The census is coming down to the last 10 days, and the cases are getting harder. The way it works is: Most people respond to the form that went out in the spring. The ones who don’t get a home visit from someone like me, who, if they don’t answer the door, leaves behind a notice with a code where they can go online or call a toll-free number and do it there.

And if they still don’t respond, they become “proxy eligible,” i.e., we enumerators are obliged to knock on their neighbors’ doors, asking nosy questions about who lives next door, etc.

You can imagine how well this goes over in Detroit, especially when the questions are posed by a Karen like me.

Almost everything I had today was a proxy-eligible case. Rarely they’re easy; mostly they’re not. But the job is taking me onto some blocks where you can really see how fragile a neighborhood really is. Blight is a metastasizing cancer. I once shadowed a neighborhood manager in Detroit for a day, and he theorized that if you don’t get there early — if you don’t tear stuff down when there are maybe two rotten teeth in a row of houses — you risk being too late. Two bad houses can be cleared, and it’s a block with a couple of vacant lots, which in a still-stable neighborhood will be mowed and cared for and maybe turned into garden plots by the people who live adjacent. But if all the houses go bad, quickly, all you’re left with are those little-house-on-the prairie blocks.

Which can be very pleasant, I hasten to add. The people who stick it out often find themselves quite content, listening to pheasants and watching other natural scenes out their windows. The other day I was pulling out of a condo complex near Lafayette Park and a red fox trotted right across my path. I know they can become quite comfortable in urban environments, like their coyote cousins, but it is still startling to see.

Anyway, today I had one of those blocks. A weird one, too — one whole side of the street was 90 percent boarded, the other was maintaining. One address was easy, a godsend even, as it was being restored and the owner was there. The other was partially boarded, but not entirely. No answer to the knock, of course. A neighbor, a proxy, said he “saw people going in and out,” but only sometimes, and probably they were squatters. I stared at the app on the phone. I figured something out, but not sure what it was.

On the other hand, there were delights, the best being a 12-year-old boy, alone in the house, one year too young to be officially interviewed, who stunned me by saying, “Oh yeah, the census. We only got until the end of the month, right?” I asked how he knew that.

“I read everything,” he said. “I play video games and I read.”

“So what did you learn today?” I asked.

“The Chinese are test-driving a flying car,” he answered, instantly. You don’t say.

Ten more days of this.

I’m grateful to be busy. Friday night’s news, combined with one slice too many of pepperoni pizza, had me staring at the ceiling until past 2 a.m. If eyeballs could shoot death rays, I’d have burned a hole in the roof. I stopped reading about it by Saturday morning; I just can’t stand it anymore.

And now the week yawns before us. God, let it be not-too-terrible. I can’t take another like this one.

Posted at 8:56 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 53 Comments

Six months.

Friends, I’m going to be away for a few days next week, so you have to play nice. We’re going up north for another half-week of vacation, and that’ll be the end of mine in this insane year.

I was looking through my recent photos when it occurred to me we’re coming up on six months of everything changing in Detroit, in Michigan, in the country, in all of our lives. Of course the virus marked that milestone a few weeks ago, but March 15 was when the stay-home orders began and it all hit home. So for my final post until late next week, here are 19 images from my life these past six months.

It begins:

This was actually March 6, but the last night out like this we had, at Shadow Show’s set at Third Man Records. The girls were worried no one would come because of the big Bernie rally at Cobo, but they eventually showed. This was a Friday night. The Michigan primary was the following Tuesday, and that night, after the polls closed, the governor announced the first cases had been diagnosed in Michigan.

Pretty soon, this is what the toilet paper and cleaning products aisle looked like at my local grocery. We had about a dozen rolls left at this point.

But you could still get cleaning wipes, if you were willing to pay $50 for this industrial-strength (80 percent alcohol) variety. And people did.

The checkout line at the still-no-TP grocery store was not, shall we say, reassuring.

Hey, everyone remember their first virtual cocktail hour? God, my hair was short.

