For the past few years, Kate has had an upright bass teacher who is, well, a real teacher: Dan Pliskow. Early on, Alan accompanied her to a lesson. She muffed a walking line and said, “I’m sorry.” And he said, “You never say that in here. You just go again. Don’t apologize.” And he smiled, because what are we doing here? Playing some jazz. No need to get upset.

Dan was motoring well into his 70s, playing lots of gigs, teaching at Wayne State, teaching private lessons in his home. And then, as these things sometimes go, he took a turn. Cancer. He went into hospice care a few weeks ago and died Sunday, surrounded by his family. He had a lot of family. A while back, he gave me his autobiography, which he wrote when he turned 70, photocopied and passed around. What a treasure; Detroit was a force to be reckoned with in jazz in the middle of the 20th century, and he was in the thick of it – a journeyman musician. It was fascinating, reading about how it was possible, once, for a guy like him to not only work, but work most days a week, in clubs from one end of the metro to the other.

He had a chance to replace Paul Chambers in a tour, but couldn’t — he had four kids at home. So he played in the Playboy Club house band and on the Soupy Sales show, here and there, cobbling together a living a gig at a time. We watched the Elaine Stritch documentary a few months ago, and caught a glimpse of him in her stage band when she played at the Detroit Music Hall.

He was such a sweetie. I will miss just knowing he’s in the world.

Here’s a video that looks like it was shot about a month ago, and you can tell he was sick, but his elfin personality shines through. One thing I regret: I never got him and Kate together at the Detroit bass players’ annual picture at the Motown Museum.

Any other bloggage today?

Kate’s band, which recently shortened their name to the Deadly Vipers, dropped an album last week, and you all are invited to listen and enjoy. No pressure to buy, but some of you may be rock ‘n’ rollers.

Alan’s petting Wendy so much to her liking that she’s nearly moaning. That’s winter. Time to sign off.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life | 19 Comments

We want it chunky.

A quick one today, sorry. I had a full weekend that stretched into a potluck birthday party Sunday night, my customary blogging time. I was puzzling over what to make – my cooking is in a creative lull; must be the weather – when inspiration appeared in the scowling, ghost-white face of none other than Jack White:

Pallid rocker Jack White is pretty pissed after some enterprising college students leaked a copy of his tour rider containing — amongst other ridiculous parameters — an extremely specific recipe for extra-chunky guacamole. The full contract in all its glory was posted online by the University of Oklahoma student newspaper The Oklahoma Daily just days before White was scheduled to perform at the college on Monday. Though the show went on as scheduled, the college has now been blacklisted by White’s agency.

The answer, then, was obvious:


Personally, I think it could use a little more heat and some garlic, but all in all, Jack’s guacamole game is strong. It all got eaten, anyway. Here’s the recipe, if you’d like to try it. The thing about the pits keeping it from browning is b.s., I should add; my newly learned trick is to squirt half a lime over the top and seal it with plastic wrap. When you serve, stir in the puddled lime juice and there you are.

So now the week begins anew, and I’ll see you here tomorrow with a little bit more than this, eh?

Posted at 8:29 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments

All the options.

So we were just about to board the People Mover to Cobo for the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview, i.e. the Auto Prom, when Alan said, “Oh my god, I forgot the tickets.” This is the sort of thing you brain your husband for, but fortunately, his office is only two blocks away, so I cooled my heels in the lobby for 20 minutes, mostly people-watching but for some reason this carpet looked very trippy. I think it must have been freshly shampooed, because I don’t remember it being this vivid before:


And soon Alan was back and we were in. The entrance is right near the Ford space, so of course first stop was the star of the show:


That’s the Ford GT. Jalopnik got a little hot under the silks for this, and it’s easy to see why. Supposedly 45 minutes after the presser wrapped up on Monday, you still had to throw an elbow to get close to it. Was the greater threat the puddles of drool or the palisade of middle-age erections? I dunno, but she does have a sweet heinie, don’t she?


You can look, but you cannot touch; she’s one of the cars that sits behind a barrier. You can see why.

At the other end of the spectrum, this little cutie got some attention, too — the Chevy Bolt, an electric vehicle with a 200-mile range and an under-$30K price tag (“after federal incentives,” ahem), aka the Tesla for the rest of us:


I have yet to drive a Volt, so I can’t tell you much about how all-electric feels on the road, but my friends who’ve had them are very pleased. And while we’re talking zero emissions, heads up, Californians:


This Subaru is a hydrogen fuel-cell sedan, “and it fills up in less than two minutes,” the product specialist said. “I guess that’s great, if you can find a hydrogen filling station,” I said, and she replied, “And that’s why we’ll only be selling them in California.” So there. Enjoy your visit to the frozen Midwest, little Subaru. I like your color, anyway.

