Archive for March, 2012

Mar
29

The Two Jakes

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The other night, I sat for over an hour and got caught up on the life of my daughter’s Godfather’s son. I hadn’t seen him since he was a toddler, so I had about 20 years of his life to get filled in on.

Sadly, it took the young man’s death to present this opportunity.

Jacob Lank was 22 years old, handsome, and by the accounts of his friends who shared stories of him Tuesday night at the RG/GR Harris Funeral Home in Livonia, very mischievous and a prankster.

But he was also fiercely loyal, a wonderful big brother and smart.

He had great character, his friends said. One called Jacob “brave.”

His little sister, Maddy, talked of how Jacob—Jake, really—and she made up a Leprechaun named George and how Maddy, as a youngster, would write George letters. And George would write back, to her amazement. He even left her some lucky charms, which she said she still carries with her to this day.

Turns out the letter writer was Jake, posing as George the Leprechaun. This went on for some time before Maddy caught on.

But this was no prank. This was a big brother lovingly feeding the fantasies of his little sister, in a harmless but endearing way.

Jake Lank just turned 22 on March 8, about two weeks before a single car accident took his life.

I didn’t know him beyond his pre-school years, but by the time the tributes were finished Tuesday night, I felt two sensations: that I felt I had known Jake all along, from his days as a toddler; and that I REALLY wish I had been in his company as he turned from teen to young adult.

I said as much to his dad, Mike Lank—one of my best friends.

“God, I wish I knew that kid,” I told Mike.

“So do I,” he said.

I got Mike’s meaning.

Before the tributes, Mike took to the podium and said that, as parents, there’s a side of your children that you really don’t know—the side his or her friends see.

So when Mike said, “So do I,” he meant that he wished he had known the side of Jake that his friends had spent recalling in the days between the accident and the visitation Tuesday.

Jake was the oldest of five kids in the Lank family. The three next-youngest siblings each spoke of how awesome of a big brother Jake was.

There were tears, of course. But there were also a lot of laughs—far more than the tears, actually.

A funeral home filled with young people is a gut-wrenching scene, because it’s a sure sign that the deceased was equally as young.

But it was those young people—over an hour’s worth—who painted the picture and filled in the gaps about Jake Lank.

By the end of the evening I was glad that they were there, after all.

I now feel like I know Jake Lank, albeit too late.

Like Mike said in front of the crowd, “This sucks.”

Doesn’t it.

But I’m glad that little toddler turned out to be such a great kid.

So, at least there’s that.

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Note: Jake was an organ donor and already, Mike said, the donated organs are saving the lives of others, including a young teen who would have died without it. Very cool.

Categories : Enotes, medicine, society
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Mar
27

At the Movies, Old School Style

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Our daughter, a high school senior, gets to watch movies in class on occasion. I can tell you two things: the films are a lot more entertaining than the celluloid we viewed in my day; and yet I kind of pity her, because the whole movie watching thing for her is rather humdrum.

I shall explain.

Anyone over the age of 40 should remember what it was like when there was going to be a movie shown in class that day.

It was a big deal.

Who can forget the rumble of the big cart rolling down the hallway, on which was the seemingly huge film projector, being wheeled into the classroom by the “A/V geek,” who was nothing more than a fellow student who somehow wrangled his way into such a gig.

Then the anticipation of the movie itself, which wasn’t a feature film like the kids in school are privileged to view nowadays. Rather, it was very instructional in nature—like about science or social studies, etc.

Perhaps it was a movie about how we use oxygen in everyday life. Or how they make rubber. Stuff like that.

Regardless, even though we knew we weren’t settling in to watch “True Grit” or “Herbie the Love Bug,” a movie in class meant that the lights would be turned off (a great opportunity to sneak in a nap), and that it was a good way to kill 15-20 minutes.


A still taken from a film we may have viewed in class, circa 1970s

Sometimes there would be a technical difficulty, and the A/V kid would be summoned, or another teacher, and before you knew it, another 10-15 minutes would be taken off the board.

I don’t know how many times we implored the teacher to run the film backwards after it was finished. Sometimes teach would relent, and the room would be filled with guffaws as we saw images of people walking backwards, machines running in reverse and liquid defying gravity and pouring “up.”

