A different tongue.

I stumbled into watching this show on Apple+. “Physical.” It stars Rose Byrne and it’s set in the ’80s, about a woman who finds her calling in teaching aerobics. (Remember aerobics, ladies? Grapevine left, grapevine right, all that? Ah, memories.) The main action is set in 1986 and 1981, and I keep spotting what I’m calling linguistic anachronisms, i.e. people using words and phrases that they didn’t use in 1981. Hey, I was there. I know.

Such as? The main character says to herself, “I will eat clean,” an expression that is very, very recent, not 40 years old. Her husband, a professor at a crappy college, has one of his students as the last guest at a party and tells his wife, privately, “I think she wants to hook up with us,” another wrong-o. A 1981 man would have used the term “menage a trois,” the term of the era; hookup is a hip-hop era term. Some surfers call her a “bee-yotch,” another nope from me. And one more: “Impactful,” which is so recent it still sets my teeth on edge.

I guess there are two schools of thought about this. One is that, as a writer, you want to reach the audience you have, so if it takes eating clean and bee-yotch to do it, no one really cares. The other is that a period piece is a period piece, and people need to speak in the language of the time you’re portraying. (Except in strange in-between spaces that are almost a form of magical realism; I tried to watch the Emily Dickinson thing, also on Apple+, and the language was so jarring I just couldn’t, as the kids say. I couldn’t handle Emily telling her pals, “You’re so extra.”)

But it bugs me. “Mad Men” was famously loyal to all that stuff. There was some hoo-ha early on where Don was wearing a watch in 1960 that didn’t hit the market until 1961, and I recall Laura Lippman saying something about a character noting a driving time between Manhattan and Rehoboth Beach that was insanely incorrect, but I only noticed a few linguistic anachronisms that took me out of the action, and now I can’t even remember them.

One final note about “Physical” – the husband character loses his job at the crappy college and dispiritedly tells his wife the only school that seems to be interested in him is Denison. “In Ohio?” the wife says, with the same misery in her voice. OK, sure, there’s snow, but given that he’s a student-fucking sleaze bag, ending up at Denison would be like driving your car off the road and landing in the master suite at the Ritz-Carlton.

Pretty dumb show, yes.

Speaking of Laura Lippman, I have her new book and would rather be reading it than doing this. So I leave you with just this, an advance look at yet another Trump book, this one about the pandemic:

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as White House officials debated whether to bring infected Americans home for care, President Donald Trump suggested his own plan for where to send them, eager to suppress the numbers on U.S. soil.

“Don’t we have an island that we own?” the president reportedly asked those assembled in the Situation Room in February 2020, before the U.S. outbreak would explode. “What about Guantánamo?”

“We import goods,” Trump specified, lecturing his staff. “We are not going to import a virus.”

Kiiiiinda wish we’d known this earlier, but OK, whatever. Guantanamo. I ask you.

OK, one more. Tonight’s dinner, an asparagus/ham/shallot/mushroom souffle, and the best one yet:

It was delicious.

Posted at 8:53 pm in Current events, Television | 5 Comments
 

The good good china.

It rained, off and on, all day Saturday. Skies were supposed to clear around 5 p.m., but there were sprinkles until 7, when guests started to arrive. We’d already made the call to go rain-or-shine, but 10 people can’t sit around my dining room table, so having our party outdoors, in the driveway, was really the only way we’d avoid the kids-table or strolling-supper solution. How tense! How will Mrs. Dalloway solve THIS problem?!?

It stopped sprinkling. Alan set up a full bar on a card table. I rented another table for the buffet, along with 10 chairs. A nice lady loaned me her 3-by-6 table, and we put a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood on top of it, with a tablecloth over. I set the plywood with a mix of our plates and a yard-sale set I picked up on a local swap group. On the buffet, some of my formal serving pieces, some sterling, some crap. Nothing matched. I scattered tea lights and random candles around the table, along with grocery-store flowers. And it all went just swimmingly.

The guest list, I learned for the 900th time, is the only thing that really matters. I ask you: Would you rather split a six-pack and a pizza with the Springsteens and the Obamas in the living room of your scrofulous college apartment, or attend a black-tie function at Mar-a-Lago with the Trumps and Kardashians?

And the guests were everything. Everything, it turned out, was just about getting out on a warm night, eating some imperfectly but enthusiastically prepared food, and opening a million bottles of wine, along with pitchers of mojitos and negronis. Not that it was a drunkfest, although one of the guests made a French exit without her purse or her shoes. Everyone got home safely. We’re all starved for a little fun with fun people. And we all had fun.

