Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stuck in Denial

Mark David Chapman killed the wrong man.

If it wasn't for the profile and status of his victim, Chapman might have a good shot at parole next month. Though we'll never know.

Chapman, of course, is the convicted killer of ex-Beatle John Lennon, who Chapman gunned down on December 8, 1980 in New York City.

Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life for the murder, and he has served 29 years of that sentence. He was last up for parole in 2008. He's been denied five times (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008).

Chapman is 55 and is incarcerated at the Attica Maximum Security facility.

But taking Lennon out of the equation for a moment, Chapman appears to be a pretty good prisoner, one who might be parole material.

He hasn't had an infraction since 1994, said Erik Kriss, spokesman for the Department of Corrections in New York.

"He goes about his business, doing his prison job and without any fanfare," Kriss said.

Chapman spends his time housekeeping and in the library, according to a CNN story.

For the past 20 years, Chapman has been allowed conjugal visits with his wife, Gloria, as part of a state program called "Family Reunion," which enables eligible prisoners to spend up to 44 hours at a time with their family members in a special, controlled setting.

According to the New York State Division of Parole, four letters have been submitted this year arguing against Chapman's parole, while two letters have been received in support.

Chapman circa 2008

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, has submitted letters in prior years arguing against Chapman's parole. It's uncertain whether she's done so this year.

Unfortunately for Chapman, it's highly unlikely that he'll be granted parole, considering who he killed. The public outcry, even nearly 30 years after Lennon's murder, would be too great.

When Chapman was denied parole in 2008, the State Division of Parole released a statement that said the decision was "due to concern for the public safety and welfare."

I find it hard to believe that Chapman would harm anyone if he was released. But I could be wrong. Perhaps he'd latch onto another celebrity and begin stalking that person---who knows?

The bottom line is that if Chapman had killed Joe Citizen and was given the same sentence, his prison record and time served might make his parole realistic.

But Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon, beloved the world over.

Because of that, I don't think Chapman will ever see the world outside the walls of prison.

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time, right?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dead End(ing)

The only thing we know for certain about Jimmy Hoffa's fate is that he's dead.

The former Teamsters union leader and jailbird disappeared 35 years ago this Friday, and was probably dead hours later, if that.

You've heard the rumors, the speculation, the jokes, about what became of Hoffa after he pulled into the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant on Telegraph and Maple in Bloomfield Hills on July 30, 1975.

For days and weeks afterward, though, there was still hope that Hoffa would be found.

Likely, though, Hoffa was murdered moments after hopping into a car to go visit mob bosses.

Hoffa was about to take control of the Teamsters once more. At least, that was his hope, after serving jail time for racketeering and other charges.

According to the most reliable accounts, Hoffa thought he was meeting mobsters Tony Provenzano (of New York/New Jersey) and Tony Giacolone (of Detroit) when he went to the Machus Red Fox. Police later found Hoffa's car in the parking lot but no sign of him.

For their part, neither Provenzano nor Giacolone were proven to be near the restaurant that afternoon (Hoffa disappeared at roughly 2:45 p.m.), nor did they acknowledge to having had a meeting scheduled with Hoffa, period.

Hoffa was declared legally dead on July 30, 1982---seven years after his disappearance.

It's one of the most famous cold cases in history, but I never really understood the fascination.

James Riddle Hoffa: 1913-1975

Hoffa was dead, we all knew that. So if you're not a cop or the FBI, or a member of Hoffa's family, why do you care what happened to him and by whose hand?

I don't mean to sound cavalier, but I think we all kind of know how this thing went down. We just don't have the details.

Even the most lay of laymen knows how these mob things work. You go for a ride, you don't come back. And if they (the mob) don't want your body found, it won't be found. If they want it found, they'll make sure of that, too---on their terms.

Yet for years there has been no end to the rumors and so-called confessions about what ultimately happened to Hoffa---how, and where his remains were disposed of.

He was buried under the then-new Giants Stadium, which opened in 1976. He was chopped up in a wood chipper. He was shot dead in a house in Detroit and buried beneath the floorboards.

