Cliff’s Notes theater.

I’ll give Mitch Albom this: The guy has no shame whatsoever, and a nearly Oprah-perfect common touch. Another writer, tasked with a play about a beloved baseball announcer, might have searched for a little chiaroscuro, a few shadows, something, anything to give all that lovin’ a little dimension. Not Mitch. For “Ernie,” his tribute to Detroit’s late and beloved Ernie Harwell, he will have no truck with shadows, nor shades of gray, nor anything that might taint the rosy picture so many Detroiters have of their late hero. The worst thing “Ernie” says about Ernie is that he worked very hard, and his beloved wife Lulu had to spend a lot of nights alone.

And so it was that my friend Dustin and I took in this dose of Albom, something I never thought I’d do. But I park in the garage attached to the theater, and when the posters went up for this annual cash-extraction exercise for sentimental Tigers fans, conveniently scheduled on game days, now in its four year, I had a change of heart.

“Dustin,” I said. “It’s time for us to see ‘Ernie.’”

“OK,” he said.

I was hoping he’d put up more of a fight. But I bought the tickets.

The play, like Mitch’s books, seems a bare minimum of effort (85 minutes; you get the idea it was kept short to eliminate the need for embarrassing bathroom breaks by its elderly audience). It’s set on a nearly-bare stage, with two characters – Ernie and “the boy.” The boy wears knickers, knee socks, high shoes and a newsboy’s cap. I think of him as the personification of the author’s belief that everything was better in the world when times were simpler and boys wore knickers. He’s played by TJ Corbett, with lots of jazz-handsy, run-around-the-stage energy. Ernie is played by Peter Carey with a Georgia accent and an old man’s shuffle that keeps threatening to reveal the younger one beneath.

It’s set in a tunnel at Comerica Park, just offstage, as Ernie prepares to receive an accolade from the organization that employed him for so long. But there’s a rain delay, and the kid in knickers shows up to prompt Ernie through “a broadcast of his life” in “nine innings,” and no, I’m not kidding. So we’re basically talking a monologue, interrupted by the knickers kid, and that’s a heavy lift for an actor, so respect.

Along the way, and this should not surprise you, we learn a lot about the playwright. The phrase “kids today” is repeated more than once. There’s a sneering reference to “Faceplace,” i.e., that website my daughter wouldn’t be caught dead on. The World Series-winning ’68 Tigers “really pulled us all together,” after “the racial strife and riots,” which are given exactly that much attention – five words. There’s reference to fans doing the wave, something I’ve only seen at football games, but what do I know? I’m no sportswriter.

I started jotting down random platitudes lines: “Never judge a man by what others say about him.” “None of them are texting.” “Believe in yourself; God has a plan for everyone.”

I have a friend who reveres Harwell, and on any given day, he can summon up half a dozen lines of his radio patter, the pitcher who “kicks and delivers,” the batter walked for “excessive window shopping.” The ones that turn up in every nostalgia story are the ones we hear here: “Loooong gone,” and the one about “standing like a house by the side of the road.” Similarly ignored is any mention of how the game changed toward the end of Harwell’s career; while Mark Fidrych gets in there, the story about him having sex with a girl on the pitcher’s mound, needless to say, doesn’t make it. Hey, family audiences. Even his firing, during the Monaghan era, is glossed over.

There’s nothing new here, no particular insight into the man’s character, no message about the human condition you could name, other than here was a really nice man and we all wish he were still alive, so here’s a guy to impersonate him for 85 minutes. It’s theater for the Faceplace age.

So at the end of an hour and a half, what you’re left with is an extended version of the Albom obit that is helpfully included in the program, all sweetness and light and puppies and goo. We were probably the youngest people in the house.

A little bloggage to get us into the weekend? Well, OK:

The director of the Ohio State marching band gets cashiered after an internal investigation showed the place featured only slightly less over-the-top, sexually themed harassment than a strip bar next to an oil field. If your team ever played Ohio State, you’ll want to check this handy songbook and learn what they were singing about your band in the locker room.

Tom & Lorenzo do the important work of summer fashion blogging, i.e., putting together a few snaps of Taylor Swift leaving the gym.

Dahlia! Dahlia! Dahlia takes on the two-hour execution in Arizona this week.

On Wednesday afternoon, in a ritual that has become increasingly—indeed almost numbingly—familiar, the state of Arizona administered a secret drug protocol that took almost two hours to kill a man. Joseph R. Wood III was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene. The murder was gruesome, and Wood was guilty. He shot his victims in the chest at close range. The only question that remains, as yet another state botches yet another execution, is whether the two hours of gasping and snorting by the accused before he finally died is excessive, or whether it sounds about right to us.

