Another sub-60 degree weekend.

The weekend is over and not a lot of fun was had — work and errands and the usual seemed to pile up a bit higher this week. But I did some reading and walked the dog and got some exercise. The Metro Times Blowout was this weekend — it’s a local-music festival, the loud kind — and I got to one show Friday but happily turned my wristband over to Kate the next night. Saw some friends, drank a couple of beers and finished off with the final concert of Kate’s jazz season. One of the mothers called for a group picture but couldn’t get her camera to work, so I did her a solid and emailed her mine:

P1040092

As stated before in this space, they really put the “creative” in Creative Jazz Ensemble, what with having three violins and all. They also have three guitarists, but two were no-shows for this show. Good thing my little girl was there to be the bottom, as one of the numbers was “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and you really can’t do that without a bass.

One other thing from Saturday: Watched “Her,” which immediately became my favorite movie of 2013. It won best original screenplay at the Oscars, and no other nominated film of the last year came close to it. It’s about a lonely writer, Theodore, in some vague future version of Los Angeles who falls in love with the disembodied voice of his computer operating system; think Siri after about 20 more generations of improvement. The story is great enough, but what I really fell in love with was the setting of a smoggy Los Angeles where everyone walks around talking, but not to the people around them. Computers have pretty much replaced human contact — the scenes of Theodore’s interaction with his flesh-and-blood friends don’t look like nearly as much fun as his playful chats with Samantha, his OS. Even lonely bedtime masturbation can be done online with a partner with just a few voice commands. His job is writing customized letters for others, to others. The world is entirely a service economy, and this is what we’re selling — canned emotions and disembodied love.

Seriously, I recommend it to anyone who considers these things, and given that we’re a disembodied community here, most of whom don’t even know what other members look like, it almost suggests a virtual movie club.

So, I’m going down to make a simple dinner and see what Sunday-night TV has in store. A little bloggage today:

Jazz hands! A Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter embeds at a high-school musical and files a report.

God, I hate circuses.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, the Cinco de Mayo parade is cancelled after someone is shot to death pretty much smack in the middle of it.

Happy Monday, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

Meet the DVAS.

Because I believe my little girl should be free to have her own life, and write about it someday, I mention her less here than I might be inclined to. But it seems noteworthy to mark milestones when they come along, and we had one this weekend.

Around Christmas, Kate and two of her friends formed a band. They call themselves the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a reference you Quentin Tarantino fans should pick up on. Their vision was clear from the beginning: All girls, playing their own brand of psychedelic punk, not just a cover band. They worked hard through the long winter, practicing at one’s house (not ours, but the one whose guitar-playing father had already turned the garage into a studio). The search for a singer took a while, but eventually they found someone, and through this connection and that connection, they had their first gig Saturday.

It was a venue that appears in no Google searches, probably because it barely exists. It’s a brick building with one room and a boarded-up storefront, probably a former mom-and-pop grocery or barbershop or what-have-you. The neighborhood is terrible, as in your-car’s-safety-is-in-God’s-hands terrible, and there was enough light in the sky to see just how terrible as we drove up. These are the neighborhoods in Detroit that freak me out — the ones where the blight is well-entrenched and mostly still standing, but there are still many occupied houses. Imagine living next to a standing burned shell, or between two of them, for years on end. It might leave a person with a bad attitude.

“If only we had a film crew to capture this milestone in your early career,” I mused as we drove past a house with a collapsed front porch roof. Well, at least it’s pretty damn punk.

But we found the guy who runs the place, and with many, many misgivings, left the girls to do their own setup and sound check while we went to the Northern Lights Lounge for a drink and some hummus. We returned as the DVAS were just about ready to take the — well, it wasn’t quite a stage. More like a clearing in the corner.

And they did great, with a tight little set of originals, and two covers — the Jimmy Neutron theme song and, because we are where we are, some Stooges.

The place was so murky inside even my flash pictures couldn’t penetrate it. We’re going to have to go with arty here:

dvas

With all due respect to the venue, I hope they don’t play there anymore. They’re already good enough that they shouldn’t have to.

