Friday, September 28, 2012

Oh, Snap!

It's one of the best snapshots taken of Jimmy Hoffa. The photographer was the legendary Tony Spina, the longtime shutterbug for the Detroit Free Press, and when Spina got behind the camera, iconic portraits often happened.

It was Spina who captured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in one of the more enduring photos of the late civil rights leader's life---taken before King was to speak before a crowd at a Grosse Pointe High School. Spina caught King, perhaps in prayer, but certainly reflective, clasped hands near his chin.

Dr. King, as seen through the lens of Tony Spina

And there's the photo of Hoffa, with the ex-Teamsters president smiling like he doesn't have a care in the world, snapped in front of Hoffa's metro Detroit home.

The date was July 24, 1975.

It's significant, the photo shoot (which included a few different poses), because less than a week later, Hoffa would leave that metro Detroit home for a lunch meeting and never return.

I saw the photo the other day, once again, because Hoffa is once again in the news, and the Free Press ran a photo gallery chronicling the labor leader's life.

Jimmy Hoffa, snapped by Spina on 7/24/75; Hoffa would go missing six days later

Hoffa is being talked about, some 37 years after his disappearance, because yet another failed effort was made to find his remains.

They dug up a driveway in Roseville, based on a supposedly credible tip, because authorities were told that Hoffa may have been buried beneath the concrete. So far, the four-inch sample doesn't appear to contain anything human.

Add the Roseville driveway to the list of places where Hoffa's body supposedly was dispensed. That list includes, among other places, under Giants Stadium in New Jersey; beneath a multitude of farms in various rural locations; under a home in Detroit; and even under the Renaissance Center, which was under construction when Hoffa disappeared in 1975.

The photo that Spina snapped of Hoffa is rather haunting because it was taken just six days before Hoffa drove to a meeting at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant at Telegraph and Maple and was never heard from again. It's hard to look at the photo of a smiling Hoffa and, knowing when it was taken, not feel something spooky, for here was a man who had no idea he had but six days to live (assuming Hoffa was killed shortly after arriving at the Red Fox).

There will likely always be a fascination with Hoffa's demise, because of the loose ends nature of it, and the lack of closure. We had a taste of that kind of notoriety earlier this year, when Amelia Earhart's remains were theorized to have been found.

I never had any real hope that the Roseville digging would uncover anything of note; after so many years and so many failed attempts, it's kind of hard to be optimistic. But it wasn't whether we would find Hoffa's remains that had me interested this week. It was that photo, snapped by the award-winning Spina, that had me going.

Which is a good thing, because it's a perfect portrait of an imperfect man. And the way I prefer to remember Hoffa anyway, truth be told.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I'm Two Dads Now

The other day, I officially became my father.

It's inevitable, they say. One day you'll become your parents.

Pop culture is usually the killer.

My induction into the Crotchety Old Man Hall of Fame occurred a couple of nights ago.

I was in the kitchen and on the TV in the front room was a video of a performer having a tantrum on stage. I couldn't see the video; I could only hear the audio.

"I'm not Justin Bieber!" the male voice screamed, followed by some bleeped out expletives.

"Who's that?" I called out, because the audio clip was rather shocking.

Our 19-year-old daughter answered with what I thought was "Billy Joel."

Now, knowing Joel's occasional drinking and drug foibles, and his notorious temper, I thought that made sense. Joel's melted down in the past---on stage and off.

"Billy Joel? Really?" I replied, a little knowing chuckle in my voice.

"BILLIE JOE, dad!"

Now I was confuzzled.

"Billy Joe? Who's that?"

I could literally hear her eyes rolling.

"BILLIE JOE, dad! From Green Day."

"I don't know who that is?"

Heavy sigh, followed by, "You've never heard of Green Day?"

"I've heard of them, yes (barely), but I don't know the names of the people in Green Day!"

She groaned. "Oh God, Dad."

Apparently I should know who this is (psst---it's Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day)

That capped a day in which when I got into the car, her radio station was on---95.5 FM.

"All this music sounds the same to me," I told my wife, sincerely. The songs that played all did sound the same to me.

So you combine that comment with the "I thought you said Billy JOEL and who's Billy JOE?" thing, and I have become my dad.

My father didn't appreciate all of my kind of music, either, though we did intersect in our like for certain 1970s recording artists like Three Dog Night and Dave Mason.

That's OK. I loved my dad to pieces, may he rest in peace. I don't really mind becoming him.

Besides, our daughter's lucky that I didn't think she said Green BAY.

Now that's more up my alley.

Oh, and I got her in the end. Referencing Joe's meltdown, in which he demolished his guitar on stage, Nicole wondered aloud if I had ever seen that.

"Yeah---Pete Townshend of The Who used to do that regularly."

She didn't know who that was.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Play it Again, Sam!

We have a DVR at home, as do many people nowadays, and I admit it is spoiling me rotten.

For the few of you who don't know, the DVR enables you to, among other things, record your favorite shows and store them for viewing later. You can even categorize and file them, digitally, so your TV suddenly turns into a sort of computer hard drive.

