Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cold Case, Warmed?

Video games, computers, and text messaging aren't helping, but the days when kids stopped spending time outside started dwindling long before those tech gadgets hit the market.

In fact, you can trace some of it back to a 13-month period that began in February 1976 and ended in March 1977.

Before then, before those 13 months when the Oakland County Child Killer preyed, there was an innocence about kids riding their bikes and playing outside. It was no skin off mom's nose to let her adolescent boys and girls spend hours away from home, sans cell phone or any sort of adult supervision.

That's what I did as a kid---I spent untold hours cruising the neighborhoods on my bicycle, looking for open baseball diamonds, or trying to horn in on games already in progress, my mitt strung over my handle bar.

Or maybe it was off to Cunningham's Drugstore, in search of baseball cards and bubble gum.

Whatever the mission, it meant leaving the house on a summer's morning and not returning until dinner time. Mom didn't fear for my safety, and not because she didn't care about me or love me---but because she simply didn't really have to.

That all began to change in the winter of 1976, when kids started being plucked off the streets in Oakland County and turning up dead several days later.

I was about the same age as the victims of the Oakland County Child Killer, just a tad older. And those kids were doing the same thing I just described: riding their bikes, making a jaunt to the local store, etc.

In that 13-month period, four kids ages 11 to 13 were snatched and killed in southern Oakland County: Mark Stebbins, Jill Robinson, Kristine Mihelich and Timothy King. All were grabbed in different cities: Ferndale, Royal Oak, Berkley and Birmingham.

It was a scary time for parents and kids alike, but probably more for the moms and dads.

A task force was formed, and a car was identified as a possible vehicle driven by the perpetrator. Tons of leads were explored, but in the end, the case was never solved, no arrest ever made.

The case is arguably the most intriguing of any cold case in the state's history.

But King's dad, Barry, is convinced that he has solved the mystery, at least in his mind, if not via the legal system.

For several years, King has believed that a convicted pedophile named Christopher Busch was involved in the killing of Barry's son Timothy.

Timothy King: the fourth and final victim of the Oakland County Child Killer


Barry King is now "more convinced than ever" that Busch is the guilty party, especially in light of the recent court-ordered release of 3,400 pages of investigative records compiled by the the Michigan State Police.

If King is right, then good for him; at least in some way, he'll have some closure.

Busch committed suicide in 1978.

Timothy King would have turned 44 years old this year.

The other victims may have also been killed at the hands of Busch, whose victims were plucked in an order that matches, chronologically and geographically, that of the notorious Oakland County killings.

Regardless of whether the case ever gets solved in a legal sense, one thing is certain.

We lost a lot of innocence, beginning in February 1976, when youngsters were getting snatched off the streets of Oakland County, doing the same thing that kids all over the country were doing.

It was subtle, but it was definite: parents started keeping closer tabs on their kids' activities outside of the home.

And that was way before technology reeled the kids indoors.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Carded!

How big do the retail and food service folks think my wallet is?

I don't mean in terms of space for cash to pay for their products---I mean in terms of space for the stacks of cards they keep giving me as a "reward" for being a return customer.

They're all over---on your key chain, in your wallet, jammed in a coat pocket---those cards that you must present to get scanned or kerchunked, to edge you closer to a free whatchya-ma-call- it.

Enough.

I have cards in my wallet, worn and with the printing almost rubbed off, some with holes punched in them, that now only serve as mementos of visits to Rio Wraps, etc. gone by.

I almost never remember for which businesses I have cards.

They always sound like a good idea at the time. First, they're free. Second, the arrangement has a nice little "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" aspect to it: keep buying our stuff, and eventually you'll get something for free.

Sounds good, right?

Trouble is, I never reach those businesses' threshold for the free stuff.

I'm tantalizingly close at Rio Wraps, and our local video joint. I'm maybe a hole punch or two away from a free burrito, and a free video rental. Maybe I'll achieve both on the same day, and enjoy a free burrito while watching my free movie.

It's a nice idea that these places have, but all these cards do is pile up in your wallet and make it bulge--and not with money.

I think my problem with these arrangements is that the threshold for the free item(s) is a little too steep.




Usually you need no fewer than 10 punches to achieve the free item, and that's simply too many visits for my liking---especially when I'm inevitably going to forget to present my card for punching on at least one occasion.

But at least those cards are flimsy and thin. Not so with the plastic, credit card-like ones that REALLY add paunch to your wallet.

Those don't get punched, of course---they get swiped. Or, they don't get anything, because even the clerks will tell you that you don't really need to present it, because all the info they need is on their computer.

For "convenience," they make mini versions that can be impaled onto your key chain. We have almost as many of those mini cards on our key chain as we have keys. It's like you're a custodian for the retail world.

I know the trick is to get you to come back to their establishment. Fine. But maybe we can go paperless and cardless? Maybe at the checkout we can take 30 seconds to input my info into the computer database, and going forward the cashier can simply ask for a phone number to determine whether I'm a preferred, returning sucker, er, customer?

One day, I'm going to make them all pay. One day, I'm going to get my free Slurpee at 7-Eleven, that free burrito at Rio Wraps, the free video rental, gobs of money off my purchase at CVS and Kroger and God knows where else, and do it all on the same day, and the economy won't know what to do.

Oh, by the way, for every ten visits to this blog, you're eligible for a free yogurt parfait.

Do you have one of my cards?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh, Miley!

Where will Miley Cyrus be five years from now?

You might think you don't care, but you should.

Where will Miley be, if she isn't annexing radio playlists, isn't an honorary owner of YouTube, or doesn't have her own TV show?

Where will she be if she hasn't yet launched a movie career, hasn't leased her name to a line of makeup, or hasn't come out with a book (or two)?

Where will Miley Cyrus be in five years if she hasn't found a nice young man, hasn't settled down a bit, or hasn't gotten involved with a charitable cause?

You might think you don't care.

But you should.

Cyrus is the just-turned-18 pop star who not that long ago was, simultaneously, cutesy Hannah Montana on television and spunky Miley Cyrus on stage, belting out songs that could barely be heard over the screams of the adolescent girls in the audience.

She was in her mid-teens, wholesome, and the daughter of a recording artist who should have been a beacon of guidance for her.

Now, Miley is 18 and she grinds instead of sways. She vamps instead of emotes. She pole dances and takes drugs out of bongs and her performances are almost becoming off-limits to her original audience because if the MPAA saw them, they'd slap an R-rating on them.

To make matters worse, her parents are now divorced and her father has already put his hands in the air in surrender.

OK, so why should you care?

Whether you have children or not, and whether those children are at or near their teen years or not, and whether those children are female or not, you should care because what's happening with Miley Cyrus is wrong. Simple as that.

I thought we had a chance with Miley. I thought she was going to be better than some of the female pop acts who came before her---the ones who went from precious to precocious to luscious in less than 60 seconds.

I thought that, with a father who's in the business and who knows the pitfalls, Miley would have at least one parent who'd steer her in the right direction.

I thought the sweet, fresh Hannah Montana alter ego was more than just a character on TV---I thought it was a fairly close resemblance to the girl portraying her.

But now Miley is transforming, like one of those hideous scenes from a horror movie. The kind you hate to watch yet can't tear yourself away from, in spite of yourself.

The dancing on stage has gotten more sultry. The wardrobe has gotten more slutty. The teenager wants to be Madonna, or a call girl. I can't decide.

The latest is that she was caught on video recently smoking a hallucinogenic herb through a bong---a video in which she was seen laughing uncontrollably, making nonsensical, guttural noises, and purporting to see images of her ex-boyfriend.

After the video was sprung onto the Internet, Miley's father, Billy Ray Cyrus, said (paraphrasing), "Very sad...I'm seeing this for the first time...There's so much out of my control now."

I'm sorry, but when your daughter is going sideways like this, you MAKE it under your control.


Miley Cyrus recently (above)---a far cry from her wholesome days of not-so-long-ago (below)




I fear for Miley Cyrus. Her parents split up right when she needs stability at home the most.

It's so hard for some of these female teen pop stars to make the transition from adolescent to adult, smoothly.

For whatever reason, so many of them want to turn their backs on the very audience that made them filthy rich.

Miley Cyrus, in that bong video, was essentially saying, "I'm done with you kiddies now. I made my money off your backs but I don't need you anymore, so the hell with you."

If you think that's quite a leap to make, you're wrong, with all due respect.

Miley clearly has no allegiance to or regard for the hundreds of thousands of young girls who adore her. To Miley, they're old news. Time to be grown up now, i.e. take drugs, slither on stage like a sexpot, and go for a new audience---the 18-45 year old male.

Seems like it was just yesterday that Miley Cyrus was Hannah Montana, and girls had her poster on their bedroom walls.

