Friday, October 30, 2009

New Feature: Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from May 27, 2009


Near Total Recall

I'll pick you up at the Stroh's plant after work, then we'll ride on our Uniroyal tires to Cunningham's Drugs for a milkshake. Better yet, a Vernor's float.

Speaking of beverages, I'm running low on Towne Club pop, so can we stop at the distribution outlet? I have my case of empty bottles in the trunk.

Then it'll be off to Great Scott! for a few groceries.

If you're good, I'll treat you to dinner downtown at the Rattlesnake Club.

After a day at Bob-Lo, of course.

Who says you can't go home anymore?

You can do it in your mind. All the time. Whenever suits your fancy.

I've pedaled my bike to Cunningham's, but for the baseball cards in the dispensing machine near the registers. Then I've traded them right out front, amidst the passers-by, with my friends.

Meet me at the Kern Clock. And while we're nearby, you can do some Father's Day shopping for me at Hudson's.

Lord help us if we ever lose the ability to have memories.

It's what can get you through, especially in these tough-as-nails times.

Readers of this blog know that I prefer yesterday to today. But that doesn't mean that I'm not willing to find out about tomorrow, and what it has to offer.

But today is tomorrow's yesterday, and something tells me that those memories might not be so hot.

How can it be, when there's no Hughes, Hatcher and Suffrin to outfit me and my men's clothing needs?

I'd discuss it with you over lunch at Red Barn, but I can't.

Maybe we'd catch a movie at the Quo Vadis theater and sit right in front, with the seats inches, it seemed, from the screen. But no can do.

There's a McDonald's where the Algiers drive-in used to be in Westland.

The horror!

I actually worked at a Cunningham's, in Ann Arbor while going to college at EMU. But it was long after they yanked the soda jerks from it.

I remember parking my car at Tigers games on Abbott Street, and the old Cunningham's warehouse on Rosa Parks Boulevard wasn't far away.

Speaking of Tiger Stadium, do they still let you drink on the roof at Hoot Robinson's? Is Hoot's even open anymore?

Can't have a burger at the Lindell AC anymore. Which means I can't admire Wayne Walker's jock strap, framed, on the wall near the ceiling.

I accumulated most of my 45 rpm records at the K-Mart. They had them hanging behind the clerk, in the order of their Billboard ranking for that week.

Oh, and don't forget to pick up some of those yellow discs with the holes in the middle, so you can play the darn things on your parents' fancy-shmancy stereo turntable.

Memories I keep alive, because, well, someone has to.


The Quo Vadis; some of the seats were so close to the screen you could touch it


There was nothing more exciting than when the Mr. Softy truck rolled by.

Soft-serve ice cream, from a truck.

You heard me.

The Mr. Softy man would park the truck, adorned with a gigantic 3-D replica of a soft-serve cone on its roof, and move to the center of the vehicle. For that's where the window was.

He wore white, and maybe even a hat.

The best hamburger in the world was at a place called Lum's, on Plymouth Road in Livonia. It was the Ollie Burger--spicy and zesty and yes, I can taste it right now.

We'd play Putt-Putt on Middlebelt, ride our bikes there, and if you were lucky you could win a free game if your ball's color lit up on the outside of the caddyshack--and you were fast enough to bring it there before the color changed.

There's a Meijer's where DRC race track once sat.

More horrors!

Of course, you can still grab some Chinese take-out at Ten Yen, so there's that, at least.

Or ribs at Alexander's, which were simply the best of all-time.

Do kids today even know how to ride a bike?

Sometimes we'd set out, in the morning in the summertime, and cruise the local ball fields looking for a game--our mitts hanging on the handlebars. And someone carried a bat.

We'd be gone all day, and no one worried. Just be home before dark; that was the only caveat from mom.

It's important to remember.

Once I bet my friend Jim Krebs that he couldn't par the par five at Whispering Willows golf course. Gave him all summer to do it. Told him I'd buy him dinner at the Fonte D'Amore restaurant on Plymouth Road.

We were in high school still, and Jim was a good golfer. But not par five good. And that was a nearly 500-yard hole.

On the last day before the bet ran out, darned if Jimmy didn't hole out in the required five strokes.

Yes, I paid him.

By the way, I wondered if old Fonte D'Amore was still open.

Did a Google and called the number.

Disconnected.

That's why you should never forget, if you can help it.

Lord help you if you can't.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Two Scents Worth

Geez, how stinky ARE our homes, anyway?

It's appearing that the technology propping up the air freshener industry is rivaling that of home security systems.

Just saw an ad on TV for a product that is equipped with motion detectors, so that when "traffic is heavier in the house"---or words to that effect---it knows when to spritz more of the smelly stuff into the air.

Wow.

Several years ago, someone let the air freshener people off their leash and now they're running wild, developing one product after another in an effort that we should all, as law-abiding, non-stinky Americans, take offense to.

To me, it's like if someone offers you a mint.

Isn't there something subliminal about that?

I know there is, because I've been that person offering the mint, and I can tell you that there was definitely an ulterior motive in doing so!

So here's an entire industry offering us various ways to "freshen up" our homes. What are they trying to tell us?

It started with these "plug-in" things---little jobby-dos that you shove into an electrical socket. Then low voltage sends pretty scents wafting through the air. Not sure what happens during a power outage, though.

It's a double whammy: no electricity, AND potential household stench in the air!



