Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good Humor Me

Tell me, do some things seem smaller than what you remember, or did they just seem bigger because YOU were small?

Probably a little bit of both. But you can strap me to a lie detector, make me swear on a stack of Bibles, and have me stand on the grave of my father. In all instances, I'll tell you that the Good Humor bar is smaller than it once was.

This isn't another example of a bug-eyed kid whose recollection, as an adult, has become skewed over time.

Grab me a rosary and stick it in my hands. Make me look my mother right in the peepers. Threaten to swipe my first (and only) born if I'm lying.

The Good Humor bar is shrinking.

This atrocity made itself present in our home last week. My lovely wife came home with two boxes of Good Humor bars -- Toasted Almond and Chocolate Eclair -- and it was enough to make me undress her with my stomach.

First, I must enlighten the babes among my readers. The older folks, bear with me. This won't take long.

The Good Humor ice cream truck tooled around the burbs, its driver dressed in all white and jingling a set of bells that were located above the rear view mirror. With his hand.

That's right -- no piped in music, no endless loop of calliope-style melodies. Just some bells, jingled and jangled by the driver, aka The Good Humor Man, as he saw fit.

The truck itself was white, too, and compact. It looked like an old white fridge that burst, like popcorn, on steroids and on wheels.

The Good Humor Man had an amazing sense of touch. Because he hardly ever relied on his eyes, when he was fetching your order at the curb. You'd tell him what you wanted, and he knew instantly which of the two hatches on the truck's sides to open. Then, simply by reaching inside, without looking, he'd pull out the correct item(s).

I still don't know how they did that.

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

The trucks disappeared from the neighborhoods years ago. But the Good Humor bars remained, in grocery stores and gas stations.

Toasted Almond is the best. I'll sock you in the kisser if you try to argue otherwise. But be that as it may.

So the Good Humor boxes are pulled out of the grocery bag last week, and we notice that the company is now paying homage to its past by including, on each carton, a color drawing of a Good Humor Man from days gone by, serving some kids from his truck. Pretty cool.

Until we opened one of the white plastic bags encasing a Toasted Almond.

I was tempted to tell my wife to throw it back, and tell him to get his old man.

If the Toasted Almond bar was made of wool, and you put it into the dryer, then the result would be what we held in our hands.

I was thinking I might be able to consume it with one generous bite, it looked that small.

My wife and I said it almost simultaneously.

"Look how SMALL!"

It was also noted that the price was conspicuously not smaller.

One nifty thing about the new Good Humor bars: you'll never have to worry about them melting before you can finish them.

I noticed the same phenomenon with the Bun chocolate bars. My folks gobbled them up when I was a kid. They came (still do) in a square-ish wrapper, the bar itself setting on a flimsy cardboard bottom. Of course, I remember the Bun bars as being the size of a paper plate.

But still, they're much smaller than they used to be, despite my glorification of them in my mind.

Again, the price doesn't appear to be shrinking.

I know that we sometimes remember licking suckers the size of hubcaps and watching movies on screens that went from horizon to horizon. I get that sometimes we exaggerate the sizes of things from our childhood.

But the Good Humor bar is getting smaller.

Either that, or my stomach is getting bigger.

Hey!! Wait a minute....

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Big O

So Oprah Winfrey is sharing the cover of her magazine. Finally.

It's not enough that she has a TV show Mondays thru Fridays. Not enough that she's now become one of those one-name celebrities, who could just sign a check "Oprah" and every bank in the country would know it came from her. Not enough that she has a magazine that sports her initial.

The Big O.

There are three Big Os that I've known in my life. There was basketball great Oscar Robertson. There's that thing that the luckiest of women sometimes get to enjoy. And there's Oprah.

For a lot of women, Oprah takes care of that other Big O, I think -- the one not involving Oscar Robertson.

No, it hasn't been enough for Ms. Winfrey, all that. She has to stick herself on the cover of every danged issue of "O" Magazine.

I've always thought that was weird.

What kind of insatiable ego needs to be splashed on the cover of every issue of her own magazine? What kind of ego needs to HAVE their own magazine?

But I'll let Ms. Winfrey -- notice I'm boycotting Oprah here -- slide on the "having a magazine" part. Rachael Ray has one, too, that sports her name.

But Ms. Winfrey was the first. Even John Kennedy Jr., when he started a mag, called it "George".

It's called "O", Ms. Winfrey. We know it's yours. We get it. But with each cover, with each posed shot of Ms. Winfrey, you'd think that every issue is about HER.

Oh well -- at least she's saving her editorial staff from wringing their hands over who to put on the cover. And folks in the business will tell you that who gets the cover can be a battle that rages and divides.

So Ms. Winfrey is maybe fostering internal harmony, saving her staff from that gut-wrenching decision every month.


It's all about her.

That's OK -- Ms. Winfrey has helped plenty of folks. Not gonna deny that. If you don't believe me, why, just ask her.

Word is -- with snapshots to prove it -- that Ms. Winfrey is, finally, going to be sharing the cover of her latest issue. With First Lady Michelle Obama.

Another Big O.

It took a first lady of Michelle Obama's magnitude to get Ms. Winfrey to edge over half an inch so they could work another person into the shot.

I would have been more impressed, however, if Ms. Winfrey let Michelle have the cover all to her lonesome.


Maybe Ms. Winfrey could have some fun and take a cue from Hugh Hefner and Playboy. On every cover, Hef has the art people place a tiny Playboy bunny logo, hidden or otherwise blended into the artwork. Part of the fun for readers -- though not nearly as much fun as what's inside, natch -- is to find the bunny logo. Hef's been doing that for decades.

So how about "spot Ms. Winfrey" on every cover?

Her tiny head hidden somewhere. That would be great fun.

I might even be inclined to at least pick up her magazine. Which is more than what I do now.

