Archive for society
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.
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.
The National Football League’s roots in the 1920s were planted in sleepy burgs across the Midwest. It was a small town league, offering the curious something to follow until the next baseball season.
The franchises were located in such dazzling metropolises as Canton, OH; Racine, WI; Akron, OH; and Rock Island, IL. The locations were fitting, when you consider that the league itself was founded in an automobile showroom in Canton, on August 20, 1920.
In 1921, the Akron franchise (the Pros) was one of several which had one of its players double up as the coach.
Fritz Pollard, who stood 5’9″ and who was listed as weighing all of 165 pounds, coached the Pros. Mainly a running back, Pollard’s tremendous speed and elusiveness as a player caused legendary sportswriter Walter Camp to remark that Pollard was “one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen.”
Pollard coached Akron in 1921—the league was known as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) back then—to an impressive 8-3-1 record, all while maintaining his roster spot as a running back, scoring seven touchdowns on the season.
But Fritz Pollard wasn’t just any coach in the APFA—he was the only African-American one in the league.
Pollard lasted just one season as a coach, and in 1926 he was dismissed as a player as well, when the NFL (name changed in 1922) booted Pollard and the other eight black players at the time out of the league, permanently.
Pollard wasn’t just a footnote in pro football history. After being kicked out of the NFL, Pollard organized all-black barnstorming teams, playing under names such as the Harlem Brown Bombers. This barnstorming continued into the 1930s.
The NFL didn’t go the black head coaching route again until 68 years after Pollard coached the Akron Pros, when Art Shell became coach of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989.
While Fritz Pollard should be lauded for his stature as a league pioneer, it would be disingenuous to say that he paved the way for Shell to coach the Raiders. Nearly seven decades kind of dilutes Pollard’s participation toward Shell’s hiring.
But Shell, who played for the Raiders to the tune of a Hall of Fame career as an offensive tackle, is rightly recognized as the modern game’s first black head coach, and thus was indeed a trail blazer of sorts for those of color who followed him on the sidelines over the past 25 years.
The Lions’ Jim Caldwell is one who should give a nod of appreciation to Shell—and, maybe more so, to late Raiders managing general partner Al Davis, who hired Shell after firing Mike Shanahan.
It took the Lions a little bit longer than some franchises—but quicker than others—to hire an African-American head coach. Caldwell became the first on January 15, 2014.
Many Lions fans, if they had their druthers in January, envisioned Ken Whisenhunt as the one who would open training camp on Monday in Allen Park. Whisenhunt, who is white, was seen as the Lions’ first choice after firing Jim Schwartz.
But Whisenhunt spurned the Lions and never got on the private plane that was famously waiting for him in San Diego, ready to jet the Chargers’ offensive coordinator across the country where he would, presumably, get a contract offer in Detroit.
I am not, for a moment, suggesting that the popularity of Whisenhunt over Caldwell, in the fans’ eyes, had anything to do with race. For whatever reason, Whisenhunt’s resume excited the Lions fan base more than did Caldwell’s.
Frankly, the fact that Caldwell is the Lions’ first black head coach kind of slipped my mind until it was brought to the fore on Saturday, when the coach was honored by the Detroit Historical Society’s Black Historic Sites Committee for the distinction.
The celebration of Caldwell’s status was nice, but it was low-key and it should have been. For despite the fact that Caldwell is the Lions’ first black head coach, thankfully those of Caldwell’s ilk aren’t a novelty anymore in the NFL.
Not that the league couldn’t do a little better in that regard, as Caldwell pointed out on Saturday, but in his usual classy way.
“It’s (black head coaches) come a long way because of the fact that I think now there might have been 47 (African-American coaches) that have gotten that opportunity (in NCAA Division I football), if I’m not mistaken,” Caldwell told the Detroit Free Press.
“And in the National Football League there’s 17, I think, that have gotten that opportunity, even some of those that have been interim. So there’s been quite a few guys.