The latest in air freshener technology: the motion detector spray


I come from an era where the fanciest we got with air fresheners was the wiggly, squishy, gelatin-like "solid" that would sit on a table top or kitchen counter, gradually wasting away until it resembled a crusty piece of food left in the back of the fridge.

Then they came out with "stick ups" --- discs backed with double-stick tape that you'd place in closets, cupboards, etc.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Liquid fresheners, battery-powered, simmering away. Spritzy gadgets shooting a spray into the air every so often---usually plugged in and running on low current.

Not to mention the good, old-fashioned spray cans whose duty is usually to futilely mask the after effects of a putrid trip to the bathroom.

Now the motion detector item.

Just how smelly do these people think we are?

With all these gizmos and gadgets whirring away and motion detecting and spritzing and bubbling and wafting, there must be some homes of suckers in this country that smell like a citrusy, musky brothel.

I'm all for pleasant-smelling homes, don't get me wrong. Of course, to me, pleasant-smelling includes the scent of what we had for dinner that night.

But seems to me that an awful lot of science and technology and research and man hours are being spent on freshening the air in our homes.

They should sell those motion detector gadgets to Congress. Those things would be going off constantly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Fall of the Autumn Empire

I'm about ready to put autumn on a milk carton.

"HAVE YOU SEEN ME?"

You remember autumn, don't you? Fall? That once-lovely season wedged between summer and winter, like a crutch that we know can't possibly last but we're happy to use it as long as we can, anyway.

Fall---with its once-crisp, sunny days and crunchy leaves beneath your feet, the subtle smell of someone burning them, not too far away.

Fall---when you get into your car after it's been under the sun and turn on the A/C, only to have to turn the heat on the next morning when you hop in.

What's all this about global warming?

And who is the bloody Brit who moved here and brought his weather along with him?

Or maybe the invader came from our left flank, from Seattle. Maybe a Starbucks wonk?

Regardless, this is the worst fall on record in Michigan, nudging out last year's, which surpassed the year's prior to that.

In fact, where have any of our seasons gone? We used to have four of them in this state, you know. And they used to be dilineated. Now, they sort of run into each other. The only discernible one is winter, that Old Man who can't help but be the snow white elephant in the room.

Back in the day, I loathed the end of summer, but I was happy to see it followed by fall---and not just because of football. Mostly I liked the crispness---those days with highs in the 60s and lows in the upper-40s. Sunshine and blue sky for as far as you can see. The air was intoxicating.

Football, yes, but also cider mills and caramel apples and the brilliant colors.


Remember THIS?

Raking, I wasn't so fond of, but now we live in Madison Heights and they just let you dump the leaves into the street, a foot or so away from the curb. Funny how Warren wasn't able to purchase any of those leaf-sucking gizmos. Huh.

But today?

The sun shows itself around these parts as if it's just passing through, always with somewhere else to go. It teases us but then looks at its watch and says, "Sorry, gotta run!" and its dorky, dreary companion babysits us.

This thing of overcast skies, seemingly constant dampness and tiny windows inside which you're allowed to clear your lawn of leaves is getting old and we're not even out of October yet.

I don't know what's happened to autumn but this ain't what I remember from even four, five years ago.

And it's following a summer that wasn't really anything to write home about, either---though I didn't miss the 90 degree days all that much. Still, too much rain. To me.

And while you're at it, let me know if you see spring. I miss it, as well. But that's a whole other rant.

I'm not unreasonable here. I know there's going to be some rain during fall. I know the sun can't be out all the time. But the amount of time we spend drenched in sunshine seems to be dwindling every autumn, while the hours where squinting isn't required are starting to pile up.

Just call us London West. Or Seattle East.

Rain keeps dripping into my cup of cider and it's making me cranky.

Friday, October 23, 2009

When Soup Was On

His name was Soupy, but his game was pies.

He was Milton Supman by birth, and like so many stars of that era, his stage name was a cocktail of nicknames and nods to others.

Soupy Sales is gone, passed away at 83 and it would be nice if you had lunch today in his honor. Then, maybe tonight, take a pie in the face to top off the day.

Comedian Sales took, by his unofficial count, about 9,000 pies in the kisser over the years, beginning in the 1950s when he burst onto the scene in Detroit, hosting "Lunch with Soupy."

The pie-in-the-face routine wasn't invented by Sales, but no one made it more famous than he. It got so big that stars the likes of Frank Sinatra, no less, would line up to take a pie from Soupy, who wasn't always the recipient---he could play perpetrator, too.

Soupy Sales was minding his own business as Milton Supman, child of a Jewish dry goods merchant who had emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1894, when his older brothers attained the nicknames Ham Bone and Chicken Bone.

They started calling Milton "Soup Bone," which eventually got shortened to "Soupy." Then, while working in radio as a DJ, Milton Supman went by the stage name Soupy Hines. Though spelled differently, Hines sounded just like the famous ketchup and pickle company, so the last name was changed to Sales, after old-time comedian Chic Sale.

Got it?

I'm too young to have grown up having "Lunch with Soupy," the show he hosted from the studios of WXYZ-TV in Detroit from 1953-59. By 1960, the show had gone national, and Soupy moved to Los Angeles.

"I didn't want to be an old man, wondering if I could have made it in another market," Soupy once said.