The other thing the DVR does--and this is the spoiling part---is allow you to pause, rewind and fast forward shows you are currently watching, including live sporting events. So you turn into your own replay specialist.

We are DVR reliant at home. We only have one, connected to the big screen TV in the front room. And it gets a work out. Lots of pausing, like when nature calls or my wife needs to check on laundry when she's watching something of note. The pausing can sometimes lead to fast forwarding, especially during commercials.

By the way, there's nothing better than fast forwarding through a four-minute commercial jam. Nothing!

We also like to have someone else in the house see and hear something that they missed, especially now with political season in full swing. So there's a lot of "Honey, you GOTTA see this!" and "Listen to THIS!"

Being a sports junkie, I'm constantly going back and forth with the rewind and play, reliving great moments by my Detroit sports teams, like the latest Miguel Cabrera moonshot.

But with only one DVR, that means when you're in the bedrooms or in the basement watching the telly, you don't have DVR capability. And that's rotten.

Oh, how many times lately I've been watching TV on a non-DVR set and have longed to go back and relive something, or try to catch something I missed. But I can't. The moment is gone forever (sort of).

Then I have the audacity to actually grumble that I can't go "back in time."

It gets worse.

I'm having DVR withdrawal in the car now, while listening to the radio.

Since I am nothing other than a very responsible driver who does nothing other than pay 100% attention to the road (don't look at me like that), things get said on sports talk radio that I am only half listening to, but which perks my ears up like a rabbit's.

I have found myself, lately, wanting to hit "rewind" on the radio! It's almost instinctual now, because I do it so much while watching TV.

That's a sign of someone who's gotten spoiled by the DVR.

It hasn't gotten so bad that I have had the urge to rewind people, but I'm afraid that's next.

Then again, if I had that power, I'd also want to edit what they said. And frankly, I don't have time for that. Especially during political season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chalk It Up to Nostalgia

I was walking the pooch the other day when I saw something on the sidewalk that elicited a big grin and took me back about 40 years, instantly.

Kids had been playing with outdoor chalk and while I couldn't make out what they had written, it didn't matter, for just the sight of chalk on the sidewalk brought back a ton of memories.

When I was a lad of 6-10 years old, my friends and I would create whole worlds, just with some chalk.

Usually the theme centered around the automobile: roads, retail stores, gas stations, etc.

It would go like this.

Everyone would bring a toy car or truck or any other motor vehicle and those would be our "traffic." Then the roads and highways would be drawn, up and down the driveway and the adjacent sidewalk, complete with exit ramps to simulate freeways.

We had a long driveway at our home in Livonia, so when you combined that square footage with that of the sidewalk that ran in front of the house, you had yourself enough space to create a good sized portion of Wayne County, as seen through the eyes of a child.

Store fronts would be drawn. So would the corner gas station, replete with bays for auto repairs and spaces for the gas pumps and a sign.

We also liked to draw parking lots---vertical or diagonal spaces, and a car or two would always be parked in one of the spots.

If I recall correctly, the fun wasn't so much in the actual "playing" of cars and trucks, but rather in the creation of all the stretches of freeway, the roads and the side streets that made up our driveway/sidewalk commercial suburbia. That, plus the stores and houses that lined those thoroughfares.

I used to love how all the roads would intertwine and spill into each other, and always in a very logical way. We were meticulous in making sure there were broken lines in the middle, delineating lanes.

An example of a "chalk town" that we may have created back in the early-1970s

There were also the requisite signs, like those that called for stops and yields and speed limits.

Everything was one-dimensional, of course, so you had to use your imagination in order to give everything life.

Imagination---I wonder how many of today's kids even know what that is.

Yeah, you'd scuff up a knee or two and your leg might fall asleep in creating the village, but it was all worth it. If nature intervened and washed everything away with a good rain, then it was a good excuse to create a whole different town.

Those kids who wrote on the sidewalk the other day have no idea how much joy they gave me.

I wonder if anyone walked past our sidewalk towns back in the day and curled their lips into a grin.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Shrinking Candidate

Familiarity breeds contempt. That's the saying, right?

It would seem to fit Mitt Romney like a glove.

For the second political race in a row, voters are drifting away from the Republican presidential candidate the more they get to know him, or at least see him in action.

It happened in the GOP primary, where Romney had difficulty putting away Rick Santorum, who was as far right of a candidate as has run in recent memory.

Polls indicated that the more primary voters got to know Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, the less enamored they were with him.

The same thing is happening now, in Romney's race against President Obama.

Romney suffered a double whammy in the past two weeks: the Democratic convention with its stirring speeches, and his big mouth in the wake of the Libyan crisis.

The former provided Obama with an expected (though maybe larger than expected) bounce, and the latter gave the country a sneak peek into what kind of man might occupy the Oval Office, should Romney win.

"Governor Romney tends to shoot first and aim later," the president told 60 Minutes in an interview to air this Sunday. I don't know whether the line was Obama's or was written for him. Regardless, it captured, in nine words, how not to be president while simultaneously painting Romney as someone you wouldn't want as president.

