Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Barney, It's Not

I knew Cobo Arena was a throwback place, but I had no idea.

The folks from across the pond in the U.K. are transforming Cobo into prehistoric Earth, thanks to their "Walking with Dinosaurs" show, playing downtown now thru Sunday.

I managed to get to opening night last night with my 16-year-old daughter while mom sat home. The good people at Olympia Entertainment were only able to provide me with two review tickets for opening night, not three, but it's still much appreciated.

Especially since they put on such a fantastic show.

"Walking" is a 90-minute romp through the hundreds of millions of years when dinosaurs roamed this planet. The show is narrated by a modern day "paleontologist" who, in full gear, guides you through the various stages of the dinosaurs' existence. He's on stage with wireless mike/headset, energetically explaining what it is that you're experiencing.

And it's quite a sight.

The dinosaurs---some mechanical, some manned by people inside---are every bit as realistic-looking as anything you've seen in the "Jurassic Park" flicks. And some of them are VERY big.

But the show starts with the very small---hatching eggs from which peek out babies who are gyrating and bobbing and weaving like newborn chicks. But alas, as the narrator points out, there were predators from the get go, and one of the babies isn't so lucky; he/she is carted off in the mouth of a hungry adult. All while the Cobo Arena crowd went "Awwww!" in unison.

We're treated to conflicts and territorial fights. Inflatable "vegetation" sprouts from the sidelines.

The main event is, of course, the appearance of a gigantic T-Rex, who arrives when her offspring is under attack.

The roaring is loud, the sound effects---especially when rain and fire are depicted---are spot on, and our narrator/guide comes off very credible and likable.

The show pauses after about 35 minutes for a 20-minute intermission, then gets rolling again for another 40+ minutes.

It's one of those rarities nowadays: wholesome family entertainment, performed live. The dinosaurs, while realistic, aren't so terrifying that youngsters will have nightmares. At least, I don't think so.

The tails sway and if you sit up close like we did, you almost feel like you have to duck at times.

Personally, I think I got more of a kick out of watching our daughter, who's been wanting to see "Walking" for over a year, enjoy the show than I did anything else.

Eventually, though, the narrator talks about the comet that hits Earth, and you know that the end is near---for the dinosaurs, and for "Walking."

All in all, "Walking" was a neat way to spend 100 minutes downtown, in venerable Cobo, where today's mayor used to make his living, back in the day.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sorry Charlie

If I was Charlie Sheen, and I was allowed to start making phone calls again, I'd place one to Robert Downey, Jr.

The actor Sheen is in trouble again. With a girl, again. And this time it's a tad serious. Charlie was arrested on Christmas Day due to a domestic disturbance, and there are reports that a knife was involved.

The alleged victim is thought to be Sheen's wife, Brooke Mueller, though that's not been confirmed.

The star of the hit CBS television sitcom "Two and a Half Men" was arrested Friday in the ski resort of Aspen, Colorado, on suspicion of second-degree assault and menacing---both felony offenses---and a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief.

The celebrity gossip website is reporting that Mueller was drunk at the time, and that she initially had told police that Sheen threatened her with a knife but later recanted much of her story.

Knife or no knife, Sheen has been one of those "Hollywood bad boys" for too long now. His romps with girls who are not his significant other are part of his lore.

I mention Downey because, even though Robert's troubles were with drugs and alcohol, he nonetheless overcame them and got his life---and his career---back on track. Downey narrowly avoided becoming yet another cautionary tale in the entertainment industry. Now he's making one successful movie after the other, and he's wearing more than just orange jumpsuits.

Sheen is marvelously talented, too, though he basically plays himself in "Two and a Half Men"---a womanizing guy named, um, Charlie. But that's a bad example of his acting skills. I've always found Charlie Sheen to be the most talented of Martin Sheen's sons, by far. To some, that may not be saying much, but Emilio Estevez has had his moments.

If I was Charlie Sheen, I'd give Downey a call and ask him how he was able to pull himself out of the abyss and get the ship turned around. For no one had one foot in the career grave as far as Robert Downey Jr. had it at times in his life. Not even close. Downey was one crack pipe toke away from complete oblivion.

Sheen was released from jail Friday night on $8,500 bail. A decision about charges is unlikely to be made before February 8, when Sheen is due back in court in Aspen.

