Archive for culture
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!
Well, that didn’t take long.
The year 2013, the year of the next Detroit mayoral election, was hours old when the first salvo was fired by a candidate at another, and—surprise—it had the tinges of race baiting to it.
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, by all indications a pretty smart guy, said something un-smart that was clearly aimed at presumed candidate Mike Duggan.
Napoleon told a reporter that Palmer Woods, one of the city’s jewels when it comes to neighborhoods, wasn’t really a part of Detroit.
Palmer Woods is where Duggan has recently taken up residence as he presumably prepares for a run at Dave Bing’s job—whether Bing runs for re-election or not. Duggan, as we all know, is white.
The day after saying flat out that Palmer Woods is not Detroit, Napoleon backpedaled.
“Palmer Woods is not Detroit? Nothing is further from the truth,” Napoleon wrote on Facebook. “It is one of our prized neighborhoods. However, the Palmer Woods experience is far different from that of the average Detroiter’s neighborhood experience. Most Detroiters, including those in Palmer Woods, understand that without clarification. But to set the record straight, I believe Palmer Woods is not only Detroit, it is what we want Detroit neighborhoods to aspire to be. And our city won’t be transformed until the Palmer Woods experience is one that is shared by all Detroiters.”
Nicely played. For now.
It didn’t figure to take long before Duggan, aiming to become Detroit’s first white mayor since Roman Gribbs left office on December 31, 1973, was taken a shot at by the (so far) rather small field of fellow candidates. And it wasn’t surprising that the shot taken focused on Duggan’s choice of residence.
Duggan lived for years in Livonia, which is as white as salt, for the most part. He moved to Palmer Woods last year.
Wayne County Sheriff and Detroit mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon
Napoleon recovered nicely, for the most part, from his gaffe. But it still displayed, within him, the old refrain.
You’re not a Detroiter unless your trash doesn’t get picked up. You’re not a Detroiter unless your street lights are out for months. You’re not a Detroiter unless you live among abandoned homes and crack houses. You’re not a Detroiter unless you are out of work and are bereft of hope.
Is that how we want the next mayor to look at things?
We’d rather have him (or her) look at the city the way Napoleon did in his backpedaling statement on Facebook.
To wit: “But to set the record straight, I believe Palmer Woods is not only Detroit, it is what we want Detroit neighborhoods to aspire to be. And our city won’t be transformed until the Palmer Woods experience is one that is shared by all Detroiters.”
Too bad that’s not what Benny Napoleon said the first time around. Then again, political candidates often need two tries to get it right. At least.
It was one of the coolest things I ever saw on television, and I was just a wee lad of four years old.
Oh, how I loved to watch the Batmobile in the Adam West-ravaged, 1960s TV series, “Batman,” leave the Bat Cave.
First, there was the firing of the ignition, which always included the stock shot of flames shooting from the Batmobile’s exhaust. That was cool, too.
But there was something about the black, souped-up 1955 Lincoln Futura zooming from the cave that captivated me.
That’s because there was this small guard rail that would flip down, enabling the Batmobile to pass through. THAT was the coolest thing.
Some things just grab us and don’t let go, particularly from our youth.
There was something about that guard rail flipping down that I thought was just so awesome in its simple auspiciousness.
That image comes to mind as I read that the Batmobile is going up for auction. It’ll happen on January 19, 2013, at the Barrett-Jackson auction house in Scottsdale, AZ.
The Batmobile is a 19-foot long, black work of art—maybe the coolest vehicle ever, something that Henry Ford could never have conceived in his wildest imagination.
So how much will it fetch in auction?
No one is saying, which is appropriate, because mystery has always been such a large part of the Batman character, from the comic books to the “Dark Knight” movies.
George Barris and his original Batmobile creation
The original Batmobile (there have been some replicas) was created by George Barris, a Los Angeles-based car customizer. I don’t know if Barris was given a blueprint, a clay model, or was just left to his own devices, but regardless, he created a masterpiece. The machine (it seems too small to call it a car) has been kept in marvelous condition over the years.
There was so much for a small boy to love about the Batmobile. The flaming exhaust, the bubble top, the siren, the wings, etc., all captivated. And, come on—it was 19 feet long!
Thanks to YouTube, here’s a 29-second clip of the boys racing to the Batmobile and leaving the cave. Watch for the guard rail flipping down just before the machine hits the highway!
