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.