Are you ready for a brand-new beat?

Making my way slowly through the 1619 project, discussed earlier. So far my favorite piece is Wesley Morris’, in the magazine, about music, and what black folks brought to the table, and continue to bring to the table, of American musical expression.

I’ve always disliked the term “cultural appropriation.” I get it, I totally do, but I’ve never been comfortable with trying to define how listening to lots of things, taking it all into your soul, processing it in your soul-blender and then pouring out your own smoothie crosses a line between “influenced by” and “stealing from.” I think a lot of people can’t do it, either, which is how we get the stupidest extremes of the charge — the Oberlin students whining that serving banh mi sandwiches in the cafeteria, made with the wrong kind of bread, somehow devalues the unique cuisine of Vietnam, to name but one. I try to ignore these stories, because they’re dumb. The banh mi itself is a unique fusion of native and colonial Vietnam, after all (the baguette), and sooner or later someone is going to fill one with macaroni and cheese, at which point, game over. It’s food, folks. It all goes in the same stomach, as my dad used to say.

Music is more difficult. If you know anything about pop culture, you know about Alan Lomax and his field recordings, which preserved the unique live sounds of black southern music for the ages, but also how that tipped over into the theft of same. You know about the routine contract rip-offs of black musicians; there was a reason the mob was involved in radio and music publishing, after all. You may have seen the “60 Minutes” feature on Little Richard, which featured Pat Boone singing “Tutti Frutti,” a recording that paid Richard Penniman the princely royalty of zero dollars and zero cents. The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin both got their start covering African-American music. The Stones grew into something else entirely, and you can argue that Led Zeppelin was absolutely sui generis from the get-go, but it was a necessary step in the evolution of both bands. And it was great music.

My point is, trying to separate black music from white music is like trying to separate black and white people. We cross-pollinate. It’s what people do.

Morris’ essay is wide-ranging, and doesn’t really address “appropriation,” that term that sounds like it came out of the Cultural Revolution. Nor does he address copyright, or Alan Lomax. Rather, he dives into the stew and comes out with something that’s just delicious to read. Here’s the top, a slightly longer cut-and-paste than I generally do:

I’ve got a friend who’s an incurable Pandora guy, and one Saturday while we were making dinner, he found a station called Yacht Rock. “A tongue-in-cheek name for the breezy sounds of late ’70s/early ’80s soft rock” is Pandora’s definition, accompanied by an exhortation to “put on your Dockers, pull up a deck chair and relax.” With a single exception, the passengers aboard the yacht were all dudes. With two exceptions, they were all white. But as the hours passed and dozens of songs accrued, the sound gravitated toward a familiar quality that I couldn’t give language to but could practically taste: an earnest Christian yearning that would reach, for a moment, into Baptist rawness, into a known warmth. I had to laugh — not because as a category Yacht Rock is absurd, but because what I tasted in that absurdity was black.

I started putting each track under investigation. Which artists would saunter up to the racial border? And which could do their sauntering without violating it? I could hear degrees of blackness in the choir-loft certitude of Doobie Brothers-era Michael McDonald on “What a Fool Believes”; in the rubber-band soul of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”; in the malt-liquor misery of Ace’s “How Long” and the toy-boat wistfulness of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing.”

Then Kenny Loggins’s “This Is It” arrived and took things far beyond the line. “This Is It” was a hit in 1979 and has the requisite smoothness to keep the yacht rocking. But Loggins delivers the lyrics in a desperate stage whisper, like someone determined to make the kind of love that doesn’t wake the baby. What bowls you over is the intensity of his yearning — teary in the verses, snarling during the chorus. He sounds as if he’s baring it all yet begging to wring himself out even more.

