Monday, November 30, 2009

Oprah's Long Goodbye

For someone who professes to hate goodbyes, Oprah Winfrey sure is hosting quite a long one.

Oprah's TV show will vanish sometime in 2011, she says. I only wish we had this kind of warning BEFORE she arrived on the scene.

Oh, stop frowning and looking at me sideways. Oprah's OK. She annoys me a little bit but she's probably done more good than bad for folks in this cartoon of a country that we inhabit. I'm sure she's a very nice woman, truth be told.

Time for a quick check of the iconic TV people over the years.

Johnny Carson: none of us did what Johnny told us to do, because that wasn't his gig. He didn't pontificate, he entertained. He mugged. He could crack us up with an arched eyebrow and a crooked mouth. But Carson was a ghost outside of his TV show. He was almost Howard Hughes-like in guarding his privacy. He championed no causes, endorsed no products, imparted no life lessons. No way of knowing if he was a Republican, a Democrat, or a Marxist. Johnny was just there to make us laugh every night at 11:30. That was it.

David Letterman: Letterman is perhaps the closest thing to Carson as there ever was, or ever will be: private, close to the vest, apolitical. No endorsements, no causes, either. Just glad to be a sounding board and a straight man to whoever happens to be sitting to his right every night.

Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and the rest: Men we would trust with our liquor cabinet while on vacation. Personalities ranging from uncle-like (Cronkite) to wooden (Jennings) but in all instances, guys that were OK in our book---as long as they stuck to reading the news and giving us election results. Outside of that it could get clunky and awkward---and did on occasion.

Jay Leno: More of a person than Letterman and Carson. Jay let us know that he's into cars, for one. He put on some free shows for the unemployed in Michigan, as a way to show support for the car industry. Even appeared in a movie, although in the worst way. Funny in a Bob Hope kind of way; you wonder if he'd be a cut up sans cue cards and pre-written material.

Oprah---she's one of those who ascended to the one-word name, like Madonna or Johnny or Magic---changed the way TV personalities interacted with their public; I must grant her that. She doesn't have fans, she has cultists. Oprah won't just have someone on to promote a book---she'll practically insist that her viewers read it. Like, right now. Immediately.

And she did all this without the benefit of prime time or late night. She's one of the few TV personalities who carved out her niche while the sun was still out---soap opera stars notwithstanding.

But I still don't like that she feels compelled to put herself on the cover of every issue of a magazine that bears her name.



Oprah helped to build a school in Africa for girls, though that wasn't without some controversy, when it came to how those students were being treated by the faculty when no one was looking. But at least she didn't take her sweet time responding to the reports of maltreatment.

Oprah's OK. I'm a little put off by the way her fans follow her like wide-eyed puppy dogs but if that's the worst thing, then maybe it's not so bad after all.

And, she's giving them plenty of time to say goodbye to her TV show.

Or is it vice-versa?

Reminds me of the last line of pitcher Jim Bouton's famous tell-all book about baseball, "Ball Four."

"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball," Bouton wrote, "and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."

You see, Oprah Winfrey had her faithful in the palms of her hands for over two decades, but maybe it was the other way around all the time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday's Favs

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

from April 28, 2009


Motionly Disturbed


It's taking me longer to go to the bathroom nowadays, and I blame technology.

I'm not talking about going to the bathroom at home. That's always taken me a long time, mainly because I treat the rest room like a library. That is, if they ever allowed toilets on the floor of a library.

But that's a long time that I choose to take. It's a guy thing, but the bathroom is a safe haven, a reading room for men.

It's public restrooms that are starting to waste more and more of my time.

First, unlike the throne at home, which I'm in no hurry to leave, I can't wait to get my tush out of a public lav. The thought of what sort of scientific creepy-crawlies that are clinging to every wall and faucet and door handle in there doesn't lend itself to me wanting to spend anymore time there than is absolutely necessary.

But here's why it's taking so long nowadays: all the fancy-shmancy motion detectors.

Today's modern public restroom is discouraging you from touching anything inside it. Which on the surface sounds like a grand idea, but in disallowing human contact, it's relying on the motion detectors, which seem to be unable to do one key thing: detect motion properly.

It starts when you enter the stall, or (for the guys) approach the urinal. No handles to be found, which means the porcelain God must acknowledge your presence once you finish your business.

In the stall, you stand, and wait for the detector to detect that your rump is no longer pressing on the seat. For that's the only clue it uses to signal for a flushing.

So you stand. Nothing. Now, I suppose you could let your waste sit there for the next poor slob, but that's not very nice. So you sit, and try to re-create the whole "I'm done so I'm going to stand now" moment for the detector.

Rinse. Repeat.

Same thing at the stall. The detector is supposed to signal for the flusher after you've walked away. But ha! -- you walk away and nothing happens. This is a little trickier to replicate than the standing up thing.

Time to refresh the detector's memory.

"Remember? I came up to you and stood here, like this.....(physically re-creating the action)...then I peed, and I walked away, like THIS....(walking away). Remember?

"Now flush, damn you!"

Business-doing has now taken twice the amount of time than it should have, and now you're ready to wash your hands. Again, I suppose you could....

Don't you dare!

Wash your hands. Dammit.

But alas, no faucet handles. Just a faucet. The eunuch of all sink fixtures.

The fancy-shmancy detector is supposed to know when you've thrust your hands beneath the faucet, so that it will dispense water. How much water, and at what temperature, is anyone's guess. Sometimes it's a short blast, sometimes it's a gentle shower, sometimes it's...not at all.

