Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heaton Up Again

I'm not sure what it says on McLean Stevenson's tombstone, but if I were commissioned to write it, I'd keep it simple, stupid.

"I should never have left M*A*S*H"

I tend to think of actors like Stevenson around this time of year, when the new fall shows debut.

I'm thinking now of those opposite of Stevenson, like the wonderful Patty Heaton, who played Ray Romano's beleaguered wife in "Everybody Loves Raymond" for that show's entire nine-season run.

Heaton---give her credit---didn't give up on the TV sitcom format, even though it would have been easy to say, "I'll never have anything like 'Raymond' ever again," and not even try another show.

She hooked up with another TV comedic veteran, Kelsey Grammer, in the pun-titled "Back to You," a cute premise involving TV news co-anchors who also just happen to be ex-husband and wife. That show hit the airwaves in fall, 2007, but only lasted about a year.

Heaton's "Raymond" co-star Brad Garrett (Ray's brother, Robert) teamed with the adorable Joely Fisher in "Til Death," about a longtime married couple who must deal with a bubbly newlywed couple who moves in next door. That series ran from 2006-08.

Now Heaton is back, in a new ABC comedy called "The Middle," in which she plays, well, a beleaguered wife---again.

But that's OK. How many different roles are there for women in sitcoms, anyway?

Now, back to Stevenson.

McLean was a funny guy who found himself in the role of a lifetime---that of Colonel Henry Blake in "M*A*S*H," the new TV version of the acclaimed film.

But Stevenson only stayed for four seasons, leaving the wildly popular show to "pursue other interests."

Sigh.



Stevenson (top) and Heaton: A tale of two different career paths


From then on, it was a career filled with bad movies, bad TV shows, and frequent game show appearances. Nothing wrong with the game show thing, but Stevenson could have had so much more, if only he'd stayed with "M*A*S*H."

But at least he had a sense of humor about himself; Stevenson used to have a license plate that read, "13 WKS," in reference to the standard 13-week commitment all new network shows would get.

McLean Stevenson was canceled more times than Sports Illustrated subscriptions after their annual swimsuit issue.

His vehicles post-"M*A*S*H" were a distinct case of quantity over quality.

"The McLean Stevenson Show" (1976-77); "In the Beginning" (1978); "Hello, Larry" (1979-80); "Condo" (1983)---if you aren't familiar with these bombs, you're very excused.

Incidentally, "M*A*S*H" ran from 1972-83---or until Stevenson was done bombing on various networks.

Yet as successful as Patty Heaton was by virtue of staying with Ray Romano's crew, I still feel for her, in a way.

How can you even come close to recapturing the camaraderie, success, and fun of working on a show like "Raymond" for nine years?

But she's an actor, and I guess that's what actors do---they work.

Besides, who knows? Maybe "The Middle" will find a toehold, where "Back to You" wasn't able.

If Heaton does the "quantity over quality" thing, it won't be because she left a prized show too soon.

She won't be one who'll be kicking herself, all the way to the final destination.

McLean no doubt had hoof marks on his rear end by the time he passed away in 1996, at age 68.

Good ole "13 WKS" himself.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Skullduggery

Adolph Hitler is dead, alright---but maybe not how we thought.

Some recent DNA testing has indicated that what was thought to be the skull of the Nazi dictator is, in fact, not.

Not Hitler's, but that of a woman, no less, probably no older than 40.

Hitler was presumed to have taken his life in 1945, along with mistress Eva Braun, when he was 56 years old.

University of Connecticut archaeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni knew from the outset that something was amiss. "The bone seemed very thin; male bone tends to be more robust," he said. "And the sutures where the skull plates come together seemed to correspond to someone under 40." Hitler had turned 56 in 1945.

It's been universally accepted that Hitler took cyanide and then blew his brains out with a gun in his Berlin bunker as Allied forces closed in on him, with Braun replicating his actions on herself.

But scientists at UConn conducted tests on the bullet-pierced skull---which had been secretly preserved for decades by Soviet intelligence---and discovered that it belonged to an unidentified woman under 40.

That wouldn't seem to match Adolph's description.

So if that's the case---if the skull fragment long thought to be Hitler's actually isn't---then what really happened to him?

It could be that the story of his death is still accurate, and that the skull fragment is simply someone else's.

"It could be anyone," Bellantoni says of the piece of skull long thought to belong to Hitler. "Many people were killed around the bunker area," he added.

Cue the conspiracy wackos.





Hitler escaped!! He lived for decades longer, perhaps plotting more atrocities.

A: Doubtful; B: So what?

Before you pepper me with venomous e-mails, does it really matter when Hitler croaked? After all, not a peep was heard from him after his alleged death occurred. Do you actually think that someone of his ego would simply go away, never to be heard from again?

All that matters is that the world didn't have to worry about Adolph Hitler anymore after his 1945 "death."

The presumed bodies of Hitler and Braun were wrapped in blankets, doused with gasoline, and then set on fire.

Bellantoni also doesn't believe that the skull fragment thought to be Hitler's is actually Braun's, despite the gender matching and the age being close. Braun was 33 when she presumably died in April 1945.

Hitler, sadly, has been in the news quite a bit lately. Before this rather startling revelation about his skull, this country has been inundated with Hitler references, by those lesser intelligent of us who have compared President Obama and his health care reform to Nazism.