The movies, looking back on what I recall of them, were probably produced in the late-1950s, early-1960s, based on the clothing and the cars. Most were in color, though.

Anyhow, it was more than popping a DVD into a player. Much more. And much more exciting, frankly.

The movies themselves wouldn’t win any People’s Choice Awards, but the experience might have.

(click here for an example of a 1960s educational film—this one about the Union Pacific Railroad)

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As a pro football player, Martin Mayhew, being a defensive back, became used to going to work every Sunday trying to succeed with one arm tied behind his back.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the rulebook doesn’t play favorites.

In the NFL, receivers are given more benefits of the doubt than the teacher’s pet. The rules are tilted away from the defender and toward the pass catcher. It’s not enough that receivers are taller, faster, know where they’re going, and are running forward.

The pass defender is shorter, slower, has no clue which way the man he’s covering is going to juke and jolt, and he has to run backward, to boot.

Then the guys in the zebra stripes, not content with such a disadvantage, are prone to clutter the football field with yellow laundry if the defender so much as breathes on his opponent.

It’s poker with a marked deck; a carnival-midway pyramid of milk cans.

Playing defensive back in the NFL is a weekly, soul-sucking, often losing battle, mitigated only by the nirvana of defying the odds and batting a football away or, if the quarterback and the receiver are on Venus and Mars, respectively, actually intercepting a wayward pass.

Mayhew, the Lions general manager, played this game of loser’s poker for eight years in the NFL. He knows a little about working when the rules are not on your side.

It hasn’t gotten all that much fairer for him as an executive.

First, he learned the GM business by working as an underling of Matt Millen’s, which was like learning how to move a piano from Laurel and Hardy.

For years, Mayhew was Millen’s second banana, his silent partner. We knew only that Mayhew was in the organization; we didn’t really know what he did, nor did we pay much attention to him. We only thought that we knew one thing: if he was a Matt Millen hire, then how good could he really be?

Then one October day in 2008, Lions owner Bill Ford Sr. made the most overdue mercy killing since ABC canceled “Happy Days.”

Ford fired Millen, and shoved Mayhew into Millen’s seat as team GM.

Martin Mayhew! Another “MM” guy, to go along with Matt Millen and Marty Mornhinweg.

I hope we were all forgiven in our skepticism.

The tabbing of Mayhew was accepted cautiously by the fanbase, because they figured his ascension to Millen’s throne would be interim, that very sports word for “keep renting your house, don’t buy.”

Surely, the fanbase convinced itself, the Lions will wait until the end of the season and bring in a “real” GM—preferably a guy with a big name.

Bill Parcells, et al.

Now, back in the fall of 2008, the idea that Mayhew could be the long-term answer for what ailed the Lions’ front office was considered folly. Worse, it was considered incompetent and malevolent toward the fans.

The Lions were in the middle of a 0-16 season when Mayhew replaced Millen. To not go after someone outside the organization was looked at as a big old nose-thumbing by Ford to his patrons.

Yet just days after taking over from Millen, Mayhew fleeced Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys of a first-round draft pick in exchange for uneven receiver Roy Williams.

It was David fooling Goliath; some kid chess player placing Bobby Fischer into checkmate.

Beginner’s luck?

The Lions played out their winless season, and then the fans rubbed their hands together. Despite the fleecing of Dallas for Roy Williams, there still wasn’t much excitement at the thought of Mayhew staying on as GM.

Not with Bill Parcells out there!

Ford did another end around, as has been his wont as Lions owner. He went against public sentiment—another Ford trait—and hired Mayhew permanently, ripping the interim tag off him like a decorated officer losing one of his stripes.

Only this was in reverse—a promotion based on little more than faith, hope and loyalty—again, another Ford-ism.

Well, guess who’s pretty good at this GM thing, after all?

Mayhew had it all going against him—just like he did every Sunday lining up against the Jerry Rices and Cris Carters of the world—yet here he is, continuing to show deftness as an NFL executive.

Mayhew had his pedigree (Millen) going against him. He had his inexperience with contract negotiations going against him. He had the Lions’ losing culture going against him.