Then we all settled in to wait for spring. I told Kate this would surely be contained by Memorial Day. But we were still close enough to the beginning that sights like this seemed worth a snap:

My trainer tried a socially distanced outdoor workout for a couple weeks. Soon it was derailed by stricter stay-home orders, though:

Then it seemed we all just settled in for the long haul. I went for a bike ride and found this cardboard customer at a closed bar. (Is that Conor McGregor?) At least one person was having a good time.

Oh, fuck you:

Ran this before, but a sign of the early-spring times: A socially distanced teen hang.

Yes, I too had a baking phase.

Because this is Grosse Pointe, this was inevitable:

Then, in the midst of everything, this happened:

Thank god the bars opened again — for about five days before one place in East Lansing became a super spreader and the whole sector had to shut again, at least indoors. Dig that plexiglas:

Oh, fuck you II:

And then the weather got warm and it almost seemed normal again, given that you could eat and drink outdoors with friends. Masks became commonplace. And sights like this seemed to blend into the scenery:

Drive-through Covid testing.

If Michigan were a more temperate climate, we could maybe live like this for a while. But summer is dwindling, so no more meals al fresco:

May this all end soon, and may all your tests be…

Posted at 8:00 pm in Current events | 166 Comments

Save our ship.

Oh, I have been neglectful of you, haven’t I? I’m trying to squeeze all the summer out of summer, while also doing a little census moonlighting and prepping for the next election. I find myself, at the end of the day, staring blank-faced at the wall, often.

But here’s a few minutes before I have to make dinner, so here goes.

Also, from time to time something like the Trump boat parade in Texas happens, and I might have to be convulsed with laughter for 24 hours or so. I forget how few people have done much boating, and don’t know how something like this happens. If you’re among them: Big boats make big wakes. As Alan sometimes says when a big ol’ cruiser passes us, “Man, imagine how much gas it takes to move that much water out of the way.” Lots of big boats together make lots of big wakes. Wakes are just waves, and when they hit other waves, they “reflect,” or are bounced back. Sometimes it happens naturally, via a big wind shift — sailors call these conditions “washing machine” waves, but it also happens when wakes crash together.

Now add a bunch of small boats, driving into this washing machine. It’s difficult to steer through them safely, and given the skill level of many boat owners, well, you see what happens. A smaller boat can take a big wave over one quarter, then another, and pretty soon it’s swamped and it’s everybody into the PFDs (which they probably weren’t wearing to begin with) and try to grab something that floats.

To put it more simply: There are reasons narrow channels, harbors and other crowded areas are often designated no-wake zones.

But you can’t have a big celebration without some speed! Get them MAGA flags flapping! Also, in probably the most-used news photo from Saturday…

…notice the forward blue flag on the one boat looks like it’s about to dip into the water. That’s not exactly a sea anchor, i.e., a small underwater parachute to stop a boat quickly, but it would probably be destabilizing. Anyway, whoopsie! Hope everyone can swim.

No one was hurt, although at least five boat owners are probably asking themselves whether this was the best idea they ever had.

This looks like the same boat from a different angle. Yeah, that’s a big ol’ nope from me.

Otherwise, the weekend is…going. Saw friends Thursday and Friday, did the grind on Saturday, ground some more today, and tomorrow? Ribs on the grill because why not. Also, potato salad. It’s not really the end of the summer, but it’s the end of a big part of the summer, so I’m here for every bit of it.

The weather is shifting, as it does at this time of year. Nice. Cooler nights, warm-but-not-miserably-so days. This is my time, brief as it is.

Now, to work on other things. Happy week ahead.

Posted at 8:05 pm in Current events | 83 Comments

Bridge to nowhere.

In my last days at Bridge, the site was producing a documentary to go with our Divided Michigan project, which many might call a high-minded Cletus safari. The doc didn’t turn out well, but that’s another story. Along the way, though, our filmmaker became enamored of the Trump Unity Bridge. He spent many hours with the guy who came up with this…what’s the word? Attraction, maybe.

A Facebook friend referred to it as a “float,” and that’s probably the best description of it — a towed thing suitable for slow cruises in parades, or parking at rallies. It’s not a scam, because the people who over the years have donated $67,000 to its upkeep and fuel fund know exactly what they’re doing and getting.