Now Miley seems to think that she's outgrown Hannah, and instead of being on the walls of young girls' bedrooms, she aims to be downloaded onto the computers of lecherous men.

Still think you shouldn't care?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Not Another!

What has Detroit done to anger the gods so?

What have we done that is causing us to lose so many icons, so quickly? It's like we're being smited.

This has been going on for a couple years now. Most of them were from the world of sports.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, killed in a tragic accident at his home, involving his truck.

Chuck Daly, the greatest of all the Pistons coaches, succumbing to cancer.

George Kell and Ernie Harwell, Tigers announcers and welcome in our homes anytime.

George "Sparky" Anderson, the curiously funny little manager.

Now we may be losing truly one of our own---Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.

Reports are that Franklin, 68, has pancreatic cancer. After that, who knows---but these things have a way of ending badly.

When the news came that the always well-coiffed Daly and the beloved Harwell had cancer, we all went into pre-death mode, bracing ourselves. Both men probably lasted longer than we had hoped.

Sparky's demise was swift, a surprise attack that left us stunned and scrambling emotionally.

There's nothing real concrete on Aretha, other than she's sick, with something. No official word has been delivered as to her condition.

She could have years to live, or weeks. We really don't know.

Unlike the aforementioned men, who became famous in Detroit, Aretha was raised here, her family moving to the city when she was just six years old.

There haven't been very many entertainers who scream Detroit like Aretha Franklin.

Today you have Kid Rock, who's as proud of a Detroiter as it gets. Others have Detroit roots, but they don't exactly wear it on their sleeve. Some have even made sure to keep their ties to Detroit suppressed, like a dirty family secret.

But not Aretha.



Whether she was performing in New York or Atlanta or Los Angeles, when she opened her mouth and belted out that voice that was among the most distinctively famous of her time, we all knew.

That was Detroit, singin' to ya.

She stayed here and didn't move away. She didn't turn her back on the city. She wasn't lured to the East or West coasts, to live among the glamorous set.

She got married in Detroit in 1978, her father performing the ceremony. Yeah, the newlyweds lived in California for a few years, but by 1982 she was back in Detroit to stay.

Aretha may never perform again. It's worse than that---it's highly unlikely that she ever will. She's likely too sick, already, to deliver her booming voice.

Some reports give her no more than a year to live.

Our Detroit icons are being taken away---too many, too rapidly.

No one lives forever but geez, Aretha is only 68.

Long live the Queen.

Please.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Turn out the Lights

Before Don Meredith's cowboy boots stepped into them, the broadcast booths in NFL cities were the equivalent of libraries. You were to be courteous, staid, and peer at the game over your eyeglasses.

Then along came former NFL quarterback Meredith, and before long, sometimes what went on inside the booth sounded a lot more fun than what was happening on the field.

Dandy Don is gone. He died Monday, at age 72 from complications brought on by a brain hemorrhage.

Turn out the lights, for the party is truly over now.

Dandy Don is what Howard Cosell called him when Meredith, Cosell and Frank Gifford teamed to form what is STILL the best "Monday Night Football" broadcast team in the franchise's 41-year history.

Meredith was just two years ago a player when he joined the team in 1970, the show's first season. He was the battered and bruised leader of the Dallas Cowboys, the first QB to lead the franchise to a championship game.

But Meredith's fun take on life and his country wit---he went to Southern Methodist University---was known mostly to only his teammates and coaches before donning the TV headsets.

Then we all knew.

Meredith (right) in a photo that perfectly captures his personality in the MNF booth


Meredith would sing ("Turn out the lights, the party's over"); Meredith would relentlessly tease Cosell; Meredith would describe plays in ways never before heard.

The three of them were the perfect team, because they were three totally different people. Cosell was arrogant and used big words. Gifford was Hollywood handsome and smooth.

And Meredith was goofy and care-free.

Cosell left in 1983, Meredith a year later. With apologies to Gifford, he languished when Howard and Dandy Don vamoosed. The MNF booth was never the same.

Meredith hasn't been on our airwaves for about a quarter century, with few exceptions. But in a way, it seems like we just heard him last Monday night. That's how indelible his mark was.

Perhaps Meredith's best line with MNF was in Houston, when the cameras caught a disgruntled Oilers fan giving the finger.

"He's saying they're Number One in the nation!" Dandy Don said.

Rest in peace, Cowboy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nielsen Rated

There were two Leslie Nielsens, as it turned out. Who knew?

Depending through what prism you looked at him, Nielsen, who passed away the other day at age 84, was either a serious, steely-eyed man who played in B-movies and spoke with a hard-boiled style, or he was a rubbery-faced clown who became a caricature in his second life as the lead in the "Naked Gun" movies.

But after the "Naked Gun" series, which was spawned from his hilarious send-up of himself in the "Airplane!" movies---both franchises written, produced and directed by Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers---it was impossible to take Nielsen seriously. Not that he wanted us to, and not that taking him for a clown was a bad thing.

The original "Airplane!" came out in 1980, and one of the delicious things about it was the brilliant casting of players like Nielsen, Peter Graves, Robert Stack and George Kennedy---actors who were never associated with anything remotely funny. Yet here they were, seemingly having a blast satirizing everything they'd done prior to "Airplane!"

The delivery of the lines was just like it would have been for deadly serious films like the ones "Airplane!" most aped---the "Airport" series---but the words were for play and for laughs, yet Nielsen et al. spoke them as straight as an arrow.



Nielsen was plucked by Abrahams and the Zuckers to star in the short-lived TV series, "Police Squad!," as Lt. Frank Drebin, a character that would eventually be transferred to the big screen vis a vis the "Naked Gun" films.

Nielsen's Drebin was Maxwell Smart-ish---that is, Drebin was a buffoon and incompetent, yet he always got his man. Surrounding Nielsen was always a backdrop of sight gags that barely paused throughout the entire movie.

Nielsen himself was a sight gag, when you think about it.

Leslie Nielsen displayed a flair for comedy that no one---and I mean no one---thought he possessed. Maybe not even Nielsen himself.

Nielsen parlayed his new-found role as a comedic actor in other non-"Naked Gun" projects, but he mostly played the same character, albeit in different clothing: the class clown, crazy uncle who could say juvenile words like "fart" and make you laugh in spite of yourself.

Nielsen worked as long as he could, before health issues took their toll. And there was a reason behind that, according to him.

"Doing nothing is very hard to do," he once said. "You never know when you're finished."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Leftover, But Not Left Out

Is there a more wonderful, more thrilling time to raid a refrigerator than on Thanksgiving night?

Is nothing better than to feel that first tummy grumble, right around 11:00 p.m., and know that in the icebox lies mountains of food to silence those grumblings?

If you hosted Turkey Day, that is.

It's one reason---hell, the main reason---that my wife enjoys hosting Thanksgiving. You can't forage for leftovers if you've spent the day at relatives'.

But I won't throw her under the bus. I'm just as guilty of "leftover envy."

It's a lot of uncovering, unwrapping, reheating and replating, but what's better than chowing down on Thanksgiving, Part II as the witching hour approaches?

We only serve five on Thanksgiving, yet we annually purchase a 25-27 pound bird. Because hot turkey sandwiches the day after the holiday, positively rule.



Eat. Rinse. Repeat.



It's the usual fare as you'll find in most American homes---turkey; stuffing (my wife's famous Italian stuffing featuring ground sausage and rice); mashed spuds; green bean casserole; sweet potatoes; Italian mushrooms (cooked for hours in water and oil and mixed with sliced onions); rolls; cranberry sauce (gelled AND whole); jello mold; cherry pie; and pumpkin pies (two of those).

There's always enough for several meals, which means we chow on that smorgasboard all weekend. Then, to top it off, I make my famous Turkey Frame Soup on Sunday, a family tradition.

You can't accuse us of not getting the most out of our turkey.

All told, from Thursday through Monday, at least, we're picking away at the big bird until just about every shred of it is gone.

The real challenge is to clear the downstairs fridge on Wednesday, because it will be bursting at the seams the next day, and throughout the weekend.

I still can't understand those who would eschew tradition and do fish or a ham on Thanksgiving. I don't know about you, but we only make one turkey a year in our house. Why substitute?

We always overdo it with the food on Thanksgiving. Sometimes I think we made too much.

Naah.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bristol's Two Left Feat

Bristol Palin is dancing her way toward the bottom of the pile but being electronically delivered into the hearts of Americans.

Bristol is one of the top three remaining contestants on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars", a show that is hemorrhaging credibility like red ink from the federal budget.

Bristol is the daughter of ultra conservative political wonk and Tea Party proponent Sarah Palin, who fancies herself as a presidential candidate in 2012.

