Thursday, December 19, 2013

ANOTHER McNamara? Yes!

At this time next year, Wayne County will have a new Executive-elect.

But what about Bob Ficano, you might ask? If he wins, he'll hardly be new.

This is true. Ficano is, theoretically, up for re-election next November. But his candidacy appears to be dead in the water.

Ficano can't raise money, number one. He hasn't been able to for quite some time. The foibles of his character and his political machine have caught up to him. People have been distancing themselves from Ficano---people who matter. The old 10-foot pole thing.

I would be very surprised if Ficano chooses to run in 2014. He ought to save himself the embarrassment, and the effort. Just fade away, head back to the private sector, work for a law firm and collect a $200,000 salary somewhere. It's too good for him, but there you go.

I spent one year working for the Wayne County Commission (2010), but that's all it took for me to be impressed enough with one man who I hope runs, and who I think will win if he does.

He's County Commissioner Kevin McNamara (D-Belleville), and he'd make a good County Executive for lots more reasons than his name.

Mac's dad, of course, was the late Ed McNamara, another good man who I had the pleasure of getting to know. Ed was a fellow Livonia guy and I interviewed him on a local cable TV show I produced and hosted.

I know I just disparaged Ficano's political machine, and in the next breath I'm pushing for a McNamara, whose name is also synonymous to some with dirty, rotten political scoundrels.

First, I don't buy a lot of it---for what it's worth. Second, so what?

Has the Teamsters' James Hoffa been anything close to what his dad, Jimmy, was like?

Sometimes apples fall far enough from their trees to be given the benefit of the doubt.


Not that Kevin McNamara has anything to be ashamed of when it comes to his dad, who was WCE from 1987 to 2002. I know there are likely many individuals who would beg to differ with me, but this is politics and people are going to get hurt. Sometimes it's collateral damage for the greater good.

I have watched the younger McNamara from up close to, now, from afar, and I believe he has what it takes to commandeer the county and return it to good graces.

He has fought Ficano tooth and nail in the past, for starters. And that's never a bad thing.

I didn't know Kevin McNamara from a hole in the ground when I started at the Commission in February 2010 as its press secretary. When I left 11 months later, I was glad to have worked with him, and I was impressed when I saw him in action.

Interesting story. When K-Mac and I had our first pow-wow in his office shortly after I started---I arranged meetings with each Commissioner to try to get to know them a little bit---he told me that he had never heard of me and that was a little "disconcerting." His word.

That's funny, I wanted to say, but I had never heard of hardly any of you clowns either before now, but being new on the job, I just politely smiled---and simmered.

But after that rough start, I did some writing for Mac, including a letter to the editor that he wanted to send to the Detroit papers, thanking the road crews for their tireless work during a February snowstorm. It got printed, and I think that put me on good footing with him.

McNamara was heavily involved with county roads as Commissioner when I was working at the Guardian Building, and in that capacity his knowledge spidered out to involve other crucial aspects of county services. He's also been closely watching the Sheriff's Department for years, but not necessarily as an adversary. More of a supervisory ally.

One of the first things the new County Executive will have to do is restore confidence and integrity to the office. He (or she) will have to get people to stop thinking of the office as dirty and conniving. That's number one.

Then, it's on to reeling in a budget that has gone amok. That's another area in which McNamara has been mightily involved. I saw him up close during the 2010 budget process and I liked what I saw, in terms of a man trying to balance county needs with reality. He was neither a big spender nor a tightwad. He was somewhere in between.

The bottom line is, I believe Kevin McNamara to be a good man, and that's maybe as important as anything else.

McNamara has acknowledged that there are those wanting him to run. A poll that came out recently showed that he would fare very favorably, should he toss his Irish hat into the ring.

I hope he does.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is That Still Good?

I have just one question today for all the packagers of our food stuffs. A very simple question.

Why is the expiration date a secret?

I used to have a college roommate---who, if he read this, will know who he is---who was deathly afraid of consuming food or drink that was even one day past its expiration date.

If that package of Rice-a-Roni had a date of June 17, 1984, and if it was June 18, 1984, my roommate wouldn't eat it. Period.

Loaves of bread that had days of the week on their twist ties, rather than actual dates, would drive him nuts.

"WEDNESDAY? WHICH Wednesday?"

He wouldn't fall for the smell test. Even if that gallon of milk smelled perfectly fine, but it was one day past the expiration, it would get tossed down the drain.

Why?

"They put those dates for a reason," he would tell me. "Don't they?"

I suppose, but still...

Anyhow, back to my original question.

Have you tried to locate expiration dates of food items? It's like an Easter egg hunt, only with text. You may as well be doing a word search.

Some dates are plainly visible, and for those, I thank the companies who do it that way.

But many others are placed on strange places like the sides of jar lids or hidden among the coded symbols and serial numbers on the bottoms, sides, etc of packages.

Not everyone uses the same dating system, either.

I would like a straightforward date like this: EXP 7-13-13.

Plain, easy, ends all ambiguity.

But some dates are coded and hidden among other text and symbols and numerals. It's hard to tell where the expiration date begins and ends.

Why?

I would think that when a product has lost its flavor or its safety in terms of consuming it, is a pretty darned important factoid for the consumers to have.

Yet the expiration date is often very difficult to locate, and if you do find it, good luck actually reading it.

The situation arose yet again the other night, when my daughter asked about the expiration date of a jar of capers that we had in our fridge for quite some time.

"I don't know, let me check," I said, and I took hold of the small jar.

I rotated that jar in my hands several times. I squinted at the side of the lid. I turned it upside down. My eyes bore into the label, as if I was trying to use x-ray vision.

No date.

"It doesn't have a date," I said, and even I didn't believe what I was saying. Surely a jar of capers should have a date of expiration.

My daughter joined me. She couldn't find a date either.

Now, had my old college roommate been involved, he'd have insisted that the jar be thrown out. As bad as using something past its date was to him, the discovery of a date-less item would have sent him screaming into the streets.

Sans a date on the capers jar with which to work, we did the (usually) trusty though sometimes frightening thing of opening the jar and smelling the contents. The capers smelled fine.

Although, a few minutes later, a thought came to me that I kept to myself (until now).

How do you know what bad capers smell like?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Father Knows Best

I am reminded of the words from time to time, spoken some 30 years ago by my father.

My father was a computer programmer, starting in the early-1960s, when the computers he was working on filled entire rooms.

While I was in college, taking an obligatory computer class to placate him, my dad told me something that still resonates with me today.

"Someday," he said, "people will do everything on home computers. They'll even do their shopping from home," my father told me, as if he was letting me in on a secret.

Damned if the old man wasn't right.

But I wonder if even he could have imagined just how right he would turn out to be.

My father passed away in 1996, just before the Internet really took off. Ironically, this great computer soothsayer never owned a PC of his own. He did, however, buy me a Commodore 64 in 1985.

Computer classes, back in 1982, were punch cards and boring program writing and amber text on a dark brown screen. Nothing close to what they have today.

So I, being a creative type who majored in communications, wasn't exactly turned on by computer programming. I have a feeling that my dad knew it would be a lesson in futility to get me involved in it as a vocation, but he gave it a shot.