Love me some Dahlia. And now I love me some weekend, and I hope you do, too.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 76 Comments
 

Back to the grind.

I bused it into work today — ozone action alert — to find myself all alone in our little office. First day back from vacation, and apparently I missed the memo about everybody working in Ann Arbor today. No problem. It was a hot day, and I had a lot to do. So I sat in the air-conditioning and went for a short bike ride at lunch and that was that.

Actually, as working Mondays go, it’s pretty good. I love summer, riding past the baseball stadium on the way to lunch, where my favorite pizzeria was CLOSED?!? Well, damn. It was still a lovely day. And there were some good links. This one was horrifying:

Vassar — When people opposed to housing young Central American immigrants here claimed the youths worked for drug cartels, Adam Barden was frustrated.

When the opponents attended demonstrations armed with semi-automatic rifles, he was perplexed.

And when they threatened to boycott his hardware store for not agreeing with them, he got angry.

Yep, the debate over the Central American children has washed up in Michigan. It’s happening everywhere. And the protestors are open-carrying. This will surely work out wonderfully.

So, change of subject? How about this one? I swear, I don’t know why any of the big billionaires waste their money in Washington; the real power can be wielded in state legislatures, and the prices are so much lower:

Missouri is the only state in America that has declined to keep a prescription drug database — the primary tool the other 49 states use to identify people who acquire excess prescriptions for addictive painkillers and tranquilizers, as well as the physicians who overprescribe them. …But while proponents say the vast majority of the Legislature supports the measure, it has been blocked by a small group of lawmakers led by State Senator Rob Schaaf, a family physician who argues that allowing the government to keep prescription records violates personal privacy. After successfully sinking a 2012 version of the bill, Mr. Schaaf said of drug abusers, “If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool.”

See how easy? One guy can gum up the works.

And speaking of one guy, how about a Kennedy? RFK Jr. and his mad crusade against thimerosol, the boogieman chemical of the anti-vaxxers:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine, no evidence supports a link between thimerosal and any brain disorders, including autism. But parental concerns of such an association in the 1990s spurred vaccine fears. This owed to a confluence of factors: highly publicized warnings of mercury-contaminated fish; rising awareness and diagnoses of autism; and vaccines added to the childhood schedule. The CDC urged vaccine makers to remove thimerosal as a precautionary measure.

Some parents took this as proof of thimerosal’s harm. The controversy, which Kennedy helped fuel in the 2000s with a notorious, widely publicized article, prompted additional vaccine fears that linger to this day.

The greatness was rinsed out the Kennedys a generation back, but the publicity remains.

A new week! It’s going to be a hot one. Enjoy yours.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events | 31 Comments
 

Some housekeeping.

First, an announcement and some general air-clearing: There may be gaps here in the next few days, and over the course of the summer. I’ll be doing some traveling next week for my book project, and I won’t necessarily be near wifi and all the rest of it. And then I will need to double down on the book project, so that might mean some dark nights or days. I think I will put up lots of photo posts this summer, sort of like T-Lo’s lounge posts, for general chitchat in the comments and something to look at in the bargain.

Next week I will be in a pretty place for a couple of days. (Mackinac.) So we’ll start with that.

And today, I’m a little wrung out. Slept badly, drove a long way (to Lansing), drove back. Thank God for the iPod, so I could sing, loudly, all the way home. I love me some public radio, but after a while, the only thing that keeps my heart beating is the original cast recording of “Oklahoma!”

Gonna give you barley, carrots and potaters, pasture for the cattle, spinach and tomaters – that’s my favorite line.

Hello, am I ever out of gas. So.

J-Lo, don’t ever change. Don’t ever change the batshit outfits and especially don’t change your makeup.

Taylor Swift, optimist, takes apart the contemporary music business. Of course I don’t believe she wrote a word of it, but nice try.

He shot his eye out, kid: Local TV weather guy loses an eye messing around with fireworks.  Not at my neighbor’s house.

 

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Housekeeping | 35 Comments
 

A short fuse.

Two years ago, apparently seized by a desire for FREEDOM, not to mention revenue, our state legislature eased restrictions on all sorts of fireworks. They imposed licensing and a 12 percent tax on sales, with the proceeds split between firefighter training (really) and the general fund, then said, “Have fun, kids!”

The law says people have a right to shoot pretty much anything the day before, the day of, and the day after federal holidays, and as you can imagine, the one that gets the most action is not Martin Luther King Day.