“I think it’s changed quite a bit in my lifetime. You can see some progress in that area, but certainly a long way to go.”
The Lions are the only team in the NFL with a black head coach and a black general manager, something that has happened just once prior in league history. That, too, should be celebrated, but not without some concern.
The NFL has always been a little slow on the uptake when it comes to minorities holding positions of power and influence, though progress is indeed being made.
But I don’t believe the fans in Detroit care if the football coach is white, black, blue or purple. The Lions haven’t won a league championship in 57 years. To give that perspective, remember when the Red Wings finally ended their Stanley Cup drought in 1997? That was a mere 42 years between Cups at the time.
Caldwell was not quite three years old when the Lions beat the Cleveland Browns to capture the 1957 NFL championship.
Now he is set to open his first training camp as the first black head coach in Lions history—and the team still hasn’t won it all since ’57.
Jim Caldwell was properly honored on Saturday night, but that distinction should lose its luster pronto. The Lions were hardly on the cusp in this regard, as Caldwell followed Shell in Oakland by a quarter century.
Since Shell in 1989, the Lions have gone through eight head coaches before hiring Caldwell (including interim coaches). Three of those guys were assistants who’d never been a head coach in the NFL prior to Detroit—hired when there were eminently more qualified black men available at the time.
But that’s all ancient history now, right?
Caldwell’s being black won’t shield him from criticism when the Lions falter, and it won’t help give him accolades when times are good.
He will be judged solely on his win/loss record.
I think even Fritz Pollard would agree with that notion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few weeks ago, hurried and on my lunch break, I stepped into the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Royal Oak. My goal was simple: purchase a newspaper.
Every Friday I cash my paycheck in Royal Oak and then take in lunch somewhere in town. But I’m one of these people who can’t eat alone if I don’t have something to read. Hence the newspaper.
My usual provider, the gas station by the bank, was out of papers, so I remembered B&N.
The bank took longer than usual, so the sands in the hourglass were dwindling. But hey, it’s only a newspaper, right?
The newspapers at B&N are located behind the cashier’s counter. They’re not self-serve.
So first I had to wait for a cashier, which knocked off precious seconds from my meal time. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part came when I voiced my request.
“Detroit News,” please, I said to the college-aged cashier.
He retrieved it. I had my dollar ready, eager to pay, leave, and look for sustenance to jam down my throat.
He needed to scan the newspaper, and that took a few tries before it beeped.
“Are you a Rewards member?” he asked.
No, I am not, I told him, as I jabbed the dollar toward him.
“E-mail please?” he asked.
My jaw dropped.
“For a newspaper?”
He gave me a sheepish look. “I just want to see if you’re in the system.”
Again, I said, “For a newspaper?” although with much more irritation in my voice.
By this time I sort of tossed the dollar toward him. But he still clutched my newspaper, holding it hostage.
He could see that I was not a happy camper—my annoyance was hardly subtle—and he looked at his co-worker, as if unsure of what to do with a man who just wanted to buy a newspaper and who wasn’t a Rewards member and who didn’t want to provide his e-mail address in order to purchase said newspaper.
I had had enough.
“I’m in a hurry. Can I just please have my newspaper?” I said.
Finally he relinquished it.
Now, this entire exchange obviously took less time than it did for you to read about it, but when you’re in a hurry and all you want to do is buy a newspaper for one dollar and you can’t do it without being asked about memberships and e-mails, your stomach grumbling, each second translates to ten times its length.
Thankfully, my normal newspaper provider (gas station) hasn’t run out of papers since. And if they do, I’ll be damned if I wander into B&N to purchase one. I’ll do without, or try to find a box dispenser.
I love the gas station, by the way. I grab a paper, give the attendant a dollar, and walk away. If there is someone ahead of me in line who is buying cigarettes or lottery tickets (don’t get me started), I just put the dollar on the counter, wave my newspaper so it is seen, then walk away. The attendant has my back.
