I think about buying. I cruise right by it in the grocery store.
The company's longtime tag line is spot on.
"I coulda had a V8!!"
Forget how good it tastes as part of a bastardized Bloody Mary; V8 is surprisingly refreshing (considering it's made from...VEGETABLES!) and has one of the best after tastes you'll ever find in a drink---especially one made from...VEGETABLES!
This isn't tomato juice, by the way; let's get that clear right off the bat. It looks like tomato juice, yes. And its primary flavor is clearly culled from tomatoes. But this isn't just tomato juice. The drink's name ought to tip you off: eight vegetables (at least) squeezed and mashed together into a sort of non-alcoholic hooch that'll bowl you over with its tang and flavor.
Yeah, I sound like I'm hawking the stuff, but I don't care. A swig of V8 is like smelling salts for your mouth---it wakes it up, and fast.
Yet I rarely buy it. I never ask for it at restaurants. Something so good, something I enjoy so much, yet I shove it back to the recesses of my brain. What gives?
I suppose that's what the V8 folks (it's put out by Campbell's) have been battling over the decades. They have a terrific product that sticks to the customers' consciousness like Teflon.
It simply is not the first drink of choice, despite how great it is.
I like cranberry juice, too, but that only seems to make its way into our fridge around the holidays---because it mixes really well with vodka, for one.
Might it be the cost? A good sized bottle of cranberry juice---if it's Ocean Spray, anyway---can run you every bit of four dollars, at least. V8 isn't cheap, either.
One caveat, though. Don't drink V8 on ice. Instead, wait until it gets verrry cold, then pour a glass. Then drink it quickly. It's a process, see. But trust me---I know what I'm talking about here. Follow the above instructions, and you'll enjoy your V8 immensely.
If you remember to buy some, that is.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Oprah's TV show will vanish sometime in 2011, she says. I only wish we had this kind of warning BEFORE she arrived on the scene.
Oh, stop frowning and looking at me sideways. Oprah's OK. She annoys me a little bit but she's probably done more good than bad for folks in this cartoon of a country that we inhabit. I'm sure she's a very nice woman, truth be told.
Time for a quick check of the iconic TV people over the years.
Johnny Carson: none of us did what Johnny told us to do, because that wasn't his gig. He didn't pontificate, he entertained. He mugged. He could crack us up with an arched eyebrow and a crooked mouth. But Carson was a ghost outside of his TV show. He was almost Howard Hughes-like in guarding his privacy. He championed no causes, endorsed no products, imparted no life lessons. No way of knowing if he was a Republican, a Democrat, or a Marxist. Johnny was just there to make us laugh every night at 11:30. That was it.
David Letterman: Letterman is perhaps the closest thing to Carson as there ever was, or ever will be: private, close to the vest, apolitical. No endorsements, no causes, either. Just glad to be a sounding board and a straight man to whoever happens to be sitting to his right every night.
Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and the rest: Men we would trust with our liquor cabinet while on vacation. Personalities ranging from uncle-like (Cronkite) to wooden (Jennings) but in all instances, guys that were OK in our book---as long as they stuck to reading the news and giving us election results. Outside of that it could get clunky and awkward---and did on occasion.
Jay Leno: More of a person than Letterman and Carson. Jay let us know that he's into cars, for one. He put on some free shows for the unemployed in Michigan, as a way to show support for the car industry. Even appeared in a movie, although in the worst way. Funny in a Bob Hope kind of way; you wonder if he'd be a cut up sans cue cards and pre-written material.
Oprah---she's one of those who ascended to the one-word name, like Madonna or Johnny or Magic---changed the way TV personalities interacted with their public; I must grant her that. She doesn't have fans, she has cultists. Oprah won't just have someone on to promote a book---she'll practically insist that her viewers read it. Like, right now. Immediately.
And she did all this without the benefit of prime time or late night. She's one of the few TV personalities who carved out her niche while the sun was still out---soap opera stars notwithstanding.
But I still don't like that she feels compelled to put herself on the cover of every issue of a magazine that bears her name.
Oprah helped to build a school in Africa for girls, though that wasn't without some controversy, when it came to how those students were being treated by the faculty when no one was looking. But at least she didn't take her sweet time responding to the reports of maltreatment.
Oprah's OK. I'm a little put off by the way her fans follow her like wide-eyed puppy dogs but if that's the worst thing, then maybe it's not so bad after all.
And, she's giving them plenty of time to say goodbye to her TV show.
Or is it vice-versa?
Reminds me of the last line of pitcher Jim Bouton's famous tell-all book about baseball, "Ball Four."
"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball," Bouton wrote, "and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
You see, Oprah Winfrey had her faithful in the palms of her hands for over two decades, but maybe it was the other way around all the time.
Friday, November 27, 2009
from April 28, 2009
It's taking me longer to go to the bathroom nowadays, and I blame technology.
I'm not talking about going to the bathroom at home. That's always taken me a long time, mainly because I treat the rest room like a library. That is, if they ever allowed toilets on the floor of a library.
But that's a long time that I choose to take. It's a guy thing, but the bathroom is a safe haven, a reading room for men.
It's public restrooms that are starting to waste more and more of my time.
First, unlike the throne at home, which I'm in no hurry to leave, I can't wait to get my tush out of a public lav. The thought of what sort of scientific creepy-crawlies that are clinging to every wall and faucet and door handle in there doesn't lend itself to me wanting to spend anymore time there than is absolutely necessary.