So I have this neighbor. I already knew he was a jerk; he likes to shoot squirrels with his pellet gun, I guess for target practice. I haven’t spoken to him about the dead ones that have fallen into our yard, but I scooped the corpses up on a shovel and dumped them over the fence. I know he saw me do it because he was standing in the back doorway one time, and shrank back into the house.

Whatever. I know he’s also fond of fireworks, but this year was a cake-taker. He invited people over and shot shit off from nightfall to after 11 p.m. July 3, 4 and 5. One night I don’t mind and two nights is pushing it, but by the third night I was feeling hostile. That third night is a Budweiser-scented belch in the face, followed by, “It’s a free country.” We adopted Wendy last year about this time and our vet agreed she was about a year old, and she came through 2013′s fireworks season like a champ, so we decided her birthday would be celebrated on July 4. (Yes, we celebrate animal birthdays in our house; don’t you?)

This year I spent her birthday jury-rigging a Thunder Shirt for her out of a hand towel and Ace bandage. She was so scared Alan could hear her teeth chattering.

I should add, these weren’t normal backyard fireworks. I have seen less impressive displays at civic celebrations, and keep in mind, these were going off in a densely populated area, flying into mature trees, raining sparks over roofs and lawns and parked cars. Our driveway was littered with cardboard from the shells after the first night. The dog next door was so upset he voided both his bladder and bowels, and barking resounded throughout the neighborhood. I cannot be the only one who is growing tired of this shit, I thought as the clock ticked close to midnight (the legal shutdown hour) on July 4. The following night, that became clear.

We had a friend over for drinks and a fire in the back yard, and close to 11, in between blasts, I heard a woman screaming in anger: “Who’s going to clean off my car? Who?” I asked my friend to call in a possible disturbance to 911 and we went around the corner. The cops were just arriving, got out and proceeded to yell? At the complaining neighbors. “Take it up with the state legislature,” they said before threatening to arrest the group for public intoxication, which seemed odd, as no one appeared to have been drinking all that much. (Except for me, and I only had a delicious Michigan sour-cherry Manhattan early in the evening and two glasses of wine afterward.) The biggest complainer, the woman with the car, asked quite reasonably why she could be arrested for making too much noise at 5 p.m. on any other day of the year, but this guy could essentially turn a multi-block area into a war zone for three nights running. The answer: Take it up with Lansing. The guy making all this noise had a simpler reply — his middle finger.

I really, really don’t understand someone like this. I certainly understand the appeal of fireworks, but this campaign — every night for the whole legal three-day period, in the face of open revolt from one’s own neighbors — suggests a level of hostility that makes one unsuited for urban life. And the fact this is happening all over the state only makes me wonder why we haven’t had a few shootings already.

And that was our weekend! Well, plus some sailing and grilling and yoga and all the rest. FREEDOM.

Bloggage? Sure:

“Rolling coal” — proof there really is no bottom to some people’s stupidity. (I bet these guys LOVE fireworks, the louder the better.)

This is a very good analysis of reactions to the Hobby Lobby decision, and the fact it came from Cosmopolitan magazine seems like a damn miracle.

More Dahlia. Sigh.

And with that, the week is off and running. Hope it’s good for you.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 39 Comments
 

A chill Fourth.

Seventy-one degrees as I write this, on July 3. I’m lovin’ it. I think I said here before that I wanted to live someplace where you sometimes need long sleeves, but it’s never terribly cold. Didn’t we agree I was made for the California coast, the expensive part? I think so. (Just as soon as I monetize this thing.)

Anyway, after a day of overcast drear, the clouds have cleared, the sun emergeth, and all looks in order for a bandbox-perfect Fourth of July. For which I have planned…nothing. I guess I’ll make some potato salad and throw some protein on the grill, but beyond that? Maybe sail around in the boat, maybe go to the pool, where the city traditionally springs for an all-day DJ to spin the tunes.

All you really need for the Fourth is a good attitude. One of my favorites.

The only sour note is one of my neighbors, currently in the midst of an extremely loud ad hoc fireworks show. When we got Wendy she was very cool about these things, but this shit is so off the chain she just came upstairs and hid behind my office chair. This guy is a jerk — he’s the one who shoots squirrels for target practice — and I’m thisclose to calling the cops.

Oh, well. Smiles! Three-day weekend!

I’m thinking Dahlia Lithwick is my favorite SCOTUS writer:

I find myself worried about a court in which five members are convinced that we sorted out all those pesky race problems in the ’60s, and that women need to be “gently counseled” before they can make a medical decision. (We don’t need “sidewalk counselors” to tell us about “botched abortions.” We have Google.) I worry that this court finds women’s health concerns so unserious that it won’t even engage in a meaningful discussion about them. (It does not afford me great comfort when the court assumes, without explaining, that women’s health care is probably important for argument’s sake, the way Ricky did with Lucy back in the day).