That third option is what usually happens.

So again we're back to re-performing our physical actions for the very technologically advanced and very expensive motion detector, which is why the price of restaurant food has been going up, I'm sure.

Good for you if you're able to get your allotment of water on anything less than the third try. And even better if your allotment is enough to get both your hands entirely wet, so that you may wash them.

Which leads me to....

The soap.

Remember--no human contact allowed.

Several waves of your hand under the dispenser before you find the right speed, angle, and motion. But, just like the water, no telling how much soap you'll be rationed.

So now we have barely wet hands, traces of soap, and with that we're expected to wash our hands competently.

Which leads me to...

Drying your hands.

Altogether now: NO HUMAN CONTACT ALLOWED!


Look ma -- no handles!


More hand waving until the motion detector-equipped dryer kicks on. In fact, you might find that the hand waving dries your damp hands (remember, you weren't rationed all that much water and soap to begin with) faster than the damn dryer.

Note: Some less fancy-shmancy bathrooms may have paper towels instead of dryers. But these, too, are connected to motion detectors, which instruct the gizmo when to whirr and spit out a 4" x 5" piece of brown paper, which isn't enough to wipe your brow, much less dry your hands. Which means precious time spent coaxing four or five pieces of brown paper from it.

OK, so you've made it through Motion Detector Hell, and you're ready to leave. A three-minute trip to the bathroom is now on its tenth minute, most likely.

No human contact, to decrease the chances of germs spreading.

The only thing you need to touch is the door handle.

Which the person ahead of you has just touched--after being so disgusted with Motion Detector Hell that no hand-washing was done.

Gotcha!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh, Donny Boy!

Donny Osmond had an unfair advantage as a contestant on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars": he had way more experience beating the odds than those whippersnappers who were his fellow finalists.

Osmond, about to turn 52, came away with the garish trophy last night on "Dancing," beating out Kelly Osbourne and Mya, two women whose combined ages barely exceed his own.

I was thrilled for Osmond---while also being very proud of Osbourne, by the way, who really showed me something, and not just me. Who knew that Ozzy could have spawned something so vivacious?

It's not a generational thing, either (I'm 46). I wanted Osmond to win because he deserves all the mainstream recognition he can get, and then some.

Perhaps no entertainer in my lifetime has been stereotyped as badly as Donny Osmond. Or as tormented, both by others and by himself.

He's a man who sunk to the depths of his profession and was derided for it---often times unmercifully. And drugs weren't even involved. Not that they weren't considered.

In the mid-1980s, his career teetering on the brink of extinction---because that's what happens to teen idols---Osmond's "people" suggested a drug bust. No joke.

"They wanted to concoct some sort of phony drug arrest," Osmond once said on Larry King's show. The reasoning? Something that George Bernard Shaw once said.

"The only thing worse than being talked about, is NOT being talked about."

So a fake drug bust was considered---both to bring Osmond back into the public's consciousness, and to maybe make him "cool" to those who thought him to be too bubblegum.

But Osmond, a good Mormon kid with too much respect for his burgeoning family and for himself, said absolutely not. If we're going to play this hand in a winning fashion, we're going to play it straight, is what he basically said.

We have a funny habit in this country when it comes to our celebrities. We build them up and tear them down. And in no nook or cranny of the industry is this more prevalent than in the matter of kid stars who have the audacity to pursue their careers as adults.

The Cassidy boys couldn't manage it---David and Shaun. Neither could Leif Garrett. You can see what's happening to Lindsay Lohan, only I dare you to witness it without one eye closed. Dana Plato was reduced to making soft porn and living in a trailer.

Do I need to go on?

But Donny Osmond persevered and made it into his 30s without being arrested, blackballed, or a clerk at the 7-Eleven. He made it without going nuts. But it was close.

His family fortune was lost in some bad business deals while he was in his early 20s. I mean, totally gone. His TV show with sister Marie got canceled. The brothers weren't being booked for concerts anymore. He went solo and that eventually dried up pretty quick, too.

Washed up, almost, before his 30th birthday. Another cautionary tale. Another candidate for one of those "Whatever happened to?" specials.

That's when Donny's people suggested the phony drug arrest.

Maybe all that praying did some good, because suddenly Osmond hit it big with a song called "Soldier of Love," which rocketed up the charts, circa the late-1980s.

Donny Osmond was a paradox, because he was selling records again but his reputation still stunk.

Not among the ladies, of course, but by the sniping, vicious media folks who looked at him and saw not a comeback story but an annoyance they thought had died off.

What's he doing back? Doesn't he know that once the heartthrob reaches legal drinking age, he's finished?

I don't know who said it, but he ought to be ashamed of himself.

"The saddest day in music history," the bile-filled person sneered, "was the day Donny Osmond was born."

I only know that someone said that because I heard it---from Donny Osmond.

He related the horrifying quote during an interview---maybe it was also with King---and he choked up when he said it. Wouldn't you?

I don't know what it was about Donny Osmond that got so many people angry at him. I don't know why so many wanted him to fail again and go away, this time for good. I don't know how someone who never cheated on his wife, who never embarrassed his profession, who never sniped at anyone else, who never ran afoul of the law, riled so many people up.

Thank goodness for the ones who stood by him. Read: the ladies.

Never underestimate the power of the female entertainment fan, my friend.



Donny Osmond's fan base was, and always will be, an estrogen-laced one. His concert venues don't even need the men's room to be unlocked.

The women didn't care what the predominantly male critics were saying about their Donny. They just plowed forward, buying his albums and filling his concert halls.

