Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fast Track to Stress

Do any two consecutive months on the calendar pass as quickly as November and December?

I've long said it: once you get past Halloween, it's a slippery slope to the end of the year.

This is both good and bad.

November is almost done, just like that---as usual. Wasn't it just the other day when I was passing out candy?

I say it's good and bad because the holiday season swoops in and that means more expense, more stress and more weight gained.

So it's good that it all happens so fast.

But it's also bad, because there doesn't seem to be enough time for everything, like shopping. More to the point, there doesn't seem to be enough time to assemble the funds needed for said shopping.

Starting on November 1, Thanksgiving already begins to creep into the minds of our lovely wives, who, whether hosting the holiday feast or not, have arrangements and plans to think about.

Turkey Day came relatively early this year (the earliest it can occur is November 22 and this year it came on November 24), just three weeks and some change after Halloween. That means that while the mini Snickers bars and tiny M&M bags leftover from a lack of kid traffic on Halloween sat in plain sight, begging to be consumed, Thanksgiving's meal was already being planned.

We go from candy to candied yams, just like that.

How do we go from this..... this, in a matter of days? (or so it seems)

Retailers don't help, of course. They can't wait to shove the Halloween displays aside and replace them with wreaths and inflatable Santas. One of the radio stations in town has made it a habit in recent years of starting to play Christmas tunes on November 1. I don't pity the listeners (they can change the station), I feel for the employees, who have to listen to that for 54 days before Christmas even arrives.

TV ads shouting about Black Friday specials begin on or around November 1. The Internet sprouts stories of impending BF deals like pimples on a teenager's face just before prom.

It's all designed, I'm convinced, to throw us into a panicked tizzy.

So far, Mrs. Eno and I have managed to squeeze some Christmas shopping in, before November ends---which for us is unusual. The game plan this year is to chip away at it. Of course, that's our game plan every year. And every year we scramble in mid-December.

Which is mere days after the ghosts and goblins have left our front porch. Or so it seems.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Yes, He Did

He'd be up for parole every few years, always denied. Then he'd return to his private cell and bob back below the surface again.

Perhaps Geraldo Rivera or Barbara Walters would have interviewed him. His look would be older and gaunter as time went by. Maybe he'd be propped up by some oddballs as a sort of anti-hero, like they do with Charlie Manson et al.

Regardless, he'd have been held up as the assassin of President John F. Kennedy. He would have been the first celebrity "lone nut," as his crime happened just as TV was really beginning to take off as a medium. Maybe you'd see his likeness on t-shirts sold in mall shops such as Hot Topic.

Lee Harvey Oswald, 48 years ago today, squeezed the trigger of his Italian-German rifle and cut down JFK as the president's motorcade rode perilously slowly and past the Texas School Book Depository.

Save the conspiracy nonsense. You'll only get me started.

Oswald did it, the lone nut theory as strong as garlic, in my book.

Besides, you can thank Jack Ruby for all the conspiracy quacks.

Had Ruby---he wasn't part of a conspiracy, either---not killed Oswald during the latter's transfer from the Dallas City Jail to the County Jail, then most of the conspiracy quacks wouldn't have anything to quack about.

It was Oswald's death that opened the door to the creative genius of conspiracy "theory".

Manson, mass murder mastermind, is still alive. So is Sirhan Sirhan, the killer of Bobby Kennedy. James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., was still kicking it some 30 years after his crime before he passed away in 1998.

None have been seriously tied to any conspiracy by the quacks.

Why? Because their existence on this planet acted as a sort of prophylactic against conspiracy talk.

It's easy to conjure up scandalous and taste-tempting tales of conspiracy when the perpetrator of the crime is six feet under.

Ruby killed Oswald but gave life to the conspiracy quacks, who, with Oswald silenced, were able to run rampant with their theories.

Think of it. Oswald, had he lived, would almost certainly have been convicted of JFK's murder. The evidence may have been partially circumstantial, but it was also substantial.

Then he would have gone to prison, perhaps still professing his innocence. But he'd have been behind bars and the trial would have happened and the conspiracy quacks would have looked even sillier than they do now.

Oswald killed Kennedy, just as he killed Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, and Oswald's actions immediately after the president's death suggest that he committed the crimes alone and without aid.

Oswald acted instinctively, perhaps not even thinking of killing Kennedy until finding out that the president was to visit his town. Imagine Lee's heart racing once he found out that Kennedy's motorcade route placed him right beneath the building in which Oswald worked.

Opportunity knocks!!

I believe that Oswald acted impetuously when he killed the president---maybe not even thinking he'd actually succeed. Then, Lee didn't know what the hell to do, or where the hell to go.

