Archive for Enotes
Which Dick Van Patten would you like to remember and mourn today?
Is it the actor Van Patten, who most famously seeped into our consciousness as Tom Bradford, the patriarch of the TV family on ABC’s “Eight is Enough” from 1977-81?
Is it the tennis player Van Patten, whose sons got some of the old man’s genes and did pretty good on the court as well?
Is it the animal activist Van Patten, who worked tirelessly for our furried and feathered friends, including founding National Guide Dog Month in 2008?
Is it the entrepreneur Van Patten, who co-founded Natural Balance Pet Foods in 1989?
Take your pick—or take them all, if you’d like.
Van Patten passed away on Tuesday at age 86. Some reports blame the cause of death on complications related to diabetes.
There was some juice to the Van Patten name in the entertainment industry. There was Dick, of course, and there was his younger sister Joyce, a fellow actor. There were the Van Patten boys—Vincent, Nels and Jimmy—who were all actors.
It’s so fitting that Dick Van Patten made his most pop culture hay as family man Tom Bradford on “Eight is Enough” because his own family tree is pretty interesting and runs like an artery through show business.
In addition to the aforementioned, check this out.
Van Patten’s sister Joyce married actor Martin Balsam, and the couple had a child—actress Talia Balsam.
Talia Balsam’s first husband was George Clooney. You may have heard of him.
Talia Balsam is now married to “Mad Men” actor John Slattery.
Van Patten’s son Vince is married to soap star and current reality TV personality Eileen Davidson.
Dick’s other son Nels is married to former “Baywatch” regular Nancy Valen.
For some, it may seem like “Eight is Enough” lasted longer than just four seasons, but that’s a testament to the show’s impact. It hit the small screen four years after “The Brady Bunch” filmed its last episode, and American TV viewers were ready for a family show featuring a large brood that was a little more grown up.
With “EiE,” entire episodes weren’t spent on trying to find the family dog or teaching kids lessons about humility. The show was about (mostly) grown-up kids who had more convoluted issues.
Of course, by the end of the hour, all the loose ends were tied up, but not before some laughter, some crying and some reflection.
Real-life tragedy was dealt with, as well.
Actress Diana Hyland was originally cast as Tom Bradford’s wife but she succumbed to cancer four episodes into season two. Her untimely death wasn’t ignored, like the shows from the 1950s and 1960s would have done—replacing the passed away actor with someone else playing the same character.
Instead, the producers of “EiE” dealt with Hyland’s death head on, writing it into the show, and the cast’s mourning on the screen was real.
Betty Buckley was brought in to play Tom’s new love interest (and eventual second wife), Abby, for seasons two through four.
Leading it all was Dick Van Patten, whose character was based on real-life newspaper columnist Tom Braden, who chronicled his large family with an autobiographical book also titled Eight is Enough—a reference to Braden’s (and Bradford’s) eight children.
Dick Van Patten was hardly the leading man type—thin-haired, slightly paunchy and with a round face. He looked more like your neighbor—which was likely why Tom Bradford resonated on the screen. Van Pattenlooked like a guy who had eight kids and who worked for a newspaper.
Van Patten’s Tom Bradford was also unlike other TV dads in the sense that he wasn’t written as a buffoon who somehow got a pretty, smart girl to marry him. The kids didn’t zing witty one-liners at dad’s expense; rather, Tom Bradford was a true patriarch who had his kids’ respect.
Van Patten was acting on stage and screen for some 28 years before he got the “EiE” gig, but he was treated by many viewers as a virtual unknown until 1977. Such is the power of being a lead actor on a successful TV show.
Van Patten was also a favorite of comedian/director Mel Brooks, who cast Dick in a number of films.
Such was Dick Van Patten’s varied interests that he even served as a TV commentator for the World Series of Poker from 1993-95.
Trivia: Van Patten named his son Nels after the character that Dick played in his first TV job, a series called “Mama” (1949-57).
Dick Van Patten didn’t light up the screen. He wasn’t that type of actor. But you were always aware of his presence.
Unlike some of his brethren who felt typecast and button-holed by roles they played on television, Dick Van Patten embraced Tom Bradford.
“I appreciate ‘Eight is Enough’,” he once said. “It made me recognizable.”
But he was influential in so many other ways, and for that so many are grateful.