Maybe it's the name, Donny. Maybe that sounds too juvenile for a 50+ year-old man. Perhaps he should have changed it to Don. Like Ricky-turned-Rick Schroeder.

Too late now, of course.

He did some Broadway, and did it very well, as part of his career recovery. He played the title character in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," his signature stage role---for years.

Yet he did it under the radar, so to speak. The women were always there, of course, and that only made him more in the background. Performers whose fan base is so heavily weighted toward one gender over the other never quite get that mainstream credibility.

To many, he was still just an adolescent entertainer who was getting old, adored by once-adolescent girls who were also aging. Nothing more than that.

Well, while the men ignored him and scoffed at him, Donny Osmond simply became one of the finest entertainers the baby boomer age has ever seen.

It was proven, once again, by his 10-week turn on "Dancing."

Donny won the contest because he deserved to win it. End of story. Any other outcome would have been robbery of the highest order.

It really wasn't fair, in the end. Osmond outperformed his competition because he's been entertaining since he was in kindergarten. He and his sis played Vegas for quite a long run and you don't do that if you don't know how to give the people what they want.

Donny gave the people---and the judges---what they wanted and he did it more consistently than all the others competing. Because that's what he's always done. Mya and Kelly were terrific, no question. But Donny was better---and he's old enough to be both of their fathers.

My wife, certainly biased but speaking objectively this time, stated it plainly.

Donny ended up being the most talented of all the Osmond brood, she said.

I agree, and that's saying something, because if you placed the Osmond clan in Rhode Island, they'd threaten to nudge the population into Connecticut.

Donny Osmond, more than any of the kid entertainers of his time, made something of himself. He's had to do it, in fact, a few times.

So did Kelly Osbourne and Mya really have a chance, after all?

Monday, November 23, 2009

City, City Bang Bang

The late, great sportswriter Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times used to be one of the best at skewering towns across this great country. I haven't been to nearly as many burgs in the United States as Murray visited during his wonderful career, but I HAVE been to my share of cities around Metro Detroit and outstate...

We'll start with Pontiac, which would be a terrific town---if this was 1956. When a bus stops in Pontiac, everyone gets on, no one gets off. There's a road somewhere called Pontiac Trail, which isn't so much a street name as it is a warning. The overall mood is like a drab winter's day, only worse. The town is full of ghosts of businesses past. The city would make a mint if they erected toll booths at the borders and charged people to leave.

Then there's Taylor, where half the population is in-bred. More people sleep with their teeth in a glass than in their head. It's a great place to go if you're a producer for "The Jerry Springer Show." The official city song is "Dixie." After driving through Taylor, you have to change your clothes to get rid of the bacon stench. They park more cars on the front lawn than a valet at the mall during Christmas season. It's so bad that Southgate makes fun of it.

I used to live in Warren, where the only thing more crooked than the politicians are the police. If they didn't have the GM Tech Center, the city's IQ would drop like a lead balloon. The home of the brick ranch. Houses weren't built in Warren, they were pressed. Even Wal-Mart high-tailed it out of town. Warren has more motels and gas stations than the Ohio Turnpike. The next good night out in Warren will be the first. The city has as much culture and enrichment as Benton Harbor on a bad day.

I grew up in Livonia, the whitest city in America. You'll see grains of rice that are darker. The welcome mat for new residents includes a DNA kit. It's the only city I know where you have to pass a genealogy test before you can move in. They tried to bring Broadway-like entertainment to Livonia via the George Burns Theater, but the residents liked their tri-levels more than culture so it closed. The problem with Livonia is that there's nothing to do after 10:00---in the morning. Livonia is where you go if you want to see what the demographic of Detroit was like in 1944. The biggest attraction is the Awrey Bakery. By the way, when was the last time you saw any Awrey Bakery items on your grocer's shelves?




I live all-too-close to Royal Oak, which thinks it's Greenwich Village's long lost brother. It's a great town to people watch in---if you're Diane Arbus. There are more freaks strolling the streets of Royal Oak than all the circuses of this country combined. The real estate and homes are more overpriced than Nordstrom's. Royal Oak is a wonderful place, if you're into paying $1,400 a month for a 900 square foot bungalow. $1,700 if you want a bathroom. Royal Oak borders Ferndale, which is like Boy George bordering Clay Aiken.

Off I-275, around Ford Road, is a city called Canton, which is where to go if you ever wondered what Canton, Ohio would look like without the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Canton wasn't founded, it sprouted. Like a weed. Canton is four shopping centers, 10 strip malls, and a Meijer's. If it was a movie, it'd be "The Stepford Wives." No one goes to Canton unless they have a shopping list. You wonder if the residents are only living there because someone has something on them. Canton is as intoxicating as alcohol-free beer.

Then there's Southfield, which isn't a town, it's one big freeway exchange. People only pass through Southfield because it's on the way to someplace far more fun and interesting. It's the only city around that's so stuck up it named a freeway after itself. Someone should tell them. Southfield has it all, if you're planning on spending no more than an hour. The city has more concrete than Manhattan and less pizazz than Al Gore. Southfield is a perfect place to live if you want to keep your smart, cultured, refined friends away from you.

So...where do YOU live?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday's Favs

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

from May 15, 2009


Twin Pining

Time, once again, to show my age.

I tend to do that a lot here, I know.

So anyone under 30, turn away, unless you don't mind being subjected to yet another tale of yesteryear.

I miss the Twin Pines guy.

There. I said it.