Sheen, 44, and Mueller, 32, married in May 2008 and had twin sons in April 2009.

There are precious few stories of triumph in Hollywood---the kind that involve personal rectifying. Sheen has a chance to be one of those, if he has it in him.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cherry on Top?

John Cherry is too big to be lugged around by coattails. He needs to make the trek on his own.

Cherry holds the position of Lieutenant Governor of Michigan, which is like being Vice President of the United States, only much, much worse. You could join the Witness Protection Program and have more notoriety.

Yet from this role, Cherry hopes to be governor. He aims to follow his boss, Jenny Granholm, into the big chair in Lansing. There are naysayers. Skeptics. Derisive comments are being made.

And that's from within his own party.

There are serious concerns within the Democratic camp whether Cherry is a strong enough candidate to fend off the higher profile Republicans who are about to duke it out for the GOP nomination, come next November.

Those concerns are well-founded, me thinks.

But don't come crying to me. I made a perfectly good suggestion a couple months or so ago, but heaven forbid anyone listen.

Yet all might not be lost.

I also told the story, in this space, of John Engler, and how his gubernatorial hopes seemed folly in 1990, until I unwittingly helped screw things up for my man Jim Blanchard.

Granholm, despite two terms, hasn't grown coattails long enough, or strong enough, for someone like Cherry---or any lieutenant governor, for that matter---to ride them to victory without some help.

And since when do lieutenant governors ascend to governor in Michigan?

John Cherry: The Man Who Would Be Governor?

Even the Obama Administration has some doubts about Cherry, and has reportedly whispered them to the Dem leaders in Michigan, a state which, if it went red, could be a bad omen for 2012.

But aside from my idea (hint: it's Bob Ficano, in case you decided not to click on the above hyperlink), there really isn't anyone else who seems to have the temerity or name recognition to get anyone excited.

Not that name recognition is always a good thing. Just ask Tiger Woods.

Andy Dillon, Michigan House Speaker, doesn't have enough experience. Rumors are that U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow was even approached, at the behest of the Obama people, and she politely (I assume) declined.

John Cherry hasn't done anything in eight years, though it's not his fault. It's the job he has. The party needs to brand him with some sort of accomplishment, even if it's somewhat contrived. They need to point to Cherry and say, without him, such-and-such wouldn't have happened.

And they have only a few months to do it.

If Granholm wasn't term limited (don't get me started), I think she would survive whomever the GOP ends up nominating, albeit barely. But it would absolutely be no cakewalk.

Ironically, the Democrats might be better served to point out the differences between Cherry and Granholm, as opposed to the similarities. That's about as un-coattails-ish as you can get.

But there are eight months before the primary. As John Engler showed us, that's practically an eternity. Kind of like his tenure as governor.

But that's another column.


UPDATE (Jan. 8, 2010): Cherry dropped out of the governor's race on January 4, 2010, citing an inability to raise enough funds. Later in the week, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano announced that he would not seek the Democratic nomination, despite Cherry's dropping out. House Speaker Andy Dillon appears to be the frontrunner, as of January 8, 2010.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Life, Interrupted

I don't take in late night television too much anymore, which actually follows a pattern I have throughout the rest of the day. If it's not sports, or a special about the JFK assassination, I pretty much don't watch it.

But I happened upon the David Letterman show a few years ago---I remember this distinctly---and I was taken by the bubbly, perky young woman chatting up Dave to the audience's, and Dave's, bemusement.

She was breezy without appearing loaded. Engaging without being ditzy. She just seemed like a lot of fun; there was nothing bimbo about her. It wasn't very long after that when I caught her in a movie with Ashton Kutcher, a comedy called "Just Married." She was terrific in it.

That's how I remember Brittany Murphy.

Murphy, who died suddenly at age 32 yesterday in California, wasn't typically mentioned when the discussion turned to America's finest young actors. She had her moments, though.

There was her turn in "8 Mile," as Eminem's love interest; "Don't Say a Word," in which she played a young girl suffering from post traumatic stress, who holds the clue to another girl's abduction; "Love and Other Disasters," in which she played a matchmaker at Vogue magazine; "Girl, Interrupted," when she played a sexually abused mental hospital patient; and over 200 episodes as the voice of Luanne Platter in Fox's animated "King of the Hill."