Playing black-music detective that day, I laughed out of bafflement and embarrassment and exhilaration. It’s the conflation of pride and chagrin I’ve always felt anytime a white person inhabits blackness with gusto. It’s: You have to hand it to her. It’s: Go, white boy. Go, white boy. Go. But it’s also: Here we go again. The problem is rich. If blackness can draw all of this ornate literariness out of Steely Dan and all this psychotic origami out of Eminem; if it can make Teena Marie sing everything — “Square Biz,” “Revolution,” “Portuguese Love,” “Lovergirl” — like she knows her way around a pack of Newports; if it can turn the chorus of Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me” into a gospel hymn; if it can animate the swagger in the sardonic vulnerabilities of Amy Winehouse; if it can surface as unexpectedly as it does in the angelic angst of a singer as seemingly green as Ben Platt; if it’s the reason Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” remains the whitest jam at the blackest parties, then it’s proof of how deeply it matters to the music of being alive in America, alive to America.

If you can’t tell by now, I recommend it. It’s one reason this project has been such an eye-opening pleasure to read.

I wish I could say anything else was a pleasure today, but it wasn’t. Terrible, terrible insomnia last night, which always leaves me depressed and miserable the next day. At least I was able to play the work-from-home card. I expect — I hope — to get a better night’s sleep tonight, and that tomorrow will be better. Keep a good thought.

Posted at 5:30 pm in Popculch | 40 Comments
 

The weekend, the whirl.

We start the week on a rocket blast of coffee and eggs and barely slow down. Wednesday is Hump Day, halfway to the weekend, then it’s Thursday, the official start of the weekend. (This is true; I saw some market research once that said people start thinking of the weekend at noon on Thursday, and once your mind is there, your body’s only a half step behind. Then it’s the official weekend, and it’s woo, party! Dinner guests! Activities! Errands! Laundry! And all of a sudden it’s Sunday night and you’re thinking, what happened here?

Americans work too hard, this is indisputably true.

it was a busy weekend. Eastern Market, dry cleaner, blah blah, ending at the Cannabis Cup, in town for the weekend. This is an event I was utterly unprepared for, a trade show all about marijuana, newly legalized in Michigan. I went there expecting a …trade show, but it was far more. Line around the block to get in, in withering sun and heat. It probably took half an hour just to get through the lines, and once inside? Quite nuts. Packed to the rafters, hot as hell, stinky as hell, row after row of weed vendors, selling pretty much everything weed-related.

If you live in a non-legal state, the first glimpse of Big Marijuana may be surprising. It has product specialists:

And of course it has characters:

And a certain literally homegrown charm:

But this was a big crowd, in a very Detroit space — the Russell Industrial Center courtyard:

It’s Weedstock. I’m sure someone has called it that before. I mean, the Wu-Tang Clan played.

Then, today, Sunday, was Swim to the Moon, the open-water swim I’ve been worried about for weeks. I had reason to worry; it was no easier than two years ago, when I finished it thinking I was going to die. I stayed on course better this year, maybe shaved a minute or two off my last time. But there’s simply no way to swim that far and make it easy, not at my age. But I finished, and didn’t drown, so we’ll maybe see about next year.

I’m trying to catch up with whatever I missed in the papers this weekend, but for now, I’m working my way through the 1619 Project, the NYT future Pulitzer winner about the effects of slavery in America. It’s much better than I expected, which is why so many Republicans seem to be so butthurt over it. So far, though, it’s very good.

And with that, I’m out. So, so tired.

Posted at 9:08 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 50 Comments
 

Bus tales.

Now that the weather is fine, I’ve been riding the bus more. The pluses are what I don’t have to worry about: Parking, mainly. Parking isn’t that expensive compared to other large cities, but I resent every penny I pay for it. Street parking is cheaper, but impossible to find and when you do, you have to monitor the app to make sure you don’t go over for even a second and the enforcement pythons don’t strike you with a $45 ticket.

So when I can, I ride the bus. It’s…an experience. I take the city bus into town, the suburban bus home. Public transit is a divisive issue in a region so fraught with racial politics, poverty and sprawl, and it is highly, highly imperfect. But the inner-ring suburbs like Grosse Pointe are among the places you can make PT commuting work, and I’m grateful.

Why “now that the weather is fine,” you might be wondering? It’s because the most convenient stop for my schedule is a good (checks the app) eight-tenths of a mile from my house, which is a bit of a hike in the morning, when the buses only run every 30 minutes or so. Miss it by a minute, you’ve wasted about 45 more. In the winter, I ride in with Alan and bus home. But in the summer, sweet summer, I can bike to the stop, stow it on the rack, then reverse the process when I get downtown. I like it a lot, although I’m sweaty when I arrive. No biggie.