I’m afraid that’s the shape of it.

Happy holiday, all, however you choose to spend it.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events | 51 Comments
 

Salad again.

Not much to say tonight, but a mixed bag of pretty good links, starting with today’s OID story: A soccer ref working an adult-league recreational game is sucker-punched by a player he’s trying to red card, and DIES two days later. So much for the beautiful game.

The great Monica Hesse went to the men’s-rights conference last weekend, and came back with a better story than most.

How is the NYT’s Blackwater coverage not getting a higher profile? I don’t know what’s more astonishing, the first paragraph or the second:

WASHINGTON — Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

A difficult-to-read story about a man’s rape that will make your stomach churn, but perhaps illuminate the issue from a new direction. Starting with the why-didn’t-he-report-it angle.

And with that, I’m off to bed. A short week, half-done.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Uncategorized | 35 Comments
 

You cannnn’t have it.

I walked home from the bus stop in withering heat, then walked the dog in withering heat, then sat in the blessedly cool a/c with the ends of my hair dripping onto my shoulders and thought, I’m feeling a bit grumpy. It passed. A/C makes heat-based grumpiness pass, I’ve found.

On the other hand, there was so much to be grumpy about.

I haven’t read the SCOTUS opinion, of course, but it’s always been my understanding that one’s work-provided health insurance is a form of compensation, and this ruling essentially says that, in this one area, your employer gets to decide what you’ll spend your salary on.

I look forward to hearing that my no-doubt-inevitable knee replacement, should my employer decide it’s something they want to pay for. It might offend someone, who knows.

Also, this:

But let us look also at the religious discrimination embedded in the Court’s logic. There are established religions in this country—Jehovah’s Witnesses, to name one—that forbid their members to accept blood transfusions and to resist vaccinations. These are not small things. They are the basis for Christian Science. There have been religious objections to compulsory vaccinations going back to a movement among some clergy in Boston in the late 18th century. Until such time as a Jehovah’s Witness owns a multibillion-dollar scrapbooking empire, and thereupon declines to offer blood transfusions to the employees of said company, and until such time as someone pushes that case all the way up the ladder, it looks very much to me like the Court, in limiting today’s finding in this way, has decided to define what are acceptable religious beliefs and what it considers to be merely weird ones.

Right now we have five Catholics, or five conservative ones, and this is called religious freedom. Five Muslims, and it’s sharia. We really are two Americas now; 30 years ago, I’d never have believed there were a significant number of Catholics who even objected that seriously to others using birth control. Well, I’ve been wrong before and I expect I will again.

On to a cheerier subject: Guns! Check this fun time out:

A homeowner in Wyandotte, Oklahoma is awaiting damage assessments after an artillery shell entered his home.

It was fired at the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show on Saturday, around 3 miles away.

…The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department says the shell came from a historic artillery canon fired at the gun show.

The gun range owner says the weapon was fired safely by professionals at a downward projection.

“It was not on a level plane, but on a downward trend, pointed downhill in the bottom of a valley,” said Mike Friend, Owner of Fast Machine Gun Shoot. “For that thing to rise and go far northwest of the range, it’s just unheard of.”

I like that: “Fired safely by professionals,” he says, after they hit a house three miles away with an artillery shell. Which sort of gives the lie to your statement, one would think.

But of course, the real dark comedy is in the comments, where one reader jeered at the stoopid reporter who doesn’t understand how artillery shells are sized:

UM You need to learn before you write. A shell is described by its DIAMETER, not length. Muggles. It’s a three inch shell; fourteen inchers were battleship caliber, and ceased to exist after WWII.

I was pleased to see that the sane ones were starting to outnumber the insane, after a few days. I wonder what a “full auto shoot” gun show is, otherwise.

Maybe I don’t want to know.

Don’t have much bloggage tonight, but there’s so much of it floating around, there’s plenty to read.

Good Tuesday, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events | 69 Comments
 

What’s that green stuff?

Two weeks running now, I’ve happened upon an exchange between one of my favorite vegetable sellers at the Eastern Market and a skeptical customer who will not be ripped off by these sharpies in overalls, no sir. Last week it was about their offerings of shelled peas.

I used to avoid them, thinking that part of the true Alice Waters Total Authenticity Experience of peas is shelling them, and then I actually looked at the boxes of gleaming peas and asked how they managed it.

“We got a machine,” the owner said, shrugging. I bought a box. The peas were delicious. I haven’t looked back.