Maybe I should have heeded his advice.

(Left: dad and me, circa 1990)

Actually---and my wife pointed this out to me a few years ago---our career paths did kind of meet in the middle.

I have taken my creativity and penchant for writing to the Internet---that world of home computing that my dad spoke about with so much clairvoyance in the early-1980s.

I often wonder how involved in the Internet my dad would have become, if at all.

Would he have owned a PC, browsed the Net with fervor and taken me to task on my blogs, or would he have gone into old curmudgeon mode and eschewed a computer entirely---which would have been the mother of all ironies.

It would be like a father predicting that some day man would travel on wheels via gas-powered engines, and then never owning a car.

But I will never forget his prediction about people shopping from home, via computer.

When he told me that, I had this vision of a computer, hooked up to one of those big, clunky modems, somehow connecting to a grocery store or something. After that, I wasn't sure how things were supposed to work.

I wonder what he'd think of Cyber Monday.

My dad, near the end of his career, wrote security systems for main frames. I can barely wrap my head around that. He worked mostly for General Motors, and then for EDS after GM bought them. After that transition, my father ended up working with a bunch of 30-something yuppies. Let's just say that it wasn't a good fit. You'd have to know my dad.

But he was on the button about shopping on the computer.

About all the other stuff people do digitally, who knows what he would have thought. Maybe it's best that he didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

RIP Bob Denver (Again)

Bob Denver is still dead.

The other day on Facebook, I came across a link "announcing" the death of Denver, who most famously played Gilligan on TV's "Gilligan's Island."

I'm usually pretty up on who's alive and who's dead, celebrity-wise, but in this instance I dropped the ball.

So I shared the link. The story, which appeared to sprout from "The Today Show" web site, announced Denver's age at death as being 70.

That should have been my first red flag.

A quick calculation told me that Denver must have been born in  1943, or in December of 1942, for him to have died at age 70.

After I shared the link, a Facebook friend commented that he was surprised Denver was that young.

"Yeah, me too," I commented back. "That meant he was in his early-20s when 'Gilligan's Island' first started on the air."

That by itself is semi-plausible, but I had neglected to take into account Denver's years playing Maynard Krebs in "The Dobie Gillis Show," which was on the air several years prior to Gilligan.

Being born in 1942 or '43 definitely did not jibe with that.


















Denver: Still dead

It didn't take long for another FB friend to post a comment.

"That story is from 2005!"

I went to Denver's Wikipedia page. Sure enough, he died in 2005.

I was enraged, but I wasn't sure if it was more because I had been fooled, or that someone had posted the link in the first place.

I quickly deleted my status, embarrassed.

Then I went Googling.

I used the search string "Bob Denver dead Facebook" and I found a story from 2012 telling of how Denver death posts were making the rounds through Twitter, inexplicably.

So it had happened before, this re-confirmation of Denver's death (he was 70 in 2005).

I browbeat the Facebook friend who had shared the link to begin with. I told him to take it up with his FB friend who had posted it originally. I wanted justice.

So Bob Denver is still dead, I am sad to report.

Even sadder to report my gullibility. I let that one get away.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

They Give Thanks (or should)

By the time you read this, the turkey is likely in the oven, or in your stomach. The football game is on the television---and that is probably the case, as there is football on the tube from 12:30 until 11:30 at night. The family arguments are either in full swing or the cops have been called. And the cranberry sauce was forgotten in the fridge.

It's kind of routine on Thanksgiving for bloggers to make a laundry list of things they're thankful for. I could do that; after all, I am just as blessed as the next guy.

But I thought it might be fun to present to you a list of what other people should be thankful for---if I may be so bold.

Detroit mayor-elect Mike Duggan should be thankful for Tom Barrow, and the ne'er do-wells who tried to keep Duggan off the ballot.

The Republicans should be thankful for Obamacare's shaky rollout, for taking the GOP's ridiculous efforts to shut down the government off the front page.

Comedians should continue to be thankful for Sarah Palin.

Everyone should be thankful for Google.

Lox should be thankful for bagels. All food should be thankful for bacon.

Dallas should be thankful for Fort Worth, Minneapolis should be thankful for St. Paul, and all cities should be thankful for Gary, Indiana.

Rakes should be thankful for leaves. Gutters should be thankful for rakes.

Everyone should be thankful for garage door openers.

Mice should be thankful for fields.

The sun should be thankful for the moon, because the former needs its rest.

Scrambled eggs should be thankful for omelettes.

Collision shop owners are thankful for texting. And bad drivers.

Conspiracy theorists should be thankful for Jack Ruby.

Barbers should be thankful for Mondays.

Dogs are thankful for whatever they can get. Cats think everyone should be thankful for them.

Men are thankful for beer, sports and cars. Women are thankful for a conversation.

Tuxedos are thankful for weddings.

Ham is thankful for rye. Capers are thankful for nothing, so far.

Insomniacs should be thankful for the Internet. And vice versa.

Bicyclists should be thankful for sidewalks, but they don't seem to be.

Everyone should be thankful for revolving doors. No one should be thankful for pinatas.

Times New Roman should be thankful for Microsoft Word.

Fame should be thankful for its 15 minutes.

Miley Cyrus should be thankful for lecherous men. Lecherous men should be thankful for Billy Ray.

You should be thankful that I reminded you about the cranberry sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Later

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, here's a piece from the archives, penned two years ago, about how we can all thank Jack Ruby for all the conspiracy theories.

Yes, He Did
November 22, 2011

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.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lowe Man on the Totem Pole

Rob Lowe is too good looking, that's it.

If you looked up Hollywood Handsome in the dictionary, there Lowe's photo would be. The rock jaw, the steel blue eyes, the wavy dark hair. He was born to be on the screen. He came out of the womb looking for his mark. His first words were likely, "Feed me on my good side."

Lowe is too good looking---that's all I can think of. Because he never gets credit for being one of America's great actors.

There's a mystique formulated by moviegoers and critics that says if you're pretty enough to launch ships or handsome enough to stop traffic, then you're not acting up there, you're mesmerizing the audience.

That must be why Lowe, 49, is treated like just another pretty face.

He hasn't won anything yet, which is a crime. Lowe has been nominated a few times for awards---most notably for his work on The West Wing. But he's come away empty every time. There must have been someone less attractive going up against him.

Just because you're so good looking that it makes a guy like me want to cry, doesn't mean that you can't act your way out of a paper bag.

Lowe is lighting it up now on Nat Geo's Killing Kennedy, playing the 35th president in a movie that concentrates on the lives of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald as they were on a collision course in history, culminating in the tragic events of November 22, 1963.

Lowe as President Kennedy isn't a square peg in a round hole. He's fantastic---as usual---as Kennedy, nailing the late president's Massachusetts dialect, which other actors who have played JFK have butchered, quite frankly.



We first met Rob Lowe as he was a member of the so-called "Brat Pack" of actors who took Hollywood by storm starting in the mid-1980s. Serious Lowe fans trace his career even further back, as Sodapop Curtis in The Outsiders, released in 1983.