Anyway, the city bus going in is rarely not full by the time we’re halfway through the route. When you’re poor and work low-wage jobs, you don’t work 9 to 5. And if you don’t work at all, the bus is how you get to your doctor, to the grocery, to see your friends. Which happens all the time.

There’s a driver who’s often on my route, the sort of — if I can traffic in a mild ethnic stereotype here — formidable African-American woman with whom one does not play. Fans of “The Wire” might remember her from season four, when someone very much like her walked into an unruly gym assembly of middle-schoolers and silenced it with a single glower. So the other day, a guy gets on. She takes one look at him and says, “That stays in your pocket. And if it don’t stay in your pocket, I’m putting you off.” I looked at the guy’s pocket, from which poked the neck of a flat pint bottle. Oh. He didn’t like that, but he knew who was in charge. So he sat down next to some other guy who seemed similarly drunk at 10 a.m. The two of them struck up a conversation that was, well, drunk.

I couldn’t quite follow it, but it had all the hallmarks of drunk talk — one or two phrases repeated and repeated and repeated, including “I AIN’T PAYIN NO MORE RENT” and “LIKE JOHNNIE SAY, IT’S CHEAPER TO KEEP HER.” If either one of these guys had a Her that they were somehow keeping, I’d eat my hat, but whatever. “I WAS GIVING NINETY-FIVE DOLLARS A MONTH, BUT NO MORE. NO MORE RENT.” I tried to imagine what $95 might rent in Detroit. (Shudder.) It seemed they were spoiling for a fight with the driver, but she had no doubt sharpened her skills on scores of others, and just kept her mouth shut. But when the guy sitting next to me started listening to music on his phone without earphones, she pointed, snapped her fingers and nodded to the “no radio” sign. And that was that.

Another day, a political discussion started between two passengers sitting in different rows. It seemed to start over housing, then pivoted through public assistance and wound up with Trump, at which point others joined in and the volume increased. The driver actually turned off the white noise of the A/C so she could listen and join in. It reached a crescendo with one of the original talkers saying IF TRUMP SO GREAT, WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE WORK FOR HIM IN JAIL? Another squawked, HE WANT A DICTATORSHIP. Others were chiming in from all corners, and then, suddenly, it was the ringleader’s stop. He stepped down and I gave him a golf clap as the driver caroled, WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COF-FEEEEE.

This never, ever happens on the bus home. Maybe we’re all too tired.

Every day I do this, I save $6 — the difference between combined fares and the parking — and gain far more in observational details.

Other than that, the week’s been sucking. I have to take my lifeguard recertification test tomorrow, and I’m-a flunk that bitch, I just know it.

But there are fun things to read. Like this, an account of a visit to some sort of Ayn Rand fest in Cleveland, of all places:

I woke up the next morning ready to learn. It was hard to choose which seminar to attend during the triple-booked 8:40 a.m. slot. “Logic: The Cashing-In Course” seemed to be the biggest draw, but it came with a homework assignment, and “Duty as Anti-Morality” seemed a bit too by-the-numbers even for me, an Ayn Rand novice. Given the conference’s focus on establishing Randian beach heads in American culture, I opted for “Appreciating Ayn Rand’s Tiddlywink Music.”

Tiddlywink music, for the uninitiated, sounds like the score to “Steamboat Willie” or a tune you might hear on an old-timey carousel: manically upbeat and repetitive, calling to mind a sonic hamster wheel. For an hour, we listened to different examples of the genre, which seems to have been classified as such by Rand and no one else. “Pay attention to the tinkling,” the lecturer encouraged us. To me, it sounded like something a homicidal clown would listen to, or what a particularly sadistic interrogator would blast at high volume to torture his quarry.

What made Tiddlywink music uniquely pro-capitalist? It has roots in the 1890s, which Rand insisted was the only historical period of true human flourishing. It was an era of unfettered capitalism—child labor, robber barons, tenements—which she loved not in spite of those things, but because of them.