It was a busy Saturday. I drove to Lansing to meet with one of the Bridge columnists I edit, who was signing copies of an Upper Peninsula literary collection called “The Way North,” which I can recommend to any Yoopers looking for a taste of home. I’m still in the poetry section, but I’m liking it quite a lot.

Sunday? A 14-mile bike ride into the teeth of a chilly wind. WHERE IS WARMTH? WARMTH I REQUIRE.

Bloggage, then:

I’ve really become a fan of Neil Steinberg, who puts a lot more effort into his blog than I do. This one in particular.

As long as we’re talking Bridge, one of my faves of the weekend — a Vietnam-era vet objects to the word-inflation of “hero.” I totally agree.

Living paycheck-to-paycheck on $90K a year? You bet. Another great deep dive from the WashPost.

Hello, Monday. I’ve heard you can’t be trusted. But I hope everyone’s week is fine.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 58 Comments
 

Fine weather for a resurrection.

I know bad weather happens on Easter, but honestly, I can never think of any in my recent memory. Maybe it just doesn’t register, or fades quickly, like the pain of childbirth. Whatever the reason, we had a pretty glorious Easter, weather-wise, and most of the other -wises, in that we had good food and chocolate and ham and eggs. I’m sure Jeff was working overtime and then some, but it is the busiest day of the year in his line of work.

As for me, I saw a Muslim girl at the Eastern Market, wearing a hijab, with a pair of bunny ears on top. Our wonderful country of weirdness.

We went to Toledo to meet my sister-in-law for Easter lunch — it’s about halfway between us. Somehow we got to talking about this and that, and she said her employer-paid health insurance offers a rebate for people who exercise four times a week for 30 minutes. It’s self-reported, she said.

And how much of a rebate do they get? Fifteen bucks per quarter. It’s hardly worth lying on the reporting forms.

I was wondering about this because I read something recently about “the internet of things” — all the interconnected devices that make our lives easier. I think we’ve discussed the Next thermostat here before, but there are also all these fitness trackers like the Fitbit and Nike Fuel Band, et al. I got one of these for Christmas, the Misfit Shine, and I really like it. It meshes narcissism with tech geekery with data analysis. I cannot deny that I check it several times a day, and that it motivates me to walk more often in pursuit of the points that make it blink and send me attagirl messages via my phone. I’m on a long-term, low-pressure quest to chip away a few pounds, and stupid stuff like this makes a difference

I don’t have to spend much time on the website, though, to see a definite dark side — the bundled packages “ideal for office groups,” where everyone gets a wearable tracker and competes to reach fitness goals. Is it so crazy to imagine a time when your insurer wants to know how often you’re making the 1,000-point standard, and determines your premium based on it?

I think it’ll happen. And I think the technology will advance, but also the shadow economy that will collect your tracker and attach it to a dog for 45 minutes or so before dropping it back in your mailbox.

Honest, boss, I don’t know why I can’t lose these extra pounds. I’m working my ass off at the dog park.

Let’s not let fear of surveillance put a pall on a gentle Sunday night, fading into golden light with a dog nearby and a single hot dog on the grill. (After that midday feed, I don’t feel like eating much.) Time to skip to the bloggage:

A friend of mine here in Detroit is one of those urban farmers you’ve heard so much about — the one with the ducks. She had her annual Easter Eggstravaganza, and I know a few of you threw her some money so she could make it free for all the neighborhood kids. Here are the event photos, at least the series where every kid in attendance got his or her picture taken with a duckling. Don’t know if that was the same duck in every picture, but you get a sense of the fun that was had. Lots!

I liked parts of this essay about Elmore Leonard, which ran last week in Grantland’s Detroit series. The writer understands which books were the best (at least, he agrees with me). Other parts, not so much, but it’s a fine effort.

And that’s enough for a day when we’re all recovering from chocolate poisoning. Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 49 Comments
 

Another reason to stay open all night.