My first Lowe memory was his turn in 1986's About Last Night..., as he played Danny Martin, who has a moment of weakness with Demi Moore's Debbie, which leads to an ill-advised decision to move in together.

I have watched the film many times, and each time I am struck by Lowe's acting chops, even at the tender age of 22 that he was when the film was released. Part of my gauge of an actor is what he or she does when there is no dialogue. It's when Lowe doesn't speak in About Last Night that he's at his best.

I can go on and on. There was the villain Lowe, as he played evil yuppie Alex to James Spader's straight-laced Michael Boll in 1990's Bad Influence, which I maintain is one of the most underrated films about the human condition and vulnerability to manipulation as any that has ever been made.

Lowe was chilling in Bad Influence, accompanying his twisted mentality with that handsome smile all the way.

I must admit that it hasn't helped Lowe's cause that he's made some simply God awful movies, and has lowered himself in the process. We can also talk about sex tapes and a bizarre Academy Awards song and dance with Disney's Snow White, but that's getting off track.

I like Rob Lowe. And I liked watching him in Killing Kennedy, although the work wasn't terribly notable for being anything of the cutting edge variety. As far as I'm concerned, anytime you can play a U.S. president and not besmirch the office, you've done OK. Lowe was certainly not out of place as JFK.

Rob Lowe has come a long way since playing Sodapop Curtis in a coming-of-age, cult flick.

If only he wasn't so easy on the eyes, maybe he'd be taken more seriously as an actor. Maybe he'd start winning some awards.

Lowe isn't just another pretty face. He's just another pretty face who can act. Like, as in his rear end off.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Obama's Moles

Playing Whack-a-Mole is never good if you're in political office. It's best left to the arcade world.

You know the game called Whack-a-Mole, right? You insert your quarters, grab the plastic mallet, and whack as many mole heads as you can in the allotted time. The heads pop up from different holes, at unpredictable times and locations in front of you. It's a harried, frenetic little game.

It's good arcade fun, but not so fun if you're elected. Even worse when you're the Most Powerful Man in the World.

President Obama is playing Whack-a-Mole, and it's killing his second term. Maybe his presidency as a whole.

The president, these days, is reduced to going before the American people and apologizing for a website. And, for being less than forthright about whether people could keep their existing health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And he's making policy changes to the ACA on the fly.

It's all Whack-a-Mole stuff.

As president, you always want to move forward. John Kennedy said he sought the presidency because "it's the center of action."

The last thing you want to do as president is spend all your time fixing mistakes and saying you're sorry.

Obama's second term has ground to a halt. Some of it is his doing, some of it isn't. There's nothing moving forward. He's stuck in this "Obamacare" rut, like a man in quicksand. He has to keep whacking moles.

The Whack-a-Mole thing is what turned Dave Bing's run as mayor into vapor. I'm not sure if Bing will ever be properly judged on his being mayor of Detroit, because he never really governed---he played Whack-a-Mole. His time to run was 10-12 years prior. By the time he decided to jump into the fray, things were so far gone, he couldn't govern for the future because he was too busy trying to fix the past.

Obama is being attached to the ACA at the hip, as he had hoped, but now it's for all the wrong reasons.

The stock photo of the young lady on the Healthcare.gov website is becoming more iconic than the law itself.

Maybe this clunky roll-out of the ACA---and it has been the clunkiest---will correct itself and in time, millions of Americans will be happily signing up for health care as easily as they can buy something online from Amazon.com.

Maybe.

But even if that time does come, will it come soon enough to erase the embarrassment of how unprepared the government was when the curtain was raised on the ACA on October 1?

I can only imagine how apoplectic Obama must be behind the scenes. It's amazing that no one of any significance has been fired. This roll-out has made the president looking like a political eunuch. I wouldn't want to be the person or persons who is in any way responsible for making the president look anything other than presidential.

The president keeps putting quarters in the machine. It's not a good way to govern. In fact, it's the worst.








Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pop! Goes My Manners

I have a popcorn problem. Namely, that I don't like to share it.

I am not normally an ungenerous person, but when it comes to popcorn, I prefer it all to myself, thank you very much.

This popcorn hoarding only applies to when I am at home---mainly because when we go to the movies as a family and I buy a tub (for $7), it becomes darn hard to keep other fingers out of it.

I admit it, I turn into a jerk when it comes to popcorn.

I make it late at night, typically, because that's when everyone else, including my 88-year-old mother-in-law, no longer wants to eat...popcorn.

They can eat whatever the heck else they want, but I frown on any popcorn eating from them if it's past 11:30pm---because the only one who should be eating popcorn that late is I, of course.

Part of this popcorn non-sharing is because I gussy it up a certain way---and it's a way that won't fly with others. Therefore, if I let them in on my corn, I have to tone down my way of eating it, and that's simply unacceptable.


What I do is sprinkle some ground cayenne pepper---or chili powder if desired---onto the freshly-popped corn, then drizzle it with a liberal amount of topping. The topping is typically store-bought, and comes in plastic bottles---a mix of oil and artificial butter flavor and food coloring. Kind of like the topping you get in the movie theater.

I ran out of said topping last week, so in desperation I made my own: I melted a stick of butter, then added one part (slightly more) of vegetable oil. I then poured my concoction into a glass bottle with a shaker top, normally reserved for vinegar or oil for salads.

The bottle is kept in the fridge, and whenever I desire popcorn, I pop the bottle into the microwave (minus the metal shaker top, of course) and put it at a very low power setting so the mixture warms just enough to shake onto the popcorn.

This is, of course, until I replenish my supply of store-bought topping.

Anyhow, I am fierce about my popcorn. I don't like it when someone else wants some. I will ask, if people are still awake, whether they want popcorn---and I secretly hope they say no.

It's the only food I am like that about---which is saying something, because I likes my food.

Oh, and the popcorn is never of the microwave bag variety. I use loose popcorn, poured into a 1/3 cup measure, and I use a microwaveable popper (Orville Redenbacher) that my wife bought me for Christmas in the 1990s. It tastes fresher this way.

I then eat the popcorn, admittedly, like an animal. I stuff it into my gob by the handfuls, and I don't come up for air, unless it's to drink Pepsi (the best beverage that goes with my popcorn). I can polish off a big bowl in about 15 minutes.

I don't want to share my popcorn. And I never will, unless it's begrudgingly.

I'm funny that way.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Internet Killed the Video Star

"Please be kind, rewind."

That was the cute catch phrase printed in yellow font on the blue stickers, plastered onto the VHS tapes throughout Blockbuster Video stores.

The evolution of technology and retail outlets associated with it come in bite sized pieces anymore. Or, should I say, "byte" sized pieces?

Take Blockbuster Video, for example. It came out of nowhere less than 30 years ago and is now defunct. The company announced that its final 300 stores will be shuttered, as will its NetFlix-like disc-by-mail operation.

I remember being at work Downriver, circa 1986, and my co-worker and friend Vito Lumetta came back from lunch and raved, pie-eyed, about this new video store he stumbled upon.

"It's called Blockbuster and you should SEE all the videos!" Vito said, and though I'm paraphrasing, suffice it to say that his excitement was palpable.