And here, as in so many other spheres, Rand’s true believers heed their master’s voice. For objectivists, Rand’s whims and fancies are inextricable from the movement’s philosophical precepts—so the assembled faithful were duly tutored in the finer points of grainy music-box melodies of the 1890s. We listened intently to Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz”—an inferior piece of music, we were told, because of its melancholy overtones and low “note density.” Tiddlywink music, in happy contrast, had five-and-a-half notes per second. When the hour was up, the presenter asked if we’d prefer a Q&A or another song. “One more song!” the crowd shouted back.

Pretty funny.

OK, I gotta get some sleep. Fingers crossed for me memorizing those chest-compression-to-breaths CPR ratios.

Posted at 9:44 pm in Detroit life | 56 Comments
 

Help from afar.

Well, that particular problem wrapped itself up in a bow. Allow me to explain:

Kate has an internship opportunity this fall that could lead to permanent employment, although that’s a don’t-count-chickens deal for now. It’s in Los Angeles, and it starts unpaid. The job itself is in Malibu, which is a bit of a fur piece from the city proper. Money isn’t a problem yet — we have a lot of her 529 left over (thanks, scholarships and diligent saving) and can help her out for a while, but housing was a big question mark, as she can’t sign a lease without an income or a job. She was hoping to find a co-op house similar to where she lived in Ann Arbor, but no dice in pricey Malibu. Nor student housing at Pepperdine. She’d been Craigslisting her little heart out, looking for a short-term sublet, but when a spare bedroom in Culver City fell through, I told her I’d see what I could do.

L.A. Mary to the rescue, and in about 24 hours, to boot. She knows a guy who has a restored vintage Airstream trailer parked in his back yard, it’s coming vacant soon, and it’s in Venice, which location-wise is about the best possible solution. So barring a disaster, she’ll be moving in in October.

And get this: The house has a pool. About a mile from the ocean. And about 20 miles from Malibu. Man, when you have a problem in a faraway city, it always helps to know a few locals, and it really helps to know our Mary.

So thanks, Mary.

I only wish my commute was on the Pacific Coast Highway, although maybe not at rush hour.

I just spent some time looking at Google Maps. Sigh.

I really hope this works out for her. She’s a hard worker. But we all have to struggle, early in our careers.

Take Jeffrey Epstein, for example. Started as a humble high-school math teacher, but it wasn’t long before his sociopathic charm took him right to the top, and he did exactly what he liked along the way until only very recently, when he decided that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life eating bologna sandwiches and canned fruit cocktail.

You can understand.

I’m not forming an opinion about it yet. Weird shit happens every day in our crazy world, but often, Occam’s razor applies. And if the Clintons were that powerful, why are so many of the people who tormented them for so long, who torment them to this day, still walking around free? Newt Gingrich is a tub of lard who couldn’t evade a trained assassin for 30 seconds. And Anthony Weiner, for cryin’ out loud. Neither man would be much missed by their wives. Callista might even leave the bedroom window unlocked. (Hell, she’d send a thank-you note.)

That said, what an utter failure of what should be simple procedure in a federal lockup. Hanging oneself in a cell isn’t as cut-and-dried as a drop from a gallows; often the deceased suffocates, and that takes time. This never should have happened, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

The other big event this weekend was the old-folks’ swim meet we held Saturday morning. It was all team events, almost all relays. We all swam two or three races, and the teams I was on won some, lost some. It was a very casual event, as you can imagine; we were encouraged to “take the ribbons you think you deserve,” for instance. I left with none. What am I going to do with ribbons? I had a great time, and saw our old buddy Tom, who took much of the last year off as he waited for, and then received, a kidney transplant. Now he’s back in the pool, and here he is, after finishing his lap:

Man, nothing photographs like a pool on a beautiful summer day.

I hope the next day you face is beautiful. See you Tuesday/Wednesday.

Posted at 6:35 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 65 Comments
 

Too close.

We started to watch “Vice” Thursday night. Not a terrible effort at all — good performances, imaginative telling of a familiar story, interesting creative choices. But I tapped out early. It was too much like current events, and felt too much like watching the president yesterday. Freshly spray-tanned, sniffing, barely able to read the Teleprompter, and then with that stupid god-bless riff at the end, which turned the exhaust-belching sedan of his brain north on I-75 instead of south, and took him to Toledo.