“Product specialist” is what they call car-show models now, and at the domestic booths, they are a far cry from just eye candy. Most of them didn’t even wear dresses; this pants ensemble is pretty standard:


That ‘Vette has a sharky face, doesn’t it? And that’s about the extent of my interest in Corvettes these days. I mean, I get their appeal, but contemplating owning one is like considering taking delivery of a peregrine falcon or something — it’s just not going to happen.

Speaking of fetching fannies, isn’t this Mini coupe just the bee’s knees?


I love how the taillights make two halves of a Union Jack. “Ooh, when can I buy one?” I trilled to the guy behind the wire. “Never,” he said. “It’s a concept.” Way to break a girl’s heart.

Hey, look, it’s Miss Michigan and what is she doing in an import’s show space? Pointing at a Maserati, that’s what:


I was so struck by her severe hairstyle and distinctly not-Missy gown that I asked what ever happened to Texas hair on Misses. She made a face. So lovely, though; glad to see the raven-haired girls in their ascendancy.

Every year I’m taken aback, again, by the strange visual elements of Auto Prom — the super-bright lights tend to make everyone look like they’re in a Fellini movie. I’m disappointed I saw none of the celebrities who attended, which is to say, I missed Aretha. The fashion trends this year were unremarkable. Lots of black, lots of fab shoes, men in kilts, boobs on display — the usual. This lady wore a churchy hat, but I think it worked on her, don’t you?


And with that, your correspondent’s feet are killing her and she’s going to head home and peel out of her Spanx. But first, she’s going to point at a Maserati, too.


Goodbye until next year!

Posted at 5:19 pm in Detroit life | 68 Comments

Saturday night fire.

So a few days ago a Facebook event floated through my timeline. It was for a massive Christmas-tree fire at a park in Detroit on the Grosse Pointe border. It was said to be an “unofficial fundraiser” for the Detroit fire department. You didn’t have to bring a tree, but you were encouraged to drop a few bucks into the bucket. Alan is trying to get over a persistent cold before his hell week commences (auto show), so I figured I’d stop by, see the sights and come home.

I arrived to find a couple hundred people milling around a medium-size pile of Christmas trees, and not one firefighter in evidence. Nor a bucket, nor any sense of organization. The stated time for the ignition came and went, and a rumor began to spread through the crowd: It was called off. Something about the fire marshall (not that a fire marshall was anywhere around, either). How did anyone know this? Who knows? It’s a bunch of people walking around in the freezing dark, waiting for a fire to start.

So someone started the fire.


I went to a Christmas-tree fire last winter, but it was held later in the month, so the trees had longer to dry out and went up like matchsticks. These trees took a little longer to catch, but pretty soon we had a pretty good inferno going.


At least one person had speakers in the bed of a pickup, and of course they were playing Motown, because this is Detroit, so soon it was a Detroit party with a big fire and a wind like a knife (18 degrees and a flag-snapping breeze) and everybody drinking and Stevie Wonder singing “Uptight” and hey, Saturday night. I looked out to the road, and who was arriving? The fire department. With lights, but no sirens.

There’s no big climax to this story. The firefighters approached, chatted with a few people, looked around and said, “I guess we’ll be leaving, then.”

I asked one where the bucket was. “What bucket?” “There’s no fundraiser?” “Huh?”


And with that, the big engine turned around, a few people applauded, and I went back to the car. It was very cold.

I got a new phone recently, and I’m pleased with the camera. One short sub-resolution this year is to learn to take better phone pictures. That’s not bad for point-and-shoot.

So now it’s auto-show week, which culminates in the car prom. I have a dress that makes me look like a desperate old tart and borrowed some swingy earrings. And all I can think is: I hope I don’t get Alan’s ghastly cold.

I don’t think I even have any bloggage. Maybe you do? Let’s hope for a great week ahead.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life | 52 Comments

The gales of November.

The lesbian couple at the center of the Michigan challenge to its same-sex marriage ban asked the Supremes to consider their case a week or so ago, and today the AG did the same.

“The history of our democracy demonstrates the wisdom of allowing the people to decide important issues at the ballot box, rather than ceding those decisions to unelected judges,” wrote Schuette, who also cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s prior stance on affirmative action to bolster his argument.

Schuette noted in his filing that in deciding the affirmative action issue, Kennedy discussed the importance of trusting voters to decide significant issues and wrote: “‘It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds.'”