So be prepared to hear delusions of grandeur about Hitler and his slipping through the Allies' fingers and dashing off to parts unknown, to live a quiet and simple life, with nary a peep.

He'll join Elvis that way, I guess. There are folks among us---maybe the same ones who believe the moon landing to be faked---who still refuse to believe that Mr. Presley died.

Sometimes we go the opposite way; remember when rumors began---propagated by Detroit's own DJ, Russ Gibb---that Beatle Paul McCartney had, in fact, died? And the group supposedly left clues of his demise in their songs?

Isn't it funny how we, at the same time, are reluctant to believe that folks who died are dead and those that are living are still alive?

Nothing kills a good story like the truth, eh?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Drive-Through

They say you can't go back home again. That, and you can't go to the drive-in movies again. At least not with as much convenience.

They used to sprout all over the land---the drive-in movie theaters of America.

They died a slow death, the drive-ins did. Their big screens stood above the horizon like tombstones in a cemetery, unused and garish reminders of a day gone by. Then, even the tombstones got knocked down, leaving only weeds growing around the feet of the speaker stands.

There's a wonderful photo that first appeared in LIFE Magazine, taken in the 1950s when "The Ten Commandments" was a new release motion picture. The photo was shot with a wide-angle lens and showed a typical drive-in movie theater of the day.

Charlton Heston's Moses filled the huge screen, during the scene where he parts the Red Sea. In the foreground are all the cars---hundreds of them---parked, following the action.

The drive-in was THE place to be in the 1950s and '60s.

It was a place to hang out---to be seen as well as to see movies. Kids would sneak buddies in via the trunk---back when tickets were sold individually. Then the theaters wised up and just charged per car.

Young, awkward Romeos and Juliets snuggled in the front seat---this was when lots of cars had bench seats---and had their first hand-holding and cuddling (or more) experience.

And let's not forget the refreshment stands and their between-movie ads. For a fun-filled trip down memory lane, go to YouTube and type in the right search string and enjoy.

Our daughter's favorite is the dancing hot dog that jumps into its bun. Trust me, it exists.

As a kid, our drive-in (back when everyone had their own neighborhood drive-in) was the Algiers, at the northeast corner of Wayne Road and Warren Road, in Westland. There's a McDonald's there now---as if.

I'd get into my jammies and bring a pillow and I was ready to go---sure to be out like a light when we got home. I have vague memories of my dad carrying me from the car to the house, like a kidnap victim who's been chloroformed.


The photo that first appeared in LIFE Magazine (that's Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments")


But I'm proud to say that my wife and I (she grew up on drive-ins, too) passed down the tradition of watching movies from the car to our daughter. Most of the open-air theaters were long gone, of course, but there was always the Ford-Wyoming.

The F-W (it's still there) has nine screens, spread out over two corners of Ford Road and Wyoming in Dearborn. And that's where we'd head, when we wanted to scratch that itch.

Our little girl loved it. She'd be in jammies, too, and the movies were the usual Disney/animated stuff, or something like "The Incredible Hulk" or one of the "Batman" flicks.

In 2002, after having already made a verbal commitment to take the gang to the drive-in, I was caught in a dilemma.

It was the same night, turns out, as Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals---the Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes.

No worries. Along came the earphones, the portable TV, and the AC/DC adapter. All with Mrs. Eno's approval, of course.

The movie? I couldn't tell you what it was. But the game went into triple overtime before Igor Larionov ended it. I must not have been alone, because when Igor scored, I could hear hoots and hollers from other vehicles. By this time, wife and daughter are out cold, so I had to do one of those "silent" cheers---when your mouth makes the requisite contortions of screaming, but no sound comes out.

It's one of my more memorable drive-in experiences.

Aside from the F-W, you're mostly out of luck if you're looking for a drive-in theater nowadays. The Silverdome teased us with some drive-in action in its parking lot after the Lions moved out, but that fizzled out quickly.

There was just something about watching a movie in your car. Not sure what it was. Something about the gravel lot and the tinny metal speakers and the too-far-away refreshment stand.

Maybe we'll pile back into the jalopy and set out for Ford and Wyoming again, one of these nights.

I could go for a kielbasa-sized dill pickle for three bucks.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gee, Gordon!

It happened at a party, and the story isn't apocryphal. It's been confirmed by too many people.

The tough guy lawyer and former FBI man enthralled the guests as held his hand near an open flame. As people gasped, the tough guy drew his hand nearer to the flame.

So this man, once described by a former supervisor at the bureau as a "wild man"and "superklutz," kept his hand near the flame long enough until his flesh started to burn. Finally, he withdrew it.

Someone asked him what the trick was.

"The trick," Gordon Liddy said, "is not minding."

Today, Liddy is 78 and is still going strong, his radio show syndicated by over 160 stations across the country.

It's hard to imagine that the White House was once crawling with creeps like Liddy, though, back in the day.

Liddy was a New Jersey kid, from Hoboken---the town of Frank Sinatra. He was raised Catholic, and eventually entered the Army, serving during the Korean War. But a burst appendix kept him home, as an artillery officer.