He used to bring you milk, the Twin Pines guy did, and tons of other good stuff.

Laid it on your doorstep, and prior to that, put it in your milk chute.

Whoa!

Yeah, you read correctly, under-30-yearsers.

The milk chute.

Some homes still have them, though by now they're likely painted shut.

The brick ranches and tri-levels that sprang up in the late-1950s, early-1960s like mushrooms all had milk chutes built into them, just about.

Usually located on the side of the building, the chute was a two-way deal: it opened on the outside so the Twin Pines guy (or whomever delivered your milk and dairy) could fill it with goodies. And it opened from the inside of the house, so you could retrieve and place immediately into the fridge.

No, I didn't say icebox. I'm not that old.

So you filled out a paper form and left it for the Twin Pines guy. And he'd dutifully fill the order, often when your head was still on the pillow.

Like I said, not just milk.

Orange juice. Bread. Potato chips. Pickles.

He might have left a chili dog, too, if you'd have asked him.

The truck was shocking yellow, with green trim. The logo was, as you would guess, a couple of pine trees.

Huh.

Twin Pines also had a mascot.

Milky the Clown.

Milky was a garishly-made up clown--and I know that sounds redundant--with a, well, milky-white face and some sort of weird-looking hat.

Come to think of it, he might have been the inspiration for the Joker makeup used on Cesar Romero in the old Batman TV series.



The picture pretty much says it all


Anyhow, Milky had himself a TV show in Detroit and he was played by a man named Clare Cummings.

I don't remember too much about the show, nor how successful Milky was in selling Twin Pines products.

I think I miss the idea of Twin Pines. The notion of a uniformed man delivering milk and other products to your doorstep, in the wee hours.

There's something out there now called Schwan's. They specialize in frozen food and it's actually quite good. We've been customers.

The Schwan's guy can't carry the Twin Pines guy's shoes, though.

First, Schwan's guy doesn't hit the road before dawn, like TP guy did.

Second, TP guy would take your empties away--your used milk bottles and the like.

Third, Schwan's guy is today and TP guy is yesterday and in my book, yesterday almost always beats today.

To those of you who remember Twin Pines, sorry for telling you stuff you already know.

To those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, you missed out.

You should have been born earlier. Not my problem.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Johnny Beefcake

Johnny Depp is the Sexiest Man Alive. Especially in my house, which includes me, a man. You want to know how you can be the only male and still finish in second place? Be married to a woman who'd pick up Depp's socks from the floor and consider it as good as foreplay.

But that's OK. There's no shame in finishing second to Johnny Depp, whether it's in terms of sexiness or in acting talent.

Depp got the People Magazine tag for the male version of va-va-voom this year, but I don't know what you win for such an honor. The winners of these things already have riches and adoring females. And their healthy good looks. Is there an award?

Depp can be the Sexiest Man Alive. But I have a feeling that he'd rather be the Best Actor Alive, which he damn well might be. The many faces of Johnny Depp have included gangster John Dillinger, an effeminate pirate, a homicidal barber, a boy with scissors for hands, and some quirky young man named Benny.

Depp doesn't play characters, he morphs into them. He could do God and have Moses look at the Almighty One cross-eyed afterward.

"You could work on some things," old Moses might say.

One of the best acting jobs I ever saw was when Depp played the title role in "Donnie Brasco," a gripping film and true story about an FBI guy who goes so deep undercover as a mobster that he just about loses himself and his family.

Depp shared many scenes with Al Pacino, no less, and it was the acting version of "Dueling Banjos" for two hours. It was one of those movies where you don't sit down to watch it---you get strapped in.

Such is Depp's range as an actor, and at a time when so many of them are afraid to branch out further than their arm reach. A cynic would say that those types are only in it for the money. A righteous cynic.

I'd kill to see Depp play the Joker in the next Batman flick. But it wouldn't be fair to the late Heath Ledger, because Heath wouldn't have the chance to see Depp's performance and raise it.

Depp never looks the same in his movies, because he's never playing the same guy. Hell, he's not even playing the same era, the same country, the same village, the same story.

Johnny Depp's roles are the snowflakes of acting. No two are the same.

While they're at it, People might want to hand out the Nicest Man Alive designation, too. Depp would be a finalist for that one as well.

It's been documented that Johnny Depp is a true gentleman in a business where there are so few of them anymore. You can seek his autograph without being sneered at, cursed, and shoved, for starters. Quite the contrary; you're even likely to get a smile and some conversation. Or so say signature hounds in Hollywood who should know.

He seems to have a soft spot for kids.

During the filming of "Public Enemies," in which Depp played Dillinger, a youngster who had wandered near the set became enamored of Depp---but more specifically, the fedora the actor was wearing in the movie.

The kid, who didn't know any better, relayed his fondness of the hat to Depp himself. Depp, as is his wont, took interest in the kid and made some small talk.

Several weeks after filming, the kid got a package in the mail. It was the fedora, sent by Johnny Depp.

You can count on one hand how many of Depp's ilk would have pulled that one off.

Our daughter adores Depp, too. She has nice taste in men.


Depp: I really can't blame my wife, after all


There are movie stars, and there are actors. And there are masters of their craft. Rarely are all three the same person.

They are if you're Johnny Depp, who only happens to be the finest actor of his generation. You heard me.

Name me one who's better, if you don't believe me. I dare ya.

Depp is only 46, and a quick check of his page at www.IMDb.com shows that he's not slowing down. There's another "Pirates of the Caribbean" flick in the works. Something called "The Tourist." Another one that goes by "The Rum Diary," which almost sounds like another Jack Sparrow vehicle but isn't.

