Wednesday, December 24, 2014

(Not) Getting Carded

So how many Christmas cards did you get this year?

Are they adorning the wall? Do you have so many that they outline the closet door frame? Or are they stuffed in a holder on the coffee table, bursting?

No?

Not at our house, either.

The Christmas card is a dinosaur---like drive-in movies and transistor radios.

Nobody sends Christmas cards anymore. It's another example of how Americans today just don't like to slap a stamp on anything and ship it via the United States Postal Service.

Sending Christmas cards was a feeling of accomplishment but not of gratification. I mean, you were never there to see the recipient open yours.

But getting Christmas cards? Now that was some fun.

They would start to come, slowly at first, usually the week after Thanksgiving. Those cards were sent by the early bird folks.

But as the month of December moved along, the Christmas cards moved along with it, filling the mailbox more voluminously as the days ticked down toward December 25.

You almost had a mental checklist of from whom to expect cards, and crossing them off as you received them. It was fun to see the different styles, the cozy illustrations and the heartwarming words inside.

Everyday, it seemed, you got at least one card in the mail during December.


This is not a sign of the times anymore

The envelopes usually gave them away: red, of course, and also by shape and size. The electric bill never came in an envelope the size of a good, old fashioned Christmas card.

About 10 years ago, the cards didn't come with the same frequency as in years gone by. It got to the point where the propped open cards could fit on the coffee table without much trouble.

Today, you're lucky if you get ten cards, total. I think we've received about that many, though we sent out far more than that.

However, even our sending has decreased, mainly due to attrition, i.e. people passing away.

That's the thing, right there: the older folks are much more likely to send holiday cards than the second generation of Baby Boomers (those born in the mid-to-late 1960s and beyond). And the older folks are dying off.

The thing now, of course, in the digital age, is to send an "e-card," which is basically an online link that takes the recipient to an animated feature, about 30-45 seconds in length. They're cute and all, but it's not the same.

I can't tape e-cards around my door frame, can I?

It's a losing battle, I know. Christmas card sending isn't coming back. Soon we won't receive any at all.

It's sad, but what are you going to do?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A True Miss America

Today's Miss Americas serve their term and then they're never heard from again. Or so it seems.

There's no prerequisite, of course, that the winner of arguably the most famous beauty contest of all time needs to stay in the limelight when she hands the crown over to her successor.

But there was a time when Miss America was often the springboard to bigger and better (or, at least, more profitable) things.

Mary Ann Mobley was one of those Miss Americas who stuck around in our consciousness long after she sashayed down the runway.

Mobley, 77, passed away the other day after a battle with breast cancer.

She was the first Mississippian to win the legendary contest, and she parlayed that distinction into a pretty decent stage and film career as an actress.

Like so many other women of her era, Mobley was able to star opposite Elvis Presley on screen, and like her brethren, she out-acted him.

Mobley had a smile that went from ear-to-ear and her dark beauty was a stark contrast to the blond, lighter handsomeness of Gary Collins, an actor and game show host (and fellow Mississippian) who she married in 1967.

Mobley captured the Miss America crown in 1959 and six years later she was a winner again---this time with a New Star of the Year Golden Globe.

But despite all her credits on stage and screen (big and small), it was in charitable causes where Mary Ann Mobley was a true Miss America.



She served on several councils and contributed to many charities and her work was exemplified by the naming of a pediatric wing after her, at a hospital in her hometown of Brandon, Mississippi.

Mobley and Collins formed one of television's most well-known couples, particularly in the 1980s. For many years they were both in our living rooms in some way, shape or fashion, with Mobley doing turns on shows like "Falcon's Crest" and Collins chatting up folks on talk shows and helping them win money on game shows.

Mobley was the first woman to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame.

But Mobley's sweet-as-pie good looks and her Mississippian, southern belle demeanor shouldn't have fooled you, because she was also a very competent filmmaker.

You heard me.

For years, Mobley documented the "young victims of war and starvation in places like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan," according to a release from Warner Brothers.

That probably doesn't sound like the Mary Ann Mobley with whom you're familiar.

The Chairman of Miss America, Sam Haskell, sang Mobley's praises after word of her death reached him.

"She challenged me, she loved me, and she made me laugh! I shall miss her!"

Mobley once spoke of her ever active life, when she was knee-deep in acting, fundraisers and volunteer work.
"I'm home about two days a month, and on those I have to pack."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Alco-Haul

My bar-hopping days are long gone, so maybe I know not of what I type.

So call me naive, but do we need bars to be open until 4 a.m.?

A hurried-through bill by the Michigan State Legislature would allow some bars to stay open until 4 in the morning on weekends.

According to the bill's sponsors, it's a matter of competition.

Senator Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), the bill's sponsor, says the measure is needed so Detroit can compete with other big cities, like New York.

Come again?

We are going after the lush crowd? Tourists will decide their destination based on bars being open further into the wee hours?

Another legislator said that the bill merely gives businesses that serve alcohol the option to stay open later.

"Who are we to tell bars how late they can stay open?" was the quote.

OK.

That seems to be a shocking display of being short-sighted. I mean, we are talking about alcohol consumption here. There figures to be some degree of consequence to this bill, one would think.

As you would imagine, the law enforcement folks aren't crazy about this, for multiple reasons. One is that the 4 a.m. thing just happens to coincide with when police staffing is thin. Another is that those stumbling out of bars and taking to the roads will now start to overlap with the people who leave early for work.

Ah, but there is a financial component to the bill. Money talks, as you know. Usually.

The bill lets bars and restaurants that pay a $10,000 annual fee sell alcoholic drinks until 4 a.m. Eighty-five percent of the money would go to local police, 10 percent to the state Liquor Control Commission and 5 percent to the communities where the permit is issued.

But even though the police are the beneficiaries of the extra cash, they are down on the bill.

What does that tell you?

Why stop at 4 a.m., by the way?

Some bars open as early as 7 a.m., which is a whole other blog post. So those establishments could close at at four and re-open three hours later. Seems kind of silly.

The bill passed in the Senate, 22-14. It now moves to the House.

Supporters like Smith say that the extended hours would help put illegal "blind pigs," which are open past 2 a.m., out of business.

Not so sure about that. Seems to me that blind pig patrons will stay blind pig patrons, for the most part.

Nico Gatzaros, whose family owns Fishbones and the London Chop House, lauds the bill because it will help certain businesses, like taxis.

That reasoning should be filed under the "if you don't laugh, you'll cry" category.

In other words, with this bill, we hope the taxi business booms, driving home the soused.

Nothing from Gatzaros about how he proposes to get the drunks to call a taxi to begin with. Gobs of alcohol isn't exactly a precursor to common sense and wise decisions.

But hey, who is the state to tell bars how late they can serve booze?

It's not like it's a public safety issue or anything.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cos and Effect

In 1984, Bill Cosby helped save an entire television network.

Thirty years later, he's toxic to an entire industry.

It was in '84 when NBC, lagging far behind brethren CBS and ABC in ratings to the point of being a national joke, brought in Cosby and built a sitcom around him.

Cosby was 46 years old and though he'd been canceled in the past with other television vehicles, his star power on TV was still heavy. Viewers still had "Fat Albert" and Jell-O commercials fresh on their minds.

The sitcom idea was novel. NBC decided to cast Cosby and his TV family as well-to-do African-Americans living in a tony brownstone in upper Manhattan. This was no "Good Times" scenario.

The presentation on TV of blacks living a life that wasn't in poverty wasn't new (witness "The Jeffersons"), but Cosby was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. With all due respect to dry cleaner moguls, this was different. Plus, Cliff and Clair Huxtable had kids---lots of kids. George and "Weesie" Jefferson's TV lives were pretty much presented sans children, even though they had a son, Lionel---but he wasn't emphasized.

So here came Bill Cosby to save NBC in the fall of 1984.

It worked.

"The Cosby Show" ran for eight seasons (1984-92) and was a phenomenal hit for NBC. The case could be made that Cosby did, indeed, save the network at a time when it was floundering.

I grew up with Bill Cosby, as did tens of millions of Americans. I am old enough to remember his "Bill Cosby Show" of 1969-71, when he was high school gym teacher Chet Kincaid.

I owned a couple of his comedy albums. I saw him perform live at Pine Knob in 1985. I must have watched his video special, "Bill Cosby: Himself" at least a dozen times. I liked that he was into sports, as well as having played football at Temple University.

I have history with Bill Cosby.

It would have seemed unfathomable to me as I grew up with Cosby's comedy, to think that one day he would be toxic.

But he is.

As accusations swirl that Cosby drugged women to have sex with them, dating back to the 1960s, no one on TV wants to have anything to do with him.

A potential new sitcom featuring Cosby, to be aired on NBC, has been scrapped.

TV Land has pulled reruns of "The Cosby Show" indefinitely.

Think about that last one for a moment. TV Land doesn't even want Cosby's likeness on its airwaves from a show produced 30 years ago.

This is O.J. Simpson-like toxicity.