Then it was off to study law, at Fordham University, and who knows where Gordon got his penchant for wildness, as indicated by the unflattering adjectives mentioned above while Liddy worked for J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI. Yet Liddy earned multiple commendations from Hoover, becoming, at age 29, the youngest Bureau Supervisor the FBI had.

In what sounds like a scene from "And Justice for All...," Liddy once fired a gun in a courtroom during jury summation, while an assistant DA.

Liddy hooked up with Richard Nixon in 1968, running Nixon's presidential campaign in the 28th district of New York. That's how he muscled his way into the eventual president's inner circle.

Scary, isn't it, that the likes of Liddy and H.R. Haldeman and John Mitchell and John Ehrlichman ruled the roost at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Theirs was a secret society/Mafia/fraternity, all rolled into one. They engaged in political dirty tricks, unlawful surveillance, and threatened those who didn't share their views of politics, or of how a White House should be run.


G. Gordon Liddy (the "G" stands for George)


And these were the men who were advising Tricky Dick from 1969-73, until the you-know-what hit the fan and they all ended up in jail and Nixon resigned in disgrace.

It should be noted that it was Liddy who was the "mastermind" behind the Watergate burglary. He didn't participate, per se, but it was alleged that he supervised from a nearby building.

Most of those ne'er-do-wells from Nixon's inner circle are dead now---none of them really lived a long life---but Liddy persisted, authoring books, hosting radio shows, and even acting. He stopped pulling parlor tricks like the hand-over-the-flame thing, but he didn't really mellow.

He's made many controversial statements on the air, not the least of which was this gem, barked out in August, 1994.

"Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests" ... "They've got a big target on there, ATF. Don't shoot at that, because they've got a vest on underneath that. Head shots, head shots.... Kill the sons of bitches."

Stuff like that.

Liddy acted in episodes of "Miami Vice" and "MacGyver," to name a couple. If you go to his website, you're hit smack in the face with the Capitol dome and an American flag.

It's funny, really, because Liddy spent a lot of his time in the White House trying to circumvent both of those institutions.

How do you suffer Gordon Liddy?

The trick is not minding.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Papa John

It's a toss-up, really, as to who is on the highest number of their nine lives right now: Danny Bonaduce or Mackenzie Phillips.

Danny---Big Red---can't have too many left. The child star from "The Partridge Family" has self-destructed more times than the tape recorder in "Mission: Impossible." But somehow he keeps rising.

Phillips, the child star from "One Day at a Time," has come out with some memoirs that claim she slept with her father, singer/performer John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas.

It allegedly happened when Mac was 19, and on the cusp of her marriage, no less. She claims that her father wanted to prevent the wedding and went so far as to get her into a drug-induced stupor and have sex with her.

Believe me, it was far worse typing those words than it was for you to read them.

Phillips, like Bonaduce, has teetered and tottered on the brink of both career and physical demise more often than what is normally accepted by the gods of fate.

Drugs have been Mac's Waterloo. She's another whose life on TV sets trumped life in the classroom or at home. Another who starred in a TV show and damn near died because of it.

While Bonaduce's life has often resembled a roller coaster slamming headlong into the field at the Indy 500, Mac Phillips' creepshow is almost too sordid for consumption sans ipecac syrup.

She went on Oprah's show on Wednesday, discussing her new book, "High on Arrival."

To wit (the following excerpts thanks to this story from CNN.com):

"I woke up that night from a blackout and found myself having sex with my own father," Phillips read aloud from her book, during the hour-long interview with Winfrey---referring to a night not long before her wedding.

"I came out of that blackout and realized what was happening. ... I slid right back into it and woke up the next morning in my own hotel room and not with him," she continued to read.

"Your father is supposed to protect you, not [expletive] you."

John Phillips died in 2001.

Mackenzie Phillips, now 49, said she was 17 or 18 the first time she can remember having sex with her father.

Sadly, it gets weirder.

When Mac confronted John Phillips and told him they needed to talk about how he raped her, she said, he responded with confusion. "'Raped you? Don't you mean when we made love?'

"I thought, wow, I'm really on my own here," Mac told Oprah.

There's more.

"Over time, in 1980, I'm on the road with my Dad in the New Mamas and Papas, and I begin waking up after drug-fueled events with my pants around my ankles and my father sleeping beside me," Phillips recalled. "It didn't happen every day, it didn't happen every week, but it certainly happened many times."


Mackenzie Phillips, discussing incest and drug abuse---and her new book---on "Oprah"


The epiphany came after the pair toured with the New Mamas and Papas in Hawaii, where Phillips had adjoining rooms with her father. She said she rarely went to her own room during that trip, and one night she found herself in bed next to her father in a drug-induced stupor.

"Dad said, 'We could just run away to Fiji, and we could take [his children] Bijou and Tamerlane and raise them as our own,' " Phillips recounted to Winfrey. "He was delusional, talking about living with me as man and wife, and raising my siblings, his children, as our children. The moment he tried to make it romantic, I thought, we're going to hell for this."

I knew John Phillips was a little weird---he spawned Mac, after all---but I had no idea.

I don't think anyone saw this one coming.

This isn't funny. Not even in an "Eww, gross!" way. Now we can make Mackenzie Phillips a little more of a sympathetic figure. Now we can understand a little more why she went through most of her teens and 20s as high as a kite.

Not surprisingly, Mac Phillips's recollection is being challenged.