Anyway, the bridge is a trailer with a bridge-kinda thing built on top, festooned with signs, which change from time to time. It was parked at the We Build the Wall event, the Bannon/Kolfage grift, and many selfies were taken in front of it.

And he drove it around downtown during the Democratic debates of…god, was it only last summer? Yeah. He plays music, too, really loud, and as it passed my editor and I on the street, he had Aretha’s “Think” cranked up to 11. (Like so many dummies, I’m sure what he liked about it was the FREEDOM chorus.)

“The next sound you hear,” I told my editor, “will be Aretha, rolling in her grave.”

Anyway, in a story that I tried to frown at but actually couldn’t stop laughing over, someone in Oklahoma stole it, took it for a joyride and wrecked it:

The vehicle was running so people could continue to take pictures in front of the bridge, which includes lights, a Statue of Liberty and large letters that spell out “TRUMP.”

At about midnight on Friday night, a man jumped in the vehicle and drove away.

“Rob, somebody’s stealing the Unity Bridge,” Cortis said he was told as he was at the counter in the hotel. He left his wallet at the counter as he rushed out to determine what was happening, he said.

Boy, that’s a totally believable quote, isn’t it? Someone’s stealing the Unity Bridge!

I asked several of my colleagues, when this thing first appeared, where’s the unity? What’s it a bridge to, or between? No one knew. The guy supposedly said it’s about Trump unifying the country. I guess we know how that worked out. Probably time for it to crash, although he already has a repair estimate and I’m sure wallets are being opened as we speak. But the moral of the story? Never leave your keys in your vehicle.

OK, then. Another week awaits. Here’s a story I wrote, about a local Instagram celebrity. I find it fitting that as my career draws to a close, I find myself out-earned by a young man who, after our first interview, informed me he was no longer giving his time away free and asked to be paid to answer follow-up questions. And he wasn’t even towing a bridge.

A good one to all.

Posted at 9:23 am in Current events, Detroit life | 64 Comments

Keep counting.

One of my census “cases” last night was here:

I’m not sure which of those two houses was the one I was supposed to visit. I looked at the app for a choice. Demolished didn’t quite work, so I chose uninhabitable. And I got no closer than this, because surely something was living back there. Quite a lot, actually. I was wearing sandals and didn’t want to encounter whatever critter or critters that might be. Or the poison ivy.

Also had a few vacant lots. You had to look for the driveway cut across the park strip to tell there had been a house there, once upon a time. And that tells you what the last 10 years did to Detroit.

Another exciting moment: I’m standing on the porch of a seen-better-days house, about to tell the app that I can’t determine whether or not it’s occupied — early lesson: never assume a rundown house in Detroit isn’t occupied without some compelling evidence — when I look up and see a pit bull sitting in the driveway, looking at me.

I don’t like pit bulls. I know there are some very nice ones, it’s all bad owners, and I’ve known a few sweet ones, but call me a breedist. I just don’t trust them. This one wasn’t threatening at all, and wasn’t 100 percent pit bull, but enough that you could tell. No collar. Looked healthy, and the neighborhood wasn’t a feral-dogs kind of place, but still. If this was its house, I was on its porch. We looked at each other for a long moment until I remembered you’re supposed to avert your eyes. I had a clipboard I could potentially use as a weapon. My flimsy shoulder bag, filled with paper, might be a shield, if an attack was only half-hearted. I looked back at the dog. “Who’s a good dog?” I asked in the voice I use on Wendy. No response. I opted for a slow sideways sidle off the porch and down the front walk. The dog watched me go, stood up and stretched, then turned around and headed for the back yard.

Potential unsecured dog, I thumb-typed into the app.

And that was my census adventure Thursday night. I should add that the people I encounter are mostly very kind and sweet. Most of my cases were in Detroit, and I had pleasant chats with more than a few Detroiters. House for house, I’ve seen far more hostility in Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods. But cheerful souls there, too. House by house, we count ’em up.

And no, I didn’t watch Trump’s speech last night. I don’t have 70 minutes of my life to give to that asshole, and Twitter was doing most of the heavy lifting. The scene at the White House was as horrifying as any movie monster. But Jim Gaffigan, the comedian, had a spectacular night. His tweets aren’t threaded, but they’re easy to find on his account. This was my favorite:

Also this one:

And this one was the coup de grace:

I’m taking today off from census-ing, but will be back Monday (I hope) with more tales of the count. Unless I am attacked by a dog.