Rumors abound that Sarah Palin has mobilized her Tea Partiers to flood ABC with phone calls and e-mails in the portion of the voting that calls for the general public to weigh in on which dancers should stay and which should go every week.

The result of this alleged campaign?

Bristol, who's a fine young woman but a mediocre dancer---especially when compared to the recent competitors who've been voted off the island---is one of the last three standing, despite poor marks from the show's judges and superior scores from her competition.

Something's rotten in Alaska.

The look on the face of singer/actress Brandy, who was the latest to capitulate to Bristol on Tuesday night, was both heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch.

Brandy was legitimately stunned beyond comprehension when her name was read as the one who'd be saying goodbye that night. The crowd was stunned, too. You could hear a pin drop after host Tom Bergeron made the announcement.

The judges were stunned.

Most of America, I think, was stunned.

Somewhere, Tea Partiers were high-fiving each other.

ABC's method of voting across the country is coming under some serious fire. Apparently one of the cracks through which Bristol's competitors are falling is the one that doesn't verify the e-mail addresses of those voting online. One e-mail per vote, but if you're making up phony e-mails that no one is verifying...

You get the idea.



Bristol and "DWTS" partner Mark Ballas


Bristol, 20, joins actress Jennifer Grey, who's been getting high marks through most of the competition, and 19-year-old actor/rapper Kyle Massey as the three remaining finalists, as the show winds down for the season.

There's a creeping feeling that Bristol will end up as the winner; after all, she's survived this long with less-than-wonderful dancing.

But even if she doesn't win, the fact that she's still alive is an indictment of ABC's voting system. Aside from not verifying e-mail addresses, maybe the network should look at reducing the influence the public's vote has on the competition. In other words, simply weigh the judges' scores greater than the folks using phones and their computers.

This way, the public can still influence the results, a la "American Idol," but if the judges' scores are overwhelmingly favoring one dancer (Brandy had received a perfect score the night she was dismissed), then it would be nearly impossible for the general public to elevate a weak dancer above a superior one.

If Bristol Palin wins, "DWTS" will take a serious hit in the credibility department.

You can't trust the general public in these sorts of contests, where popularity so often trumps actual ability and talent.

ABC will deserve all the heat they get if so-so hoofer Bristol Palin wins this competition.

She's a sweet girl, but often has the look of a deer in the headlights when she dances. I think even she knows she's not that good.

But it's not her fault she's come this far. It's not even the Tea Partiers' or Mama Palin's.

It's the system's, and ABC needs to fix it before the next season of "DWTS" starts this winter.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Size DOES Matter

When it comes to sizes of things, this country was practically founded on the premise of small, medium, and large.

We have small (Rhode Island), medium (Michigan) and large (Texas) states. We have small (villages), medium (towns), and large (cities) municipalities. We have small (ponds), medium (rivers/lakes), and large (oceans) bodies of water. We even have small (jockeys), medium (baseball players), and large (sumo wrestlers) human beings.

That perfectly efficient way of designating sizes bleeds into our clothes and our foodstuffs.

You just can't beat small, medium, and large. They're about as American as it gets.

So who do those coffee people think they are?

I'm cranky with the coffee folks, and not just because they charge $4.79 for a cup of fancy-shmancy joe.

The coffee people, with the delicious exception of Caribou Coffee, insist on ramming very un-American like sizes down our throats---literally.

Tall, grande, and venti is the coffee shop's small, medium, and large.

WHY??

In every other joint in this country---from the greasy spoon diner to the five-star restaurant---the beverages are sold using the tried and true S, M, L system.

Some places eschew medium, or small. That's fine. Having two sizes instead of three is OK by me.

But this tall, grande, and venti stuff is for the birds.

And worse, the word they use for small sounds like it would be the large version---"tall."

When I hear tall, I don't think small. Call me crazy!

Yet tall is small in the world of overpriced coffee.

Maybe that's how they do it in the tony coffee shops in Europe; I don't know. But this is America and we speak small, medium, and large---in just about everything.

Starbucks is a place I won't patronize, and it's not just because of the size name issue.

When this lousy economy began affecting the coffee houses, Starbucks had a golden opportunity to seize the moment and do a couple of things.

For example, they could have temporarily reduced prices or began offering real specials. It would have been a marketer's dream: make your competition look bad by boldly announcing price breaks until the economy gets back on its feet.

What's the markup on a cup of brew, anyway?


Oh, shut up and get over yourselves!


Yet Starbucks didn't do that, of course. Instead, they closed locations and laid off a gazillion workers.

Bastards.

Heaven forbid they knock 75 cents off the price of a "tall" drink.

I mentioned Caribou Coffee, and they won me over a couple months ago. We stopped at their Royal Oak location after a day in downtown Detroit. It was chilly and rainy and a perfect day for a hot beverage.

I tensed as soon as I walked in, because I can never get those damn coffee sizes right and I was sure Caribou used that oddball system of sizing.

Yet there those three magical words were on the menu hanging behind the workers: small, medium, and large.

Caribou Coffee is my new most favorite coffee joint.

I'd have given them the shirt off my back if it wasn't so cold.

I wear size extra venti, by the way.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Neophyte Nerd

I hope Rick Snyder is a good governor.

I hope he can take the chicken feathers he in inheriting and turn them into chicken salad. It would be nice if he's also capable of turning water into wine and spinning straw into gold.

I hope Snyder, elected last week to be Michigan's new governor, won't be derailed and stonewalled by his lack of political experience, despite his party having strong majorities in the State House and Senate. I hope his belief that a state should be run like it's a business is more than just ideology and is actually full of substance.

I hope he can create jobs, weaning the state from its automotive mama and bringing it into the late-20th century, much less the 21st.

I hope he can broker deals that benefit the state's economy. I hope he keeps the tax incentives in place for the Hollywood folks.


Rick Snyder, Governor-elect


I hope he runs a tight ship and is fiercely protective of Michigan's workers and is sensitive to the social needs of those who are unemployed.

I hope he can use the GOP's new majority in the U.S. House to Michigan's benefit.

I hope he can keep tourism humming along and the DNR happy and I hope he doesn't neglect Detroit, because like it or not, a healthy Detroit is crucial to the health of Michigan.

I hope he can do all this quickly, because he has, at most, eight years to get it all done---and that's presuming he wins re-election. If not, I hope he gets a lot done in four.

I hope Rick Snyder is a good governor, because we just elected a political neophyte who doesn't know the first thing about governing.

I hope on-the-job training serves him, and us by extension, well.

I'm not a Republican, and I didn't vote for him, but I hope Rick Snyder is a good governor.

I do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Along Came John (Almost)

Vice President John Engler?

It almost was, according to a recently published memoir from former President George W. Bush.

Bush, in "Decision Points," writes that the former Michigan governor was among nine finalists for the Veep nomination in 2000.

Engler, Bush says, was one of four current and former governors considered for the ticket, joining Oklahoma's Frank Keating, Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

But among those four, the top two candidates were Engler and Keating.

"I knew I could work well with either one," Bush writes.

If that had happened---Engler as Bush's vice president---how would that have changed the political landscape in the Mitten State?


John Engler as U.S. Vice President? Not as far-fetched as you might think


The 2000 presidential campaign occurred right smack in the middle of Engler's third term as Michigan's governor (this was pre-term limits). Had Engler joined the ticket, he would have left for Washington, since Bush, of course, became president.

Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus would have become governor, serving the remainder of Engler's term. As it was, Posthumus ran against Democrat Jennifer Granholm in 2002 and lost, despite GOP victories all over the country and in the state.

So why not Engler as VP, the position that went to Dick Cheney?

Engler's inability to deliver Michigan to Bush, despite the GOP wave, was one reason, some suspect. For that transgression, Engler didn't get a cabinet position, either---something for which he was also being considered at one point.

I didn't agree much with John Engler's policies, but there was a window of about 2-3 years when the governor was considered an up-and-coming star within the Republican party. Once Bill Clinton's second term was nearing an end, and the jockeying began for presidential runs, Engler was at his hottest.

Engler for VP. Engler in a GOP cabinet. Engler as head of the RNC. And it wasn't all just talk; the Republicans liked Engler. But after Bush lost Michigan, the elephants didn't like him so much anymore.

Had Engler been tabbed by Bush, though, giving Governor Posthumus a nearly two-year head start in his own 2002 gubernatorial run, maybe the latter beats Granholm. As a die-hard Democrat, even I have to wonder if the state would be in the shape it's in today under those circumstances.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Springer's Baggage Claim

Jerry Springer comes with a lot of baggage. Literally.

Springer, 66, is the host of Game Show Network's "Baggage," and there's no better host for such a program.

The man they call "The Grandfather of Trash TV" is finally hosting a show where there is no pretentiousness.