But back in '86, Blockbuster stores were huge. They occupied the space of a medium-sized big box retailer back in the day, and the square footage was indeed filled, several white shelves high, with blue and white cases containing VHS tapes.

I can empathize with Vito's amazement.

Not long after being told of Blockbuster, I wandered in myself. I think the store that was the object of Vito's lust and was the one I entered, was the Lincoln Park location.

Vito was right. There were videos for as far as the eye could see. The store was huge---much larger than any video store I'd been in up to that point.


Blockbuster in its heyday


The workers---and there were quite a few of them in those days---all wore royal blue polo shirts with the Blockbuster logo sewn on the front.

But as the years went on, Blockbuster stores got noticeably smaller. The one by our house, on Dequindre in Warren, was chopped in half when another store moved into the strip mall beside it.

The Blockbuster way of signing up for membership---you literally had a laminated card with a magnetic stripe on it back then---was a little snooty. First, you were required to sign up with a credit card. If you didn't have one, you were out of luck. The credit card was there so Blockbuster could charge late fees or lost video costs to it, if the company wanted to.

The application form was as long as a legal contract, or mortgage papers. It was a little annoying and invasive, to be honest. I mean, it's videos, for God's sake!

You could say that Blockbuster got caught flat-footed by NetFlix, Red Box kiosks, et al, and didn't move with the times fast enough. I'm sure there are any number of theories as to why Blockbuster stores shrunk from supermarket size to that of a take-out only Chinese joint.

Doesn't really matter now. Blockbuster is about to rent out its final movies.

In twisted irony, the company that politely asked its customers to rewind tapes is probably wishing it could rewind time and make different decisions.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Who Do You Trust?

I was in the waiting room, last week, as my wife had her eye surgery, and I happened upon a recent issue of Reader's Digest. In it, they listed the 100 Most Trusted People in America.

Before I tell you who No. 1 was, let me say that there was a time when veteran newsman Walter Cronkite was deemed the most trusted man in the country. Not far behind him were other news anchors of the day, and worldwide public figures like the Pope and Mother Teresa.

On today's list---and I have no idea how it was culled---you had to go all the way to no. 25 before you could find a news person, and I don't even recall who it was.

The rest of the Top 25 was filled with actors and other recognizable faces---but not those who deliver us our news every day.

By the way, the Most Trusted American, according to the Digest, is actor Tom Hanks.

While that sinks in, I'll tell you that no. 2 on the list was another actor, Sandra Bullock.

I will also tell you that President Obama wasn't on the list at all---but Michelle was.

But I got to thinking: which people did the magazine poll, and how was "trust" defined?

Was it trust, as in, who would I most trust to be with my children while I was away, or trust as in, would I lend this person my lawn mower?

There are different degrees of trust, you know.

And did the people who were polled, even really know what trust means anymore?

Judging by the results, it appears that we're either in really bad shape, or in really good shape. Not sure which.

In other words, is this a good time or a bad time to be an American, when Tom Hanks is the most trusted among all 280 million+ citizens?

And trusted in what way? Are we saying that we trust Hanks to take acting roles that are beneficial to his career, or are we saying that if we needed someone to water our plants while we're gone, Hanks is our guy?

And what's up with Sandra Bullock as no. 2?

Again, not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.


Hanks: Most trusted


But I think what struck me most wasn't who was on the list, but who was ranked so low---namely, newspersons.

It's not that difficult to ferret out, really. News on television has become a pie cut into slivers these days. There's so much news out there, so many talk shows discussing the issues of the day, that there are hundreds of talking heads out there yelling their own version of "And that's the way it is," Cronkite's old tag line.

In this poll, was there a ballot? An exhaustive list of names where people were asked to select 100 from among it? I doubt the Digest just went up to people at random and asked, "Who is the most trusted American, in your eyes?"

Regardless, Tom Hanks is the most trusted American. Our newspeople don't show up until 24 names later.

Again, good or bad?

Frankly, I'm curious as to the trustworthiness of the list itself.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mayor Race in a Vacuum

This would have been a rootin', tootin' mayoral election in Detroit, if the city wasn't bankrupt. Or under an emergency manager. Or still stinging from Kwame Kilpatrick news coverage.

This could have been a doozy.

Instead, it begs the question, "What if they gave an election and nobody showed up?"

Of course there will be voters. The die hards will show up next Tuesday and choose between, mostly, Mike Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

But the "they" I am referring to in the above rhetorical query is the media.

They haven't bothered thus far, so it makes one wonder if they'll take an interest at all.

It doesn't help that Duggan leads Napoleon by as much as a 2-1 margin, if you believe pollsters.

This was one election I was looking forward to in Detroit, for a change. The mayor's race hasn't been all that compelling since 1973, when Coleman Young became the city's first black mayor.

But here came Duggan, a white man with a plan. They tried like mad to keep him off the ballot, and they did---temporarily, due to a technicality about when he officially moved back into the city proper. Remember when Duggan pulled out of the race last spring?

His supporters urged him not to give up the ship. They said that a write-in candidacy for the primary was an option.

So Duggan scrambled and re-entered the race as a write-in option. Then he proceeded to kick the living daylights out of Napoleon and everyone else in the field---including Tom Barrow, who was most afraid of Duggan, and with good reason, as it turned out.

Now Duggan is a full-fledged candidate and he is again running away with things.

Not that you'd know that without some persistent searching for coverage of the race.

This is a white man on the verge of becoming mayor of Detroit---something that hasn't been the case since December 31, 1973---and by a potential landslide. This should be big doings.

But emergency manager Kevyn Orr, the city's plea for bankruptcy and even Gov. Rick Snyder are overshadowing the mayor's race.

It all adds up to, likely, yet another low voter turnout on November 5.

The race could still tighten in the next five days, but Duggan's control seems solid. Overcoming a 2-1 margin isn't exactly filled with precedence when you have less than a week to do so, even if you're running for dog catcher.

But that's the story---Duggan's potential margin of victory. It's not just that Detroit is about to elect a white mayor. It's that its about to do so in a landslide.

For the record, I had Duggan in my crosshairs from the get go. I bet my dear mother way back last spring that the former CEO of the DMC was going to pull it off. It looked bleak for me when Duggan got knocked off the official ballot.


Duggan: Cruising to victory?

But his and his supporters' grassroots efforts paid big time dividends in the August primary, and Duggan has appeared to have ridden that momentum straight through to the general election with flying colors, no pun intended.

Mike Duggan, your next mayor of the City of Detroit? Probably. He has the endorsements of both major newspapers, and recent debates where Napoleon has been able to take his best shots haven't cut into Duggan's big lead. Maybe it's because Napoleon can come off looking nervous and unsteady in front of the camera, as he did in one of the debates that I saw.

Napoleon's questionable budget management while sheriff hasn't helped him. And Benny hasn't been able to successfully link Duggan with the old Ed McNamara political machine, thus branding Duggan as a fat cat elitist with friends in high places.

Mike Duggan, it says here, is going to become the first white mayor of Detroit in 40 years. Easily.

It's one of the biggest stories to be buried around here in a long time.

Friday, October 25, 2013

They're Only Words, Right?

Have you heard what you read like?