Posted at 9:17 am in Current events, Detroit life | 137 Comments

I beg your pardon.

I don’t like Melania’s new Rose Garden. On the other hand, I’m not sure it is her Rose Garden. I know, I know: The press releases said the “restoration” of the R.G. would be overseen by her, but I’m not buying it.

We’ve all heard the stories. She spends most of her time in her parents’ house in Maryland, and who can blame her. I’m sure the terms of her prenup require her to show up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from time to time, and maybe even to smile and wave, but we’ve all seen the photos, too. Even when she leaves the stilettos in her closet, she looks as comfortable in a garden as she very likely looks in her husband’s bed, assuming she’s occupied it even once since Barron was born.

(A White House Pilates studio, design and construction overseen by Melania? That I could believe.)

So my guess is, overseeing the Rose Garden overhaul consisted of attending some meetings, nodding over the plans and saying, “Mek it so” before running back to Maryland. Still. Her name is on the project, so she has to take the credit/blame for it.

I noted on Twitter that the comparison photos circulating aren’t entirely fair. The Befores feature tulips and flowering crabapple trees, which means they were taken in spring, and the Afters have the slightly burnt look of a garden in late summer. Still, we can notice some things. I approve of what looks to be lavender planted here and there among the roses, but I can’t approve of the roses, which are all white, from what I can tell. I hate one-color flower beds. A garden should be about contrasts and comparisons and for the love of God, seasons. Roses flower in June, but spring in D.C. really begins in March/April; what are we to look at until then? Did the First Lady take reporters or photographers on a tour, explaining why this in this bed, what that there, etc?

Don’t be silly. She doesn’t do that sort of thing. She walks, she poses, she demonstrates why she was never much of a model and lets Twitter do what it will.

The new garden looks very French, i.e. boring. Symmetrical, same-same-same, more symmetry, and a hard-surface walkway so the stilettos don’t sink. I prefer the English model — riots of color, a surprise around every corner, a hidden nook for sitting and enjoying the bees and the breeze. Of course, a garden designed for holding public events can’t be like that, but it can be more interesting than showing the same thing in every sightline.

Here’s something I read once: Tulips are profoundly middle-class flowers. I’m sure Melania, a sex worker who rose higher in the world than she probably ever dreamed, wants nothing to do with anything middle-class.

OK, enough about the goddamn Rose Garden.

Census-taking continues to improve; I’m getting better and faster at it. Last night I encountered a group of four young men making a movie. The film is called “Rent Due” and, they said, is about four young men trying to hustle up the rent. I told them they had everything they needed to be real filmmakers — plenty of bottled water and a bong. They laughed, and I left. Karen out.

And now Wednesday gets underway. Karen out again. Have a good one.

Posted at 10:09 am in Current events | 57 Comments

What the hell, more cake.

Guys. What a long, exhausting week, and it’s not even over yet. It does appear to be on the downslope, though, so – a few minutes have I to catch up.

I feel maybe a little guilty playing the Tired card; Alan was out of town for two days, fishing, and I had the joint to myself, so it’s not like I didn’t have the time. But I spent it mopping the kitchen floor and gadding about with friends. The summer is slipping away, and there will be precious little gadding about possible once it gets cold. So I hopped off to Howell to meet my old Lansing boss kinda-halfway and sit at a sidewalk table for a steakhouse dinner.

Unfortunately, it was Drive Your Loud Vehicle Through Town night in Howell, a conservative town with a reputation as a Klan outpost. That made conversation trying at times, but it was nice to see my buddy. I made the mistake of ordering dessert.

“Our carrot cake is famous,” the waitress said. OK, that’s the play, then. Holy shit. It reminded me of Jim Harrison’s line, that only in the Midwest is overeating seen as somehow heroic. The piece was enormous, topped with about a pound of cream cheese frosting. If I’d been with Alan we’d have split it, but you can’t split food with someone not in your germ pod. I took half home, and the half I ate sat in my gut like a nuclear warhead all the way home. I still feel its poison in my body, 48 hours later.