The show was live, at lunchtime, and though it was targeted at children, lots of those kids' parents sat and watched, too. The success of the lunchtime show spawned an 11 p.m. version for the adults, which was a variety show with some sketch comedy.

But maybe the thing that truly brought Soupy Sales to the national fore was a stunt he pulled on New Year's Day in 1965.

Irked that he was working on a holiday, Sales urged his young viewers to go into their still-sleeping parents' bedrooms and "take all the green pieces of paper with presidents' pictures on them" and mail them to him.

"Then I'll send you a post card from Puerto Rico!," Soupy said on the air.

He never imagined the joke would be taken seriously.

But it did. Within days, money started being received in New York, where Soupy was doing his show at the time, from WNEW-TV. An embarrassingly large amount of money rolled in.

The cash was donated to charity, but WNEW management suspended Soupy. There was an uproar---protests and even picketing---and Sales was reinstated. And much more famous than ever before.

Soupy wasn't just Soupy, which was entertaining enough. He developed a bunch of characters and penned some novelty songs, like "The Mouse," which I was caught on 8mm film depicting in one of those silent home movies my parents shot of me in the mid-1960s. Sales even performed "The Mouse" on Ed Sullivan's show.


Soupy Sales doing "The Mouse," circa the mid-1960s


There was a brief feud in the 1980s with fellow WNBC radio personality Howard Stern, who shared a studio with Sales and who would complain about the condition in which Soupy left things by the time Stern went on the air. Stern, in 1985, pretended to cut the strings in Soupy's studio piano, but it was just to "torture" Sales; Stern never harmed the instrument.

Stern, years later, regretted his little tiff with Sales because Soupy was one of Stern's childhood heroes.

The 1970s and '80s saw Soupy Sales become a big game show guy, appearing on many of them---usually What's My Line, Match Game, and Pyramid. Those and other pseudo-reality shows like Almost Anything Goes were good places to find Soupy.

Sales also participated in a TV ad campaign for Big Boys Restaurants and their homemade pies. Guess how those commercials ended?

Sales died in a hospice, afflicted with what was called "numerous" ailments.

Maybe Big Boys can offer up a special in his memory: a bowl of soup and a slice of pie.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hair Cuts

The haircut is dying a slow, shaggy death.

Say goodbye to another of our traditions: the lazy, chatty time spent in the barber's chair.

If you think our depressed economy hasn't cut through several swathes of Americana, think again.

"People wait longer," my barber Vito told me last time I was in the chair. "Instead of six weeks they might go eight, or longer, between cuts."

It should be noted that Vito told me this as I was a few weeks tardy for my own shearing.

It all adds up. More and more people waiting longer and longer between haircuts, and the corner barber shop starts feeling the pinch.

Vito's been cutting my hair for several years, over at Filary's on Dequindre in Warren. He gained me as a customer after the previous owner died unexpectedly.

Vito's a Brooklyn kid, though he's no longer a kid, I suppose. He's been here long enough to call himself a Detroiter, though.

A year or so ago, Filary's started closing on Wednesdays, in addition to the traditional "barber's weekend" of Sundays and Mondays off. Slumping business was the impetus behind that decision.

So it's a four-day barber, and when did you think you'd ever see that?



It's not just Filary's.

"I have friends who are barbers and they're hurting too," I remember Vito telling me. "Some don't even go to a barber anymore. They'll do it themselves, or have a family member cut their hair."

Here's another thing that I didn't think of right away.

"No one's going on job interviews anymore," Vito said, and he's right. "So that's one less reason to get a haircut."

The trickle down theory of economics; but you know what else trickles down, don't you?

The barber shop used to be a place to find the pulse of this country. All over, from coast to coast, on Saturday mornings, you could do a better, more genuine poll of this country's politics in the barber shop than anything Gallup could come up with.

When I mosey in to Filary's, there's rarely anyone ahead of me. Vito is almost always "between" customers.

Didn't used to be that way. Saturday was usually the day you avoided if you didn't like crowds before your haircut.

Now, Saturday isn't all that different from Tuesday or Thursday or Friday. And that's not a good thing.

In fact, the next time I see Vito, he's going to need himself a lawn mower, I think.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Duking it Out

The cemetery which contains the souls of our child actors is littered with victims of stress, mismanagement, mental abuse, and weakness of will.

Patty Duke's grave marker in that mythical cemetery would contain all of the above on its stone.

Duke was the eponymous star of "The Patty Duke Show," in which she played two characters who were, improbably, identical cousins---Patty and Cathy. The show ran for three seasons, beginning in 1963.

The first season is now out on DVD.

Duke told CNN that she's excited her five granddaughters will finally be able to see what "Nana did when she was a teenager."

"I am tickled, just tickled," she said.

But Duke, who was just shy of 17 when the series debuted, was troubled. She says the show was a relief during what were difficult times for her. She wrote about her tormented childhood in her autobiography, "Call Me Anna," discussing her struggles with mental abuse at the hands of her managers, which she says led to alcohol and drug addiction. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and she now helps others who have the disease.

"I believe that show [gave me] the tools that helped me survive through my youth until I got my diagnosis," Duke said. "I think 'tormenting' is one of the most perfect words for what you feel [with bipolar disorder], because you have no control over it. I did occasionally, very occasionally, hear voices, but mostly my instincts were messed up: If it was dangerous, then I should do it."