At the gas station they don’t need to scan the paper. At the gas station they don’t ask me any questions. All they do is take my dollar and tell me to have a nice day. I love the gas station.
But this inconvenience, such as displayed at B&N, is happening all over. The ability to make simple purchases without being asked to present membership cards or provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses is slipping away from us. K-mart asks if you want a paper receipt or one e-mailed to you—even if all you’re buying is a gallon of milk. And the answer you give can’t be verbal—it has to be registered on their debit card thingy.
But hey, this is progress, right?
Happy New Year. Or happy new year, however you choose to look at it.
As I watched the big ball drop on Tuesday night in Times Square, I jokingly asked my daughter what life would be like if we did that for the change of every month instead of year.
Seems silly, of course.
But so does, when you think about it, going through all the expense and effort to mark the start of a new year. Or New Year.
It’s perhaps too cynical—even for me—to say that January 1 is “just another day,” but it truly is. It is different, however, in one respect: It’s the one day when no one has ditched their new year’s (or New Year’s) resolutions—yet.
Ahh, about those resolutions.
There’s a funny commercial playing on TV right now where a small boy calls it the New Year’s “revolutions.”
I kind of like that.
You do have to revolt, in a way, if you’re going to commit to doing something different from how you’ve been doing it, which is essentially what a resolution is.
The revolt is internal. A civil war going on inside your body and brain.
The little dudes inside your head have to declare that there is a revolution, and then they have to start symbolically dumping tea into the harbor, i.e. those bad ways you are trying to get rid of.
A new year’s revolution.
I don’t do resolutions—or revolutions—per se. I make mental notes to change and then hope for the best.
Not working out too good for me, but there you go.
I don’t do anything involving weight. I’d like to drop a few pounds, like anyone else. But I don’t do any numbers crunching or obsess with the scale in the basement. Notice I said basement.
I don’t resolve to change my eating habits, which goes along with the above. My wife is Italian and Polish. I get what I get, and I scarf it down happily. If I lose weight because of diet, it’s akin to finding a dollar bill in the laundry.
I don’t make any commitments professionally. I don’t set out to write X-number of blog posts or set any goals at work. That may sound lazy and uninspired and displays a shocking lack of motivation, but I figure, why set myself up for failure?
In short, my revolutions internally are weak and quickly squashed. I’m the Bay of Pigs of self-improvement.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a success and that I don’t care about my body or that I have indifferent feelings toward my fellow man.
It just means that when all is said and done, the status quo is OK. I’ll continue to help out my wife around the house, put in my 40 hours at work and be as good of a dad as I can be. I’ll say my prayers at night and make it a point to perform a random act of kindness now and again.
Wherever that leads me, so be it.
Happy N(n)ew Y(y)ear!
How long before video stores go the way of travel agencies?
Remember the local travel agent? They’d advertise on local TV and they had tiny offices with globes on the signs and maps on the walls. You’d ring them up if you wanted a surrogate to get you the best deal on a hotel in Chicago or a rental car in Boston.
Then the Internet struck, with its multitude of websites, and the American traveler became his or her own travel agent. The middle man, as so often has happened after the Internet, was cut out, like a tumor.
Why pay someone to do something that we could do for free, and still get discounts to boot?
So I wonder about the fate of the corner video store.
Actually, you may have to drive past quite a few corners before you find a video store these days.
NetFlix, the Red Box kiosks, the Internet (of course) and more people owning BluRay discs than DVDs, are all contributing to the slow death of the local video store, I’m afraid.
But some of it is the video store’s own doing.
Take late fees. Please.
One of the allures to the above alternatives to renting movies is that none of them will charge you a late fee. And late fees, if we’re just talking between us, is surely a big revenue gainer in the video rental business.
One of the reasons why late fees are so common is that the due dates for the movies are all over the map.
This one’s due in two days. That one’s due in three days. You have a full week on that other one. Oops, better get THIS one back TOMORROW. Or else.