I took some pictures with my film camera, and it’ll be months before we see those. For now, two taken with the phone. Dessert:

And after dessert:

If you want to make the cake, here’s the recipe. The sponge is simple, but as always with egg whites, a bit of a nail-biter. It turned out fine, though.

Everything turned out fine. I have a mild hangover. I’m treating it with ice cream, a grilled cheese sandwich and ignoring my watch chirping at me to close my rings.

Hope your weekend went as well.

My hangover was ameliorated somewhat by putting on a sleep mask after I got up to pee at 5 a.m. Was able to sleep clear until 8 a.m., at which point I went out to finish the cleanup. Before I did, though, I read this essay, published a few years ago. It’s a first-person account of working as a waiter for Mr. and Mrs. William F. Buckley; someone posted it on Twitter last night, and I can’t tell you who.

The Buckleys lived in a maisonette on Park Avenue. What is a maisonette, you may be wondering, as I did?

A maisonette, if you didn’t know, and I didn’t, is a house hidden inside the walls of an apartment building. The owners share services with the rest of the building but have their own door.

The rest of it is full of fantastic detail about how wealthy upper class Manhattan lives and parties, or did once. Money remakes Manhattan every generation or so, and I think a lot of this has gone away. I recall the first super-rich person I knew in New York, an heiress to two fortunes. She had a floor-through apartment in a Good Building on the upper east side, which means hers was the only apartment on the floor. The elevator opened onto her front door, which she kept unlocked and standing open much of the time, so the dog walker could collect the pooches for their morning constitutional without having to wake their slumbering mistress. As for the Buckleys:

I was introduced then to a kind older gentleman who, in my memory, ran their household. I don’t recall his precise title or his name, but if it had been a palace, I think he would have been the chamberlain. He impressed me instantly as one of the sweetest and most elegant men I had ever met, with a full head of white hair and a wry look in his eyes that stayed whether he was regarding a martini or a waiter. He was busy with showing the cooks around the kitchen. The waiters were brought upstairs to change in a small room that sat at the end of a hallway near the entrance to the back stairs, which led from the second floor to the kitchen. It contained a single bed made up with a torn coverlet, and a treadmill covered in wire hangers and books. Dusty sports trophies lined dusty bookshelves.

“Whose room is this?” I asked the captain.

“Mr. B’s,” he said.

I stared, waiting for him to laugh.

He said, “Oh, honey. Sure. She’s the one with all the money, after all. Canadian timber fortune, I think. Her friends call her Timberrr because of that and because she’s tall and when she’s drunk she falls over, because she won’t wear her shoes.” I thought of Madge Wildwood in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I laughed, he laughed, and then his face came over serious and flat and we both stopped laughing at the same time.

“Don’t you dare write about any of this,” he said. “Or I’ll have to hunt you down and kill you. With my bare hands. Because I love them dearly.”

OK, then, time to make some spaghetti carbonara and drink more water. The week begins!

Posted at 6:52 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 29 Comments
 

Eve of the eve.

I think the party will probably be OK, but I’m still nervous. I keep repeating my mantra: It’s not the food, it’s the guest list. And we have a good one for this — excellent talkers, good storytellers. If the tenderloin hits the driveway, it’ll be another good story to tell, not a tragedy. We can always call for pizzas, as Alison Roman helpfully points out in one of her books.

But I still have a bit of cleaning and a lot of prep work to do.

You can do me a solid and hit this column of mine, if you like. It’s about (sigh) Mitch Albom. Yes, after I swore I was done picking on him. But this guy — he keeps finding new ways to chap my ass.

OK, then, it’s a rainy Friday and I for one am here for it. Something in my Midwestern nature doesn’t trust too many sunny days in a row, and we had a week of glorious ones, but it’s time to water the earth. As long as it quits by tomorrow evening, and we’re assured it will.

Happy weekend to all.

Posted at 8:07 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 29 Comments
 

Read that, not this.

You know what I’m doing this weekend? Having a dinner party. For TEN people. What was I thinking? This is madness, and I’m still trying to work out the menu. So far: Mixed grill of beef tenderloin, chicken and maybe some shrimp, a fancier-than-average potato salad, grilled vegetables and…whatever. Open to suggestions, must feed 10. I have yet to shop.

Which is to say, this blog may be scarce the rest of the week. However! Neil Steinberg has written a fantastic one about Eric Zorn, who is taking the buyout and leaving the Chicago Tribune in the wake of its purchase by Alden Capital. It’s long, but absolutely worth the time, and has some very fine lines therein, including:

The thing Eric and I do, comment intelligently in a well-written fashion, isn’t what’s driving the conversation anymore, not the way wild extremism does. Fanatics glitter in the spotlight while moderation creeps off to die alone in the shadows.

