Very bad news.

Last night brought the sad and surprising news that our very own Ashley Morris died yesterday in Florida. I don’t know anything more than what his wife, Hana, posted last night; if I find out anything more, I’ll pass it along.

In the meantime, keep good thoughts, prayers, whatever your inclination is. He will be missed.

Posted at 1:00 am in Friends and family, Housekeeping | 14 Comments

Mark’s moment.

I always liked my old radio co-host Mark GiaQuinta. He’s a funny guy, but unlike a lot of funny guys, he’s funny even when he’s being interviewed after calling the police who called the bomb squad who sent their little robot out to disarm a funny package sent to his office, and, and…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Read the story here.

I’m so proud of my little quote machine:

GiaQuinta said he didn’t think there was a bomb in the box, but when police asked him if he was 100 percent sure there was nothing dangerous inside, he said no.

“I thought he probably wrapped up some dog crap,” GiaQuinta said.

It wasn’t dog crap. It was a turnip. Funny story.

FWOb has pictures.

Posted at 4:00 pm in Friends and family | 11 Comments

Now that’s a snow emergency.

We got some more snow over the weekend, well within normal for March in Michigan — maybe three new inches. But Columbus, which by March is usually well into the mud/freezing rain/defrosting dog poo stage of winter, got a foot and a half, maybe more. My brother said it was so bad, he closed his bar. Then he called one of the TV stations, to get it added to the ever-lengthening closings list.

“Um,” she said. “Is this….an institution?”

“Hell yes it’s an institution,” he replied. “It’s a bar in Obetz! That’s like a church!”

“Sir,” she said. “I don’t think you’re being serious with me.”

Well, in a blizzard, all the serious is being hogged by people trying to drive.

I said last fall that I wanted lots of snow this winter, and I guess I got my wish. (As for our boating fortunes this year, in the god-I-hope-our-slip-isn’t-dry sense of things, I go for cautiously optimistic.) I’m still not really tired of winter yet. I miss my bicycle and the color green, but so much of coping with cold weather comes down to having the sense to wear a decent coat and boots. Still, there was a moment Saturday when I turned a corner and was hit in the face by a blast of wind, and thought: OK, enough. By week’s end the temperature should be nudging 50. That’ll do.

The student film is done. I left at the DVD-burning point, which was four hours into our last editing session. I’d recommend a class like this to anyone who likes movies, just so you can see what it takes to make even a very very small one. You’ll learn why “creative differences” are such a big factor in Hollywood. We spent an hour tweaking audio filters to get the right sound on a 30-second phone conversation, so that when we cut to one character while the other one was still talking, the voice would sound like it was coming through a telephone. There’s a strong tendency, at every step of the game, to say, “Screw it. This is good enough.” You need a few perfectionists in the room.

But here’s the best thing: This really is a creative outlet that is truly collaborative, and if you have the right collaboration, it becomes more than the sum of its parts. I’ll treasure the wonder I felt at every step of the process as our three-minute story came together. I also learned a thing or two about cheats for no-budget storytelling; one scene was lit by two hand-held flashlights. It was great fun, and I can’t wait to take the next class. And yes, I’ll post the video eventually, but please be gentle.

So, Monday-morning bloggage for you folks to fight about:

The qualifier, now an ongoing series: Mitch Albom spends 60 percent of his Sunday metro column outlining two cases of bad behavior caught on video and seen widely on the internet (the puppy-throwing soldiers and car-wash mom, for those of you who keep up with such things). Then…wait for it…the qualifier:

Now, I am not condoning either act — not the dog fling, not the hosing. Neither was smart or necessary. Both seem cold, cruel, even deplorable. But I wonder where we are going when every moment of every life is filmed.

The only thing that could make that passage better would be a “dare I say” inserted between “cruel” and “even deplorable.”

Another shoe drops in the Detroit text-message scandal. We are shocked, shocked to find it’s about more than sex. In fact, it’s about sweetheart deals and other glories of life in a corrupt city. By 2002, I was certainly aware that it was perfectly legal for my bosses to look at my company e-mail. (In fact, I often wondered if they were, and was sure to give them lots of juicy reading material.) What sort of moron sends stuff like this over a public (translation: where bosses = everyone) network?

In a message on Oct. 30, 2002, (mayoral chief of staff Christine) Beatty asked him how much she owed (mayoral friend and favored contractor) Bobby Ferguson for the driveway he poured at her Detroit home.

“Ya know ya my sister,” he replied. “Family don’t worry about shit like money.”

Finally, Laura Lippman’s new book, “Another Thing to Fall,” hits stores tomorrow. Run out and buy it and make the Lippman-Simon Co-Prosperity Sphere’s March 2008 one to remember. Plot synopsis: Lippman’s P.I., Tess Monaghan, investigates shenanigans on the set of a TV series filmed in Baltimore. No, not that one. (Which reminds me: Wire-blogging reaches its crescendo over at The New Package. Distracted as I was last week by my other life, your correspondent will check in…eventually. The new slackage!

OK, that’s it for me. I have a story to write, and have to readjust my head into money-making mode.

Posted at 7:45 am in Friends and family, Media, Movies | 55 Comments

It’s a tough town.

