Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Two Jakes

The other night, I sat for over an hour and got caught up on the life of my daughter's Godfather's son. I hadn't seen him since he was a toddler, so I had about 20 years of his life to get filled in on.

Sadly, it took the young man's death to present this opportunity.

Jacob Lank was 22 years old, handsome, and by the accounts of his friends who shared stories of him Tuesday night at the RG/GR Harris Funeral Home in Livonia, very mischievous and a prankster.

But he was also fiercely loyal, a wonderful big brother and smart.

He had great character, his friends said. One called Jacob "brave."

His little sister, Maddy, talked of how Jacob---Jake, really---and she made up a Leprechaun named George and how Maddy, as a youngster, would write George letters. And George would write back, to her amazement. He even left her some lucky charms, which she said she still carries with her to this day.

Turns out the letter writer was Jake, posing as George the Leprechaun. This went on for some time before Maddy caught on.

But this was no prank. This was a big brother lovingly feeding the fantasies of his little sister, in a harmless but endearing way.

Jake Lank just turned 22 on March 8, about two weeks before a single car accident took his life.

I didn't know him beyond his pre-school years, but by the time the tributes were finished Tuesday night, I felt two sensations: that I felt I had known Jake all along, from his days as a toddler; and that I REALLY wish I had been in his company as he turned from teen to young adult.

I said as much to his dad, Mike Lank---one of my best friends.

"God, I wish I knew that kid," I told Mike.

"So do I," he said.

I got Mike's meaning.

Before the tributes, Mike took to the podium and said that, as parents, there's a side of your children that you really don't know---the side his or her friends see.

So when Mike said, "So do I," he meant that he wished he had known the side of Jake that his friends had spent recalling in the days between the accident and the visitation Tuesday.

Jake was the oldest of five kids in the Lank family. The three next-youngest siblings each spoke of how awesome of a big brother Jake was.

There were tears, of course. But there were also a lot of laughs---far more than the tears, actually.

A funeral home filled with young people is a gut-wrenching scene, because it's a sure sign that the deceased was equally as young.

But it was those young people---over an hour's worth---who painted the picture and filled in the gaps about Jake Lank.

By the end of the evening I was glad that they were there, after all.

I now feel like I know Jake Lank, albeit too late.

Like Mike said in front of the crowd, "This sucks."

Doesn't it.

But I'm glad that little toddler turned out to be such a great kid.

So, at least there's that.

Note: Jake was an organ donor and already, Mike said, the donated organs are saving the lives of others, including a young teen who would have died without it. Very cool.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

At the Movies, Old School Style

Our daughter, a high school senior, gets to watch movies in class on occasion. I can tell you two things: the films are a lot more entertaining than the celluloid we viewed in my day; and yet I kind of pity her, because the whole movie watching thing for her is rather humdrum.

I shall explain.

Anyone over the age of 40 should remember what it was like when there was going to be a movie shown in class that day.

It was a big deal.

Who can forget the rumble of the big cart rolling down the hallway, on which was the seemingly huge film projector, being wheeled into the classroom by the "A/V geek," who was nothing more than a fellow student who somehow wrangled his way into such a gig.

Then the anticipation of the movie itself, which wasn't a feature film like the kids in school are privileged to view nowadays. Rather, it was very instructional in nature---like about science or social studies, etc.

Perhaps it was a movie about how we use oxygen in everyday life. Or how they make rubber. Stuff like that.

Regardless, even though we knew we weren't settling in to watch "True Grit" or "Herbie the Love Bug," a movie in class meant that the lights would be turned off (a great opportunity to sneak in a nap), and that it was a good way to kill 15-20 minutes.

A still taken from a film we may have viewed in class, circa 1970s

Sometimes there would be a technical difficulty, and the A/V kid would be summoned, or another teacher, and before you knew it, another 10-15 minutes would be taken off the board.

I don't know how many times we implored the teacher to run the film backwards after it was finished. Sometimes teach would relent, and the room would be filled with guffaws as we saw images of people walking backwards, machines running in reverse and liquid defying gravity and pouring "up."

The movies, looking back on what I recall of them, were probably produced in the late-1950s, early-1960s, based on the clothing and the cars. Most were in color, though.

Anyhow, it was more than popping a DVD into a player. Much more. And much more exciting, frankly.

The movies themselves wouldn't win any People's Choice Awards, but the experience might have.

(click here for an example of a 1960s educational film---this one about the Union Pacific Railroad)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Was Ground Stood?

What's worse? To be known as a police department rife with buffoons, or one that is complicit with a loose cannon "community watch" volunteer?

That's pretty much the choice being offered up to the Sanford (Fla) police department, in the wake of the fallout over the tragic shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26.