I was never a Halloween guy, as a kid. I could take it or leave it as a youngster. Too much effort, I suppose.
I never knew what I was going to dress up like, or even if I was going to go door-to-door at all, until sometimes hours before sundown on October 31.
One year, I recall, I was particularly tardy with my decision. I was planning on staying in, passing out candy, when I got a phone call from a friend. It was dusk, at the very least, when the phone rang in our Livonia home.
“You going baggin’?” was the question. It was my friend, Bob Bernard, who lived a couple blocks away and who I never had gone Trick or Treating with prior to that year. I still don’t know what prompted the call. It wasn’t that Bob and I weren’t friends; we just weren’t very close. Certainly not “baggin’” close. Or so I thought.
I initially rebuffed his request, but he pressed me.
“I don’t have a costume,” I pleaded. It fell on deaf ears.
I hung up, scrambling. What to be? WHO to be?
I don’t where it came from, but I asked my mom if she had a nylon stocking that she didn’t care much for.
Voila! I went as a bank robber, the stocking pulled over my face. I think I had a toy gun. Not sure. Regardless, I had a “costume.” I was ready to go baggin’. Bob’s term.
A pillow case served as my “bag.” Out we went into the Halloween night, soliciting for candy door-to-door.
Halloween—the only holiday based on extortion.
Trick or treat!
Give us candy, or something bad will happen to you or your home. Or maybe even your loved ones. Who knows.
It’s a holiday built around candy used as protection money. Just cough up the goodies and we’ll make sure nothing untoward occurs.
But as an adult—more specifically, as a father—I came to enjoy Halloween more. The decorations got more sophisticated and fun to look at, number one. One of our family traditions has been to drive around neighborhoods, admiring Christmas displays. Now, you can pretty much do the same with Halloween.
Then there are the cute little kids, made even cuter when stuffed into bumble bee or pumpkin outfits. I can’t wait to see who comes to our door next.
Our daughter has always been a big Halloween person, starting from when she was two years old and won a costume contest at a campground in Canada. She was dressed as a pumpkin, of course. Every year she has dressed in something different and never without creativity. In recent years she’s been Captain Jack Sparrow, The Joker, and Harley Quinn.
As usual, even at age 19, she plans on dressing up. She doesn’t go “baggin’” anymore, but she’s taken over the candy passing out duties at home. Tonight it will be friends coming over for pizza and to watch scary movies.
My wife and I will be safely ensconced in our bedroom, dressed as ourselves and eating pizza while the kids take over the front room, passing out the candy.
Yes sir, I’m liking this Halloween thing more, the older I get.
There’s an episode in one of my favorite TV comedy series of all time, Everybody Loves Raymond, where Ray Barone’s dad, Frank, chastises his son for ruining (accidentally) dad’s jazz album collection when Raymond was a youngster. Seems Ray moved the albums to make room for his new Hot Wheels car track, received for Christmas. Unfortunately, Raymond moved the albums next to the furnace. You can imagine what happened to them.
So Ray tries to make up for the lost music by replacing as many of the albums as he can, with CD versions. He professes to have visited a bunch of independent music stores in his effort to replace the albums.
Frank is skeptical of the discs and won’t even listen to them, which frustrates Raymond. Finally, Raymond basically forces his dad to listen to the discs by having them in a portable CD player, ready to go, when his parents return from a shopping trip. They enter the home, Raymond hits the remote button, and the jazz fills the house, loudly.
But still Frank isn’t happy. Raymond tries to convince his father of the discs’ grandeur by declaring that it’s like the band was right there, in the living room, thanks to the crystal clarity of the sound.
Still no sale. Frank gets belligerent (nothing out of character for him) and orders the music turned off. Raymond is incredulous; how can his dad NOT enjoy these discs?
The answer arrives a few minutes later, when Raymond’s brother Robert and his fiancee Amy arrive with some of the actual albums, purchased at a used music store. They are not CDs but vinyl, 33-1/3 RPM platters of jazz.
The album is played on the phonograph, with all of its crackling and hissing, and Frank is in heaven.
“Now THAT’S music!” he declares as the songs pop.
I know where he’s coming from.
CD technology is wonderful; digital is always best, in terms of cleanliness in sound. But I get what Frank Barone is enjoying—the music in its original form; static and crackle and hiss and all.