That, plus "Just Married," a comedy about a newlywed couple and their misadventures on their honeymoon in Europe.

Brittany Murphy: 1977-2009

No, she may not have been recognized as one of this country's best at her craft, but she was only 32 and she's dead and that tragedy supercedes everything.

2009 has been unkind when it comes to celebrity deaths---both in terms of their lives and their reputations. Things got off to a bad start with the Natasha Richardson skiing accident early in the year and that, sadly, set the tone.

Just last week, we lost NFL player Chris Henry at age 26 after he fell out of a truck during a domestic dispute. And we lost the Tiger Woods that we thought we knew, to multiple instances of philandering. Michael Jackson was lost, largely thanks to an inner circle who looked the other way and doctors who were too mealy to take a stand.

So the latest is Brittany Murphy, who by all accounts was the light that lit up any room in which she occupied. This, according to those who knew her best.

I found her to be very refreshing when I saw her on Letterman's show.

I'm not going to go too heavy-handed here because I knew little about Murphy, other than what I've mentioned. But I thought she was a pretty damn good actor.

But you don't have to know someone to know that, at 32, they've gone too soon.

Murphy's bio at says she's due to be seen in no less than five movies in 2010 and beyond, that have already been completed. So you'll get a chance to see her perform again. There's that, at least.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday's Favs

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

from March 25, 2009

Used Book Smart

If I didn't have a wife, a daughter, and the need to earn a living, I believe I could survive with two things: a used bookstore, and a bathroom. And maybe a chair. But don't go searching for one on my account.

I have a thing for used bookstores. Seriously. Some folks, when they arrive in a new town, seek out a cool bar or a trendy restaurant. Or a copy of USA Today. I go looking for the nearest used bookstore.

Oh, I've done that -- so don't go calling me a liar. I've done it in St. Louis, New York, and Chicago. And I'd do it in Peoria and Fort Myers and Altoona, if I ever found myself in those burgs.

It's daycare for me. If you ever need to ditch me while you go off with other, more exciting people -- like, say, for a week or two -- then simply drop me at the steps of the nearest used bookstore and have yourself a great time in my absence.

But I'm warning you -- I'll fight you to the death when it's time for me to leave.

I don't even know when I became fascinated with the musty smell and the creaky floorboards and the creepy cat who roams around amongst the shelves and customers' feet. Not sure when I took to the soft, classical music playing on the sound system. But I think it was in college.

I attended Eastern Michigan University, a school whose biggest amenity -- but don't tell the Board of Regents this -- was its close proximity to Ann Arbor. And Ann Arbor has itself some marvelous used bookstores. So it probably all started there, circa 1981.

The used bookstore comes in all shapes and sizes.

I've been to the cozy ones, typically occupying the upstairs floor of a two-story building in town. With their narrow, claustrophobic aisles -- the kind where your back grazes the books behind you as you browse. I've been to the well-lit, open-spaced ones; usually those types occupy an out-of-business retail space in a strip mall. And I've been to most every other kind in between.

But nothing -- and I mean NOTHING -- prepared me for what lie in store for me at John King Books in downtown Detroit.

First off, the store is located in a four-story building. Correction: the store IS a four-story building. Yeah.

And each floor is big. I mean, huge. With all the shelves and counters and display chests, you could hide out there for days and I don't think John would know you were even there. I used to wonder whether they ever closed up shop and left customers inside, unknowingly. Then, after several visits, I began wondering how MANY customers they left inside. Forget the "if".

I used to spend lunch hours in King's store when I worked in Detroit and had the occasion to find myself downtown due to business. No, I never ate.

First off, how was I going to hold my food, with both hands occupying books?

Second, who can eat at a time like that, anyway?

I'm a mystery guy, first and foremost. That's the section I head straight for in any store I happen upon. I'm a sucker for the small, pulp-style paperbacks that fill that section. Sometimes I like to just pick up one of those "pocket books" and look at it, wondering thru how many hands it's passed.

Then it's off to the movies/TV section, to check out the coffee table books with titles like The History of Paramount or Film Noir. Those are picture books, essentially; large, thick books with tons of photos and with text that amounts to mainly captions.

Sports, of course, gets a once-over. Same with history.

Once, at King's store, I bought a book on how to best pack and smoke a pipe. It didn't really have anything that I didn't already know (I'm a closet pipe smoker; that is, until this very moment, I guess), but I was drawn to its style of writing: very sophisticated and obviously trying to appeal to the men of high society. I think it was written in the 1950s.