How does it feel? Like a brontosaurus, under a darkening sky, up to its knees in a bog, slowly chewing a big mouthful of decaying vegetation, gazing uncomprehendingly at the heaving ribs of a stegosaurus that has toppled over on its side and is breathing hard, eyes staring, fixed.

Something like that.

Maybe it hit me because I’ve been doing my basement-cleaning, running across old clips, and feeling very dinosaur-y myself.

Anyway, I have much work to do. Much, much work. Read Neil, and we’ll talk later.

Posted at 10:21 am in Media | 45 Comments
 

Looking back.

How many of you have had a mentor in your career? What did it do for you? I ask because I got through another box in my long-term basement-cleaning project Saturday, and ran across some stories I did way back in the day and had almost entirely forgotten.

One brought back memories of the last few years in Fort Wayne, when the paper was starting its ruinous cycle of cut-cut-cut, which eventually led to its humiliating and ignominious death. I’d heard there was a newspaper war going on in North Manchester, a small town two counties away. The owner of the long-standing weekly had sold it as part of his midlife crisis (he’d decided he really wanted to be a teacher), then was horrified to realize, too late, that the buyer was a fire-breathing Christian ignoramus, who used his new mouthpiece to run syndicated crap from the know-nothing right. (One editorial pooh-poohed the crazy idea of evolution, as I recall.) The former editor retaliated by starting his own weekly, and the war was on, all played out in a town of about 1,700 households, so it was shot through with small-town drama and amusing detail, and was fun to report and read.

And as I recall, it was a struggle to even get it published. The managing editor at the time hated Features (he came from Sports) and liked to offer sparkling criticisms like, “I don’t know why we spend so much ink covering the symphony, when tractor pulls get bigger crowds.” Anyway, there was a fair bit of why-are-we-doing-this-story and who-cares-about-this-stuff from the higher-ups, and it was only the latest in a long, long string of incidents that convinced me I’d way overstayed at that place, but the alternatives were not great either; the whole industry was contracting, and I had a husband and young child, mortgage and all the rest of it. And the market for stories like that one — quirky, offbeat, low-stakes features that are just good yarns — was drying up everywhere.

In looking for someone else to blame for my bad choices, it occurred to me that if I’d had a mentor earlier in my career, I might have made better ones. But I didn’t. When I asked for it, from editors I respected, I inevitably got some version of this: “You know, I have eight reporters to oversee, half of whom struggle with subject-verb agreement. You aren’t one of my problems. Keep doing what you’re doing.” At a bigger paper, it would have been easier, but in a contracting small one, it just couldn’t happen.

If this sounds like self-pity to you, it probably is. I don’t spend much time looking back, but digging through your old clips will do that to you.

I threw out that story, and all the rest of them. Saved the loose photographs. Shook off the resentment and watched that water go right on under the bridge.

Then I vacuumed and we went sailing in a nice breeze. So there’s that.

Just one piece of bloggage today, a lovely story for Pride and you LGBTQ folks: Looking for Uncle Allan, written by a former colleague of my Alan, at the Detroit News. It’s about being gay and finding out you had a gay ancestor:

I know Uncle Allan ditched Detroit for Manhattan lights as soon as he was able, sometime around 1912, but other than that, for all intents and purposes, I know almost nothing about him. When you’re the notorious family homosexual, poor at the end to boot, nobody collects and preserves your papers and treasures. They’re scattered, auctioned off, left in boxes on the porch for the Goodwill. Unknowing fingers pop photos out of frames for resale, smudging black and white portraits on their way to the trash. My parents, as it happened, played a small but significant role in this obliteration.

Mostly what I do know are stories from the war years — we’re talking World War II here — when a then-elderly Uncle Allan would blow into our little dairy farm north of Detroit a couple times a year to drink up all my parents’ liquor rations. Most of the family wouldn’t receive him. But Mom and Dad — young and, I suppose, a little daring — did, and he’d settle in for a week at a time. He was tall and garrulous, with a full head of bright white hair and a theatrical voice and manner my grandfather always called “fruity,” but which the women adored. At the slightest prompting, Uncle Allan would act out little bits, “mere snippets,” he called them, from the classics on Broadway, shows that had debuted some 30 years before.

A lovely read. And now, I must tackle Monday.

Posted at 9:21 am in Media | 49 Comments
 

Another mixed grill.

Nothing much to report today, so let’s get into the huh-that’s-interesting-but-not-very file and see what falls out.