Her former stepmother, Genevieve Waite, released a statement to the "Oprah Winfrey Show" denouncing Phillips' account.

"I am stunned by Mackenzie's terrible allegations about her father," Waite wrote. "I would often complain about her overly familiar attitudes towards him, and he said it was just her way. John was a good man. ... He was incapable, no matter how drunk or drugged he was, to have sexual relations with his own child."

And now he's dead---unable to refute, on his own, his daughter's horrible allegations.

Doesn't mean Mac is lying. If she is, then she's completely hopeless, and useless as a human being, as far as I'm concerned.

Despite the disgusting aspect of this horrific, alleged behavior, maybe some good will come out of it.

"I can't be the only one this has happened to," Mac said. "Someone needs to put a face on not only nonconsensual incest, but consensual incest, and I know that I can't be the only one who's lived through this.

"So in finding this redemption, maybe I'm helping someone else."

Yeah, that's it. Let's look at it that way.

Please.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DeLayed Reaction

Tom DeLay is through as a lawmaker.

His political career cannot possibly continue. He's done, like dinner.

Grab the shovels and start pouring dirt over his metaphorical coffin.

DeLay, the former House Majority Leader, took his turn on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" last night and after viewing the two-and-a-half minute display, I can tell you that DeLay can never again run for political office.

I hope it was worth it.

We've elected a B-movie actor to the highest office in the world. A professional wrestler has become governor. Congress is filled with former entertainers and athletes. Same with city councils and state legislatures.

But after DeLay danced the cha cha with all the grace and finesse of a jackhammer last night, he can never again put a suit and tie on and act congressional.

It would be impossible to look at DeLay now with any degree of seriousness. He had his fun, which is fine, but it's a tit-for-tat thing.

Dance with the stars. Never show your face in Washington again.

Not that I'm complaining.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, I rarely saw eye-to-eye with the Republican DeLay, as you could imagine. I found him to be churlish, smug, and a smart aleck. Not unlike most others in his party.

I think it's terrific if DeLay is fulfilling a dream and enjoying the heck out of himself as he tries to dance, no matter how much it makes you want to turn away. It's his life, after all.

But he's over with when it comes to politics. He can't recover from this one.


DeLay and partner Cheryl Burke, moments after DeLay ruined the cha cha forever


This is Ed Muskie and George Romney and Michael Dukakis and Gary Hart, all rolled into one. And then some.

Tom DeLay is SO an ex-lawmaker, it's not even funny.

Nor was his cha-cha-cha funny.

DeLay, dressed in a taco-brown, polyester suit, made moves and expressions I never want to see from a man of his age and stiffness, ever again.

He lip-synced---poorly---to the song "Wild Thing," and if that's all he did, that would have been bad enough. But then there was the dancing and the sliding across the floor and the air guitar playing and oh, would someone gouge my eyes out, please???

DeLay, in 150 seconds, bulk erased his career as a politician---as a staid, button-downed man of public service---and replaced it with that of your uncle Harry at the family reunion after one too many wine coolers.

It's over, Tom. Never again will you set foot into even the dog catcher's office.

If DeLay dared to run for anything, and if I was his opponent, I'd simply play his "Dancing with the Stars" performances as my political ads. I wouldn't even say anything. Just put up a graphic that says, "Can YOU take this man seriously?"

But hooray for Tom DeLay. He had the temerity and the guts to get out there and make a fool of himself in front of millions of Americans.

Come to think of it, that's not all that different from his days in Congress.

So maybe it wasn't such a leap, after all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Movie Daze

We had a thing about movies on TV in Detroit. Mainly, that we didn't always like to tune in to watch the movie itself.

Often it was the sideshow, the stuff between clips of celluloid, that drew us to the TV, back in the day.

There was The Ghoul on Saturday nights, and the sheer quality of the flicks that The Ghoul foistered on his viewers made you want to look away, until there was a break and it was time for The Ghoul, Froggy, and Cheez Whiz.

There was Rita Bell and her "Prize Movie," on in the mornings. Rita was a sweet lady (my wife once met her, working in the same building, and said she was very nice) who'd play a movie and then solicit phone calls in between, with lucky callers winning stuff.

Then there was Bill Kennedy.

Ole Bill, the former B-movie actor with the gravelly voice, which was made even croakier thanks to the cigarettes he chain-smoked on the air.

Bill Kennedy, who bellowed into the camera and sat behind a desk in front of faux bookcases. Sometimes Bill would have a guest in the studio---often times an actor or film director---and they'd chit-chat, putting the movie of the day on hold.

Bill would take phone calls, and viewers loved to pick his brain, asking him to regale them with stories of his days on movie sets.

Some B-movie actors grow up to be president. Kennedy settled for merely being King of Detroit afternoon TV.


Bill Kennedy


"Bill Kennedy at the Movies" was the name of the show, and it was really a misnomer, because Bill liked to talk. And talking isn't very mannerly behavior when you're trying to watch a movie.

No, it was really "Bill Kennedy About the Movies." Bill had the stories, and whether they were mostly true or not, it didn't matter because Kennedy enraptured his audience, which was mostly female.

He'd call his female callers "dear" and "sweetie," and try that nowadays.