Blah, blah, blah.

Sure, it would be kind of neat if a definitive, verifiable account of what happened to Hoffa ever came to light. Just as it would for Amelia Earhart, Judge Crater, and any other high-profile missing persons case.

Don't hold your breath.

If we haven't had a deathbed confession by now or a best-selling book that proves, once and for all, what befell Hoffa after he shut off his engine at the Machus Red Fox on July 30, 1975, then I got news for you, folks: we ain't never getting one.

What could possibly come to light now that would hold any water? And how could it be proven to be the real deal?

We're getting to the point now where most of the people who could have provided salient, certifiable information are dead.

Hoffa, had he lived until today, would be 97 years old.

He would have made a good baseball umpire.

"I may have many faults," Jimmy Hoffa once said. "But being wrong ain't one of them."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How LiLo Can She Go?

The child entertainment star is fresh-faced, adorable, and endearingly precocious.

He or she stays that way, for as long as the window of time the child star spends in our TV or movie consciousness.

It's when you are forced to add the word "former" to the front of "child star" that things often go sideways.

Lindsay Lohan stares at us now in her mug shot, dressed in the requisite orange jumpsuit of the jailed. The eyes are baleful, the facial expression wry.

She's looked better.

Lohan, the actress who not that long ago was a freckle-faced pumpkin of the silver screen, is about to spend the next 90 days behind bars, as terms of the violation of her probation.

She was placed in handcuffs today in a Beverly Hills courtroom and hauled off to jail.

Lohan was "cooperative" as she was booked into the Century Regional Detention Facility about an hour later, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitemore.

Funny how the cooperation often comes a tad too late.

The cautionary tales of the ne'er-do-well "former child stars" of the past would make a book as thick as a New York City phone directory.

It's been going on ever since motion pictures themselves, just about: children as featured players who turn into wayward sons and daughters.

There seems to be three stages of being for these TV and movie tiny tarts: 1) cute; 2) former; 3) troubled.

Because their stardom came so young, the "former child star" can be washed up by his or her high school graduation---had they attended school, that is.

But that's just one variety of the troubled star. Those would be people like Todd Bridges, Dana Plato (both from "Diff'rent Strokes"), and Anissa Jones ("Family Affair").

Another type is the one like Lohan, who saw some success past puberty and who was on the verge of making the transition from child to grown-up actor with little drama.

Then she started acting out and one thing led to another.

Lohan is 24 years old and already it's time to wonder if she's through as an actor. Which means it's also time to wonder if she can make it in life as a former actor.

That word again---"former."

Part of the terms of her parole violation is that Lohan must enter a substance-abuse rehabilitation program within 24 hours of leaving jail. She may not end up serving all 90 days of her sentence; the sheriff could release her sooner if there's overcrowding.

The actress was ordered to serve 90 days in jail for missing alcohol counseling sessions in violation of her probation. She was also sentenced to spend 90 days in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program after her jail term is completed.

Lohan is 24 but is a 14-year veteran of acting, having started at age 10 on a soap opera.

The last few years of her life have been pocked with destructive behavior.

Lohan was arrested twice in 2007 on charges of driving under the influence, and in the second incident she was charged with cocaine possession. The first arrest came after Lohan lost control of her Mercedes-Benz convertible and struck a curb in Beverly Hills.

Just two weeks after checking out of a Malibu drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, she was arrested again in July 2007 after a woman called Santa Monica police, saying Lohan was trying to run her down with a car.

So today Lohan starts her 90 (maybe) days of incarceration.

Only time will tell if she can be one of the few to buck the trend of the former child star, and blossom into a fine adult.

The odds are against her, which is sad but true.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lethal Weapon?

Who keeps recording Mel Gibson?

Or, why does Gibson keep saying things that you wouldn't want recorded?

Once again, the embattled actor Gibson is in hot water, this time for scathing words directed at Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his 8-month old daughter.

Gibson has previously been in trouble for spewing ethnic slurs, also caught on tape.