Again, sorry for the day off. I was out until after 9 — clear until after 9 — at a journalism awards banquet. Yes, like all but the top j-awards banquets, it was too long. Not as long as the Hoosier State Press Association, thank God, which had something like six or seven circulation categories and enough award classifications that the actual plaque-passing was like my high-school graduation, with its 750-strong senior class. I recall “Pomp & Circumstance” playing and playing and playing.

But Bridge did OK. And the boss bought the drinks.

And I got home too late to blog. There are nights when I think I have flat run out of everything there is to say about everything in the world, and think I should just pull the plug on the whole thing. Usually it’s on nights when I’m tired. So let’s get going, then.

I was not much of a Walmart fan from the very first time I set foot in one, before I knew much about the company at all. They always struck me as overcrowded and aggressively ugly, the sort of place where there’s not even a polite nod toward the idea of seduction in sales, the attractive arrangement of a $6 T-shirt on a mannequin or something. No, it has all the charm of GUM, the Soviet Macy’s: Here is shirt. You buy shirt. Is cheap shirt.

So it’s obvious what the target market is for Walmart’s latest brand extension: Wiring money. Could there be anything more depressing than this?

Lower-income consumers have been a core demographic for Walmart, but in recent quarters those shoppers have turned increasingly to dollar stores.

“Walmart-2-Walmart leverages our existing footprint and the large-scale systems that our company can bring to bear to enable a low-cost service such as this,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart United States.

More than 29 percent of households in the United States did not have a savings account in 2011, and about 10 percent of households did not have a checking account, according to a study sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And while alternative financial products give consumers access to services they might otherwise be denied, people who are shut out of the traditional banking system sometimes find themselves paying high fees for transactions as basic as cashing a check.

What a country this has become, when this one demographic bloc can support a chain as enormous as Walmart. Meanwhile, those aforementioned dollar stores are everywhere in Detroit.

Let’s skip to the bloggage:

First, one of mine, a profile of a rising gay public intellectual who actually engages his opponents with respect and moderation. Friend of a friend.

With the start of “Mad Men” comes Tom & Lorenzo’s Mad Style posts. I admit I hadn’t thought of the blue dress/black “Zou Bisou” dress connection. I’m surprised they haven’t pointed out how much Lou Avery, the temporary creative director, resembles Duck Philips, the headhunter who hired him.

It’s Detroit week at Grantland. Personally, I think nostalgia like this is not a healthy thing, but it’s a good story: Saving Tiger Stadium.

Watch some Real Housewives cry: “I never said you were a stripper!”

Have a good weekend, all. I hope the well refills.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 44 Comments
 

Fixed.

Every time we have computer trouble, I find myself both irritated (haven’t we reached the point in the internet that it should just flippin’ work?) and — if I solve the problem — amazingly satisfied. Problem-solving has never been my most marketable skill, so it feels good to do deductive reasoning from time to time. Is it this? Let’s take it out of the chain and see what happens. Is it this? Yes.

It was the router, the ugly-ass Cisco that wanted me to install all its stupid software, added a Guest network and couldn’t find the damn printer until J.C. passed through town and brought it to heel.

The new one’s an Apple. Yes, I paid the premium. My reward? I plugged it in, and it worked. The lagniappe? It’s pretty. Good enough for me.

So, on Wednesday I experimented with what the urban planners call “last-mile” bike commuting. That’s where you ride your bike to the bus stop, put it on the rack on the front of the bus, commute to the urban center, take the bike off and ride to your office. It worked swimmingly both ways, unless you are the sort who would be bothered by the raving homeless guy who lingered at the downtown stop for a time. Bonus: I had a bike for lunch, and a friend and I rode down to Eastern Market for a slice at Supino’s, the best pizza in this or many other towns. The crust is so thin you can eat it entirely without guilt, because they don’t lard the cheese on, either.

And then it was back to the office, passing between a major-league baseball park and the housing project where the Supremes grew up, now abandoned and undergoing demolition. All under china-blue skies. That is what I call a lunch hour.