You all know what I do for a living, so I can’t really express an opinion on this, other than to wonder when this country has left the rights of a minority in the hands of the voters, because if we had, there’d still be legal segregation throughout the south, women wouldn’t be able to vote and people of different races wouldn’t be able to marry, either.

Strange night tonight. The wind is howling at a speed that makes it sound like a continuous low moan, and we’re all waiting for the Ferguson grand-jury decision. Downtown, football fans are wandering around, waiting for the Jets-Bills game to start at Ford Field, i.e., the Lions’ home turf. Maybe you heard — there was some snow in Buffalo last week, so Detroit is bailing them out. The Lions gave the seats away free starting Saturday, and whaddaya know? A sellout. Or maybe a freeout. Whatever, the knots of fans who come in from the ‘burbs were already starting to appear when I left work in the gales. Wind always puts me on edge, and I’m not sure why, although I once read that it’s a contributor to domestic abuse in Livingston, Montana, where it blows constantly. I worry about flying tree limbs, lost power and wrecked hairdos. That’s enough to put anyone on edge.

So let’s skip to some bloggage while I pour a glass of wine and catch up on premium cable and chores:

How did I ever live before I met Tom & Lorenzo? “It looks like she skinned some white girl and turned her into a slutty cocktail dress.” Don’t ever change, J-Lo.

I was not the fan of the UVA rape story that many of you are — I found parts of it almost impossible to believe — but I am a big fan of this UVA rape story, which I found believable in every detail. It’s long, but well worth the read. And on the subject in general, Dahlia Lithwick speaks the truth. As usual.

You know what peeves me about these stories about how much students hate the new, somewhat healthier lunches dictated under new federal rules? The unspoken assumption that what they replaced was something wonderful. When you know it wasn’t. #thanksmichelleobama

Speaking of food, it’s time to start cooking. How about you?

Posted at 7:32 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 107 Comments

America’s very bad dad.

A couple of us went out to dinner Saturday night. It was a very Detroit 2.0 evening, featuring a chic restaurant, a long wait for a table and a cocktail called a Rosemary Burn (featuring a sprig of charred you-know-what). I swear, I’ve had more cocktails featuring rosemary in the last year than I’ve had potatoes or lamb or any other rosemary-friendly food. Maybe it was a Rosemary Char. Something like that. Can’t recall.

Anyway, we were sitting there working through our small-plates selection when the subject of Bill Cosby came up. We marveled at the parade of women now coming forward, most without the shroud of anonymity, many of them now senior citizens; their stories and the timeline suggest Cosby’s alleged strategy of mickey-slipping went on for decades.

That’s what makes this WashPost story published today so damning; it hears out the known accusers in chronological order, starting with the young comedy writer (who said she was drugged and assaulted in 1965) to the Temple University staffer (ditto, 2004). It’s an interesting structure, because you can see in its detail how we came to understand rape and sex crimes in that nearly 40-year span of time. The first victim didn’t go to the police because who would believe her word against a famous man? The last one brooded for a while, then called a lawyer, not the police, after a belated visit to police, and negotiated a cash settlement. (Please understand I am not criticizing her for doing so; absent a strong criminal case with solid physical evidence, Cosby likely wouldn’t have spent a day behind bars. That she chose to hit him in the wallet was a valid alternative choice.)

It’s also interesting because, after every victim’s story, the writers reproduce the comment of Cosby’s legal team. It’s almost hilarious:

One of Cosby’s attorneys, John Schmitt, issued a statement this past week saying that repeating old allegations “does not make them true.”

…Singer, Cosby’s attorney, called Traitz “the latest example of people coming out of the woodwork with unsubstantiated or fabricated stories about my client.”

…When contacted by The Post about Valentino’s allegations, Cosby’s attorney responded by issuing the broad denial to the recent accusations.

…Another Cosby attorney, Walter M. Phillips Jr., called Green’s allegations “absolutely false.”

Well, to their credit, no one said, “Another one? Where are all these crazy bitches coming from?”

He’s toast. Of course, Mitch Albom says he needs a little more time to study on the subject, and in the meantime, was it really necessary to pull reruns of “The Cosby Show” from TVLand? I mean, talk about a rush to judgment.

In case you’re wondering, the Rosemary Burn/Char was a twist on a whiskey sour, and featured bourbon, orange-blossom honey, lemon and salt. “The bourbon was infused with pine nuts,” Alan reminds me. Noted.

It must take so long to make a drink like that, you don’t have to worry about having too many.