His actions confirm that.

After the assassination, Oswald took a bus home, grabbed a pistol and a jacket, and marched out of his boarding house in suburban Dallas.

Where was he going? What was his intent? Oswald couldn't even get out of the city. He was a frantic, panicking man, probably in disbelief that he pulled off the crime of the century.

The pistol was clearly there in case he needed it, i.e. in the case of a policeman who might try to apprehend him. Poor J.D. Tippit, who never had a chance.

If Oswald had the help that a conspiracy would have provided, then he, as the hired gunman, certainly would have been given an exit strategy, some money, and other instructions.

If I took on such a job, I'd sure as heck would want to know what was to happen to me after the fact.

Thanks to this act, the conspiracy quacks were able to run roughshod over common sense and facts

You think Oswald would consent to kill the President of the United States (wouldn't he have been paid, by the way?), then not bother to ask what the game plan was after the killing?

Flipping it, do you think his employers would hire him for the job then leave him out there to dry, potentially singing like a canary after his possible arrest?

Wouldn't they be afraid that he'd name names like he was rattling off a shopping list?

Instead, for nearly 48 hours, Oswald merely insisted he was innocent and never hinted of a conspiracy, save for his "I'm just a patsy" remark, made to reporters.

Now, either he was incredibly loyal to people in the shadows who never paid him (Oswald was barely above poverty level), or he simply didn't name names because there were no names to name.

I'm betting on the latter.

Ruby started all this nonsense. His erasure of Oswald, while good intentioned in Jack's book (he wanted to save Jackie Kennedy from the emotional stress of a trial), was the match that lit the conspiracy fuse.

Oswald would be 72 years old today. Certainly it's conceivable that he'd still be alive. Manson is over 70. Sirhan is 67. Ray lived into his mid-70s.

And by the way, Ruby did hint of conspiracy, but not until he was ravaged by cancer and wasn't in his right mind.

Ruby died in 1966.

An alive Lee Harvey Oswald, wiling away his time in a penitentiary somewhere, would have cut down a lot of this conspiracy talk just by his very existence as a living person.

Dead, he became the key figure in so many people's criminal fantasies.

Thanks, Jack.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What Happened to Natalie?

I had a crush on Natalie Wood. Still do, truth be told.

She was beautiful and dark haired. In fact, I liked her type so much that I married one.

But I was just 18 when Wood, the actress, died tragically on a night clouded with mystery back on November 29, 1981. She had been enjoying a night on a yacht with husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken, with whom she had just wrapped filming of the movie "Brainstorm."

The official cause of death was drowning, which would have made sense normally, as Wood had clearly fallen overboard. But friends---and Wagner---noted that Wood was afraid of water and it was out of character for her to put herself in a situation where drowning was even a possibility.

Even after it was determined that Wood had been drinking prior to the accident, rumors and innuendo swirled.

The presence of a second man, Walken, only added to the whispers. Wood and Walken had been acting cozy, according to some, and speculation arose that he and Wagner may have gotten into a lively discussion sometime the night of the accident.

Yet how that supposed argument played a role in what happened to Wood was never fully explained, of course.

Natalie Wood was just 43 when she perished.

Maybe we'll get some more answers about her death, maybe we won't---but the Los Angeles homicide detectives have re-opened their investigation into what happened that fateful night, regardless.

The news of the LA police department taking another look at Wood's death happens to come on the same week that the film version of "West Side Story," in which Wood starred, was released on Blu-ray Disc to mark its 50th anniversary.

So why the re-opening of the investigation?

According to the Associated Press, it's "because of new information detectives received about the case, Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Thursday."

No additional details were provided, but a detective planned to hold a news conference Friday, and anyone with information about the case was being asked to contact sheriff's officials,
the AP reported.

The AP also said that a spokesperson for Wagner said that the actor has yet to be contacted by police, but that he has faith that the department will take "appropriate action."

The police news conference should be interesting.

I was never one to be infatuated with Wood's death, as mysterious as it may have been. I don't think anything malicious happened to her. But it wouldn't shock me if Wagner, who blamed himself for his wife's death in a 2009 book, or Walken know more than they've been letting on.

Regardless, Natalie Wood was a beautiful woman and at 43 died way too young.

Natalie Wood

"Brainstorm," by the way, is a good movie. The concept is that Walken, a scientist, invents a machine that can record your thoughts and even physical feelings (including pain) by placing a device on the head, which lays everything down onto this wide, shiny gold recording "tape."

Wood plays Walken's girlfriend in the movie, released after her death.