The quality of movies Bill played was on a higher plane than what The Ghoul served up, but not by much. Again, when it came to Kennedy's show, the star wasn't the movie---it was the host.

Just like with The Ghoul and Rita Bell.

They did Bill's show from both channel 50 in Detroit and channel 9 over in Windsor, depending on what part of history you're talking about. Either way, Kennedy brightened the weekday afternoons for a gazillion homemakers and retired dears and sweeties.

Bill's long gone, of course. Rita Bell isn't with us anymore, either.

The Ghoul?

He's still kicking, somewhere. Overday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pot Disses Kettle

If George W. Bush thinks you're a nitwit, then what must that mean for you?

If the Republican party picks someone as a VP candidate that the sitting president of its own party finds laughable, then what does that say about the GOP?

Bush, it turns out, had some serious reservations about Sarah Palin's candidacy for vice president, as he learned about it last summer---according to sourced information that was recently released.

"Who is she, the Governor of Guam?," Bush was quoted as saying derisively as White House aides looked on, stunned.

"I might have met her once or twice before," the president said.

After joking, Bush then expressed sincere concern.

"This woman is being thrust into a position that she's not ready or prepared for," he said, according to the source. "Let's see her and her family after five days."

Whoa.

John McCain certainly doesn't have to run his VP choice by the sitting president for approval, but the comments by Bush underline the rapidity and perhaps recklessness by which Palin was chosen for the ticket, for Bush's words indicate that he wasn't exactly well-prepped for the news.

One day we're going to find out just what McCain was thinking.




John McCain didn't select Sarah Palin---he unleashed her on an unsuspecting country.

She's a pretty, photogenic woman, and I'm sure she's very nice, but she wasn't anywhere near being ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. And there's no revisionist historian good enough to convince anyone otherwise.

I can't wait for McCain's memoirs. I only hope he gets to writing them while he can still remember.

Yeah---an old man joke. Guilty as charged.

Another old man joke is Bush, and it's so funny that a man of his intellect felt free enough to take a jab at Palin's resume.

But that's the GOP for you---a party so dysfunctional, it makes the Gosselins look like Ward and June Cleaver.

This is getting old for me, because I'm finding myself saying it over and over again. But when the square peg is being forced into the round hole, you don't blame the peg.

Don't anyone dare blame Sarah Palin for her unleashing. In a perfect world, she would have politely declined McCain's offer, telling him that she's not qualified but thank you for the thought.

But that's a lot to ask of someone with aspirations. How many times do you get asked to be vice president?

It's a twist on the old joke.

McCain wanted the female vote in the worst way. And that's exactly what he did.

George W. Bush, no less, thought Sarah Palin was a poor, inept choice.

How'd you like THAT on your resume?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Murder in the Backyard

Twenty-four years ago, I read a book and it scared me half to death. That's what'll happen, when you read about gruesome murders that took place right in your own backyard.

The book was titled "Michigan Murders," by Edward Keyes, and it chronicled---sometimes in gory detail---the killing spree of one John Norman Collins in and around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in the late-1960s.

Collins, who's still in prison up in Marquette, was only convicted of one of the murders---that of Karen Sue Beineman---but it's widely believed that Collins was responsible for the deaths of up to six girls, mostly college students from Eastern Michigan University.

What made the book so stark in its reality was that I was foolish enough to read it while attending EMU, in my senior year.

Many of the events took place in Ypsilanti, near the EMU campus, and Keyes describes them in detail---sometimes with addresses---so it was damn near impossible not to get the creeps reading it, considering I was very familiar with many of the venues.

Collins was a member of Theta Chi fraternity, and while I attended school from 1981-85, a nasty little ditty was still being uttered.

"Be a Thet, kill your date."

Lovely, eh?

Keyes gives the address of one of the houses Collins lived in while he was killing girls, and it just happened to be a house I would drive by frequently in my travels around campus.

My good friend Cory Bergen's parents knew the Michigan State Trooper uncle of Collins. And it was in that trooper's home that Collins allegedly murdered one of his victims. Cory told me he'd been inside that home many times as a child.

The "Eww!" factor.


Collins during his 1970 trial


Collins much more recently


I brought on some of the creepiness myself.

Once I trudged over to the campus library and dragged out old yearbooks, having learned by reading the book that Collins was a member of the ski team for a time.

It didn't take me long to spot Collins in a group photo of the ski club, smiling broadly. Turns out that when that photo was taken, Collins had already likely killed several girls.

More "Eww!" factor.

Collins' modus operandi was pretty much this: he'd charm a girl, sometimes on his motorcycle, and offer her a ride. Then he'd kill her---under one strange condition.

If the girl was menstruating, Collins killed her. He apparently was disgusted by a woman's monthly period.

Yeah. I know.

During the investigation of Collins, who emerged as a key suspect because he was the last one to be seen with Beineman while she was alive, it was discovered that Collins had a nasty history of what we today call sexual harassment, and violence against women.

Another ghoulish thing was that Collins apparently liked to go back to where he dumped the bodies and just hang out by them. Some cigarette butts and other items indicating someone had been spending time were found by several of the victims.

Beineman, the poor thing, was confirmed to have said, upon agreeing to hitch a ride with Collins on his bike, "I must be either the bravest or stupidest girl alive."

Sadly, it was the latter.