Precious few in the entertainment business have come to Cosby's defense. He and his camp have been mostly silent as one woman after the other comes forward with a "Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me" story.

In America you are innocent until proven guilty.

That's in the courtroom. In the court of public opinion, it works the opposite.

Right now it seems that too many women with nothing to gain, really, from fabrication, are coming forward for at least some of this disgusting behavior to not be true.

There often isn't a "smoking gun" when it comes to sexual assault allegations, particularly when the alleged incidents happened many years and even decades ago. It's classic "he said/she said" stuff, except that in this case, it's pretty much all "she said."

Cosby's radio silence is ear piercing.

All we've gotten from the Cosby people is that they're not going to dignify these allegations with a reply.

That may be good enough if it was just one woman calling Cosby out. But there seems to be a whole cadre of women allegedly victimized by Cosby. The sheer number of women coming forward makes it no longer acceptable to just roll your eyes and shake your head, if you're the Cosby camp.

Could there be one crackpot looking for a buck or her 15 minutes? Possibly. But do you really think there is a growing faction of crackpots? Or is it a growing faction of victimized women feeling empowered now that the first domino has been tipped?

The answer is probably the latter.

Personally, I feel victimized as well---though not at all to the extent of the women that Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted.

I'm in that other boat of victims---the fans who, like me, have fond memories of Bill Cosby's comedy attached to our childhood hips.

I don't know about you, but I certainly can't look at Cosby the same way again. How can you?

Now, you can stick to your legal guns and urge everyone to wait until the courts have at this brouhaha before we render judgment.

Fine.

You would, technically, be on the right side of the argument if you took that tack.

But emotions and memories and gut feelings don't ride technicalities.

I am sure that many of us have tried and convicted Bill Cosby in our minds. That's our prerogative, frankly. We are all entitled to our opinions.

The challenge now is to put aside our personal disappointment in Cosby, should these allegations prove to be true, and focus our empathy on the women he may have victimized.

If Cosby is proven to have drugged and sexually assaulted even one woman, it's Olly olly oxen free. All bets are off and his image should be sullied forever.

If Cosby did these despicable things, we've all been victimized. We've all been made fools of, for decades. We would have fallen in love with a fraud and a sexual predator.

But we still would not have suffered as his alleged victims have, for lo these many years.

Let's not forget that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keep on Truckin'

Why does the ice cream man have the market cornered on driving trucks around the neighborhood, selling his wares?

Think about his clientele---six-year-olds, who aren't exactly loaded. How much disposable income does a first grader have?

This may seem like a strange time to bring this up, because we're hardly in ice cream truck season, but I say this is the perfect time to discuss this.

With ice cream no longer a viable purchase option at your curb, why not consider other items that a grown up would run out of his/her house to snatch up?

Liquor, for one.

Can you imagine if there was a liquor truck that cruised the neighborhoods? The driver would make a mint. Adults would be lined up down the street as far as the eye could see.

The possibilities are endless.

How nice would it be if you could purchase an apple pie from a truck in front of your home? Or a dozen doughnuts?

The items for sale wouldn't have to be limited to food stuffs.

I'd have killed at times to be able to buy batteries off a truck. I would have been forever grateful if a Tylenol truck drove by, ringing its bell.

I wonder why ice cream became the item of choice when it came to retail trucks rolling down a neighborhood street.

The ice cream truck was one of the few American creations that never really spawned any offshoots.

Despite the popularity of selling ice cream from a truck, catering to grade school kids who don't have any money, no entrepreneur ever considered marketing toward adults (who actually have cash) with items that don't even need to be frozen.

I think an enterprising person could make a killing driving around residential areas the day before Valentines Day, selling greeting cards, chocolate and flowers. Or even a birthday card truck, because birthdays happen every day, and every day people forget to buy a card.

Following behind could be a postage stamp truck.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wing Cha-Ching!

It takes about 15 seconds to eat one, from start to finish. They cost about 79 cents a pound, raw at the supermarket. They are made up of bone more than meat.

So why are chicken wings at the restaurant so expensive?

I like a chicken wing as much as the next person. You can do a lot with a chicken wing, in terms of preparation. Chicken wings play nice with the various sauces and batter that coat them.

That's all fine and dandy, but does that equate to $9.99 for a dozen?

I use $9.99 as an arbitrary price, but that's in the ballpark.

I think we're being gouged on chicken wings.

The easy answer, of course, as to why the markup is so high, is that we consumers are willing to pay it.

Let's face it. Properly cooked chicken wings are a sight to behold.

They are slathered with sauce, which envelopes the crunchy skin, which is deep fried and/or baked deftly, so the meat inside stays tender and moist.

But when not done right, the chicken wing can be slimy, gummy and thoroughly unappetizing.

In either case, you can expect to pay about $9.99 a dozen.

I have no idea why we think that chicken wings are worth the price, but we pay it.

Heck, there's even entire restaurant chains that devote themselves to the chicken wing.

Buffalo Wild Wings (or B-Dubs, as the cool people say) comes to mind, as it did when a co-worker asked me last week if I wanted to go out to lunch.

We ate at a burger joint, but on the walk back to the office, a B-Dubs loomed.

"Do you like Buffalo Wild Wings?" I was asked.

That's when I launched into my chicken wing rant, to which you are now being exposed.

As far as B-Dubs goes, the family and I ate there a few years ago and I was underwhelmed. Again, the prices got to me---but frankly, I didn't think the wings were all that.

B-Dubs boasts that it offers lots of different flavors of wings, which is true. There are lots.

But they're still chicken wings, and they still take just 15 seconds each to consume. And they're still more bone than meat.

Let's face it: have you ever looked at the wing of any bird and licked your lips because they look so meaty?

Even a large Thanksgiving turkey doesn't have a wing that has enough meat to impress, much less a dinky chicken.

Yet restaurants boldly price their wings at obscene markup and we devour them by the basket-full.



OK, so they offer some celery sticks and blue cheese on the side. Whoop-de-doo.

We actually like to cook our own chicken wings at home, though it is some work to do it right. But we can also buy a huge bag of the frozen things at a dirt cheap price, relatively speaking.

Hint: most butchers will chop your wings up for you, for free, while you wait. That way, you can take them home in the same sizes and shapes as the ones you pay $9.99 for at the restaurant.

Some restaurateur hit the jackpot when he or she discovered that the cheap wing of a chicken could be baked, deep-fried and slathered with sauce and sold at a 500 percent markup. And that's as an appetizer.

Let's see. At $9.99 a dozen, and with chicken wings taking 15 seconds each to eat, that equates to three minutes' worth of eating time per dozen.

That means restaurants are charging us the equivalent of $200 an hour to enjoy their chicken wings! And we have to use our hands to eat them; we don't even get to use silverware.

At $200 an hour, what are chicken wings? The lawyers of food items?

Not to mention all the dry cleaning bills, thanks to the messy fingers and sauce dripping all over the place.

We're getting rooked but what else is new, right?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Smile! (Or not)

Allen Funt created television's Candid Camera. But he was not the star.

If Funt were alive today, he would concur.

Funt, who took the idea of a roving microphone capturing unguarded moments from the days of radio and turned it into a TV phenomenon, also never liked the notion that his show made fools out of unsuspecting people.

Funt preferred to think that Candid Camera was more of a series of case studies on human behavior, rather than a gag-filled half-hour.

Regardless, the star wasn't Funt, though he hosted the in-studio segments and often appeared during the hidden camera "case studies."

The stars of Candid Camera were always the people---the folks whose behavior was being chronicled in a very unfiltered and unscripted way.

Therefore, the laughs that resulted were always from the audience's glee at the reactions of the unwitting, caught by Funt's hidden camera.

But that was then.

TV Land has trotted out a new version of Candid Camera, hosted by Funt's son, Peter, and actor Mayim Bialik.

As in Allen Funt's original version, the hosts in the studio don't matter. Not that the younger Funt and Bialik do a poor job (they don't), but they aren't the stars.

The new version, however, falls flat.

It's not the fault of Funt and Bialik. It's the fault of the people. And that's not even fair, really.

The charm of the original Candid Camera was not only watching normal people in abnormal situations, it was in the reveal---that moment when Funt, et al would finally let the unsuspecting in on the joke.

"You're on Candid Camera!"

But back in the original show's days, there weren't cameras all over the place. There weren't cell phones and tablets and the like, all equipped with cameras that could be whipped out at a moment's notice, ready to capture just about anything the possessor wished to capture, newsworthy or not.

Today, people aren't stunned or shocked by the presence of a camera, even if they didn't know one was trained on them for a case study.

So the reaction to the reveal in the new version is, well, muted.

And a muted reaction isn't very entertaining to the TV viewers.

Now, that might not be so bad if the situations the people are placed in made up for the less-than-spectacular reveal reactions.

But they don't.

Candid Camera debuted in 1948 and there have been a few relaunches along the way. So we're talking 66 years, essentially, of the show's existence. That's a long time and it's hard to come up with fresh new stuff.


