This is Movement weekend, Movement being the three-day techno music fest at Hart Plaza downtown that kicks off summer in Detroit. Tickets aren’t cheap, but there are related parties in lots of clubs that cost far less to enter. On Sunday was the by-now-traditional sunrise rave at a local art park, and that was free. So I went with two young friends, who I sometimes call my surrogate sons:

That was 7:30 a.m., and all three of us had slept the night before, which wasn’t true of many other attendees. I did have a single beer, and a single hit of a preroll going around. In the druggy world of techno, that’s like sipping a small glass of sherry at a three-day bacchanal. Plus it’s legal, and what the hell, I ain’t dead yet.

As it was, a beer on an empty stomach and one tiny hit of today’s supercharged weed was just enough to put my head in a weird, dreamy space, not high, just ultra-relaxed. We had breakfast afterward and a wonderful, loopy conversation about everything, including a few moments on photojournalist Don McCullin, who specialized in war zones and was seemingly unafraid of anything. (I guess I should say “is,” as he’s still alive, at 87.) He went to Africa, the Middle East, Vietnam, but it’s his pictures of street fighting during the Troubles in Northern Ireland that are my favorites, if images of such violence can be said to be favorite. I still like looking at them, because you have to respect photographers this crazy, because otherwise, how would we know?

Also, if we have another civil war in this country, it’ll be fought like the one in Northern Ireland, i.e. house-to-house and block-to-block. Ain’t no north-and-south anymore. I tell my friends with cottages in rural areas, “Let me know when you have to shoot your way into your vacation home,” and sometimes people chuckle, but mostly not.

The best way to experience techno is to be there when someone is spinning live; it’s not great music for idle listening, at least for me. Any attempt to upload video would end in tears, so accept this frame to give you an idea:

The theme of this party was Sunday gospel, and the DJ was layering beats over gospel rousers. It was quite fetching. I saw a guy dancing in a Tushy T-shirt; the front read Ask me about my butthole. The art-park venue has lots of regulars, one of whom shoots fire:

As I left, I passed a man my age who had introduced himself, mentioning a mutual acquaintance. I said goodbye on my way out, as he was stenciling a quotation about justice, in Arabic and Hebrew, onto an art car that looked like a giant cockroach. And there’s a sentence you don’t get to write every day, and another reason I’m happy to live next to this nutty city.

I hope you’re enjoying your holiday weekend, if you are fortunate enough to have one.

Posted at 4:59 pm in Detroit life | 31 Comments

Rose-colored glasses.

Gonna be doing a little traveling, again, this weekend. On (to) Wisconsin for a friend catch-up plus baby shower. Both of the friends I’ll be visiting are Covid-sensitive, so I’ll be packing some tests for everyone’s peace of mind. Whenever I think of Covid, I’ll check current case numbers, which continue to fall and fall. Covid is not done with us, but for now — FOR NOW — the worst is over.

Sometimes, when I’m checking numbers, I’ll think about the early days of Covid, when nobody knew anything, some people were wiping down their groceries with bleach and it was sanitize-sanitize-sanitize. One thing I cannot tolerate in 2023 are people who believe everything we’ve learned since then was widely known in 2020. “The virus only killed old people!” “You couldn’t get it outside!” And so on. I saw a Guardian story about a woman, Naomi Klein, who is often confused with Naomi Wolf, and used that to spark a book about conspiracy lunatics. That reminded me that Wolf came to Michigan two years ago and testified before the Legislature, so I looked up what she said then, and: Whew.

I have no doubt another pandemic will wipe us out, because apparently we learned nothing at all from this last one. Can you tell I’m reading “Station Eleven” now, and loving it? Because I am. It’s wonderful and haunting, and a very different read today than it would have been when it was published in 2014.