It got so that Duke much preferred the scenes in "The Patty Duke Show" that involved the quieter Cathy, who "was dignified and gentle and rational. When it was time to be Patty, I would have to deal with my embarrassment of her stupidity."



Patty Duke today


Patty Duke wasn't chopped liver as an actress. At age 16 she was an Oscar winner for her work as Helen Keller in 1962's "The Miracle Worker," co-starring with Anne Bancroft, who played Anne Sullivan.

But Duke's struggles had little to do with her craft and much more to do with her bipolar disorder, plus the maltreatment from those in her professional inner circle.

She was another whose childhood was anything but ordinary, having begun acting in commercials while still in elementary school. In fact, she was so NOT a normal teen that she had to be shown how to dance by other teenagers in the course of filming scenes for "The Patty Duke Show."

One in her circle on who she was able to count was William Schallert, who played Patty's father Martin Lane.

"He has always been able to make me laugh until I had to spit up," Duke said of the now 87-year-old actor. "He was also a solid, solid figure to me and still is. To this day, the relationship has grown, and he is always there for me."

She remains close to the other surviving members of the cast, including Paul O'Keefe, who played her brother. Jean Byron, who played mother Natalie Lane, died three years ago.

The years after that show are pretty public; Duke married actor John Astin and stayed with him for about 13 years. She continued to be tormented, though, by the the bipolar disorder. But her acting achievements continued to roll in; all told, Duke has won one Academy Award, three Emmys and two Golden Globes.

The actor Sean Astin is Patty's son, but she fathered him with a man named Michael Tell, to which she was married briefly in 1970. But John Astin legally adopted Sean when the child was three.

Today, Duke is acting onstage in the musical "Wicked" in San Francisco, California. She plays the witch Madame Morrible.

"To me, it is almost a religious experience, the exchange between those strangers out there in the dark and us," she said of the theater. "To me, that's communication at its best, and that's really what I enjoy."

Patty Duke is also proof of an age-old adage.

"Without a sense of humor," she said, "I would have been gone a long time ago."



****************************
Read the entire CNN.com story about Patty Duke and her interesting life and career HERE.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Up, Up and Away (Mentally)

So now the NEXT time a boy gets caught in a balloon, for real, we're not going to believe it.

I'm only being slightly facetious.

I resisted writing about six-year-old Falcon Heene---the boy who we all thought might be floating in the sky somewhere over Colorado in a homemade weather balloon---because, No. 1: I wanted to see how everything played out; and No. 2: I was saving it for a day when I had me some writer's block.

Well, No. 1 has cured No. 2.

Turns out that Heene's dad may have masterminded---and I use that word extremely loosely---an elaborate (again, loosely) hoax (tightly) in order that he might gain some fame and notoriety for his whacky weather research.

According to CNN.com, authorities say the event---in which the tearful couple claimed their six-year-old may have been trapped in the flying-saucer-like contraption floating through the air---was staged. Richard and Mayumi Heene had met in a Hollywood acting school and pursued fame for their family in the world of reality TV, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said.

If this indeed was a hoax, then at least Heene didn't put his child into any physical danger; at least he didn't spring the kid loose inside the contraption then somehow jettison him from it later.

But that's hardly something for which we hand out awards.

Heene, according to those who have the authority to press charges and stuff, conspired with his entire family---wife and kids---to elicit the very response that we as a captivated nation provided: undivided attention, followed by gasp-inducing drama, topped off with Tweets and office gossip.

Much of our empathy went like this: "Oh, that poor little boy!"

Come to think of it, that should still be our riff.

Poor Falcon Heene, indeed.

Poor kid to have a dad who would make a little boy lie on national TV to validate all the thoughts and prayers gathered throughout the day.

Poor kid to grow up in an environment that has already included his parents doing a turn on "Wife Swap," of all shows.

Poor kid to have to suffer through a day where he was sequestered from the outside world, just so the phony drama could be played out.

Poor kid to be just six years old and already be in danger of growing up to be a Screwy Louie.

Yep, poor little boy, indeed!


Richard Heene, with wife Mayumi behind him, spins his tale for the press


Still, the Heenes' attorney, David Lane, said something that rings true---for this is America, after all.

"The sheriff having a press conference saying that they're guilty does not make them so," David Lane told CNN's "American Morning."

Can't argue with that. Let justice take its course.

But sheriffs don't hold press conferences as candid as the one Alderden held, making such claims, unless they're really sure. Because look at what might happen to them, and their coffers, if they're proven otherwise.

Speaking of Alderden, he too uttered a gem, when speaking of the high school-only-educated Richard Heene and his "meteorology" and storm-chasing fetish.

"He might be nutty," Alderden said, "but he's no professor."

Is there a Sheriff Hall of Fame? Put Jim Alderden in it, immediately. In the orator's wing.

That's priceless.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Get Over Weight, Already!

Why won't everyone just leave these poor girls alone?

America, one of the most obese nations in the world, continues to act skinnier-than-thou, making adolescent fun of female celebrities and their weight.

I've written about it before.

Off the top of my head, everyone from little Miley Cyrus to Jennifer Love Hewitt has been poked fun at, for daring to nudge a few pounds upward.

Yeah, like how many of us haven't?

The latest victim is Jessica Simpson, whose slight increase in poundage has become fodder for an animated ad developed by FOX Sports promoting Burger King, that takes place in the Dallas Cowboys' locker room.