Easy to confuse, Dayton and Toledo. They’re both cities in Ohio, and we all look alike, anyway.

An alternative explanation:

But what if Trump’s problem was a literal lack of focus? What if, where most people saw the words Texas and Ohio on the teleprompter, the president saw a capital T, a big blur, and maybe an O somewhere? Minor Ohio city, starts with T: Toledo.

In 2014, as Donald Trump took the stand to testify in a civil case brought against him by two would-be residents (had his tower in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ever actually opened), he asked the judge presiding over the case if he could borrow the judge’s reading glasses. According to a photo caption in the Sun-Sentinel at the time, “Trump quipped that he should wear them all the time, but he’s ‘too vain.’ ”

Another curiosity of the Trump presidency has been his approach to stairs. Almost every time he exits Air Force One, Trump can be spotted white-knuckling the guardrail as he stares intently at his feet. And in 2017, The Times of London reported that widely mocked photo in which Trump grabbed Theresa May’s hand was due explicitly to his fear of stairs. …A man with poor eyesight and perhaps poor depth perception, however, would indeed be far more cautious around stairs than most. And a man terrified of embarrassing himself in any capacity, doubly so.

I think she’s on to something. However, I still can’t watch him. Every time he holds up his hand in one of those dumb thumb-to-forefinger gestures he does, I feel a little more dead inside.

So I left “Vice” as Dick was getting the call from Dubya. I’ve literally seen this movie. I know how it turns out.

Sorry I’m so listless of late. I’m just…listless. And stuff like this depresses me. Also, for the record: I absolutely believe the story told in the last comment thread: Oh, FFS, Joe, of course that woman said that stuff about Obama. How dumb do you think we are? How dumb are you? I have heard many versions of her remark in the last few years. I walked out of my last high-school reunion after some blockhead popped off that Obama was “the most racist president ever.” And that was before the last election. I honestly don’t think I could handle that bunch now. I won’t be attending the next one.

So, some odds and ends:

I checked the Columbus Dispatch the other day, looking for fresh angles on the Dayton shootings. I was distracted by a story on the Sale of Champions at the Ohio State Fair, where the prize-winning livestock is auctioned off to the area’s markets and restaurants. It can be a sad occasion, as the 4-H kids say goodbye to the animals they helped raise, knowing they’re all going to their deaths on the altar of our carnivorous culture, but they walk away with big checks, which helps take the sting out.

The lead mentioned something about the top price going to the champion “cow.” I thought, hmm, usually the steer gets the biggest bid, but OK maybe dairy is super-hot this year, and then realized the writer was referring to a steer. She just called him a cow, because he walks on four legs and moos, I guess. A few lines down, she described the sale of “turkey’s.” The errors have been fixed now, but JFC I can’t stand it. My old pal Kirk Arnott, who ran the copy desk with both benevolence and an insistence on upholding the fucking English language, has really left the building.

Of course, the paper is owned by GateHouse now. Which just bought Gannett, which owns the Free Press here in Detroit, so.

What else? I’m doing my first swim meet this weekend. It’s the sunrise swimmers at one park against the sunrise swimmers at another. Everyone is at least 40, and a few are past 80. This should be fun. Wish me luck.

I’ll try to be back before then, though.

Posted at 9:56 am in Current events, Media | 81 Comments
 

Bloody Sunday.

Honestly, I don’t know why some people don’t just keep their mouths shut:

And:

Seriously. Just shut UP.

But we all know that won’t happen. What a terrible weekend.

I was a no-show at the end of last week because a) I was exhausted; and b) all my energy went into this interview with Marianne Williamson that I did with my colleague Violet. Very interesting woman. Not presidential timber, but in a race with 20 more-or-less front-runners, she’s more interesting than, say, Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar. Afterward I told her press secretary that if the Democrats win in 2020 — huge if, I know — I’d like to see her run a truth and reconciliation commission. I’d also like to see her take the fight to Fox and the rest of the right-wing news bubble. I think women in particular would be responsive to some of her ideas.