Of course, I'm not Ms. Winfrey's demographic. The only Big O I can have is an Oreo cookie every now and again.

Not that I'm complaining. About that.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mail Nursing

The Post Office is about to go out of business.

Well, not exactly, but they're hurtin', for certain.

The postmaster general says the mail folks are hemorrhaging money, and layoffs are in the offing. Unless, get this, we can go down to five days delivery per week.

Now, the punch line. There's actual debate going on as to what day gets lopped off the schedule.

Altogether now: SATURDAY...DUH!!!

I wouldn't miss mail on Saturdays, not one iota. To be truthful, if it wasn't for the fact that as a freelancer I depend on the mail to deliver my checks, I wouldn't miss the mail at all. Not much good has been coming from the letter carrier these days.

But to even vascillate over which day to NOT deliver mail? That seems kinda kooky, to me.

Why on Earth would you consider any day OTHER than Saturday?

You mean you'd actually consider a day during the work/business week? Now that's just plain nuts.

Checks, as I mentioned, come in the mail, for those of us not adorned with direct deposit and who aren't working in offices where the boss hands you your check in person. You take away mail on a business day, then that's a twenty-percent cut in my chances to get said check and get it into the bank.

Most banks are only open half-days on Saturday, if at all. Which means they're closed by 1 p.m., typically. Which is before a lot of folks get their mail anyway.

No weekend mail at all? Fine and dandy.

Why is this not a no-brainer?

It makes me crazy when the powers that be start creating dilemmas and scratching their heads when it's so not necessary. With all the truly difficult decisions to be made out there, you'd think it would be welcome when one comes down the pike that requires the same thought process as tying your shoes.

Now, it may be that Saturday is, indeed, chosen as the day when you won't be getting your mail any longer. And that'll be fine, but the fact that it was even an issue is unsettling to me.

What's even nuttier is that I haven't read or heard any reasons why any day other than Saturday would be designated as a "no mail" day, should delivery be reduced to five days per week.

Now, if a postal rate hike would keep delivery to six days a week, even though I personally wouldn't miss Saturday mail, then that's OK by me. I don't really wring my hands over whether a normal item costs 42 cents or 43 cents or 44 cents to mail.

Ah, but here's the rub, and here's why the postal system is failing financially.

People don't mail things anymore. They really don't. I'm talking people, not businesses.

What is there to mail anymore?

Letter writing has been dead for decades. I used to be pen pals with my grandmother, and that was great fun, but that was when Jimmy Carter was president.

It's all about the Internet anymore. It's how we pay bills, grab coupons, and otherwise correspond. A book of stamps will last our family an entire year, for as often as we use them. And we're not an anomaly in that regard.

The seniors still paste stamps on their bills, God bless them. But they're, pardon the morbid pun, a dying breed.

So a rate hike isn't the answer, anymore. It used to be. But what good does it do to increase prices on something people don't use very much anymore?

Answer: it doesn't.

So the mail people are squirming. Unless we will consent to have one day's worth of mail be excised.

And that day would be Saturday, correct?


Thursday, March 26, 2009


It's never too early to think about the next presidential election. So says me.

But it's pretty much a fact anymore. Folks start running for president in their minds like right about now, then run for president among their closest confidantes about a year from now, and then run for president publicly a year after that, if not sooner.

2012 will be here before you know it. The first quarter of 2009 is almost done, to show you. Easter beckons and I'm still thinking that I just handed out Halloween candy a few weeks ago.

So I reckon the Republicans better get someone cleaned up, pressed and dressed. Soon. Because if things don't change, Barack Obama will make the Nixon-McGovern thing look like a nailbiter.

A trip around the GOP...

Eric Cantor? The dweeb from Virginia? Please.

Bobby Jindal, the boy governor from Louisiana? Not after he channeled Mister Rogers in his rebuttal to Obama's almost-State of the Union speech last month.

Arnold Schwarzenegger? Go ahead and change the Constitution if you wish, in order to let The Governator run. Won't mean a hill of beans.

Kay Bailey Hutchison? Wouldn't be bad -- if this was 2004.

Sarah Palin, who's not a VP candidate but who played one on TV? Stop -- you're killing me!

(from top) Cantor, Palin, and Jindal: three blind mice who might run against the O-Train in '12?

OK, so who does the GOP put up against Obama in '12?

Maybe it's someone we haven't really heard of yet. Don't forget, Obama himself was barely a blip on the screen -- known only to hardcore political fans -- prior to his masterful speech at the '04 Democratic convention.

But the notion that the Republicans have a young, dynamic, presidential prospect getting seasoned in the minors is a little hard to swallow. Their convention last summer looked like a meeting of the Russian Parliament. The only blacks that I could see were...well, I didn't see any blacks. Or young people. Or women.

OK, I don't mean literally -- about the young people or the women, anyway. But almost.

So the GOP is in a box. They don't dare run another old, white guy, do they? But who's in the minors, ready for a call to The Show?

Having said that, Obama isn't going to be riding the wave of 50-60 percent approval ratings forever. I don't think. But I submit that he's got another year, just about, of honeymoon time left before the numbers dip to something more normal.

Then again, who knows? If he manages to get some significant things accomplished, then the O-Train might zoom forward, pretty much unabated.

If that happens, then whomever goes up against Obama in 2012 will simply be a sacrificial lamb -- not someone who has much of a political future. Think Walter Mondale in 1984 vs. Ronald Reagan. A conceded election, with re-grouping to be done four years hence.

No politician with any sense of self-aggrandizement will dare risk his political capital on a run against Obama, if he thinks he's likely to be mopped the floor with. You lose a close presidential election, you MIGHT be able to come back again. You get your ass kicked, you're done.

No, it's not too early to think about the 2012 presidential election. It'll be here before you know it. In the GOP's case, just like your next dentist appointment.

