Last week the Freep had a story about the outgoing Detroit school superintendent — “outgoing” because he’d been fired in March — still driving a Ford Explorer that was part of his compensation package. So far, so good, your basic tawdry story of a public servant declining to unclasp the teat when told to, but, as so often happens here, the punchline to this joke was buried far down in the story. The Explorer is one of two cars the superintendent is entitled to use, the other being a Lincoln Town Car with a security detail attached.
Yes, the superintendent of schools rolls with muscle. The board member quoted said he had no problem with that, because there were some crazy people at those school board meetings. A few weeks ago, a member of the audience threw a handful of grapes at the board after a vote she disagreed with. (Question: Does the superintendent’s security detail pledge to take a grape for the boss?) But maybe for good reason: Yesterday the outgoing supe was indicted, in Dallas, for miscellaneous financial shenanigans. Was a yacht involved? Oh, of course: Sir Veza II, if you’re keeping score at home.
(Yacht names in indictments are like pulling your jacket up to hide your face from photographers on the perp walk — they just make you look more guilty. Last week Terry Gross interviewed someone who’d written a book about Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the crookedest ex-congressman in all the land. The yacht Cunningham was living on, the very kind favor extended by a defense contractor, was called The Dukester. Is that a guilty name or what? Note to self: If one plans to accept a yacht in lieu of dirty money, have the sense to name it something dumb and innocuous, like Tranquility Base, or Windsurfer. Even Liquid Refreshment is tempting fate.)
I remember in Fort Wayne, when the superintendent sent flowers to some woman on his expense account; we wrote stories for days and days, which prompted letters to the editor for more days and days, wondering how long the taxpayers of Allen County were going to carry this sort of outrageous spending and blah blah blah. I wonder what they’d do with two cars, a security detail and an indictment? Faint dead away, I expect.
Kind of a mixed bag today, appropriate for a day promising temperatures in the upper 80s. Lord knows I have work to do, but I spent some time yesterday contemplating two personal essays detailing bad experiences — Jon Carroll’s account of being kept awake by drunken Sherpas in a Nepalese teahouse, and James Lileks’ disappointment with a meal at a Thai restaurant.
If that’s all I told you about the two pieces, which one do you think had a higher probability of bugging the crap out of you? The first one, of course. Just the setup sounds like something you’d hear from J. Peterman — Seinfeld’s J. Peterman, that is. Ah yes, Elaine, I recall when my bride and I honeymooned on Everest, and the teahouse we bunked in was invaded by partying Sherpas imbibing rakshi, their native moonshine… And yet, you read the column, and not only do you not get that feeling, that cry-me-a-river-asshole feeling of a person complaining about having an exotic experience in an exotic land you will never, ever visit, much less be able to write sentences like this about: “We were four weeks into the journey when we came to Pangboche, a charming town at 14,000 feet…” You not only don’t get the feeling, you sympathize. Poor Jon and Tracy in that smoky hut! Rude Sherpas! The least they could have done was expand the hole in the ceiling. It’s the kind of story I wish I could tell, but never could, and not because I’ve never been to Nepal. I lack the self-effacement gene.
But I’ve had many bad meals in restaurants — who hasn’t? — and yet, reading Lileks whine about his own, which involved being served chicken thighs in his curry, instead of the expected white meat, left me thinking this guy should change his name to Babbitt and get it over with. (Let’s leave aside the plain fact that the thighs are where the flava lives on a chicken, and that many Thai recipes call for thighs by name [Lefty and Righty, perhaps]; some people just don’t like dark meat.) I think it’s the ridiculous, out-of-proportion hostility over what was, in the grand scheme of things, no big deal, the sense that Lileks brought not just a gun to a knife fight, but a high-powered sniper rifle, which he used on the restaurant owner long after the fight should have been concluded, digested and sent into the sewer, so to speak.
Your impressions may differ. Share them if you like. Oh, and be advised that the Thai-food anecdote comes about halfway through the big wad o’ text. And since you’ve been so good, here’s a bonus Jon Carroll story, headlined “The Afghans Next Door” but should have been called “Canapés for the Revolution,” which was in the subhead. Cheese puffs?
A few days ago I wrote about architectural salvage in Detroit. Well, not all of it is salvaged — some just gets thrown in the woods, as Detroitblog points out.
And that is all. Good day to everyone.