Yesterday I went to the Schvitz with a friend. It was hot, hot, mega-hot. Like hell’s-waiting-room hot. I went in and out for a couple of hours, then came home feeling utterly wrung out, which is good, although I needed another couple tankards of water to even gather the strength to make dinner. On the way there, WDET played Shadow Show’s new single and the host speculated it could be this year’s “Detroit song of the summer,” which was very nice.

Speaking of Kate, she went to the Tigers game yesterday and was caught on the fan cam:

I used to date a guy whose father would write a one-page roundup of all the family news, kind of a weekly Christmas letter, using multiple carbons and sending them out to any close relative who lived out of town. He always, always ended it this way:

That is about all the news for this week.

Seems to work here. Happy Wednesday.

Posted at 11:37 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 62 Comments

Cabin fever.

The weather rarely gives us a break at this latitude. We had one week — a single week — of glorious, sunny, summertime weather earlier in April, and since then? Cold garbage. Finally my reserve cracked, and I ran some errands, taking the long way there and back. For some reason, I ended up near Camden Street in Detroit, where I shot this photo in October 2008, while escorting a pair of French journalists around town on a two-day pulse-of-America visit:

They wanted to see the famous $1 houses that were flooding the market, a story written by my old colleague Ron French that went all over the world. They were going through one across the street from this one, which was being stripped of its bricks by a couple of raggedy men. Note the professionally wrapped pallet of bricks to the side; someone was making money off this project, probably pretty good money. Old bricks are in demand for new housing. Luxury housing.

In Detroit, wave after wave of foreclosure, much of it due to mortgage fraud, was leaving neighborhoods like this rapidly emptying, and arsonists and scrappers did the rest. America was about to elect its first black president, and the agony of financial-crisis Detroit notwithstanding, optimism was in the air. It was a very strange time.

This was shot with my first iPhone, and thanks to the geotagging, I was able to pinpoint the exact spot it was taken. Which is good, because on Tuesday, there wasn’t much left:

The vacant lot to the left is where the men were working. The house on the right is still standing, but barely. Spindly volunteer trees reach the second story. The porch steps are in pieces. And the $1 house the French guys were so eager to document is gone, too. The whole neighborhood is pretty much toast, but for a few stubborn hangers-on. I went around a couple blocks and found this, too:

Ah, memories.

You know what I remember most from that visit in 2008? The realtor brought along his handyman, the guy who went through these wrecks and decided whether they could be brought back. He looked around and said, “This used to be a neighborhood.” Only a year before, he said, it’d been more or less fully occupied, with poor people to be sure, but they were hanging on. Now it’s urban farmland and construction debris.

For some reason this sent my brain cartwheeling back to the ’90s, working for Knight-Ridder, the newspaper chain. The editors had been tasked by corporate with coming up with a mission statement (yes, really) and a so-called master narrative for each city. We sat in meetings for this project and asked perfectly reasonable questions: “A mission statement? For a newspaper? Isn’t it, ‘cover the news in our city?'” To his credit, the editor running the meeting seemed as baffled as we were. And Fort Wayne’s master narrative, which we were instructed was the overarching story of the city, was only a community-theater version of Detroit’s grand opera: Once-thriving industrial city struggles to find its footing in new economy.

And to think, that was probably some vice president’s quarterly project. And they kept us inside for those meetings, when we could have been outdoors, looking for stories in houses just like that.

That’s really a non sequitur, I know, but like I said: My cabin fever is bad this year.

I guess I should say a few words about Gordon Lightfoot, recently departed. He was part of the aural landscape of my youth, but I paid little attention to lyrics. In recent years, I corrected that. “Sundown” fascinates me as a song about a man who’s thinking of hurting his cheating girlfriend, and still might. The woman in question was, of course, Cathy Smith, the background-singing, drug-dealing bit of bad news who sold John Belushi his fatal speedball. I think lots of men might be tempted to hurt her, but she did the damage herself. (Went to prison, deported to Canada, died a few years back.) As for the song everybody knows, about the ore carrier known around these parts as the Fitz, well, it’s a great song. A friend and I were discussing how often people who have never been to the Great Lakes can’t believe how big they are, once they see them. Imagine being in a ship, 729 feet long, that’s losing the battle with a storm, and not only that, an ice storm, a hurricane of sorts, the lake treating it like a toy. It must have been terrifying, the waves turning the minutes to hours, and all that.