Wednesday, 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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Was watching the idiot box the other day -- that would be the television for those born after 1980 -- and the actress Kate Hudson flashed on the screen. It was one of those moments when the thoughts broke out of their prison cell in my brain and tumbled out of my mouth.

"Boy, she looks just like her mom," I said, referring to Goldie Hawn. No one else was in the room, so my observation went unabated.

Then I thought -- well, yeah, who else would she look like?

We do that all the time, you know. Doesn't even have to be anyone famous, either. We seem to be shocked when children have physical traits of one or both of their parents.

"My, you look JUST LIKE your dad!"

"She's a spitting image of her mom!"

"She's got his eyes and her mouth."

Gee, I hope so!

Seems as if we should be more put out if kids DIDN'T look like their folks. That's when the eyebrows should be raised. But you'd be a candidate for Miss Manners' Ten Most Wanted if you said, "My, he looks nothing like either one of you. Don't you find that strange? I think that's weird."

Now, there are certainly occasions where God and his merry men of DNA molecules pull a fast one, and a parenting couple produces a spawn that appears to be the result of a mix-up at the hospital. But those kids, we say nothing about -- at least not publicly. And nor should we.

But we remain fascinated with the natural similarities that occur when a child is born to two consenting adults. It's like we've never seen a kid look like his mom or dad before.

Hudson (left) and Hawn: Why am I so shocked at Kate's likeness to Goldie?
She's her MOTHERRR!

I must admit, though, that sometimes the looks are creepily the same.

I saw Frank Sinatra Jr. on Larry King's show a few years ago, and the man caused me to do a double take. Maybe because, the last time I had seen Frank Jr., he was a much skinnier version than what was on my tube at the time. The pudgy face, the thinning, graying hair...it was eery. Even his voice sounded the same as his dad's.

But again -- why was I so shocked? He's Frank's kid, for gosh sakes! Who did I expect him to morph into, Truman Capote?

What gets me is when TV shows put siblings together that look NOTHING like the other. It took me almost the entire run of Roseanne for me to buy Laurie Metcalf as Roseanne Barr/Arnold/Barr/just Roseanne's sister. Or the kids: Darlene and Becky were sisters?

Random thought: George Goebel should have played Jimmy Hoffa in a movie.

Second random thought: how many of you are too young to remember George Goebel?

I know you've been an offender in this over-the-top reaction to people's kids and their physical similarities to their parents. But that's OK. No harm, really. I just find it amusing.

What would you say to the Octomom?

"Wow -- four of them look JUST LIKE you. Two of them look sort of like you. One kinda has your nose. And that other one -- you sure you had EIGHT kids?"

What would Miss Manners say about THAT?

Monday, March 23, 2009


I'm not sure where I sit on the fence of gun control, but the next time you see one of them fire by itself, let me know.

I'm all for folks being able to defend themselves, lawfully -- even if the notion of having a firearm in the house scares the bejeebers out of me. But the Constitution says we can possess them. Only 200 years later and some change did we add some things about needing to prove that you weren't insane, etc. before you were allowed to purchase one.

Somehow a whole bunch of crazies, though, seem to have guns these days.

A family gunned down by an estranged husband of one of the victims. A quartet of Oakland police officers, two of them SWAT, riddled with bullets by an ex-con with an assault weapon. Three of them dead, a fourth feared brain dead. Another family wiped out by its patriarch, despondent over finances.

And that was just last week.

What in the name of Chuck Heston is going on around here?

Not that it would be more tolerable if these shooters were armed merely with pistols that hold six shots, but what's even more stupefying is the degree of ammunition that these gun-toters are coming equipped with. They're not showing up to pick off a few folks; they arrive as their own army.

You've heard it so often it's becoming blase.

"The shooter, police say, came armed with enough ammunition to take out dozens of people," or something like it, is uttered on television by the somber-looking news head. Then it's described of how more guns and more bullets were found, either on the shooter or in his car or at his house. Dozens of rounds; several guns.

If these people are simply looking to defend their castle, as put forth by our forefathers (and it's debatable about what they REALLY meant), then they must be expecting it to be overrun by Attila and the Huns. Or the Magnificent Seven.

The troubling thing, when you hear and read of these occurrences -- in the good, old U.S. of A. -- is that you know that there's another one, somewhere around the corner. And we'll forget about the massacred family, gunned down by the father and husband with enough firepower to take down a crowded movie theater. We'll forget about the doomed trio of cops in Oakland, who, despite their own weaponry, didn't stand a chance against the heavily-armed, desperate man who panicked after a "routine" traffic stop.

Until next time.

Until the next intersecting of desperation, anger, and gun access.

You see, the issue isn't, anymore, whether we as Americans should have guns to protect ourselves from the criminal elements of our society. We seem to have moved beyond that reason for owning such over-the-top amounts of hardware and ammo.

Defending our castles is soooo 20th century. Today it's all about taking the war on the road. We got tired of waiting for someone to attack our homes; there wasn't enough satisfaction, or money, in that.

After all, you never know when you might have to slaughter your family, or shoot up your workplace, or terrorize a college campus. And when that need arises, by God, you'll be ready.

Good thing you didn't start to go crazy until AFTER you passed your background check!

Gun laws: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Hence my fence-sitting.

Friday, March 20, 2009


So what do you say to the Leader of the Free World when he sits down on your talk show set?

"Good to see ya!"

Yeah -- why not?

Jay Leno hosted President Barack Obama last night on The Tonight Show. And it started out like any other guest appearance. Obama might as well have been Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts, pumping a new movie.

Obama, for his part, launched into a funny story about landing in California the day before. Like he was a stand-up comic.

Obama was charming, dashing, inspiring, and relaxed. As usual. If he hadn't made the occasional reference that he was the president, you'd have thought you stepped into a time machine and were taken back to the campaign trail.

Memo to Barack: you got the job. You can quit campaigning for it now.