The shooter, George Zimmerman, wasn't so much as brought to the police station for questioning, even though he literally held a smoking gun in his hand when police arrived that fateful night.

In fact, Zimmerman was allowed to go home with that gun still smoking in his truck, while Trayvon was lying dead on the ground, a gunshot wound to the chest proving fatal.

Almost a month after the incident, Zimmerman is still roaming free and the firestorm is spreading more rapidly than a Hollywood rumor.

The Sanford police chief, Bill Lee, stepped aside today, albeit "temporarily." This, one day after the city commission voted, 3-2, to render an official "no confidence" stand against Lee's abilities to perform his duties.

The vote was largely symbolic, because the only person who can can Lee, according to the city's laws, is City Manager Norton Bonaparte.

"The police chief works at the pleasure of the City Manager," Bonaparte told an incredulous Lawrence O'Donnell and an equally flabbergasted Rev. Al Sharpton last night on O'Donnell's "Last Word" program on MSNBC.

The two men were visibly frustrated with Bonaparte, who sat stone-faced and refused to give in to the very logical suggestion that the city manager give Police Chief Lee his walking papers.

Bonaparte wanted to take the tack of patience and caution, when the window has seemingly closed on that approach; Trayvon was killed 25 days ago.

Trayvon Martin (left) and George Zimmerman---two strangers now forever linked

But why did the Sanford police---especially the first officers on the scene after being dispatched by Zimmerman's 911 call of a "suspicious person"---let the shooter go home without so much as surrendering the killing weapon? Why would they let Zimmerman walk away pleading self defense, when he was instructed to stay in his vehicle until help arrived?

Zimmerman claims that it was on his way back to his vehicle---the one he was told to remain in---when he was set upon by Trayvon, who by all indications was merely walking home in the gated community after buying some candy.

So either the Sanford police bungled this immensely, or they eagerly went along with Zimmerman's story at face value---with a black teen lying on the ground, dead.

In neither case does Chief Lee's department come out looking good.

This is the kind of nonsense that can set race relations back decades.

City Manager Bonaparte, however, is black, which adds yet another strange wrinkle, and gives more weaponry to people of color, some of whom will undoubtedly cast Bonaparte as a you-know-what---another vile portrayal of black folks.

Florida is a "stand your ground state," which means that killing in self defense doesn't require trying to flee the situation before pulling the trigger or wielding the blade.

"You want to know how you can kill somebody legally in Florida?" said Arthur Hayhoe of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, as quoted in USA Today. "Make sure you have no witnesses, hunt the person down and then say you feared for your life."

Is that what George Zimmerman did?

Thanks to either bungling or complicity by the Sanford Police Department, we may never truly find out.

Not the best of legacies, in either instance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mystery Solved?

Who doesn't love a good mystery?

Whether it's a novel, a movie or a story lifted from a true crime magazine---we love a whodunnit, a "what happened to it," and a "where did it go?"

It's coming up on 75 years ago when one of America's---and indeed the world's---greatest mysteries was born.

Amelia Earhart, the beloved female aviator, went missing on July 2, 1937, somewhere in the South Pacific. Her plane crashed, and that's pretty much all we've known for three quarters of a century.

Now there may be some sort of closure on the horizon, though it would be wise not to get your hopes raised too high.

This summer, the U.S. Government, with the help of $500,000 provided by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, will focus on the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati.

There, they hope to use state-of-the-art equipment and technology to locate the remains of Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and/or her aircraft.

The group believes that Earhart and Noonan may have survived for days or even weeks on what was then known as Gardner Island.

The rejuvenation of the Earhart mystery isn't being driven solely by the 75-year anniversary of her disappearance.

There is a photographic "smoking gun," maybe, that has cropped up, and it has enough credibility, apparently, to mobilize the Obama Administration and the historic group.

"We can be as optimistic and even audacious as Amelia Earhart," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., to announce U.S. support for the expedition. "There is great honor and possibility in the search itself."

According to a story posted on MSNBC's website, new analysis of a photo taken at Nikumaroro three months after the disappearance shows what some people believe could be a strut and wheel of the plane protruding from the water, the group says. The photo was not immediately released to the media on Tuesday but the hypothesis is that the plane crashed on a reef before eventually being washed deeper into the sea.

It is because of this new evidence that the U.S. government will provide some logistical direction, while the historic group puts up the $500K.

The search comes about two years after bone fragments were found on the island that are believed to be those of either Earhart, Noonan, or both.

A young Amelia Earhart

Other items were found on the island that suggest the aviator and her navigator might have survived for a short time before perishing.

If this summer's search proves successful---to the point of being nearly irrefutable in its findings---then one of the greatest mysteries of all time will be, if not solved, certainly more clear.