But I snickered when a journalist friend noted on his Facebook today that he once “heard a folksinger at the Old Shillelagh, weary of endless requests, abridge the Lightfoot song as follows: ‘There was a big boat, and it sank.'”

And they’re all still down there in Lake Superior. Which never gives up its dead, but you’ve already heard that, many times. Ah, well: Rest in peace, Gordon. It was a great life you had.

Posted at 5:52 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Media | 66 Comments

Three long years.

You guys! I’m so sorry I’ve been such a sluggard here. I don’t know where last week went. But let’s soldier on, anyway:

I generally dislike anniversary journalism, but Monday is March 6, which sticks in my head as the beginning of Covid in Michigan. The first cases wouldn’t be diagnosed and announced until the 10th, the day of the primary election, but on the 6th the chill was definitely in the air. Kate and the girls had a show at Third Man Records, the beginning of what they hoped would be a victory march down to SXSW in Austin, but by then, SXSW had been cancelled. “Just go anyway,” I told them. “People will be getting together and playing anyway, with or without the festival’s backing.” They were afraid no one would come out to Third Man that night, but once the Bernie Sanders rally at the nearby TCF Center concluded, they had no problem filling the place. I noticed one guy standing way off by himself in a mask. Huh, I thought.

Within days, the governor would start issuing shutdown orders, and within weeks, those orders would be the genesis of a new right-wing movement here, which led directly to…well, a lot of things. The utter delamination of the state GOP, although pockets of strength remain. The shenanigans in Ottawa County got their start then. There are others.

I wrote a story for Deadline on the one-year anniversary, presented oral history-style, which means it’s too long, but oh well. I’ve reread it around this time the last couple of years, because I don’t want to forget anything about the early days – the fear, the panic, the way people one block away would cross the street when they saw me coming, walking the dog. (I, on the other hand, would only step off to the curb line. That was my comfort zone.) The way some people wiped down their groceries. The homemade masks, the Karen tantrums in grocery stores, the toilet paper hoarding, all of it.

The New York Times magazine had a Covid oral-history story last week, and one quote in it hit me between the eyes:

In the final set of interviews, most of which were conducted last summer, some people said the pandemic was over while others insisted it absolutely was not. Or that it was “sort of queasily over.” Or that it had been over, but then “it stopped being over.” “I think we all, as a society, became better,” one nursing-home aide concluded. A nonprofit worker confessed, “I used to think that we lived in a society, and I thought that people would come together to take care of one another, and I don’t think that anymore.”

That last quote, especially, echoed some of the way people talked in my story. Here’s a state legislator who lost her sister early on:

After Isaac (Robinson, a member of the Michigan Legislature) passed, (the legislature) didn’t go back immediately. We had some votes, mainly to extend the Governor’s executive order powers, and Democrats wanted a joint resolution allowing virtual voting. (The Republicans) didn’t take the resolution up. I was of the mindset that the Republicans weren’t starting from a place of “how do we deal with this crisis,” but “how do we jam the governor.”

And the funeral director:

It hit my community so hard, and we were screaming and it’s like nobody heard us. I’d hear these people saying, “We have to open up. I can’t go to my restaurant anymore,” and I’m having trouble getting gloves because of the hoarding. Without gloves, I’m out of business.