But here's why it's taking so long nowadays: all the fancy-shmancy motion detectors.
Today's modern public restroom is discouraging you from touching anything inside it. Which on the surface sounds like a grand idea, but in disallowing human contact, it's relying on the motion detectors, which seem to be unable to do one key thing: detect motion properly.
It starts when you enter the stall, or (for the guys) approach the urinal. No handles to be found, which means the porcelain God must acknowledge your presence once you finish your business.
In the stall, you stand, and wait for the detector to detect that your rump is no longer pressing on the seat. For that's the only clue it uses to signal for a flushing.
So you stand. Nothing. Now, I suppose you could let your waste sit there for the next poor slob, but that's not very nice. So you sit, and try to re-create the whole "I'm done so I'm going to stand now" moment for the detector.
Same thing at the stall. The detector is supposed to signal for the flusher after you've walked away. But ha! -- you walk away and nothing happens. This is a little trickier to replicate than the standing up thing.
Time to refresh the detector's memory.
"Remember? I came up to you and stood here, like this.....(physically re-creating the action)...then I peed, and I walked away, like THIS....(walking away). Remember?
"Now flush, damn you!"
Business-doing has now taken twice the amount of time than it should have, and now you're ready to wash your hands. Again, I suppose you could....
Don't you dare!
Wash your hands. Dammit.
But alas, no faucet handles. Just a faucet. The eunuch of all sink fixtures.
The fancy-shmancy detector is supposed to know when you've thrust your hands beneath the faucet, so that it will dispense water. How much water, and at what temperature, is anyone's guess. Sometimes it's a short blast, sometimes it's a gentle shower, sometimes it's...not at all.
That third option is what usually happens.
So again we're back to re-performing our physical actions for the very technologically advanced and very expensive motion detector, which is why the price of restaurant food has been going up, I'm sure.
Good for you if you're able to get your allotment of water on anything less than the third try. And even better if your allotment is enough to get both your hands entirely wet, so that you may wash them.
Which leads me to....
Remember--no human contact allowed.
Several waves of your hand under the dispenser before you find the right speed, angle, and motion. But, just like the water, no telling how much soap you'll be rationed.
So now we have barely wet hands, traces of soap, and with that we're expected to wash our hands competently.
Which leads me to...
Drying your hands.
Altogether now: NO HUMAN CONTACT ALLOWED!
Look ma -- no handles!
More hand waving until the motion detector-equipped dryer kicks on. In fact, you might find that the hand waving dries your damp hands (remember, you weren't rationed all that much water and soap to begin with) faster than the damn dryer.
Note: Some less fancy-shmancy bathrooms may have paper towels instead of dryers. But these, too, are connected to motion detectors, which instruct the gizmo when to whirr and spit out a 4" x 5" piece of brown paper, which isn't enough to wipe your brow, much less dry your hands. Which means precious time spent coaxing four or five pieces of brown paper from it.
OK, so you've made it through Motion Detector Hell, and you're ready to leave. A three-minute trip to the bathroom is now on its tenth minute, most likely.
No human contact, to decrease the chances of germs spreading.
The only thing you need to touch is the door handle.
Which the person ahead of you has just touched--after being so disgusted with Motion Detector Hell that no hand-washing was done.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Osmond, about to turn 52, came away with the garish trophy last night on "Dancing," beating out Kelly Osbourne and Mya, two women whose combined ages barely exceed his own.
I was thrilled for Osmond---while also being very proud of Osbourne, by the way, who really showed me something, and not just me. Who knew that Ozzy could have spawned something so vivacious?
It's not a generational thing, either (I'm 46). I wanted Osmond to win because he deserves all the mainstream recognition he can get, and then some.
Perhaps no entertainer in my lifetime has been stereotyped as badly as Donny Osmond. Or as tormented, both by others and by himself.
He's a man who sunk to the depths of his profession and was derided for it---often times unmercifully. And drugs weren't even involved. Not that they weren't considered.
In the mid-1980s, his career teetering on the brink of extinction---because that's what happens to teen idols---Osmond's "people" suggested a drug bust. No joke.
"They wanted to concoct some sort of phony drug arrest," Osmond once said on Larry King's show. The reasoning? Something that George Bernard Shaw once said.
"The only thing worse than being talked about, is NOT being talked about."
So a fake drug bust was considered---both to bring Osmond back into the public's consciousness, and to maybe make him "cool" to those who thought him to be too bubblegum.
But Osmond, a good Mormon kid with too much respect for his burgeoning family and for himself, said absolutely not. If we're going to play this hand in a winning fashion, we're going to play it straight, is what he basically said.
We have a funny habit in this country when it comes to our celebrities. We build them up and tear them down. And in no nook or cranny of the industry is this more prevalent than in the matter of kid stars who have the audacity to pursue their careers as adults.
The Cassidy boys couldn't manage it---David and Shaun. Neither could Leif Garrett. You can see what's happening to Lindsay Lohan, only I dare you to witness it without one eye closed. Dana Plato was reduced to making soft porn and living in a trailer.
Do I need to go on?
But Donny Osmond persevered and made it into his 30s without being arrested, blackballed, or a clerk at the 7-Eleven. He made it without going nuts. But it was close.
His family fortune was lost in some bad business deals while he was in his early 20s. I mean, totally gone. His TV show with sister Marie got canceled. The brothers weren't being booked for concerts anymore. He went solo and that eventually dried up pretty quick, too.