We used to run a late fee balance at one of the local stores like a drunk would a bar tab.
Even asking for a printout of the due dates, which the store gladly provided, didn’t always prevent Video A, B or C frome being brought back tardy.
But here’s the deal: video stores must be feeling the heat from their competitors. So why not back off on the late fees? And I have just the idea to make that happen, and make the video store more attractive.
If I ran a video store, I’d advertise that every movie in the joint, from A to Z, was a one-week rental. Every single one.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a “new release.” Doesn’t matter if it came out on Tuesday, or 12 years ago. Every one of my films, you can have for a week.
Simple. Easy to remember.
Will people still be tardy, even under that arrangement? Sure. But that’s on them.
I’d even call my place One Week Video. Seriously.
Think of it. You come in, browse, grab a bunch of movies, pay me and know that everything is due one week from today. Simple. No muss, no fuss.
I’d even have seven different types of bags, each with a day of the week on it. You come in on a Monday, you get a Monday Bag. And so on.
“Honey, when are these movies due back?”
“What does the bag say?”
Of course, you go beyond the seven-day limit, and we have a problem. But I won’t tag you for very much. Promise.
It’s an idea that makes far too much sense, which is why it won’t be adopted.
Which is part of why the video store will join the travel agent, the drive-in movie and mini-golf in the Dungeon of the Forgotten.
Sooner, rather than later.
It’s another of the talking points pushed by the gun camp, symbolically accompanied by the throwing up of hands in the air.
“If you ban guns, only criminals will have guns.”
First, I am not in favor of banning guns. I fully believe in the Second Amendment to the degree that folks should have the right to protect their castles—even if deadly force is required.
I do, however, believe that reasonable, responsible gun owners can darn well protect themselves—and their homes and their families—with weapons that aren’t designed to mow dozens of people down in minutes.
But here’s the thing. These mass shootings that are being committed nowadays aren’t being committed by criminals. In fact, many times the perpetrator has no previous criminal record. Not even a parking ticket.
Like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old monster who shot up Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.
Lanza had no criminal record.
Neither did the shooter in the recent mall incident in Oregon. Same with the Aurora, CO theater shooter last summer.
The kids who committed the atrocities at Columbine weren’t criminals, either. Nor was the perp in the Virginia Tech massacre.
Loners? Yes. Troubled? Definitely. But not criminals.
Criminals aren’t committing mass shootings. Armed criminals typically rob or steal. Or trade on the black market. If they stockpile artillery, it’s to sell. They don’t acquire automatic weapons so they can shoot up a mall, a school or a movie theater.
Those are facts.
The folks who are arming themselves to the hilt, throwing on military-style vests and camouflage gear, aren’t criminals. They’re suffering from mental illness.
Until we start treating root causes rather than symptoms, we’re going nowhere in the effort to try to make what happened in Connecticut on Friday a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy.
It’s time to start educating about mental illness, which is still, in the 21st century no less, terribly misunderstood.
Look no further than the reports that Lanza may have been autistic, or afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Neither has ever been directly connected to violent behavior of any serious degree. Yet you just know that there is a segment of the population that will take the autism and Asperger’s thing and run with it. And you know that those afflicted with said disorders will now be looked at sideways.
There is so much we don’t know about mental illness. I’d say we’d better start getting a handle on it, because it ain’t going away.
If there is any common ground I can find with those on even the most extreme side of pro-guns, it’s that people are ultimately responsible for their actions. The gun provides them with the means of destruction, but not every gun owner commits mass shootings, so that should be a clue right there.
Lanza’s mother, Nancy, who was gunned down first last Friday, has been taking some posthumous heat for her decision to have guns of the magnitude that was used by her son, in the first place.
But even his own mother clearly didn’t understand the scope of Adam Lanza’s troubled state.