Comedians/actors Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were married for 61 years, but had they not heeded warning signs, the marriage might have ended some 44 years ago.
The comedy team of Stiller & Meara was seemingly cruising along in 1970, having just enjoyed a nice run of 36 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s, when both members of the team/marriage sensed that something was amiss.
With an act based largely on their real-life domestic trials and tribulations, Stiller and Meara found that despite their success—or maybe because of it—the line between life at home and life on stage was getting further blurred as the years went on.
“I didn’t know where the act ended and our marriage began,” Meara toldPeople magazine in 1977.
“We were like two guys,” Stiller said in the same article.
With Meara questioning things and Stiller worried that he might lose his wife, the act was disbanded in 1970.
But they never stopped working together for very long at any given time; they just didn’t do so as the stage act Stiller & Meara.
The couple had been teaming up on a web series in recent years before Anne Meara passed away over the weekend. She was 85.
On television, Stiller and Meara were most recently seen sharing some scenes together on “The King of Queens,” with Stiller playing Carrie Heffernan’s widowed father Arthur Spooner and Meara playing the part of Veronica Olchin, the widowed mother of Doug Heffernan’s friend Spence Olchin.
Ironically, that series ended with Stiller and Meara’s characters getting married.
Stiller and Meara’s actor/producer/director son, Ben Stiller, produced the web series for Red Hour Digital, which Ben owns.
Anne Meara met Jerry Stiller in New York after a failed audition in 1953, and the couple was married a year later. But it took much prodding and several years of convincing before Meara agreed to join her husband on stage as a comedy team, whose only rival at the time in the male/female duo category was the team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols, who weren’t married.
Thus, Stiller & Meara would eventually become the entertainment industry’s longest-running, most successful husband and wife comedy duo, surpassing that of George Burns and Gracie Allen.
After the stage “breakup” in 1970, Stiller and Meara hardly disappeared from view or from listeners’ ears.
They did radio ads for Blue Nun wine, and appeared in television commercials together. They also teamed up in 1977-78 for “Take Five with Stiller & Meara,” which was a series consisting of humorous blackouts about everyday life.
Meara was no Gracie Allen, and that’s hardly a knock. Where Allen was George Burns’ ditzy foil, Anne Meara was Jerry Stiller’s equal, and then some—both physically and in terms of material. She was a tall, Irish, Brooklyn redhead whose height caused her to loom large on stage next to her husband, literally and figuratively.
Meara was a four-time Emmy Award nominee and she was nominated for a Tony Award once.
There was so much more to Anne Meara than being Jerry Stiller’s comedy partner—and Ben Stiller’s mother. There was the acting and the writing and the teaching and the trailblazing aspect to her career for other female comics.
Not bad for a woman whose own mother committed suicide when she was 11 years old.
Meara once gave a glimpse into what the secret was to staying married to a co-worker for over six decades, practically unheard of in show business.
“Was it love at first sight? It wasn’t then—but it sure is now.”
The only thing that is certain in the road rage trial of Martin Zale is that it was tragic.
A wife widowed. Children growing up father-less.
After that, it gets tricky.
Zale is the motorist who is accused of murder in the fatal shooting of Derek Flemming last September 2 in Genoa Township, at Grand River Avenue and Chilson Road.
Zale was allegedly driving recklessly and Flemming, on a beautiful afternoon after having lunch with his wife, didn’t appreciate it.
The vehicles stopped at a red light—Zale’s in front of Flemming’s—and Flemming got out of his vehicle to confront Zale. Witnesses say that Flemming looked very angry and had both fists clenched as he approached Zale’s truck.
Moments later, Flemming was dead—shot once in the face. He died instantly.
Zale didn’t flee; rather, he pulled off to the side of the road and called his lawyer.
Those are the basic facts. Zale’s trial is happening now, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to follow.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than what I have chronicled. But that’s what makes it so fascinating.
Who among us has never been enraged by another motorist?
Martin Zale at his trial
That’s what enthralls me about the Zale trial. So many criminal trials are difficult to relate to, because they involve actions or circumstances in which a vast majority of us would never find ourselves.
But Martin Zale and Derek Flemming? We’ve all been the latter and some of us, whether we choose to admit it or not, have been the former.