Simpson once famously dated Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Some excerpts from the ad:

"Man I still can't believe Tony dated Jessica Simpson, even AFTER she blew up bigger than Flozell Adams!" the animated Marion Barber said in the sketch, in reference to his teammate and Jessica's ex Tony Romo. (Adams is an offensive tackle for Dallas.)

"Unlike Tony, at least Jessica comes up big when it counts!" Jason Whitten's cartoon added.

Then Romo comes in. 'Guys, I'm standing right here."

"Sorry Tony," coach Wade Phillips said. "Say Tony, is Jessica around? We could use a defensive tackle!"

Hardy-har-har.

And don't forget that disgusting billboard in Florida---in an ad for PETA, which compared overweight women in swimsuits to whales on the beach.


The not-too-fat Jessica Simpson


FOX issued the standard apology companies issue after their hands have been caught in the cookie jar.

A rep for FOX said, "Burger King Corp. did not have any editorial input in the creation of the animation that ran last Sunday, and no one from Burger King Corp. approved it before it aired. Upon reflection, our poor attempt at humor was insensitive and we deeply apologize to anyone who might have been offended."

Burger King adds: "Burger King Corp. has a long-standing relationship with FOX Sports, as well as an extensive media partnership with the network. The specific content for this sketch involving Jessica Simpson was not developed or aired by BKC or any of its agencies."

So there.

It's strange to me that in a country FULL of, well, full people, that we continue to mock those in the limelight for putting on a few pounds.

Who do we think we are, anyway?

Well, let's call it for what it is: the people being mocked are almost always female. Another sad commentary.

I thought we were past the obsession with thin-as-rail supermodels who are nowhere near representative of the fuller-bodied, wholesome women that populate this country.

But if the scales tip a tad, the fat jokes come out---and often from men whose own waistline could use shrinking.

I'm so proud of Miley and Hewitt, who have publicly lambasted this ridiculous standard and have stated their self-pride over their bodies. Others have joined in.

No word yet from Jessica Simpson on this cheap shot from FOX.

Fitting that a cartoon was the villain in the ad, because that's what the adolescent-brained critics have turned into.

I've never been much for the skinny-mini girls, anyway. Give me a gal who likes her food---because Lord knows that I do.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Right on Red, Right?

I wish Michigan would make up its mind: either have "right turn on red," or don't.

I have no clue what the criteria is to decide whether you're allowed to turn right on red at any given intersection.

In some instances, it would appear that right on red would be totally out of the question---because of how busy the corner is. Yet, it's allowed. In other cases, right on red would seem like a slam dunk, but yet it's disallowed.

Or, you can turn right on red only during certain hours of the day, to make matters even more confusing.

I think they're just messing with our brains.

Lack of consistency is a problem all over the traffic rules map in Michigan. Maybe in other states as well.

Let's look at intersections with lights dedicated to left-hand turns.

Who goes first?

Most lights are programmed so that the folks going straight ahead get the green light first, followed by the left turn people.

But in some cases---12 Mile and John R in Madison Heights, for example---the left turn people go first. Don't ask me why.

To make matters worse, the above mentioned light's pattern changes at night. Sometimes the straight ahead people go first; sometimes the left turn people get skipped, having to wait for another cycle. It's unlikely that this is the only example of such craziness.

Another mind game that they play on us is "Guess where the 'No Turn on Red' sign is."



Finding a sign similar to this one often becomes a shell game at any given intersection in Michigan


Ease up to any intersection at a red light and look for the sign that tells you that you are forbidden to turn right on red---again, you have to look for such a sign because of the aforementioned inconsistency---and tell me what you end up doing.

First thing you look for is the good old-fashioned sign sticking up from the ground near the corner. You don't see one, but you don't trust that---because, once again, sometimes you can turn right on red, sometimes you can't.

Next is to look up, near the light itself---for sometimes they dangle a big white boxy sign that says "NO TURN ON RED."

But in still other instances, the "no turn" sign is located on a street light pole, near the "Walk/Don't Walk" indicator.

It's the road commission's shell game, essentially.

I adore being able to turn right on red. In my mind, it's one of the greatest rules changes ever invented. But it's like Michigan can't quite embrace it totally.

Ladies, how about this analogy: "right on red" is the long-term relationship, and Michigan is the man who can't commit to it.

I'm just asking the powers that be to make up their mind.

Either have "right turn on red," or don't. Simple as that. I vote for having it, but that's just me. I'll abide by whatever you decide.

Just DO IT, ALREADY!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Macho, Macho Man!

I wonder if anyone ended up knocking that battery off of Bob Conrad's shoulder.

Remember Conrad, the ruggedly handsome, much-too-macho actor who made his name in a wonderful TV series called "The Wild, Wild West"?

"West" was a creative show based on a clever premise: Conrad, as James West, and Ross Martin, as Artemus Gordon, were members of President Ulysses Grant's Secret Service detail in the 19th century. But the cleverness came in the notion of using artistic license to blend together two eras: the 1870s, when the series took place, and modern times, complete with technological gadgets.

The result was Conrad, as West, using space age technology to fight crime in a time before electricity.

Ross Martin's "Artie" Gordon was a master of disguise---kind of like the dudes in "Mission: Impossible."

Together James West and Artemus Gordon matched wits with similarly-outfitted bad guys. One of the recurring ones was a midget named Dr. Loveless, who was played by Detroit's own Michael Dunn.