Washed up, almost, before his 30th birthday. Another cautionary tale. Another candidate for one of those "Whatever happened to?" specials.
That's when Donny's people suggested the phony drug arrest.
Maybe all that praying did some good, because suddenly Osmond hit it big with a song called "Soldier of Love," which rocketed up the charts, circa the late-1980s.
Donny Osmond was a paradox, because he was selling records again but his reputation still stunk.
Not among the ladies, of course, but by the sniping, vicious media folks who looked at him and saw not a comeback story but an annoyance they thought had died off.
What's he doing back? Doesn't he know that once the heartthrob reaches legal drinking age, he's finished?
I don't know who said it, but he ought to be ashamed of himself.
"The saddest day in music history," the bile-filled person sneered, "was the day Donny Osmond was born."
I only know that someone said that because I heard it---from Donny Osmond.
He related the horrifying quote during an interview---maybe it was also with King---and he choked up when he said it. Wouldn't you?
I don't know what it was about Donny Osmond that got so many people angry at him. I don't know why so many wanted him to fail again and go away, this time for good. I don't know how someone who never cheated on his wife, who never embarrassed his profession, who never sniped at anyone else, who never ran afoul of the law, riled so many people up.
Thank goodness for the ones who stood by him. Read: the ladies.
Never underestimate the power of the female entertainment fan, my friend.
Donny Osmond's fan base was, and always will be, an estrogen-laced one. His concert venues don't even need the men's room to be unlocked.
The women didn't care what the predominantly male critics were saying about their Donny. They just plowed forward, buying his albums and filling his concert halls.
Maybe it's the name, Donny. Maybe that sounds too juvenile for a 50+ year-old man. Perhaps he should have changed it to Don. Like Ricky-turned-Rick Schroeder.
Too late now, of course.
He did some Broadway, and did it very well, as part of his career recovery. He played the title character in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," his signature stage role---for years.
Yet he did it under the radar, so to speak. The women were always there, of course, and that only made him more in the background. Performers whose fan base is so heavily weighted toward one gender over the other never quite get that mainstream credibility.
To many, he was still just an adolescent entertainer who was getting old, adored by once-adolescent girls who were also aging. Nothing more than that.
Well, while the men ignored him and scoffed at him, Donny Osmond simply became one of the finest entertainers the baby boomer age has ever seen.
It was proven, once again, by his 10-week turn on "Dancing."
Donny won the contest because he deserved to win it. End of story. Any other outcome would have been robbery of the highest order.
It really wasn't fair, in the end. Osmond outperformed his competition because he's been entertaining since he was in kindergarten. He and his sis played Vegas for quite a long run and you don't do that if you don't know how to give the people what they want.
Donny gave the people---and the judges---what they wanted and he did it more consistently than all the others competing. Because that's what he's always done. Mya and Kelly were terrific, no question. But Donny was better---and he's old enough to be both of their fathers.
My wife, certainly biased but speaking objectively this time, stated it plainly.
Donny ended up being the most talented of all the Osmond brood, she said.
I agree, and that's saying something, because if you placed the Osmond clan in Rhode Island, they'd threaten to nudge the population into Connecticut.
Donny Osmond, more than any of the kid entertainers of his time, made something of himself. He's had to do it, in fact, a few times.
So did Kelly Osbourne and Mya really have a chance, after all?
Monday, November 23, 2009
We'll start with Pontiac, which would be a terrific town---if this was 1956. When a bus stops in Pontiac, everyone gets on, no one gets off. There's a road somewhere called Pontiac Trail, which isn't so much a street name as it is a warning. The overall mood is like a drab winter's day, only worse. The town is full of ghosts of businesses past. The city would make a mint if they erected toll booths at the borders and charged people to leave.
Then there's Taylor, where half the population is in-bred. More people sleep with their teeth in a glass than in their head. It's a great place to go if you're a producer for "The Jerry Springer Show." The official city song is "Dixie." After driving through Taylor, you have to change your clothes to get rid of the bacon stench. They park more cars on the front lawn than a valet at the mall during Christmas season. It's so bad that Southgate makes fun of it.
I used to live in Warren, where the only thing more crooked than the politicians are the police. If they didn't have the GM Tech Center, the city's IQ would drop like a lead balloon. The home of the brick ranch. Houses weren't built in Warren, they were pressed. Even Wal-Mart high-tailed it out of town. Warren has more motels and gas stations than the Ohio Turnpike. The next good night out in Warren will be the first. The city has as much culture and enrichment as Benton Harbor on a bad day.
I grew up in Livonia, the whitest city in America. You'll see grains of rice that are darker. The welcome mat for new residents includes a DNA kit. It's the only city I know where you have to pass a genealogy test before you can move in. They tried to bring Broadway-like entertainment to Livonia via the George Burns Theater, but the residents liked their tri-levels more than culture so it closed. The problem with Livonia is that there's nothing to do after 10:00---in the morning. Livonia is where you go if you want to see what the demographic of Detroit was like in 1944. The biggest attraction is the Awrey Bakery. By the way, when was the last time you saw any Awrey Bakery items on your grocer's shelves?
I live all-too-close to Royal Oak, which thinks it's Greenwich Village's long lost brother. It's a great town to people watch in---if you're Diane Arbus. There are more freaks strolling the streets of Royal Oak than all the circuses of this country combined. The real estate and homes are more overpriced than Nordstrom's. Royal Oak is a wonderful place, if you're into paying $1,400 a month for a 900 square foot bungalow. $1,700 if you want a bathroom. Royal Oak borders Ferndale, which is like Boy George bordering Clay Aiken.