The only potential sour note in this is the lack of a rack at my office building, and the management’s refusal to let me bring it upstairs. I can’t even lock it in the vestibule, which meant I had to secure it to a parking meter outside the front door. I invested in a bomb-ass lock, but nothing works all the time. That’s when I rely on my time-honored strategy of never having the nicest stuff. Today, a woman rode past me on a racing bike that looked like it had been imported from the 23rd century. If I recognize her blond ponytail, she’s a local amateur racer and probably needs it, but I wouldn’t want to leave it anywhere without a 50-pound anchor secured to, I dunno, maybe a car.

OK, so bloggage for the weekend?

Here’s the WashPost Wonkblog thing I posted in comments Wednesday, for you non-comments people. It explains why ophthalmologists are among the highest-billing Medicare doctors out there. Spoiler: Pharmaceuticals.

I guess some people won’t be watching Stephen Colbert when he takes over for David Letterman.

And then Jesus said, “Take my wife. Please.” Can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Great weekend, all. And happy birthday, J.C. Burns! You make this thing happen every single day.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol', Television | 53 Comments
 

Human relations.

I don’t feel entirely cool about Brendan Eich stepping down as CEO of Mozilla, over his financial support of California’s Prop 8 — the anti-gay marriage proposal — in 2008. But I am entirely astonished by what it took to topple him: An announced boycott by a dating service? And not even Match.com?

As always, it depends on what you’re selling. Anti-gay attitudes don’t go over well in Silicon Valley, or any of the other Silicons out there. I know a lot of those guys are Republicans or libertarians or whatever, but they’re still young, and for young people, this is the way it’s going to be.

If you work for Hobby Lobby, they have their own way of doing things. If you work for the Catholic church, ditto. And while I hate the idea of all of us retreating to these walled-off camps, part of it is thinking that isn’t this what Chick-fil-A was about, and wasn’t the commentary then pretty much 180 degrees from what it is today?

I’d have continued to use Firefox no matter what. You can’t live your life that way, although I’ve done a boycott or two in the past, so it’s easy to understand the impulse.

This guy fell way too easily, though; something more has to be going on. At the moment, I’m catching up on last season’s “Mad Men” episodes and someone said, “If you wait patiently by the river, the body of your enemy will float by.” And someday you will, too.

Bloggage for a weekend?

Zumba for orthodox Jewish women. They only call it Jewmba when it uses Jewish music.

Yesterday was Doris Day’s 90th birthday. Here’s a great column about her and Rock Hudson, by James Wolcott. From some years back, still most excellent.

This is insane: A driver hits a boy who walked out in front of his car, stops to help and is beaten for his concern. The next driver won’t stop.

The weekend is here. Hallelujah.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 84 Comments
 

Slide show.

So what happens the day after thousands descend on a city center and drink themselves into a stupor in the interest of celebrating spring and the return of baseball season? This:

trash

And this was pretty tame, as these things go. The vacant lots we could see from the office were strewn. Most of it was being picked up by day’s end, but the day was windy, and the wind picked up more of it.

And since we’ve already kicked off with a photo, let’s make this a picture-heavy post, because I’m tired and cranky and want to read a book or something. OK? Here goes.

How about a story you can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that you do NOT want to read the comments? This one:

bleachers

And in case you’re wondering? No, it’s not exactly true; guess which TV network is involved in trying to make it so, however:

However, because it’s a lot more fun to say the big, bad ol’ government is oppressing people, the Narrative (there’s always a Narrative) quickly established that the feds told the boosters to tear out the seats (or as often misreported, bleachers). Two of the boosters appeared March 30 on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” and it only took until the first question for them to be asked if this government-ordered seat removal wasn’t un-American. The boosters, apparently not regular viewers of “Fox & Friends,” seemed a little surprised by that line of questioning.

Someone believes it is embarrassing to show her belly spots to the whole world, but she’s so cute what the hell:

bellyspots

Finally, we saw this over the weekend:

wolf

That’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which I didn’t expect to like but ended up enjoying very much. It’s absolutely over the top, disgusting at many points, too long by about 40 minutes — there were moments when I was mentally telling Thelma Schoonmaker, who has at least one Oscar, that she needed to cut this scene like, yesterday — and yet absolutely exhilarating. I should just face it: Martin Scorsese had me not at hello, but at the moment his own camera panned past him sitting on that step in “Taxi Driver.”

marty

I’m just going to see all his movies until one of us dies.