That's not a criticism, just an observation. I love hearing Obama speak. He's the first president, in my lifetime, who I'll stop what I'm doing when I hear his voice. And I was the biggest Bill Clinton fan in the world, at one time.

And to those who think that Obama somehow soiled the office by appearing on Leno's show: lighten up.

Arizona Senator John Kyl (R) put on a sour puss and spoke to the press Thursday.

"He's flying out to Los Angeles to be on Jay Leno. I suggest that he come back here and gather his people and figure out what we're going to do [about the AIG mess]," Kyl said -- with a straight face.

First of all, Obama didn't fly out to California expressly to be on Tonight. He held a couple of town hall meetings and toured an automotive plant. Of course, Kyl conveniently left that part out.

Obama responded to his critics. He always responds to his critics.

"There are those who say that I shouldn't go on Leno," the president said at one of the town halls. The crowd laughed and cheered. Mainly they laughed. "Like I can't do that and handle the economy at the same time."

I suppose you can't blame folks like Kyl, however. After all, he and his Republican colleagues proved that they can't walk and chew gum at the same time, so of course they don't think anyone else can, either.

Oh, and Obama made his NCAA basketball picks, which I'm sure took all of ten minutes. Yet that, too, was derided.

"The only 'March Madness' the president should be concerned about is what's going on in Washington," GOP strategist Brad Blakeman blared on MSNBC yesterday.


Candidate Obama, on Leno last year

I see what's happening here. The president's critics want to portray him as some sort of celebrity, college fraternity type who's been given the reins in the White House.

Well, the first part is probably right. Obama is, indeed, a celebrity. Nothing wrong with that, if he can get the job done. And he knows that if he doesn't produce, he'll become like so many other celebs -- his star power will fall and there'll be no shortage of folks who'll tear him down.

"I'm your employee," he told a questioner at one of the California town halls, who wanted to know if he planned on running again in 2012. "You'll determine, really, whether I choose to run again."

Obama really was plugging something, when you think about it, on Leno's show. He was plugging his policies as president. Frankly, I'm surprised that no president previous to Obama had the brightness or the boldness to figure out that an occasional guest shot on the late night talk show circuit -- while in office, not just on the campaign trail -- can be a powerful way to spike his numbers and reiterate his message.

After all, the late night viewers are a different breed than any other TV viewer. They're typically younger, and maybe not as engaged in the political process. Not that they don't care -- just that they don't have time to care. It's been a mostly untapped audience for any sitting president.

Leno did a good job, mixing the issues of the day with the personal. There was a joke about Obama's bowling skills (which led to an unfortunate Special Olympics reference that the prez wished he had back, and that I caught immediately), and talk about the new First Dog. And there was a lot of that famous Obama smile, so bright that it makes Jimmy Carter's famous one look like a dim bulb.

I told my wife that Obama's appearance would be even more awesome if he would have stayed and moved down a seat on the couch when the next guest sat down. But I suppose that's asking too much. If Bob Hope or Frank Sinatra wouldn't stay for the whole show when Johnny Carson hosted it, then you can hardly expect the president to tough it out with Jay Leno.

Oh, and here's to Garth Brooks -- who had the guts to be the guest to appear after Obama. Takes a secure entertainer to go on, knowing TV sets will be switching off all over the country before you even sing your first bar.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Talk and Die

Natasha Richardson was suffering from "talk and die" syndrome. Only, she was aware of the "talk" part -- but not at all about the "die" part.

The fact that Richardson, the respected and world-renowned actress, is dead now at the age of 45 simply because she fell and hit her head on a beginner's ski slope, is difficult to comprehend.

The doctors call it "talk and die" syndrome, and if that sounds like the title of a Grade B horror movie, you're right. But it's also a legitimate condition, potentially, of someone who has suffered trauma to their skull -- no matter how innocuous that trauma initially appeared to be.

What happens is that the brain gets jarred around in the skull, and the victim, right after the contact, doesn't feel any symptoms. Then, blood starts to seep out in all the wrong places between the brain and the skull, and that's when things can go sideways in a hurry.

"Talk and die" syndrome is what killed Natasha Richardson. She was reported to have been laughing and joking about her fall, refusing medical attention. Then she retired to her room and, within the hour, fell ill. Within another few hours she was in critical condition. Within two days of her seemingly innocent fall, she was dead.

Talk and die.

When I got the news last night, confirming reports that ran rampant throughout the day, that Richardson's family had ended life support and that she had passed away, I was looking at her photo on the AOL front page. I just stared at it, for some twenty, thirty seconds. She had a lazy, half-smile on her lovely face.

Then, the headline.

Natasha Richardson Dies From Injuries

After I was finally able to tear my gaze from Richardson's photo, I began thinking about her husband, actor Liam Neeson, and their children. Then I thought of Jett Travolta, John's son who died so tragically last year. And John's wife, actress Kelly Preston.

Because they're people, see, these famous celebrities. I didn't think of their wealth, or their nannies or their publicists or their most recent paycheck. Natasha Richardson is dead because she was just like you or me -- refusing the fuss of a hospital trip because, well, she felt fine. And why bother, despite the suggestions of "just in case"?

Naturally, the 20/20 hindsighters are already out.

"ALWAYS go the hospital when you hit your head," is a paraphrased version of what's on the Web.

Well, yeah -- in a perfect world.


Yes, Natasha Richardson is, today, a cautionary tale for what COULD happen if you don't run for the emergency room after every knock on the noggin. It's OK; those hindsighters mean well.

And, no, most folks WON'T heed that advice, Richardson's story likely long vanished from their consciousness by that point.

Talk and die. It could happen to any one of us, no matter how rich or poor we are.

Natasha Richardson, dead at age 45. She leaves behind a husband and two boys.