Allen Funt, back when this notion still had the power to amaze


But again, the society in which we live makes it awfully difficult for us to be flabbergasted anymore by what we see going on in front of our eyes.

Whether it's a soap dispenser at a market that doesn't stop dispensing or a retail outlet that charges a $10 fee to shop in the store as opposed to online (both used in the new version), does anything really surprise us anymore?

The charm of Candid Camera was rooted in two certainties that existed decades ago that simply don't anymore---a much more impressionable public and a genuine amazement that a hidden camera could be set up. The people were video virgins, so to speak.

Today's society is far less impressionable and there are cameras everywhere anymore. In fact, it seems like we are all on camera more than we aren't, when you add security cameras and the like into the mix.

I think it would be more of a surprise if the revealing person shouted, "You're NOT on camera now!"

Still, I give TV Land credit for trying to appeal to those of us who remember when an evening with Allen Funt and company was truly a special event. The situations were comical, the reactions were priceless and the reveals were the cherry on top.

However---and it's not TV Land's fault---today's society is just so damned hard to amaze and impress. And we are certainly not aghast at the notion of a camera lens shooting us through a hole in a wall.

The result is that watching the new Candid Camera is like dusting off an old Jack-in-the-Box and failing to be stunned by the clown popping out---while being wistful of the days when it did.

*********************************************
Editor's note: The following e-mail arrived from none other than Peter Funt himself, who saw this post, on October 1, 2014:

Funny thing about the "original." There's no bigger fan of my Dad's work than me, and I never suggest that my stuff is as good as his was at his prime. However, I find that our memories have a way of distorting and condensing and selecting from the past. I think what you and some other viewers are, in effect, saying is: When I recall the handful of fabulous reveals that Allen got over decades – perhaps seen in highlights or "best of" packages – they're better than what Peter gets week in and week out. How true! 

It's hard to compete with a legend. Fortunately that's not my objective. Good luck with your site.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting Festive, PC or Not

I wonder if you could get away with calling them "Ethnic Festivals" these days.

I've kind of lost track of political correctness. I don't know what is acceptable terminology anymore.

But what I do know is that, as a high schooler and into my college years, my buddies and I would descend on Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit and partake in "ethnic" food, people watch, and maybe have a nip or two.

Yes, it was before we were of legal drinking age. Amazing how enterprising teenagers can be.

Anyhow, they called them Ethnic Festivals and they would rotate throughout the summer, on the weekends.

You know---Greek, Italian, Arab-American, etc.

The Plaza would be host to live music, vendor stands/kiosks and underneath, in the below-ground portion of the Plaza, were loads of food nooks. Imagine an underground food court, like they have at the malls.

All you needed to do to find the food vendors below was to follow your nose. The food was yummy. There was also a marvelous view of Windsor, including the iconic Canadian Club sign east of the Plaza, with its gargantuan, lighted-up letters.

But what I remember most was the people watching.

For whatever reason, the Festivals used to attract some of the most bizarre people that Detroit had to offer.

My friends and I would call these folks "characters" and to be approached by them---which happened more often than you might think---was to be "characterized."

They were mostly street bums---probably homeless. But there were also individuals who were just plain eccentric and strange looking, wandering around aimlessly. Sometimes they would stop us and ask for money or booze or just start talking gibberish.

We likely did some of that aimless wandering around too, come to think of it. Maybe even the gibberish, depending on what time of night you're talking.

But it was a fine way for teenage boys to spend a summer's evening. We didn't go there looking for girls, per se, but if there was ever communication with the fairer sex, it certainly wasn't dismissed out of hand.

Because, as I recall, there were lots of cutie pies flitting around the Plaza during those festivals as well.

I think about those Festivals now and again, because working downtown now as I do, I have the occasion to drive by Hart Plaza from time to time.

I know that the Plaza is still home to festivals and celebrations and the like---including the occasional protest---but I don't think they're called "Ethnic Festivals" anymore. In fact, I don't even think they have weekly events such as the ones I am recalling, anymore.

The newspapers, in their Friday entertainment sections, would list what the Festival was that particular weekend at Hart Plaza. Not that it mattered to us; we pretty much went down there no matter what nationality was being represented.

Ethnic Festivals---politically correct terminology or not, they were a part of my youth.

They had their time, which is all you can really ask I suppose.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It's the Response, Stupid

There's some sad irony in the Ray Rice conundrum as far as the National Football League is concerned.

The NFL is a league that has a legacy of toughness and images of "real men" doing battle on mud-strewn gridirons, snow and other unfavorable elements.

It's a league whose players like to throw around the word "respect," whether it's not getting enough or giving too much.

"Real men" and "respect" don't fit Rice, the ex-Baltimore Ravens running back who was caught red-fisted via security camera, cold-cocking his fiancee in an elevator last February.

This blog is expressly for my non-sports rantings, but just because the first several paragraphs have been littered with NFL references, the Rice situation has nothing to do with pro football, per se.

Real men don't hit women. And that's not how you gain respect. It is, however, all about not having any of the R-word for your fellow human beings, let alone the woman to who you are now married.

Rice's wife, Janay, has publicly asked to call off the dogs when it comes to the playing of the video that shows Rice punching her so hard that she was knocked out cold from slamming her head against a metal railing inside the elevator.

She could have been killed, had she hit her head on the rail in a different way.

Janay Rice, understandably, wants us to know that her life with Ray is theirs and this horrible incident is theirs to deal with, privately.

She's right, of course, but good luck with that.

It's not for any of us to judge Janay Rice on her decision to stand by her husband despite the disgusting act of violence he perpetrated against her for all the world (it turned out) to see.

She has her reasons and they ought to be respected. There's that R-word again.

The most troublesome part of the Rice saga is not that Janay chose to stay with her fiance and marry him.

The focus right now, as it should be, is on the NFL and its handling of the Rice situation.

There have been several missteps along the way.

First was the ridiculously meager two-game suspension that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell levied on Rice, based (supposedly) on the original video, which showed Rice dragging an unconscious Janay out of the elevator.

Even without the much more damning second video, sitting Rice for two games based on the original video was even too lenient. A slap on the wrist for a direct punch to the face.

Then the second video emerged, courtesy of those busy beavers over at TMZ.

The second video shows the harrowing images of Rice as his fiancee approaches him in anger. He slugs her and she hits her head on the rail before collapsing, unconscious.

No one knows what goes on behind closed doors? Thanks to our "cameras are everywhere" society, not always.

The second league miscue, an unforced fumble, was Goodell's office claiming that the league never saw the second video until last week, although a law enforcement person has proof (via a voicemail) that someone within the NFL received the video five months ago---a DVD copy that the law enforcement person sent, acting on his/her own sense of obligation.

This is where the NFL is going off the rails, potentially.

Ray and Janay Rice

If it is indeed proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the league viewed the second video before metering out the feeble suspension, then this moves directly to the "cover up" category without passing GO and without collecting $200.

The NFL seems to be riding a technicality already; in other words, it seems like their defense is going to be that, yes, we may have received a video a long time ago, but that doesn't mean that anyone viewed it.

This is malarkey, of course, and it's on its way to be proven false because the voicemail in question includes this comment from a female voice who confirmed the video's receipt: "You're right/ (The video)'s terrible."

Why would you call a video terrible if you'd never viewed it?

Goodell switched Rice's suspension from two games to indefinite after the second video came to light. A cynic would tell you that Goodell switched gears only after proof of the second video's existence was revealed to everyone.

Big difference between the two sentences above this one.

In Watergate lexicon, "What did the commissioner know and when did he know it?"

That question---the one of what did a power-to-be know and when was it known---is the question that frequently is the first domino that leads to resignations or firings.

When will people of authority realize that it's not the first act of misdeed that will bring your organization to its knees; it's the attemped covering up of said act of misdeed that will do it.

Maybe the NFL is filled with real men of respect, after all. Quite a few of the league's players have taken to social media to express their anger and disgust over Rice's actions.

But let's see how the players respond if it turns out that the league was derelict in its handling of this matter.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Avoidable Tragedy the Worst Kind

In a perfect world, Derek Flemming would have been able to march up to the driver of a car that cut him off, express some anger, and get back into his own vehicle---without fear of losing his life.

The 43 year-old husband and father of two young children would have vented his anger and frustration and still lived to re-tell the story to friends, co-workers and family at every opportunity.

We do that a lot, you know---turn storyteller when we are wronged, whether it's from poor service at a restaurant to being incredulous at a retailer's return policy, among other things.

But then we get it out of our system and we move on, until someone else relates a story that fires your mental file cabinet into gear and your story gets retold yet again.

But Flemming paid the ultimate price in an act that unfortunately will have people---like yours truly---getting into "blame the victim" mode.

Flemming was gunned down at a traffic light near Howell after he allegedly complained to a driver who cut him off in traffic and who was---again, allegedly---driving recklessly. The 69 year-old man had stopped in front of Flemming's vehicle at the light. Flemming exited his vehicle and said something like, according to his wife, who was in the car with her husband, "What's your problem?"