That’s kind of where I am, three years later. To be sure, the ER doctor and epidemiologist said she came away with optimism about the power of people working together, but she was mainly talking about her medical colleagues. I’m no longer confident, or even optimistic, that faced with an existential public-health threat, people will do the right thing. Here’s something I hear a lot: “I am just so over Covid.” Aren’t we all, but it’s still with us. To be sure, my masking is less common than it was. I went to a densely packed show a while back, mask-free. I eat in restaurants again. But I mask on planes, and I still watch case numbers. If they go up, I mask up. I’m still a No-vid, but I don’t worry that I could die, if I got it. I’ve been vaccinated five times; if I get it, I expect mild symptoms and long Covid to be far less likely. But I don’t want to get it in the first place.

My faith in my fellow citizens, though? That’s in the toilet. Maybe that’s why I’m enjoying “The Last of Us,” the post-zombie apocalypse show on HBO now. It posits a future where the thing you most have to fear is not the zombies, but your fellow healthy American. Everyone is armed to the teeth; busting a cap in someone’s ass is considered totally acceptable to protect one’s food or vehicle or whatever. The government is a dominating fascist force. There’s a thriving black market in the human settlements that remain. That, I regret to say, is what I expect the next time a pandemic hits.

Not that I wish to start the week on a bummer note! After a wet, sloppy snowstorm Friday night, we’ve had two days of snow-melting weather, and spring is most definitely on its way.

Posted at 12:08 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 49 Comments

Saturday morning market.

Haven’t done one of these in a while. Beautiful, beautiful mushrooms.

Posted at 10:05 am in Detroit life | 43 Comments

Blue water, blue skies.

Yikes, now that was a weekend. Perfect weather both days, just in time for miserable weather arriving during the week, when we’ll be scraping the bottom of the 90s. Why do I live here, I will ask myself on days like that. The answer:

Blue water, blue skies. That’s why.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, bike ride to John’s Carpet House for some of the blues jam that happens there every Sunday, in season. It’s grown — considerably — since the last time I was there. It’s much more of a place to show out, but still friendly, and that’s what counts. I had a late lunch of two tacos from a place that was selling them for $2 each. The guy asked me what I wanted on them. I asked what he had. Cheese, sour cream, taco sauce, jalapeños or something he called “Kranch.”

“It’s so good on tacos, you won’t believe it,” he said.

OK, then — cheese and Kranch. Which turned out to be ketchup and ranch dressing, but he was right — it wasn’t half-bad, at least when you’re hungry, and I was. Plus two Modelos.

It was necessary to be outside this weekend to shake off the stench of current events. Which leads to some bloggage:

A profile of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that will definitely polish her brand as a possible presidential contender down the road. Washington Post, but the link is a “gift” link, so I’m hoping you all can see it. Anyway:

Whitmer is a woman, but she is also an attractive woman, and her use of executive power, when wielded broadly, seems to deeply trigger her male antagonists. The Republican leader of the state Senate, Mike Shirkey, bragged on a hot mic that he had “spanked her hard on budget, spanked her hard on appointments,” and also contemplated “inviting her to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn.” Another Republican lawmaker, Sen. Ed McBroom, complained that Whitmer had been “neutering” him and his colleagues, the cause of the legislature’s “emasculation.”

At the start of the pandemic, Whitmer urged the federal government to supply more equipment to Michigan. On live television from the White House press briefing room, Trump dismissed her as “the woman from Michigan.” She was in national headlines. Democrats called it a political gift. Joe Biden thought about making her vice president, inviting her to Delaware to talk about the job in secret.

But that’s also when the threats started. Hundreds that don’t make it into the media, she said. And then there were the armed protests. And then there was the hit list with her name on it, belonging to a man who shot and killed a former Wisconsin judge. And then there was the kidnapping plot, a saga that began in the fall of 2020 and stretched on into a trial this year. Four men were charged, their plans and fantasies spelled out in public court filings: hogtying the governor, laying the governor out on a table, shooting the governor in the skull, shooting the governor in her doorway. She tried not to follow the trial coverage, but the headlines always passed by on Twitter and in push alerts. How could she not look? “Like, for weeks that this trial was going … every day,” she said. “So even if I wasn’t reading those articles, I couldn’t get away from them.”