The families of the other victims of John Norman Collins, a Warren kid, didn't get the closure that Beineman's family did, because Collins was only tried on the one crime.

"The Michigan Murders," strangely, never used anyone's real name---including Collins himself. He was called James Nolan Armstrong. Not sure why---the book was clearly a depiction of Collins' crimes.

But to read a book of such real-life horror---Keyes details the decomposition of several victims when they were found---and then to remind yourself that it all took place in and around your burg is pretty freaking creepy.

Still, it was a gripping experience, reading "The Michigan Murders." In a bizarre way, I'm glad I read it while still living near campus.

Guess we all like to have the excrement scared out of us from time to time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A New Low

I try to avoid writing about sports here, because I have other venues for that kind of stuff.

But then again, this isn't really about sports today. It's about common decency---and an ill-conceived idea for a sports column.

Mark Whicker is a sports columnist for the Orange County Register, and he needs a spanking. Some would say he needs a lot worse than that, and I can't say that I blame them.

Whicker apparently has never heard of the old equation, "Comedy= Tragedy + Time."

And no, this isn't about 9/11, despite today's date.

Whicker wrote a column the other day, making light of the 18 years lost by Jaycee Dugard, the young woman who was held captive and forced to bear children.

And yes, he was making light of it, despite his "apology" and anything he goes on record saying.

The column ticked off a laundry list of news events in the sports world that Jaycee has missed, in light of being a prisoner for 18 years.

As if she---or her family---gives a rat's ass about any of them.

Whicker took ownership of the piece, which he maintains he conceptualized all by himself, under no directives by any editor(s).

The column has been slammed, predictably and justifiably.

The Huffington Post said Whicker's piece was "The Single Most Tasteless Sports Column In The History Of Written Language."

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. I only wish the HP could have made a stronger statement.

Whicker, who I'm familiar with, unlike most folks, committed the most faux of pas. He's a good writer who lost his sense of decency--completely.

Dugard has only been free for a few weeks now. And, to be frank, I'm not sure there would ever be an appropriate time to write the garbage Whicker wrote, much less so soon after the fact.

So Mark Whicker figured he stumbled upon a great idea for a column: "inform" poor Jaycee of all that she's missed in the world of sports.

What a clever, yet dumb man.


Showing Jaycee instead of Whicker, because she's much more beautiful---inside and out


As usual, the uproar has completely taken the offender by surprise. Which is just more fodder to classify Whicker as a complete moron.

I'm not sure which is worse: writing such dreck, or being shocked and surprised by the negative reaction.

Whicker seems to feel some justification for writing the piece---again, adding fuel to the fire.

Here are portions of what he said about the column, in an e-mail to a Fanhouse writer, with my comments in bold italics:

1. It was my concept, which was to... show just how long 18 years in confinement really is, in the context of sports, which is something sports readers understand, presumably.. If you say "18 years" that's a little abstract and incomprehensible. If you say "Michael Jordan hadn't won an NBA championship yet," that's a little easier to fathom.

Oh. My. God. Whicker doesn't think we stupid sports fans can comprehend 18 years except in terms of sports events? Eighteen years is "abstract and incomprehensible"? The only thing "incomprehensible" is Whicker's stupidity.


2. I don't think writing about something in a sports context "trivializes" it at all. The idea that sports writers should ignore the outside world went out a long time ago.

No, but the idea of mocking it should have gone out a long time ago, too.

3. I am quite surprised by the angry tone of the reaction. Some have asked me why I didn't make light of the 9/11 attack or the Holocaust while I was at it, ignoring the fact that this woman is alive. For 18 years the family didn't know if she was or not. Obviously I mis-read the emotional component of this story because the reaction really has been quite extreme. I think the intent of the column was still valid. I could have changed some ways of expressing it to make it more palatable, I suppose.

Oh, so because Jaycee is alive, then all is well. She's fair game. The fact that she's alive must mean that she feels so lucky to be so, and that it could certainly be worse. I won't even bother to write one word that states how obviously abhorrent that viewpoint is.

And Whicker thinks he could have made his offensive, disgusting column "more palatable"??

In other words, just as churlish but not as offensive. Now THAT'S a pro for you!


So here's to Mark Whicker, whose name should now be made into its own noun, a metaphor for classlessness, bad taste, and stupidity. From here on out, anyone who commits such an egregious display of poor taste and idiocy should be described as having committed a "Whicker."

Moron.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

GPS=Getting Pretty Silly

Where is America going that we need so many directions?

GPS systems/devices are all the rage. Smart-as-whips gizmos that tell us when to turn left or right, how far it is to our destination, and even suggesting possible shortcuts.

It's becoming a status symbol of the 21st century---whether or not you have one of these electronic navigators in your vehicle. I've seen grown men bursting at the seams about their GPS systems.

Where is everyone going, that they don't know how to get there?

I don't know about you, but I pretty much always know where everything is, when it comes to where I venture on a normal basis.

The Target. The mall. The grocery store. The ballpark, on occasion. My mother's house. The movie theater.

McDonald's. The local Thai joints. Suzy's Party Store. CVS. The race track, on occasion.

Another mall. A friend's house. The pharmacy for our dog's meds. The 7-Eleven.

Yeah, I can make it to all these places---and more!!---without the computer riding shotgun.

So where is everyone going?