The latest Gallup Poll has Obama leading, 50-44, and even Fox News concurs, giving the president a 48-43 lead in its latest poll. This is a departure from before the conventions, when Romney was nipping at Obama's heels, staying within two points in most polls.

But the contrast in conventions, plus Romney's ham-handed criticism of the administration to the violence in Libya before he had all the facts, have wobbled him.

And this before the three debates, which are likely to even further define the fitness of the incumbent over the challenger in terms of who is more presidential and who is the best leader.

Obama is even leading Romney in who can handle the economy better, and has a sizable lead with women and in the question of who is a more decisive leader.

These trends are proportional, almost directly, to the growing familiarity voters are getting with Romney---particularly those who weren't paying much attention to the GOP primaries.

The governor's steadfast refusal to reveal details of his budget and tax plan isn't helping him, either. Neither is running mate Paul Ryan, who was theoretically chosen to give the ticket a boost but who has mostly played Charlie McCarthy to Romney's Edgar Bergen.

The Romney campaign has had a rough couple of weeks, but all presidential campaigns have tough stretches. Even Obama, in his race against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008, had his less-than-stellar moments and hurdles to clear.

Romney's ability to rebound from his hoof-in-mouth disease and apparent disconnect with the electorate is being tested now like never before. His political track record doesn't really give any examples of when he's been able to do it.

Shoot first, aim later.

That is a tag that will follow Romney to the voting booths on November 6, like a piece of toilet paper stuck to his shoe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

"The only thing worse than being talked about, is NOT being talked about."

Maybe not in NBC's case today.

I'm sure the Peacock Network would be delighted if no one was talking about them, in light of this morning's monumentally stupid decision to blow off a national moment of silence so an interview with Kris Jenner could go on, uninterrupted.

The moment of silence was recognized at 8:46 a.m. today to commemorate the moment the first plane hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

But NBC, during the "Today Show," didn't bother to keep quiet at 8:46. For that's when Jenner was talking about breast implants, or some such fluff.

NBC blew it. Whether it was an oversight or not, the network has enough egg on its face to make the world's biggest omelet.

How could "Today," a TV institution since the early-1950s, make such an egregious error?

And don't you let NBC off the hook here. No excuses. No explanations that start with, "Well, you know..."


This was one of the most insensitive, ignorant, outlandish blunders in television history. Period.

What's worse, the network has been standing behind its cockamamie decision.

“The Today show dedicated a considerable amount of time to September 11th coverage this morning throughout the entire show,” a spokesperson told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column.

So there, I guess.

Kris Jenner, not observing the moment of silence

While the interview subject was the very irrelevant Kris Jenner, the gaffe wouldn't have been any more excusable, really, if NBC was talking to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. You cut away to the moment of silence. A snot-nosed producer just out of college could have made that call correctly.

Yet somehow NBC was asleep at the switch.

What a way for relatively new co-host Savannah Guthrie, who was interviewing Jenner at the time, to be associated with her new gig.

And it's not like the moment of silence is new. It has been going on ever since 2002, the one-year anniversary of the terror attacks. No one slipped one past NBC this morning.

One viewer Tweeted, "The Today Show chose to continue their interview with Kris Jenner rather than participate in a 9.11 moment of silence. DISGUSTING." 

Couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kelly & (Her New) Company

Time was, Michael Strahan was spending Sundays trying to sack quarterbacks and planting them into the turf.

Now he'll spend weekday mornings trying to sack the talk show competition.

If the folks who produce Kelly Ripa's weekday gab fest were looking for a drastic change from the retired Regis Philbin as co-host, they couldn't have picked one further from the Regis spectrum by tabbing Strahan, the former New York Giants defensive lineman.

Strahan couldn't look more different than Regis, number one. Strahan is 40 and black, and huge. Regis was 79 when he retired, is white, and is far from a big man.

Strahan has been honing his skills as an on-air personality for the past several years as one of the talking heads on Fox NFL Sunday, partnering with Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Curt Menefee.

Now Strahan takes the seat next to Ripa, who has been in search of a permanent co-host for over a year.

Apparently show execs liked the chemistry between Ripa and Strahan, and if that show is about anything, it's about synergy between co-hosts.

Guests come on and are interviewed, but the chats are breezy and the questions softball in nature, which is fine. There are plenty of other places to see guests get grilled and squirm.

The new show is called Live! With Kelly and Michael.

Ripa and her new co-host

No doubt Ripa had to approve the new co-host, and her stamp for Strahan may strike some as surprising, but on Fox's football show, Strahan was probably the most "real" of his counterparts---certainly the only one without some sort of shtick or gimmick---unless you want to count his gap-toothed smile, which has also worked for a certain late-night TV host.

Strahan is a "what you see is what you get" kind of a guy---a big, smiling teddy bear on camera, and since the show's audience is overwhelmingly female, that plays well with viewers.

Ripa reportedly auditioned 59 people for the job that Strahan landed. He debuted today, and Ripa instantly brought Strahan's size to the fore as he walked onto the set.

"It's so nice to have a co-host literally sweep you off your feet," Ripa said on the air. "I know that he can bench press me if he wanted to."

If size matters, Michael Strahan will do just fine.

No offense, Reege!