As to why we didn’t press her on some of her goofball ideas about health, meds and weight loss, I plead only that we were given 45 minutes, and she tends to filibuster. If you read her answers, you see a lot of preacher tricks in there. Ultimately, we thought we’d press her on policy over some of her past statements. Time is finite. But we could have talked a lot longer.

And now it’s Sunday, another week looming ahead. Honestly, after this weekend it is tempting to sell everything and light out for a saner country. Europe sounds tempting right now. Hell, Canada sounds tempting. Of course, they have no mental illness in either of these places, nor violent video games, so no mass shootings.

Let’s see if we can get through it without another. (Don’t bet on it.)

Posted at 5:29 pm in Current events | 64 Comments
 

One night in Detroit.

First, the before.

My editor and I walked up to the Fox around 5, stopping for a light dinner on the way. It was a nice, warm afternoon, no rain in the forecast, perfect for a little demonstrating. The police had Woodward blocked between Grand Circus Park and the freeway, and Detroit did show out for it.

This was protest ground zero. The two sides separated to opposite sides of Woodward. On the pro-Trump side: A man drenched in fake blood (abortion), some bikers with various love-it-or-leave-it signs, a makeshift band of young men plowing through “CNN Sucks,” a few Beckys. This was shot from the Trump side. Here’s Becky on the bullhorn:

The guy in the lei was wearing a yarmulke and trench coat. There were a couple of black folks on this side, one Latino-looking dude with a “legal immigrants for Trump” sign, along with InfoWars, religious people — the usual tossed salad.

On the anti-Trump side, a far larger group, more energized, with a smorgasbord of causes — green new deal, unions for all, one job should be enough, abolish ICE, etc. I took video of this side, but I won’t embed here; no need to eat up bandwidth. You’ve all seen a demonstration before. (Lots of pix of this side at Deadline Detroit, too.) This side was far more diverse, not only in causes but in age and ethnicity. Draw your own conclusions.

At the peak of the chanting, a hayride rolled right through the middle of everything:

Earlier in the day, spotted Marianne Williamson on the street. She’s been called fat-phobic. She’s certainly not fat herself; this is a size-0 XS woman if there ever was one:

After a while, it was time to go inside. Locked up my bike — a bike was very helpful for getting around this complex — and went into the media pen. All the media, except for the CNN moderators, were in the pen. It was a nice pen, thoroughly air-conditioned and well-wifi’d:

But we got no closer to the actual debate than you all did; we watched it on TV:

You all watched it, too, so I don’t have to tell you anything you already know. I was startled by Marianne Williamson, not only by the some of the sensible — but really not pertaining to the presidency — things she said, but also by how many supporters she had outside, and not the ones you’d think, i.e., not people like her. A surprising number of African Americans, for one, and the biggest watch-party venue of the lot:’

This is a couple doors down from the Fox. Which looked gorgeous on TV; kudos to the lighting and staging technicians.

And tonight we do it all again. I might wander down again; I think my credential will at least get me past the barricades for one more night, although unsure of the press pen. No matter. Detroit is fun 365 days a year, but most fun in summer, when we all come outside. As I left, the demonstrations were down to a few plucky sign-carriers, and these folks:

“Replace Rashida” was one of the signs on the pro-Trump side, earlier, but my guess is, they won’t come close. Her district seems to love her, and to be sure, she’s one of the warmest politicians I’ve seen in a while. She came out to march a while in the early demos, along with Nathan Phillips (the Native American guy in the Covington kids story). You can see her picture, along with many, many others, at the Deadline Detroit story.

Me, I’m going to eat some breakfast and get my butt to work. Have a good day, all.

Posted at 8:07 am in Current events, Detroit life | 91 Comments
 

Different from you and me.

It’s getting toward the end of the month, so apologies for posting a New York Times story as the center for today’s blog; I know not everyone is a subscriber and has the 10 or so permitted free articles. It’s not that important, anyway, but I’ll try to quote only judiciously from the story, about the strange relationship between Jeffrey Epstein and Leslie Wexner, the founder and CEO of what’s now known as L Brands but everyone who grew up in Columbus called the Limited.