Unlike his "The Jerry Springer Show," which is celebrating 20 years on the air (believe it or not), "Baggage" doesn't purport to help people or to enlighten its audience. It's a shlocky dating show, pure and simple.

The format of "Baggage" is rather cute, actually.

Springer tries to match a young man or woman with three potential suitors, each of whom has three different sized suitcases beside them, representing the baggage they carry as a person.

The type of baggage is revealed gradually, with each suitcase getting bigger, matching the potential seriousness of the quirk it contains.

For example, the smallest suitcase may be opened and reveal a sign that says, "I still sleep in footie pajamas," or, "I eat my dinner foods in alphabetical order."

But the larger suitcases may have signs that say, "I had an abortion," or "I've been arrested three times for DUI."

Throughout, Springer has ample opportunities to smirk, make snarky comments, and basically function as Bob Eubanks from Hell.


Springer on the set of "Baggage"



But it's all good, because "Baggage" is just having fun; there's no thinking that any match the show makes will actually last past the first date.

I think it's a fresh, brutally honest take on the dating show format. No hiding the contestants' faces, like in "The Dating Game." No hurried through one-on-ones, like in the old "Buzz!" show hosted by Annie Wood.

The suitors are a mere 10 feet from the one they hope to woo, and they're not hiding behind any disguises---physical or otherwise. It's up to the man or woman to decide who to select, baggage and all. Period.

I guess what bothers me about Springer's "other" show is the preposterous presumption that he's genuinely trying to help people, when in fact all he's doing is exploiting them for our eye candy.

"The Jerry Springer Show" is a three-ring circus; "Baggage" is a fun, breezy send-up of how imperfect we are, and whether those imperfections are important to the one Springer is trying to match.

"Baggage" is the perfect vehicle for Jerry Springer. It won't last 20 years like his signature show, but at least it doesn't bill itself as something it's not.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Steak Out

Venerable Carl's Chop House, near Grand River and the Lodge Freeway, is being torn down this week. My family and I enjoyed many meals there, and the restaurant's demolition strikes a sad chord. As a tribute to this legendary steak house, here's a piece I wrote about Carl's in this space on 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?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Burning Sensation

I smell them in the evening, as I walk our Jack Russell Terrier around the neighborhood, and few things stagger my olfactory nerves with such a wallop.

They're bonfires, and folks are having them all over the place anymore. And that's a good thing.

We sprung for a nice, stone-framed fire pit this spring, in anticipation of those cool evenings when you'd just as soon be outside next to crackling wood than inside watching TV.

There's something wonderfully intoxicating about gathering around a fire, in your own backyard, assembling some gooey s'mores or turning an impaled frankfurter over the flame. Or just sitting and staring at the orange, yellow and blue that emanates from the burning wood.

You can get awfully relaxed looking at a fire. The worries of the day magically leave you. And the smell, meshed with the cool autumn air, makes you feel like you're camping in the woods.

The fire experience reached its apex for us as a family in late August, when we vacationed near Port Huron. Our beach resort had a fire pit, and our daughter fixed a roaring gem around dusk. By nightfall, all you could hear was the crackling of the wood and Lake Huron lapping up onto the beach. Above us were stars that went 180 degrees, horizon to horizon. The moon was in the sky overlooking the water, casting a beam of light that went across the lake from beach to horizon.

It was heavenly.





I love smelling the fires around the neighborhood at night, walking the pooch. It's funny about things that burn. If they're not supposed to be burning, the smell can be awful. But if it's a planned, controlled burning, then it's positively inviting.

I like having my bundles of wood nearby---like a security blanket. Lets me know that the flames will be carrying on for quite some time; all I need to do is reach in, grab another log, and pile it on.

All that wood we go through, and the next morning it's nothing but a pile of ash in the pit.

A drawback to the bonfire? It makes your clothes (and sometimes your hair) smell like smoke.

A small price to pay, I say!

Friday, October 22, 2010

45 Caliber Records

I hear them now on the radio and I can practically recall what they looked like in their physical form.

Record labels called Capitol, A&M, Columbia and Mercury.

They were my 45 records and I had a bunch of them.

I hear the songs now and I smile to myself. Suddenly I remember what they looked like, spinning on the turntable---with the yellow plastic thingie in the middle so the disc can play on the narrow spindle of your parents' stereo.

The list comes to mind now.

"Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, who should be inducted into the One-Hit Wonder Hall of Fame.

"Fire" by the Ohio Players.

"Philadelphia Freedom" by Elton John.

Plus tons of tunes by the likes of The Monkees, Stevie Wonder, the Brothers Johnson, Barry White, and Neil Diamond.

Can't forget the novelty songs, such as "Shaving Cream" by Benny Bell, and "Earache My Eye" by Cheech and Chong.

I can just about see the labels in my mind---their color, the logos, even the font style.


I recall playing my first 45s on a small, portable player when I was five or six years old. I kept them in a box especially made for 45s, with a metal latch. The box was white and was festooned with different-sized musical notes.

Funny what sticks in your mind.

When I got older I would buy my 45s at K-Mart, whenever my mom would shop there. By the time I was 15 years old I rode there by myself on my bike. They were 96 cents each (plus four cents tax made it an even dollar) and they hung on racks behind the clerk in the Hi-Fi section of the store, where they sold albums, phonograph needles, and those aforementioned yellow things that looked like plastic pretzels.

The 45s were usually in the order---generally---of where the song currently stood on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. There was typically a list on the counter, wallet-sized, that was updated every week.

So you'd choose your 45(s), and the clerk would slide it/them into a plain white sleeve. Sometime in the 1970s, it became more popular for record companies to accompany the 45s with their own sleeves, which featured either the album cover or another photograph of the artist/band with that particular song title on it.

If you needed the yellow plastic pretzels, they were in a bin and probably went for something like a nickel each or 10 for a quarter.

Sometimes I'd get a 45 that skipped like a stone across Lake Michigan, which was maddening beyond belief. A 3:30 minute song would go by in 35 seconds.

Speaking of song length, in those days rare was a song that was longer than 3:30. Four minutes was practically a full-length concert. Most songs came in between 2:45-3:15.

I rarely listened to the "B" side of a 45. In fact, I don't know that I ever played a "B" side, unless I heard that it was an OK song, too. Sometimes, as in the case of some Barry White songs, the "B" side was merely the instrumental version of the "A" side, which I kind of liked. Gave me an opportunity to sing the song myself, like primitive Karaoke.

I still have some of those old 45s, and my wife has a bunch, too.

The songs are still played on the radio in their crystal clear CD form on occasion. When I hear them, it's impossible to keep the corners of my mouth from curling upward slightly.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

So Long, Mr. C

The exasperated spouse or parent has been a staple in American family sitcoms since they were recording the programs on kinescopes. That remained constant for decades; what would change was the source of the exasperation---another spouse, a child, a neighbor, etc.

Tom Bosley was among the best at being exasperated, and Lord knows he had plenty of sources with which to deal.

Bosley, 83, passed away today at his home in Palm Springs, CA, his family said. Reports say he died of heart failure, and that he was also battling lung cancer. A recent staph infection didn't help, either.

Bosley was Howard Cunningham, father of Richie and Joanie and husband to Marion on the ABC hit "Happy Days," which ran from 1974-84.

There was no shortage to the annoyances Howard Cunningham had to put up with.

There were his kids, who although well-behaved for the most part, were also rather impressionable and prone to getting caught up in the schemes of their friends.

Ah, those friends---Ralph Malph, Potsie Weber, and once Joanie started dating, Chachi Arcola.

And the biggest one of them all---Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli.

If it wasn't for his sweet, empathetic wife Marion to calm him and put him in his place, poor Howard might have ended up in one of those rooms with the rubber walls.

The show took place in Milwaukee; Bosley was from Chicago, about two hours south---so the midwestern accent he had worked perfectly for the show's setting.



Bosley was a mostly unheralded character, making the rounds in late-1960s and early-'70s sitcoms and dramas, his mug popping up here and there. Then he got that mother lode of breaks that every character actor dreams of.

Bosley was cast as Howard Cunningham in 1974, as ABC's Garry Marshall decided to make a TV series based loosely on the cult movie favorite "American Graffiti."

Bosley, along with Henry Winkler (Fonzie) and Marion Ross (Marion), were the only three of the troupe who appeared in all 255 episodes.

Bosley was a salmon swimming upstream after "Happy Days," refusing to be typecast. His doggedness paid off; he landed the role of Sheriff Tupper in "Murder, She Wrote" (1984-88) and Father Dowling in "Father Dowling Mysteries" (1987-91).

Bosley was a man with a wide, ruddy face, dancing eyes, and the shape of a bag of flour. His popularity was either helped or hindered by the fact that many folks mistook him for David Doyle, who played a character named Bosley on "Charlie's Angels."