So sad.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

VJ Days

I'm 45, which means I'm old enough to remember when MTV played music videos. VH-1, too.

Means I know what a VJ is, and that Don Imus and Rosie O'Donnell were once colleagues at VH-1.

I haven't watched MTV in years, maybe going on decades. VH-1 hasn't exactly been part of my viewing list, either. There was a brief spike in my VH-1 viewership when the show "Pop-Up Video" debuted, because I thought that concept was as cool as hell. But aside from that, meh.

It didn't used to be that way.

I was smitten with MTV in the early-1980s, shortly after it burst onto the scene. Radio on TV!

That's basically what it was. Only you could SEE the on-air talent, instead of having to imagine what they looked like. Some of the names, I'm sure, might resonate with some of you. Nina Blackwood. Alan Hunter. Mark Goodman. JJ Jackson. Martha Quinn.

They were young-ish -- late-20s, early-30s -- and they were basically disc jockeys on TV. Hence the brand new moniker of VJ -- video jockey.

It was remarkably simpler back then, MTV was.

Original MTV jocks (from left) Jackson; Blackwood; Goodman; Quinn; and Hunter

You'd flick it on, courtesy your local cable company, and the odds were good that one of two things would be on the screen: a music video, or a VJ -- TALKING about music videos. Or maybe pumping an artist's latest tour, with dates and venues.

You could keep MTV on, in the background, and check in on it whenever you heard a favorite song of the day. Maybe you were just a fan of Nina's, and when you heard her husky voice you'd stop whatever you were doing and poke your head into the TV room to see what she had to say. Or to just look at her. Not that I would know anything about that.

It was magnificently simple, looking back on it. MTV -- music videos with some VJs sprinkled in.

Then there was VH-1.

I was thinking about all of this thanks to the news of Don Imus's cancer diagnosis, which he revealed publicly a few days ago.

I first knew of Imus when I saw his craggy mug on VH-1, working as a VJ in the late-1980s. VH-1 was set up a little differently than MTV in those days. The MTV jocks were in a casual setting, almost basement-ish. They were sitting down, for one. The VH-1 jocks stood, in front of a chroma key background while psychadelic colors and shapes floated behind them.

So there would be Imus, delivering mono-syllabic intros and chatting with the off-camera crew. He was stoic and sarcastic and I thought he was great. I had no idea that he was also a "shock jock" on New York radio. Then there'd be a shift change, and out would be Imus and in would be Rosie O'Donnell -- this pixie-ish Irish girl wearing a beret. Where Imus was laid back and a man of few words, Rosie was chatty and hyper. And quite adorable.

Now Imus battles cancer, having revealed himself (to me, anyway) to be nothing more than a mean-spirited hack on the radio. And Rosie, long ago un-closeted, is a champion of causes and is another who has found Michigan to be moviemaker-friendly. In a story straight from a 1940s flick, Rosie discovered the star of the movie she filmed in Michigan sitting in a diner in downtown Detroit. No joke. She goes up to the kid -- a teenager -- and asks him if he wants to be in pictures. A star is born.

Hers was born in front of the VH-1 cameras, VJ'ing. It led to bigger and better things for her.

And Imus? In retrospect, he probably didn't take the VH-1 gig too seriously. I'm sure it was far too vanilla for his taste.

But they played music videos, at least. Back then.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Credit-Only Lane

President Harry S Truman was known to have a placard on his desk that read, "The Buck Stops Here." It's a down-and-dirty assertion, meaning quite simply: no excuses; SOMEONE has to take full responsibility, and it may as well be me, the President of the United Freaking States.

I've always maintained that the last thing the American people want to hear from their leaders in times of need and uncertainty is, "Hey, don't look at ME!", or, "Not MY fault!"

Dick Cheney was the second-best vice president this country has ever had. Of course, everyone else is tied for first, so there you go. Cheney makes Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle look like Mt. Rushmore candidates.

Cheney, who won't go away, was doing the Sunday morning talk show boogie the other day. Naturally, the economy came up. It tends to do that these days.

Despite eight years of rule in the White House -- and with Cheney I do mean RULE -- the thankfully-ex-veep didn't invoke Truman's placard at all. The buck was passed, though I'm not sure to whom you pass it when you're in charge.

Cheney refused to allow the Bush Administration to take the blame for the current economic mess. He acknowledged that Barack Obama inherited a "difficult situation", financially, but that was as far as he went. He said that "stuff happens" (no joke) and, well, don't look at them!

That's only half of why Cheney is second-best and everyone else is tied for first.

Cheney, so full of hubris he'd burst if you pricked him with a pin, wants to have it both ways. He wants to take credit for the good stuff, and shrug off the blame for the bad.

It's amusing, to me, to hear of politicians discuss the word "safe" as if it's something that's quantifiable.

"We're safer now than ever before!" the Republicans crowed during the second half of George W's reign.

"I think we're less safe now," Cheney opined, speaking of Obama's foreign policy the other day.

Cheney: The second-best VP of all-time**

How is safety measured, anyway?

I felt pretty darn "safe", I suppose, right up until the moment the planes started crashing into the World Trade Center and aiming for the Pentagon.

And yeah, I feel "safe" now, too. Though I don't know what that means, except to say that if another horrific act were to occur on our soil tomorrow, all that previous "safe" feeling would be pretty much out the window.

Cheney wants everyone to laud the Bush Administration for there not being another 9/11 on its watch. He wants praise for keeping the country "safe" -- again, not sure how you gauge that -- because, well, it happened during those eight years they were in office, don't you know.

But mention the economy tanking, and Cheney throws his hands up and says, essentially, "Don't blame US. There are other factors involved, out of our control."

Well, isn't that just convenient?

Dick Cheney is the petulant kid who wants his parents to reward him for mowing the lawn but excuse him for running the mower over mom's marigolds.

Well, it don't work that way -- Dick.