There would be, to a degree, some closure.

The entire mystery won't ever be solved, of course. Questions about what ultimately happened to Earhart and Noonan, how long they survived, what caused their demise, etc., will never be answered.

But to find evidence of the aircraft, or the two lost souls themselves, would be huge.

The fact that a presidential administration is getting involved shows how excited officials are about finding something, and how little they fear being embarrassed by the search's results.

Amelia Earhart was an energetic, brave and attractive woman---a dreamer and a curious explorer. As fun as it's been to speculate about her disappearance---that whole "love a mystery" thing---how much better would it be to cross it off our list of cold cases?

We'll see, come this summer, whether we'll be able to do that or not.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Theater of the Absurd

I'm a man who actually doesn't mind going shopping at Target.

I know I'm in the minority. I know a trip to Target, for most men, is one that is commonly accompanied by kicking and screaming.

But I have an ulterior motive for treks to Target: popcorn and soda.

It's a hidden gem, I tell you.

At Target---at least the one near our house---you can get a decent size bag of popcorn and a medium-sized drink for $1.99.

Yep---one ninety-nine.

So while Mrs. Eno grabs a shopping cart and sets out to cross off her list, I make a beeline for the snack counter to grab my deal of the century.

For $2.11, after tax, I can munch on fresh popcorn and sip an icy cold drink, like a child, while my better half shops.

Oh, I'm not stodgy or protective. I absolutely offer my wife popcorn and pop throughout our shopping visit. So I'm sharing the wealth.

Popcorn and a pop for $2.11.

I bring this up because a similar combo, at your neighborhood movie house, would set you back about $8-10. Easy.

The Free Press ran a story yesterday about why concessions are so expensive at movie theaters. A theater owner, Jon Goldstein (Maple Theater, Bloomfield Hills), offered up a relatively unsurprising "explanation."

It's simply an example, Goldstein says, of theaters passing costs onto the consumer.

Good, old fashioned American capitalism, in other words.

He also blamed us messy moviegoers.

“The life of a popcorn seed would actually be very interesting, from getting popped to putting into a bucket, to where it ends up at the end of the day, whether it’s in someone’s stomach or smushed into the seats or the floors of the theater,” said Goldstein in the Freep story.

“If people would spill that popcorn in the living room as they do in the movie theater, I think they would understand the labor costs that go into running a concession stand in a busy movie theater.”

I have spilled my share of popcorn in the living room. But cleaning it up certainly wouldn't run me a fortune in paid labor.

Even extrapolated to the rows of seats in a theater, I can't imagine how sweeping popcorn from the floor equals $10 for a bucket and a soda.

But at least Goldstein spoke on the subject, which has mostly been dealt with with rolling eyes from consumers and little explanation from theater owners.

Yet Goldstein's comments about why concession prices are so high smack of greed and gouging---by movie studios. The price of a ticket---also high---apparently goes mostly back into the studios' coffers, Goldstein says.

“If we can’t keep a majority of that ticket price there’s only one way that we can pay for everything……and that’s at the concession stand,” Goldstein said.

Understood. A theater guy's gotta make a living.

Just think how high the prices would be if the employees were paid more than $7 an hour.

The above sentence isn't fact-based; I'm guessing. But I can't imagine that theater owners, already crying foul over having to raise concession prices to make a buck, are paying their employees---who are mainly teenagers---much more than peanuts.

I don't think Goldstein is a bad guy. I don't think theater owners, in general, are bad guys. But still, the prices seem awfully high, don't they?

Goldstein did say something that I respect.

“If you treat your customers like they are not smart, then they are going to do things that are not smart, but if you treat customers with respect and with honesty then you usually get that in return as well.”

I like that philosophy.

But there's also this, which will continue to happen until the end of days.

“If you have to make money, that’s fine,” said Amber Hunt, 29, of Ferndale. “But more people are just going to be sneaking in candy like me.”

Now, if they start screening movies at Target, you think the $1.99 popcorn/pop special will go away?

In a Hollywood minute.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rush to Judgment

What is becoming increasingly clear in the fallout of the misogynist remarks made by conservative wonk Rush Limbaugh is that the Republican Party is about to place in nomination for the most important, most treacherous job in the world, a man who doesn't have the courage to stand up to a talk radio host.

So how can we expect the GOP nominee, as president, to stand up to the bullies, dictators and other ne'er-do-wells that exist on this planet?

Answer: we can't.

They say silence is deafening, and in the case of Limbaugh and his attack on Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, the silence has managed to be louder than Limbaugh himself---and that's not easy to do.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have each offered tepid, milquetoast responses to Limbaugh, who called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," while also calling for the young woman to produce sex tapes. All because Fluke had the temerity to want to testify on Capitol Hill about the University providing contraception as part of its health care.