I’m glad she’s talking about it, because most of the state media do not. Whitmer is nakedly ambitious, but this is so obvious.

Here’s more WashPost content, and another gift link, actor John Turturro talking about his grandmother’s illegal abortion:

My mother, Katherine, the fourth of six children, was born in Brooklyn to immigrants from Sicily. Her mother, Rosa, took care of the family and worked as a seamstress from home; her father, Giovanni, earned his living as a shoemaker. They struggled as many poor families did, then and now, to feed and clothe their children. Then Rosa became pregnant with child number seven.

She was 40. She had a baby, a 4-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 7-year-old, an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old. I imagine the method of birth control was rudimentary. Rosa’s older sister Margarita was distraught that Rosa would have another mouth to feed. Margarita persuaded her sister not to bear another child.

She was given a “special drink” by her sister. It didn’t go well:

My grandmother became feverish — most likely from an infection that turned into septic shock that evening — on fire from the poison, burning inside. Pennyroyal, I know now, can be toxic to the liver. My mom watched her mother stand up on her bed, pulling at her hair and asking God, “Why?”

Rosa Inzerillo was taken to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn on April 18, 1927. She died on April 25 at about 7 a.m.

I’m glad he wrote about this, because we know this is who most often gets an abortion — a woman who already is a mother and is struggling with the ones she has. The column goes on to describe what happens to a poor woman with six children who dies in 1927. It blew up her family, in every way imaginable. I won’t spoil it — just read.

And on a lighter note, ha ha, a NYT magazine story on why the future of opera may be unfolding in? Yes, Detroit. Another gift link. My friends who have seen the productions Yuval Sharon has done so far have raved about them. We’ll have to see one next season, if we can get seats after this.

With that, I believe I’ve got some recovering to do from all this sun. Funny how it knocks you flat, ain’a? But I’m thinking some pizza will be good medicine.

Let the week begin.

Posted at 6:53 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 33 Comments

Hu’s next.

In December 2020, a small group of Stop the Steal lunatics demonstrated outside the Michigan Secretary of State’s home. It was dark, and it was said that some were packing the usual long guns those dipshits favor, but I only saw a couple of videos and didn’t spot any. They were told to stay on public sidewalks, don’t block traffic, and do their thing. Which they did.

I wrote a column about it at the time, which no one liked. I said it was obnoxious, but entirely defensible, as long as it stays non-violent and the shits stay off private property. I think one of the demonstrators here dared to ring her doorbell, but that was it. (He should have been arrested, IMO.)

So don’t cry to me, Clarence Thomas. Tough shit, Brett Kavanaugh. If it’s the downfall of decency and decorum, hmm, too bad. As these guys like to say, over and over and over, the American Revolution wasn’t polite, either.

At least I’m consistent in my outrage. I don’t remember any Republicans hand-wringing today over the Death of Decorum defending Jocelyn Benson in 2020.

So. Not a terrible weekend, for a change. Friday night we shlepped to Pontiac to see the Hu, the Mongolian metal band. I’d put them in the Deadline Detroit newsletter in the events section, just for the novelty. Then I got a note from LAMary telling me her roadie son was going to be in Detroit “with some Mongolian musicians” and figured there couldn’t possibly be more than one. We’d actually talked about going, just to get out of the house for something different, and that settled it. So first Mexican food, then the Hu. We were supposed to be on the list, but we weren’t. “We’ll just take two tickets, then,” I said.