The thing about a binge like that is – because the rest of the meal was similarly over-the-top, too – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, like an alcoholic falling off the wagon. In a normal year, I’d be selectively shopping the Nordstrom anniversary sale, assessing my fall wardrobe, rotating some pieces out, freshening up for the cool weather ahead. Now all I can think about is: More time spent in yoga pants and slippers? Why not have more cake?

Also: A friend of mine tested positive last week, a rather baffling result for someone who’s been very careful. She’s asymptomatic and I think false positive is a very real possibility, but she’s one person I’ve been outdoor-socializing with, too, so I went off to get my own nose-poke this afternoon. It was as uncomfortable as the last one, but driving home down 8 Mile Road was cheering, in that perverse-Detroit kinda way.

Traffic was fairly heavy, and you know who was doing a land-office business? The weed shops. With the pandemic precautions, they’re running almost exactly like street dealing in days of yore: Pull up, make your selection depending on what’s in stock. A runner retrieves it and you’re cashed out upon delivery by a masked employee. You don’t have to get out of your car, and it all seems to go very smoothly.

Other news today: Steve Bannon, charged with being a grifty grifter. Here’s a lightly edited version of what I said on Facebook, for those who don’t follow me there:

Steve Bannon is rich. Right? He has all this dough from working at Goldman Sachs, investing in “Seinfeld,” blah blah blah. And as an ex-Trumper, he could spend the rest of his dissolute life consulting and speaking and cashing checks.

When I went to the We Build the Wall Town Hall in Detroit last year, I was struck by two things: 1) how D-list the speakers were — hey, Tom Tancredo and Joy Villa! and 2) how truly pathetic-looking the crowd was. These weren’t young, vigorous MAGA types, but older people in Costco sneakers and bingo-outing sweat suits. What was Bannon, accustomed to consulting with European despot wannabes and yelling at Ivanka in staff meetings, doing scraping the bottom of this barrel?

Supposedly he cleared $1 million from this particular grift, which seems an absurdly low payment for the chore of dragging his ass around the country and having to look at Sheriff Clarke in a million green rooms. These people truly are despicable.

Check out the website for this shit. And let me assure you, the people whose donations added up to that $25 million, assuming the number is that high, didn’t do it by writing big checks. In Detroit, these were people living on Social Security. The most prosperous-looking people there were probably the Bikers for Trump. Who can steal from the pathetic like this? The worst people in the world.

Also, you know who the biggest clown was in that particular car? Not Bannon. Clarke. Pro wrestling missed something when they didn’t draft that asshole.

A rare witty comment on the Deadline Detroit Facebook post of the story today: “We have entered the Layla portion of this ‘Goodfellas’ remake.”

So now I’m pretty much all caught up, right? Weekend lies ahead. Hope my Covid test is negative. And I think it’s going to be salads and club soda for a few days. Let’s be optimistic.

Posted at 5:03 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 71 Comments

And the sign said…

One of our neighbors put up a Trump yard sign. No biggie there, and not unexpected. In today’s environment, it’s a step up from the QAnon people, whom we also have nearby. I noticed two things about the sign: It’s smaller than most yard signs, and it says only TRUMP. No Pence, not even in smaller type. Not implying anything, just sayin’.

So I step out to walk Wendy the other day, and the sign seems different. We walk closer and it looks like it’s been defaced. Closer, and it seems something has painted another name over Trump’s, but it’s not Biden’s. Looks like…STUART? Maybe it’s a friend, playing a prank?

Closer still, and I can read it. It says SHART.

Hmm. Once again, it doesn’t quite work as a punchline, but again – maybe it’s a friend, with an inside joke about a wet fart. I heard the recently departed Geoffrey Nunberg’s tribute on “Fresh Air” on my drive this weekend; maybe he’d have been able to say something about it: “A portmanteau of two vulgarisms, neither of which is suitable for this program or even public radio…” Or maybe it was just bad graffiti.