Thanksgiving week! And so it begins. I will try to post what and when I can, but as always: Holidays. Etc.

Posted at 1:18 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 41 Comments

Happy birthday to us.

I’m telling you, when Columbus gets five inches of snow in mid-November — it is still mid-November, right? — and Detroit only an inch, well…I don’t know what that means. Probably that weather varies widely and isn’t necessarily north = more.

Still. Brr. We’re supposed to get strong winds, too, so I expect a week of misery.

It was birthday weekend around here — Kate’s 18th, Alan’s (mumble). The former got a fuzz pedal for her bass and a pair of Doc Martens, perhaps my least-favorite shoe for girls in the universe, but the thing about gifts is, they’re for the recipient, not the giver. And if you’re legally an adult, you can decide what you want to wear on your feet. Especially if you’re already hanging out in bars:


That was Friday night. The crowd was sparse, the other acts pretty pallid, and the bartender indifferent, but when your lineup isn’t bringing in the sales, what can you expect? Which is to say, Alan had to buy four bottled waters for the girls so they wouldn’t get parched under that dazzling neon.

Saturday went along with it, sorta; we watched “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which may be my favorite Detroit-shot movie since “Out of Sight.” It’s not great, but it’s a wonderful look at the crazy city and its charms, which is especially well-suited to the story of two vampires making their way through the modern world. Googling around at the reviews, I notice a couple critics mention their house “on the outskirts of Detroit.” Ha! That house is in the heart of Detroit, and while some of the shots are angled to cut out the surroundings and emphasize its solitude, well, it pretty much nails the fabulous, ruined area of Brush Park. We don’t have nearly that many coyotes — at least not in town. They’d have to fight the stray pit bulls, and I don’t think they’re that tough.

A little bloggage from the weekend:

Something I learned from Neil Steinberg’s great column (reprinted from 2008) on “Porgy and Bess:”

The bottom line is that African-American artists embraced the work. Both Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier — neither a cream-puff — sang Porgy. The entire cast is black, as required by the Gershwin estate — in reaction, the story goes, to the horror of Al Jolson pushing to cast himself as a blackface Porgy.

When Mitch Albom starts a column with the words “In the old days,” you know what you should do, right? Yes: Don’t read the rest. But if you want to, be my guest, and consider: This is one of the most successful writers in the U.S.A. No wonder the vampires are worried.

A corporate sponsor dials back support for a sport (rock climbing) where risk-taking may be getting out of hand:

Among those whose contracts were withdrawn were Alex Honnold and Dean Potter, each widely credited with pushing the boundaries of the sport in recent years. They had large roles in the film, mainly showing them climbing precarious routes barehanded and without ropes, a technique called free soloing. Potter also was shown highlining, walking across a rope suspended between towering rock formations.

Other climbers who lost their Clif Bar contracts were Timmy O’Neill and Steph Davis, who spends much of her time BASE jumping (parachuting from a fixed object, like a building, an antenna, a span or earth) and wing-suit flying. Last year, her husband, Mario Richard, was killed when he crashed in a wing suit.

I’ve seen wing suit videos, and for the life of me, I don’t understand how a suit that turns you into a flying squirrel can overcome the weight of the human body. But then, I’m no daredevil.

We in this part of the country may all have to be daredevils tomorrow. I hope your commute is not too slippery.

Posted at 5:57 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 34 Comments

A visit to the firehouse.

We had a staff development day, which turned into sort of a field trip. Among the stops was a Detroit firehouse, squad 3 to be exact. You walk in, and you get the immediate whiff of burning house. It’s coming from the equipment room:


It was a nice visit; firefighters are cool guys. Although this one refused to sell me his shirt, even when I offered him $50 for it, but seriously, wouldn’t you? This might be the best t-shirt ever:


They showed us the brand-new jaws of life, the pictures on the walls, the memorial for the last firefighter to die in the line of duty, killed when a roof fell on him in a burning abandoned house. If you want to know more about Detroit firefighters, I can highly recommend “Burn,” a documentary floating around the Netflix orbits these days.

I think I may go back and increase my bid for that shirt.

Posted at 9:44 pm in Detroit life | 68 Comments

The end of the tunnel.

I’m kind of surprised the Detroit bankruptcy news of Friday didn’t make a bigger splash, news-wise. I checked the usual aggregation sites and found most were still dithering over election results, but trust me: This is huge. On Friday, the judge presiding over the case approved the city’s plan of adjustment, i.e., their blueprint for shedding debt, satisfying creditors and setting the city up for what all hope will be a clear path forward.