“Sorry, it’s sold out,” the lady at the window said. It was a nightclub, not the hockey arena, but still. Clearly the Hu has more of a fan base than we thought. And we got lucky, because just then the club owner came in, saw us standing around fretting, and waved us in. First stop: The merch table, to say hi to Pete and buy a T-shirt. We found our way upstairs and had an OK view. They put on a good show — very Metal, very loud, very tribal-sounding. They play traditional instruments (although I noticed a guitarist standing in the back, out of the light, and one of the drum kits is the conventional kind), and do a fair amount of Mongolian throat-singing. For once, it didn’t matter that the lyrics weren’t clear, because they were in Mongolian. It reminded me of George Miller, talking about the flame-throwing guitarist in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” He said every army needed a drummer boy, and that guitarist was the bad guys’ drummer boy.

The Hu could be the drummer boys for Genghis Khan. Somewhere in a central Asian grave, he is surely smiling. Of course, the band has a song about him.

I’ve always been interested in Mongolia. When I was riding, I used to get a catalog for a horse-based travel service called Equitour. Most the trips were stuff like fox hunting in Ireland, dressage in the Netherlands, etc. But there were two that I really should have done when I still could — crossing the interior of Iceland on native ponies (there was a note that you should be able to ride 20-plus miles a day and expect mutton at literally every meal), and a trip across the Mongolian steppes, also on native horses, probably with a similar physical and dietary warning. When I had amnio before Kate was born, the geneticist and I chatted about her research work in Mongolia, looking for links between central Asians and native Americans.

I’d have chatted about all this with the Hu, but they don’t speak much English, Pete said. Probably fluent in Russian, though.

OK, then, time to get the show on the road. On my “day off” I’ve already edited several stories and had no fewer than four phone calls with my editor. I’ll leave you with a picture:

Hu’s on first, but in Columbus today, I believe.

Posted at 11:58 am in Current events, Detroit life | 31 Comments

We do our part.

I really don’t love weightlifting, although what I do hardly qualifies — call it strength training, say. Sherri’s a weightlifter. I just have to drag my whiny ass to the gym once or twice a week to push around some dumbbells to supplement, and hopefully improve, the other things I do. But I dragged it today, whining all the way, for the first time in a long while (Delta, Omicron) and I can just tell I am going to be so sore tomorrow I may not be able to move. So best get this thing out of the way now, while I’m still capable of keyboard entry.

I’ve been exercising all pandemic, just not with the heavier stuff. But no, I did not feel “in shape” enough to not be sore.

Whine, whine.

So as my time here is limited, here’s what we did last night.

I know many of you are doing the hard work of supporting the Ukrainian people — writing checks, collecting donated goods, all that. The Derringers and their friends the Walshes did their part by going out to eat.

A former Wayne State student of mine, who went on to become the Free Press restaurant critic, is a Slavic emigre who came to this country as a boy. From Lithuania, but his family is Ukrainian. Lately he took the buyout from the paper and became editorial director for a pop-up dining space in Hazel Park. We’ve been there a few times — they do themed dinners with guest chefs, classes, that sort of thing. When I saw they had a Russian dinner planned, I perked up. We’re between Covid waves, we haven’t had a fancy dinner out in ages and what the hell else is your American Express card for, anyway? So we signed up. Then the war started, and the idea of paying tribute to Russia became a record scratch, so the theme was changed to “Slavic Solidarity,” and the profits directed to Ukrainian relief.

So we got dressed up and headed to Hazel Park. Took two bottles of our own and paid the steep corkage, but it was worth it because one bottle was bubbles, and we had that with the first two courses.

Sunflowers on the table, of course. And what else do you drink with caviar but good champagne?

The chef introduced those as “caviar tacos,” and even though I’m not really a caviar girl, it was fabulous with the eggs, the blini, the sour cream, a little squirt of lemon. Yum.

We brought a bottle we got in France, and those Reidel glasses and the candle made it look so purty, I can’t even remember what point Lynn was making here.

The main course? Chicken Kiev, of course:

Surprisingly, that was the only course that wasn’t great. I wanted the butter to squirt, and it didn’t. But it tasted fine, and that’s what counts. Dessert was another blini with a berry compote and whipped cream. Just a lovely dinner on a cold night in the very early spring.