So. A whirlwind trip from southeast Michigan to southeast Ohio this weekend, with barely a moment to stop. The drive was pretty fast, and the revelation was the now entirely four-lane high-speed highway between Columbus and Athens. When I was in school, it was four lane/two lane through the whole trip, and you drove through, not past, the city/towns of Lancaster, Logan and Nelsonville. The last of those is an Appalachian town of obvious poverty but also the home of Rocky Boot Co., provider of the red-laced pair of hiking boots worn by, I swear, every single student at Ohio University. I’ve talked about them here before; how they saved my life through two terrible winters. You could see their lug-soled prints all over campus in the snow.

Nelsonville is also the birthplace of Sarah Jessica Parker, if you’re keeping score at home. My brother-in-law calls her Miss Nelsonville.

Anyway, the new four-laner makes the trip from Columbus to Athens about an hour, less if you’re coming from the east side. And I was so very pleased to see that the trip is simply beautiful, especially past Lancaster. The low hills are almost impossibly green, without the bagworms you see on trees in northern Michigan. Just a great drive.

The bagworm in the ointment, however, was rain, which made a walk around campus less than appealing. We couldn’t even find much of a patio dining scene to have lunch, although we finally found a mediocre restaurant that had some umbrella’d picnic tables out back. The hostess wiped them down for us, and we took our chances. It was fine, the food just OK, and for those of you who remember the Athens of my era, get this: It’s the former Mr. Magoo’s.

Mr. Magoo’s was the closest thing to an obnoxious frat bar that Athens had, although it was usually full of Arab exchange students, men, dressed up in disco clothes and hoping to score some American nookie before they had to return to Tehran or Riyadh and find a nice girl. The OPEC oil boom was still ramping up, and the Arab world was sending its students abroad in vast numbers, with generous living allowances. OU had a good intensive-English program, so they’d roll in, spend a year learning English, then transfer out to petroleum-engineering programs elsewhere. The car of choice: A Trans Am with a screaming firebird on the hood. Footwear: Stacked heels. If you’re thinking the Ackroyd/Martin “wild and crazy guys” you’re on the right track.

Anyway, Mr. Magoo’s – pronounced MAH-goose by these young men – advertised “Texas cocktails,” i.e. big ones. I think I went there twice. I preferred the more English-major vibes of the Union, Swanky’s, the Frontier Room and of course the steak sandwich at the Pub. Now MAH-goose is the Pigskin Grill. I had a pulled-pork sandwich that was on the dry side, and the waitress expressed puzzlement when I asked if it came with slaw on top. Ah, well. At least it was outdoors. Kate informed me she hadn’t eaten in a restaurant, period, since March.

But we had a nice time together, talked a bit. Her roommate is a slob, but she still likes him, and anyway he’s moving out, she said. How much so? “He gets up from the table after eating, and he doesn’t even put his dishes in the sink,” she said. I thought of how long it took her to learn that, and felt: My work here, it is done.

I think also, just to drive far out of town was a thrill. I need to travel more. Not just to Morocco and overseas, but to, I dunno, Indiana or Pennsylvania or Toronto, if they ever let Americans in again. I interviewed a Canadian immigration lawyer for a story last week, and it was like talking to a person who’s visiting you in the hospital. They don’t have the fever you have, and they’re so, so disappointed to see you like this.

Of course, is Justin Trudeau trying to sabotage the post office? No? THEN MAYBE YOU SEE WHY I HAVE THIS FEVER.

Bloggage? I’m working my way through this Olivia Nuzzi look at the re-election campaign, and surprise, it’s a shitshow, as we see from the Pennsylvania volunteer effort:

It was 7 p.m. on July 23, and Team Trump had scheduled a training session for campaign volunteers in the area. Before I arrived, I had worried about my exposure to the virus. I imagined a scene that was part local political-party headquarters and part anti-quarantine protest. I imagined a lot of Trump supporters, maskless and seated close together, breathing heavily on a reporter leaning in to record their comments. But the office was quiet. I walked through the arch of books by right-wing personalities (Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh) and past the portraits (George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan) and maps of Pennsylvania voting precincts. I didn’t see anyone there.

In a blue room in the back, beneath an American flag with the words MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN printed in block letters inside the white stripes, a woman sat alone at the end of a conference table. She wasn’t participating in the volunteer training. She was the volunteer training. There just weren’t any volunteers.