Off I-275, around Ford Road, is a city called Canton, which is where to go if you ever wondered what Canton, Ohio would look like without the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Canton wasn't founded, it sprouted. Like a weed. Canton is four shopping centers, 10 strip malls, and a Meijer's. If it was a movie, it'd be "The Stepford Wives." No one goes to Canton unless they have a shopping list. You wonder if the residents are only living there because someone has something on them. Canton is as intoxicating as alcohol-free beer.
Then there's Southfield, which isn't a town, it's one big freeway exchange. People only pass through Southfield because it's on the way to someplace far more fun and interesting. It's the only city around that's so stuck up it named a freeway after itself. Someone should tell them. Southfield has it all, if you're planning on spending no more than an hour. The city has more concrete than Manhattan and less pizazz than Al Gore. Southfield is a perfect place to live if you want to keep your smart, cultured, refined friends away from you.
So...where do YOU live?
Friday, November 20, 2009
from May 15, 2009
Time, once again, to show my age.
I tend to do that a lot here, I know.
So anyone under 30, turn away, unless you don't mind being subjected to yet another tale of yesteryear.
I miss the Twin Pines guy.
There. I said it.
He used to bring you milk, the Twin Pines guy did, and tons of other good stuff.
Laid it on your doorstep, and prior to that, put it in your milk chute.
Yeah, you read correctly, under-30-yearsers.
The milk chute.
Some homes still have them, though by now they're likely painted shut.
The brick ranches and tri-levels that sprang up in the late-1950s, early-1960s like mushrooms all had milk chutes built into them, just about.
Usually located on the side of the building, the chute was a two-way deal: it opened on the outside so the Twin Pines guy (or whomever delivered your milk and dairy) could fill it with goodies. And it opened from the inside of the house, so you could retrieve and place immediately into the fridge.
No, I didn't say icebox. I'm not that old.
So you filled out a paper form and left it for the Twin Pines guy. And he'd dutifully fill the order, often when your head was still on the pillow.
Like I said, not just milk.
Orange juice. Bread. Potato chips. Pickles.
He might have left a chili dog, too, if you'd have asked him.
The truck was shocking yellow, with green trim. The logo was, as you would guess, a couple of pine trees.
Twin Pines also had a mascot.
Milky the Clown.
Milky was a garishly-made up clown--and I know that sounds redundant--with a, well, milky-white face and some sort of weird-looking hat.
Come to think of it, he might have been the inspiration for the Joker makeup used on Cesar Romero in the old Batman TV series.
The picture pretty much says it all
Anyhow, Milky had himself a TV show in Detroit and he was played by a man named Clare Cummings.
I don't remember too much about the show, nor how successful Milky was in selling Twin Pines products.
I think I miss the idea of Twin Pines. The notion of a uniformed man delivering milk and other products to your doorstep, in the wee hours.
There's something out there now called Schwan's. They specialize in frozen food and it's actually quite good. We've been customers.
The Schwan's guy can't carry the Twin Pines guy's shoes, though.
First, Schwan's guy doesn't hit the road before dawn, like TP guy did.
Second, TP guy would take your empties away--your used milk bottles and the like.
Third, Schwan's guy is today and TP guy is yesterday and in my book, yesterday almost always beats today.
To those of you who remember Twin Pines, sorry for telling you stuff you already know.
To those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, you missed out.
You should have been born earlier. Not my problem.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
But that's OK. There's no shame in finishing second to Johnny Depp, whether it's in terms of sexiness or in acting talent.
Depp got the People Magazine tag for the male version of va-va-voom this year, but I don't know what you win for such an honor. The winners of these things already have riches and adoring females. And their healthy good looks. Is there an award?
Depp can be the Sexiest Man Alive. But I have a feeling that he'd rather be the Best Actor Alive, which he damn well might be. The many faces of Johnny Depp have included gangster John Dillinger, an effeminate pirate, a homicidal barber, a boy with scissors for hands, and some quirky young man named Benny.
Depp doesn't play characters, he morphs into them. He could do God and have Moses look at the Almighty One cross-eyed afterward.
"You could work on some things," old Moses might say.
One of the best acting jobs I ever saw was when Depp played the title role in "Donnie Brasco," a gripping film and true story about an FBI guy who goes so deep undercover as a mobster that he just about loses himself and his family.
Depp shared many scenes with Al Pacino, no less, and it was the acting version of "Dueling Banjos" for two hours. It was one of those movies where you don't sit down to watch it---you get strapped in.
Such is Depp's range as an actor, and at a time when so many of them are afraid to branch out further than their arm reach. A cynic would say that those types are only in it for the money. A righteous cynic.
I'd kill to see Depp play the Joker in the next Batman flick. But it wouldn't be fair to the late Heath Ledger, because Heath wouldn't have the chance to see Depp's performance and raise it.
Depp never looks the same in his movies, because he's never playing the same guy. Hell, he's not even playing the same era, the same country, the same village, the same story.
Johnny Depp's roles are the snowflakes of acting. No two are the same.
While they're at it, People might want to hand out the Nicest Man Alive designation, too. Depp would be a finalist for that one as well.
It's been documented that Johnny Depp is a true gentleman in a business where there are so few of them anymore. You can seek his autograph without being sneered at, cursed, and shoved, for starters. Quite the contrary; you're even likely to get a smile and some conversation. Or so say signature hounds in Hollywood who should know.