Oh, and he's going to be the Mad Hatter in an "Alice in Wonderland" project that's currently in post-production.

Thank goodness he's not like Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty, marvelous talents who worked far too infrequently. Rather, Depp is making more like Michael Caine, who acts because that's what he is, for good or for bad.

You wanna make the guy happy, People Magazine?

Here's one: Johnny Depp, Best Damn Actor Alive.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mail Bonding

It sounds like the punch line of a Henny Youngman or Rodney Dangerfield joke.

"Things are so bad, the mail is cutting back on delivery. Now they're going to take one less day a week to not get your stuff there on time."

Sorry, USPS people, but I'm a little annoyed.

The Postal Service wants to petition Congress to excise Saturday delivery, because of a---get this---$3.8 billion loss in the 2009 fiscal year. The USPS says it has already made $6 billion in cost-cutting measures, including lowering the payments it made for retiree health benefits by $4 billion in fiscal 2009.

OK, I get why this is; people are simply not mailing as much stuff anymore. Bills are paid online or via phone. E-mail has made letter writing archaic and quaint to the point of weird.

Seems that the only folks using the mail service anymore are those distributing junk.

But if there are fewer pieces of mail, why are they taking longer to reach their destination?

It's not just me.

I've levied this complaint to friends and associates, and they agree with me. The mail is moving at a snail's pace, befitting its derogatory nickname, "snail mail" --- which used to be a term of endearment, to differentiate it from e-mail. But now, it's taking on an all-too literal meaning.

As a freelance writer, I get checks mailed to me quite frequently. Some come from Boston. Some come from Tampa. In both instances, the checks are taking five-to-seven days to arrive in my metro Detroit mailbox.

The people sending me those checks empathize; they tell me that they, too, have experienced Pony Express-like delivery service. And this is all stuff zipping back and forth between the Continental United States. Sometimes less than half of it.

Boston-to-Detroit isn't Moscow-to-Buenos Aires, but you'd think so.




That said, it really is still a bargain, to cough up 43 cents to send a piece of mail from anywhere from New York to Los Angeles. Just as long as there's no sense of urgency for it actually getting there.

I don't mean to tick off the good people who work for the USPS. But it IS a little confounding; less mail to move, yet it's moving slower. Again, not just my perception.

But here's something: the USPS has trimmed 40,000 jobs as part of its cost-cutting measures. So maybe that's contributing to the slowdown. Yet there are still 712,000 employees on the books. The Postal Service also reduced overtime hours and lowered transportation-related costs.

The move to drop Saturday delivery would save $3.5 billion, according to USPS chief financial officer Joseph Corbett. But even a 5-day delivery schedule won't be enough to put the USPS into the black, Corbett said. So the agency will also propose to Congress that it reduce the $5.5 billion in annual payments to pre-fund retiree health benefits that it is slated to make until 2016.

This marks the third straight fiscal year that the USPS has posted huge losses.

And these numbers, to confirm my suspicions about mail volume: The service's total mail volume plunged by more than 25 billion pieces, or 12.7%, to 177.1 billion pieces. That drop was twice as much as any mail volume decline in the Postal Service's history.

But less volume isn't equaling faster delivery. How come?

Now they want to cut out one day of delivery service, or 16 percent of the days they deliver.

NOW how long will mail take to "get there"?

Maybe we should ask the junk mailers, or bill sender-outers, for their secret. Their stuff always seems to get to its destination forthwith.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's Favs

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

from June 3, 2009


Chevy's Lemon

Conan O'Brien started his new gig last night as the latest host of "The Tonight Show."

I missed it, and, truthfully, I'll probably miss a whole lot more.

I don't watch "Tonight" anymore. Of course, I don't watch much TV, period, anymore, but "Tonight" was a favorite of mine.

No longer.

This isn't to disrespect Conan--who I actually like--or Jay Leno (who I kinda like, too).

But come on--is "Tonight" really "Tonight" if Johnny Carson isn't hosting it?

On October 1, 1962, some folks were asking much the same question, only substituting Jack Paar's name where I placed Johnny's. Or Steve Allen's, depending on your preference.

Johnny stayed some 30 years, and I'd say he pretty much silenced his critics.

Johnny didn't walk off the show, like Paar did, for example.

Jack was upset at the network's censoring of him, and decided he'd had enough. On the set. Live, while the show was going on.

A stupefied Hugh Downs, Paar's announcer, finished the show, no doubt horrified.

Paar returned several months later, with the famous opening line: "As I was saying..."

It ended up being the title of Paar's autobiography.

A short while ago, I wrote about how much I miss the comedic actor Peter Sellers.

I miss Johnny Carson even more.

But Jay Leno carried the torch for 17 years, and that's not bad.

If it doesn't seem that long to you, I understand. Time does fly. But it's true.

Perhaps nothing was more cringe-inducing in television history than when Chevy Chase gave late night TV a go on Fox in 1993.

Almost from the get-go--and I'm talking the opening minutes--you knew that ole Chevy was out of his element.

He had no discernible interview skills. He didn't seem comfortable sitting behind a desk, period--except to do his knock-off of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update."

They tried to help Chevy out, Fox did, by parading some of his old movie co-stars out as guests on opening week.

Goldie Hawn, for one.

Bless her heart. You could tell that she wanted Chevy--with whom she starred in two movies--to succeed in the worst way. But it just wasn't happening.

It reminds me of a twist on an old joke.