The great thing about e-mail, texting and other forms of digital communication (like in chat rooms or forums) is that it's quick and convenient.

The not so great thing? It can leave too much open for conjecture.

There is no tone. There is no facial expression. There's no inflection. And that can lead to hurt feelings.

Hence emoticons---those little faces that are there to help the text along, with smileys, frowns, winks, etc.

Facebook is becoming less of a social media site and more of a public forum for debate on everything from sports to politics to what kind of dish detergent to use.

In the heat of the Tigers playoff run, I have engaged in many a discussion on Facebook about baseball and the team, and what is needed going forward, etc. Some of the discussions have gotten a little heated.

But the heat was turned up because some comments, sans emoticons or any other buffers, read pretty cold and terse.

Email can be like that too.

Even the lack of an exclamation point can make a big difference.

To wit: Look at these two ways of writing the same words. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot!

The former can be construed as sarcastic or written by someone in a huff. The latter just "sounds" more friendly.

I know some folks, and I'm sure you do, too, who don't use punctuation, emoticons or words in parentheses or between asterisks (like *this*), and thus their communique can read a little stand off-ish or acerbic.

Once things are taken the wrong way, it sometimes takes a whole lot to bring the ship back from the yard.

You can spend comment after comment, email after email, trying to reel the ill will in, when an email or comment or text is taken the wrong way.

I remember the late, great comedian Greg Giraldo mocking the overuse of mobile phones for texting.

Mimicking the frantic flying of fingers and thumbs of the texter, Giraldo said, "Hmmm...if only there was some device I could use to actually talk to this person, instead of this primitive typing machine."

I admit, I use email and texting quite a bit---but mainly because I hate the phone, as a rule.

Once I get going on the phone, it's hard for me to stop---but I mainly only talk to my mother on the thing. Frequent calls to Mrs. Eno or our daughter don't count; those are brief and inconsequential.

I do my weekly sports podcast on the phone, but that's not really a phone call, per se. I don't do Skype!

But it's getting going on the phone, i.e. placing a call, where I get stuck.

I'd much rather fire off an email or a text.



My line of thinking also includes this: phone calls can be forgotten about or their content remembered incorrectly. Emails and texts are imprints that can be called upon later. Call it the lawyer in me.

We are, as a society, using our phones less and less for actual phone calls. If we're not texting, we're using apps or watching videos or playing games on our mobile devices. Human conversation is being gradually reduced to perfunctory check ins with spouses, kids and colleagues.

Who has lengthy, in-depth phone conversations anymore?

So we rely more and more on the written word---often times "naked", without any punctuation or emoticons to buffer it.

And the written word, minus help, doesn't always convey the emotion or tone in which it was intended.

Gives a whole new meaning to "crossword puzzle." Like, how about, "cross word puzzle"?

See what I did there?


Friday, October 18, 2013

Thanks for Nothing

Why stop at 8:00 p.m.? Why not just be open the whole damn day?

Pardon me, that was a strange lede, I know.

I'm talking about Thanksgiving Day, by the way.

Macy's announced last week that it was opening its doors at 8:00 on Thanksgiving evening, as the ridiculous "Black Friday" monster gets bigger every year. Dawn openings weren't cutting it, I guess, nor was a midnight blowout. Now, we give you shopping while the turkey hasn't even cooled off.

JCPenney followed suit on Thursday, announcing its own 8pm opening on Thanksgiving.

“Obviously, we were one of the last to open (last year),” said Tony Bartlett, Penney’s executive vice president of stores, referring to last year's (gasp!) 6am opening the day after Turkey Day. But, this year, “We’re all in," Bartlett said.

Well, his employees are all in. OK, they're in---how about that?

I'm sure the cashiers and stock folks are thrilled with the prospects of moving through their holiday meal briskly, so they can shower up, kiss the family goodbye, and trudge out into the evening and drive to work.

Don't come at me with, "Well, it's probably going to be voluntary" or "They're in retail" or "They get holiday pay."

First, with the crowds that are (sadly) expected, don't think that working on Thanksgiving night will be in any way, "voluntary." I have worked in retail, for a big furniture store, and there was nothing voluntary about it, if we ran sales on holidays, like July 4th, etc. You were expected to be there, period.

As for "They're in retail," this is true. So that means they give up all rights to enjoy a holiday at home? Yes, signing up for retail work leaves one open for this kind of nonsense, but it's because of one word: greed.

I seriously doubt that this country will be turned upside down if we stuck to early morning openings the day after Thanksgiving. Seems we got along just fine for decades without this "Black Friday" jazz. But when greed lurches, the corporate fat cats see more chances to squeeze pennies from the consumer, and the executives do a pretty good job of brainwashing us to think that Black Friday madness is what we want and crave.

And as for "They get holiday pay," of course they do, though I'm sure the companies would be thrilled to work around that, too. Getting holiday pay for working a holiday is what is expected; it's not a perk. Sure, some folks could use the time-and-a-half or double time they're getting paid for an 8-hour shift. But how many more would rather decline the pay and stay home with family and friends?


Yay! We get to see things like this played out on Thanksgiving night, now!


The thing that is also disturbing is that you just know it's not going to stop here. First, more companies, I'm sure, will follow Macy's and Penney's lead. Second, the opening times are sure to be even earlier.

Opening at dawn wasn't good enough. Opening at 4am wasn't good enough. Midnight openings didn't cut it. So why should we think Macy's et al will be satisfied with 8pm?

Count on it---Thanksgiving Day will soon be the day that big box retailers fling their doors open, and as early as that morning. They won't be content to wait until 8pm.

Thankfully, the online comments I read in the wake of the Macy's announcement were overwhelmingly against the notion of an 8pm opening on Thanksgiving. The theme was consistent: enough! Some vowed not to shop at Macy's because of it.

That's great, but there are plenty of zealots out there who will rush through their dinners, grab their purses and wallets and set out to get a great deal on a big screen TV or the like.

And the retailers will tell us that this is what we want.

I am waiting for a big box retailer to take a stand, and stick to a day-after-Thanksgiving opening. I would love it if they did it front and center, instead of hoping no one will notice. Would one be even so bold as to launch a campaign that speaks directly to why they're not participating in this Thanksgiving night craziness?

Besides, how can it be Black Friday if the stores are opening on Thursday?

Maybe it really should be renamed Black Thursday, and we should do away with the words Thanksgiving Day, once and for all. The stores can hang black crepe. It will be neat.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Show Me the Money (Please)

I don't know that I have ever been more frightened in my life, as I was when I had to sell candy bars.

I was 11 years old.

It was a school-related fundraiser, natch, I believe for an after school program I was involved in where my grade school partnered with the YMCA.

They sent a bunch of us munchkins out to sell candy bars---door-to-door. The bars came in cardboard boxes with convenient handles. Yippee.

So I'm 11 and I'm going door-to-door, unescorted, and you could never get away with this now. Can you imagine the dangers in today's world of sending children to strange people's houses?

Of course, those dangers were there in 1974, but I suppose we didn't pay as much attention. Or maybe the world wasn't as mentally bent then as it is now.