Mayhew as brand-new GM was like one of those disadvantaged kids who is born poor to bad parents, in a home situated in a bad school district.

Perhaps Mayhew took everything he saw and heard from Millen and pretty much started doing the opposite. Whatever, it’s working.

As a player, Mayhew lived for the fall and early winter. Once, his challenge was the quick slant; now, it’s the salary cap. As a GM, this is his time to shine—his time to set the pins up for coach Jim Schwartz and his players to knock down.

From the Super Bowl in February until training camp starts in July, the NFL general manager rides a greased slope. This is the time when guys like Mayhew truly earn their bread.

The Lions are no longer stained with 0-16. They have progressed nicely under Schwartz, going from 0-16 to 2-14 to 6-10 to 10-6 and the playoffs. Just like that—like a checker traversing from one end of the board to the other.

Almost—the Lions haven’t been crowned yet.

But with every step of success comes another hurdle. The further the Lions get from their inglorious decade of the 2000s, the closer they get to the pitfalls and land mines that must be navigated through in order to make the leap from a one-week playoff run to playing in February—and I don’t mean the Pro Bowl.

Martin Mayhew seems to be the guy that can take this thing from 0-16 to the Super Bowl. He has done a marvelous job of drafting, trading, signing and re-signing.

The latter—re-signing—has been far more important to the Lions’ future than any free agent from outside the organization they’ve signed in recent years.

Mayhew wanted to keep his own free agents in the fold, and rework the contracts of some of his star players to create the financial space in which to do all that re-signing.

His off-season, thus far, has been A+.

Mayhew reworked the contracts of QB Matthew Stafford, WR Nate Burleson and DT Ndamukong Suh. He then gave WR Calvin Johnson a contract extension that makes Johnson the richest receiver in league history.

Mayhew kept LT Jeff Backus and backup QB Shaun Hill.

And, very importantly, Mayhew managed to keep MLB Stephen Tulloch for four more years, preventing him from signing with another team.

All this and it’s not even April yet.

That’s when the draft happens.

Another area in which Mayhew excels.

Who knew?

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Mar
22

Was Ground Stood?

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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.

Categories : crime, culture, Enotes, society
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Mar
20

Mystery Solved?

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Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

Whether it’s a novel, a movie or a story lifted from a true crime magazine—we love a whodunnit, a “what happened to it,” and a “where did it go?”

It’s coming up on 75 years ago when one of America’s—and indeed the world’s—greatest mysteries was born.

Amelia Earhart, the beloved female aviator, went missing on July 2, 1937, somewhere in the South Pacific. Her plane crashed, and that’s pretty much all we’ve known for three quarters of a century.

Now there may be some sort of closure on the horizon, though it would be wise not to get your hopes raised too high.

This summer, the U.S. Government, with the help of $500,000 provided by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, will focus on the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati.

There, they hope to use state-of-the-art equipment and technology to locate the remains of Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and/or her aircraft.

The group believes that Earhart and Noonan may have survived for days or even weeks on what was then known as Gardner Island.

The rejuvenation of the Earhart mystery isn’t being driven solely by the 75-year anniversary of her disappearance.

There is a photographic “smoking gun,” maybe, that has cropped up, and it has enough credibility, apparently, to mobilize the Obama Administration and the historic group.

“We can be as optimistic and even audacious as Amelia Earhart,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., to announce U.S. support for the expedition. “There is great honor and possibility in the search itself.”

According to a story posted on MSNBC’s website, new analysis of a photo taken at Nikumaroro three months after the disappearance shows what some people believe could be a strut and wheel of the plane protruding from the water, the group says. The photo was not immediately released to the media on Tuesday but the hypothesis is that the plane crashed on a reef before eventually being washed deeper into the sea.

It is because of this new evidence that the U.S. government will provide some logistical direction, while the historic group puts up the $500K.

The search comes about two years after bone fragments were found on the island that are believed to be those of either Earhart, Noonan, or both.


A young Amelia Earhart

Other items were found on the island that suggest the aviator and her navigator might have survived for a short time before perishing.