Then Flemming was shot dead by the older driver.

I know we don't live in a perfect world. If we did, my knee jerk reaction wouldn't have been (as it was when I read of the tragic story), "Ooh...you shouldn't have gotten out of your car."

We have all been cut off in traffic. We have all been frustrated by rudeness in public. And we have all fantasized about what we would like to have done or said, if only we had thought about those reactions at the time.

You have no idea how many fictional, imagined conversations or actions I have wistfully thought of in my head in response to surliness, idiocy and the like. Usually I think of those responses when it's way too late.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Certainly Flemming, who was on his way to pick up his kids after their first day of school, would have made it to his children and would have had dinner with them that night, if he had only checked himself before exiting his vehicle.

You can call that blaming the victim all you like. You can say that a man should be able to stand up for himself. You can say that rude, reckless drivers deserve to be confronted.

You can say that Derek Flemming shouldn't have been expecting the confronted driver to have a gun so readily available and with the demented mindset to use it at a drop of a hat.

All true.

But would you rather be right, confrontational and dead, or grumble to yourself---and your wife---and live?


People gather near the area where Derek Flemming was gunned down on Tuesday

It's sad that this is the subconscious choice that we are now forced to make in this dangerous, violent world. Maybe it's not so subconscious.

So the rude and the reckless and the surly get a free pass? Not necessarily. There are other ways to throw the karma back into their court.

In Flemming's case, there is a device called a cell phone. And it accepts emergency numbers.

I walk our dog every evening and in the 10 years that I have been doing so, I have called the police some six or seven times. The reasons range from chickens appearing at a strip mall (true story) to a drunk man passed out on a sidewalk to high suspicions of domestic violence taking place at a private residence.

I call the authorities, calmly describe the situation and let the cops do their thing.

And I live to tell about it, which I have, several times.

Should Derek Flemming have gotten out of his vehicle and confronted a dangerous, reckless, rude driver? Or should he have dialed 911 and reported the reckless driver? Flemming was situated behind the older man, so a license plate number could have easily been reported as well.

This isn't second-guessing. It's not a case of hindsight being 20/20.

We live in a world where people simply aren't to be trifled with on many occasions. No one knows who's packing heat these days. Worse, no one knows the mental stability of those who are armed.

Did the 69 year-old driver feel threatened by the unarmed Flemming, who approached the older man's vehicle clearly in anger, according to witnesses?

Playing Devil's Advocate, you can say that the older man didn't know if Flemming was armed or not. Just because Flemming didn't approach with a gun drawn doesn't mean he wasn't carrying concealed.

Maybe the older driver panicked.

Regardless, Derek Flemming is dead. And he doesn't have to be.

His epitaph, of course, ought not to read "He shouldn't have gotten out of his car." Flemming was a husband and a dad, and the owner of his own landscaping business. He was much more than a man who made a split-second decision that ultimately cost him his life.

As if we need yet another reminder that things are rough out there.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Whose Class" Action

Labor Day was always my least favorite holiday. I'm sure I was hardly alone.

Of course, I'm talking about when I was a kid, and so just about every other kid likely joined me in that sentiment.

Labor Day meant the unofficial end to summer, though the calendar says that the season runs until September 21. No matter. The calendar didn't give us kids that long; classes in Livonia, where I grew up, always commenced the day after Labor Day.

It was a final three-day weekend before the baseball mitts and swimming suits were to go back into mothballs, in favor of notebooks, pencils and rulers.

There was one day of excitement, however, in the weeks leading up to the first day of school, and that was the day the class lists would be posted in the school window by the front door. This was for grade school, not beyond.

I'm not sure how we found out that the lists were posted. Probably some sort of loosely designated sentry or Paul Revere type would spread the word. This was some 20-plus years before the Internet became all the rage.

The way it worked was simple. Printed 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheets of paper were taped to the window, face out. The sheets were generally situated by grade. On the top of each sheet was the teacher's name and the grade he/she taught. The students' names were listed below. And all the kids---didn't matter where they lived, they all managed to gather---would frantically search for their names, not knowing until that very moment which teacher they had and which of their friends were in the same class.

It was some pretty intense stuff.

After you located your name, the next step was to search for your friends' and also your enemies'. Soon there would be a cacophony of sighs of relief mixed with howls of disappointment.

Maybe you got the teacher you wanted, but your best friends were in another classroom. Or, vice-versa.

Regardless, when you got the word that the class lists were ready for consumption, you couldn't hop onto your bicycle fast enough.

I recently had a drink with an old grade school and middle school pal. We compared teachers that we had in grades 1-6 and not once were we in the same class. I thought that was pretty amazing.

That "what class are you in?" excitement ended when we all shuffled off to middle school, where you didn't have just one teacher.

It was fun while it lasted, though.

As for Labor Day, I enjoy it now. It means a three-day weekend, which as an adult you treasure.

No matter what kind of class you have.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tears of a Class Clown

"I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room cry
the tears of a clown."

I don't generally like to start blog posts or columns with quotes or song lyrics. I have often looked at that sort of thing as a cheap, hackneyed stunt.

But the first thing I thought of upon hearing the news of Robin Williams' death by suicide was the iconic song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, "Tears of a Clown."

So I thought it would be appropriate to lead this post with a portion of Smokey's lyrics, because how can you read them and not think of Williams and the many comedians before him who made their living making us laugh while at the same time battling inner demons?

Williams, 63, apparently hanged himself at his California home, sometime between 10:30 p.m. Sunday night and 10:30 a.m. Monday morning.

His manager said Williams was battling "severe depression" lately.

It is fascinating to me, how many tormented "funny men" have graced the stages of comedy clubs, Broadway houses and television specials practically from the time the first brave soul decided to stand in front of a crowd and crack jokes.

There must be some corollary between the thrill of getting laughs on stage and being shy, lacking of self-esteem and, frankly, sad.

Williams, of course, was more than a comedian. He started out playing an alien on a TV sitcom and turned out to be a whale of a dramatic actor who had a knack for playing lovable, vulnerable characters with a big heart.

He was also likely the most manic guest in TV talk show history.

A Williams appearance on Carson or Leno should have required the viewer to be asked to buckle up and put the tray in the upright position.

It was a six-minute exercise in non-stop tidbits, impersonations and story telling, and Williams never sat still during any of it. In fact, he usually wasn't sitting at all.

He made me nervous, truth be told, as a talk show guest but the crowd (and the host) always ate up Williams' shtick.

Williams, again like so many fellow comedians, got lost in substance abuse, which likely didn't do his depression symptoms any good.

He returned to TV full-time last fall in "The Crazy Ones," playing a quirky ad agency man who works with his daughter. The series was Williams' first foray on the small screen as a lead character since his days on "Mork and Mindy" from 1978-82.

But the new series couldn't come close to shaking Williams out of the deep and irreversible funk of depression that would ultimately prompt him to take his own life.



I suspect that comedians and actors who cause moviegoers and viewers to feel a wide range of emotions are often feeling wide ranges of emotions themselves. Their roller coaster sometimes makes one too many bumps and they fly out of the car.

Williams may have been lonely but he wasn't alone. He was a family man---a husband and a father three times over. His friends and colleagues described him---especially in the wake of his death---as kind, compassionate and with a huge heart.

So here we are---the man who dedicated himself to lifting the spirits of others, unable to lift his own.

When someone takes their own life, those who don't know the pain figure that there must have been a viable alternative.

But here's the punch line---the suicide victim instead thinks that the viable alternative that we espouse is a death sentence of sorts, anyway. So why keep going?

Billy Crystal, longtime friend and co-host of "Comic Relief" with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg for 20 years, had maybe the most appropriate tweet after learning of the news.

"No words."

Fitting, because Robin Williams didn't need too many to make us laugh or cry.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tall, Dark and Oklahoman

James Garner was once asked if he'd ever do a nude scene on camera.

"I don't do horror movies," he said.

Rim shot.

Garner, who died on Saturday at age 86, was a Hollywood leading man but a humble Oklahoman at heart.

"I got into the business to put a roof over my head," he once said. "I wasn't looking for star status. I just wanted to keep working."

And work he did, especially in the 1960s, when Garner was often teamed with the biggest female names in movies, such as Doris Day (Rock Hudson is more famously connected with Day, but Garner did his fair share with her as well), Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and Kim Novak.

The film boom for Garner was set up by his work in TV's Maverick, in which he starred from 1957-60, playing old Western card shark and ladies man Bret Maverick. The show went toe-to-toe on Sunday nights with The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show, more than holding its own.

If you were a casting director and could mail order a leading man, Garner would arrive at your office.

He was tall, dark and handsome, and possessed a self-effacing style bereft of cockiness. His Oklahoma lilt, which he never tried to disguise, added to the down home feel that just about all of his characters had.

Garner, left, with Jack Kelly as Bret and Bart Maverick

Garner, for a brief time, even dabbled in auto racing, an interest that was piqued when he co-starred in 1966's Grand Prix. Garner thus joined Steve McQueen and Paul Newman as actors/racers.