He seems to have a soft spot for kids.
During the filming of "Public Enemies," in which Depp played Dillinger, a youngster who had wandered near the set became enamored of Depp---but more specifically, the fedora the actor was wearing in the movie.
The kid, who didn't know any better, relayed his fondness of the hat to Depp himself. Depp, as is his wont, took interest in the kid and made some small talk.
Several weeks after filming, the kid got a package in the mail. It was the fedora, sent by Johnny Depp.
You can count on one hand how many of Depp's ilk would have pulled that one off.
Our daughter adores Depp, too. She has nice taste in men.
Depp: I really can't blame my wife, after all
There are movie stars, and there are actors. And there are masters of their craft. Rarely are all three the same person.
They are if you're Johnny Depp, who only happens to be the finest actor of his generation. You heard me.
Name me one who's better, if you don't believe me. I dare ya.
Depp is only 46, and a quick check of his page at www.IMDb.com shows that he's not slowing down. There's another "Pirates of the Caribbean" flick in the works. Something called "The Tourist." Another one that goes by "The Rum Diary," which almost sounds like another Jack Sparrow vehicle but isn't.
Oh, and he's going to be the Mad Hatter in an "Alice in Wonderland" project that's currently in post-production.
Thank goodness he's not like Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty, marvelous talents who worked far too infrequently. Rather, Depp is making more like Michael Caine, who acts because that's what he is, for good or for bad.
You wanna make the guy happy, People Magazine?
Here's one: Johnny Depp, Best Damn Actor Alive.
Monday, November 16, 2009
"Things are so bad, the mail is cutting back on delivery. Now they're going to take one less day a week to not get your stuff there on time."
Sorry, USPS people, but I'm a little annoyed.
The Postal Service wants to petition Congress to excise Saturday delivery, because of a---get this---$3.8 billion loss in the 2009 fiscal year. The USPS says it has already made $6 billion in cost-cutting measures, including lowering the payments it made for retiree health benefits by $4 billion in fiscal 2009.
OK, I get why this is; people are simply not mailing as much stuff anymore. Bills are paid online or via phone. E-mail has made letter writing archaic and quaint to the point of weird.
Seems that the only folks using the mail service anymore are those distributing junk.
But if there are fewer pieces of mail, why are they taking longer to reach their destination?
It's not just me.
I've levied this complaint to friends and associates, and they agree with me. The mail is moving at a snail's pace, befitting its derogatory nickname, "snail mail" --- which used to be a term of endearment, to differentiate it from e-mail. But now, it's taking on an all-too literal meaning.
As a freelance writer, I get checks mailed to me quite frequently. Some come from Boston. Some come from Tampa. In both instances, the checks are taking five-to-seven days to arrive in my metro Detroit mailbox.
The people sending me those checks empathize; they tell me that they, too, have experienced Pony Express-like delivery service. And this is all stuff zipping back and forth between the Continental United States. Sometimes less than half of it.
Boston-to-Detroit isn't Moscow-to-Buenos Aires, but you'd think so.
That said, it really is still a bargain, to cough up 43 cents to send a piece of mail from anywhere from New York to Los Angeles. Just as long as there's no sense of urgency for it actually getting there.
I don't mean to tick off the good people who work for the USPS. But it IS a little confounding; less mail to move, yet it's moving slower. Again, not just my perception.
But here's something: the USPS has trimmed 40,000 jobs as part of its cost-cutting measures. So maybe that's contributing to the slowdown. Yet there are still 712,000 employees on the books. The Postal Service also reduced overtime hours and lowered transportation-related costs.
The move to drop Saturday delivery would save $3.5 billion, according to USPS chief financial officer Joseph Corbett. But even a 5-day delivery schedule won't be enough to put the USPS into the black, Corbett said. So the agency will also propose to Congress that it reduce the $5.5 billion in annual payments to pre-fund retiree health benefits that it is slated to make until 2016.
This marks the third straight fiscal year that the USPS has posted huge losses.
And these numbers, to confirm my suspicions about mail volume: The service's total mail volume plunged by more than 25 billion pieces, or 12.7%, to 177.1 billion pieces. That drop was twice as much as any mail volume decline in the Postal Service's history.
But less volume isn't equaling faster delivery. How come?
Now they want to cut out one day of delivery service, or 16 percent of the days they deliver.
NOW how long will mail take to "get there"?
Maybe we should ask the junk mailers, or bill sender-outers, for their secret. Their stuff always seems to get to its destination forthwith.
Friday, November 13, 2009
from June 3, 2009
Conan O'Brien started his new gig last night as the latest host of "The Tonight Show."
I missed it, and, truthfully, I'll probably miss a whole lot more.
I don't watch "Tonight" anymore. Of course, I don't watch much TV, period, anymore, but "Tonight" was a favorite of mine.
This isn't to disrespect Conan--who I actually like--or Jay Leno (who I kinda like, too).
But come on--is "Tonight" really "Tonight" if Johnny Carson isn't hosting it?
On October 1, 1962, some folks were asking much the same question, only substituting Jack Paar's name where I placed Johnny's. Or Steve Allen's, depending on your preference.
Johnny stayed some 30 years, and I'd say he pretty much silenced his critics.
Johnny didn't walk off the show, like Paar did, for example.
Jack was upset at the network's censoring of him, and decided he'd had enough. On the set. Live, while the show was going on.