If this summer’s search proves successful—to the point of being nearly irrefutable in its findings—then one of the greatest mysteries of all time will be, if not solved, certainly more clear.

There would be, to a degree, some closure.

The entire mystery won’t ever be solved, of course. Questions about what ultimately happened to Earhart and Noonan, how long they survived, what caused their demise, etc., will never be answered.

But to find evidence of the aircraft, or the two lost souls themselves, would be huge.

The fact that a presidential administration is getting involved shows how excited officials are about finding something, and how little they fear being embarrassed by the search’s results.

Amelia Earhart was an energetic, brave and attractive woman—a dreamer and a curious explorer. As fun as it’s been to speculate about her disappearance—that whole “love a mystery” thing—how much better would it be to cross it off our list of cold cases?

We’ll see, come this summer, whether we’ll be able to do that or not.

Categories : Enotes, history, society
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Mar
18

NBA “Player’s League” Claims Another Coaching Victim

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It’s hard to imagine now, but there really was a time when NBA players didn’t rule the roost. There was a time—really, truly—when the players listened to the coach, obeyed orders, and felt privileged to play in the league.

The NBA coach of days gone by wore rumpled suits, chomped on cigars and taught things like the bounce pass and how to “deny” your man the basketball.

There were stars on the court, for sure. But for every Bill Russell, there was a Red Auerbach to rule with an iron fist.

The NBA coach had no assistant; he coached the team himself—offense and defense. He had the keys to the gym and made sure the trainer had enough tape. The coach helped make travel arrangements while also explaining the back door pass.

And the players listened.

It started to get away from the coaches during the late-1970s. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the league and it became very evident that the fans paid to see superstar players play, not cerebral coaches teach and strategize.

Before long, the likes of Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan happened upon the scene and the coach became a foil—a second banana with a squirting daisy on his lapel.

It’s a player’s league, people say today. It’s a kind way of saying, “The coach can be replaced with a snap of certain players’ fingers.”

Today’s NBA coach is better off following the philosophy of the Pistons’ legendary Chuck Daly, who once described coaching the tallest millionaires in the world as akin to managing 12 different corporations.

Few coaches—if any—were better than Daly at making the players think that they were running the show, when it was “Daddy Rich” who was the real Great and Powerful Oz behind the curtain.

The so-called “player’s league” has chewed up and spit out another victim.

The New York Knicks, eons ago, lived in the penthouse of the NBA. Once, the Knicks were to basketball what the Canadiens were to hockey, what Shoemaker was to horse jockeying. Pro basketball and the Knicks went together like a pick and a roll.

It started as an East Coast game, pro basketball did, and you couldn’t get much more East Coast than New York City.

After some down years in the mid-1960s, the Knicks—with the help of a dreadful Pistons trade in which Detroit sent Dave DeBussschere to New York—not only got in the way of the vaunted Boston Celtics for league supremacy, they surpassed Auerbach and Bill Russell’s bunch.

The Knicks of Reed and Frazier and DeBusschere and Bradley won championships in 1970 and 1973.

The pro basketball team from Manhattan hasn’t won a championship since. They’ve only qualified for two NBA Finals—in 1994 and ’99—since ‘73.

The Knicks tried it with a superstar center (Patrick Ewing) for about 12 years, surrounding Ewing with various and sundry mini-stars, but aside from ’94 and ’99, they really didn’t come close to winning it all.

The latest victim of the “player’s league” is Mike D’Antoni.

D’Antoni resigned from the Knicks as coach this week, with the typical slings and arrows darting around him because of his supposedly tenuous relationship with superstar Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony, like Ewing, has the same amount of championship rings as you and I have.

D’Antoni joined the Knicks in 2008, in the midst of their latest state of disarray. It was yet another turbulent time inside Madison Square Garden, which was still shaking from the Isiah Thomas/Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment scandal.

D’Antoni then went out and did something unusual, for the Knicks: He brought some stability and a calming influence. It was only slightly less impressive than when Moses parted the Red Sea.

Then the Knicks acquired Anthony from Denver in February 2011, and the balance of power again shifted from coach to player.