But back to Conrad.

Bobby Conrad was a guy who took himself far too seriously, and who reveled in macho roles---along with maintaining that persona in real life.

This was evident in two memorable ways: his battery commercials, and an incident that occurred on a trash TV show called "Battle of the Network Stars."

The battery commercials were iconic. Conrad came on at the beginning, daring the viewer to knock an Eveready battery off his shoulder, where it had been placed. Then the meat of the commercial would play, and it all would end with Conrad once again.

"Go ahead," he'd say of knocking the battery off his shoulder. "I dare ya."

It was one of those lines, like Clara Peller's "Where's the beef?," that was on everyone's lips for a time in the 1970s.


"Go ahead---I dare ya!"


In "Stars," Conrad once appeared as a member of one of the network teams of celebrities competing in athletic events like running races, swimming, and other physical feats.

In one hotly contested "battle," Conrad's team lost the competition by a hair.

Well, Bobby didn't like that and pitched a macho bitch---totally serious and not for show. He made a spectacle of himself, embarrassing the other celebs.

Finally, to placate Conrad, a solution was suggested: Conrad would run in a dash against Gabe Kaplan of ABC's "Welcome Back, Kotter." The winner's team would win that week's competition.

It was so agreed, by Conrad and Kaplan.

The two actors got on their marks, got set, and....

Kaplan blew Conrad---he of his supposedly supreme physical condition---totally away.

Conrad later ended up in shows like "Baa Baa Black Sheep," always playing the macho tough guy.

But it was as a much slimmer, more suave James West in "Wild, Wild West" where Bob Conrad made his mark, before he turned into a caricature.

Come to think of it, I'd have loved to knock that battery off Conrad's shoulder. Because if he chased me, apparently I could outrun him.

***************************************
Here's a look at Bob Conrad in action, hawking Eveready batteries:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scaremasters

It's the time of year where we focus on scaring the bejeebers out of each other. In a fun, playful way, of course.

Halloween season is upon us. You can tell, just by driving through any neighborhood.

When I was a kid, decorating the house for Halloween took about 15 minutes. You taped a few cardboard skeletons and ghosts and pumpkins onto the picture window and called it a day. My favorites were the ones with the accordion legs made out of paper, dangling from the bottom of cardboard torsos.

Now, Halloween is Christmas's little brother, and growing up fast. Lighted homes, giant inflatables on the front lawn, sophisticated electric decorations all over. Color scheme: orange, of course!

Also time to talk about other scary stuff like movies.

What's the scariest movie ever made? That's easy.

I'll spot you all the "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Saw" movies you got---every one of them, if need be---and they can't touch "The Exorcist" or "Rosemary's Baby."

"The Exorcist" is the scariest movie ever made, hands down---and "Rosemary's Baby" is a close second.

I give the nod to the former because it involved the demonic possession of a little girl, and there's just something extra creepy about when kids go bad---like in "Children of the Corn" or "Damien."

The "Exorcist" kid couldn't help it, of course. But Linda Blair's character made such a horrific physical transformation and spouted such hateful, X-rated things in such an ugly voice---not to mention the whole head-turning-completely-around thing---that it was awfully difficult to watch.

Projectile vomiting green goo didn't help, either.

The actual exorcism scene itself was one of the most intense laid onto celluloid, too.

"The Exorcist" proved that you don't have to blood and gore and chainsaws and machetes to turn your underwear brown.

Part of the scare was the anticipation of something going wrong, and what that little girl might do next, or what might befall her next.

Plus, she was just so evil. The Devil personified. Doesn't get much scarier than that.


Linda Blair as the possessed girl in "The Exorcist"


I've said it often, and I'm hardly the first one to acknowledge this: any boob with a camera and a CG budget can make a bogeyman. Jason isn't real; Freddie Kruger isn't real. But a little girl possessed by the Devil? A little more real---because such possessions have been documented in real life.

As for "Rosemary's Baby," the story of a young woman whose unborn child has been declared that of Satan's, that movie was creepy on a different plane.

The Mia Farrow-John Cassavettes thriller was heart-pounding because everything seemed so normal and serene, at first. But then you realize, slowly but surely, that Farrow's inner circle, including her doctor, are part of a Satanic cult and then even her husband (Cassavettes), who had appeared to be her rock, is involved.

It's that drip-drip slowness of seeing Farrow's life turn upside down that is the crux of the scariness of "Rosemary's Baby."

Then, the culmination is when the child is actually born, and the juxtaposition of the horrified look of Rosemary compared to the doting looks of the cultists as they all see the Devil baby (complete with horns and a tail, according to the book) that is truly terrifying. You, as the viewer, don't even have to see the deformed baby to know that Rosemary has given birth to something terrible.

Even the film's tagline was creepy in its own way: "Pray for Rosemary's baby."

And, again, no blood or guts or gore in that film, either. But still scary as hell.

Run "The Exorcist" and/or "Rosemary's Baby" through your VCR or DVD player this Halloween season. I double-dog dare ya.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Monkeying Around

If you can imagine being a white man having to apologize for making a racial slur to your boss, when that boss is Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, then you can understand why Steve Graham might have opted to turn to the bottle.

But he didn't.

"I was tempted. I've been tempted," Graham, the old director of the Detroit Zoo, told me in a sit down interview some 20 years ago.