A stupefied Hugh Downs, Paar's announcer, finished the show, no doubt horrified.
Paar returned several months later, with the famous opening line: "As I was saying..."
It ended up being the title of Paar's autobiography.
A short while ago, I wrote about how much I miss the comedic actor Peter Sellers.
I miss Johnny Carson even more.
But Jay Leno carried the torch for 17 years, and that's not bad.
If it doesn't seem that long to you, I understand. Time does fly. But it's true.
Perhaps nothing was more cringe-inducing in television history than when Chevy Chase gave late night TV a go on Fox in 1993.
Almost from the get-go--and I'm talking the opening minutes--you knew that ole Chevy was out of his element.
He had no discernible interview skills. He didn't seem comfortable sitting behind a desk, period--except to do his knock-off of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update."
They tried to help Chevy out, Fox did, by parading some of his old movie co-stars out as guests on opening week.
Goldie Hawn, for one.
Bless her heart. You could tell that she wanted Chevy--with whom she starred in two movies--to succeed in the worst way. But it just wasn't happening.
It reminds me of a twist on an old joke.
"I wanted to host a late night TV show in the worst way--and I did!"
The Hawn "interview" was nothing more than Chevy reminiscing with Goldie, as if they were sitting alone having a drink.
He seemed to forget that tens of millions of eyeballs were watching.
It was painful to watch.
Chevy's show got the broom after only a few weeks. Fox had spent most of the summer hyping the show, actually believing that Chase could put a dent into Dave Letterman's numbers over at CBS.
But the experiment was a total, unmitigated disaster. A complete failure.
Fox's ad campaign aimed to mock Letterman's gap-toothed grin, but Dave had the last laugh--by far
Chase, I remember, wasn't totally humbled. In fact, he was a little ticked off at the Fox network folks.
"They put me in a theater," Chase said about the show's set being in Los Angeles's Aquarius Theater, which was renamed the Chevy Chase Theater not long before the show debuted. "I'm not a 'theater' kind of performer. So that was uncomfortable, from the beginning.'"
I hear you, Chevy, but I think no matter where they put you, I think you would have failed.
Not that it was totally his fault. The Fox people tried putting a square peg in a round hole, and in that instance, you don't blame the peg.
Then there was Magic Johnson's try, which is a whole other blog post.
Johnny Carson was hardly a household name when he took over "Tonight" in 1962. Chase and Magic, however, were, when they tried their hands at late night TV hosting.
Just goes to show you, eh?
As Paar would have said, "I kid you not."
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Didn't feel like sitting down at Big Boy's, or even our local haunt, Sero's. Not enough dough for Red Lobster. Just wanted some take-out fish, some fries. Fish 'n chips can hit the spot, when I'm so moved.
But nowhere on 12 Mile Road, near our Madison Heights abode, can there be found any fast fish.
Not even on John R or Dequindre or Ryan, the closest north/south trunks.
Then it occurred to me: there had been one, a Seafood Bay on Dequindre just north of 12 Mile, but I put it out of business.
Let me explain.
Sometime in the late-1990s, I cruised over to "the Bay" for some fast fish and some shrimp. I walked in, ordered, and waited. With nothing else to do, I perused my receipt. And, being the human calculator that I am, I noticed something funny.
The cash register charged us nearly seven percent sales tax, instead of the state rate of six percent.
No big deal, you might say. Only about 20 cents on our $20 bill. But fair is fair.
I brought it to the attention of the pimply-faced kid behind the counter. He shrugged and said the register was programmed that way, and he didn't seem to understand why there should be any fuss anyway. Certainly not enough to offer an apology, or even much of an explanation.
Bothered, I called the State of Michigan and after being passed around and explaining several times, I finally reached someone whose department it was.
Their reaction floored me.
Not only didn't they seem bothered by this practice, they in essence told me that as long as the state gets its six percent, they're not all that interested in what places program into their cash registers. No joke.
Now I was really steamed. My little 20 cent overcharge was now turning into a crusade.
Because, at nearly a full percent overcharge per transaction, Seafood Bay's franchise owner on Dequindre could make a pretty penny, if he was doing it on purpose.
I wrote to the State Attorney General, who was still good old Frank Kelley at the time, who was simply one of the finest men to ever serve the folks in Michigan, bar none.
A couple weeks later, I got a reply from Kelley---signed by him---indicating that his people would look into the matter. He was bothered. And if Frank Kelley said he would do something, you could go to the bank on it.
A month or two later, that Seafood Bay was CLOSED.
I told my wife, partly kidding, that I put Seafood Bay out of business. Me. At least, that location.
Tonight it came back to haunt me. For I was in the mood for some fast fish, and I ended up having to drive all the way to Long John Silver's at 8 Mile and Ryan (whose food is delicious, by the way). Because there was no viable alternative along the 12 Mile/John R/Dequindre/Ryan stretch.
Because I had put the only viable alternative out of business.
Hey, I just call 'em like I see 'em.
Charge the right amount of sales tax. Is that so much to ask?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
You can't even get a human being on the phone---when YOU'RE the one being called!
I suppose they're called "robo calls"---the phenomenon of automated systems dialing you with pre-recorded voices on the other end of the line.
Some of these calls are slickly done; they start out sounding like a real person.
Technology has improved. Time was, pre-taped messages sounded, well, pre-taped. These new calls sound like people, because there isn't that AM radio-like hiss or static.