The D’Antoni-Anthony drama was replaced on the back pages of the New York Post, temporarily, by “Linsanity”—the out-of-nowhere story of journeyman point guard Jeremy Lin and his ridiculous exploits in January and February.

The Knicks were winning games with Lin manning the point. They still weren’t anything close to elite, but they weren’t fodder for the Post’s cleverly stinging headlines on the back page—for a while.

Linsanity ebbed, the Knicks started losing again and the focus returned to D’Antoni and whether he had “lost” his players, something that happens a lot in this “player’s league.”

Stuck in a six-game losing streak, D’Antoni surprised everyone by turning in his coach’s whistle to his MSG bosses earlier this week.

Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, a firing victim with the New Jersey Nets a couple years ago, reacted with disgust to the circumstances surrounding D’Antoni’s resignation.

“That’s a damn shame,” Frank told the Free Press before the Pistons faced the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.

“Mike, one, is a hell of a coach, and a great guy. I’m sorry to hear that. That’s ridiculous.”

Frank wasn’t done.

“(The Knicks) had to get their (mess) right,” Frank said. “They were over the cap, very high paid, underperforming, so they had to suck scum. They had all these guys on one-year deals. So finally, they go for it, without a true training camp, then they add talented players a couple weeks ago. It’s a shame.”

It’s today’s NBA.

It didn’t do D’Antoni any favors that in their first game without him, the Knicks trounced Portland, 121-79.

Mike Woodson, an assistant and a former head coach himself, is the interim coach in New York. Good luck to him.

There were reports out of Orlando, in the days leading up to Thursday’s trading deadline, that Magic superstar center Dwight Howard had the power, if he wanted, to essentially have coach Stan Van Gundy fired.

The news barely made a ripple.

If reports came out of Boston that Bill Russell had the power to fire Red Auerbach, it would have been filed in the “man bites dog” category of journalism.

But that’s today’s NBA.

With all due respect to Lawrence Frank, et al, you gotta have a screw loose to want to coach these guys.

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Mar
15

Theater of the Absurd

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I’m a man who actually doesn’t mind going shopping at Target.

I know I’m in the minority. I know a trip to Target, for most men, is one that is commonly accompanied by kicking and screaming.

But I have an ulterior motive for treks to Target: popcorn and soda.

It’s a hidden gem, I tell you.

At Target—at least the one near our house—you can get a decent size bag of popcorn and a medium-sized drink for $1.99.

Yep—one ninety-nine.

So while Mrs. Eno grabs a shopping cart and sets out to cross off her list, I make a beeline for the snack counter to grab my deal of the century.

For $2.11, after tax, I can munch on fresh popcorn and sip an icy cold drink, like a child, while my better half shops.

Oh, I’m not stodgy or protective. I absolutely offer my wife popcorn and pop throughout our shopping visit. So I’m sharing the wealth.

Popcorn and a pop for $2.11.

I bring this up because a similar combo, at your neighborhood movie house, would set you back about $8-10. Easy.

The Free Press ran a story yesterday about why concessions are so expensive at movie theaters. A theater owner, Jon Goldstein (Maple Theater, Bloomfield Hills), offered up a relatively unsurprising “explanation.”

It’s simply an example, Goldstein says, of theaters passing costs onto the consumer.

Good, old fashioned American capitalism, in other words.

He also blamed us messy moviegoers.

“The life of a popcorn seed would actually be very interesting, from getting popped to putting into a bucket, to where it ends up at the end of the day, whether it’s in someone’s stomach or smushed into the seats or the floors of the theater,” said Goldstein in the Freep story.

“If people would spill that popcorn in the living room as they do in the movie theater, I think they would understand the labor costs that go into running a concession stand in a busy movie theater.”

I have spilled my share of popcorn in the living room. But cleaning it up certainly wouldn’t run me a fortune in paid labor.

Even extrapolated to the rows of seats in a theater, I can’t imagine how sweeping popcorn from the floor equals $10 for a bucket and a soda.

But at least Goldstein spoke on the subject, which has mostly been dealt with with rolling eyes from consumers and little explanation from theater owners.

Yet Goldstein’s comments about why concession prices are so high smack of greed and gouging—by movie studios. The price of a ticket—also high—apparently goes mostly back into the studios’ coffers, Goldstein says.