In the latest diatribe, posted by Radaronline, Gibson sounds alternately homicidal, bitter, angry, and just plum crazy.

“You’re a f*cking mentally deprived idiot,” Mel screams at one point in the phone call to Grigorieva. “You’re a f*cking using whore…I own you,” he rages. ”You don’t count.”

Gibson also refers to a worker helping Grigorieva with the baby as a "wetback."

On July 9, Radaronline released audio of Mel telling Oksana that she was dressed too provocatively and would be “raped by a pack of n*ggers.”

All this plus that famous drunken driving arrest, during which Gibson let loose with a bunch of anti-Semitic slop.

Mel Gibson: spinning out of control

But it's more than just some angry words; Radaronline says it has posted two separate clips of audio in which Gibson basically threatens to kill Grigorieva.

Gibson is currently under investigation by the L.A. County Sherriff’s Department on domestic violence charges.

Mel Gibson has done a lot for American and Australian cinema, as both an actor and as a director. He should be considered, in my mind, one of the 50 most influential people in movies since World War II.

But the guy has some major issues, clearly. This isn't something to snicker at and roll your eyes about anymore.

It's more than that, and could get really ugly if it isn't somehow checked.

Look no further than the sad case of comedian Phil Hartman to find out what can happen when "domestic disturbances" get taken to the next level.

We don't want Grigorieva to be the next Hartman. In a way, the Internet age can be a good thing. It raises more people's antennas. That may not have been enough to save Hartman, who was murdered in 1998 by his drug-using wife, long before the Web became the behemoth of information and gossip that it is today.

But maybe the more eyeballs and ears looking out for the Hartmans, maybe the less chance of something violent occurring. Who knows.

What isn't uncertain is this: Mel Gibson has issues. He has shown no hesitation to hurl sinister threats, slurs, and hate. He's bragged that he's capable of violent acts.

Just because it's on a gossip website doesn't mean it's funny.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Limit One Per Me

I never met a beer I didn't like after work.

It's probably all in my head, I'm sure, but I don't think malts and hops taste any better than they do at home, moments after coming through the door after another eight hours spent in the minefield.

I don't drink much. Let's get that straight. I sowed my alcohol seeds in college, and a few years after that. Since then, I've been reduced to taking a week to consume what I used to in one evening.

I come home, have my Miller High Life, and that's it. But oh, does it taste good.

Just one bottle does it. After that, I'm ready for a soft drink. Sometimes a nap.

The late great sports columnist Jim Murray once wrote that legendary college basketball coach John Wooden was so square, he was divisible by four.

That's me anymore when it comes to that "p" word---partying.

Time was we'd hit happy hour after classes at Eastern Michigan University, meander to another watering hole, then only stop for a dinner break. Then it was off to the night life, after dark.

The question would come aroun 10:30, 11:00 p.m.: "OK, where are we REALLY going tonight?"

I remember going to happy hour at Theo's on Cross Street, knocking them down for several hours, retiring to my apartment for a three-hour nap after dinner (what? doesn't everyone?), then waking up and commencing the "real" partying, circa 11:30 p.m.

Ahh, to be young again.

Just one please (and only after work)

We used to frequent the old Ethnic Festivals (remember those?) in Hart Plaza, downtown. It was a great place to hang out, choke down some bad wine like MD 20/20, and people watch. Then maybe it was off to Windsor, where we could do the whole thing legally because the drinking age was 19.

Now, I'm content to twist open a Miller, enjoy its coldness and smoothness, and about two-thirds through it I'm ready to switch to Pepsi.

It's not that I dislike beer these days. I just don't care to drink all that much of it.

I'll occasionally drink a beer on a weekend afternoon, or very late at night. But those don't taste half as good as the one I slug down at around 6:00 p.m. during the week.

I wonder why that is.

I'm conditioned now. Some people get grumpy before their first cup of coffee. I get antsy if I don't have my Miller in hand by 6:15.

But just one. It's the opposite of potato chips that way.

I don't drink responsibly, I drink pathetically.