It’s just that in this case, Flemming took that extra step that many of us have fantasized about but have still managed to avoid actually doing—probably because of the fear of the fate that befell Flemming.
It’s a trial that so many of can relate to. And I believe that its verdict could have a ripple effect in several ways.
It’s also a trial where there will be no shortage of opinion or water cooler talk at the office.
As I said, the only non-debatable aspect here is that what happened was a tragedy. It always is, when something bad happens that was avoidable.
But there’s that word: avoidable.
It’s a sort of chicken and egg thing going on here.
You can say that Flemming initiated, in essence, his own death by climbing out of his vehicle to confront Zale.
You can also say that Zale initiated everything because of his allegedly reckless driving to begin with.
Then there are the backgrounds of the two men.
Zale, according to co-workers at least, was notorious for crazy driving. He also has another documented road rage confrontation from his past in which police were called.
Flemming, for his part, also–according to those who knew him—had exhibited behavior in the past that aligns with possible anger issues.
So there we have it—two known hotheads coming together to form a perfect storm of rage and reaction.
The easy thing to do—and I am among those who have done it—is to wag a finger and hold up Flemming as the poster boy for why you should never confront, and why you should call 911 instead.
But that doesn’t let Zale off the hook, of course. Flemming’s actions may have been ill-advised, but did they deserve the death penalty?
Maybe something like this was bound to happen, involving Martin Zale.
Perhaps the same could be said of Derek Flemming.
They’ll be talking about this one for years.
As if suicide isn’t rotten enough, it invariably raises more questions than it answers. That’s because suicide often doesn’t answer any questions at all.
Even a note left behind won’t necessarily satisfy all the curiosity. In fact, suicide notes are likely to create more questions than they answer, as well.
A suicide note is like a press conference where a statement is issued and the issuer scrambles away, without taking any queries.
Sawyer Sweeten is dead. Apparently it’s suicide.
Sawyer, on the verge of turning 20, was one-half of the identical twin actors who played Ray and Debra Barone’s twin boys on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2005). Sawyer played Geoffrey and Sullivan Sweeten played Michael. The twins’ older sister Madylin played older sister Ally on the TV show.
According to reports, Sawyer was visiting family in Texas when he apparently shot himself on the front porch of the house where he was staying.
In the early years of “Raymond,” star Ray Romano would say in the open that the show “is not really about the kids,” and he was right. The Barone children were often not seen at all in episodes. Not making kids foils or smart alecks was one of many ways in which “Raymond” was refreshing.
The Sweeten kids weren’t fed rapid fire one-liners by the writers. Their characters rarely acted out, and only on occasion was a “Raymond” storyline built around the children.
But today, it IS about the kids. One, in particular.
No word yet if Sawyer left a note. Not that it helps if he did.
Throughout entertainment history, the travails of the child actor after he/she is no longer an adolescent have been widely documented. I don’t know if studies have been made, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether former child stars are, statistically, prone to big people-type problems more than “normal” kids. But certainly their issues are higher in profile.
I would imagine that some of the emotional/psychological problems that child actors face start with a question that we have all asked about said stars, either to ourselves or of others.
“Whatever happened to…?”
That may be the crux of a lot of this stuff.
Whatever happened to the kid actors after they grew up and their shows ended up in syndication?
But maybe the kid actors are asking themselves, “What do I do now, now that the spotlights have been turned off and the acting jobs have dried up?”
The Sweeten kids: Sawyer (left), Madylin and Sullivan
Some of the kid stars turned to drugs. Some turned to alcohol. Some turned to both. Others followed their lives on set with a life of crime, almost immediately.
With or without a suicide note, the questions surrounding Sawyer Sweeten’s apparent suicide will never truly be answered, because the only person who possesses the answers and who can expound is gone.
And it might be that Sawyer’s demise had absolutely nothing to do with his having been a child actor.
Romano, who reminded us back in the day that his show wasn’t about the kids, reversed that course upon learning of Sawyer’s tragic death.
“I’m shocked, and terribly saddened, by the news about Sawyer,” Romano said in a statement.
“(Sawyer) was a wonderful and sweet kid to be around. Just a great energy whenever he was there. My heart breaks for him, his family, and his friends during this very difficult time.”
Big sister Madylin Sweeten told us to do something that shouldn’t take an untimely death to get us to do.