Former co-star Winkler told TMZ that he was "blown away" the first time he saw Bosley perform, on Broadway.

"And then I got to act with him for 10 years and he was great," Winkler said. "Tom Bosley was our mentor. He was a true artist ... a great husband, and a fabulous father and grandfather. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten."

Bosley last appeared in the 2010 comedy "The Back-up Plan" with Jennifer Lopez.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Importance of Being Ernest

The eyebrows have long ago gone gray but are still as bushy as the Serengeti. The nose is bulbous, the smile as gap-toothed as ever. The voice still sounds like it's coming out of a cement mixer.

Ernie Borgnine was never an attractive man, unless you're one of those who like creatures that are so ugly that they're cute, like a koala bear.

Yet here Borgnine is, 93 and still we see his mug on the big screen.

Borgnine is one of those actors who was always old. "McHale's Navy" debuted almost 50 years ago and Ernie looked old then.

It's been 55 years since Borgnine made his mark in the film "Marty," in which he played the title character, a warm-hearted butcher who was also a shameless mama's boy. The film was an adaptation of the great teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky and earned Borgnine the Academy Award for Best Actor---beating out the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Cagney and Spencer Tracy, no less.

From then, Borgnine made a living in film playing rough-and-tumble characters in movies like "The Dirty Dozen," "Ice Station Zebra," "The Flight of the Phoenix," and "The Vikings."

Never more rough-and-tumble was he than in Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" in 1969, where he famously played Dutch, one of the bunch.

Kids of my generation were likely introduced to Borgnine by watching "McHale's Navy," a TV comedy (1962-66) that featured an all-star ensemble cast, with Borgnine playing gruff Lt. Commander Quinton McHale. The role earned Borgnine an Emmy nomination.

Fun fact: "McHale's Navy" started as a one-hour serious episode called "Seven Against the Sea" for the "Alcoa Premiere."




Borgnine also played legendary football coach Vince Lombardi in a TV movie, and Ernie was likely the only actor available who didn't require makeup artists to recreate Lombardi's gapped front teeth.

Borgnine was also married VERY briefly---we're talking about one month---to singer Ethel Merman, which I didn't know until I looked it up.

Why all the love for Ernie Borgnine today? Two reasons.

Number one, Borgnine is in the new film "RED," starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and the still stunning Helen Mirren. The movie opens on October 15.

Second, the Screen Actors Guild announced in August that it will be honoring Ernie on January 30, 2011 during the Academy Awards Show with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

I'd say he's due. After all, as recently as 2009 Borgnine was still earning award nominations; he was recognized for a guest appearance on "ER" with an Emmy nomination. He was 92.

Borgnine is still feisty. Tired of being asked about the key to his longevity, Borgnine said during a TV interview recently that he stays young by masturbating twice daily. You heard me.

"I answered that question one time on Fox News," Borgnine told WENN. "This fella kept bothering me all morning: 'What do you do to keep yourself so worked up?' Finally, I got sick and got tired and I forgot that I was miked. I reached over and replied, 'I masturbate a lot!'

"I'll tell ya, everybody dropped on the floor. They couldn't believe it: 'At 93, what the hell?' Listen, hey who cares?"

But seriously, folks, Borgnine does have a secret, sort of, for still doing it seven years shy of 100.

"I keep active but I'm the laziest man in the world," he says. "If I don't have to move I don't move. I also gave up meat about 35 years ago."

Ernie Borgnine, a national treasure who'll finally get his props in January.

I know I'll be watching.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Land Ho!

The 41-year-old explorer obsessed with finding a western route to Asia struck land 518 years ago today, believing that he'd accomplished his goal. He hadn't, but that's OK; he accomplished much more.

Christopher Columbus, the Italian from Genoa, was born to be a seaman. He started at a very young age and eventually became a maritime entrepreneur. It wasn't much longer before he was brimming with how delectable it would be to head west and end up in China, India, and the gold and spice islands of Asia.

Because of the Ottoman Empire's barricades of both land and sea, the route to Asia via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed off to Europeans. That left Columbus with only one direction to his white whale of destinations: west.

Columbus and others of his ilk had no idea that the Pacific Ocean even existed, so when he struck land with his fleet of three ships (Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria) on October 12, 1492---a little over two months after departing from Palos, Spain on August 3---Columbus believed he had indeed reached Asia. Instead, he landed on a Bahamian island. He thought Cuba was mainland China.

Contrary to popular belief, Columbus and other intellects of the day didn't believe the world was flat; however, they grossly underestimated its size.

From History.com:

With only the Atlantic Ocean, he thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his "Enterprise of the Indies," as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where he was also rejected at least twice by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.


Artist's depiction of Columbus's Santa Maria vessel


The Columbus Expedition continued on, and in December he hit Hispaniola, which he believed to be Japan. Columbus established a small colony there of 39 men.

Columbus would return to Spain in 1493 a hero---bringing back with him gold, spices, and "Indian" captives. The Spanish court bestowed upon him the highest honors.

Before passing away in 1506, Columbus would lead a total of four expeditions, discovering various Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central American mainlands.

But he'd never realize his original goal of reaching the great cities of Asia via a western ocean route. No matter---what Columbus did do was much greater: he discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.

“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions," Columbus once said, "one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”

Or at least come close enough.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Slow Burn

OK, let me get this straight.

A rural town in Tennessee charges a $75 annual fee, a.k.a a "fire subscription service," to homeowners. Those who pay the fee can get their fires put out by the local fire department. Those who don't, can't.

That by itself, on the surface, seems odd to me. But whatever---fees is the other "F-word" anymore.

Fees can be billed. They can also be late, but they can be collected after the fact.

Now here's what happened to a man in South Fulton, Tennessee.

As reported on AOL.com, Gene Cranick's double-wide mobile home caught fire, but when firefighters responded, they protected the home of his neighbor instead---because the neighbor had paid the $75 fee and Cranick hadn't.

"I just forgot to pay my $75," Cranick told ABC News. "I did it last year, the year before. ... It slipped my mind."

The cost?

Cranick lost his home, all his possessions---and his three dogs and a cat.

Unconscionable, right?

"I have no problem with the way any of my people handled the situation. They did what they were supposed to do," South Fulton City Manager Jeff Vowell said.

Really?

A man loses his home, his possessions, and four pets---all over a delinquent $75 fee, and Vowell says he has no problem with it?

Cranick says he even told the 911 operator that he would pay whatever fee he needed to pony up, but he was rejected.

Now here's Vowell, with perhaps the Understatement of the Year.

"It's a regrettable situation any time something like this happens."

Regrettable? More like unfathomable.

And we wonder why this nation is becoming colder and colder and less human.



Payment arrangements couldn't have been made for the delinquent $75? You don't put out the fire THEN worry about the money?

Firefighters in South Fulton city are under orders to respond only to fire calls within their city limits, as well as to surrounding Obion County, but only to homes there where people have signed up for a fire subscription service.

First, what's this "fire subscription service"? Don't they collect taxes in South Fulton?

Cranick's son went to the fire station to complain and ended up clobbering the fire chief in the face, blackening his eye. Of course, the son was arrested and charged with assault.

If city manager Vowell can sleep at night, then he's the best cure for insomnia since sleeping pills.

Cranick has already spoken to ABC and MSNBC, so here's hoping public outrage over his story---and his dead pets---will amount to something for that poor man.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tony's Reward

Bernard Schwartz was a Bronx kid spawned by Hungarian Jews, his mother a diagnosed schizophrenic. He didn't even learn to speak English right away---Hungarian was his first and only language until age six.

He was inspired by the actor Cary Grant, even enlisting in the U.S. Navy because he marveled at Grant in the film "Destination Tokyo."

Bernard Schwartz was further inspired by Grant to pursue acting, and went to Hollywood mainly for the girls and the money more than for the craft.

It was on the Left Coast, in 1948, when Schwartz borrowed a first name from the novel "Anthony Adverse" and a version of the surname Kurtz from his mother's family and became, just like that, Tony Curtis.

In his younger days in film, Curtis was a raven-haired ladies man with beveling eyes and a slight pout. The Bronx accent never left him.

Curtis played the ladies man on film and in real life. He was married six times, and infidelity played a role in the breakup of his first, to actress Janet Leigh.

But he was married long enough to Leigh to father the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, a daughter with whom he became virtually estranged as Jamie grew older and she gravitated more to her mother.

Curtis hit it big with "Some Like it Hot," a 1959 vehicle with Jack Lemmon in which Curtis famously played a cross-dresser.

Curtis died Wednesday, at age 85, from cardiac arrest. He's another who takes with him a mold that has been broken.

One of the most enjoyable interviews I ever saw was with Curtis, who was being queried a few years ago on one of those movie channel specials. He was a cornucopia of anecdotes, back stories, and self-criticism of his work. It was, at the risk of sounding cliche, captivating.