“If we can’t keep a majority of that ticket price there’s only one way that we can pay for everything……and that’s at the concession stand,” Goldstein said.

Understood. A theater guy’s gotta make a living.

Just think how high the prices would be if the employees were paid more than $7 an hour.

The above sentence isn’t fact-based; I’m guessing. But I can’t imagine that theater owners, already crying foul over having to raise concession prices to make a buck, are paying their employees—who are mainly teenagers—much more than peanuts.

I don’t think Goldstein is a bad guy. I don’t think theater owners, in general, are bad guys. But still, the prices seem awfully high, don’t they?

Goldstein did say something that I respect.

“If you treat your customers like they are not smart, then they are going to do things that are not smart, but if you treat customers with respect and with honesty then you usually get that in return as well.”

I like that philosophy.

But there’s also this, which will continue to happen until the end of days.

“If you have to make money, that’s fine,” said Amber Hunt, 29, of Ferndale. “But more people are just going to be sneaking in candy like me.”

Now, if they start screening movies at Target, you think the $1.99 popcorn/pop special will go away?

In a Hollywood minute.

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Mar
12

The Gentlemanly Tiger

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Carlos Guillen, it is said, is at peace with his decision to retire from big league baseball.

Well, why wouldn’t he be?

Guillen, 36, was a tormented ball player—physically. It began with pulmonary tuberculosis in 2001—that nearly killed him—and it continued up until last year, when he was ravaged by knee injuries.

This wasn’t a retirement so much as the raising of a white flag.

Guillen has decided that no longer will he put his banged up body through the rigors of another spring training and 162-game marathon.

After not being tendered a contract by the Tigers after last season, Guillen signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners, his first MLB team, last month. But last week, Guillen informed the Ms that he won’t be vying for a big league job, after all.

Guillen’s physical ailments have been much ballyhooed in Detroit. He’s spent more time on the disabled list than eggs on a grocery list. His career in recent years has been a medical game of Whack-a-Mole: every time Guillen overcame something, another thing popped up.

It fascinates me how certain players just can’t seem to stay healthy. I’m reminded of Larry Hisle, a brilliant outfielder for the Phillies, Twins and Brewers in the 1970s and early-1980s. It was as a Brewer where Hisle was cursed with one injury after another. Usually it was something to do with his shoulder. Hisle, when he could stay together physically, swung a fearsome right-handed bat. He just couldn’t stay together for very long.

From 1979 thru 1982, Hisle’s at-bat totals read more like temperatures: 96, 60, 87, 31.

In 1977 (Twins) and 1978 (Brewers) combined, Hisle hit 62 homers and amassed 234 RBI and a nearly .300 BA. Then the injury bug bit and Hisle couldn’t find an antidote.

Carlos Guillen was the most gentlemanly of Tigers while he was in Detroit. He was a favorite of manager Jim Leyland, who raved about Guillen’s class and dignity.

Like Larry Hisle was 30 years prior for the Twins and Brewers, Guillen, when healthy, was a key cog in the Tigers’ attack. He moved around the diamond defensively—partly to make room for others, and partly to find his own niche—and that only endeared him to Leyland even more.

Guillen’s glove could never be mistaken for that of the Golden variety, but he was competent defensively and smart. He was one of the few Tigers, at times, to show patience at the plate, when so many of them were flailing away at pitches outside the strike zone.

I’ll never forget the play that proved to be the last straw for Guillen physically. It was in August 2010, the Tigers at New York to battle the Yankees. Guillen, playing 2B, ended the game by turning a double play. New York’s Brett Gardner slid hard into Guillen, injuring the latter’s knee in the process. The Tigers won, but they lost Guillen for the season.

He tried microfracture surgery and came back last July, but only got in 95 at-bats. Guillen was left off the post-season roster and then left off the roster entirely by the Tigers after the season.

Carlos Guillen was a fine Tiger; a mentor to fellow Latin American players; and an adept hitter who was good in the clutch.

What he wasn’t, after 2007, was healthy.

Enjoy retirement, no. 9.