“At this time I would like to encourage everyone to reach out to the ones you love,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Let them have no doubt of what they mean to you.”
They were television advertising icons who resided on the banks of our cultural consciousness.
Mr. Whipple (Charmin bathroom tissue). Madge the manicurist (Palmolive dish detergent). The Maytag Repair Man. Even the Qantas koala bear.
Those were just a few commercial characters who invaded our living rooms in the 1970s and ’80s. Their ads—usually 60 seconds in length or even longer—were rarely the same. The format might have been nearly identical, and of course the tag lines were (“DON’T squeeze the Charmin!”), but each appearance by Mr. Whipple or Madge usually had them interacting with different customers.
The actors behind the characters were often nameless, as it should have been, but I’m sure their paychecks weren’t nameless—or paltry.
The pitchman on TV these days is usually a local litigator or a voice-over hawking prescription meds.
There isn’t really any character that is iconic—no one who, when they appear on the screen, instantly lets us know what product is being advertised.
Except for Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl.
Played by Stephanie Courtney (we only know that because this is the Internet age), Flo first started appearing on TV in the late-2000s. Her cheery attitude, dark hair, blood red lipstick and ridiculously long eyelashes, all packaged in an all-white uniform, screams insurance at the moment of seeing her.
To Progressive’s credit, the Flo ads are kept fresher than most other TV spots, which can gag you with their repetitiveness and lack of variety (i.e. those same three Liberty Mutual Insurance ads that are rotated).
Progressive has put Flo in all sorts of situations, from riding motorcycles to consoling a man in a locker room to being tied to a stake (in an ad that puts Flo in different eras in world history).
But unlike the advertising characters from days gone by, who were mostly universally liked (or, at the very least, tolerated rather easily), Flo, for whatever reason, is a polarizing sort.
My mother, for example, can’t stand Flo. I, on the other hand, find Flo attractive in an odd way.
Trolling the Internet, this polarization is acute.
There are Flo-hating websites and forums, as well as those that are visited by men who make no bones that they would like to do some things (sexually) to Flo that are unfit to print here. Other comments on Facebook et al have been from females who like Flo just because they think she’s likable.
Courtney, for her part, has never understood the allure of Flo, sexually.
“The GEICO gecko puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does,” Courtney has been quoted as saying.
Regardless of where you stand on the Flo issue, one thing can’t be disputed: She’s a throwback to a time when TV advertising was flush with identifiable characters and mascots. Back when TV hawked more than just insurance, beer, cars and drugs.
Flo’s Facebook page has nearly 5 million likes, though that number has been dipping in recent years from its peak of 5.4 million.
Like them or not, the Flo spots at least are freshened up rather frequently. Her character, these days, is seen less in that all-white, fantasy Progressive Insurance “store” and more in various situations and venues.
And, no doubt, Flo has made Stephanie Courtney’s wallet fatter than it likely would have been had she been forced to stick to more traditional bit parts on TV and in the movies, as she was doing prior to Flo.
You pretty much love Flo or you hate her; it’s hard to be on the fence with her. She’s the Howard Cosell of modern television that way.
The GEICO gecko, by the way, should get props for its popularity and freshness of new spots.
Who would have thought that the world of insurance would take over TV advertising?
The Rolling Stones are coming! The Rolling Stones are coming!
How much rolling they do nowadays, it’s anyone’s guess. They’re all in their 70s now.
The iconic rock group is touring this summer, and Detroit is on the travelogue, with the Stones playing Comerica Park on July 8.
This isn’t ageism, but one can only wonder how strong the voices are, how powerful the guitar riffs are and how much energy is in the tank for the Mick Jagger-led group, who can all order off the seniors menu at every restaurant in the country.
I’ve been listening to a lot of 1960s-era rock lately, thanks to a nifty little mobile app called Milk Music. The tunes (sans commercials) come in handy while walking the pooch.
The Rolling Stones are part of that, of course, but sprinkled in with the bands I am listening to are performers like Jim Morrison (The Doors), Jim Croce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass Elliot (the Mamas and the Papas) and others who died before their time.
So the question begs: what would have become of those artists had they lived as long as Jagger, Richards, Wyman, Watt et al?