Anyhow, I hated the gig. I had a script I was supposed to follow, but I'm sure I strayed from it---like, as soon as the door opened. I'm sure I mumbled something about candy bars and supporting us, and then hoped for the best.

I remember one woman got particularly nasty to me and basically slammed the door in my face. How you do that to an 11-year-old, I don't know. But as I trudged to the next rejection, she called down from an upstairs bedroom window and apologized. Fancy that.

My mother, I believe, got the bright idea to just buy up the candy bars herself, saving me from further door-to-door torture. That decision met with my wholehearted approval.

I don't know when kids stopped selling their own stuff, but my mother was probably on the cutting edge. Parents purchasing their kids' wares was the start. The next step was to share the cost---with co-workers, friends and relatives.

If you've ever held a job in your life outside of the home, you've all been there.

You've either been the seller or the customer, or both.

You know how it works.

"My (son/daughter) is selling (fill in the blank). Here's the sign-up sheet. Money is due on (insert date)."

That's pretty much the pitch.



Some of the stuff is sophisticated and requires full color catalogs. Most is junk you barely need, but it's for the kids, right?

One year, our daughter sold cheesecakes for her marching band. Now that's a nice thing to pitch. Who doesn't like cheesecake?

I have bought pizza kits, kitchen houseware items, candy, popcorn and Lord knows what else. I'm sure you have, too. And you've probably been "that" person with a sign-up sheet taped near your cubicle.

Whenever I'm asked to buy something, my first words are always the same: 'When do you need the money?"

Because some stuff needs to be paid up front, some stuff can be paid for when the goods come in. Just tell me when you need the money first, and then I'll let you know if I can do it.

Someone in my office is selling popcorn, and her sales pitch minces no words.

"It's ridiculously expensive, so don't feel obligated," she keeps telling folks.

Ah, honesty---refreshing in the shake down world of school fundraisers, eh?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Back to the Future (For Real)

A promo for the new "Michael J. Fox" show got right to the point.

"It's time to talk about the elephant in the room," Fox says to the camera, and the shot switches to a literal elephant. "Are we really going to do this?," Fox asks to someone purportedly off camera.

The best thing you can do if you're going to build a show around a TV and movie veteran who has Parkinson's Disease, is to not ignore that the dude has Parkinson's Disease. Anything else is untoward and just plain uncomfortable.

Fox, 52, is back on television as a series star after a 12-year hiatus, since his run on "Spin City" ended. Obviously most of, if not all of that hiatus from being in front of the camera was due to his battle with Parkinson's. But his issues with the disease hasn't kept Fox from doing voice work in many films and commercials.

Now, we get to see Fox as well as hear him, as he plays Mike Henry, a former newsman for NBC who got out of the game due to---you guessed it---a battle with Parkinson's. The exodus from TV reporting---he was an investigative journalist---meant that he spends more time with his family, sometimes much to the chagrin of...his family.

It's a comedy, and it's filmed without a live audience, which I prefer. Sometimes the hoots and laughter from audience members can be distracting. I prefer those to come from my family in our front room.

The show confronts Fox's real-life Parkinson's symptoms head on, by incorporating them into the Mike Henry character's mannerisms. The writers (and Fox) are having fun with it, which is not uncomfortable if the star himself is on board with it.

It's refreshing for a show to poke fun at something that is serious in a very disarming, cute way. We need to laugh in today's world, you know?

Mike Henry is a loving husband and sometimes overbearing father to a teenaged daughter, a slightly older son and a much younger son. Henry's sister-in-law lives in the home, as well. You can't re-invent the situation comedy, so these living arrangements are nothing we haven't seen before. But this is different, because never before has a lead character been played by an actor afflicted with Parkinson's, that I'm aware of.


Fox with his new TV wife, Betsy Brandt

I won't lie, and I won't ignore the elephant, either: Fox's "condition" is very prevalent and I suppose could be considered distracting, especially because so many of us remember him from his days on "Family Ties" and in the "Back to the Future" franchise on the big screen.

But kudos to NBC, and Fox himself, for not trying to ignore it. That wouldn't have worked at all. In that scenario, Fox just becomes pathetic and pitiful, as someone who isn't what he once was.

Instead, this series isn't about what Fox used to be, but who he is now and that it's OK to poke fun at it. It also reminds us that, granted in maybe a cornball manner, Parkinson's (or any other neuro-muscular-debilitating disease) doesn't mean one's life has come to an end.

I can't imagine what courage it must take for an actor to put himself back out there, in full display, when he knows darn well that people are going to automatically compare the Michael J. Fox of today to the completely healthy one they fell in love with some 30 years ago.

Besides the elephant in the room, "The Michael J. Fox Show" is just plain funny. It's warm-hearted at its core. I am eager to see more of Mike Henry's foray back into TV reporting, which was touched on in the pilot episode. There should be ample opportunities for comedic scenes there.

Michael J. Fox isn't what he was 30 years ago, when "Family Ties" and "Back to the Future" made him a mega star.

He's better.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

No Hugs, Just Kisses Please

I believe that the Hershey's Kiss is the closest thing to perfection ever created in the world of candy. Maybe in food, period.

We were grocery shopping last week and my lovely wife grabbed a $9 bag of Hershey's Kisses from the shelf.

"For the candy dish," she announced, to which I literally said, "HA!"

She looked at me, perplexed.

"You know how much I like Hershey's Kisses!" I said. I might have yelled it. The inference was clear to her. I was afraid that I might consume all the Kisses before anyone else had a shot at them.

"Yeah, but even YOU can't eat a $9 bag of Kisses," she said, and I swear there was a smidgen of doubt in her voice at the end of that statement, as there should have been.

Again, I said, "HA!"

The $9 bag of Kisses did look robust---to a normal person. To someone afflicted with an addiction to the Kisses, the bag didn't look so big. In fact, it looked very consumable, sans help from anyone else.

I love the Hershey's Kisses. I love the whole experience---the fact that they come in silver-wrapped, bite-sized pieces; that they taste great chilled in the fridge; and that they are made with Hershey's milk chocolate, which is only the best chocolate known to man. And that includes you, Godiva.

I can eat the Kisses like you can eat potato chips---by the handful, one after the other. The unwrapping of them slows me down just a tad. I can turn a Kiss naked in seconds. I have lots of practice.

It's nothing to see a mound of the silver wrappers and the white sashes that are inside, pile up near me as I eat the Kisses. I don't count how many I eat, because that would probably depress me. Just the sight of the mound of wrappers is bad enough.

But I just like them too much to stop. I pop them into my mouth and each one is like I'm tasting it for the first time.

Hershey's should ask me to do a commercial. In fact, they should pay me for this blog post.

In cruel irony, my parents and I took a vacation when I was three years old. The trip included stops in Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, PA., and Hershey, PA.

At the latter stop, I'm told, we toured the Hershey's chocolate factory. But here's where the cruel irony kicks in. I was far too young to remember the tour, much less what the chocolate tasted like.

So maybe I'm paying everyone back with my glutton-like consumption of Kisses in my adult years.

It's not just Kisses. I love all Hershey's chocolate, as I said. The candy bars, with and without almonds, are to die for.

Maybe literally, if I don't stop eating it like Jabba the Hutt.