There's also something called Mapquest or Google Maps or the like, if I'm going somewhere for the first time. A few mouse clicks, a little typing, then hit "PRINT" and I have my GPS on paper.

Those sites are based on something called maps, which used to be found in every car's glove compartment.

Sometimes I don't even need the Internet. Just give me some cross streets and I'm usually good to go.

"North of Big Beaver, west of Coolidge."

Got it; see you there!



I know there are plenty of folks who drive as part of their job. And they drive A LOT. Understood. But seems to me that those are the people who should REALLY know their way around the tri-county area, like a cab driver.

Yet the cars being made today come equipped with dashboards that look like an array of airplane instruments---not the least of which are these GPS things.

I don't even like it when a person barks out directions to me while I'm driving. Makes me nervous. I can't imagine a face-less, computer-generated voice doing it.

I just don't know where everyone is going. It's like America is heading everywhere for the very first time.

Now, if they come out with a GPS system that can tell me whether I should use the drive-thru lane or go inside, come talk to me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pupil Haze

The day after Labor Day. Time for those three little words.

Back to school.

Three words that inspire either angst or elation---or retail dollar signs, depending on your perspective.

Back to school.

Another school year has officially begun---some districts began before Labor Day---and with it comes nine more months of the unknown.

For the parents of a 16-year-old girl---that would include my wife and me---the next nine months are likely to be a roller coaster ride.

Driver's ed somewhere out on the horizon. Boys. Teachers. Catty girls. Homework up the ying-yang (and if you've ever had homework up the ying-yang, you know how painful that can be).





Back to school.

The alarm clock gets set again for 6:00 a.m. Another nine months of trying to get the kids to eat breakfast---you'll even settle for cold pizza from the fridge if that's the ticket. Our daughter's stomach doesn't open for business in the wee hours, so we're thinking about buying her an IV. (Just kidding, honey---probably).

Back to school.

The nest empties for seven hours a day now, almost a full work day. Better have some vittles ready at 2:30, because the kids come home starved!

About the homework. Mom and dad are steeling ourselves in our house, bracing for the onslaught. Kid girl gets the worst of it, of course, but us parents are hardly spared. There's just so much of it, and the children need help just to keep up with the volume.

Back to school for my wife and me, too.

I'm glad that I already have my degree, because in this second go-round of high school academics, old dad isn't faring too well.

I've been looked at cross-eyed more than once by our daughter when she comes home from school with news of a poor grade on a math assignment I helped her with. And I get the math homework because I'm supposedly good at math.

Yeah, sure---math that they taught circa the 1970s. And math that was actually taught in high school. The stuff they're doling out new is best served on a campus in Cambridge, Mass.

I feel dumber and dumber every year that our daughter advances through the school system, climbing that ladder toward graduation. I think by her senior year she'll be smarter than me.

Already I think she would tell you it's pretty close.

Back to school.

The opposite of the Alice Cooper anthem.

Nine more months of teachers' (and my daughter's) dirty looks.

Maybe I'll take some night school, to keep up.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Jerry's Angry Kids

We're coming up on another Labor Day, and another chance for Jerry Lewis to trot out his wheelchair-bound kids and put on his annual pity party.

And I have just put the feelings, into words, of those who aren't enamored with Lewis's annual telethons---which includes those afflicted with the very disease that Lewis aims to fund every September.

It came to light about a decade or so ago, when the folks who were advocates for those with Muscular Dystrophy began to look cross-eyed at Lewis and his telethons. He may have been well-meaning, they said, but his presentation ran counter-productive to what those advocates believed in---namely, that people with MD can lead lives with impact.

But Lewis didn't seem to understand that notion. Never one to be accused of subtlety, Jerry Lewis unsurprisingly went the maudlin route, and portrayed the kids with MD as being "half" of everyone else, due to their disability.


Jerry Lewis, with one of those whose type he's described as being "half a person"


That approach may have been better accepted in the 1970s and '80s, but as years went on and attitudes changed about people with disabilities and with debilitating illnesses---not the least of which involved focusing on what they could do instead of what they couldn't do---Lewis's annual TV show became more of an albatross for the MD advocates than a shot in the arm.

"Jerry's Kids" was what those afflicted were called, and that was fine, until the term became simply a metaphor for "screwed."

No one says that having MD is one of the better hands that you could be dealt. But Lewis, according to the people charged with bringing a positive outlook to the party, went above and beyond in drilling into our skulls that those with the disease were to be pitied, instead of boosted.

It made for a strange dynamic---because the people who took issue with Lewis nonetheless were appreciative of the money he was able to raise via the telethon. So they kind of felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.

But as the 21st century dawned, more and more advocates of MD victims became less and less shy to state their displeasure with Mr. Lewis and his archaic portrayal of those afflicted.

It was embarrassing to them. Made them uncomfortable. They feared it made the entire movement look pathetic.

Of course, none of that stopped Lewis from trotting on to the stage every Labor Day, shepherding the call for pledges.

Even Lewis's refusal to fully disclose why he chose MD as his cause, and why he put on the telethons to begin with---which was for a time looked at as being rather charming---became another sore point.

The bottom line: people with MD are sick of the way Jerry Lewis has been portraying them on TV every Labor Day. Yet they take the money he raises.