But I had my time. I think most of us did.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dead Ringers

So that kid from "The Sixth Sense" thinks he sees dead people?


He's got nothing on Jean Stevens.

Stevens is a 91-year-old widow from Wyalusing, Pennsylvania with skeletons in her closet---and corpses on her furniture.

No typo there. No misprint, no hyperbole.

I'll say it again: Corpses. On. Her. Furniture.

Jean Stevens, holding a 1940s photo of her and husband James

Stevens is a sweet old lady who just couldn't bear the idea of her husband and twin sister dying. So when they actually did, Stevens took denial to a whole new level.

The lady had the bodies of her husband, James---who died in 1999---and her twin sister June, who passed away last October, exhumed.

Not only that, she propped them up on different sofas in her home---June in a spare room off the bedroom, James on a couch in the detached garage.

"Death is very hard for me to take," Stevens told the Associated Press in an utterance that is my nomination for Understatement of the Year, 2010.

Well, sweet old Jean got caught; the cops got a tip, and the bodies were removed from her home and turned over to the Bradford County coroner.

June was dressed in her finest housecoat, and Jean would spray her often with expensive perfume. Jean would talk to her dead twin, and sometimes forget that she was talking to a corpse.

"I put her glasses on," Stevens said. "When I did that, it made all the difference in the world. I'd fix her face up all the time."

You've heard of home schooling? Jean Stevens was practicing her some home morticianing.

As for her late husband's body, Stevens explained her bizarre behavior thusly.

"I could see him, I could look at him, I could touch him. Now, some people have a terrible feeling; they say, 'Why do you want to look at a dead person?'

"Well, I felt differently about death."

Oop---there's my second nomination of understatement!

Stevens managed to escape detection for over 10 years. She suspects that a relative of her late husband's blew the whistle.

Stevens's case is so odd and without much recent precedent that authorities are at a quandary as to what to do with her. She IS 91, after all.

A decision on charges is expected in a few weeks.

If this falls in the "I gotta see this for myself" category, click here to read the full story of Jean Stevens and her lifeless companions.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday's Favs

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

from February 10, 2010

They're Baaack!

Sanders is coming back, after all.

No, Lions fans, I don't mean Barry.

Sanders Candy is being reanimated, thanks to the help of Morley Brands.

"Fundraising really took a hit in the 1980s and '90s," Morley Brands President Ron Rapson tells about the fetish schools, Boy Scout troops, and other organizations had for hawking Morley candies to beleaguered friends and relatives. "It got to the point where it wasn't really a money maker. So we decided to go back to what we did best---making chocolates.

"And we hooked up with another great company---Sanders," Rapson adds.

Fred Sanders' company hit the market in Detroit in 1875, offering everything from candy to milk shakes to ice cream. In its heyday---from the 1950s through the '70s, you could hardly drive more than a few miles in metro Detroit without running into a joint that sold Sanders products, or that had a genuine soda jerk emphasizing Sanders goodies.

But about 20 years ago, Sanders started falling off the map.

That's about to change.

Rapson now also holds the title of President of Sanders Candy, as Morley decided to take over the brand. And they haven't taken that responsibility lightly, according to Brian Jefferson, Majority Partner of Sanders Candy.

"We looked at all the different logos Sanders has had over the past 130-plus years," Jefferson says. "I believe we came up with nine different ones. And we picked one from the 1920s that we feel best captures the vision that Fred Sanders had."

When even the logo is selected carefully, you know that this isn't the typical buying out of another company.

"It's a labor of love," Jefferson says. "We have a sense of responsibility, not only to our workers, but to the community, in bringing back this brand."

For those worried that Morley will take the Sanders product and brand and run roughshod over it, fret not, according to Rapson.

"You have to be careful. You want to keep these old brands going, but you have to tweak them and continuously improve them so that you can bring them to new markets and new customers," Rapson says.

"Because you want the new customers to experience what we have enjoyed and experienced in Detroit for all these decades."

I'll eat to that.

For more info about Sanders candy, visit