The Kisses we bought last week did indeed make their way into the candy dish in the front room. And I, indeed, have scarfed up dozens of the delectable, cute "chockies" in the days since they arrived at home. I'm not sure if anyone else in the house has snagged any.

The partially filled bag is tucked away, but it won't last long. Even if it is the $9 size.


Aren't they just perfect?


I prefer my Kisses chilled, but I'm also too impatient to put them in the fridge from the candy dish, so I have been eating them at room temperature. That's OK too. It's not summertime, when the room temp chocolate can turn too soft for my liking.

I guess I like that "snap" you get when you bite into a chilled Kiss. Plus, the chocolate just tastes better when it's cold. But as I said, patience isn't one of my virtues, so for now I am grabbing hands full and tearing the wrappers off and jamming the Kisses into my mouth at my usual breakneck speed.

I just love them. I'd love it even more if I got paid to love them.

Forty-seven years after my trip to the Hershey's factory, maybe it's time I made a return trip---to talk endorsements.

The Hershey's people don't have to know that I'm willing to eat them for free for another 47 years.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ciao Italy!

The first thing I saw was a jug of wine on the kitchen table the size of the Detroit Zoo water tower in Royal Oak. And there was barely any wine left in it. That's when I knew it would be a fun night spent with family.

We're Italian---my wife more than I---and we spent a glorious Saturday evening last weekend visiting with aunts, uncles and cousins that we haven't seen in years. Probably not since the last family funeral; that's typically how it goes. It used to be that we saw each other at weddings and baby showers.

We approached the condo of our cousin and I saw the huge jug of wine on the table. More than a dozen heads, some bald and those that weren't, were mostly gray, bobbed in the front room at the dining table.

The food was going, the wine was going and the conversations were loud---mainly because half the folks could no longer hear.

Our family is getting older, and it's somehow up to people our age (my wife is 51 and I'm 50; our daughter is 20) and younger to keep these family gatherings going.

My wife tells of these gatherings and how they happened much more frequently, when she was an adolescent and a young adult. Constant coffee, constant laughter, and just general family warmth. It was commonplace.

Now, many of those people are gone, and the ones who are still alive, are well into their 70s or 80s. In fact, our cousin/hostess is a robust 85. But that didn't stop Mary from flitting from room to room, making sure everyone had food on their fork or a cup of beverage in their hand---or both.

The Italians love their food, and I wasn't in the condo for two minutes before I was waved over to the long dining room table to partake.


No, this wasn't snapped last Saturday night, but it may as well have been


The table was filled with pasta, ribs, sausages, rolls, etc., and I found an empty seat and a plate was immediately passed my way by Mary. We had eaten dinner less than two hours prior but that didn't stop me.

It wasn't so much the food---although it was delicious---that drew me, it was the inclusion with everyone as they talked and swapped stories. I was easily the youngest at the table, by a long shot. The wine carafe begged with its homemade, maroon contents, but I opted for an American beer.

My wife and daughter gabbed with the ladies in the room while dad/husband stuffed his face. In fact, Mrs. Eno took several photos, and in only one of them am I not eating.

Then came the desserts, and the coffee. We brought a coffee cake, in case there was a shortage of dessert.

Ha!

You couldn't see the tabletop for all the cakes and other sweets that were on it.

Old photos were pulled out, and the stories came. Some of them were clandestine, which of course made them the best of all.

It was our daughter's first real foray into what it's like to be Italian. I had met everyone in days gone by, but Nicole really hadn't. She was too young, in many instances, to remember those that she had met.

Anyhow, our daughter had a blast. She snapped photos and sent them to her friend in New Jersey as they texted back and forth.

The three hours that we were at Mary's condo flew by. Reluctantly we bid farewell.

It was a rather large gathering (20+), as several folks were in town from Pennsylvania for a family reunion in Michigan.

The next day, we visited our cousins' pet shop (they're brother and siter) in Birmingham. He's going to order us our dog's special food from now on, so we're guaranteed to see our cousins every couple of weeks.

"It was great seeing you last night," Jeff said when we found him in the pet boutique on Sunday.

Indeed.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Coffee Drinkers, Disarm!

Maybe Howard Schultz figures that the only thing worse than a person with a gun in his stores is a person with a gun who is heavily caffeinated.

Schultz is the founder and CEO of Starbucks, birthplace of the $5 cup of coffee. And he's making a polite request.

Please, no guns in Starbucks.

Whatever happened to "No shoes, no shirt, no service"? I long for those days.

Now we have CEOs of national chains asking their customers to check the firearms at the door. Or, preferably, much further away than that.

It could be that Schultz thinks that someone might finally be driven over the edge for paying $5 for a cup of coffee, and that person is best when he/she is unarmed.

But seriously, folks...

Schultz made what I thought was an impassioned yet reasonable plea to his customers via open letter to very kindly leave their legal, registered weapons out of his Starbucks stores, in states that have "open carry" laws.

"Few topics in America generate a more polarized and emotional debate than guns." Schultz's letter says. "In recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate. That's why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas. From the beginning, our vision at Starbucks has been to create a "third place" between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community."

Schultz goes on to say that he doesn't want people to consider his request as anything more than that---a request. 

"...we want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request—and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on."

Read the above paragraph again. 

Schultz is asking for folks to keep the guns out of the stores because he doesn't want a college-aged barista named Jessica to take on armed customers on a daily basis. I'm sure the unarmed ones are bad enough, especially during the morning rush.

What if the drink isn't prepared just right?

I'm not being flip, I'm being real. But Schultz's request is both enamoring and disturbing.


Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz


It's enamoring because he truly does appear to be looking out for his employees, and he doesn't want Starbucks thrust unwillingly into the polarizing gun debate, which it has been in the past thanks to pro-gun demonstrations that have used Starbucks as a gathering spot.

But it's also disturbing because it's yet another reminder that we are gradually but surely moving toward a society that would return us to the days of the Old West.

You know, when everyone was packing heat and everyday the local saloon was an insult away from a barroom brawl and shootout breaking out.

Starbucks isn't an insignificant player here. I don't have the numbers, but in case you haven't noticed, there's pretty much a Starbucks within a stone's throw of each other. They're becoming as omnipresent as McDonald's.

So when the CEO of Starbucks asks that those toting guns (legally, of course) please refrain, that's not just a blip on the screen.

It will be interesting to see which company's CEO will be next to make a request similar to Schultz's, now that Schultz has made it.

Schultz feels that his customer base can withstand those who might cease to frequent Starbucks because they can't place their pistol on the table next to their scone. You have to have some deep pockets to take a stand sometimes.

No doubt that Schultz won't be the Lone Ranger, so to speak. Another CEO will follow his lead. Then another. And the polarizing gun debate will get even more wacky.

As if.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Four (Hundred) Seasons

It would be about this time of the year when there was great anticipation.

No, I'm not talking about the start of another school year. I'm talking about the start of a new television season.

It was an annual wave of excitement. All the new shows would debut in September, and the carryovers from past seasons would be back for another go round.

The networks---and by networks I mean ABC, CBS and NBC---got in on the act, producing prime time specials previewing their respective lineups.