Last year sometime I picked up my film camera again, loaded it with Tri-X, and pushed it to 1600 ASA. Why? I have no idea. It took a while to use up the roll, and most of it was shit, but here are two I liked. The Blue Angels flyover was a Hail Mary; we were down by the lake waiting for them, and I thought they’d come down over the water, but they were about 100 yards inland, and traveling so fast I didn’t have a second to get ready; I heard them, turned, raised the camera and pressed the shutter. Bingo:

A friend and I went bike riding past a long-closed bar in Delray – one of those cursed, over-polluted neighborhoods in southwest Detroit – and found the front door standing open. We stopped and stuck our heads in and found the owner there, hanging. He was a very, very chatty fellow and maybe a little tetched. This is the back of the building, taken from the Rouge River on another day. I like the dog keeping watch:

Some days I can deeply identify with this raccoon:

If you don’t want to click, cooking oil did the trick to unstick the raccoon.

June 3 was a few days back, but this isn’t time-dependent: An old writing lesson by Tommy Tomlinson, on what storytellers can learn from “Ode to Billie Joe.”

With that, I gotta pop in my contacts and do another Zoom workout. Good weekend, all.

Posted at 8:43 am in Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments
 

Wakeful.

God, my insomnia is SO bad of late. I was having luck for a while with just going limp — no melatonin, no cannabis, just trusting that my body would take what it needs. News alert: My body does not take what it needs. It will sometimes fall asleep for 40 minutes, then wake up for three hours. Last night was a rare can’t-get-to-sleep-at-all episode. I took melatonin. I took CBD. I took a bowl of cereal after 90 minutes of staring at the ceiling didn’t work. I did a crossword puzzle and finally got to sleep about 1:30 a.m. Awake at 6, back to sleep 20 minutes later, up for good at 7:30.

That’s not good sleep. When that happens I don’t get exercise, although I dress for it in hopes an opportunity will present itself. It didn’t happen today. It wasn’t a wasted day, but it was an unpleasant one.

It’s been hot, so the windows are closed, but sometimes, on nights like this, I’ll listen to the night sounds. My takeaway: It’s gonna be a wild summer, based on the squealing tires I hear, as well as the gunfire. So much gunfire! And yes, I know the difference between a semiauto and firecrackers. I think about all the people out there, going about their business, firing weapons, squealing tires, doing other things. Trying to sleep.

Because of my irritation of late, I read this story of Caitlyn Jenner’s gubernatorial run with some interest, particularly this graf, which I think is the nut of it:

Celebrities always have played a role in American politics, and no state has offered as many notable examples as California, with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger morphing of course from Hollywood stars into public sector execs. But at a charged cultural and political juncture defined by Donald Trump, the most infamous entertainment-industry outsider ever, politics is no longer simply some notional lark of a second career but rather more and more a central means of creating or perpetuating renown, a newly altered electoral environment in which athletes, actors and other A-listers float bids to stoke fame.

The other day I tweeted that Kyrsten Sinema appears to have gone into politics for the sole purpose of displaying her impressive arms and shoulders on a national stage. I don’t understand why anyone would run for office and then simply fail to show up for important votes because oops I just couldn’t, that day. This is very dangerous for democracy, and a direct extension of the “vote for me, I’m not a career politician” trope we’ve been living under for 40-some years. Caitlyn Jenner has offered virtually nothing concrete in terms of policy ideas or solutions for the state she wants to govern. She does seem to be a bottomless, attention-sucking maw, however.

I looked, for several long minutes that I’ll never get back, at the main photo on that Politico story. I realize Jenner has had quite a bit of facial feminization surgery, and that the picture itself is quite stylized, but the weirdness of it is quite disconcerting. Who is this person? Does she even know herself? I doubt it.

And with that, my patience has reached its end. Time to do some skin care and, as the Detroit city motto says (in Latin), hope for better things. At least tomorrow.

Posted at 8:47 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments
 

Solid.

Yeesh, what a weekend. Three day/nights of drinking. I don’t really overdo it anymore – a simple hangover, these days, feels like it requires hospitalization – but even a night of two, three, four drinks leaves me a little spongey the next day, and this weekend it was Friday/Saturday/Sunday, due to various social events.

The last was a fundraiser, held outdoors on a mid-80s day, in blazing sun. Started at one venue, a microbrewery, and moved to a second, a beer bar. Both great places, and one cold beer is great on a hot day, but if the taco truck is late arriving and you don’t get any food in your stomach before the second one, oy. I finally got some chow, chugged two tall soda waters, considered sitting and letting the magic of nutrition and hydration work, but ultimately made a quiet French exit, got on the bike and rode home. Weekend is over, dude, and I’m glad of it.