I started to collect 45s when I was as young as a pre-schooler. Actually, my mom would buy me the records, based on my likes. The Monkees were high on my list back then. The 45 collection grew as I became old enough to pick them out on my own at K-Mart, which sold them for 96 cents, in their plain white sleeves on hooks behind the cashier in the music department.
My first record player was plastic and the “stylus” was a clunky needle that was bigger than a pencil lead.
This record player is very similar to my first one, circa the late-1960s
In 1977 my parents bought me a brand new stereo system, and the phonograph was much more sophisticated and the stylus was diamond. Plus, you could stack the records/albums, and play hours of uninterrupted music.
The cracking and hissing was part of the deal. So was the occasional skip or crack that would cause the same four notes to play over and over until you moved the stylus.
I don’t know; there was something magical about turning on the record player and lowering the needle/stylus onto the vinyl platter and hearing that first crackle and hiss, moments before the song began.
You don’t get that with CDs. I’m not so sure that’s progress.
I know Frank Barone would agree with me.
Clara Peller was a retired manicurist who found fame after the age of 80, in early 1984, when she barked out three words that became a national catch phrase. Then the phenomenon dovetailed into the 1984 presidential campaign, and Clara enjoyed a new wave of popularity.
You never know who will be plucked from obscurity or the recesses of our consciousness when it’s an election year.
In 1984 it was Peller, who famously and angrily asked, “Where’s the beef?’ in a Wendy’s commercial mocking competitors who rely on big buns and not-so-big hamburger patties.
It didn’t take long before we were all saying, “Where’s the beef?” in a variety of situations. It started on TV, of course, and then filtered its way to the water coolers and barber shops.
The commercial hit the airwaves in January, 1984 and a few months later it got a second jolt of awareness when, in the Democratic presidential primaries, Walter Mondale used the catch phrase as a way of attacking rival Gary Hart’s economic plan. Mondale didn’t feel that Hart was offering much in the way of details.
Wendy’s campaign with Peller didn’t just create a catch phrase; sales jumped 31% in the year after “Where’s the Beef?” first aired.
According to Wikipedia, Wendy’s senior vice president for communications, Denny Lynch, stated at the time that “with Clara we accomplished as much in five weeks as we did in 14½ years.”
Lyndon Johnson had his scare tactic ad against Barry Goldwater in 1964, juxtaposing a little girl pulling petals off a flower with the images of a countdown to a nuclear attack. Ronald Reagan had his “It’s Morning in America” campaign. Michael Dukakis battled the spectre of furloughed felon Willie Horton, who committed rape while on release in Massachusetts.
All those, plus Clara Peller and more, became iconic in their respective presidential campaigns.
Clara Peller, wondering where the beef is (1984)
Add Big Bird to the list.
It’s becoming apparent that the tall, gangly character from Sesame Street is going to be 2012′s pop culture icon thrust into presidential politics.
It’s been just one week since Mitt Romney brought Big Bird into the discussion, when he targeted in his debate with President Obama, PBS as a potential victim of a President Romney administration’s efforts to pay for his tax plan.
In this day and age, a week may as well be six months. For it only took a few days for Big Bird to enjoy a spate of popularity he hasn’t experienced in maybe decades, if at all.
Heck, it hasn’t been since 1976, when Mark “The Bird” Fidrych enthralled America pitching for the Tigers, that Big Bird has been mentioned this much in mainstream media.
Big Bird is doing the circuit now. “Saturday Night Live” came calling, and the Bird is making appearances here and there.
The president these days is quick to mention Big Bird in mocking Romney’s tax plan and how it is to be paid for.
Clara Peller died in August 1987, aged 85 and her 15 minutes of fame drained from the clock. She did make some other commercials for products like Prego spaghetti sauce, but nothing close in popularity to the “Where’s the Beef?” campaign.
Fortunately, Big Bird is immortal. Although after a few more weeks of the tall, yellow, feathered creature being shoved in our face, maybe that won’t seem like such a good thing.
The other day, I officially became my father.
It’s inevitable, they say. One day you’ll become your parents.
Pop culture is usually the killer.
My induction into the Crotchety Old Man Hall of Fame occurred a couple of nights ago.
I was in the kitchen and on the TV in the front room was a video of a performer having a tantrum on stage. I couldn’t see the video; I could only hear the audio.
“I’m not Justin Bieber!” the male voice screamed, followed by some bleeped out expletives.
