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


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.


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.


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.