Which could be tomorrow, if I don’t get some rest. Happy birthday to my sister Pam, and hump day to everyone.

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

Here comes the fun.

Here’s an Opening Day text from a buddy, who was breakfasting at a place where, if you’re a singleton, they seat you at a table with others:

Tigers fans at my table now imitating black people arguing over the price of fried chicken. I’m going to kill them all and then fire a .44 into my soft palate. You can fight for my record collection and cameras in probate, if you’re so inclined.

I didn’t really understand what a mixed blessing the Tigers are, for locals. Every year, someone who lives in the city writes an angry op-ed aimed at suburbanites who descend upon the stadium district on Opening Day, drink themselves into a stupor, and spend the rest of the afternoon scattering trash, puking and urinating on walls. Because (belch) the city is a shithole, (urp) and who cares if there’s one more piece of trash blowing down the gutter (sorry, dude).

Not only was the bar around the corner from my office open at 7 a.m., the Fillmore, around the other corner, was open at 7:30, with live music and — of course — serving liquor. I understand it’s a big moneymaker, but lordy, won’t someone think of the children.

Related: What it costs to propose (via scoreboard) at every major-league ballpark.

At least the weather cooperated. Glorious and soft enough that spring’s promise no longer seems false. A few hardy sprouts are pushing up, although dirty snow piles are still everywhere and our back yard feels pretty hard. As always in these cases, it could be worse, and is, elsewhere.

So, Hobie Alter died this week, at 80. He democratized surfing, then sailing, and along the way — I love obituary details like this — was married five times:

“I have a tendency to get too involved with my projects. I’d go to 4 or 6 a.m., hear the newspaper drop, and know it was time to quit,” he told The Times in 1977. “It’s not the kind of thing that’s conducive to a marriage. It tends to drive everyone around you crazy.”

I’ve sailed a Hobie Cat a time or three, and they are a blast, if a little quick to get up on one hull. But lots of people want exactly that in a fun little beach boat. I regret I never got to try out the 16-footer, which comes with a rig for hiking out; you put on sort of a big diaper, hook on to the mast, and hang your ass way out to counterbalance the heeling boat.

Hobie built himself a career where he never had to wear a necktie, or even shoes. Not bad.

So. A nice easy nine-miler today, basically a grocery run (coconut milk, soup) with a long detour, something to work the kinks out and map the worst of the potholes. Out and back in 45 minutes and, to my relief, everything worked. We’ll see about tomorrow, but as Mondays go? I’ll take it. And that’s no foolin’.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 43 Comments
 

The old man.

For some reason I found myself reading the cover story in the current issue of Rolling Stone, about Justin Bieber. I managed to avoid Bieber more or less entirely; he either fell just outside of Kate’s teen-idol sweet spot, or she never had one at all. (I suspect the latter; smart girl.)

Anyway, he’s really terra incognita, so I read nearly all of this stupid story (no link; firewall), pegged to his recent screwups. And it was sort of fascinating, with many rich details of what you might call Graceland Life, that zone that rich entertainers and sports stars can afford to live in, surrounded by yes-men and layers of lawyers, managers, fixers and others who make unpleasantness go away. I learned that Bieber carried $75,000 in small bills, packed in two duffel bags — carried by underlings — to distribute to strippers’ G-strings at a Miami club. A photo array in the article featured a devastating headline: “The Wolf of Sesame Street.”

And I learned that many trace this arrested infant’s current spiral to the re-entry of his once-estranged father into his life. Pa Bieber, a brawler, recovering addict and all-around swell guy, has taken his place in the charmed circle.