It's a strange dynamic, indeed.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hold the Sugar

Quick---someone check Coleman Young's grave for signs of spinning.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing trudged over to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday and told the leaders there---plus state politicos who showed up---that his city is broke, which isn't news to anyone who's been half paying attention.

Bing appeared and all but plunged his hands inside his pants pockets and turned them inside out in front of everyone in attendance.

See? No moolah.

"Detroit needs Oakland County," Bing said. "Detroit needs Macomb. Detroit needs Wayne County."

Can you imagine Hizzoner, Young, doing such a thing?

Of course, no matter what you think of Young---Detroit's mayor from 1973-93---he never presided over a city that was in the financial straits that Motown finds itself in currently.

Bing's visit to the Oakland County Commission was the first, according to today's Detroit Free Press, since Kwame Kilpatrick's about five years ago. But, the Freep noted, Bing carried none of the cocky swagger that Kwame had back then, nor did he sugarcoat the city's problems.

"Detroit, from a structural standpoint, is broke," Bing said with the same deadeye accuracy he exhibited as a player for the Pistons.

Then, more "the-truth-hurts" honesty from Bing.

"What we've had is failed leadership in the City of Detroit. Our City Council has been as big a disappointment as the mayor's office has been."

As the PA announcer used to say at Cobo Arena after a Bing bucket, "BINGO!"


Bing made no bones about Detroit's financial mess to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners; will his candor be rewarded?


Again, this really wasn't a case of Bing telling anyone at the meeting Wednesday night anything they didn't already know, or at least highly suspect. So it wasn't enough to state the mostly obvious. He had to go further.

Bing vowed to balance the city budget this year, indicating he's prepared to make painful cuts. Then he pointed to the region's cooperation when it came to the Cobo Center expansion plan and hoped he could call upon that same spirit again, particularly when it comes to regional transportation.

I wonder if everyone in attendance was too polite not to remind Bing that the Cobo Center thing wasn't without its dicey moments and shaky esprit de corps, but there you have it.

Bing also appealed to the roots of those in the auditorium, among whom included some state senators and reps.

"I know your heart is still in the city of Detroit."

It's unclear exactly what Bing wants from the suburbs, nor what the suburbs are willing to do. But Bing's appearance at the Commission meeting was a step in the right direction.

"I want to thank you for reaching out, said County Commissioner Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills. "That has not gone unnoticed."

Others pleaded for Bing to work with Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and other state leaders in helping to save the Michigan State Fair, which isn't funded beyond this year.

Chairman Bill Bullard, R-Highland Township, said he hopes Bing visits annually.

Quite a difference from the days of Coleman and his invisible fence along 8 Mile Road, eh?

Bingo!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Oh, Stop!

Since when is it merely a suggestion that folks actually stop at a stop sign?

Actually, it's not so much a suggestion anymore as a punch line.

STOP

Ha-ha! You're killing me!

I walk our Jack Russell Terrier several times a day thanks to his tiny little colon and his refusal to soil our backyard. So I pass a whole lot of stop signs in our neighborhood, many of which are routinely ignored or barely noticed.

It's something I notice while behind the wheel, as well.

The stop sign is becoming more and more disrespected as a rule of the road, and I'm dying to find out why.

There are some, no doubt, who are dying, period---due to the ignoring of this driving rule staple.

Now, do I come to a complete stop every time I encounter one of those red octagonal signs? I must tell the truth and say no. But nor do I cruise through them, barely tapping my brakes. I come to a virtual stop---meaning that, looking at my car from the outside, you'd likely see my tires rolling forward ever so slightly---almost without perception. Sometimes I creep forward, if there's a vehicle next to me and I need to see around it for any oncoming traffic.

But I'm pretty good with the stop signs. I respect them, even if I feel they're superfluous or it's late at night with nary a soul around.



It amazes me how often I see drivers approach a stop signed intersection and are shocked, almost, that there are other drivers (or pedestrians walking their dogs) in their midst. The brakes then get slammed, a clear indication that had there not been anyone there, the stop sign would have been totally dismissed.

Stop signs within subdivisions generally do not take the drivers within that neighborhood by surprise. Most people driving through any given residential area are mostly people who live there. They know where the stop signs are. So the excuse of noticing them at the last second is pretty much null and void.

Besides, if you're driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood, all the more reason to be on extra lookout for stop signs, as they're often placed in no discernible pattern.

The bottom line: a stop sign means stop. No matter what, no matter where, no matter how seemingly odd of a placement.

Why is that so difficult to understand? And when did drivers get so dumb, brazen, rude, etc.?

There's a mentality purveying the roads now that says, basically, "I'll do whatever the BLEEP I want and that's all there is to it." It's very unnerving and maddening, but I'll be darned if I know what to do to stem it.

Treating stop signs as nuisances is part of this mentality of the rogue driver. So is not using a turn signal, which I've railed about before.

How long does stopping at a stop sign take from your day? Five, six seconds, tops? I know that must seem like 30 seconds in jerk time, but deal with it.

Some of the worst offenders---of ANY traffic rule---are pizza delivery guys. They fall somewhere in the area of EMS drivers and cops in pursuit when it comes to being in a hurry on the road. Those pizza people are downright scary.

Oh, and one more thing to those who ignore those red signs.

Stop it!