This is a time for experts in many arenas to sit down, together, and start hashing some stuff out. To do whatever we can to prevent another atrocity like Newtown from happening again is going to require serious, honest discussion from everyone across the gun, mental illness and law enforcement spectrum.
You’re afraid that only criminals will have access to guns?
It’s not working too well when the non-criminals get a hold of them, either.
For eight years, every Saturday, I have pumped out 1,000+ words about pastimes—kids games played by grown-up millionaires. I have mused about the merits of the Lions’ latest draft, the Tigers’ latest free agent signing, the Pistons’ latest implosion, the Red Wings’ latest Stanley Cup.
Not this Saturday.
This Saturday, there won’t be any hand-wringing over the NHL’s (latest) lockout. There won’t be any fussing about another Lions season gone wrong. No analysis about whether the Tigers should have committed $80 million to a pitcher. No unsolicited solutions to all that ails the Pistons.
What does any of that matter, when 20 precious children woke up, went to school, and ended up being carried out of their classrooms in body bags?
For many, sports is a diversion—a way to unplug, for 2-3 hours, the cord that connects us to our troubled lives. We shove our money problems, our marriage troubles, and our job worries to the back burner, so we can yell and scream at the TV and bring our sports teams’ troubles to the fore. Sometimes the logic seems ill, actually.
But it’s not real life, in the strictest definition. The drama is played out on the field, or on the ice, or on the hardwood. At the end there is a winner and there is a loser but none of it really matters.
Even Reggie Jackson, who didn’t meet a spotlight he didn’t like, once tried to put sports in perspective.
“I was reminded that when we lose and I strike out, a billion people in China don’t care,” Reggie said.
Sports is a diversion, but even that is kind of disingenuous to say. The line between sports and real life is being blurred, almost daily. The off-the-court, off-the-field, off-the ice news is capturing a larger slice of the information pie. Sports isn’t, any longer, just about hitting a curve or sacking the quarterback. It’s not just about how to defend the pick-and-roll or getting the puck out of your own zone.
They used to do a lot of killing in sports, but it was all figurative.
Kill the umpire! Kill a penalty. Kill the clock.
Lately, as we’ve seen with recent incidents involving players of the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, they’re killing people for real.
But on this day we don’t look to sports to divert us. The games go on, but today we are glued to our TV sets, tied to the Internet, frantically searching for answers that may never come, to a one-word question.
That three-letter word starts so many of our queries.
Why did a 20-year-old young man kill his mother? Why did he then drive to the school where she reportedly worked, and gun down the principal and a school psychologist?
And, the biggest “Why?” of them all.
Why did this young man, reportedly identified as Adam Lanza, march into a classroom and start shooting grade schoolers?
Why did his mother have such powerful weapons registered in her name, to which Lanza had access? Why didn’t anyone see this coming?
After the why come the next big questions, and those all start with “How?”
How will the parents of the dead children cope? How will the parents of the surviving children ever hope to re-instill a sense of security in their kids? How will the town of Newtown, Connecticut, a small burg of about 27,000 people (not unlike the size of Madison Heights, where I live), manage to carry on after the slaughter that occurred in their town?
You want to keep sports in this discussion, in an allegorical way?
Well, here it is.
The country has hit its two-minute warning. But it needs to get the football back from the gun lobbies before it can mount a game-winning rally.
We’re out of timeouts, too.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in the wake of the news of the shootings that “today isn’t the day” to talk about gun control. Someone should remind Carney that we have no timeouts remaining.
If the day to talk about gun control isn’t the day in which 20 of our babies are shot dead, sitting at their desks in a kindergarten class, then we’ll never have that talk.
The nightmare in Connecticut has pushed us to the brink. Our backs are against the wall and all that sports rot. The gun violence keeps getting worse, backing us closer to that wall. It wasn’t bad enough after Columbine, apparently. Wasn’t bad enough after a Congresswoman was gunned down at a public appearance.
We edged closer to the wall after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. And even closer, after the mall shooting in Oregon, just this week.