King has another, smaller version, located in Ferndale. Spent hours there, too.

A couple weeks ago, my wife (who likes them too but knows when to leave) introduced me to a store in Clawson that she enjoys and exchanges books with. It was a nifty little place, at the end of a short strip of retail. I bought a detective novel. She went for a few romances.

I get a kick out of the employees. I don't think I've ever been in a used bookstore where the person behind the register (and that's where they plant themselves and don't move) wasn't: a) older than 50; and b) a candidate for a Diane Arbus photo shoot. Sorry for the obscure Arbus reference, but Google her and you'll get it.

But they're friendly folks, the cash register sitters. They say hi to you when you walk in, and say bye to you when you leave, and they don't seem to mind it if you've just spent a couple hours browsing and didn't buy anything.

They don't even sic the cat on you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Wonderful World of Roy

The Magic Kingdom got a little less magical.

Roy Disney is dead. Roy, the nephew of Walt---and avid competitive sailor---the brilliant leader of Disney's Animation Department, is gone at age 79, from cancer.

For over 56 years, Roy was associated with the company empire that his father, Roy Sr., and Uncle Walt built.

But for the past year, Roy Jr. battled stomach cancer.

"As head of Disney Animation, Roy helped to guide the studio to a new golden age of animation with an unprecedented string of artistic and box office successes that included 'The Little Mermaid,' 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Aladdin' and 'The Lion King,' " the company said.

There are some companies whose family name will forever resonate. Maybe none more so than Disney, which began way back in 1923.

Roy E. Disney: 1930-2009

Roy Disney was a Harvard kid, and got started in the entertainment business in 1952 as an assistant film editor on the "Dragnet" TV series, working under Jack Webb. Disney took the same job a year later at Walt Disney Studios.

It's mind boggling in a way, but think back to all of the Disney animated features you've ever seen, since childhood---not to mention all of the shorts. Then know that just about every one of them was overseen by Roy Disney Jr.

But Roy was no one-dimensional entertainment kind of guy.

He received two Oscar nominations. One was as a writer and production associate on the 1959 short subject film "Mysteries of the Deep," and the second was for his work in 2003 as executive producer of "Destino," a film based on storyboards and original art by the iconic artist Salvador Dali.

And there was his sailing.

Roy Disney held several elapsed-time records for offshore races in the Pacific Ocean, including multiple wins in the 2,225-mile Transpac race between Hawaii and California, according to the company.

Cancer got Walt Disney, too, in 1966, but Walt was only 65. And there's this---Walt died on December 15; Roy succumbed on the 16th.

A private funeral service and cremation are planned, the company said. His ashes will be scattered at sea, it said.

Sailing, remember.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dog Spelled Backward is...

Today is the boss's birthday. I think I'll get him a new chewy.

The boss is six years old today, weighs 19 pounds, and rules with an iron paw.

He's our Jack Russell Terrier, Scamp, and I've resisted writing about him until today because his head is big enough as it is. But it's Scamp's sixth birthday today, so why not toss him a bone---pun intended.

Scamp rules the house because whatever he wants, he gets. This includes walks when he wants a walk, treats when he wants a treat, food when he wants food, play fetch when he wants to play fetch, and even our bed, when he wants that---which is nightly.

He also helps himself to towels off the rack to roll around in, and guards our yard zealously against squirrels and birds. He packs, pound for little pound, more of a wallop than a Great Dane.

But he rules because we let him, and we let him because he's so damn cute. And somehow, he must know it, for he uses his cuteness against us, like some sort of force field.

Scamp has one brown eye and one blue eye and they both look at you with equal amounts of profundity and love.

I walk him four or five times a day because, well, that's what he wants. He has the gait of a cartoon dog---on his tip toes with his head moving from left to right. I half expect the scenery around us to repeat every six seconds, like a Hannah-Barbera short.

If humans could move objects per his strength that Scamp can move human beings with his 19 pounds, then you'd see a man shove over a Redwood tree---without nary one swipe of a saw.

I know this to be true because if you were to divide our bed into thirds, vertically, Scamp would end up with his body overlapping a portion of each third. While we, meanwhile, are slowly but surely nudged closer and closer to the edge. He, with his 19 pounds, can move over 300 pounds of human beings out of his way.