It’s pretty complicated, and not easy to sum up for civilians, but here are the bullet points: The city discharges about $7 billion in debt, most pensioners take a 4.5 percent cut (and forego future COLA and health-care increases), the noisiest creditors settled for mostly real estate and the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection is preserved.

I have to agree with Laura Berman here: It was nothing short of miraculous:

The city’s Chapter 9 had begun in shame. But somehow the legal process provided enough incentives and framework for everyone involved to get things done. If (Judge Steven) Rhodes saw it as “all about shared sacrifice,” it was also about high stakes, huge dollars, and the whole world watching — all combined to enable a group of people to focus on solutions rather than acrimony.

Detroit, a city that’s been hard-pressed to get anything done for decades, was suddenly a place where deals got done. Problems that had been insoluble — think Detroit Water and Sewer Department — were resolved by mutual consent of parties that wouldn’t even communicate previously.

“We had a 40 year dispute solved — and it was like a footnote,” (Emergency Manager Kevyn) Orr said of the water department compromise, which created a regional authority.

The bankruptcy enabled a series of voluntary settlements that left little room for appeal: Not a long, litigious nightmare but a framework to quickly and creatively fix a broken city.

This NYT piece gives you a good overview of the so-called “grand bargain” that preserved the art and bolstered pensions.

It’s an imperfect solution, but what would be perfect? And this is very close to perfect for a situation that looked so, so dire only a year ago. I told someone the other day that walking around downtown reminds me of the opening scenes of “Atlantic City.” Woodward Avenue is torn up for the installation of a light-rail line. (Not a very good one, but a start.) Scaffolding rises up half the buildings, which are being converted, restored, condo-ized. Everyone’s complaining about how high rents are, and if you want to buy, you better have cash, because no one wants to wait on the banks to figure out appraisals in a market this crazy.

Of course the stubborn problem of the blossoming core and the withering outer neighborhoods remains unsolved. But streetlights are slowly being replaced, a new auction program to basically give away housing to people willing to bring it back is thriving, and if no one knows what the city will look like in a decade, there is cause for optimism. For the first time in a long while.

I’m just waiting for the pundit class to catch on, and it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Virginia Postrel will surely be disappointed that the art isn’t going to be redistributed to cities where it will be more appreciated — like the one she lives in — but just knowing she will have to live with this charming passage around her neck for the rest of her life…

(G)reat artworks shouldn’t be held hostage by a relatively unpopular museum in a declining region. The cause of art would be better served if they were sold to institutions in growing cities where museum attendance is more substantial and the visual arts are more appreciated than they’ve ever been in Detroit. Art lovers should stop equating the public good with the status quo.

…will be good enough for me. (Just an aside here: Where does a woman with the title of “culture columnist” get off writing that the art “should be sold to institutions,” ignoring the fact nearly all museums don’t buy much of anything, relying on wealthy donors to die and leave them stuff. There are some exceptions; I believe the Getty, in Los Angeles, still shops. I also believe Postrel lives in Los Angeles. What a coincidence. But even the Getty could hardly pick up the best of the DIA’s collection. Van Gogh’s self-portrait would end up in fucking Dubai or Moscow.)

OK, then. So it was a weekend for toasts. Also, another movie — “Whiplash,” which I highly recommend. It’s the story about what happens when a talented musician gets the wrong teacher, an abusive, screaming, hitting, mind-fucking asshole who just might be exactly what he needs. J.K. Simmons plays the teacher, well enough that the ticket-seller actually trigger-warned us: “It’s a very intense movie, and you need to understand that. We’ve had complaints.” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

So, bloggage? There’s this, a Bob Herbert column in Politico, on Bill Gates, education reformer:

There used to be a running joke in the sports world about breaking up the Yankees because they were so good. Gates felt obliged to break up America’s high schools because they were so bad. Smaller schools were supposed to attack the problems of low student achievement and high dropout rates by placing students in a more personal, easier-to-manage environment. Students, teachers and administrators would be more familiar with one another. Acts of violence and other criminal behavior would diminish as everybody got to know everybody else. Academic achievement would soar.

That was Bill Gates’s grand idea. From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. At the same time, fewer students made it more difficult to field athletic teams. Extracurricular activities withered. And the number of electives offered dwindled.

Gates said it himself in the fall of 2008, “Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”

Really? You don’t say.

And with that, we start off another action-packed week. I hope yours goes well.

Posted at 9:04 pm in Current events, Detroit life | 20 Comments

Saturday afternoon market.


Because it’s cold and drizzly outside, that’s why.

Posted at 1:06 pm in Detroit life, iPhone | 17 Comments