Wood and Wagner were married twice: from 1957 to 1963, then again in 1972.

Maybe Lana Wood, Natalie's sister, has it pegged right, after all.

"What happened is that Natalie drank too much that night," Lana Wood wrote in her biography.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lovely Rita

As time marches on, the pioneers among us become fewer and fewer.

No one lives forever, so the trailblazers become endangered species.

"West Side Story," the film version, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, marking the occasion with its release today on Blu-ray Disc.

So appropriate, as one of its stars, Rita Moreno, closes in on becoming an octogenarian.

It was Moreno's portrayal of Anita that did a couple of things, neither of them insignificant.

First, it garnered Moreno an Oscar.

Then, it eventually opened doors for other Latino performers to get work in Hollywood.

This was not insignificant, because Natalie Wood played the lead Maria in "West Side Story" and another white actor, George Chakiris, played Puerto Rican gang leader Bernardo.

Moreno was a pioneer, and typical of such folks, she didn't realize it at the time.

But she knows it now.

She allows, in an interview with the Associated Press, that she's "happy" that her portrayal of Anita did a lot for Latino actors.

But, half a century later, "I love what Ricardo Montalban once said, because it was very precise," Moreno says, quoting the late Mexican actor. "He said one day that the door was ajar, but not completely open. And that still exists. ... We have known artists in the English-speaking world that are Latin artists, but not enough."

Also lacking, according to Moreno, who will be 80 on December 11, are musicals themselves.

"I'd love to see more musicals because today they're very rare — you barely find them," she says.

The incomparable Rita Moreno

If you want to check out Moreno at some of her finest, rent or download "The Four Seasons," an Alan Alda written and directed comedy vehicle where she plays the Italian wife of Jack Weston's character, Danny.

The role was part of what Moreno told the AP is her belief that she's "a character actress, more than anything, and I think that is one of the reasons I get other parts that don't have anything to do with being Latina necessarily."

Moreno can be seen now as Fran Drescher's mother in the TV series, "Happily Divorced."

Still working, even as 80 beckons.

"Because I've been around so long ... I've gotten to do a lot of things that a lot of Latinos have not been able to do," Moreno says.

Correction. A lot of Latinos have been able to do things that they wouldn't, had it not been for Rita Moreno.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thanks for the Memories

Politics is like good comedy: timing is everything.

Only, what's been going on in Wayne County politics is less comedy and more tragedy.

But timing still is everything.

Oh, how much more interesting would the election for County Executive have been had the Turkia Mullin severance scandal occurred last year instead of this year?

The Little Italian General, Bob Ficano, still likely would have won over his opponent, Republican Mario Fundarski, but the interesting part would have been to see how much less of a margin Ficano would have triumphed.

Or, what if the Mullin scandal hit the news in the spring of 2010? Then maybe a more formidable candidate would have had time to emerge to take on the LIG.

But alas, the cesspool that is the Wayne County political machine is being exposed in full view now, in 2011, some three years before the next County Executive election.

The question now is, how long will voters' memories be in 2014?

A recent poll indicates that 47 percent of likely county Democratic voters contacted by phone want the LIG to resign.

Forty-seven percent! Nearly half.

But that's today, some three years before voters go to the polls to choose who will be the County Exec from 1/1/2015 to 12/31/2018.

How many of those 47 percent will be as enraged in three years?

The severance scandal, which is actually a misnomer because it's more of a "Ficano" scandal, is getting a lot of play. It has the looks of something that could stick to the LIG like flypaper.

Maybe even for three years.

The latest casualty is someone who the FBI ought to devote at least a weekend to: Assistant County Executive Michael Grundy, who was given the ziggy by Ficano last night.

Grundy is the dude who was suspended last month after a contractor told FBI agents that Grundy regularly called if she was late with payments to a company affiliated with one of his associates.

When Grundy wasn't shaking down honest employees for kickbacks, he was trying to strong arm a state legislator into not pursuing the Mullin investigation in Lansing.

Oops, I should have added "allegedly" to the above paragraph.

Grundy is a piece of work. When I was working for the County Commission in 2010, I heard some things about Grundy that usually involved him being a heavy in the Ficano administration, in some way, shape or form.

The FBI could have a field day investigating Michael Grundy.

Michael Grundy

Also on Monday, the chairwoman of the Airport Authority---the same bunch who fired Mullin as airport CEO last week---resigned from her post.

That would be Renee Axt, who "axed" herself. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why.

Axt's consulting firm, RCP Associates, is among those named in FBI subpoenas served on the county last month. The feds are investigating not only the $200,000 severance Mullin received in September for serving as the county's economic development chief, but also Mullin's ties to a nonprofit economic development group.