…Fifty miles away, at the GOP headquarters in Lancaster, another event was scheduled for 6 p.m. the next night. When I arrived, the local field director, Jason, was talking to an elderly man. “I appreciate all your support, sir,” he said. “Oh, absolutely. I think this election is more important than 1864. Then, we would’ve lost half the country. This time? We could lose the whole country.” Nick, the Trump-Pence regional field director, asked me if I was there for the food drive — which was part of the campaign’s “Latino outreach effort,” he said — or the volunteer training. The elderly man had made his way out the door, and now there was nobody left in the office besides the two men who worked there. “There’s pretty light turnout,” Nick said. But not to worry, as things were “going really well,” Jason said.

…A few days later, on July 30, the campaign scheduled two voter-contact training sessions at Convive Coffee Roastery on Providence Boulevard in Pittsburgh. The evening session was supposed to start at 7 p.m., but when I arrived, early, at 5:30, the shop had already been closed for half an hour. A girl cleaning up inside came out to talk to me (even when it’s open, like many such establishments, the pandemic rules are takeout only). She said she had no idea that any campaign had scheduled any kind of meeting at the place where she worked for two hours after closing time. But she hadn’t worked the morning shift that day, when the first event was scheduled, so she texted a co-worker who had. He told her a few people came into the shop and asked about a Trump-campaign meetup but that he didn’t know what they were talking about and couldn’t help them. “I don’t know if they figured it out or not,” she said.

And if you’re interested, here’s a decent WashPost explainer on how the president came to fixate on the post office as a font of problems for him.

The week lies ahead, and let’s make it a good one.

Posted at 5:24 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 172 Comments


Ladies and gentlemen, the vice president of the United States:

That is…pathetic.

You know, a few days ago Alex mentioned stumbling across Obama’s last Gridiron Dinner speech, in 2016. I mentioned then what I believe to be true, that while obviously that wasn’t a speech the president wrote himself, he had some good help. Obama always had great speechwriters, and he could call on special teams when needed. I believe the Daily Show writers room helped out for comedy events like that.

But then, creatives loved Obama, and still do. Witness all the spectacular entertainers who would crawl over broken glass for an East Room gig. If he needed a funny speech, I’m sure he could get one within 24 hours. A sparkling conversationalist to glam up the head table at a state dinner? An intimate acoustic set on a Wednesday night? Ditto.

Then think: Who has played for the Trumps? Have the Trumps even invited anyone to play for them, or for their guests? We all know the embarrassments. The Rolling Stones have apparently sent multiple cease-and-desists over their songs being used at his rallies. The last July 4 celebration featured a military band of some sort, with some hapless soldier-vocalist plowing through “Uptown Funk” in the same spot the original artist performed it five years ago…for the Obamas. We know about Three Doors Down at the inauguration, the usual Lee Greenwood and contemporary-country B-listers who get booked for these things.

So it figures that they’re not getting the best zinger writers, either. “We’re not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America’s meat” doesn’t even make sense, at least not in the instant way a punchline has to land. Cut consumption? Cut it up with a knife, like Mother does? This is all they have?

Of course, they went after Michelle Obama, one of the most charming and charismatic First Ladies in history, for the crime — the crime, I say! — of trying to improve the diet of American children. They don’t have many legs to stand on here.

OK, then.

On to the weekend. I’m reading about Kamala, the post office, and other stuff. Saturday, I’m driving Kate to Athens, to pick up the band’s Kia, which broke down en route home from a camping trip. It’ll be my first time there since Kate was…in utero. I remember going to a Post reunion and telling everyone I was pregnant. I wonder if anything’s changed.

I guess I should take some pictures.

You all have a good one. Summer is fleeting. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Posted at 10:07 pm in Current events | 61 Comments

Two terrible columnists.

I’ve been aware of Salena Zito’s columns for a while now. The Pennsylvania-based writer, previously a nobody, rocketed to stardom after her work in 2016, where she essentially predicted Trump’s election, and came up with the “literally, not seriously / seriously, not literally” line that was quoted so often in the shellshocked days afterward.