“Who’s that?” I called out, because the audio clip was rather shocking.
Our 19-year-old daughter answered with what I thought was “Billy Joel.”
Now, knowing Joel’s occasional drinking and drug foibles, and his notorious temper, I thought that made sense. Joel’s melted down in the past—on stage and off.
“Billy Joel? Really?” I replied, a little knowing chuckle in my voice.
“BILLIE JOE, dad!”
Now I was confuzzled.
“Billy Joe? Who’s that?”
I could literally hear her eyes rolling.
“BILLIE JOE, dad! From Green Day.”
“I don’t know who that is?”
Heavy sigh, followed by, “You’ve never heard of Green Day?”
“I’ve heard of them, yes (barely), but I don’t know the names of the people in Green Day!”
She groaned. “Oh God, Dad.”
Apparently I should know who this is (psst—it’s Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day)
That capped a day in which when I got into the car, her radio station was on—95.5 FM.
“All this music sounds the same to me,” I told my wife, sincerely. The songs that played all did sound the same to me.
So you combine that comment with the “I thought you said Billy JOEL and who’s Billy JOE?” thing, and I have become my dad.
My father didn’t appreciate all of my kind of music, either, though we did intersect in our like for certain 1970s recording artists like Three Dog Night and Dave Mason.
That’s OK. I loved my dad to pieces, may he rest in peace. I don’t really mind becoming him.
Besides, our daughter’s lucky that I didn’t think she said Green BAY.
Now that’s more up my alley.
Oh, and I got her in the end. Referencing Joe’s meltdown, in which he demolished his guitar on stage, Nicole wondered aloud if I had ever seen that.
“Yeah—Pete Townshend of The Who used to do that regularly.”
She didn’t know who that was.
Ever wonder what happened to Winkelman’s? Jacobson’s? Uniroyal?
What about Farmer Jack? Great Scott? A&P?
Stroh’s? Twin Pines? Pants Galore?
Fretter Appliance? Belvedere and Bond-Bilt? New York Carpet World?
Highland Appliance? Sanders? Kresge?
Cunningham’s? Red Barn? Burger Chef?
To name a few.
And that’s just a percentage of the businesses, mostly local, that no longer exist but which I remember in my days growing up in Livonia in the 1970s.
I remember the commercials for many of the aforementioned as well.
Ollie Fretter promised us a five pound bag of coffee if he couldn’t beat our best deal. Mr. Belvedere’s phone number was TYler 8-7100.
TV newscaster Marilyn Turner did commercials for Carpet Center, flashing her gams. The Highland Appliance spots were legendary, often featuring local (and sometimes national) celebrities.
Irving Nussbaum proudly said that New York Carpet World was “the better carpet people.”
Mel Farr flew through the sky with a cape, promising a “Farr better deal.”
Remember listening to the radio and suddenly it was “Farmer Jack savings time”?
The Twin Pines man, I have written about before. I can still see the bright green trucks.
There was a Kresge in Universal Mall in Warren, back when it wasn’t unusual to find drugstores and “five and dimes” in malls.
I also fondly recall the outdoor signs of the retailers and restaurants back in the day.
One word comes to mind—two, actually: BIG and garish. And they often rotated on an axis.
Think about the Arby’s signs of the day: the HUGE 10 gallon hat with ARBY’S ROAST BEEF SANDWICH IS DELICIOUS spelled on it.
Now THAT’S a sign!
Little Caesars had its namesake rotating above the pizzeria, a pie impaled on his spear.
Kentucky Fried Chicken joints had the big, rotating buckets. Union 76 gas stations had that round, orange ball with 76 on it, twice. It rotated, too.
If they weren’t rotating or spinning, the signs were lit like the Vegas Strip.
The ’60s and ’70s signs were big on lightning bolt-like arrows and anything that flashed or changed colors intermittently.
I swear the signs of those times must have weighed several tons.
Look at a Holiday Inn sign now and then compare it to those of 35-40 years ago. The older versions were, again, big and garish with the script “Holiday Inn” brightly lit with sparkling lights.
There was nothing compact about those days.
Today, as those companies have long ago withered away, we’re mostly stuck with “big box retailers” and franchises that I don’t really trust.
And their commercials stink. And their signs are too small. And they don’t light up right.
We love anniversaries in this country, good, bad or those of infamy.
The dates dance around our minds: December 7; November 22; September 11; July 4.
