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.