The argument could be made that each of the aforementioned music artists, who all died in their 20s (except Elliot, who was 32 when she passed), were trailblazers for acts who came behind them.
But would their acts have stood the test of time?
We’ll never know, of course, but it’s still fun to imagine what kind of music The Doors would be pumping out in 2015, or if Croce’s ballads would have evolved over time or if Hendrix would still be wailing on the electric guitar some 45 years after he died.
Then again, there are many bands and individual artists from the British Invasion years that have pretty much vanished from the public eye—all while remaining alive and kicking.
The Rolling Stones are still a draw because they, like The Who, Paul McCartney and others who’ve been at this rock-and-roll thing for 50-plus years, pumped out so many hits in their prime that it never gets old for their fan base—many of whom are also in their senior years—to hear those hits performed live, no matter the age of the performers.
The bodies of work of Morrison, Croce, Hendrix, Joplin and Elliot, combined, averaged about four years at their peak. If it seems like it was longer, then that’s both a testament to their music’s influence and to the fact that they died young. James Dean only made four movies, believe it or not. Yet a prevailing belief is that Dean’s filmography is more voluminous than that.
Elvis Presley would have turned 80 in January. But forget The King’s music; how would those hips have held up?
My first experience with spicy food came when I was a youngster.
I was a latch key kid, and that included lunch. My grade school was literally across the street from the house, more or less. So I would let myself in and prepare my own lunch, as early as age 11.
This was circa 1974-75.
Nobody reported my mother to Child Protective Services. I managed to not burn the house down. I’d fix my lunch, eat it, and be back in class on time.
Somehow along the way I have lost that efficiency in my life, but that’s another blog post entirely.
The point being, my first encounter with spicy foods came in the form of those Vlasic hot pepper rings in a jar. Again, I was 11 and I started nibbling on those tangy, vinegar-encased yellow rings, usually combining them with a sandwich of some sort.
That was some 40 years ago, and it was way before I discovered Szechuan Chinese food, Indian cuisine and Thai delights.
It was also way before fast food joints and snack manufacturers discovered anything remotely on the warm side, spicy food-wise.
Today everyone is pushing spicy food.
Jalapenos are all the rage now.
Everyone from Frito Lay to Applebee’s to Burger King are putting jalapenos in their offerings.
Spicy food is everywhere. Buffalo style (fill in the blank); “bold” menu items; Cajun everything; Thai this and Thai that.
Not that I’m complaining.
My yen for bold, spicy and tangy foods clearly started with those latch key lunches in the mid-1970s. Vlasic hot pepper rings was my first experience. I remember it like a woman remembers her first kiss.
But I eventually had to eat something other than hot pepper rings to satisfy my growing craving.
My mom and I used to eat Chinese food a lot but it wasn’t until I went off to college and started working in Ann Arbor that I realized not all Chinese cuisine was of the Cantonese variety.
Spicy Chinese food? Really?
Some co-workers were getting take-out at a Chinese place down the street and it served something called Szechuan, they said. Never heard of it, I replied.
Oh, it’s good, they said. Very spicy and hot.
I probably cocked my head, like a bemused dog does.
But I for sure said that I was in on that!
Part of nature’s nectar
The food arrived and I’m surprised my taste buds didn’t all drop dead of a heart attack.
Never before had they seen anything like Szechuan Chinese food come down my gullet.
What a taste sensation!
So that’s when I got hooked on spicy Chinese food (circa 1982). That would change from Chinese to Asian when I discovered Thai cuisine, some five years later.
If I thought Szechuan (and Mandarin) was hot, I had no idea when it came to Thai food.
Thai food was invented for people like me. Intense heat, but still adjustable for individual taste.
Siam Spicy, on Woodward in Royal Oak, gave me my indoctrination to Thai food. I foolishly ordered it “extra hot” on my first visit. I dismissed the sweet waitress’s warning.
I should have listened to her.
But that painful (literally) experience didn’t dissuade me. I had discovered a treasure trove.
In the early-1990s I found out about Indian food. More delightful salivating ensued.
So here we are today, 40 years after I lost my spicy food virginity, and only now is the food industry catching up.
It’s a generational thing, I’m sure.
I was born in 1963. Today’s target demographic was born some 20 years after that, and they, as a whole, are more in tune with hot and spicy food.