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Somewhere, surely, there was a boy last summer with a baseball glove dangling from the handlebar of his bicycle, on his way to a hastily put together, loosely organized version of our national pastime.

Somewhere a gaggle of fellow boys—friends, acquaintances and even strangers—found an empty diamond and quickly picked teams and went at it under the mid-day sun, and into dusk.

Someone brought a bat, someone brought a ball, right field was out and depending on the rules established, the game was “pitcher’s hand” or “pitcher’s mound.”

The games were announced that way, like they do with poker as the dealer shuffles his cards.

“OK, gentleman. The game is Texas Hold ‘Em…”

Perhaps a foul ball on strike three was a strikeout. An empty potato chip bag, held down with a brick, might have been one of the bases.

They played for hours, until the light of day abandoned them, leaving the boys alone on the pebble-filled diamond, giving each other assurances that the interrupted game WILL continue.

This was, of course, in addition to the “real” games that were played under the auspices of Little League—those matches on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, played out before parents on lawn chairs and interested passers by who parked their bikes or wandered over from their nightly walk to take in an inning or two—or more.

Surely this must go on, somewhere in America.

I still see the occasional Little League drama play out as I drive by a local ball field, but I sure am not seeing the kid on his bicycle with the glove on the handlebar.

Tell me that still happens. Lie to me, if necessary.

Baseball season is coming. The boys are down in Florida and Arizona, working out winter’s kinks and engaging in a very grown-up, very business-sheathed version of the neighborhood pickup game.

But you wouldn’t know that it’s all business. You also wouldn’t know how high the stakes are if you look at the images being uploaded from spring training.

Grown millionaires, giggling and rough housing with one another. Smiles from ear to ear as the millionaires take batting practice, whooping and hollering. Sheer joy of the game exuding from their 6’2”, 200-pound bodies.

Prince Fielder, the newest multi-millionaire Tiger, has been positively a darling so far in his new digs in Florida. Fielder signs autographs every day, until writer’s cramp sets in. Then he shakes it off and signs some more. His has one of those ear-to-ear grins.

And it’s not just that he needs a Brinks truck to cash his bi-weekly paychecks that causes all the grinning.

Big league ballplayers have been at it since age five or six, likely. So even as rookies they’ve been playing organized baseball of some sort for about 20 years.

The fun doesn’t go away, apparently. And that’s a good thing.

But WAS there a boy last year, cruising the neighborhood on his bike, looking to scare up a game of mini-baseball?

I sure hope so. Because I didn’t see one last summer. Or the summer before that.

Do boys even own baseball gloves anymore?

Surely they do. But I’m not seeing them.

Growing up in Livonia in the 1970s, before parents had to pray their kids would make it home from school safely, the bicycle for my pals and me was basically a car for kids.

Your bike kind of defined you, as cars do for adults. The bike wasn’t just a mode of transportation. Kids would compare bikes, like the men do when they look under the hoods.

Bikes were accessorized. Pimped, if you will, to use today’s vernacular.

One of the accessories was the old baseball card attached to the spokes with a clothespin thing. You know, so when you pedaled, the card would make a cool sound as it was abused, spoke-by-spoke.

A good summer’s day for us kids meant some sort of truncated, hurried-through breakfast, a brief announcement to mom that you were out the door to play, and oh by the way—I’ll see you around dinner time. Maybe.

And our moms would nod, tell us to be careful and they wouldn’t be worried about our well being for the entire day. Heck, it was one less thing to be bothered with.

We wore many hats at the ball field, we kids did. We were general manager, manager, player, radio announcer and PA announcer. Even trainer.

“Walk it off!” was our usual medical advice.

We were GMs because we had to choose teams (personnel). We were managers because someone had to construct a batting order. We played, of course. And we announced.

“Two outs! Imaginary runner on third! 4-3 you guys!” was a typical announcement when the next batter strode to the plate. The scenario had to be reset, batter to batter.

Speaking of batters, there were two schools of thought when it came to hitting. Some kids had their own batting stance, while others would mimic those of their favorite players. I liked to be Norm Cash, even though he was a lefty and I wasn’t.

Oh, and we were our own umpires, which would cause the occasional spat.