Axt served on the board of that nonprofit, which paid Mullin a $75,000 bonus.

Yeah, that's right.

This has caused the FBI to start rubbing their chins and pursing their lips. And when they start doing that, the cockroaches tend to skitter away from the light.

It's all well and good that Ficano fired Grundy. It gives one hope that the LIG realizes the depth of his fall from grace. It's not good political strategy to piss off nearly half of your voting base to the point that they want you to quit, right then and there.

This severance thing has been in the papers for over a month now. That's an eternity in County politics. That kind of time on the front page had been reserved for the Kwame Kilpatricks of the world, when it comes to local news.

Even the editorial folks at the Free Press and The News have been hostile to the LIG lately. And that never happens.

Still, the question begs: Will any of this be relevant in 2014, when it really matters?

Or is this scandal just the tip of the iceberg to Ficano's Titanic?

Regardless, you can bet that whoever chooses to run against the LIG in 2014 will do all he or she can to refresh people's memories.

They might not even need it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Real Sit Down Guy

Sooner or later, Bob Ficano is going to run out of stool pigeons.

The time will come when Ficano, the Little Italian General and sneaky Wayne County Executive, looks around him and the only person left to blame is himself.

Turkia Mullin is out as CEO of Metro Airport. No doubt you know that by now. Her brief tenure as CEO ended Monday afternoon, about two months after she received an obscene severance payment when she left Wayne County after serving as its Economic Development Director.

Mullin had to go. Perception is reality in politics, public and civil service. Once tainted, it's awfully difficult to get that sheen back.

She didn't create the cronyism and palm greasing that goes on in the Guardian Building (County HQ), but she certainly didn't do anything to stop it. Not that that is her charge, but she didn't have to be so sassy about it.

"I'm worth it!" she crowed, like the models in those makeup and shampoo commercials, when the $200,000 severance hit the news.

No doubt Mullin thought she and Ficano would be lockstep in snubbing the media and holding the people of the County in contempt.

It didn't work this time.

Mullin's "I'm worth it" comment was one of the worst things she could have said, given the situation at hand. You know, the situation where the County shamelessly asks for concessions and give backs from the rank-and-file while at the same time lining the pockets of do-nothing appointees.

Then Mullin, the day after declaring she was worth it, tried to play the gender card. All the attention the severance was rapidly getting, she whined, was simply because she's a woman. After all, Mullin reasoned, her predecessor got a similar sweetheart severance deal---and he was a man. Where was the outrage then?

Well, "then," the media didn't get its mitts on it. And just because Mullin wasn't a pioneer in the sweetheart severance business doesn't let her off the hook.

So she had to go. The authority board did the right thing in dismissing her, by a 5-2 vote. Of course, the firing will be challenged in court, but that's the penance the authority will have to pay for hiring Mullin in the first place.

Seems the board may not have done all of its due diligence in researching Mullin's claims as far as her involvement and influence in bringing the now infamous $5.5 billion of new development to the County.

The papers did, and they found that Mullin's resume was a little padded.

Happier, grease palming times: Top County deputy Azzam Elder (left), Turkia Mullin and County Exec Bob Ficano make a smiling trio---before Ficano threw them under the bus

That's all well and good. Mullin had to go, but look at what her supposed supporter, Ficano, did to her.

As the heat got turned up, the Little Italian General offered up a few sacrificial lambs---a top deputy, an attorney, a retired contractor---for slaughter. He read a prepared, very insincere sounding "apology" as he announced the suspensions of the first two and the firing of the third lamb. Ficano all but rolled his eyes as he read it. I saw the video. It was pretty shameful.

Then, when the lambs weren't enough, Ficano distanced himself from Mullin, who he supposedly supported and whose career he bolstered.

On Friday, Ficano said Mullin's leadership had been "compromised" and that the board, when they met on Monday to discuss her fate, should "do what they need to do."


Isn't it a riot when the bad guys start turning on each other?

What the Little Italian General failed to acknowledge was that it was his doings that placed Mullin in the position she was in, albeit indirectly.

Wouldn't it have been nice if Ficano had instead said, "I'm saddened that Turkia Mullin is being caught up in a controversy based on policies of the past that were not of her own doing"?

That's all. He wouldn't have had to issue more support. Just the above statement. It would have been the honorable thing to do. It would have been gentlemanly. It would have been stand up.

Instead, Ficano added Mullin to the people he keeps throwing under the bus.

Sooner or later, the Little Italian General is going to turn around, looking for another lamb, and there won't be anybody left except him.

And as Three Dog Night crooned, "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do."