The story draws a lot of lines between the two, but doesn’t connect all the dots, many of which are, as yet, not connectable by primary sources. What’s known is that the two were unusually close, and aren’t anymore. This sorta sums it up:

Within years of meeting Mr. Epstein, Mr. Wexner handed him sweeping powers over his finances, philanthropy and private life, according to interviews with people who knew the men as well as court documents and financial records.

Mr. Wexner authorized him to borrow money on his behalf, to sign his tax returns, to hire people and to make acquisitions. Over the years, Mr. Epstein obtained a New York mansion, a private plane and a luxury estate in Ohio — today valued at roughly $100 million all together — previously owned by Mr. Wexner or his companies. At the same time, he drove a wedge between Mr. Wexner and longtime associates and friends.

Virtually from the moment in the 1980s that Mr. Epstein arrived on the scene in Columbus, Ohio, where L Brands was based, Mr. Wexner’s friends and colleagues were mystified as to why a renowned businessman in the prime of his career would place such trust in an outsider with a thin résumé and scant financial experience.

Wexner, for his part, claims he severed their relationship at some point, around the time of the now-infamous plea deal in Florida:

“While Mr. Epstein served as Mr. Wexner’s personal money manager for a period that ended nearly 12 years ago, we do not believe he was ever employed by nor served as an authorized representative of the company,” said Tammy Roberts Myers, a company spokeswoman.

Ms. Myers said that, at the direction of the company’s board, L Brands recently hired lawyers “to conduct a thorough review” into the relationship. She declined to say what the investigation would entail.

Wexner has reason to put as much distance as possible between himself and a sex criminal now; as many have pointed out, all is not what it used to be at L Brands, which swaggered through the Malling of America like conquering heroes. L Brands, at one time, encompassed the Limited, Limited Too, Limited Express, Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. Probably a few I’m forgetting in there, too. It would be hard to pass through a shopping center without feeling their fingers in your wallet; long after I outgrew the cheap clothes on offer, toddler Kate would drag me into Bath & Body Works. (They sold cheap glycerin soaps for a buck a bar, and she loved to pick out the colors she liked and just play with them in their wrappers. Kept her amused on many trips to Columbus. My sister pointed out that most malls had multiple locations of B&BW, knowing it was an impulse buy — they wanted to be in as many places as possible, to catch you when you were feeling impulsive.)

Now, of course, the plight of the American shopping mall is well-known, and Victoria’s Secret in particular is in trouble. They failed to see the body-positivity trend coming, preferring to stick to the otherworldly, fake-boobed TrumpFembot(tm) model for their brand image. This may be explained by the fact that until recently, they had a board with only one woman on it — Abigail Wexner, the CEO’s wife. She is undeniably a brainy woman, but I doubt she’s noticing lingerie trends at the middle-class retail level, living in the Himalayan altitude of wealth as she does.

Anyway, this is a bad time for Wexner to be seen as a confederate of someone like Epstein, even in the past, as it’s becoming increasingly evident Epstein’s proclivities and activities were carried out more or less in plain sight, and Wexner is the father of two daughters himself. A consumer boycott is the last thing the company needs.

When I wrote about him about 100 years ago, the angle was this: For years, this fortysomething Jewish bachelor accumulated wealth and built his company and kept a pretty low profile, and then suddenly one day he woke up and decided to be a Player. Columbus is like most Midwestern cities and prizes dues-paying over just flinging money around, and Wexner made a big misstep early when he suggested the symphony orchestra give up its Ohio Theatre base for a “real” music hall. The Ohio Theatre was one of those glorious old movie theaters from the ’20s that fell into disrepair; a volunteer-funded restoration effort saved it and people were very proud and nostalgic about it, so that didn’t go over well at all. He lost that one, but anyone with millions of dollars isn’t ignored for long, and I think building the Wexner Center, an avant-garde art space on the Ohio State campus, satisfied his urge to make a mark in the arts, and plastering his name on a few hospital buildings did the same.