But mention James Garner, and even today the first thing likely to spill from peoples' lips is The Rockford Files, NBC's series that ran from 1974-80. Loosely based on Garner's Bret Maverick, brought into modern times, the private investigator Jim Rockford character landed Garner an Emmy Award in 1977.

Some old-timers like yours truly will also recall Garner in a popular series of Polaroid TV commercials in the late-1970s, early-1980s, sharing the screen with Mariette Hartley. The chemistry between the two was so genuine that many viewers thought the pair was married in real life, even though the commercials never really suggested that they were playing a wedded couple.

Garner left The Rockford Files in 1980, not because of poor ratings or disenchantment with the show, but because of the physical toll. Garner, who was an athlete in high school (football and basketball), insisted on doing his own stunts, and the result was significant damage to his knees and back.

In his later years, Garner really used his tall Oklahoman stature to his advantage, often playing rugged, wise cowboys and fatherly and grandfatherly figures. His characters would occasionally fall in love as well.

Speaking of falling in love, Garner did that well, too---and fast. He married Lois Clarke in 1956---just two weeks after they met. He remained married to her until his death.

Despite his own stable marriage, Garner once offered that "Marriage is like the Army. Everyone complains. But you'd be surprised at the large number of people who re-enlist."

And to show how much Bret Maverick resonated in Garner's hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, the city unveiled a 10-foot tall bronze statue of the actor as Maverick in 2006, with Garner present for the ceremony.

Garner once explained his acting theory, such as it was.

"I'm a Spencer Tracy-type actor. His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn't [or] looks for the easy way out. I don't think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote."

Here's the irony in Garner's words: he may have been acting and "putting himself aside," but to watch him on screen was to have the feeling that James Garner was just being James Garner.

He could have done much worse. And so could have we.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Rockets' Red Blare

I'm beginning to think that the celebration of Fourth of July with fireworks is carrying on longer than the Revolutionary War itself.

In our neighborhood, the pop-pop-pop of things with fuses starts in late-June and is still going on, and this is nearly a week after the 4th.

Granted, the pace is slowing, but why are we still hearing things that go boom?

If people still possess these firework-like items, what are they waiting for?

Maybe I'm more sensitive to this because we have a dog, and he's not unlike many other canines who don't appreciate the rockets' red glare. Last night we set out for our evening stroll and just five minutes into it, something went boom and just like that, our pup was making a beeline for the house.

I'm as patriotic as the next guy, but do we need to hear the commotion (sometimes past 11:00 p.m.) for a three-week period?

I could go into the accidents, some tragic, but that's piling on. It's unfair to take pot shots because some of these mishaps are truly not the result of being careless. The highest profile ones to Detroiters---the death of a 44-year-old man and the loss of an eye of channel 7 meteorologist Dave Rexroth---appear to be nothing more than horrible accidents.

Still, this is what can go wrong when lighters are set to fuses, when those doing the lighting are not professionals.

But back to the ever-growing July 4th "season."

I understand the concept of a Christmas season, with decorations going up after Thanksgiving and staying up past New Year's Day. I get it with Halloween as well. It's fun to look at how creative people can get with their homes. Sometimes we like to pour some hot chocolate or coffee and just hop into the car and drive around, looking at the displays.

But those are nice, quiet holiday seasons. Independence Day is all about twilight's last gleaming---and it seems to be every twilight for 21 days straight, at least where we live.

As I write this, I must admit that things are quieting down quite a bit, but it's July 10th, for crying out loud, and the bombs are only just now abating.

I guess my biggest question is, if you shelled out the dough for the higher-end fireworks, why are you holding onto them well past July 4th? It's not like these things are being discovered in a basement somewhere.

I know there isn't a hard-and-fast rule here, and I don't want to come off like a sourpuss (maybe that ship has sailed), but at the risk of sounding like a prude, this does fall into the realm of disturbing the peace, does it not?

Frankly, I quite enjoyed the night of the 4th around here. The celebration lasted for several hours and it was actually pretty cool and impressive, hearing all the rapid fire booming and seeing the pretty colors of fireworks that were mini-me versions of the awesome display we saw in Madison Heights the Sunday prior.

It had really ramped up on the 3rd and carried pretty strong into the 5th. No problem; it was the weekend. I get it.

But this started the last week of June and is only now slowing down. That's about three weeks.

As for the accidents, they're going to happen every year, no matter how many safety tips are floated around. It's sad but true---and inevitable.

But while some of those are unavoidable, what isn't is the setting off of fireworks for three weeks straight.

Or maybe we just chalk this whole thing off to the grouchiness of a 50-something white male living in the suburbs.

That "season" is much longer than three weeks, by the way.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

You Couldn't Better Fretter

Before the commercial airwaves on television were taken over by ads for prescription drugs, lawyers and car insurance companies, there was the wild and crazy pitchman.

Every city had them.

The products being pumped were usually electronics, appliances and used cars.

The ads were low on productions costs---usually all we saw was the pitchman screaming into the camera with an occasional glimpse at what he was hawking.

The emphasis was on the supposed insanity of the pitchman, because the deals were so good, you see.

New York had Crazy Eddie, who pitched electronic gizmos while shrieking maniacally at the viewer.

And Detroit had Ollie Fretter.

Fretter, who passed away Sunday at age 91, blanketed the TV and radio ad space with commercials for his appliance store, starting in the 1960s and continuing for about 30 years. He promised five pounds of free coffee if he couldn't beat your best deal.

The appliance wars in Detroit were hot in the 1970s and '80s. Fretter went up against Highland Appliance's creative ads on TV, and Adray Appliance didn't do as much TV advertising, but Mike Adray was in the game. He sponsored lots of little league baseball and hockey teams to help keep his name on people's lips.

We fell in love with the items that Fretter and Highland advertised on television. It was a time when microwave ovens, stereos, color TVs and newfangled refrigerators/freezers hit the market with gusto.

At the forefront was Ollie Fretter, who didn't scream, but who was very prevalent in all his ads, never afraid to look silly and foolish on camera as he shamelessly plugged his metro Detroit locations.


Ollie Fretter, ever shameless

But it was the tag line about the free coffee that became iconic, not unlike Mr. Belvedere's "We do good work," which ended all of those home improvement commercials.

Fretter was hardly the only Detroit-area pitchman on TV at the time.

There was Irving Nussbaum for New York Carpet World ("The BETTER carpet people"); the aforementioned Belvedere; Mel Farr "Superstar" (Ford dealership); and a host of other car dealers, like Walt Lazar Chevrolet and Bill Rowan Oldsmobile.

These days, law offices are all over the dial, but of course it would be unseemly if those types got wacky on the air.

There was no shame in screaming about a steal of a deal on appliances and used cars back in Fretter's day.

In fact, we all waited to see what Ollie's next spot would bring. Each one seemed to want to outdo the previous in terms of silliness.

Fretter shuttered the last of his stores in the early-1990s. His was one of many dominoes to fall around that time as store after store went out of business, outdone by national, big box retail chains.

I always wondered if Ollie ever gave away any free coffee.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting Tanked

Today I found out something new and potentially very helpful.

As often happens, lessons learned are done so the hard way.

I used to be a charcoal guy when it came to outside grilling, but in 2008 I broke down and bought a gas cooker at Kmart. If nothing else, my lovely bride would have a much easier time when she had a hankering for tossing some steaks on the barbie before her husband arrived home.

I have come to accept the lack of charcoal cooking in my life, but there was one thing about gas cooking that stymied me and until today, continued to do so.

How the heck do you know when your propane tank is running on empty?

It has happened more than once, where I've been midway through some steaks or chops or chicken and the flames grew perilously smaller and smaller until they finally went out altogether.

And, more than once, yours truly has had to turn off the burners, disconnect the tank and hurry it down to the local U-Haul or Home Depot for a refill---not unlike a pit stop for refueling.

On one of those occasions, several years ago, I asked the young man filling my tank what I could do to determine how much gas I had left with which to work.

He gave a convoluted answer that involved dunking the tank in a tub of ice water or some such thing and looking on the tank for where the water started to bead up on it. Or something like that. I'm sure I'm getting it wrong. Regardless, it sounded like way too much work. So I continued to play Russian Roulette with my propane tank.

This evening I played Russian Roulette and again shot myself in the skull.

Midway through the pork chops, the flames flickered.

I told Mrs. Eno that we weren't likely to make it, which displeased her.



Within moments, the flames were out. So again I went into pit crew mode and ran the tank over to the U-Haul, just minutes before closing time.

I decided to give my query another shot.

"Is there a simple way to tell when your tank is running low on propane?" I asked during re-fueling.

Why, yes there is, the U-Haul guy said.

He said it with such brilliant simplicity.

"Do you have a bathroom scale?" he asked. I said yes.

"Forty pounds is full. Twenty pounds is empty," he said.

That was it.

No dunking tanks. No looking for beading up or whatever.