The shows' stars would make appearances in these preview shows, dressed in character, speaking of what viewers were to expect.

This is circa the mid-to-late 1970s.

The absolute best, though, was the preview of all the new Saturday morning cartoons.

YAHTZEE!

That was a prime time special, too. As an adolescent who still enjoyed the animated shows, I marveled at all the new cartoons and what they intended to be and how they intended to entertain us.

The TV seasons back in those days were very segmented. You had your fall season, and you had your winter season, and you had your summer replacement shows. That was it. The seasons started in September, January and June-ish.

The new shows were given a starter package of 13 episodes, for the most part. After that, you were either canceled or renewed---for another 13 episodes.

MacLean Stevenson, whose decision to leave M*A*S*H so soon surely must be one of the worst moves any actor has ever made, going back to Shakespeare in the Park in the 17th century, used to have a vanity plate that said 13 WEEKS, because so many of his post-M*A*S*H vehicles were canceled so quickly.

The TV seasons now overlap more than a cache of Venn diagrams.

First, there are so many networks, with cable television all the rage. Second, those networks all have their own ideas of when their seasons should start and stop. The over-the-air networks still have new fall seasons, but shows certainly don't get 13 weeks anymore to prove themselves.

With all these seasons starting at all these different times of the Gregorian Calendar, it's almost impossible to keep track of even your most favorite programs' schedules.

But the definition of "season" is as interpretive as dance.

The Game Show Network debuted a new quiz show called "The Chase," on August 6. The network pumped the show for several weeks before the first episode aired. Then, the show debuted, and my wife and I enjoyed it and looked forward to August 13.

Then, after just four episodes had aired, GSN announced that the September 3 episode would be the "season finale."

After five episodes, they're having a season finale?


Brooke Burns and Mark Labbett of "The Chase"


My wife and I were flabbergasted. To add to our befuddlement, GSN, in its promos hyping the finale, called "The Chase" the game show sensation "of the summer."

Well, yeah, if you acknowledge summer as starting on August 1 and ending on Labor Day.

Turns out "The Chase" is indeed coming back for another "season," which will begin on November 5.

For how long, I have no idea. I hope for more than five episodes.

I'm actually not that much of a TV viewer, aside from sports. So when I find something I like and look forward to seeing the next week, it's just my luck that it's a show with a five-episode season.

By the way, do they still have Saturday morning cartoons?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Beantown Beatdown

Everyday, it seems, we are reminded that just because one holds a position of respect and dignity, doesn't mean said person is respectful and dignified.

Take Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Please.

In a New York Times Magazine interview, the conversation turned to the city of Detroit. That's when Menino checked respect and dignity at the door before opening his mouth.

"I'd blow the place up and start all over," Menino said.

Now, Detroit has its problems, that's for sure---bankruptcy not withstanding. The city is hemorrhaging population, tax base and credibility. Its schools don't perform. There's a lot of waiting that goes on---to get a streetlight fixed, to get an ambulance, sometimes to even get a police officer to stop by while a crime is being committed.

But Menino not only used a poor choice of words, he did so with terrible irony.

Boston, as you know, was indeed bombed, at the Boston Marathon in April.

Someone really did try to blow Boston up.

It wasn't very funny.


Boston Mayor Thomas Menino


But Menino insinuated that he was being funny when he used his "blow the place up" line, because his next sentence was, "No, seriously, when it takes a police officer 90 minutes to answer a call, there's something wrong with the system."

You know who says, "No, seriously"? Nightclub comedians. Often, bad ones.

Menino's city was victimized by a terrorist-like attack in April. So why would he invoke a bombing metaphor when talking about another city's foibles?

Not funny, and not appropriate. And certainly not words befitting his office.

As is typical when political types put their wing tipped shoes in their mouths, Menino made things worse by issuing one of those smarmy "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" apologies. That just served to kick Detroiters while they were down.

"Oh, you found it offensive that I suggest we blow up your city? Sorry!"

Actually, those non-apologetic apologies only serve to reflect poorly on the intelligence of the issuer.

If Menino was genuinely surprised that anyone from Detroit was offended by his acerbic words, then maybe he's not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Detroit is an easy target, and has been for years. Comedians, TV shows, movies---they've all taken their pot shots. But this city-on-city assault launched by Mayor Menino would seem to break some sort of municipal code of honor.

Some folks who commented on the newspaper websites about Menino's gaffe took a "The truth hurts, doesn't it?" tack.

"Instead of getting offended, fix the problem!" was the gist of those who defended Menino.

I understand, to a degree, that sentiment. Detroit is in a world of hurt, no question. And a lot of it is because of failed leadership and inertia from its citizenry.

But Thomas Menino isn't an Average Joe making comments on a newspaper website. He's a mayor of a big city---a city that was shaken to its core not five months ago by bombings. He ought to know that there are other, and much better ways to provide commentary on another city.

"Blow the place up"?

They tried that in Boston. It didn't work. Fortunately, the ever resonant human spirit lifted Boston from that dark day.

Yet in one insensitive comment, Mayor Menino totally dismissed the spirit and fight of Detroiters. How much can it be worth, the mayor suggested, so why not just blow the place up?

Shame on him.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Take THAT, Big C!

This may be shocking to read, but it's not over the top to say that Valerie Harper was supposed to be six feet under now. Instead, she's going to be dancing up a storm.

Harper, beloved to this day for having played the sassy, tough Rhoda Morgenstern on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Rhoda," was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year. Her doctors gave her three months to live.

Maybe she couldn't pay her bill, and the docs are giving her six more months.

With apologies to Henny Youngman, whose joke I just bastardized, have you noticed what's been going on with Harper?

The most recent news is that she's going to be one of the celebrity contestants on "Dancing With the Stars" this fall. Before that, Harper appeared on an "MTM Show" reunion on Nick at Nite, and filmed a movie role.

Not bad for someone who was supposed to be gone by now.

Cancer is a funny thing, and never before has the word "funny" been used more colloquially.

It's obviously a nasty, nasty disease---sadistic and merciless. Cancer's most evil trait is tricking you into thinking you're getting better, or that its terror is subsiding. Then, BAM. It says "F-you" and finishes you off.

That may indeed what eventually happens to Valerie Harper.

But for now, Harper is living life to the fullest.



She's going to be tripping the light fantastic on ABC's "DWTS" (the cast was announced today) and after that, win or lose, who knows?

Harper is already beating the odds. Every day on this Earth is a win for her.

I always had a little thing for Valerie Harper. As Rhoda on "The MTM Show," Harper played the role of the supposed ugly duckling who couldn't find a man, though she was anything but. The writers eventually agreed, and wrote a boyfriend into the show for her, who eventually became her husband (played by the late David Groh).

I have long been a sucker for the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauties. Natalie Wood comes to mind. As I've written here before, I like those types so much, I married one.

The brain cancer that Harper is battling now started in her lungs back in 2009. In March 2013, it was announced that Harper's doctors gave her about three months to live. That was six months ago, and counting.

No one has any idea how Harper will fare on "DWTS." But when she takes to the floor for her first number, she can put another one under the W column, for win. Anything more than that is gravy.