I've been fooled.
I got a call several months ago from some financial planning dude named John Stephens. He sounded very casual and friendly.
"Hi, this is John Stephens," he said in a manner and tone that suggested that he and I were longtime friends. I actually started to talk to the guy---before finding out that he was no guy but some recording!
This morning I received two such calls---one from someone wanting to know if anyone in the household had diabetes, and a "courtesy" call from CVS pharmacy reminding us of a prescription that needed to be refilled. Both recorded.
But there's an advantage to these recorded calls: you can hang up on them without feeling guilty.
"John Stephens," by the way, has called me several times since, but now I don't fall for his casual, nice guy routine. I've even stopped talking back to him.
It's starting to feel like a "Twilight Zone" episode---millions of phones in this country without people on the other end, both calling us and taking our calls.
How long before these computerized operators start calling each other?
Will there be a day when the computer answering my call at the electric company runs afoul of its software program and dials "John Stephens"?
What a conversation that would be!
I wonder if John fills his scripts at CVS.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The DirecTV ads are clever, to say the least. They thrust real-life stars back onto the sets of one of their more famous movies, only this time they break the plane and speak to the viewer, extolling DirecTV's benefits.
They do it by doing an amazing job of recreating the scene through CG effects, but that's really Sigourney Weaver, or Charlie Sheen, or any of the others who've appeared in the campaign, talking to us about DirecTV. The Weaver one is particularly fun, as she speaks to us while battling an alien.
So the latest one has Farley playing one of his over-the-top characters, Spade being the straight man. Spade speaks to us about DirecTV as an aside.
The controversy arises, of course, because Farley is no longer with us. But I recall one of the vacuum cleaner companies running a campaign that superimposed Fred Astaire, dancing up and down walls while operating one of their units.
But beyond the level of taste of the Farley/DirecTV ads, which could be debated, I suppose, it dawned on me that there would be no Chris Farley if there was no John Belushi.
Belushi, who died in 1982 from an accidental drug overdose, administered to him by a girlfriend, was unlike any other performer who preceded him on the big or small screen.
There was no one who matched Belushi when it came to filling the screen with physical, manic comedy. He could be subtle with facial expressions, or he could be loud and boisterous. He could be tender and abrasive and churlish and passionate---often all at the same time.
If you want a glimpse of some of his genius, YouTube a search of Belushi impersonating singer Joe Cocker during a famous "Saturday Night Live" episode. Or watch him while being one half of The Blues Brothers with good friend Dan Aykroyd.
"Animal House," of course, was Belushi's watershed moment on screen. But as bad as "1941" was, he was pretty damn good in that as well. He chewed the scenery---sometimes literally---but a John Belushi going half-speed wouldn't have been near as much fun.
The late, great John Belushi
Just before he died, Belushi tried some more dramatic roles, particularly in "Continental Divide," where he played a reporter in a love story written by the great Lawrence Kasdan. He also tried black comedy with the disturbingly funny "Neighbors."
Belushi was 33 when he died in Hollywood from a fatal drug cocktail.
Chris Farley was also 33, creepy enough, when he died in Chicago, also from a drug mishap. And, like Belushi, Farley was a gifted physical comedian with a grandiose personality that dominated the screen. And like Belushi, Farley gained notoriety from being a "Saturday Night Live" cast member.
The comparisons are eery but also wonderfully symmetrical.
John Belushi blazed the trail for the Chris Farleys of the world, but who was Belushi's predecessor?
Who filled the mise en scene as completely and with as much energy as John Belushi, before Belushi came along?
John Belushi, it says here, was one of the greatest performers in television history. Certainly one of its biggest, both in talent and in personality. And he was just starting to make movies his territory, too, before he died prematurely.
Chris Farley, too, could have done some more great things if given the time.
That both Belushi and Farley were gone at age 33, just when they were scratching the surface of their talent, should be what we're offended by---not whether DirecTV uses Farley's likeness in a promo some 12 years after his death.
It's like what the late Dick Schaap wrote about sometimes vulgar comedian Lenny Bruce after Lenny OD'd in his prime.
"Here's another four-letter word for you, Lenny," Schaap wrote. "DEAD, at age 40."
THERE'S your shock value.
Friday, November 6, 2009
from April 10, 2009
It's been closed for several months now, Carl's has. But the familiar sign is still there, visible as you head down the Lodge Freeway, near Grand River.
All you non-Detroiters, keep reading. Because no matter where you live, you need to know that once upon a time sat a steakhouse where I nearly ran into the kitchen and yanked the chef into the dining area.
Don't worry; it wasn't to throttle him. Instead, I wanted to reveal to the customers that there existed a man who knew how to cook a steak "well done" while, at the same time, preserving its juices and flavor.
I first dined at Carl's, in its old, unimpressive from the outside brick building, in 1990, while courting my future wife. I had heard about it, along with the other famed steakhouse in Detroit, the London Chop House, for years but never had the occasion to eat there.
So I took the future Mrs. Eno to Carl's, ordered me a steak well done, and when I cut into it, my plate filled up with juices so fast I was afraid the steak was hemorrhaging.
Then I took a bite and that's when I harbored thoughts of marching into the kitchen and dragging the chef out by his ear.
"See?? See this man?" I would have yelled in the middle of the dining room. "This is a man who should immediately be deified and you should all bow to him. For this man has made a steak well done that doesn't resemble charcoaled beef!"