"I wanted to host a late night TV show in the worst way--and I did!"

The Hawn "interview" was nothing more than Chevy reminiscing with Goldie, as if they were sitting alone having a drink.

He seemed to forget that tens of millions of eyeballs were watching.

It was painful to watch.

Chevy's show got the broom after only a few weeks. Fox had spent most of the summer hyping the show, actually believing that Chase could put a dent into Dave Letterman's numbers over at CBS.

But the experiment was a total, unmitigated disaster. A complete failure.



Fox's ad campaign aimed to mock Letterman's gap-toothed grin, but Dave had the last laugh--by far


Chase, I remember, wasn't totally humbled. In fact, he was a little ticked off at the Fox network folks.

"They put me in a theater," Chase said about the show's set being in Los Angeles's Aquarius Theater, which was renamed the Chevy Chase Theater not long before the show debuted. "I'm not a 'theater' kind of performer. So that was uncomfortable, from the beginning.'"

I hear you, Chevy, but I think no matter where they put you, I think you would have failed.

Not that it was totally his fault. The Fox people tried putting a square peg in a round hole, and in that instance, you don't blame the peg.

Then there was Magic Johnson's try, which is a whole other blog post.

Johnny Carson was hardly a household name when he took over "Tonight" in 1962. Chase and Magic, however, were, when they tried their hands at late night TV hosting.

Just goes to show you, eh?

As Paar would have said, "I kid you not."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Something Fishy

I wanted some fish, fast food variety, and I bemoaned the lack of a viable option near our house.

Didn't feel like sitting down at Big Boy's, or even our local haunt, Sero's. Not enough dough for Red Lobster. Just wanted some take-out fish, some fries. Fish 'n chips can hit the spot, when I'm so moved.

But nowhere on 12 Mile Road, near our Madison Heights abode, can there be found any fast fish.

Not even on John R or Dequindre or Ryan, the closest north/south trunks.

Then it occurred to me: there had been one, a Seafood Bay on Dequindre just north of 12 Mile, but I put it out of business.

Let me explain.

Sometime in the late-1990s, I cruised over to "the Bay" for some fast fish and some shrimp. I walked in, ordered, and waited. With nothing else to do, I perused my receipt. And, being the human calculator that I am, I noticed something funny.

The cash register charged us nearly seven percent sales tax, instead of the state rate of six percent.

No big deal, you might say. Only about 20 cents on our $20 bill. But fair is fair.

I brought it to the attention of the pimply-faced kid behind the counter. He shrugged and said the register was programmed that way, and he didn't seem to understand why there should be any fuss anyway. Certainly not enough to offer an apology, or even much of an explanation.

I stewed.

Bothered, I called the State of Michigan and after being passed around and explaining several times, I finally reached someone whose department it was.

Their reaction floored me.

Not only didn't they seem bothered by this practice, they in essence told me that as long as the state gets its six percent, they're not all that interested in what places program into their cash registers. No joke.

Now I was really steamed. My little 20 cent overcharge was now turning into a crusade.





Because, at nearly a full percent overcharge per transaction, Seafood Bay's franchise owner on Dequindre could make a pretty penny, if he was doing it on purpose.

I wrote to the State Attorney General, who was still good old Frank Kelley at the time, who was simply one of the finest men to ever serve the folks in Michigan, bar none.

A couple weeks later, I got a reply from Kelley---signed by him---indicating that his people would look into the matter. He was bothered. And if Frank Kelley said he would do something, you could go to the bank on it.

A month or two later, that Seafood Bay was CLOSED.

Coincidence?

I told my wife, partly kidding, that I put Seafood Bay out of business. Me. At least, that location.

Tonight it came back to haunt me. For I was in the mood for some fast fish, and I ended up having to drive all the way to Long John Silver's at 8 Mile and Ryan (whose food is delicious, by the way). Because there was no viable alternative along the 12 Mile/John R/Dequindre/Ryan stretch.

Because I had put the only viable alternative out of business.

Hey, I just call 'em like I see 'em.

Charge the right amount of sales tax. Is that so much to ask?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Phoney Baloney

First, it was that you couldn't get a human being on the phone when you called (insert company). It's still that way, of course, but now I have a new beef.

You can't even get a human being on the phone---when YOU'RE the one being called!

I suppose they're called "robo calls"---the phenomenon of automated systems dialing you with pre-recorded voices on the other end of the line.

Some of these calls are slickly done; they start out sounding like a real person.

Technology has improved. Time was, pre-taped messages sounded, well, pre-taped. These new calls sound like people, because there isn't that AM radio-like hiss or static.

I've been fooled.

I got a call several months ago from some financial planning dude named John Stephens. He sounded very casual and friendly.

"Hi, this is John Stephens," he said in a manner and tone that suggested that he and I were longtime friends. I actually started to talk to the guy---before finding out that he was no guy but some recording!




This morning I received two such calls---one from someone wanting to know if anyone in the household had diabetes, and a "courtesy" call from CVS pharmacy reminding us of a prescription that needed to be refilled. Both recorded.

But there's an advantage to these recorded calls: you can hang up on them without feeling guilty.

"John Stephens," by the way, has called me several times since, but now I don't fall for his casual, nice guy routine. I've even stopped talking back to him.

It's starting to feel like a "Twilight Zone" episode---millions of phones in this country without people on the other end, both calling us and taking our calls.

How long before these computerized operators start calling each other?

Will there be a day when the computer answering my call at the electric company runs afoul of its software program and dials "John Stephens"?