Curtis enjoyed painting, and did more of that as the acting lessened. One of his works sold for $25,000.

But his relationship with Jamie Lee, as he outlined in the aforementioned interview, saddened me. It was evident that his trysts with other women, after Jamie Lee learned of them, put a wedge between father and daughter.

Worse was what happened to his son Nick, who died of a heroin overdose in 1994 at age 23.

"As a father you don't recover from that," he once said.

Curtis revived his career by playing hotel owner Mr. Roth in the TV series "Vegas" from 1978-81. In fact, Curtis ended up dying in Henderson, Nevada---not far from Vegas, a city he adored.

He was a walking history book of Hollywood, both good and bad. You looked at Tony Curtis and you knew there were stories that were aching to be told. And Curtis was often eager to oblige.

His wife at the time of his death, Jill Vandenberg Curtis, was 42 years his junior. That shouldn't have been a surprise.

"I wouldn't be caught dead," Curtis once said, "marrying a woman old enough to be my wife."

So wry, so self-effacing.

So Tony Curtis.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Down in Front!

Usually I like a stand up guy. Who doesn't?

But I don't need one delivering my TV news, thank you very much.

I blame Wolf Blitzer.

Blitzer, on CNN, seems to have started this trend that's beginning to creep into other news programs---that is, the reporting of news stories standing up, the camera showing him head to toe.

I don't like it.

There's a reason why we call the TV news people talking heads, after all.

The only people I care to see standing up and walking around on the set are the weather folks, because they have big maps to show us and satellite images and they're more like class instructors to me---and those types are forever standing.

But the news anchors need to take a seat.

There's just something nerve wracking, to me, about having my top stories and breaking news delivered by someone standing. It's not natural.

Think about the conversations you have with people while one of you is standing. Such a confab is either very casual, or in an elevator, or in a retail outlet. Rarely do you have important, serious discussions while standing.

Isn't that the first rule of receiving sobering information?

"Are you sitting down? I think you'd better sit down for this."

So why should the deliverer of said sobering news be allowed to stand, as if he's giving a lecture on campus?


Why is this man standing in my living room?


They say that people identify with TV news people because it's like they're "coming into your living room."

But wouldn't you be nervous as hell to have someone standing in your living room, talking?

Wouldn't you have the urge to interrupt with, "Umm, why don't you have a seat?"

Yet there's Blitzer and some of his brethren, standing in front of huge screens, the cameras unable to stay put, either---they're forever panning and swooping and trucking.

Just sit down, look me in the eyes, and tell me what's going on.

Watching Blitzer in his self-described "Situation Room" (pssst---it's just a studio!) as he gives me the news in that bordering-on-yelling delivery style with the huge images behind him makes me anxious.

The only people who should be standing and giving me information are, once again, teachers, lecturers, and meteorologists.

Everyone else needs to return his or her tush to the chair.

It's the news, not open mike night.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday Night Lights

I'm not a fan of football played under the lights, as a rule. And it has nothing to do with the Lions being shunned by "Monday Night Football" every year.

I know it's done for the almighty TV dollar, but night college football games especially rankle me---especially those played on days other than Saturday. College football games have been popping up all over the dial on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays. That's not college football---that's just competitive "ER".

But there is some night football that tickles my fancy.

As the parent of a marching band member, one of the duties is to attend the home football games on Friday nights. There are far more daunting tasks.

High school football in prime time is OK by me because that's tradition. Once the stadiums around the country began installing lights in earnest in the 1960s, it was only natural to keep the high school gridders to a predominantly Friday schedule, and leave Saturday for college and Sunday for the pros.

There's no pretentiousness when you walk through the gates at the local high school stadium. There's not much cost either---five bucks a head at Warren Mott, where our daughter attends.

You pay a visit to the moms-run concession stand, buy some cheap goodies (hot dogs for a dollar each, sub sandwiches for two bucks) find some space on one of the aluminum bleacher benches, and settle in.

This is football without maddening TV timeouts, beer-soaked blowhard fans, and $20 for parking.

It's football at its purest form---played by 15-to-17 year-old kids who take real classes and who have to be home by 10:00 at night. The crowd in the stands are 90% parents, grandparents, and family members.

Mott has a huge band, over 200 members, and many of those kids' moms and dads are in the stands on Friday night, too---padding the house figure, and the concession sales.

So the team and the band turns a few bucks, but still not much. The gate and concession receipts at the Big House in Ann Arbor look like the GDP of a small country compared to the cash netted at a high school gridiron match.


But it's football played out before you, sans radio-transmitting helmets for the quarterbacks, minus a JumboTron scoreboard. There isn't even a play clock to reference.

The officials throw flags, just like in college and pro, but the referee's voice is only heard to the players and coaches on the sidelines; no fancy-shmancy microphones to boom the call to the crowd.

If there's a TV camera at the high school stadium, it's run by either the local-yocal cable TV crewman or an A/V kid for the coach's use.

The cheering is done between conversations. The men are watching the game and keeping track of down and distance---usually faster than the scoreboard operator is---while the women get caught up on their week.

The football itself looks a lot more like rugby at times, the scrum of players shoving back and forth. The forward passes aren't lasered throws---they're more like heaved grenades.

But it's football enough for me, played under the moon and right smack in the middle of residential homes. A couple weeks ago we went to a road game at Sterling Heights Stevenson, and the field there is so close to the backyards of residences, some of the homeowners had built bonfires and were watching the game over the fence.

After the game, the visiting players, still in uniform, climb aboard the yellow school bus for the trip back home. The home team waves to their parents in the stands, before disappearing into their small locker room.

It's football, played on a Friday night, which, in this case, is OK by me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One-Hit Blunder?

The landscape of politics is like Michigan weather---wait five minutes and it just might change.

With that in mind, it would appear to be folly to try to ascertain what might happen in the presidential election of 2012---the upcoming mid-term elections notwithstanding.

President Obama will be halfway through his term this January, believe it or not. He might also be halfway through his ONLY term.

I want to believe in the Obama Administration; I voted for him, after all. My thought at the time of the 2008 election was that Obama was the right president at the right time---just like Reagan was probably right in 1980, Kennedy was right in 1960, and Eisenhower was probably right in the 1950s.

But you can only be the right president at the right time if you're re-elected. Otherwise, you're just another one-hit wonder.

Kennedy would likely have been re-elected in 1964; that's why I make an exception in his case.

Obama, for all his adeptness at the podium and his smarts---I truly believe he's one of the smartest presidents we've ever had---has also shown his tenderness, i.e. his lack of political experience.

Obama is our first fast-track president. He was rushed through the system, having been a U.S. Senator for less than one full term when he took on first Hillary Clinton then John McCain.

He was the Democratic party's boy wonder; the next Kennedy, as a matter of fact.




But even JFK spent considerably more time as a senator---nearly eight years to Obama's three-plus (and much of that time was spent running for president).

Kennedy took over the country when times were relatively good---both economically and in terms of peace. Obama entered a quagmire. So that must be taken into consideration.

My belief that Obama was the right president for the right time was based on what had happened in eight years under George W. Bush. Obama was as far apart from Bush as you could get, in just about every way imaginable.

But it's becoming clear to me that Obama is also, sadly, maybe the most polarizing president we've had, at least since WWII.

That's saying a lot, I know.

It's ironic, because Obama's platform included a call to bring people together. His being the first black president was supposed to be a victory for mankind, not just for those who voted for him.

Now I'm not so sure if Obama is the right president for the right time. He may have been voted in simply because he wasn't Bush, and he had a message that resonated. He may be just another Democrat who won because he was going up against an old, crotchety Republican, a la Carter over Ford and Clinton over Dole.

But Clinton won a second term, despite sordid tales of what apparently went on in the Oval Office---specifically under his desk.

Obama is on another fast track---to be the first one-term Democrat in the White House since Carter. That's what the weather forecasts indicate to me.

Of course, that can all change very quickly.

The Republicans can capture the White House in 2012 if they build on the momentum they're sure to get from the 2010 mid-terms, and if they run the right person.

Obama, for his part, has less than two years to gain his own momentum, before he has to start hitting the campaign trail yet again.

But his next campaign has to be more about substance than style. And the former seems to be more difficult for him than the latter.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bad Acid Trip

You look at the photo now, knowing what you know, and you can swear that Bethany Storro is smirking at you.

Before, you might have said her expression---upturned mouth peeking through a curtain of acid-corroded skin---was that of a relieved, grateful woman who was just happy to be alive.

The photo of which I speak is that of the 28-year-old Storro, who is, for the moment, the most famous hoaxster in Canada and the U.S.