How pleasant to know that our country was being led by folks who were prepared to take all the credit in the world but none of the blame. Boy, that's wonderful leadership, eh?

Of course, it's not just with the economy. This "I want credit but no blame" thing runs rampant with Mr. Cheney and his former boss, on a wide platitude of issues.

The country is suffering -- SUFFERING -- through the worst economic crisis in almost 80 years and all its most recent VP can say is, "Not OUR fault!"?? And..."stuff happens"???

Oh, and as for the country being more, or less, "safe" now that Cheney is no longer vice president?

Let's just say I'll take my chances.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Paper Chase

The way I figure it, the Detroit Free Press could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and backlash if they had just kept paper boys in the first place.

You probably know the back story: in an apparent move to save some money -- presumably in the area of delivery overhead -- the newspaper, along with the Detroit News, will be reducing the number of days it home delivers. Beginning March 30, the only days you can find a paper on your front porch -- or in your bushes or elsewhere, depending on the quality of your delivery person -- will be Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. Otherwise, it's off to the nearest coin box or gas station or 7-Eleven, if you want an actual hard copy.

Or -- gasp! -- you can peruse the newspaper online, in a version that will "look like" the actual paper, sans the ink stains on your fingers. You can also receive a same-day copy in the mail.

I'm still not getting how this saves money. The paper will still be printed seven days a week -- just not delivered seven days a week. So the only thing I can come up with is that they're saving dough by not paying their carriers on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

I was a paper boy. It's an extinct term now, like bubble gum cards and free maps.

But in 1978, being a paper boy was still in its heyday.

I delivered the Free Press, which was the only morning paper in town in those days. The News was the afternoon paper. Some of my friends delivered the News, which meant they had to do their route after school, AND they had to pedal their bikes to a station to pick up their papers.

The way it worked with the Freep is that the papers came to YOU; someone dropped them off on your porch around 4:00 in the morning. Then you did your route before school. Piece of cake.

In the summertime, I'd occasionally have a friend or two spend the night. We wouldn't go to sleep; instead we'd simply wait for the papers to be plunked onto the porch, then we'd go out and do my route -- before sunrise. Enterprising youths as we were (age 14-15), we then could sleep in till noon, knowing the newspapers were safely near their respective doorsteps.

The Free Press couldn't possibly have had much overhead in the days of paper boys.

The racket moved onward, week-by-week. I'd deliver my bundle of papers, on schedule, and every weekend I'd get on my bike and knock on my customers' doors, shaking them down for the $1.25 or whatever it was for weekly delivery in those days. And STILL some of them would stiff me.

"I paid you last week," paper customer would say.

Despite overwhelming evidence, in the form of my two-ring ledger book thingie which had the week conspicuously un-checked off as being paid, I was still 14/15 and they were still the adults. So I'd have no choice but to shrug and agree, without even the feeblest of arguments.

I didn't say I was a good paper boy.

I'd have to pay my district manager for the papers delivered to me, then whatever left over was my "profit". Despite the occasional thief on the route, there were also some tips and sweet old ladies. But my "take" was hardly anything befitting an enterepreneur. Maybe on a good week I pulled down ten, fifteen bucks. I can barely remember. Let's just say that I certainly never felt rich.

But then the paper boy went the way of the dinosaur, as the newspapers felt it was more efficient -- and maybe more reliable -- to expand the routes (mine was barely 50 houses, tops) and hand them to adults, who had cars and things. No weekly collecting, either; checks were then being made out and papers paid for by the month-load. And, truthfully, there was a safety issue; the number of crazies seeming to increase exponentially, negating the desire to have young teens knocking on doors in the first place. Less thieving, and worse, I would imagine.

But now look at the newspapers. Having to trim costs, because folks simply aren't buying and subscribing to papers like they used to. Doing radical things, like cutting down on delivery days.

Would all this have been necessary if the paper boy wasn't excised, like a tumor?

If the newspapers hadn't thought big and broomed all their paper boys (and girls), their costs would have stayed down, not having to pay all those adults with their cars.

And just think of all the eighth and ninth-graders we could be employing today!

The paper boy is long gone. And so is his replacement -- the "carrier" -- four days a week, beginning March 30th. To save money.

Of course, good luck finding a kid on a bike anymore, anyway. Do they still ride those things?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Umm, Sorry?

Bernie Madoff is sorry. Ashamed. His words.

Madoff, maybe the most appropriately-surnamed criminal in the history of the world, faces up to 150 years in prison for bilking a staggering amount of money from a staggering amount of investors in a staggeringly successful Ponzi scheme. He set a world's record for it, the historians say.

But he's sorry.

Sorry he got caught, I figure. Ashamed that he let down the Grifting Gods.

"Sorry" is what you say when you accidentally bump into someone's cart at the grocery store. Or hurt someone's feelings with a caustic, insensitive remark.

I'm not sure what the word is for systematically, and for years, robbing folks blind after gaining their trust, but it sure ain't "sorry."

I do know, however, two words for Madoff's apology.

If this was, at the same time, a fair and more barbaric society, Madoff would be handcuffed to his seat in the courtroom and every investor would be allowed thirty seconds with him.

Then, each would say, "Sorry."

I get a kick out of the apology from the white-collar criminal. At least the violent, murderous dude can actually, at times, call upon a genuine sense of remorse. Maybe he snapped. Maybe he killed someone he cared for, and truly regrets it. Maybe.

But the white-collar criminal? Their "sorry" is totally disingenuous, for they had plenty of time to realize that what they were doing was wrong. But they did it anyway.

Bernie Madoff was so sorry that he kept ripping folks off for years. Just think of what he'd have done if he had no remorse at all!

Of course, I'd still like to know where all the supposed financial watch dogs were when Madoff was doing his bidding. Joe Six-Pack inadvertently fudges a $200 deduction on his taxes and he has some 'splaining to do. Yet Madoff can, ahem, make off with billions, and it goes undetected?