But I recall seeing Epstein’s name associated with him for a while now, with the theme that somehow Epstein offered the billionaire some essential schooling in “how to be rich.” Wexner didn’t start really spending in a showy way until his marriage to a New York City M&A lawyer in 1993. First there was the gigantic house in the Columbus suburbs to welcome her to town, then, because his bride liked outdoorsy pursuits like riding and shooting, he outfitted the house with barns and stables and bought her country homes in London and …Georgia, I think. There was a yacht, Limitless, with the yachtiest yacht details available; I think I remember some puff piece talking about the “dolphin cam” belowdecks, so his children could watch the fishies swim by. Epstein was apparently part of all these projects, even down to overseeing the design and building of the yacht, a pretty amazing thing for a college dropout with no mariner experience to do.

So I guess the question that hangs over all of this is: Is it possible for a man capable of building a billionaire’s fortune over the course of one lifetime — he famously launched his first store with a $10,000 loan from various relatives — be so naive that he didn’t know what Epstein was, fairly early in their relationship? He trusted him to sign his tax returns? Build him a $100 million yacht? So did he know and not care or — and I think this is far more likely — this sort of behavior is simply accepted, along with everything else, if you’re rich enough and have the right friends?

OK, so. Sunday afternoon and I’ve been away from here for…a week. Apologies. I have no excuse other than: I’ve been busy, with a few weeknight engagements. Missed a couple of swim workouts, which I expect I’ll pay for during my open-water test in three weeks. If I drown, I’ll tell St. Peter, “It was summer, and I was busy.” Whatever.

I’m also done keeping up with various presidential outrages in this space. They’re happening too fast, and you guys all get to them first. Now it’s Baltimore, last weekend it was the “go back” stuff; current events these days are like being dive-bombed by zombie wasps or something. It’s so enervating, and it’s hot outside.

Thanks for hanging around, anyway. Next week are the Dem debates here in Detroit. I’m credentialed for the first night, and hope to share something with you after. Stay tuned.

Posted at 3:28 pm in Current events | 49 Comments
 

Heat, begone.

If you live on the east coast, the heat won’t last much longer. I know, because it came to you from Michigan, and it is being chased out to sea by a cold front that swept through Saturday night. Lotsa wind, lotsa wind-related headaches, mainly power outages. We kept ours, but lost our internet — twice.

You’ll cool off soon enough. Hope you don’t lose your internet in the bargain

So with that in mind, and because I worked most of today, and “Big Little Lies” is coming on in 14 minutes, so just two bits of the bloggage today:

First, the full, 16-minute-plus projection of “Apollo 50” on the Washington Monument and a few other screens in D.C. the other night. There’s an every-other-year light-installation festival in Detroit called D-lectricity that is starting to get some works like this, but nothing this impressive. Absolutely worth your time.

And a Spin magazine look at the 40-year anniversary of “Aja,” my once and forever favorite Steely Dan record. Yes, pretentious, yes, full of itself, yes, you get the feeling the album cover was black so you could better see the inevitable lines of cocaine laid thereon, but I still love it.

With that, I must go and embrace the week ahead. Enjoy yours.

Posted at 8:59 pm in Popculch | 105 Comments
 

The barrel has no bottom.

I guess this is where we are now, right? The president incites a mob to chant “send her back” about an immigrant whose story bears absolutely no resemblance to the one now accepted as fact. The next day, he tells an outright, obvious lie about how bothered he was by the whole incident, how he tried to shut it down immediately, as though the whole incident wasn’t on national television, as though the tape can’t be consulted with a few clicks, and already I’ve seen a couple of apparently intelligent people saying, “He said he disapproves, and tried to shut it down.”

That’s where we are now. The barrel, it has no bottom.

Next month — hell, maybe next week, maybe tomorrow — we’ll be in a different, worse place. Something to look forward to.

With that in mind, we limp to the end of a pretty awful week. Tomorrow it will be in the mid 90s, with humidity to match. When I swam Wednesday, I pulled up wheezing at the end of a piece and said, “I can’t breathe,” and the person in the next lane said, “I thought it was just me.” And this at 6:30 a.m. It’s thick out there.

First, this bit of bloggage: What you have to believe to believe the president.

And this: Why you want to work in a newsroom.

A good weekend, all. Stay cool.

Posted at 8:39 pm in Current events | 35 Comments