Steve Graham was an alcoholic; correction---IS an alcoholic. Once one, always one, they say.

I interviewed Graham on a show I hosted called "InnerView," a local cable program produced Downriver. And the chat wasn't too long after Graham made one of the most unfortunately timed remarks in Detroit history.

Graham was speaking to a small group of staffers, and was doling out tasks for the day. Someone brought up something that needed to be done right away.

Then Graham misspoke---badly.

"Just grab a couple of those monkeys to do it," he said, referring to some young black workers who were nearby.

Grimace.

I'm sure Graham no doubt wanted to reach into the air and grab those words and jam them back into his mouth before they reached anyone's ears. There were blacks in the room, making matters even worse.

Well, the you-know-what hit the fan---almost instantly---and Graham was in the clumsy position of not only being smeared publicly, but having to trudge to city hall with his tail between his legs.

Young, as mayor, was Graham's boss.

"One thing about Coleman Young," Graham told me. "He doesn't suffer fools easily."

But in this case, Young went easy on Graham, who was still battling the demons of alcohol, big time.

"He just looked at me and said, basically, 'Well, you certainly said a stupid thing, didn't you?'," Graham recalled about his meeting with Young in the wake of the controversy. But that was about it. Young didn't castigate Graham. There was enough of that going around town, anyway.

"He stood by me," Graham said. "And I will always respect him for that."

So there you go---Coleman Young knew when to ease off the gas pedal after all.


A REAL monkey at the Detroit Zoo


Steve Graham was director of the Detroit Zoo at a time when the zoo was starting to lose its mojo as one of the best ones in the nation---a reputation it held well into the 1970s. But the tarnishing pre-dated Graham.

He was a pretty good director for the zoo---having come from Baltimore---and oversaw some new exhibits and construction. There were some other controversies during his tenure (1982-92), usually involving euthanasia, but those weren't unique to Detroit's zoo.

But what about that "monkeys" remark?

"It was an expression I'd used time and again," Graham told me as he tried to explain himself. "Whether the people were black and white. It was just an expression I used for the younger workers. Monkeys."

Perhaps, in Graham's mind, that was appropriate---working in a zoo and all.

But too bad he didn't ask to call on "a couple of those penguins."

Oh well.

As for the drinking---Graham was sober at the time for several years---I asked Graham straight out: How often are you tempted?

He paused briefly and looked to the floor before raising his head back to meet my eyes.

"Sometimes. For sure."

And after the "monkeys" comment?

He gave a mirthless chuckle.

"Definitely," he admitted.

I told Graham to "hang in there" at the end of the interview. He laughed and thanked me.

I lost track of Graham after he left Detroit. Google searches haven't yielded much in the way of clues.

I hope he's well, and still sober.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Date Show w/David Letterman

So David Letterman is instigator, victim, and satirist---all rolled into one, and all about the same thing. Himself.

Letterman, who went public last week with a bizarre scheme that made him victim of a blackmail attempt due to some sexual hanky-panky he committed years ago with a CBS staffer, last night went public again---this time with an apology to his wife, Regina Lasko.

As usual with Dave, it wasn't totally maudlin; it was laced with self-deprecating humor and observational comedy---which has been conveniently presented to him by virtue of his actions. This is material he doesn't even have to write.

"I mean, I'll be honest with you folks," the 62-year-old TV host told his "Late Show" audience. "Right now, I would give anything to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I got in the car this morning---and the navigation lady wasn't speaking to me."

Ba-dum-BUM!

Letterman added it was fall in the city and that he spent the weekend "raking my hate mail."

Another rimshot.

"And it's cold, too," he said. "I mean chilly outside my house, chilly inside my house."

Cymbal crash!




But there were also some serious, sincere words.

"Either you're going to make some progress and get it fixed, or you're going to fall short and perhaps not get it fixed, so let me tell you folks, I got my work cut out for me," Letterman said.

At issue, of course, is news that Letterman had sex with more than one CBS employee who worked for him, several years ago. One of the women appeared in some "Late Show" sketches, along with being the girl who presented dinner certificates and other prizes to audience members during Dave's foray into the crowd during occasional bits like "Stump the Band."

But it wasn't just the news of Letterman's escapades that made this a big story. It's the prosecution of a man who tried to blackmail Letterman by threatening to reveal the dalliances.

That's what prompted Letterman to go public on "The Late Show" last week with an admission that was so riddled with jokes that the audience didn't appear to know whether it was all true or just part of a comic bit.

It's infinitely easier for someone like the wise-cracking, sarcastic, smart-ass Letterman to deal with something of this untoward nature than the pathetically stiff politicians and religious dudes who are blindsided by being outed.

Get caught sleeping with an employee? Crack some jokes and keep it light; it's in character, after all.

Can you imagine if Joe Senator tried that tack on the steps of the Capitol? He'd be accused of being a cad and not taking the issue seriously.

But Letterman, thanks to his occupation and pulpit, can pull it off almost seamlessly.

A new slogan: Pulling off the unseemly, seamlessly.

Maybe Dave can hire me as a writer. As long as he keeps his hands to himself.

Ba-dum-BUM!!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gettin' Corny

Howard Johnson's is dead and they took their corn toastees with them.

Pox on them, anyway!

HoJo's, with their distinctive orange roofs, used to be strewn all over these United States---part inn, part restaurant. And, eventually, part grocer supplier.

