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.