I wondered, as we drove home, if this is what rich people tell themselves after they do one of their over-the-top “fundraisers” for charity — that yes, I ate caviar and drank champagne, but it was for a good cause and I am a good person for doing so. I didn’t feel like a particularly good person, only a well-fed one.

Anyway, that was the highlight of the weekend. There may be more news coming soon, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Signing off, here is the Nall/Derringer co-prosperity sphere, FaceTuned to a near-unrecognizable state, but hey, that’s what digital photography is for, right? Warping reality:

Have a great week ahead, everyone.

Posted at 5:44 pm in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 20 Comments


Thanks for all your good wishes. I’m feeling fine and haven’t had any reoccurrence of last week’s troubles, fingers crossed. Worked out a little in the basement, and fingers crossed again, will return to the pool tomorrow morning. I’ll take it easy, too.

Taking it easy isn’t difficult for me. In fact, it’s insanely seductive. One reason I try not to stop daily exercise for too long is, I fear I’ll never start back up. Especially in winter, the bed is so warm and cozy. It’s hard to tell yourself just do it, despite what the commercials say. So I do it. And then eat too much afterward.

Enough about that. It’s the start of St. Patrick’s Day festivities here, which seem to be blurring with something observed locally — 313 Day, a celebration of Detroit because that’s the area code. The St. Pat’s parade was this morning, and it snowed, but not long after the wind switched around to the southwest, the sun came out, and all the snow melted. We’re promised steadily rising temperatures all week, and by March 17, it could be in the 60s. Some friends and I are going to do a limited old-people pub crawl on The Day Itself, which is to stay we’ll start early, end early and probably go alcohol-free for at least one or two stops.

So if today is 313 Day, that means tomorrow is Pi Day, another one of those “holidays” that just appeared one day. If I weren’t thinking about making an MRI appointment for my brain, I’d whip one up. Think I’ll let it pass. One year one of Alan’s staffers thought he’d bring in a couple to the office, so he stopped at the local trendy bakery and asked for two pie. Total: $70. I should have been a baker.

So with the weekend, whiling away, let’s look at the breaking news. Two things:

First thing, Barry got the bug. He’s going to be fine (it is devoutly hoped). It can happen to anyone.

Second thing, William Hurt is dead. This one hurts; he was a good one. Although, at 71, you can’t say he didn’t get his threescore and ten. But he was so great, when he was great, playing a sexy lunk in “Body Heat,” the drug dealer in a ratty Porsche in “The Big Chill,” and so many others. But not long ago I saw a young man in a newer production and thought, man, he’s a dead ringer for William Hurt, and whaddaya know, it was his son. So I guess it’s time. Still. A moment of silence.

So happy Pi Day, and see you when I get back. Have a slice for me.

Posted at 8:59 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 58 Comments

Bad words.

On Monday, my best friend’s firstborn will be defending his dissertation. Apparently it’ll be on Zoom, and the public is welcome to watch. I’ve never seen a dissertation defense, and I plan to watch because I’ve known this boy since he was in diapers, and, well, he’s a genius. I don’t expect to understand it at all; he’s in a medical science program, the kind where you go to med school a couple extra years and emerge with two doctorates, medical and “of philosophy,” as they say. But it’ll be interesting to watch.

I have to say, I’m enjoying this phase of parenthood, where a kid is more or less launched into the world and your work is pretty much done. I say “more or less” because I imagine they stay on the family cell-phone plan and HBO subscription until you die. And “pretty much” because they’ll always need you, at least a little. But it’s fun to sit down with a young adult, pour two glasses of wine, and have an adult conversation. You can say “fuck” without feeling like you’re corrupting them. It certainly beats adolescence.