Just weigh the darn thing.

"So let me get this straight," I said, as if there was a catch. "I weigh the tank and if it's, say, thirty pounds, it's half full?"

That's right.

And if it's 25 pounds it's one quarter full, etc.

Brilliant.

I started to tell the U-Haul guy about the convoluted method and he waved me off before I could finish.

I excitedly relayed this to Mrs. Eno when I arrived with my now 40-pound tank. She was still sour about my running out of propane again and failing to do Google research about propane tanks. Fair enough. I Google a boatload of useless info, so she had a point.

Voila! I now know the method to determine whether my propane tank is in danger of petering out or not.

Which, of course, begs the question.

What are the odds of me disconnecting my tank in order to weigh it?

Somehow I have a feeling that my days of playing Russian Roulette with my propane tank aren't quite finished.

However, judging by the look on my wife's face tonight when I ran out of cooking gas, maybe I'd be playing Russian Roulette with my marriage if I took the lazy way out.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Bradys' Glue in Blue

The wise-cracking maid/butler/servant in situation comedies has been a trope for nearly as long as folks first started flicking on televisions in the 1940s.

So by the time Ann B. Davis showed up to help stay-at-home mom Carol Brady in 1969, she was hardly the first of the hired help in TV history to get some funny lines.

But Davis, who played Alice in "The Brady Bunch" from 1969-74, will go down as one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, live-in helpers of all time.

We lost Davis yesterday at age 88, the victim of a fall in her home.

Unlike some of her brethren on screen---before and after the Bradys---Davis' Alice wasn't snarky or mean-spirited and didn't try to steal the scene. Her lines were delivered with a dose of humility and with a good heart.

Davis was more like Sebastian Cabot's Mr. French in "Family Affair"---subtle but omnipresent. You knew Alice was always around, even if she wasn't chewing the scenery and always going for laughs.

Even "Brady" enthusiasts wondered why Carol Brady needed a maid when she didn't work outside of the home, although that wondering likely came when the viewers grew up and turned into parents themselves.

But who cares why the Bradys needed Alice; we're just glad that they hired her.

It's not a reach to say that Alice was the glue that held the Bradys, and by extension, the show together. In the very rare episodes where Alice didn't appear, watching them was very odd.

Davis embraced her role as Alice, always participating in the reunion shows and other get-togethers with the cast. She didn't look back with any bitterness at being joined at the hip with her alter ego, like some of the cast members did (*cough* Robert Reed *cough*).

After the show's initial run, Davis went back and forth between the ministry and acting. But when the producers called her name, she always responded.

Speaking of her name, she explained her use of her middle initial (B for Bradford) thusly.

"Just plain Ann Davis goes by pretty fast."'

Watching Alice in her iconic blue uniform is a calming memory for those of us baby boomers who grew up making sure we were camped in front of the television on Friday nights. Of course, since "The Brady Bunch" is one of the most widely syndicated shows in TV history, we can pretty much turn on the boob tube on any given day at any given time, somewhere in this country, and catch a rerun.


Ann B. Davis (1926-2014)

Davis had the comedic acting chops to be the focus when she needed to be in "TBB", and she could be a straight woman if that's what was needed. She could be the butt of the joke and she could offer gentle advice to the kids if necessary. No other maid or butler exhibited such versatility.

Contrary to some people's belief, Davis' career didn't just come to life starting with the Bradys.

For several years she was the love struck secretary Schultzy on "The Bob Cummings Show" in the mid-to-late 1950s. Her unrequited fawning over Cummings was the joke, but her range was more than that.

She had Michigan ties, too; Davis received her Bachelors degree in theater from U-M in 1948.

But in the end, Ann B. Davis will forever be remembered as Alice, and that's pretty much it. Not that she ever complained.

In an interview with the Associated Press in 1993, Davis tried to explain why Alice was so revered.

"I think I'm lovable," she said. "That's the gift God gave me."

And it was the gift she paid forward to millions of TV viewers, young and old.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Safety in (Recall) Numbers

The recall of a car seems to be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" kind of proposition.

General Motors is recalling cars almost as fast as they're making them, but what is worse---recalling cars or ignoring the problem?

If anyone knows both sides of that sword, it's GM.

Nearly 14 million GM cars have been recalled in 2014, and the year isn't half over.

The latest mulligan for General Motors is the Chevy Aveo, which the other day became the 30th GM vehicle to be recalled in 2014. The 218,000 subcompact Aveos brought the grand total of recalled GM cars to 13.8 million.

The latest recall involves Aveos in model years between 2004 and 2008. The daytime running light module in the dashboard center stack can overheat, melt and catch fire.

Of course, nothing is worse than a recall born out of deaths, and GM knows all about that, too---with its infamous ignition switch debacle from earlier this year that is responsible for at least 13 deaths (according to GM; suing lawyers say the number is 53).

No injuries or deaths have been reported as yet in connection with the Aveo recall.

Yes, recalling nearly 14 million cars isn't the greatest thing for consumer confidence, but neither is under-reporting or non-reporting problems, as might have been the case with the ignition switch thing.

General Motors, which at one time was among the largest and most robust companies in the entire world, has been, to use an appropriate analogy, spinning its wheels in 2014.

The ignition switch problem, which may have gone on for about 10 years before GM did anything about it, is costing the company $35 million in fines.

But again, what is worse---recall or looking the other way?

I'm reminded of the restaurant that is cited for a slew of health violations and is then host for high profile dignitaries after the problems have been addressed, to supposedly prove how safe it is.

Well, of course it's safe! A restaurant coming off health violations ought to be the safest in town, don't you think?

Maybe GM cars will soon be among the safest on the road, seeing as they are being built under hawk-like eyes these days.

Regardless, the question begs: why so many recalls in 2014?

Jeff Boyer, GM's new safety czar, recently told the media that the ignition switch problem led GM to look at a slew of safety issues with its vehicles, and that begat the spate of recalls.

Makes sense.

Make that, dollars and cents.

So far in 2014, GM is on the hook for $1.7 billion in recall-related charges.

That's a lot of dough, but the loss of business already incurred due to the ignition switch mess is incalculable. How do you measure the number of folks who won't buy your cars?

GM is taking its safety concerns as seriously as ever these days. Boyer, for one, holds the title of vice president, and that's a first in the area of safety for GM.

My parents used to own GM cars only, because my father worked for the company. Now we own Fords, because my mother is a retiree.

But in comparing the two, I can only report from personal experience that I have had good luck with both GM and Ford cars. My 1986 Chevy Cavalier, for example, was driven hard for six years, racking up nearly 150,000 miles. It was still kicking when we traded it in for our 1992 Mustang.

The Mustang, for its part, is 22 years old and is still running.

So there.

It's been a tough year at GM for many reasons, but at least no one can say that the cars rolling off the assembly lines these days are being given the bum rush.

And isn't the bum rush what consumers don't want from their automakers?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Movies No-Longer-On-Demand

The corner video store has turned into the city video store.

Time was that you couldn't walk much more than 500 feet in any direction without running smack into a joint that rented VHS tapes. Then, you couldn't walk much more than 2,000 feet without running into a place that rented DVDs.

Now, you can drive for most of a Sunday afternoon without seeing more than a couple video stores.

They close all the time these days, but locally there is a closing that might tug on some heart strings.

I used to go out of my way to venture into Thomas Video. So did everyone else, because there was only one Thomas Video---literally and figuratively.

Thomas Video, the favorite of the intense B-movie fan, is closing up shop. To many, this is like the news of a loved one with a terminal disease passing away. You knew it was coming.

Thomas Video has been located in Royal Oak since 2009, but I remember visiting when it was on Main Street, south of 14 Mile Road, in Clawson.

Like I said, I went out of my way, even when I lived in Warren from 1995-2007.

I went out of my way because there was no place like Thomas Video (TV).

It wasn't so much about renting movies (maybe that was part of why they went out of business) as it was just taking it all in.

The lighting was drab, the place was littered with old, museum-like television sets and the videos were stuffed onto shelves in a sort of haphazard way. But the appeal was great.

Thomas Video was a destination spot because they carried movies and shlock that no other so-called "big box" store would dare touch.

I'm not talking about Godzilla movies from the 1960s. That was child's play for TV.

You had to be a hard-core movie historian or dweeb to have heard of half the titles that TV stocked.

There were also shelves upon shelves of hard-to-find industry magazines and books. There was also an impressive selection of comic books, almost as a complement to the movies---or maybe to keep with the nerdy theme.

Personally, I only rented a few titles. I mainly went there to browse. Maybe in a way I am partly responsible for the store's closing.

Even TV's owners saw the writing on the wall.

“We probably should have done this a long time ago,” co-owner Jim Olenski told the Detroit Free Press. “Business has been really bad over the last few years.”

TV started in 1977, right about when home video started to take off. But Olenski blames video-on-demand, NetFlix and other movie-viewing platforms for chomping into TV's customer base.