I still don't know how they did it at Carl's. The steaks were as thick as a New York telephone book, yet they were as tender and juicy as medium-rare prime rib. It tempted you to eschew the steak knife, or a knife altogether, and simply use your fork to cut off a piece, as if you were eating pancakes.
If they had any bottles of steak sauce at Carl's, then they were around merely as knick knacks, like conversation pieces. For if anyone dared pour steak sauce on a Carl's steak, then they should have been condemned to eternal damnation.
They started you off at Carl's with a relish tray that resembled a personal salad bar. It was also the only relish tray I ever saw at a restaurant that had pickled herring on it.
I used to order my steak with hash browns, because Carl's also had the best hash browns in town, so you know.
There was a salad, of course, but I didn't need any of it. Just give me the steak, a fork, and fill my water glass occasionally.
The service was terrific, too. The staff kept on top of you, and there was never more than a 15, 20 minute wait before your meal arrived. Even on their busiest nights.
So my wife and I made Carl's our "place" ever since our initial visit. We would go there on special occasions, like a birthday, or whenever I wanted one of their steaks and had the dough to pay for it.
Carl's wasn't cheap. It was hard to get away for less than $100 for two people. But I would have paid more. I would have paid it gladly, for there was never a steak like a Carl's Chop House steak. No sir.
I can see them now, thick and juicy and just about the finest thing ever plated. For $36 a pop.
Then the casino moved in across the street and that was the beginning of the end for Carl's.
They even dickered with the idea of turning Carl's into an adult night club, if you can imagine such a thing.
Sure would have put a new meaning into the term "New York Strip".
Carl's Chop House is gone. If you never got a chance to eat there, I'd consider suicide. Because your life is drastically worse off now.
You had your chance; Carl's had been opened since the 1940s, you know. So where were you?
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Bing has been Detroit's mayor in title only. He hasn't been able to get to the meat of anything because he hasn't been mayor---he's been running for mayor.
But now the long litany of primaries and elections in Detroit is over with, Bing having easily disposed of challenger Tom Barrow on Tuesday in the (finally!) general election.
And there's an added bonus: Bing will get to work with a shiny new council president---one who isn't jaded and who is young and who would appear to have an esprit de corps about him.
Charles Pugh, the former TV reporter/host, was the surprise of the night, gathering the most votes of any council candidate, thus making him council president.
No Monica Conyers and her traveling sideshow. No Ken Cockrel Jr. --- a good man but perhaps stung by his own brief time as mayor. No career politician who's in bed with all sorts of unsavories in town.
Detroit couldn't ask for anything better. My opinion.
Mayor (permanently this time) Dave Bing
The city's residents get Bing, who truly cares---though he's already managed to alienate a whole bunch of city employees and some union folks and even volunteers. But in order to make an omelet....well, you know the rest.
And they get Pugh, leading council---fresh, eager, energized.
Dave Bing and Charles Pugh: The Old and the Restless.
So much better than the Mutt and Jeff days of not so long ago.
For the first time in nearly two years, Detroit can finally start to move forward.
It'll be two years this January when the Kwame Kilpatrick/"sexting" scandal hit the front page of the Detroit Free Press. From that moment on, Detroit was rudderless, essentially. Yes, Cockrel took over, by law, late last summer. Yes, he was followed by Bing. But in between, one of those guys was always running---in a primary or a special election or a general one.
Why the powers that be deemed that we have all this traipsing to the polls every few months is beyond me.
Detroit has burned while Nero---in the form of an election fetish---has fiddled around.
Now the real work starts for Dave Bing---and, to a lesser degree, Charles Pugh.
No more stumping. No more "I'll get to it once I get this job permanently." No more looking over the shoulder, to see who's gaining now.
What a concept.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Matt Harker's loss is most definitely someone's gain. It already has been.
Harker is a Chicagoland guy who broke off his engagement to fiancee Teanne Harris---six days before the wedding was to take place.
And Harris showed him up, big time.
After finding out that the deposit on her banquet hall was non-refundable, Harris looked across the street from it, saw the Asbury Court Retirement Community, and got some ideas.
Harris, 34, simply asked that the proceedings be moved across the street, where a couple hundred seniors were then treated to food, drink, and dancing---courtesy the DJ that Harris also didn't cancel.
It was to be a Halloween-themed party---isn't that deliciously ironic, considering the ghoul that Harker turned out to be---so many of the Asbury Court Retirement Community residents who participated showed up in costume as they consumed food, beverage, and otherwise enjoyed themselves, all on Harris's dime.
Flowers and jars of candy decorated the tables.
An angel that Harker let get away.
Teanne Harris, pictured during an earlier trip to Hawaii, to where she returned for a solo, husband-less honeymoon
Now, to be fair, we don't know the story behind Harker's ditching of Harris less than a week before their nuptials. An attempt by the Daily News to reach him for comment failed.
But it's hard not to think that he blew it with this girl.
Ana Rojas, a resident of Asbury Court, praised Harris' generous donation.
Cynics might point out that Harris's first intention was to cancel the party and get some of her money back. But who among us wouldn't have tried to do that? It's the second part---the donating of the party to others, as opposed to just sulking and letting everything go unused, that elevates Harris above many of us.
But here's something: she went to Hawaii---her honeymoon destination---anyhow.
"That was supposed to be her honeymoon, but she's going alone," Eichenfeld told the Daily News. "I say good for her. I hope she finds a nice guy who deserves her."
I'm not sure one of those exists.