What a conversation that would be!

I wonder if John fills his scripts at CVS.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Big, Dead John

There's been some scuttlebutt over a new DirecTV ad that features comedian David Spade and his former partner in crime, Chris Farley.

The DirecTV ads are clever, to say the least. They thrust real-life stars back onto the sets of one of their more famous movies, only this time they break the plane and speak to the viewer, extolling DirecTV's benefits.

They do it by doing an amazing job of recreating the scene through CG effects, but that's really Sigourney Weaver, or Charlie Sheen, or any of the others who've appeared in the campaign, talking to us about DirecTV. The Weaver one is particularly fun, as she speaks to us while battling an alien.

So the latest one has Farley playing one of his over-the-top characters, Spade being the straight man. Spade speaks to us about DirecTV as an aside.

The controversy arises, of course, because Farley is no longer with us. But I recall one of the vacuum cleaner companies running a campaign that superimposed Fred Astaire, dancing up and down walls while operating one of their units.

But beyond the level of taste of the Farley/DirecTV ads, which could be debated, I suppose, it dawned on me that there would be no Chris Farley if there was no John Belushi.

Belushi, who died in 1982 from an accidental drug overdose, administered to him by a girlfriend, was unlike any other performer who preceded him on the big or small screen.

There was no one who matched Belushi when it came to filling the screen with physical, manic comedy. He could be subtle with facial expressions, or he could be loud and boisterous. He could be tender and abrasive and churlish and passionate---often all at the same time.

If you want a glimpse of some of his genius, YouTube a search of Belushi impersonating singer Joe Cocker during a famous "Saturday Night Live" episode. Or watch him while being one half of The Blues Brothers with good friend Dan Aykroyd.

"Animal House," of course, was Belushi's watershed moment on screen. But as bad as "1941" was, he was pretty damn good in that as well. He chewed the scenery---sometimes literally---but a John Belushi going half-speed wouldn't have been near as much fun.


The late, great John Belushi


Just before he died, Belushi tried some more dramatic roles, particularly in "Continental Divide," where he played a reporter in a love story written by the great Lawrence Kasdan. He also tried black comedy with the disturbingly funny "Neighbors."

Belushi was 33 when he died in Hollywood from a fatal drug cocktail.

Chris Farley was also 33, creepy enough, when he died in Chicago, also from a drug mishap. And, like Belushi, Farley was a gifted physical comedian with a grandiose personality that dominated the screen. And like Belushi, Farley gained notoriety from being a "Saturday Night Live" cast member.

The comparisons are eery but also wonderfully symmetrical.

John Belushi blazed the trail for the Chris Farleys of the world, but who was Belushi's predecessor?

Who filled the mise en scene as completely and with as much energy as John Belushi, before Belushi came along?

John Belushi, it says here, was one of the greatest performers in television history. Certainly one of its biggest, both in talent and in personality. And he was just starting to make movies his territory, too, before he died prematurely.

Chris Farley, too, could have done some more great things if given the time.

That both Belushi and Farley were gone at age 33, just when they were scratching the surface of their talent, should be what we're offended by---not whether DirecTV uses Farley's likeness in a promo some 12 years after his death.

It's like what the late Dick Schaap wrote about sometimes vulgar comedian Lenny Bruce after Lenny OD'd in his prime.

"Here's another four-letter word for you, Lenny," Schaap wrote. "DEAD, at age 40."

THERE'S your shock value.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday's Favs

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

from April 10, 2009


Chop Shop


Carl's Chop House is no more. Never again will a steak thrill me so.

It's been closed for several months now, Carl's has. But the familiar sign is still there, visible as you head down the Lodge Freeway, near Grand River.

All you non-Detroiters, keep reading. Because no matter where you live, you need to know that once upon a time sat a steakhouse where I nearly ran into the kitchen and yanked the chef into the dining area.

Don't worry; it wasn't to throttle him. Instead, I wanted to reveal to the customers that there existed a man who knew how to cook a steak "well done" while, at the same time, preserving its juices and flavor.

I first dined at Carl's, in its old, unimpressive from the outside brick building, in 1990, while courting my future wife. I had heard about it, along with the other famed steakhouse in Detroit, the London Chop House, for years but never had the occasion to eat there.

So I took the future Mrs. Eno to Carl's, ordered me a steak well done, and when I cut into it, my plate filled up with juices so fast I was afraid the steak was hemorrhaging.

Then I took a bite and that's when I harbored thoughts of marching into the kitchen and dragging the chef out by his ear.

"See?? See this man?" I would have yelled in the middle of the dining room. "This is a man who should immediately be deified and you should all bow to him. For this man has made a steak well done that doesn't resemble charcoaled beef!"

I still don't know how they did it at Carl's. The steaks were as thick as a New York telephone book, yet they were as tender and juicy as medium-rare prime rib. It tempted you to eschew the steak knife, or a knife altogether, and simply use your fork to cut off a piece, as if you were eating pancakes.

If they had any bottles of steak sauce at Carl's, then they were around merely as knick knacks, like conversation pieces. For if anyone dared pour steak sauce on a Carl's steak, then they should have been condemned to eternal damnation.



They started you off at Carl's with a relish tray that resembled a personal salad bar. It was also the only relish tray I ever saw at a restaurant that had pickled herring on it.

I used to order my steak with hash browns, because Carl's also had the best hash browns in town, so you know.

There was a salad, of course, but I didn't need any of it. Just give me the steak, a fork, and fill my water glass occasionally.