With all this partying, it was difficult to keep up with the news this weekend. I understand Trump did an appearance somewhere, and it was the usual. Also, Clarence Williams III left us. I was shocked that he was 81, which means he was about 30 when he started playing Linc Hayes in “The Mod Squad.” Michael Cole is a year younger, and Peggy Lipton, who died a couple years ago, was the closest to the age the three characters were supposed to be in the show, which I always figured was early 20s. According to Wikipedia:

Each of these characters represented mainstream culture’s principal fears regarding youth in the era: long-haired rebel Pete Cochran was evicted from his wealthy parents’ Beverly Hills home, then arrested and put on probation after he stole a car; Lincoln Hayes, who came from a family of 13 children, was arrested in the Watts riots, one of the longest and most violent riots in Los Angeles history; flower child Julie Barnes, the “canary with a broken wing, “was arrested for vagrancy after running away from her prostitute mother’s San Francisco home.”

All three a little long in the tooth to be in a mod squad, but then, that’s why they call it acting.

Just one bit of bloggage today, as I’m still rehydrating: You know this is what’s going to happen, right? We know this. So what are we going to do about it?

Posted at 8:38 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 42 Comments
 

Shut out.

On Monday, I took a bike ride with a friend on Belle Isle, the former city park, now a state park, negotiated as part of the city’s financial distress a while back. It being a holiday, it was a busy day, but not crazy-busy. Most of the bottleneck was at the gate, but there were fewer parking places, too, because of the Detroit Grand Prix in two weeks — they’ve been setting up the concrete barriers, barbed-wire fences and sponsor banners for a while now.

By the time we came off the island, the road coming in was blocked. Park’s full, find something else to do. But walk- and bike-ons are not limited, so people were parking on the road outside and walking half a mile or so across the bridge, then wherever the party they were seeking was.

I watched them walk by, overwhelmingly young black women dressed in the current style – waist-length braid extensions and those insane false eyelashes that look like fuzzy caterpillars. I thought about how much I despise that stupid grand prix, which squats on the island like an unwanted guest not just for three days in June, but for weeks before and after, uglying the place up and constricting park capacity. We give up so much in the name of tourism dollars, I wonder why we bother.

It was an OK after-ride, though – we got a couple beers each from the party store and sat by the sidewalk and drank them. The lady at the party store put four brown paper bags into the six-pack carton without even being asked. This town cracks me up.

And so the summer begins.

Hope your weekend was good. We cooked a little. Alan is painting the dining room, and it looks great. Let’s see what the season holds, for all of us.

Well, this isn’t great news:

…in a striking intervention, more than 100 scholars of democracy have signed a new public statement of principles that seeks to make the stakes unambiguously, jarringly clear: On the line is nothing less than the future of our democracy itself.

“Our entire democracy is now at risk,” the scholars write in the statement, which I obtained before its release. “History will judge what we do at this moment.”

And these scholars underscore the crucial point: Our democracy’s long-term viability might depend on whether Democrats reform or kill the filibuster to pass sweeping voting rights protections.

The “I” here is Greg Sargent. I have no faith we can fix this.

In other news, you might recall a story I posted last spring, by a contributor to Deadline Detroit, about a cafe owner in a little town in Myanmar who is obsessed with Eminem. It’s a great story, but bad news: The writer, Danny Fenster, was arrested by government troops last week in Yangon, on his way out of the country to visit his family in Detroit. He hasn’t been heard from since. His family is very worried, obviously. If this sort of thing concerns you, you’re welcome to call your representatives. The hashtag is #BringDannyHome.

OK, then. Into the rest of the week.

Posted at 9:26 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 66 Comments
 

Ah, the long weekend.

Rain is lashing at the windows as I write this. I love that image – lashing rain – even though it’s not pleasant weather to be outdoors in. (Not that I’m planning to go out.) It’s a last gasp of chill before the warm weather settles in. I think we set a new personal record today in the Nall-Derringer Co-Prosperity Sphere, i.e. air conditioning to heat in…four days? Five? As we say around here: Pure Michigan.

Imagine being a Native American, or early settler, enduring weather like this in a badly chinked log cabin. It’s late May, and you’re probably low on firewood, and what’s outside is wet. Do you dip into the stove wood, or just ride it out? Ride it out in your smelly, filthy clothing, I expect.

And so the unofficial opening of summer dawns with lashing rain. I hope it’s not an omen. Because I have plans to be out socializing for much of the warm season. I need to make up for lost time.

And speaking of time, I don’t have much of it this morning, so I leave you with this, which should demonstrate to everyone that Detroit is still Detroit, god love it. See you next week:

Posted at 11:09 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 35 Comments