And that reminded me of something I read over the weekend, a book excerpt about Lance Armstrong. A chunk of it concerned J.T. Neal, Armstrong’s first real mentor, who served as guess-what to him in the early days of his career:

Neal’s first impression was that the kid’s ego exceeded his talent. Armstrong was brash and ill-mannered, in desperate need of refinement. But the more he learned of Armstrong’s home life, the sorrier Neal began to feel for him. He was a boy without a reliable father. Linda Armstrong wrote in her 2005 autobiography that she was pleased that her son had found a responsible male role model, and that Neal had lent a sympathetic ear to her while she dealt with the rocky transition between marriages.

Neal soon recognized that Armstrong’s insecurities and anger were products of his broken family: He felt abandoned by his biological father and mistreated by his adoptive one.

Neal, ironically, was diagnosed with cancer around the same time Armstrong was. But he didn’t survive. And that reminded me of Pete Dexter’s several stories about Cus D’Amato, the boxing trainer, who made Mike Tyson into a profoundly dangerous heavyweight fighter, and then died, leaving the 19-year-old bereft and at the top of a very fast ride straight down. A father figure who left before the job was done.

Fathers. They’re so important. I bet Jeff could write a few million words about that one.

Yesterday we were talking a bit about music, yes? Their albums — especially “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” — were part of the soundtrack of the ’70s, but I haven’t given Little Feat much thought, so I read this Slate piece on the band with some interest. I don’t know if I’m down with the first sentence; “the most underrated band of the ’70s,” really? But what the hell, it’s just pop music.

I wasn’t entirely convinced, but there were some good memories in those video links. “Willin’,” I told someone the other day, is the trucker song America was too stupid, and too busy making “Convoy” a smash hit, to appreciate.

And while it may seem the long way around, I followed a link in the piece to a Rolling Stone reader poll on the best live albums of all time. Just to see what the other nine were. And when I saw that “Frampton Comes Alive” was included by not the J. Geils Band’s “Full House,” well, that’s when I knew what a Rolling Stone reader poll is worth: NOTHING.

Some people I knew in Indiana would have an annual party in honor of Lloyd Lowell George, Little Feat’s founder, who died young. While Peter Frampton yet lives. I ask you.

And now we come to the end of the week. I’m headed out tonight to see a friend and former student play in his new band at the Lager House, one of those Detroit institutions. The band is called Clevinger, named for the character in “Catch-22.” It’s been so long since I’ve read the book I can’t remember, so I asked Wikipedia to tell me about Clevinger:

“A highly principled, highly educated man who acts as Yossarian’s foil within the story. His optimistic view of the world causes Yossarian to consider him to be a ‘dope,’ and he and Yossarian each believe the other is crazy.”

One piece of bloggage: If the Detroit Tigers can replace an entire goddamn baseball field’s worth of grass in the depths of this winter, why can’t we send a manned mission to Mars? Surely it can’t be that hard.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, Popculch | 50 Comments
 

Meanwhile, back here…

Texas and Arizona are getting all the ink, but Michigan is having its own gay-rights moment this week. A lesbian couple is seeking to overcome the state constitution’s same-sex marriage ban in federal court, so they can get hitched and formally adopt the three special-needs they’re raising together. They’re already a family, but the children had to be adopted by each woman as singletons, which puts their custody at risk should one of them go the way of all flesh.

This family is right out of 21st century Central Casting, and absolutely adorable.

I predict the state is going to lose. Their central argument is that the ban is valid because being raised by gay people is objectively worse for kids than by straight ones, and they’ve got the experts to prove it:

In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children, according to recent pretrial depositions of two witnesses in the Michigan trial and other participants. One result was the marshaling of $785,000 for a large-scale study by Mark Regnerus, a meeting participant and a sociologist at the University of Texas who will testify in Michigan.

The judge has telegraphed his thinking before; he continued the case for several months until the SCOTUS cases were decided, and with no jury, a lot of people see this as yet another domino ready to fall.

And so we arrive at the end of the week; how long was it, exactly? Twenty days, or forty? Wendy’s going to the vet tomorrow, as she has not shaken her malaise. It’s supposed to be 7 below by daybreak and more snow is coming over the weekend. Can you see why I’m not exactly energetic at the keyboard these past few days? Let’s have a good weekend, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Detroit life | 73 Comments