I didn’t read many of them, though. I leave that to people like Roy, who carries the duty through life like Jesus’ cross. Someone has to do it; I’m glad it’s him.

Others have pointed out the gaping holes in her work – the jes’ folks sources, salt-of-the-earth Real Americans who turn out to be GOP county officials; the oddly well-constructed and perfect quotes that she just happens to overhear at gas station mini-marts; and so on.

The Detroit News has been carrying her work, and by Thursday, when she most often runs, my week has begun to slow down and I can savor every word. By the time I get to this kicker, the italic line at the end of most columns, I’m usually testy, and this doesn’t help:

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between.

OK, then.

I read the one that ran today. It’s about minor-league baseball, because of course it is: It’s the sport most beloved by Everyman and Everywoman. Zito wore some leather off her shoes and took herself out to the ballgame, where she wrote this memorable scene-setter:

Altoona, Pennsylvania — As the scent of fresh-cut grass delicately fills the air, so do the aromas of hot dogs and hamburgers coming from the grill on the lower deck. Just past right field, there is an amusement park where you can hear the slow clink, clink, clink of the roller coaster as the carriage climbs its ancient wood scaffoldings. The kitschy music found at any ballpark in America echoes throughout.

The pitcher has taken the mound; the catcher is crouched in position; and an eternity passes as glances and signs are exchanged. The pitcher winds up, stretching his left hand behind his back. The ball sails toward home at a smidge over 90 mph, and POP! It lands in the weathered glove of the catcher.

POP! The clichés have really loaded the bases here, haven’t they? The scent of fresh-cut grass, hot dogs and hamburgers. Oh, and you say there’s an amusement park nearby? And can’t forget the sound a pitch makes in the “weathered” glove of the catcher, which in my world is called a mitt, but OK whatever.

I used to tell writing students: Tell me what you see, but learn the difference between meaningless and meaningful detail. If you’re describing something we’ve all seen, strive to describe it in fresh vocabulary. The sights and sounds of the modest, minor-league ballpark are pretty familiar in Zito country; think of something to notice besides the way the grass and hot dogs smell.

But what do I know? Nobody’s asking to put me on CNN.

This passage, describing the people watching from outside the fence, just chapped my ass:

Today, despite the relentless sun and heat, locals steal a peek of the taxi team from the fences located hundreds of yards away, along the parking lots or near the amusement park.

They say they are here just to hear the crack of the bat, or to follow the signals, or to see the game they love, or maybe even to catch a ball knocked out of the park.

I’ll bet my next 50-percent-smaller paycheck that there is no way in goddamn hell she hoofed it out to the cheapest seats to talk to any of those people. True, “they say” is pretty ambiguous in that she doesn’t quote anyone directly, or use quote marks, but if a normal Altoonan said they were there to “hear the crack of a bat” (and aren’t they all aluminum these days?) or ** “see the game I love,” I don’t know Everyman and Everywoman the way Salena Zito does.

Finally, any column about minor-league ball in Pennsylvania that doesn’t shout out Jim Brockmire? I have no use for.

Then there’s Gary Abernathy, the other Luckiest Man in Journalism, whose podunk newspaper’s endorsement of Trump in 2016 won him a contributor’s seat in the Washington goddamn Post, tries his Everyman best to sneer at the Lincoln Project, and ends with this amazing paragraph:

Among Never Trumpers are consultants, officials and pundits who have long been at the center of the Republican world, respected by conservatives who shared their vision and worked to achieve their common goals. But many of them were always somewhat misled, mistaking respect for love. They tell themselves now that Trump has corrupted the GOP. In fact, the GOP has long been the party it is today, just waiting for Trump to come along. That’s the hardest truth of all for the Never Trumpers to accept.

Ooooo-kay then!

I’m out at the tail end of an amazingly stressful week. I’ll debrief you all on the election here – an 18-hour day for yours truly, but a rewarding one – after the weekend. In the meantime, I will ask you: Note that the Republicans are not hesitating to use an unmedicated manic-depressive as a weapon against Joe Biden.

It’s only August! I can’t wait for the October surprise.

** Smarter sports fans have informed me pros don’t use aluminum bats. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Posted at 3:46 pm in Current events, Media | 125 Comments