Rarely did we have enough kids to man an entire outfield, so right field was out. Unless a left-handed hitter was up; then left field was out. You hit the ball to a field that was out, and you were…OUT.

No umpiring needed there. No arguments there.

The big decision was, “pitcher’s hand” or “pitcher’s mound”?

Big difference. Big decision.

The former meant that the baseball need only be in the pitcher’s glove (or hand) before the runner reached first base in order to record the out. The latter meant that the pitcher not only needed the ball, but he needed to be standing on the mound as well.

The “mound,” by the way, was simply a rubber slab on flat ground.

Anyhow, the establishment of pitcher’s hand or pitcher’s mound was like whether a poker game was of “hand” or “stud” variety.

Big doings, I’m telling you.

So these loosey-goosey games would carry on all day. Throughout, there was attrition. Churn. A couple guys would leave. A couple more would take their place—stragglers who were cruising the schools and parks, looking for a game. They were like pool hustlers that way.

If you didn’t secure replacements right away, you played shorthanded, which meant that maybe a team would have to provide its own pitcher. It also meant that the bases would be crawling with imaginary runners. A batting order was maybe sliced down to four people.

But it was baseball. It was three outs per half inning, three strikes and you’re out and the umpire was, as former big league arbiter Dave Pallone once told me, “Maybe not always right. But never wrong.”

At the end of the day, when it was too dark to safely see the ball, we hopped back on our bikes and rode home, where mom was waiting with dinner.

“How was the game?” she’d ask.

“What’s for dinner?” we’d reply.

Tell me this still happens.

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Mar
07

Rush to Judgment

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What is becoming increasingly clear in the fallout of the misogynist remarks made by conservative wonk Rush Limbaugh is that the Republican Party is about to place in nomination for the most important, most treacherous job in the world, a man who doesn’t have the courage to stand up to a talk radio host.

So how can we expect the GOP nominee, as president, to stand up to the bullies, dictators and other ne’er-do-wells that exist on this planet?

Answer: we can’t.

They say silence is deafening, and in the case of Limbaugh and his attack on Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, the silence has managed to be louder than Limbaugh himself—and that’s not easy to do.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have each offered tepid, milquetoast responses to Limbaugh, who called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” while also calling for the young woman to produce sex tapes. All because Fluke had the temerity to want to testify on Capitol Hill about the University providing contraception as part of its health care.

Romney said that Rush’s words weren’t the ones he’d use. Santorum tried to dismiss Limbaugh as an “absurd” entertainer. Gingrich tried to turn the tables and called President Obama “opportunistic” because he showed grace and compassion in phoning Fluke the day after Limbaugh’s savage attack.

Each of the candidates have had second, and sometimes even third chances to clarify their positions, i.e. a “do-over” to show that their first responses were inappropriate and feeble.

Yet still, a week after Limbaugh went after Fluke, not only have the candidates, but most of the Republican Party have stayed mum about this red hot button issue.

No one wants to take on Rush Limbaugh among the GOP ranks. I don’t know whether that’s pitiful, insane or abhorrent.

Let’s go for all three.

Santorum, in fact, had the gall to respond “courage” when asked in the last GOP debate to describe himself with one word.

Romney doesn’t want to touch Limbaugh with a 10-foot pole. Gingrich sometimes actually sounds like Rush’s press secretary.

The candidates’ cowardice is only matched by their stupidity.

Blame their camps, too. For no one apparently has the brains to deduce that if their man came out against Limbaugh’s comments—really came out against them—then he’d look a whole lot better than the others, and that such a response might actually help him in November.

You think the women voters, who are already cranky about birth control being reanimated as a political issue some 50 years after they thought it was put to bed, are in the mood to put up with attacks on their gender such as the one Limbaugh levied on Ms. Fluke?

Yet if one of the GOP presidential candidates had shown some courage—Santorum’s word—I’d bet some of those female voters might be a little soothed.

The bottom line: a presidential candidate who is afraid of a talk show host who represents a sliver of a party that needs to grow instead of shrink, isn’t fit to be president.

If the eventual GOP nominee needs a reminder of that, you can believe the women voters of this country will gladly provide it.

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