They are less afraid and more adventurous eaters than the generation preceding them.
The products and menu items today reflect that shift in taste bud stamina. Although when the so-called spicy offerings first started to appear, they weren’t nearly hot enough for my liking. Now the heat level is increasing as the demographic is getting younger.
The easiest bet I ever won came some 30 years ago, when a friend wagered that I couldn’t eat an entire bag of extra hot potato chips without drinking anything.
I won a case of Molson Brador beer. Like taking candy from a baby.
I still eat hot pepper rings, by the way. Today I call it comfort food.
In the 1980s, HBO presented a comedy series called “Not Necessarily the News.” In it, pretend anchors used real news clips but altered them for laughs.
Cleverly inserted shots that the HBO show produced, interspersed with the actual clips, would be used for gags.
Of course, the notion of fake news on TV was hardly new at that time. “Saturday Night Live” began the trend in earnest with its signature Weekend Update segment not long after “SNL” debuted in 1975.
While “NNTN” was playful and Weekend Update was very sarcastic, always delivered with a wink and a smirk, there was still further to go in the fake news genre.
Enter Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
Where “NNTN” was produced sporadically and Weekend Update was weekly (during the “SNL” season), “The Daily Show” was exactly that—daily.
But that’s hardly where the delineation ended.
“TDS”‘s Jon Stewart was not part of a host rotation, like Weekend Update’s, which helped make stars out of everyone from Bill Murray to Dennis Miller to Seth Myers.
Weekend Update has always been presented in a breezy five minutes or so, while “TDS” has always been 30 minutes in length.
Stewart is one of two hosts that “TDS” has ever known (Craig Kilborn began when the show began in 1996 and Stewart took over by 1999), and he stunned his audience with the announcement this week that this will be the year that he steps down.
Kudos should continue to go to Kilborn, the ESPN grad whose smarmy delivery would forever brand “TDS,” but it was Stewart’s intellectually sharp, biting humor and longevity that cemented “TDS”‘s perpetual place in television comedy history.
“TDS” has been guested by a gaggle of political figures and other celebrities over the years, many of whom have been eager to share the stage with Stewart and engage in the ensuing repartee.
Such was the popularity of Stewart’s show that it spawned spin-offs, like Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” and “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.”
Stewart never hesitated to point out the absurdity and hypocrisy of politics, social issues and celebrity. He used his host’s chair as a bully pulpit, but it always seemed that those he bullied deserved it. Stewart possessed the incredibly difficult knack of being biting but not mean-spirited. He never tweaked anyone just for cheap laughs.
I believe that the ability to jab someone in a pointed way but sans brutality added to the humor of “TDS.” Stewart was no insult comic—he wasn’t Don Rickles sitting behind a desk.
Stewart was so entrenched as “TDS” host that it was easy to forget that he wasn’t one of the mainstream news anchors, but instead a gifted comedian and an actor/director whose career on the big screen is nothing to sneeze at either.
Comedians will tell you that the beauty of their craft turns up when their material practically writes itself.
Stewart didn’t have to try very hard to pull laughs from the daily headlines; so much of what goes on is good fodder. But that doesn’t minimize his contribution to television comedy.
Jon Stewart’s “TDS” not only poked fun at the news and newsmakers, it illuminated the injustices, ridiculousness and shamelessness bubbling just below the surface of them both.
Stewart pulled no punches, but at least those he tattooed had it coming.
Traditions are terrific things. Whether they run in families, bring together communities or even entire nations, there is no mistaking the notion that honoring tradition is a noble and cozy thing to do, when not misguided.
But let’s do away with the funeral procession, shall we?
In simpler, less crowded, less rude times, the funeral procession, particularly when done using the horse and carriage, was a fine way of respecting the newly-deceased.
Today, it’s more along the lines of a nuisance and, frankly, it can be dangerous.
The journey from church (or other nonsecular place) to the cemetery or mausoleum can certainly be a somber one. There isn’t a limousine leading the way with cans and string attached, with a hand-painted sign that says “Just Died.”
So I get it that commuting during an occasion of burial isn’t the most pleasant thing in the world. And I have nothing against respecting and honoring the dead.
But the funeral procession has worn out its welcome.