Thomas Video co-owner Jim Olenski in the late-1990s

The sad irony is that while those methods of watching movies have indeed taken down a bunch of video stores, TV prided itself on not being one of the bunch.

The appeal of Thomas Video was that you could find titles there that literally no one else offered. Yet that novelty wasn't enough to keep TV going, apparently.

TV wasn't just a store for hard-to-find titles. It also functioned as an intimate location for cult celebrities like The Ghoul and actor Bruce Campbell ("Evil Dead") to hang out and sign autographs.

Olenski put it best, in a self-tribute to him and partner Gary Reichel.

"We wanted to be the last video store standing, and we almost were."

Olenski and Reichel did better than many others who didn't have the guts or the vision to stock the titles that Thomas Video offered.

In fact, maybe that's why they survived for as long as they did.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mustang, Untamed

Our daughter just turned 21. And, parked in front of our house as I write this, is the car in which we drove her home.

I remember strapping her tiny, 4-lb. body into her car seat and securing her in the Mustang's back seat that day in June, 1993 in front of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. She was born two months premature, and thus weighed just 2-lb, 14-oz. when she was born via emergency C-section.

The Mustang was purchased in September, 1992, just before my bride and I were betrothed. Little did we know that some 21-plus years and 115,000 miles later, we'd still own the car.

But that's OK. It's been a good car. How could it not be, if it's old enough to legally drink alcohol?

It's starting to come apart at the seams now, which is to be expected. Rust is spreading like cancer.

But the Mustang still runs and it gets me front Point A to Point B. We just make sure that the distance between those two points isn't too far. We have a 2003 Mercury Sable for that.

The Mustang almost bit the dust some two years ago. It's a two-door, which means the doors are very heavy and put great strain on the hinging mechanism. It got to a point where you would have to do a lift-and-yank maneuver and then slam in order to properly close the driver's side door.

One day in 2012, I slammed the door shut after getting gas and the driver's side window shattered from the impact. It scared the bejeebers out of me.

So I took it to the collision shop and the proprietor delivered bad news. He could fix the door but it would be a job of monumental labor, because of where things were located and the work it would take to get to said things.

He suggested that I put the Mustang to sleep, due to inordinate repair cost.

Well, this was the Mustang. You don't just put a Mustang to sleep without getting a second opinion.

Collision shop #2 had a brighter outlook. Second opinions are good because you can always play the doom and gloom of the first opinion against the second. Often, the second opinion person likes to play the hero. And, stealing business away from a competitor is never a bad thing.

So second opinion guy said he would give it a whirl, and for a reasonable price.

Over two years later, the repaired door is still working. The Mustang was saved from euthanasia.

I still get compliments and inquiries about the Mustang. Usually it's at a gas station. Another customer will ask me if I am interested in selling.

Mustangs have a mystique.

Some seven or eight years ago, on a Saturday night, I drove the family to Royal Oak, ostensibly to get some food at our favorite Thai restaurant, Siam Spicy. We took the Mustang.

It was evident as we got closer to the city that something was going on. Traffic was very heavy. By the time we got to Woodward Avenue, it was all too apparent what I had done.

I had driven us right into the Woodward Dream Cruise!

I had no choice but to turn north onto Woodward. The bystanders and lookers-on assumed we were part of the Cruise, tooling around as we were in a Mustang.

They urged us to beep the horn and shouted words of encouragement from their lawn chairs, tipping their beer cans in honor of the great American Mustang.

I tried to tell them that I was just trying to grab some dinner with the family. Nobody heard me.

And, Siam Spicy was closed that night. So the trip was all for naught.

But the Mustang got one of its last moments of glory.

It's seen its days in various mechanic shops over the years. It has had brake jobs, new starters installed, new exhaust systems and sundry other work. It's been the Joan Rivers of cars.

But it still turns on when I stick the key in the ignition. And it still is the car we drove our daughter home in, and you can't put a price on that.

You probably couldn't sell it now, but it never was for sale anyway.

Long live our 'Stang!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Utash: We Can Only Hope

Sometimes the 24-hour news cycle gets extended.

Sometimes it's a 48-hour or 72-hour news cycle. And, on occasion, a story manages to stay in the public's consciousness for a week or more.

News stories anymore are like pieces of pasta thrown against the wall. Only some stick.

The Stephen Utash beating has beat the 24-hour news cycle, by far. Now the question is, Will it matter?

The Utash story is right out of a novel or a made-for-TV movie.

White suburbanite hits a young black boy with his pickup truck, in the city. The suburbanite stops to check on the condition of the boy and is then beaten senseless, perhaps to death (that's a part of the story that has yet to be resolved), by a mob of black men.

It's a story that almost had to happen, to provide the most recent litmus test of where we are as a society, particularly when it comes to violence and race relations.

The elements are all there, and if they weren't, the story wouldn't work as well. It would be a flawed test.

The driver was white, the hit boy was black. That's the only way this can work. Any other combo would either not tell us anything we don't already suspect, or it would be less newsworthy.

The white man is beaten by a mob of black men. Again, reverse it, and it's just another example of what so many people already suspect, and what so many other people vigorously try to defend.

The person who intervened and got the mob to stop beating the white man was a black female nurse. Author, author!

The white man lies in a medically-induced coma as the suspects are rounded up. Score another for the fiction writer.

Oh, and whites and blacks come together in churches around town and try to pray the violence away. Money is being raised for the white man's medical bills. Not bad, not bad at all.

And Detroiters did it all by themselves. They didn't need anyone to zoom into town to rally the troops.

The author did a bang up job on this one.

Ah, but it's all true.


Steve Utash

The Utash beating has a shot---an actual, legitimate shot---at bringing white and black folks together in an effort to take a collective look in the proverbial mirror.

Thankfully, the words "vigilante justice" have been rinsed off this story, revealing it to be what it really is---senseless, animal-like violence that wasn't advocating for anyone or anything, other than an opportunity to take something out on a poor man. A chance to get your licks in, for whatever reason.

Unlike others, though, I'm not convinced that the mob saw a white man and decided to go to town. Maybe we will never know for sure. Maybe the five (so far) suspects that have been arrested---four have been arraigned---will start chirping, even against each other. Maybe a motive will trickle out.

Maybe had the driver been black, he would have been beaten, too---once identified as the man who hit the boy. Again, we may never know. But we may, eventually.

The fact that no one in the beating mob---according to witnesses' recounting of the incident---appeared to show any concern for the boy's physical condition before they started whaling on Utash, is the most damning piece of this horrible crime.

And that's why the vigilante label doesn't fit and has been ripped off, rightly so.

You can't have vigilante justice if you don't know what the heck you're justifying.

The facts, of course, weren't all in when the mob sprang into action. They didn't know---or didn't care---that the child stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic. The boy was 10 years old---certainly old enough to know not to step into the street without looking both ways.

But that's another discussion entirely.

It's terrible, but often it takes something terrible to finally drum something into people's heads.

We can only hope that Steve Utash---and let's hope he survives and regains his wits---evolves into a turning point of sorts. He will not only be a man but a landmark.

Then again, the beating of Vincent Chin didn't necessarily change anything.

But that's the thing about hope. You're willing to throw the history books out the window and say, "Maybe THIS time."

Maybe this time.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

See You Later

It's not easy to be a trailblazer when so many of the trails have already been blazed, but David Letterman somehow managed to blaze one anyway.

You may think that late night television was an already-mined resource by the time Letterman, 66, came along in 1982, hosting "Late Night with David Letterman" on NBC.

It's true that TV at the witching hour was nothing new in 1982, having been first attempted some 30 years prior and being refined for 20 years by Johnny Carson when NBC gave Letterman a late night slot, following Carson's "Tonight Show."

But it turned out there was still plenty that Letterman found to do that not even the iconic Carson managed to discover.

Letterman announced today, somewhat shockingly during the taping of "The Late Show with David Letterman," that 2015 will be the year of his retirement.

"This (retirement) means Paul (bandleader Shaffer) and I can finally get married," Letterman said to a crowd that seemed to need the laugh to digest the news. But Letterman was serious---about the retirement part.

The longtime late night host said he had a phone conversation with CBS president Les Moonves not long before tonight's taping and informed Moonves that 2015 would see the end of Letterman's run on "The Late Show."

Letterman was a morning loser when NBC gave him a mulligan---a big time mulligan---and put Letterman where his milieu clearly was, in late night.

Letterman's morning show, which lasted just a few months in 1980, was a critical success of sorts (two Daytime Emmys) but a ratings disaster.

But he was back less than two years later, after midnight.

Where Letterman was able to forage---and where Carson either chose not to go or simply never thought of going---was in the mostly unexplored forest of pulling life's non-celebrities into the party.



While Carson would occasionally interview folks like an old lady who collected potato chips that looked like people and animals, Johnny's genius was in his gregarious chats with the famous and in his sketch comedy bits.