She's the clearly disturbed girl from Vancouver who falsely reported that she'd been the victim of an apparently random attack in which acid was thrown in her face by a black woman.

Storro was snapped, sitting in her hospital bed, the effects of the acid evident on her forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin.

But not in her eyes, and not on her mouth.

That makes sense now, of course---because Bethany Storro splashed herself with acid. So why would she splash her eyes and mouth?

How ironic that she should have taken care not to damage her eyesight or accidentally swallow the caustic liquid---while at the same time in need of more help than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

The first thing you think of when someone concocts a false story of being victimized is one word.

ATTENTION.

OK, so Storro got the attention she craved, alright---presuming that was one of her motives.

She became a dual national story---both in her native Canada and in the United States. Fundraisers had already begun their planning stages. Facebook pages were started. Oprah came calling.

Storro had even made up what quickly became a signature line of the attack, allegedly spewed by the perp just before the act.

"Hey pretty girl, have a drink of THIS!"

So it not only became a perplexing story of randomness, it had a sinister edge. The attacker apparently chose Storro because of her looks and, perhaps out of jealousy, lied in wait until Bethany appeared. The acid was designed to take those good looks away.

And she was attractive, Bethany Storro was. I saw a photo of her prior to the incident. She was a pretty girl.

OK, so what else, other than attention, would Bethany have been seeking?


Bethany Storro, her eyes and mouth "miraculously" unaffected by acid


Attention is fleeting. Even a person in need of mental help must know that. Fifteen minutes of fame and all that. Eventually, the furor over her misfortune would have faded. It always does.

Money?

From where would she get it? How can you sue someone who doesn't exist?

Donations were starting to come in, but money from that kind of source isn't just forked over, especially when there's a criminal investigation involved.

"I think it got bigger than she anticipated," one of the police officials told the media of the reaction to Bethany Storro's fable.

I see---she wanted attention but not TOO much attention?

As I write this, it's unclear what charges will be levied against Storro. But there will be some, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.

Some false police reports make a degree of sense, like the woman faking rape or abduction because she's afraid to go home or back to an abusive boyfriend. Doesn't make it right, mind you, but there's a path from Point A to Point B, though it's clearly a crooked one.

I've thought on Bethany Storro's tall tale, and I'm not seeing Point B at all.

Where was she going with this? What was her end game?

This was an acid attack, don't forget---something that involves a certain degree of time and planning, and acquisition. It loses a lot of its spontaneity when you factor everything in.

Storro "miraculously" was wearing sunglasses at the time of the incident, an item she said she purchased about an hour before the "attack." Or else her eyes may have been splattered.

Thank God she bought those shades!

I don't know how far Bethany Storro thought she was going to take this hoax.

But she has a chair with her name on it at a psychiatric hospital, somewhere.

Pray for her.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That Damn Yankee

Somewhere, way upstairs, Forrest Pitcher will be smiling on October 9.

Mr. Pitcher was my grandfather and he passed away on April 30, 2005 at the age of 96. Just six months prior to his passing, he had to endure the heartache of his adored Yankee Air Museum in Willow Run being ravaged by fire.

The date was October 9, 2004, and the museum's hangar caught on fire, destroying eight aircraft and thousands of artifacts, along with tools. While most of the museum's collection survived, the fire essentially put an end to the tours and day-to-day operations.

That's where my grandfather comes in.

Forrest Pitcher, well into his 90s, conducted guided tours of the museum. I took my family on one such jaunt not long before the fire, and what a treat it was---not only to see the museum's unbelievable collection of air and military history, but to be guided by my grandfather and our daughter's great-grandfather.

On October 9, the Yankee Air Museum will re-open to the public---six years to the day after the fire. The new Collections and Exhibit building will have an Inaugural Gala to celebrate.

I can see grandpa's smile as I type this.


This was the scene at Yankee Air Museum on October 9, 2004


Few people had a sense of history as firmly handled as my grandfather. Hell, he WAS history! The man was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, folklore, and anecdotes.

The volunteer tour guide gig at Yankee was right up his alley. He was like a pig in slop, escorting folks through the museum and bending their ears about the artifacts and the stories behind them.

Grandpa was a plumber for Ford Motor Company but that's not WHO he was---it was what he did. He and grandma---she's still living and is 94---enjoyed traveling, sometimes as far away as Spain. They pretty much did most of the United States, pulling a trailer and camping all over the country.

They'd winter in Texas or Florida, before moving back to the Detroit area full time circa 1993.

For nearly 20 years (1976-93), after moving from the Wayne-Westland area, they owned a modest home about 50 miles west of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, which was playfully coined "Pitcher's Paradise."

Grandpa gave guided tours up there, too.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

(Speed) Trapped in Livonia

Don't the Livonia police have better things to do than enforce the law?

Yeah, I wrote that. But only because that's what people seem to be saying.

Certain lead-foots, that is.

Livonia was recently tagged as the city with the worst "speed traps" in the State of Michigan.

It's not exactly clear how this designation was arrived at, but with its announcement last week, there was some scuttlebutt, as you can imagine.

The lead-foots contend that this surely means that motorists are being ticketed with glee by overzealous Livonia police officers, who should be doing things like "going after the REAL criminals."

Livonia's police chief, of course, shrugs it off.

"That (designation) doesn't bother me a bit," said chief Robert Stevenson. "We don't have speed traps. We just enforce the law."

The designation was announced by the National Motorists Association. According to a story in the Free Press, the organization said they identified cities by using data from their National Speed Trap Exchange, where people share information about speed traps.

More from the Free Press story:

Stevenson thinks the term "speed trap" implies the department is doing something tricky and then writing tickets, but that’s not the case, he said.

"If they don't obey the law, then we're going to write them a ticket, and we don't make any apologies about that," Stevenson told the Free Press.


Beware!


Catching speeders, though, does take a little bit of trickery---or at the very least, some guile.

Think about it. People tend not to speed in plain view of a police cruiser. Most speeders are caught because they're observed by an officer who has taken steps to at least somewhat conceal himself. Certainly, that's what happens on freeways or other thoroughfares where motorists are known to kick it up a notch.

So it may not be "tricky," in Stevenson's mind, to place a cruiser in a less-than-auspicious location, but it's disingenuous to say that such placement is merely coincidental.

Still, the bottom line is unchanged: don't speed and you have nothing to worry about.

Easier said than done, I know. Funny how sometimes that speedometer inches its way into the danger zone, especially on sunny days when there's a good song on the radio.

Stevenson also cites some hard numbers to suggest that, if anything, Livonia cops are less zealous than ever.

Overall tickets written by the department are down, he told the Free Press. In 2009, Livonia police wrote about 30,000 tickets. That's down from 2007, where police said they wrote 34,607. Stevenson didn’t have the breakdown of speeding tickets.

Ahhh...how convenient.

Speeding tickets are often taken as an affront by motorists who feel their behavior is somehow less important in terms of law enforcement. As if a police cruiser looking for speeders is somehow "out of play" to any emergency call that comes through.

Do police coffers get lined with money garnered from moving violation tickets? No doubt. Maybe that's where someone working as an advocate for motorists should focus his or her attention. Take away any perceived incentive(s) to write tickets, then see if what police officials like Chief Stevenson say is genuine.

Motorists should be glad. The announcement of Livonia's speed trap infamy should put those behind the wheel on notice.

To paraphrase Bob Seger, "You better watch out for the POH-lice, when you cruise into Livonia."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Simply "Mad"

If the end of summer is getting you down---Labor Day weekend reminds us that fall is just around the corner---and you feel like you need a pick me up, I'm going to recommend a movie.

But check with your doctor first, to make sure that laughing convulsively won't do you any harm.

Then go out and rent "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

Or anything with Peter Sellers in it, if your local DVD store doesn't carry IAMMMMW.

The reason you should grab a copy of IAMMMMW is simple, just like what Jackie Gleason told "60 Minutes" when asked why "The Honeymooners" is still popular.

"Because it's funny," The Great One said.

Many of you have probably seen "World," which I have, numerous times. You might be leaning back right now and saying, "Oh yeaaaaah.....that WAS funny!"

Only a laugh riot---one of the funniest movies ever made.

I bring it up because one of the cable networks showed "World" over the weekend, and I sadly only caught the last hour---which wasn't too bad, actually, because that final hour contains some of the funniest physical comedy ever caught on celluloid.

But to truly appreciate "World," you need to see it from beginning to end. Just make sure you have over two-and-a-half hours to kill. That's how long the film is, sans commercial breaks.

"World" was released in 1963, just two weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated. It was directed by Stanley Kramer, who had a gift for presenting physical comedy and films with "big" scenes.

The ensemble cast reads like a Who's Who of American film and television comedy. In fact, most of the players were predominantly TV stars who only dabbled in movies.