Where's THAT "sorry"?

People -- and not dumb ones, either -- lost their nest eggs, their kids' college funds, and just plain life's savings thanks to Bernie Madoff's scheme. A carefully thought out, pre-meditated scheme. Madoff made a mint at the expense of cleaning others out.

But he's sorry. Ashamed.

Muck Fadoff.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Electile Dysfunction

They like to say about Michigan weather, "If you don't like it, wait five minutes. It'll change."

In Detroit, if you don't like the mayor, wait five minutes. Because HE'S likely to change.

They're holding elections and primaries in Detroit these days as if the city clerk is being paid by the leaflet.

They should install a revolving door in the mayor's office in the City County Building downtown. And an ejection seat behind the desk.

Disgraced Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick -- and judging by his behavior, I'd say the "disgraced" part is in OUR eyes, not his -- was forced out of office last summer. By charter, the City Council President -- in this case Ken Cockrel Jr. -- takes over.

That's where it gets funky, and where the city's new fetish for bugling people to the polls begins.

Kilpatrick's term officially ends on December 31, 2009. Meaning, that he would have been up for re-election this year, a primary held in August for the November general election.

The city had a choice: let Cockrel finish out Kilpatrick's term -- giving him about a year before an August 2009 primary, or begin holding primaries and elections, chopping up Kilpatrick's remaining 16 months like a Japanese steakhouse chef obliterating a stalk of celery.

Here's what's happening now.

Cockrel is mayor, but almost as soon as he took office, he had to be in re-election mode, because a February primary loomed. This gives way to a May election between the top two vote-getters from the February primary. The winner of the May election has to immediately go into re-election mode, too, because an August primary looms for a November election.

This nonsense set up the possibility that Detroit could have had four mayors in little over a year: Kilpatrick; Cockrel; the winner in May; and the winner in November.

How does this make sense?

Supporters of this flurry of elections say that Cockrel would have had an unfair advantage over his opponents come August '09, having been in office for nearly a year at that point.

Well, tough. That's the way the cookie crumbles. Besides, what if Cockrel had done a poor job? Then he would have been at a disadvantage, having been the bumbling incumbent.

Regardless, the idea, I thought, is for a mayor is to get things done -- which he can hardly do if he's constantly trying to outrun opponents nipping at his heels all the way to the next ballot box.

It's tempting to say that it's just another example of how they do things in Detroit, which isn't a compliment. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt here, but I'm just not seeing where having all these voting dates is in the best interest of the city and its residents.

I would think that after the Kilpatrick debacle, the thing Detroit would want or need the most is some degree of stability, i.e. Cockrel serving out the term and running for re-election in the August 2009 primary, on schedule. Fair and square. What the city SHOULDN'T want is staying in flux any longer than necessary.

The winner this November will, finally, have a full, four-year term with which to work. But by that point, Kilpatrick will have been out of office for about 15 months, which, frankly, are 15 lost months. Cockrel is a good man and is trying, but he truthfully is being hamstrung by constantly having to stump for his job. The Cobo Hall renovation deal is an admirable effort on his part, but so many other things are being put on hold, waiting for Detroit to choose a full-term mayor this November.

They're having too many primaries and elections in Detroit nowadays. They should have gone for quality over quantity.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Blinker: R.I.P.

Oscar Simler, they're taking your invention and killing it -- slowly and painfully.

The turn signal is moribund. As far as I can tell, it's comatose, in a vegetative state, and Dr. Kevorkian is nowhere in sight. That means there might be time for a cure, but I'm having severe doubts.

Simler is the man who patented the first automobile turn signal, back in the late-1920s. When I was growing up, we called it a "blinker." Some still do. But a growing number of folks might not call it anything, since they don't seem to know that it even exists.

When and why did this occur -- this slow, methodical signal-cide? What happened to cause a growing number of the driving nation to ignore one of the basic tenets of motor vehicle operation?

To me, the refusal to use a turn signal is the ultimate act of "screw you". It's basically one driver telling everyone else: "You don't need to know what I'm going to do. So just wait to see for yourself -- when I do it."

It's played out every day. You're behind Mr./Mrs. No Signal as you approach an intersection, or prepare to leave a commercial driveway. So, since he/she is ahead of you, they have the ultimate power: dibs on proceeding AND information on a need-to-know basis only -- namely, what the HELL they intend to do!

Screw you; you'll know soon enough.

I maintain one of the worst things you can do to another driver -- the vehicular version of rear, un-lubricated penetration -- is this little diddy. You are behind a car at a red traffic light -- and there's no left turn lane. The car has no signal on, indicating that he/she intends on proceeding straight through when the light turns green. The light turns green, and...THEN THE LEFT TURN SIGNAL COMES ON!!!

Oh. My. God.

You are now boned; penetrated anally, even though the offender is in front of you. You watch helplessly as you are now trapped behind this person, who is surely evil incarnate. To your right breezes by car after car.

I have been homicidal in that scenario.

How can one human being do that to another?

PLEASE use this. PLEASE.

I'll take the signal non-user over THAT anti-Christ of a driver, anyday.

But that doesn't excuse the frighteningly virulent non-use of the turn signal on today's highways and bi-ways.

It's rude --maybe the rudest thing you can do on the road. It smacks of driver narcissism.

I know there are some of you reading this who are among the turn signal non-users. I know there are. It would defy the law of averages if there weren't. So please don't take it personally when I say, with all due respect, that I'd like to rip your lungs out.

If you don't use the signal for me, do it for Oscar Simler's memory. The man didn't knock himself out inventing the device for it to be ignored.

Left, or right? Which will it be?

It's OK -- you can tell me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fools and Wise Men

It should have been one of the all-time greatest quotes in political history -- especially since it had been captured on film, the kind with sound, even.