Howard Johnson's came to be known for their ice cream and something else that we'll delve into in a moment. The ice cream was so good, so popular, that it first became available near the cash register, in a serve yourself freezer, before being packaged and distributed to supermarket chains.

One corner of the box---I believe it was the upper left---bore the HoJo logo: orange roof with the name "Howard Johnson's" underneath. It was almost as iconic in the ice cream world as The Good Humor brand's little white truck.

But then ice cream wasn't enough, and HoJo's came out with some other items for your, as they say, grocer's freezer.

One of those items was something called "corn toastees."

These toasties were delectable little squares of cornbread---the flavors were plain and blueberry. They came six or eight to a box, and were separated inside by little pieces of parchment paper.

Oh, how my mother and I became hooked on those things.



An ad for HoJo's corn toastees, circa mid-1970s


This was the mid-to-late '70s, and mom would buy the store out. It was not uncommon to see five, six boxes of corn toastees in the freezer.

So simple: pop 'em in the toaster for a couple minutes, spread them with butter, take a bite, and then your knees would buckle.

Goodness gracious, were they good!

Then they came out with the blueberry flavor, and those were good, too.

But just like that, the corn toastees disappeared. Probably happened around the same time that the HoJo restaurants themselves vanished.

Howard Johnson's, ironically, was known for serving folks on the road, usually on vacation. But they brought pleasure to mom and me in our own home, thanks to their corn toastees.

I remember laughing at the grocery store once, because the conveyor belt was filled with boxes of those darn toastees.

Toaster Strudel, put out by Pillsbury, are some good eatin', too---with their flaky crust and tiny packets of frosting and yummy fillings.

Too bad that another company couldn't have taken over the production of corn toastees, though.

The good really do die young---even when it comes to foodstuffs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Boy Guv?

It was the old Texan, John Nance Garner, who put his indelible mark on the office of Vice President of these United States. It's not for the weak of stomach.

Being VP, according to Garner---who held the office from 1933-41 under Franklin Roosevelt--- wasn't worth a "warm bucket of piss." A weaker version of the quote substitutes "spit."

He said it, not me.

It was feistiness like that from the man nicknamed "Cactus Jack," that must have prompted my late grandmother to name her youngest child---my late father---Jack Garner Eno.

Garner's rather graphic review of his time spent as FDR's No. 2 man was due to Cactus Jack's frustration with the do-nothingness of the job.

I submit that we have a job right here in the state of Michigan that's not worth a warm bucket of spit, either.

That would be governor.

I don't know who in his (or her) right mind would want the job, but this time, it has nothing to do with do nothing.

Whomever follows Jenny Granholm in the governor's chair on January 1, 2011 should be checked first for sanity.

But this post isn't to provide you with a laundry list of why Michigan is the red-headed stepchild of the USA. If you live here, then you already have that list, somewhere handy.

I suppose if we're going to have another governor---and the law says that when Granholm gets booted out due to term limits (don't get me started) someone has to follow her---then we may as well talk about the best candidate for the job.

Too bad he isn't running.

The Democrats are going to run John Cherry, looks like, the current Lieutenant Governor (talk about warm buckets of spit!).

The Republicans have the usual host of wannabes, which is what happens when the sitting governor is of the other party.

But I sure would like to see the Dems eschew the safe route and draft Bob Ficano.


Wayne County Exec Bob Ficano


I've had my good eye on Ficano, the Wayne County Executive, for quite some time.

I first met him when he was still the "boy sheriff" of the county, rising through the ranks, often under the wing of Ed McNamara, a fellow Livonia guy of mine and only one of the best politicians and administrators we've ever had in Michigan.

I chatted up Ficano on a local talk show I hosted, and was impressed. But that didn't surprise me because I was impressed with Ficano from a distance as his burgeoning career in public service took hold.

I then ran into Bob a few years ago at a pre-Super Bowl event at the Fox Theatre, and we gabbed again for a bit. Once he found out I was a Livonia kid (he's lived there for years) and a born and bred Wayne County-er---revealed the first time we met---I think I got on his good side.

Bob Ficano ought to be the next governor of Michigan because he's fearless and knows what it means to make tough financial decisions.

He's also a superb administrator and has been able to stay above the nonsense that has gone on beneath him in Wayne County politics, not the least of which occur in the county seat of Detroit.

Do I have a bias for Ficano because he and I ran the same streets, so to speak, in western Wayne County? You bet. Doesn't make him any less qualified.

Ficano's counterpart in Oakland County, Brooks Patterson, would have made the GOP's day in Michigan had he agreed to run. But apparently this is one job---governor of sad sack Michigan---that's too rich for his brand of poker.

Instead, Brooks has been relegated to moderating the first official Republican gubernatorial debate, held a short while back at Mackinac.

Brooks, like Cactus Jack, had his own graphic way of describing the proceedings.

"This early, unless you throw up on yourself, it's a draw," Brooks told the press.

Brooks has it good in Oakland County---I realize that. I can see why he wouldn't want to go to Lansing, except for sight-seeing.

But Bob Ficano?

It might be a classic case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire---Wayne County isn't all that right now---but I'd love to see him make that leap.

Come on, Dems---get with it. Lean on Bob Ficano. He just might do it, if you ask the right way.

You could do worse. In fact, you already are.