Letterman made 15-minute celebrities out of the every man with bits like "Stupid Pet Tricks" and "Stupid Human Tricks." He also made Larry "Bud" Melman---real name Calvert DeForest, a little-known actor but his day job was working for a pharmaceutical company---famous with Larry Bud's strangely humorous appearances, which many times made it seem like the joke was on Melman.

While Carson ventured into the crowd for bits like "Stump the Band," Letterman took it one step further and blended crowd games with cameos from comedic actor Chris Elliott, with hilarious results.

And while Carson had Doc Severinsen and Tommy Newsome leading the "Tonight Show" band and functioning as occasional kibitzing partners, Letterman and Shaffer formed almost a tag-team comedy duo, chatting during the first 10 minutes of each show like they hadn't spoken with each other all day.

It's no coincidence that pretty much every late night show after Letterman's employed a band with a leader who tried to be Paul Shaffer Light.

Sid Caesar and company started doing "Man on the Street" bits in the 1950s (something Carson never really did), but Letterman again turned it up a notch, beseeching the regular folks to partake in stunts and pull pranks on other unsuspecting folks---their colleagues, so to speak.

There are many other directions that Letterman took late night comedy and talk, but they are too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say that while the genre had been discovered, Letterman took that block of clay and molded it.

"The time has come," Letterman said today in announcing his retirement a year hence.

He wasn't emotional, he wasn't melancholy. He sounded like a man comfortable in his place and with his timing.

It was as if he was saying, "My job here is done."

Which, it is.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sugar, Spice and Puppy Dog Tails

Timberlake Christian School (TCS) in western Virginia buried the lead in their letter to the guardian of eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle. The last sentence was the most true and the most telling.

"We believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained indentity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education."

No kidding, it's not the best place for Sunnie's future education.

Like, I'd pull that child out of there yesterday.

Sunnie is an eight-year-old girl, but by her own admission and her grandmother's (Sunnie's legal guardian) own acknowledgement, Sunnie likes a lot of "boy stuff"---such as autographed baseballs and hunting knives, according to CBS-TV affiliate WDBJ.

But Sunnie also digs jewelry and stuffed animals, too.

"It's fun," Sunnie says of her varied interests---some of which don't seem to fit TCS' characterization of what a little girl should be.

Hence the letter, apparently quoting school policy, sent to Sunnie's grandmother, Doris Thompson.

The letter began ominously.

"You’re probably aware that Timberlake Christian School is a religious, Bible believing institution providing education in a distinctly Christian environment," the letter started, and nothing good usually follows a sentence such as that in a letter sent home from school.

And, nothing good did.


Sunnie Kahle

Why is it, that supposedly Christian entities---organizations based on ideals that are supposed to espouse and embrace inclusion rather than exclusion---seem to be the least tolerant?

And, from an educational standpoint, what happened to encouraging children to broaden their horizons and open up their worlds a little bit?

So an eight-year-old girl is sometimes confused for being a boy, as Sunnie told WDBJ. Is that the worst thing in the world?

For their part, school administrators told ABC 27 that they have not accused Sunnie of any wrongdoing; they just want the family to follow all guidelines set for students.

Good thing that the TCS folks are educators, because they certainly think we're all pretty stupid.

"Sunnie realizes she's a female but she wants to do boy things," Thompson told WDBJ.

How ironic that TCS is discouraging that, because it seems like a pretty damn good life lesson to me---that girls can do "boy things."

I mean, heaven forbid Sunnie grows up to be a CEO or a soldier or a fireman or something.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Life Outside the Bun

I admit it. I love Taco Bell.

There are so many reasons.

I have mocked it before, but I have been secretly in admiration of how the fast food entrant can make so much with such few ingredients.

Give the folks at Taco Bell a tortilla, some sort of meat, refried beans, rice and cheese, and stand back.

And they do it all without breaking the bank.

I can walk into a Taco Bell, order food for our family of four and still get a few bucks' worth of change from a $20 bill. Try that at McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's.

I like a good old-fashioned taco for 99 cents. A bean burrito (with extra onions) for $1.49. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to find anything on the menu for more than four bucks.

And the quality? It's not a matter of "you get what you pay for." For the price, I think the food is pretty damned good.

I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. I don 't pretend that Taco Bell is Mexican "cuisine." But I also don't experience that "I paid $3.99 for THIS?" feeling, either.



And you don't have to travel very far to find a Taco Bell, either. They are almost as ubiquitous as McDonald's.

This isn't a paid advertisement, even if it reads like one. I'm not getting a dime from the Taco Bell folks. Not that I couldn't use it.

But it occurred to me that we eat Taco Bell almost weekly. There's something devilish about walking out with sacks full of food for well under $20.

I have tried Del Taco, which is also near our house. And while I appreciate the delicious, pungent cilantro that is highly present in some of their items, it isn't Taco Bell---which I know is exactly why some people prefer Del Taco.

Bottom line: Taco Bell isn't for everyone. But it's cheap, it's filling, and it does great in a pinch.

Plus, I love chihuahuas.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

From Lion to Lamb? WHEN?

It's been a long winter, yet it's already mid-March.

Such a dichotomy.

It's been a winter that most of us would like to forget in Michigan, but it will likely be among the most memorable.

And the calendar keeps flipping. It didn't always feel that way.

Back in mid-January, which both feels like an eon ago and like yesterday, with Arctic temps and snow slamming us alternately, there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Depression began to set in at the thought of a bad winter merely getting started.

As the pounding continued, with precious few moments of respite, as January turned to February, you felt like a hamster on a wheel---running but getting nowhere. The only objective at that point was survival. Just getting through it.

Then, just like that, it's mid-March. Baseball season is just around the corner, which ought to provide hope and a feeling of spring's renewal.

But it's hard to feel that with temps in the 20s and the sidewalks and parking lots filled with patches of dangerous ice.

The calendar says we should be seeing robins and tulips. Instead, we see snow drifts and icicles.



The point being, no matter how harsh and punitive this winter has seemed to be, Father Time has indeed marched on, even when we thought he was going to slow to a crawl.

Remember how hopeless the winter appeared to be, when it was just after the new year and we were staring down the barrel of 10-12 more weeks of ice, snow and sleet?

Things are still kind of rough out there, but we're just two and a half weeks away from April.

March is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

So of course, the big question is, when are we finally going to see that transformation take place?

On March 31, I'm going to ask my lovely wife to make lamb chops. Maybe that will help.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Get Yer Red Hots On!

Tonight we're having hot dogs. This is a good thing.

My mom used to call it tube steak. Funny.

I love a good hot dog now and again. There's so much you can do with one.

Before I married my bride, we took a trip to Chicago for a long weekend. That's when I rediscovered my love for the Chicago Style Hot Dog.

Wendy's sold the specialty dogs in the summer of 1988, and I scarfed them up often. I was mesmerized by the combination of celery salt, mustard, pickled hot pepper, dill pickle relish and tomato that was globbed onto the tube steak, which was nestled in a poppy seed, thick bun.

Then the Wendy's promotion ended and it wasn't until our 1991 trip to the Windy City that I found a place that sold them. Chicago Style Dogs weren't plentiful on Metro Detroit menus, I came to find out. You know---our love affair with the Coney Dog and all.

The place in Chicago was called Madison Avenue Dogs, and they used their acronym to name their Chicago Style Dogs.

MAD dogs were a hit with us. Plus I loved the atmosphere in that place.

MAD was connected to a Thai Restaurant, and by the looks of things, Thais ran the hot dog joint, too.

You'd place your order---they offered many types of dogs but MAD dogs were by far their specialty---and the order taker would yell out, "TWO MAD!", "THREE MAD," etc., depending on how many you wanted.

My wife and I have dabbled with making our own MAD dogs at home. It's still a work in progress.


The Chicago Style Hot Dog

But I can go for any type of hot dog---boiled, grilled, what have you. I like the hot dog because it's one of those foods that turns into your own personal canvas. The hot dog is similar to the pizza in that regard, or a trip to the salad bar. Almost anything goes.

Diced onions, chopped up hot pepper, relish, mustard, you name it. Except for ketchup.

I don't do ketchup on hot dogs. My wife does, unashamedly. I just can't get into the flavor combo.

At old Tiger Stadium, the hot dog vendors carried with them two containers of mustard and none of ketchup. Someone once told me that was because the sugar in ketchup attracts flying insects.

Maybe it's just that mustard is the only proper condiment for a hot dog.

In the TV show "King of Queens," Kevin James' Doug Heffernan ate a hot dog with mayonnaise on it in one episode. His friend Deacon called him out on it.

"Who puts mayonnaise on a hot dog?" Deacon asks incredulously.

"I do," Doug responds. "And one day, so will everyone."

Um, no.

As far as I'm concerned, other than ketchup and mayo, you can put anything on a hot dog.

Our local Home Depot gloriously serves hot dogs for a couple bucks a pop. It's difficult to walk by the stand on your way in or out of the store and not stop for a quick tube steak.

But when we have the time and the ingredients, there's nothing like once again dabbling with the celery salt, peppers, tomatoes, mustard et al.

Isn't that MAD?