Scamp also has seizures, which we're trying to control. Another way he keeps us on our toes.

Yep, Scamp's the boss. But if you're going to have a boss, it may as well be a snuggly, lovable, adorable dog with a heart the size of Texas.

Besides, I know he'll never fire us. As long as he gets what he wants.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday's Favs

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

from June 22, 2009

Not-so-Sweet Lou

Forget the Bushes -- the Romneys might have done the father/son boogaloo in the White House.

If it wasn't for Lou Gordon, that is.

It's a shame that we have grown a whole generation of people who have no idea who Lou was.

Lou Gordon was a media tyrant, in that he put you on his show and sweated the truth out of you under those big TV lights in the WKBD, channel 50 studios.

He made 60 Minutes look like child's play, at times.

Gordon was a Detroit icon, back in the 1960s and '70s. He hosted The Lou Gordon Show on Sunday nights, and when my parents let me stay up to watch it, I usually got an eyeful.

He would bring on everyone from the silly to the serious, and often they ended up the same way: grilled, with marks on their back.

Uri Geller, the reputed mentalist, came on one night and purported to bend spoons. Until Lou humiliated him and exposed him as a fraud.

Lou would get his guests so angry that a familiar scene was said guest ripping off his microphone and stomping off the set -- including Alabama Governor George Wallace, one night.

That's the stuff I especially liked as a kid.

One night, Lou was going to have different reps from different utility companies on, and two of them showed up and one didn't -- yet Lou kept the empty chair on the set the whole show, to constantly remind us that someone was too scared to appear.

Not that I blame that person for taking a pass.

Lou Gordon was a grizzled old journalist whose eyes you couldn't pull the wool over. He saw through the phonies and didn't take just any canned answer at face value.

And it was Lou who derailed, indirectly, George Romney's presidential bid, in 1968.

Romney, the governor of Michigan at the time, went on Lou's show to talk about his experiences in Vietnam, from where he recently returned.

Lou asked him, basically, why Romney had changed his stance, from being pro-war to more anti-war.

"Well, you know, they do a great job over there," Romney said, of the military and the U.S. government's propaganda effort.

"When I came back from Vietnam, I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone could get. Not only by the generals, but by the diplomatic core."


A presidential candidate...brainwashed?

Romney's words, too. Not Lou's.

Lou only provided the rope. George did the rest.

Needless to say, the comment gained legs and ended up destroying Romney's chances to become dog catcher, let alone president.

The "brainwash" remark is among the most infamous in U.S. political history--certainly in the TV age. The moment ranks up there with Senator Ed Muskie and his crying jag when he defended his wife's honor in 1972, as far as torpedoing a presidential bid before it really got started.

Lou's assistant on the show was his wife, Jackie, who screened the calls and was seen on set frequently.

Lou Gordon was also a newspaper columnist and that's where he got most of his journalistic chops.

As one person described him, "He was fearless. I don't think Lou cared if anyone liked him or not."

Lou passed away in 1977, leaving us far too soon -- not that his targets would agree.

For more info about Lou's show, courtesy of his son's company, click HERE.

Here's the clip with George Romney:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Apple, Jack!

I've been eating more apples lately than a stable full of horses, and it's a damn miracle, as far as I'm concerned.

For years---and we're talking at least 20---I was unable to munch on a fresh apple. It was some sort of allergy, because my throat would close up a tad and I'd have hay fever-type symptoms: sneezing, watery eyes, and even my lips would tingle.

Cooked apples were fine, as in pies, turnovers, etc. Applesauce was good, too.

Then, a change. Divine intervention, maybe.

I hazarded an apple a couple months ago, on a whim. Our daughter's band had a fundraiser and there was a whole box of apples sitting there, waiting to be consumed. I chomped into one and waited for the usual reaction. For the past several years, every so often I'd try an apple, and every time I'd be disappointed.

This time was different.

A few seconds went by after the first bite. Nothing. I tried another. Still no reaction. I kept eating.

I finished the thing, and it was deLISH. You have no idea how good an apple can be if you haven't been able to enjoy one for two decades.

I found out the apples were called Honeycrisps (I'm finding out a lot about the different strains of apple) and I won't buy any other. Of course, they're the most expensive ones out there---about $2.49 a pound unless you can find them on sale.