The speaker was Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, and the Democrat was speaking to a group of folks on the campaign trail in 1968. The topic was, what kind of person should occupy the Oval Office?

Humphrey, at the time Lyndon Johnson's vice president, was going up against Richard Nixon, who was clearly breaking his promise made six years earlier, when he told the press that they "wouldn't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore."

Humphrey, speaking in a folksy, soft tone, began listing the ideal qualities that this country's Chief Executive ought to possess. Then, as he addressed the ongoing situation in Vietnam and how he'd bring an end to it, Humphrey dropped this gem on the crowd.

"Any fool can get this country into trouble," he said. "It takes a wise man to get it out."

I saw it on YouTube, the video version of Google. I don't even know how I stumbled onto the Humphrey speech. Such is the blessing/curse of YouTube -- you start out looking up one thing, then due to all the "related videos" that pop up, before you know it you're onto something else.

Any fool can get this country into trouble. It takes a wise man to get it out.

Why hasn't this been branded onto our brains by now? That's some great stuff!

Humphrey: was a great presidency in the offing?

Naturally, I thought of Nixon, the man who Humphrey lost to by the slimmest of margins in '68. And I thought of George W. Bush, who beat two men by the slimmest of margins. In both Nixon and Bush's cases, I thought about them in relation to the first part of that quote. You know, the fool part.

Nixon didn't start the Vietnam War, obviously. But it wasn't the war that was his, or the nation's, downfall. It was his hubris and his paranoia and his insecurity that not only brought him down politically, but the country down in terms of losing confidence in their leaders and sullying the presidential institution.

And Bush? Where do you want me to begin? That's a whole new blog, and I just started this one; not gonna start another.

But back to Humphrey. I was saddened, really, when I saw the clip because all it did was make me wonder where we'd be, even today, had Humphrey managed to nose out Nixon for the presidency in 1968. HHH gave it another shot in 1972, but couldn't get out of the primary round on the Democratic side. He couldn't even beat George McGovern, which tells you how far Humphrey's political stock had dropped in four years.

It might be silly to think that a fella could have been a great president based on one quote taken from the campaign trail. After all, politicians often talk a good game. But the manner in which Humphrey said it, combined in retrospect with the kind of presidency that Nixon had, made it extremely difficult not to take pause and fantasize about a Humphrey Oval Office occupation.

So, we've had our fool for eight years. Let's hope Barack Obama is the wise man to get us out.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Reality" Bites

Perhaps there never has been a name for an entire genre of television that's as mis-named as the term "Reality TV."

Here's what's "reality TV", in my book: a camera, or two, recording the everyday, mundane goings-on in the life of the poor sap in whose home the recording devices have been planted -- with or without his consent. You know -- feeding his washing machine, feeding his dog. Washing his dishes, washing his dog. Taking out the trash. Opening mail. Sitting on the couch, clicker in hand, channel surfing.

What do you mean, BORING?

That's reality, folks. Not what's being served up on every channel, it seems, on the "dial" (remember THAT term?) these days, from CBS to Bravo to The Discovery Channel.

"Reality TV." Really?

This is one of the versions of "reality TV" that the networks are cramming down our throats, and note that it's a lot different than my version a few paragraphs ago: Contestants (GOTTA have contestants) vie for some sort of "prize". Judges with smarmy attitudes humiliate them. Crying happens. Contestants get eliminated, like chess pieces. More judging. More crying. The chess pieces go home, until just the King (or Queen) remains. "Drama" ensues when the contestants/chess pieces invariably don't get along with each other, and now THEY'RE getting smarmy attitudes, too.

Version two is a closer play on my "home" version from above. Strategically-placed cameras -- some operated by robots, other by people, do indeed follow Joe Shmoe around. But Shmoe has a family, or a girlfriend, and boy, do they have constant drama! More drama than, frankly, the shows that the networks used to produce -- the ones with scripts and actors and everything.

If you think that "reality TV" seems to have more ups and downs than a Six Flags rollercoaster -- and thus way more than anything that's really real, well there you have it. And if you suspect, like me, that their version of "reality" just might include some not-so-real moments of scripted strife, then I commend you for your observation skills.

The fact is, "reality TV" -- and I refuse to write it without the quotes -- doesn't have a lick of reality to it at all.

But it's, sadly, here to stay, because why pay writers and actors and stuff when you can prop up a bunch of Joe and Jane Shmoes, give them some framework of direction to follow, and tell them to have at it? And don't think that there aren't some "take twos" involved. ABC's recently-maligned "The Bachelor" brought the suspicion of scripted "reality TV" to the fore. I'm on that conspiracy theory bandwagon, big time.

Am I simply being cynical? Naah -- just real.

OK, Why Enotes?

To be honest, I was fine writing just about sports, and nothing BUT sports. One of my sports writing heroes, the late George Puscas of the Detroit Free Press, said in his farewell column that, in his mind, he didn't know why anyone would want to write about anything OTHER than sports. And I agree.

But life has a way of poking its head up and saying, "There's more going on here than what the Tigers, Pistons, Red Wings, and Lions are up to -- even though it may not be as much of a diversion or release."

A few things poked their heads up: a teenage daughter, soon to be 16 and attracting boys; a 16-year-plus marriage that provides writing material; and my decidedly left-leaning political views that really showed themselves during the recent presidential campaign. All that and more, as they say, led me to think that perhaps sports writing is just not big enough anymore.

So appearing here will be political rants, social commentary, observations, the absurdity of life (which could be all those aforementioned things, come to think of it), and basically anything not involving a puck, a pigskin, a horsehide, or a hoop.

The blog's name? A play on my last name, plus the use of the letter "e" seems to signify anything on the Web anymore (e-commerce, e-mail, etc). It's all very neat and compact, yet...NOW.

And, like I say in the blog description on the banner: I apologize in advance.