Two language-related incidents in recent days here. First, the grimmer one: A substitute teacher in a suburban high-school here was escorted from the building by administration, fired and told to never return (in so many words). Her crime? Saying “get your cotton-pickin’ hands off of it” to a black student. This was captured on video, because apparently kids never put their phones away, and it had to be done.

The story I read was by some Gannett partner paper out in the ‘burbs, and was written as though she’d burned a cross in the classroom. I can’t find the link now, but there was one passage where the superintendent talked about how all substitutes are of course qualified, but “we can’t know the prejudices in a person’s heart” when they’re hired. Until they come out in language like that.

All I could think was, she said “cotton-pickin'” so she wouldn’t say “goddamn.” Or something worse.

While it is obviously abundantly clear why that phrase is racially offensive, it’s also one of those usages that was common, once upon a time, and had nothing to do with race at all, at least not when I ever heard it. It was a way for your mom or dad to intensify an order without using profanity. Get your cotton-pickin’ hands off the stereo, Jimmy is better parenting than telling Jimmy to take his fucking hands off the volume knob.

It’s an antique phrase, granted. When I hear it in my memory, it comes out in Mel Blanc’s voice, because Yosemite Sam used it a lot when he talked to Bugs Bunny. Wait one cotton-pickin’ minute, etc. I asked some younger people what they thought, and here’s where I was really surprised: Several of them had never heard the phrase at all. Ever! So much for the ubiquity of Looney Tunes.

Some people say gosh darn, some pea-pickin’, some doggone, but it’s all the same. Lots of parents used that phrase when I was a kid. Lots of parents continued to use that phrase when I was an adult.

Memo to the room: We can no longer use that phrase. Substitute fucking, instead. You may still get in trouble, but you won’t be branded a racist.

On Friday night, we went to the Dirty Show, Detroit’s annual erotic-art festival. It’s been a while (Covid), and I was pleased to see the old spirit is back, with vaccine checks at the door and a fair number of masks.

As we were preparing to leave, the burlesque dancers took a break and a comic came out to do a tight five. It was a young woman, about Kate’s age, and she started out blue and reached a shade of blue so deep and bloooooo they need a new word for it. The performers’ names were projected on a screen behind them, and I suddenly realized that I knew her. Or rather, I knew her parents. They lived around the corner from us in Ann Arbor, and Kate played with her sister. Later, Kate and the comic went to Cuba together for a three-week study abroad program.

Alan was laughing his ass off. The jokes weren’t that funny, but there was a certain humor in seeing how far she’d go for the next laugh, like watching someone on a high wire. “Do you ever look into the toilet after you shit and think about how big a dick you could take back there?” etc. All I could think of was the sweet kindergartener I first knew, and of course, if her parents would rather she choose a stage name.

Not sure how we got there from Bernie’s dissertation, but good luck, Bern! You’ll do great, I know.

A little bloggage:

David French – David French! – is warning of the political violence to come, gestating in American evangelical churches:

Some readers may remember that I debated Eric Metaxas at John Brown University in September 2020. While the debate was civil enough, it was clear to me that Metaxas was operating with a level of commitment to Trump that went well beyond reason. He truly believed Joe Biden would destroy America. He truly believed Trump was God’s chosen man for the moment.

Then, after the election, Metaxas escalated his rhetoric considerably. Let’s recall some of his quotes about the election:

“It’s like stealing the heart and soul of America. It’s like holding a rusty knife to the throat of Lady Liberty.”

“You might as well spit on the grave of George Washington.”

“This is evil. It’s like somebody has been raped or murdered. … This is like that times a thousand.”

Indeed, Metaxas claimed certainty even in the absence of proof: “So who cares what I can prove in the courts? This is right. This happened, and I am going to do anything I can to uncover this horror, this evil.”

Hey, Dave – you guys built this Jurassic Park. You can’t be that shocked now that the velociraptors are finding the weak spots in the fence.

So, then: Happy Superbowling, everyone.

Posted at 5:27 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 58 Comments