I was buying another one when a woman came by and expressed extreme skepticism that such a machine existed, perhaps believing that pea-shelling by hand is what all those Latino farm workers are up to, this time of year. She seemed to believe what she was looking at was thawed Bird’s Eye being passed off as the real, fresh thing, and her questioning indicated she hadn’t been born yesterday. The seller opened a box and offered her a pea. She ate it in amazement, then said she’d come back.

I wonder if she did.

This week, it was another woman who pointed at a bundle of rhubarb stems and said, “Rhubarb? Or Swiss chard?”

“Rhubarb,” the seller said.

O rly? her expression replied. You sure about that?

I remind you, these were rhubarb stems only — no leaves. While I will agree that there is some resemblance between red chard stems and rhubarb, I know no one who eats only the stems. You buy chard for the greens, lady.

No wonder America is fat. We managed the technology for putting peanut butter and jelly in the same jar, but lost our plant-identification skills.

I bought some rhubarb. It’s downstairs cooling in a pie as we speak.

Now watch: Someone will say that many people buy chard and throw the leaves away.

How did everyone’s weekend go? Besides feeling superior about my rhubarb skills, I went on a long, hot bike ride, saw the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad play a festival, did a ton of laundry, some light cleaning and a yoga class with one of those nutso teachers who kills you dead and namastes right in your face. “Use your eyes! Use the muscles of your eyes!” she said at one point. Later, she corrected my shoulder position — in corpse pose. I didn’t know where was a correct way to hold one’s shoulders in the final moments of the class, when you’re striving for ultimate relaxation. But it was fun. So there.

A little bloggage:

I heard the first International Men’s Rights conference was going to be held in Detroit last Friday, but complications ensued — the hotel wanted them to hire extra security, and to save face they claimed the place couldn’t hold all their throngs — and the event was relocated to St. Clair Shores and a decidedly less upscale venue: A VFW hall.

It turned out about how you would expect:

Janet Bloomfield, an anti-feminist blogger and spokeswoman for the conference, has suggested in the past that the age of consent be reduced to 13 because of a “mistake of age” can get unwitting men in trouble.

“The point being that it can be incredibly difficult to know, just by looking at someone, how old they are,” Bloomfield wrote, calling some teenage girls “fame whores.” Bloomfield also called protesters of the event, “Wayne State cunts.”

Also this, and also this. And you can find the Time stringer’s Twitter and scroll down to Friday. Gems:

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed their time in our fair city — and its suburbs.

And I hope you enjoy your week ahead. Hot here, then storms, then by Friday? High of 71! In July! Heaven.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 54 Comments
 

Cut the cake.

It’s summer, the world outside is lovely and we all want to step away from our computers more, but sometimes you have to work, and you have a down moment or three, and maybe you found yourself watching this, a short video on how you’re cutting your cakes wrong:

If you don’t have time to watch the thing, here’s the gist: There’s a right way and a wrong way to cut cake. Allegedly. The wrong way is the “pie” way, whereby you cut triangular slices from the center. This is wrong — allegedly — because the exposed cake gets dry. Um, OK. And so this guy, drawing on some supposedly ancient text of cake-cutting written by a mathematician, proposes a system that requires some fairly fancy knife work and — I shit you not — rubber bands.

Only a mathematician could come up with something that dumb, or find dry cake — a phenomenon I’ve never noticed with cakes, maybe because they don’t last that long in our house — a problem that needs to be solved.

That said, my mother had her own method.

She took the cake and isolated a quadrant, then cut four slices or so out of it, parallel to one another. I’d make a diagram, but lack the graphic-design skills. I hated this method because the outside piece got tons of icing, and the rest, not so much. As the young person, I rarely got the icing piece, which was reserved for the guest. Yes, it’s my own version of “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait.” Seen here:

When I got older, I vowed that every cake I made would be cut in an egalitarian style, where everyone got an equal amount of icing, except for special cases — like getting the buttercream rose. And dammit, I have stood by this.

Since we’re on an eating theme and a video theme, here you go, one more, the gluten-free duck:

And just to snap us out of our video-cake reverie, how about that Indiana? Wedding cakes for all, cut however you damn well please.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 44 Comments
 

Deadline linkage.

Crashing on a deadline tonight, so here’s some linkiness for you today:

I love interactivity: See if you can find Benghazi on a map. (I got within 200 miles. Thought it was farther inland.)

When I die, hell will look like this: The Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nev.

The author of “The Looming Tower” has some thoughts about ISIS. Worth reading.

See you tomorrow.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events | 94 Comments