But a Honeycrisp almost bites itself. You just press your teeth against one and the skin is pierced and inside you're treated to a sweetish tartness that's fantabulous.

A Honeycrisp apple; YUM!

I've been on an apple-eating jag since before Halloween. Our daughter asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to slice my apple and swipe the pieces into some caramel dip that we had on hand.

"No," I told her. "I don't want to dilute the flavor."

I have no idea why my body isn't rebelling against apples anymore. Fresh cherries gave me the same reaction---and I love fresh cherries---but I'm sad to report that I tried ONE cherry this summer and it was bad news.

But that's OK. I have my apples back in my life.

At this rate, I'll never have to see a doctor again.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Que Sarah, Sarah

My mother, normally sound of mind, waylaid me about a month back, while I was enjoying dinner at her house with my wife and daughter.

"Sarah Palin just might come back," she said, or something to that effect.

I nearly choked on my corned beef.

I made sure we were talking about the same Sarah Palin. It was confirmed.

It wasn't April Fool's Day. A "Candid Camera" crew didn't burst in. Mom wasn't, that I knew of, running a fever.

Mom's no more Republican than I am, which is about as un-Republican as the Clintons. So this wasn't some partisan pipe dream. She just thinks that ole Sarah has a legitimate chance to rise from the ashes of her failed VP bid in 2008 and land on top of the GOP ticket in 2012.

Well, I tell ya---it would be a first.

In U.S. political history, failed VP nominees don't end up being president material. The closest you can come is Bob Dole, who ran with Jerry Ford in 1976 and, 20 years later, was ill-equipped to run against Bill Clinton's re-election campaign.

Key words: 20, years, and later.

To come back four years after losing at the bottom of the ticket, only to emerge as the party nominee, is pretty much unprecedented. I don't count Walter Mondale/1980-84 because Walter was a sitting VP who lost with Jimmy Carter in 1980 before turning around and being stomped by Ronald Reagan four years later.

But Sarah Palin is sure acting and talking like someone who's got her four eyes on the 2012 prize.

She won't win---I was very adamant about that with dear old mom at dinner---because she's too polarizing and too intellectually challenged. But Mom's point---at least I think it was---was that Sarah is vivacious, determined, and indeed well-liked by a fairly decent sampling of the population.

And she's been pretty much at the forefront when it comes to the political right criticizing President Obama.

Palin penned a rather formidable---the cynic in me wonders if it was ghostwritten---plea to Obama to boycott Copenhagen's Climate Change Conference because of controversy surrounding some hacked e-mails, which she alleges compromises the credibility of scientists who researched global warming. I was actually impressed with how she presented her argument, which you can read here.

But something still tells me that if the Republicans are going to put all of their eggs into the Sarah Palin basket, then it will be a catastrophic move for a party already looked at as being too rigid and conservative and polarizing.

Palin's aspirations seem presidential, though. I give her credit for one thing: she's trying to portray herself as more than just "that nutty woman from Alaska." Palin is trying to broaden her brush and her mind. She's giving herself a crash course on international politics and foreign policy. At home, Palin is quick to move to the front of the line when it comes to domestic bones of contention.

The woman is trying, I'll give her that.

But the odds---and history---are against her. Of course, that never stopped anyone before, did it?

Like Eugene McCarthy once said: "It's a whole lot easier to run for president than it is to stop."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday's Favs

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

from August 3, 2009

A Gym Brat

I apologize to Mr. Flynn. It's been a long time coming.

I was a ringleader of sorts, who made Mr. Flynn's life more difficult than it needed to be. But I just wanted to win so badly.

Mr. Flynn was my gym teacher in grade school---we called it "elementary school" then, and the folks before us called it "grammar school"---and again, I'm sorry, sir.

I was the Billy Martin and Earl Weaver of my day, traits not endearing to an 11-year-old boy. And Mr. Flynn was the unflappable but exasperated umpire.

Never was my competitive spirit higher than as an adolescent. Baseball, touch football, Monopoly, Uncle Wiggly, you name it---I wanted to win. Very badly.

My own mother ejected me from a game of table hockey, though she likely doesn't remember it, nor would choose to believe that about her only kid.