Today is another one of those dates.
It was 44 years ago today when James Earl Ray took aim and cut down Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis, TN.
There’s film footage of U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, addressing a crowd and breaking the news to them of Dr. King’s assassination. There are audible gasps and cries of anguish heard.
Kennedy himself would be murdered about two months later.
I suppose the anniversary of Dr. King’s murder is as good as time as any to ponder: have things gotten any better, really, in this country when it comes to race relations?
Is it mere irony or an indictment on us as a society that April 4 arrives as the nation is still loitering around the water cooler, talking about the February 26 killing of Trayvon Martin?
The Martin case would appear to be a prime example of how little we’ve come re: how blacks are perceived by non-blacks.
April 4, 1968; Memphis, TN
You don’t want to think that we’ve done little to no evolving since April 4, 1968, but I submit that it would be a tough case for you to make that we have—evolved, that is.
More like spinning our wheels, it seems at times.
Yes, we have a black president. Yes, blacks have ascended to other positions of authority where they hadn’t in 1968. That’s all well and good.
But are those exceptions rather than the rule?
It’s 2012, some 44 years after Dr. King said on the night before his death that “I may not get there with you”, and being a young black male wearing a hoodie is no less dangerous than being of color in 1968 and before.
I’m not suggesting that Dr. King died in vain. But nor can I confidently say that his death paved the way for improved race relations.
What’s worse? To be known as a police department rife with buffoons, or one that is complicit with a loose cannon “community watch” volunteer?
That’s pretty much the choice being offered up to the Sanford (Fla) police department, in the wake of the fallout over the tragic shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26.
The shooter, George Zimmerman, wasn’t so much as brought to the police station for questioning, even though he literally held a smoking gun in his hand when police arrived that fateful night.
In fact, Zimmerman was allowed to go home with that gun still smoking in his truck, while Trayvon was lying dead on the ground, a gunshot wound to the chest proving fatal.
Almost a month after the incident, Zimmerman is still roaming free and the firestorm is spreading more rapidly than a Hollywood rumor.
The Sanford police chief, Bill Lee, stepped aside today, albeit “temporarily.” This, one day after the city commission voted, 3-2, to render an official “no confidence” stand against Lee’s abilities to perform his duties.
The vote was largely symbolic, because the only person who can can Lee, according to the city’s laws, is City Manager Norton Bonaparte.
“The police chief works at the pleasure of the City Manager,” Bonaparte told an incredulous Lawrence O’Donnell and an equally flabbergasted Rev. Al Sharpton last night on O’Donnell’s “Last Word” program on MSNBC.
The two men were visibly frustrated with Bonaparte, who sat stone-faced and refused to give in to the very logical suggestion that the city manager give Police Chief Lee his walking papers.
Bonaparte wanted to take the tack of patience and caution, when the window has seemingly closed on that approach; Trayvon was killed 25 days ago.
Trayvon Martin (left) and George Zimmerman—two strangers now forever linked
But why did the Sanford police—especially the first officers on the scene after being dispatched by Zimmerman’s 911 call of a “suspicious person”—let the shooter go home without so much as surrendering the killing weapon? Why would they let Zimmerman walk away pleading self defense, when he was instructed to stay in his vehicle until help arrived?
Zimmerman claims that it was on his way back to his vehicle—the one he was told to remain in—when he was set upon by Trayvon, who by all indications was merely walking home in the gated community after buying some candy.
So either the Sanford police bungled this immensely, or they eagerly went along with Zimmerman’s story at face value—with a black teen lying on the ground, dead.
In neither case does Chief Lee’s department come out looking good.
This is the kind of nonsense that can set race relations back decades.
City Manager Bonaparte, however, is black, which adds yet another strange wrinkle, and gives more weaponry to people of color, some of whom will undoubtedly cast Bonaparte as a you-know-what—another vile portrayal of black folks.
Florida is a “stand your ground state,” which means that killing in self defense doesn’t require trying to flee the situation before pulling the trigger or wielding the blade.
“You want to know how you can kill somebody legally in Florida?” said Arthur Hayhoe of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, as quoted in USA Today. “Make sure you have no witnesses, hunt the person down and then say you feared for your life.”
Is that what George Zimmerman did?
Thanks to either bungling or complicity by the Sanford Police Department, we may never truly find out.
Not the best of legacies, in either instance.