Romney said that Rush's words weren't the ones he'd use. Santorum tried to dismiss Limbaugh as an "absurd" entertainer. Gingrich tried to turn the tables and called President Obama "opportunistic" because he showed grace and compassion in phoning Fluke the day after Limbaugh's savage attack.

Each of the candidates have had second, and sometimes even third chances to clarify their positions, i.e. a "do-over" to show that their first responses were inappropriate and feeble.

Yet still, a week after Limbaugh went after Fluke, not only have the candidates, but most of the Republican Party have stayed mum about this red hot button issue.

No one wants to take on Rush Limbaugh among the GOP ranks. I don't know whether that's pitiful, insane or abhorrent.

Let's go for all three.

Santorum, in fact, had the gall to respond "courage" when asked in the last GOP debate to describe himself with one word.

Romney doesn't want to touch Limbaugh with a 10-foot pole. Gingrich sometimes actually sounds like Rush's press secretary.

The candidates' cowardice is only matched by their stupidity.

Blame their camps, too. For no one apparently has the brains to deduce that if their man came out against Limbaugh's comments---really came out against them---then he'd look a whole lot better than the others, and that such a response might actually help him in November.

You think the women voters, who are already cranky about birth control being reanimated as a political issue some 50 years after they thought it was put to bed, are in the mood to put up with attacks on their gender such as the one Limbaugh levied on Ms. Fluke?

Yet if one of the GOP presidential candidates had shown some courage---Santorum's word---I'd bet some of those female voters might be a little soothed.

The bottom line: a presidential candidate who is afraid of a talk show host who represents a sliver of a party that needs to grow instead of shrink, isn't fit to be president.

If the eventual GOP nominee needs a reminder of that, you can believe the women voters of this country will gladly provide it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Reluctant Frontrunner

It's been said that it's easy to run for President of the United States. What's difficult is stopping.

I don't think that's true of Mitt Romney.

I'm not convinced that Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts and Republican frontrunner, is all that jazzed about this whole running for president thing.

Romney speaks of his business acumen and his days in the board rooms almost wistfully, like he's thinking, "THOSE were the days!"

CEOs don't have to run for anything. They don't have to get anyone to like them. They don't have to explain themselves. They're rarely even held accountable.

All those traits, I think Mitt Romney misses very badly.

What he also misses very badly is in his attempts to orate.

It was all there for Romney on Tuesday night, to inject some passion and touch on some emotional chords. He had just won a victory in the Michigan GOP primary---his supposed "home state."

You know, the place where the trees are just the right height.

He could have, in his victory speech, waxed nostalgic and emotional and spoke of how much the win meant to him---and I don't mean in terms of delegates won.

He could have captivated his audience with words of praise for his "fellow" Michiganders, and how much he knew they'd come through for him and why he believes in Michigan and its people.

There was absolutely nothing stopping Romney from delivering such a speech. He won---maybe not by as big of a margin as hoped---and so the winner can pretty much say anything he wants. The winner will never be accused of having sour grapes.

The term "sore winner" doesn't exist, as far as I'm concerned.

But Romney didn't seize his moment. He almost raced through his speech Tuesday night, refusing to inject any dramatic pauses and eschewing voice inflection.

The speech sounded like a bad Jay Leno monologue---which I know can be considered a redundant term. If it was supposed to be a roast of President Obama, then Romney could use some pointers from Jeffrey Ross, Lisa Lampanelli, et al.

Romney spoke as if he had just consumed a gallon of pure caffeine, which in addition to giving him a nervous tick, also stripped him of any human emotion.

I think Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist, put it well on MSNBC last night.

Romney, Shrum said, comes off as someone who spends his time in a Golden Tower and occasionally comes down to speak to the peasants---by reading cards that someone thrusts at him.

But, like I said, I think Romney's lack of public speaking skills are borne out of the fact that he simply doesn't like doing this.

He's not in Massachusetts anymore, Toto.

This is big time politics now. REAL campaigning. It's a grind, for sure. And it's lasting longer than he thought it would, thanks to Romney's inability to shake Rick Santorum, who's clinging to Romney's pant leg like a feisty dog.

The nomination was supposed to be mostly clinched by now. Romney didn't sign up for this kind of a fight, I don't believe. And it's showing, in the clumsy manner in which he speaks.

The line about trees being the right height in Michigan is already becoming his signature. And that's not good.

Mitt Romney is treating this presidential campaign not with passion or emotion, but with the countenance of a man trying to get through a root canal.

And yet he'll still likely win the GOP nomination, and go mano-a-mano with President Obama.

Who has the heart to tell Mitt that he ain't seen nothing yet?