The all-star cast, in no particular order, includes: Sid Caesar; Mickey Rooney; Jim Backus; Milton Berle; Jonathan Winters; Spencer Tracy; Buddy Hackett; Dick Shawn; Ethel Merman; Jimmy Durante; Terry-Thomas; Edie Adams; Dorothy Provine; Don Knotts; Jesse White; William Demarest; Peter Falk; Buster Keaton; Carl Reiner; Phil Silvers; and many more who had cameos, like Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, and The Three Stooges.

The plot is made for madcap zaniness. An old man (Durante) wipes out in the desert and, just before he dies, he mumbles to the folks who rush to his aid something about a hidden treasure. The cache of money is supposedly buried in Santa Rosita Beach State Park under "a big W."

The "Big W" turns out to be four palm trees that protrude from the ground in a W-like design.

What ensues after the Samaritans leave Durante's body in the desert is a full-throttle race to the treasure.


Much of the cast of "World," including Spencer Tracy (right, in white)
Courtesy Corbis Images


Filming began in 1962. The great comedian Ernie Kovacs was slated to play a lead role, but Kovacs sadly died not long before cameras rolled. His widow, Edie Adams, had already been signed and she agreed to stay with the project---mainly because Ernie's estate needed the money.

The list of stars asked to be part of the ensemble who couldn't or wouldn't do the film included Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ronald Reagan, and others.

The movie is simply a riotous romp through the California desert, and it culminates in everyone chasing Spencer Tracy, who plays a police chief who tries to abscond with all the dough once it's dug up.

The climactic moment takes place with many of the cast teetering on a fire truck's extended ladder over town. They get expelled off the ladder one by one, with hilarious results.

I won't spoil the ending, in case you haven't seen it, or have forgotten it.

If you can't find "World," you can "settle" for any of the Pink Panther movies starring Sellers (or a vehicle called "The Party" with Sellers, though he doesn't play his Inspector Clouseau character in it), or Woody Allen's first film, "Take the Money and Run," which will also prompt tears of laughter.

Or head to Amazon.com or a similar site and buy the aforementioned films. They're nice to have on the shelf when laughter is the medicine you need at the time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pit Bull****

If you want a dog for protection, get a German Shepherd. Or a doberman. Or a rottweiler.

Owning a pit bull is like walking around with a cocked gun that has a hair trigger.

The aforementioned dogs in the opening sentence provide security without attacking out of the blue (for the most part). The pit bull clearly has some issues.

They come in waves, these pit bull attacks. And when a wave comes, it's of the tidal variety.

We're on the crest of one now. Pit bulls are running amok in Metro Detroit these days.

Yesterday, a four-month old baby's scalp was bloodied. The other day, a family's five-month old puppy was mauled to death and its teenaged owner was badly injured by a pit bull gone mad.

Those are just two of the recent pit bull incidents reported over the past several weeks.

It's not just the dog itself---the owners of these violent animals are culpable. For example, it's amazing how many pit bull owners don't keep their dogs chained, tied, or otherwise under control.

I'm a dog lover. Let's get that straight right off the bat. We currently own an epileptic Jack Russell Terrier who is precious to all of us. So my anti-pit bull stance isn't because I wish a pox on dogs of all breeds.

Too often, the missing ingredient is that elusive element we like to call "common sense."

Pit bull owners will tell you that their breed gets a bad rap. They'll say that the pit bull only attacks when provoked, or that if it is violent, it was somehow made that way by an irresponsible, perhaps sadistic owner.

I can go along with the latter, but what's provoking about a teenager walking his puppy without trespassing? Or a four-month old child minding his own business? If that's considered enough to provoke another dog to attack, then something is wrong with the attacking dog.


The lovable pit bull


I'm not sure what the answer is, because it's not easy regulating who owns what pet. What muddies the issue further is that when pit bulls attack, it's very often the first instance of violence that the animal has ever exhibited.

In other words, if you own a pit bull you own a ticking time bomb that only counts down internally, so we can't see the detonation coming.

I don't think that pit bull owners are bad people, any more so than the owner of any animal is a bad person. But I do think that too many pit bull owners lack responsibility and that much-ballyhooed common sense.

The pit bull attack is scary because the animal's jaws are so strong and so is its barrel chest, and the ferocity is mind-boggling when it happens. A smaller dog or even a human can be killed within a minute or two.

Do we dare try to eradicate pit bulls? They aren't on any endangered species list, but if we make their breeding illegal, that might be a start.

For all who think that might be unconstitutional or otherwise tromping on dog owners' rights, come talk to me when we start reading of a spate of Golden Retriever or Pomeranian attacks.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Could've Ben Better

Ben Affleck has been disappointing.

I look at Affleck, who has a new film coming out soon---a movie that he directed, wrote, and stars in---and I can't help but think that he could have been so much more.

It's been 13 years, believe it or not, since the 38-year-old Affleck burst onto the scene in Good Will Hunting, a film he co-wrote and co-starred in with Matt Damon about a math wiz who needs guidance.

The movie introduced us to Affleck, a nice-looking, well-spoken young man who looked to be the next big box office male lead. Co-star Damon seemed a tad too nerdy looking to assume that mantle.

But something happened on the way to stardom for Affleck. He made a lot of so-so movies; some were downright awful.

He could have been so much more.

There were some decent flicks: Armageddon, Shakespeare in Love, Boiler Room. But they weren't blockbusters, and they weren't yesterday. We're talking about a decade ago.

Instead, there's been Changing Lanes, Gigli, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas, and it hasn't been so much what Affleck has done, it's been what he hasn't --- which has become the matinee idol that so many of us thought he was destined to be.




He's done "Saturday Night Live" many times and he's poked fun at his failed relationship with Jennifer Lopez and he's not had a bad career---just not one that reached its potential. My opinion.

So here comes The Town, slated for a September 17 release, in which Affleck plays a career bank robber who starts to grow a conscience, while at the same time trying to elude the FBI.

Affleck is the biggest name in the cast, though fellow players like Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm are probably recognizable by face.

A movie star's career---and it's often different than an actor's, because there can be a distinct difference between actor and star---is at the mercy of variables outside the control of the player.
Script selection, though, is where the player has to be accountable. No one held a gun to Affleck's head and ordered him to do Surviving Christmas.

But Affleck is only 38. He can still turn things around. Maybe The Town is the vehicle that will help him to do that. We'll see.

I look at Ben Affleck and I don't see failure. I just don't see what I thought I'd be seeing, when he arrived on the scene in the late-1990s.

It's been an uneven career, where I thought he was destined for Burt Reynolds or Chevy Chase or George Clooney-like box office power.

But he's only 38. It's far from over.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Havin' WHOSE Baby?

Thirty-six years ago, the worst song of all time reached #1 on the Billboard charts.

That sounds like opinion, but it's almost morphed into fact.

The poll was conducted by CNN in 2006. The winner (loser?) was Paul Anka's ode to his expectant wife, "(You're) Having My Baby," which found itself on the top of the charts on this day in 1974.

Anka, whose songwriting prowess cannot be denied, penned a stinker when he wrote "YHMB," which was written in celebration of the impending birth of Anka and his wife's fifth child. Anka wrote the song while appearing at Lake Tahoe.

At the suggestion of United Artists recording executive Bob Skaff, Anka was asked to change the song from a solo effort to a duet with virtually unknown vocalist Odia Coates, who made the mistake of being present in the studio when the song was about to be recorded.

Anka took a lot of abuse from women's rights activists, who saw the lyrics and the spirit of the "YHMB" to be highly chauvinistic, egotistical, and basically obnoxious.

Among other issues, the song was criticized for declaring the child was the man's, rather than the couple's. Anka would later replace the line "you're having my baby" with "you're having our baby" while performing in concert.

The song was so vilified that Anka would often simply omit it when he sang a batch of his old hits in concerts.

Then there's the 2006 CNN poll, which placed "YHMB" at the top of the heap when it comes to all-time bad songs.


Paul Anka

The National Organization for Women gave Anka the satiric "Keep Her in Her Place" award during "its annual putdown of male chauvinism" in the media on Women's Equality Day. Ms. Magazine "awarded" Anka their "Male Chauvinistic Pig of the Year" award.

All that, yet the song achieved great commercial success.

One of the lines from the song that took some heat stated that while the woman could have "swept it from [her] life" (abortion), she hadn't because it was "a wonderful way of showing how much she loves him" In response to feminists, Anka said the song was "a love song".

The song is typical 1970s shlock---a syrupy melody and an arrangement that screams lounge singer.

But it topped the charts, 36 years ago today.

Perhaps no Paul Anka quote is more appropriate for this discussion than the following.

"I believe in criticism," he once said.

And he's gotten a ton of it, for a song he probably innocently wrote over three decades ago.