The service was terrific, too. The staff kept on top of you, and there was never more than a 15, 20 minute wait before your meal arrived. Even on their busiest nights.

So my wife and I made Carl's our "place" ever since our initial visit. We would go there on special occasions, like a birthday, or whenever I wanted one of their steaks and had the dough to pay for it.

Carl's wasn't cheap. It was hard to get away for less than $100 for two people. But I would have paid more. I would have paid it gladly, for there was never a steak like a Carl's Chop House steak. No sir.

I can see them now, thick and juicy and just about the finest thing ever plated. For $36 a pop.

Then the casino moved in across the street and that was the beginning of the end for Carl's.

They even dickered with the idea of turning Carl's into an adult night club, if you can imagine such a thing.

Sure would have put a new meaning into the term "New York Strip".

Carl's Chop House is gone. If you never got a chance to eat there, I'd consider suicide. Because your life is drastically worse off now.

You had your chance; Carl's had been opened since the 1940s, you know. So where were you?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Running Man

Now Dave Bing won't have to run for mayor of Detroit anymore. Not for four more years, anyway---presuming he still wants the job after actually doing it.

Bing has been Detroit's mayor in title only. He hasn't been able to get to the meat of anything because he hasn't been mayor---he's been running for mayor.

But now the long litany of primaries and elections in Detroit is over with, Bing having easily disposed of challenger Tom Barrow on Tuesday in the (finally!) general election.

And there's an added bonus: Bing will get to work with a shiny new council president---one who isn't jaded and who is young and who would appear to have an esprit de corps about him.

Charles Pugh, the former TV reporter/host, was the surprise of the night, gathering the most votes of any council candidate, thus making him council president.

No Monica Conyers and her traveling sideshow. No Ken Cockrel Jr. --- a good man but perhaps stung by his own brief time as mayor. No career politician who's in bed with all sorts of unsavories in town.

Detroit couldn't ask for anything better. My opinion.


Mayor (permanently this time) Dave Bing


The city's residents get Bing, who truly cares---though he's already managed to alienate a whole bunch of city employees and some union folks and even volunteers. But in order to make an omelet....well, you know the rest.

And they get Pugh, leading council---fresh, eager, energized.

Dave Bing and Charles Pugh: The Old and the Restless.

So much better than the Mutt and Jeff days of not so long ago.

For the first time in nearly two years, Detroit can finally start to move forward.

It'll be two years this January when the Kwame Kilpatrick/"sexting" scandal hit the front page of the Detroit Free Press. From that moment on, Detroit was rudderless, essentially. Yes, Cockrel took over, by law, late last summer. Yes, he was followed by Bing. But in between, one of those guys was always running---in a primary or a special election or a general one.

Why the powers that be deemed that we have all this traipsing to the polls every few months is beyond me.

Detroit has burned while Nero---in the form of an election fetish---has fiddled around.

Now the real work starts for Dave Bing---and, to a lesser degree, Charles Pugh.

No more stumping. No more "I'll get to it once I get this job permanently." No more looking over the shoulder, to see who's gaining now.

Just...being mayor.

What a concept.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Scary Good

There aren't too many sure things in life, but here's one.

Matt Harker's loss is most definitely someone's gain. It already has been.

Harker is a Chicagoland guy who broke off his engagement to fiancee Teanne Harris---six days before the wedding was to take place.

And Harris showed him up, big time.

After finding out that the deposit on her banquet hall was non-refundable, Harris looked across the street from it, saw the Asbury Court Retirement Community, and got some ideas.

Parrrty!!

Harris, 34, simply asked that the proceedings be moved across the street, where a couple hundred seniors were then treated to food, drink, and dancing---courtesy the DJ that Harris also didn't cancel.

It was to be a Halloween-themed party---isn't that deliciously ironic, considering the ghoul that Harker turned out to be---so many of the Asbury Court Retirement Community residents who participated showed up in costume as they consumed food, beverage, and otherwise enjoyed themselves, all on Harris's dime.

"I don't think she knew anybody here, and we don't get offers like that. So we were thrilled and so were our residents. It came out of the blue," Mary Eichenfeld, the resident services director of the facility in Des Plaines, Ill., told the New York Daily News.

Flowers and jars of candy decorated the tables.

Harris, according to this account, put on a brave face and attended what should have been her wedding reception but declined to speak to reporters. "She came to the party and while I saw her smiling, I'm sure she was feeling pretty bad," said Eichenfeld.

Harris had her bridal bouquet placed in the retirement home's chapel.

"She's an angel," Eichenfeld told WBBM.

An angel that Harker let get away.


Teanne Harris, pictured during an earlier trip to Hawaii, to where she returned for a solo, husband-less honeymoon


Now, to be fair, we don't know the story behind Harker's ditching of Harris less than a week before their nuptials. An attempt by the Daily News to reach him for comment failed.

But it's hard not to think that he blew it with this girl.

Ana Rojas, a resident of Asbury Court, praised Harris' generous donation.

"This world looks miserable, but there's good people in it," Rojas told WBBM-TV.

Cynics might point out that Harris's first intention was to cancel the party and get some of her money back. But who among us wouldn't have tried to do that? It's the second part---the donating of the party to others, as opposed to just sulking and letting everything go unused, that elevates Harris above many of us.

But here's something: she went to Hawaii---her honeymoon destination---anyhow.

"That was supposed to be her honeymoon, but she's going alone," Eichenfeld told the Daily News. "I say good for her. I hope she finds a nice guy who deserves her."

I'm not sure one of those exists.