Now 20 little boys and girls are dead. If this doesn’t cause us to start kicking, clawing and scratching, trying to fight our way back from the edge of insanity, then the clock will run out and the game will be over.
For decades, the gun people have put all their chips on “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It’s a rallying cry that lacks common sense and immediately puts blinders on those who utter it.
It’s catchy, I grant you that. It’s also true in the most literal sense. A Glock or an assault rifle won’t, of course, kill someone if no one takes hold of it, aims it, and pulls the trigger. You got me there.
But people with guns kill people. Why doesn’t the gun camp think that’s as catchy?
Get ready for the argument of, “If only someone at the school was armed, then a lot of lives might have been saved.”
The old OK Corral argument. The notion that, like in the movies, a hero will draw his weapon, and pick off the bad guy with one shot, with no possible chance of collateral damage or stray bullets striking and killing others.
You think that’s really how it would go down if everyone walked around with a pistol on their hip? Or is it more likely that more people might choose to go for their weapons to “solve” problems, in a horrific moment of indiscretion?
Is the way to put out a fire, to throw more fire at it?
We’re at the two-minute warning. We have no more timeouts remaining. We need the ball back. The situation is just that dire.
We can’t put off the rally any longer. Twenty babies are dead. If that’s not a game changer, then we’re doomed.
The sandwich board is making a comeback.
I’m not talking about literal sandwiches here, like the kind you eat.
I’m talking the term often used for the signs those poor folks are holding or wearing these days, hawking a variety of retail outlets, from cell phone stores to oil change places.
The sandwich board was so named because of its original incarnation, which was usually two pieces of wood, connected with rope or twine, which the wearer would sling over his shoulders, advertising on the front and back, creating a sort of human “sandwich.”
The sandwich boards started showing up in earnest in the late-1920s and early-1930s, which were, not coincidentally, the days of the Great Depression. But in those days, often the human sandwich was promoting himself, not any company.
The sandwich board is back, but in a more streamlined fashion. It used to be that the only businesses in recent years who commissioned people to stand on the curb and wave people in, holding a sign, were car washes (the fundraising kind) and, during tax season, tax preparers (with typically someone dressed as Lady Liberty or Uncle Sam).
Now, there are so many sandwich boards and signs out there, I’m surprised they’re not bumping into each other.
There’s this one dude who works for one of those companies that buys and sells gold. I see him every Friday when I’m on my way to cash my check on Rochester Road, and I have seen him for over a year now, rain, snow or shine. He wears headphones and is swiveling his sign like mad, all the time. And I just see him on Fridays. Doubtless he works the whole week as well.
The thing is—and granted, it’s hard to tell just by driving by at 40 mph once a week—he seems perfectly happy to be doing it. Not bored at all. He walks up and down, forward and back, swiveling his sign.
To be honest, I don’t even know where his employer’s store is located. I only see him, not the actual store front.
But he’s there, every week, with his gold sign with black print, walking up and down that tiny stretch of Rochester Road. He looks to be in his 20s, and physically fit.
I wonder what they pay people these days to be human sandwiches?
Back in the day, the sandwich board advertised people, not businesses
Is it worth the cost? Is such advertising really effective? Using my Friday Guy as an example, maybe not. You’ll notice I have made mention of driving by him, but not knowing the name of his company, nor exactly where the store is located. And I’ve seen him do his thing for well over a year.
Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of having him there?
I also drive by an oil change place every night on my way home from work. That dude strays from the sidewalk, however, and damn near stands on the street. Kind of dangerous, if you ask me.
But again, does his presence make me want to get my oil changed?
Does any human sandwich influence your wanting to drop some dollars at the sandwich’s business?
Regardless, there’s no question that the human sandwiches are increasing in number. I guess it’s the new wave of guerrilla marketing.
We’ve come a long way, I guess, since “Eat at Joe’s” was the sandwich board of the day.
Not sure if that’s good or bad.