Archive for Enotes

Jan
13

Kept in the Dark

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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.

Categories : Enotes, weather
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Dec
24

(Not) Getting Carded

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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?

Categories : Enotes, holidays
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Dec
11

A True Miss America

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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.”

 

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Nov
04

Keep On Truckin’

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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.

Categories : economy, Enotes, society
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Oct
16

Wing Cha-Ching!

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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?

Categories : Enotes, food
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Sep
30

Smile! (Or not)

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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 cameraseverywhere 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.
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Sep
04

Avoidable Tragedy the Worst Kind

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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.

Categories : crime, Enotes, justice, laws, society
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Aug
28

“Whose Class” Action

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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.

Categories : education, Enotes
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Aug
12

Tears of a Class Clown

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“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.
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Jul
20

Tall, Dark and Oklahoman

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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.

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