Today, with roads packed more than ever with vehicles, the idea of stringing together dozens of motorists and allowing them to pass through intersections and running red lights with impunity, simply isn’t very bright.
It’s nothing against the processioners, per se, although there does always seem to be one car that lags behind the rest, creating a potentially dangerous gap. It’s more about the rude, disrespectful motorists who aren’t part of the procession.
I just don’t think we need to drive en masse to a burial.
I think you can give folks the target address and driving instructions and say “We’ll see you there.”
An exception would be for something more stately, such as the funeral of a police officer or political figure.
If one of the purposes of a funeral procession is to show, in a very visual way, how beloved someone was, I am reminded of some sage words uttered by a wise person.
“The only thing that is going to determine how many people show up to your funeral is the weather.”
My inspiration here isn’t because I was recently inconvenienced by a funeral procession, though Lord knows that I have been. Nor is it because I have encountered strange and exasperating moments whilst driving in a funeral procession, though I once drove the entire way behind a car with no functioning brake lights (that was fun).
In fact, this really has nothing to do with inconvenience. It has everything to do with practicality and safety.
I don’t have the numbers, and maybe they don’t bear me out anyway, but I still think that you increase the chances of an accident anytime a funeral procession rolls on by.
Besides, they’re depressing.
What’s a more in-your-face reminder of mortality than watching 30 cars drive slowly by, following a hearse?
I see enough images of death and destruction on TV and the Internet to last me a lifetime, thank you very much.
Would death be any less significant and the occasion of a funeral be any less morose or somber if we stopped traveling to burials in herds?
I recall a stand-up comedian once remarking that as a show of life’s cruel irony, the only time you get to drive through red lights and stop signs is when you’re dead and can’t enjoy the gratification.
Besides, in my non-funeral procession fantasy world, if I really want to drive miles and miles in a tight-knit pack while pumping my brakes, I have that opportunity, twice a day: my commute to and from work.
I think one of the most depressing parts of winter is that we spend it cloaked in darkness.
It’s dark when you wake up to get ready for work. The afternoons are often overcast and everyone has to drive with their headlights on. It’s dark when you drive home from work. You can go days without seeing any serious sunlight.
In Michigan, you can pretty much put your sunglasses in the drawer in October and not pull them out again until April—if you’re lucky.
It’s like in wintertime, we’ve all forgotten to pay the light bill.
That’s why, when you get a day of sunshine in the winter, your eyes hurt. You spend the day squinting. Everyone looks like Robert De Niro in every movie in which he’s ever appeared.
But there’s something called the Winter Solstice, and we actually passed it a few weeks ago—December 21 to be exact. And when you pass the solstice, you’re in for longer days, slowly but surely.
When I was a kid, I remember folks talking about December 21 as being “the longest night of the year.”
Kids, as we know, tend to take phrases literally. I was no exception. One year, I heard all the blather about December 21′s “longest night” and when that night actually came, I thought it would be dark for the whole next day.
The “longest night” aspect, of course, is an astronomical phenomenon rooted in minutes, not hours.
But that’s not what kids hear.
So here we are, 23 days past the Winter Solstice and while it’s still mostly dark out, the commute home from the office isn’t quite as depressing anymore. I take heart in the fact that from this point forward, nightfall stays away a tad longer, day by day.
But it’s still dark a lot.
This photo was likely taken at 1:00 in the afternoon during a Michigan winter
I like December 21 in the same vein that I dread June 21, the Summer Solstice.
Because after June 21, the days start to get shorter.
I love it that in the summer, the clock will read 9:25 p.m. and you could still mow the lawn if you want. There’s that much sunlight still available.
But after June 21, sunset creeps closer and closer. It’s like a slow water torture.
By August, 8:00 becomes the point where you need flashlights outside. A couple months later, with the leaves on the ground and with more chill in the air, sunlight becomes a precious commodity.
Then we start the whole depressing winter thing all over again.
This blog post may seem like an exercise in futility, because no amount of complaining in the world is going to change the Earth’s axis. We can’t rally and join hands to make our winter days filled with more sunshine.
But I write this because today it hit me—I made it home after work with a sliver of sunshine left in the sky. It was gone a few minutes later, but this is improvement.
Plus, in Michigan, the longer the days get in the winter, the more we get to see all the snow that needs to be shoveled.
Give and take, you see.