But it's true. She and I were playing---I'm around nine or ten years old---and she scores a goal on me and I lifted the game off its hind legs and let it drop with a clank. Actually, she ejected herself---leaving me alone to stew about my actions.

"This is for the birds," I remember her saying.

I just hated to lose. I guess I was also like Ty Cobb in that regard. And if you thought a mini Earl Weaver was ghastly...

So in gym class, Mr. Flynn would preside over all sorts of games---both indoor and outdoor.

Volleyball. Kickball. Floor hockey. And so on.

Me, on the left, and Mr. Flynn, or may as well be

The choosing of the teams was very scientific.

We'd line up around the perimeter of the gym and Mr. Flynn would say, "OK...ones and twos!!"

The first person would say "ONE!", the second would say "TWO!!"

Very scientific, like I said.

So it was the ones versus the twos. Sometimes Mr. Flynn would get creative and we'd count to four. Then, he'd announce the teams as we all waited with baited breath.


And the threes and twos would race onto the gym floor to partake in the game du jour.

Some of the more sly folks---no names mentioned---would try to be twos AND ones, or some combination that allowed them to play all the time.

Regardless of the team I was on, I was the leader---in whining.

It got to be an inside joke.

A "controversial" play would occur---and for fifth and sixth graders you can imagine what that might have been---and there I'd be, in Mr. Flynn's face.

No joke---I'd race from wherever I was and plead my case as the teacher gave me a bemused look and a smirk.

The other kids would groan and roll their eyes. OK, I didn't see their eyes rolling but I sure as s**t heard the groans.

Sometimes I'd hear, "Eno!", my name drawn out in exasperated fashion by one of the other students---on occasion even a girl.

"No way" was one of my pet phrases.

Mr. Flynn would call a shot a goal that was suspect, in floor hockey for example.

"No way!"

Then I'd be upon him.

At first it was me and some other whiners, but then they tired of the act and it was left to me to plead the case, solo.

I like to think I kept Mr. Flynn and the proceedings honest, but I was likely just ruining things for everyone else.

So, sorry, everyone else. You deserve an apology, too.

I heard that Mr. Flynn, in the summer months, was a bet-taker at DRC, the old horse racing course at Middlebelt and I-96.

No doubt he had to settle some disputes while in that role, too.

What, you disagree?

No way!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Revving Up with a V8

Wow---I really could have had a V8.

Rummaging in the fridge the other day, in the post-Thanksgiving version of nuclear winter, I happened to take a gander wayyy back on the third shelf down.

There they were: a few six-ounce cans of V8, "Extra Spicy" version.

I actually enjoy V8. A lot. Yet it's not something I think about buying. I cruise right by it in the grocery store.

The company's longtime tag line is spot on.

"I coulda had a V8!!"

Forget how good it tastes as part of a bastardized Bloody Mary; V8 is surprisingly refreshing (considering it's made from...VEGETABLES!) and has one of the best after tastes you'll ever find in a drink---especially one made from...VEGETABLES!

This isn't tomato juice, by the way; let's get that clear right off the bat. It looks like tomato juice, yes. And its primary flavor is clearly culled from tomatoes. But this isn't just tomato juice. The drink's name ought to tip you off: eight vegetables (at least) squeezed and mashed together into a sort of non-alcoholic hooch that'll bowl you over with its tang and flavor.

Yeah, I sound like I'm hawking the stuff, but I don't care. A swig of V8 is like smelling salts for your mouth---it wakes it up, and fast.

Yet I rarely buy it. I never ask for it at restaurants. Something so good, something I enjoy so much, yet I shove it back to the recesses of my brain. What gives?

I suppose that's what the V8 folks (it's put out by Campbell's) have been battling over the decades. They have a terrific product that sticks to the customers' consciousness like Teflon.

It simply is not the first drink of choice, despite how great it is.

I like cranberry juice, too, but that only seems to make its way into our fridge around the holidays---because it mixes really well with vodka, for one.

Might it be the cost? A good sized bottle of cranberry juice---if it's Ocean Spray, anyway---can run you every bit of four dollars, at least. V8 isn't cheap, either.

One caveat, though. Don't drink V8 on ice. Instead, wait until it gets verrry cold, then pour a glass. Then drink it quickly. It's a process, see. But trust me---I know what I'm talking about here. Follow the above instructions, and you'll enjoy your V8 immensely.

If you remember to buy some, that is.