Quite an evocative story from yesterday’s DetNews, in Neal Rubin’s column. I can’t decide if it’s a story about pluck, stubbornness or stupidity: A Detroit teacher has had 15 vehicles stolen in four years. Fourteen, actually — 13 Town & Country minivans and one Durango, twice. I’ll give her this much — this is one nice white lady who is not intimidated by the rough, tough city:

Another time, she found her Town & Country in some delinquent’s driveway near Vetal. When the police didn’t show any great interest in helping her get it back, she dialed her cell phone, which she had left in the console. The thief picked up. “I hope you like orange,” Fulton said, “because you’re going to be wearing an orange jumpsuit.” The kid jumped back into the van, drove it to Grand River Avenue and McNichols Road and crashed it into a tree. So maybe that wasn’t the best idea on her part, but at least she felt better for a little while.

The story goes on to point out that Chrysler lags other domestic carmakers in anti-theft protection. They do, however, offer lots of helpful advice:

After the most recent theft, she e-mailed Chrysler to ask why it didn’t do a better job stopping thieves. After 15 vehicles, she said, she was running out of patience. Someone named Jenny e-mailed her back. Among Jenny’s suggestions was to park in “lighted areas, garages or neighborhoods without a history of stolen vehicles activity, whenever possible.” “Great,” Fulton fired back. “Are you going to drive me to work?”

If the city survives, it’ll be because of women like this — always willing to buy American one more time. When Alan finally got his shotgun out of layaway, the gun shop owner was examining a new item of inventory, a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special, the standard-issue police service revolver for generations (at least until they started carrying semiautomatics, to keep up with the bad guys). It had “Detroit P.D.” stamped on the barrel, and he said, “I could put this up for sale and get a $300 premium from somebody in Los Angeles who wants to own a gun from the murder capital of the United States. But I won’t.” You said it, mister. Keep Detroit armed and strong.

Folks, as should be obvious by now, I got nuttin’ today. I see some of you are discussing the wind on the east coast in previous post comments. Well, before you had that wind, we had it, two nights ago. Let’s all offer good thoughts and support for NN.C’s neighbor and commenter JohnC, who’s probably wishing he’d cleaned out the garage and put the Cadillac away that night:

Not the Cadillac!

They were out of town at the time. I wonder if the car alarm continued for hours and hours.

Off to write words for money. Later.

Posted at 10:24 am in Detroit life, Friends and family | 29 Comments

Shoot him ‘fore he run, now.

Back when Alan and I shared a computer, I used to track his enthusiasms through our bookmarks. He researches major purchases with a thoroughness that would shame Consumer Reports, and in those pre-Safari, OS 9 days, when all bookmarks went under a single menu (“bookmarks”), I knew when they started filling up with, he was soon to make an announcement involving that very thing.

Multiple users and folders give us all a bit of privacy, and I’m not the prying type, anyway. I guess the joke’s on me if I open his laptop one day and find active on the screen, but this latest thing is being announced with books. All over the house are books on sporting clays, wing-shooting techniques and the art of shotgun engraving. This one has been building for a while, since our year in Ann Arbor when we took a trip north and our host gave us each a chance to kill a clay pigeon. Alan was the only one who drew blood:


I don’t know what it is with my husband and the gentlemanly sports. You’d never know he was brought up working-class in a northwest Ohio factory town. By rights, we should have his-and-her Barcaloungers with a freezer full of venison in the garage, and instead we own a million dollars’ worth of Hardy fishing reels, half a dozen graphite rods suitable for catching everything from bluegill to 25-pound salmon, a handmade McKenzie drift boat and an English saddle (that last one’s mine). And now, soon, a shotgun. One of our new shooting books instructs us on the etiquette of firing so as not to hit your beaters, as well as techniques for switching quickly between multiple weapons, the last predicated on the assumption you have an assistant standing next to you with a second gun.

“Who are you going shooting with?” I asked. “Prince Charles?”

Ha ha. Although really, at this rate I think we could be weekend guests of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and hold up our ends with only a bit of shopping beforehand. All Alan needs are some plus-fours, or maybe a kilt.

Actually, I’m looking forward to trying out our new weaponry, although with our history of marital squabbles while co-recreating — we nearly divorced on our honeymoon, after discovering our paddling styles were incompatible for a double-cockpit kayak — maybe not.

A friend of mine once had a really bad boyfriend, from whom she had an acrimonious split. Some years later, he married a woman who gave him a shotgun for a wedding present. As a journalist and veteran of many murder stories, she knew that it was only a matter of time before the new husband went back to his cheatin’ ways, and his bride would be driven to take action with both barrels. “I can see it now,” she said, fairly rubbing her hands together. “‘Police say the murder weapon was, ironically, a wedding gift from bride to groom in happier days.'” Cackle, cackle. I’m waiting for this story, too. I remember that guy, and boy did he have it coming.

OK, enough blue-steel romance. Haven’t current events been marvelous of late? “Marvelous” in the “what a great story” sense, that is. The French Poindexter who may end up bringing down a 150-year-old bank single-handedly; the destruction of the Gaza wall after months of surreptitious weakening of the structure; and, of course, yet another lesson why it’s dangerous to mix chess and alcohol.

Which should be enough bloggage to get you chatty folks started, but I do want to point you to a couple of nice considerations of Heath Ledger, starting with Glenn Kenny’s, which has its own links within to explore, and Roy’s.

Please, God, keep me away from the Daily Mail. I have a life to live! But how can one resist it, when they include photos of Sarah Jessica Parker wearing a blue doughnut?

Finally, those of you who spend all day online have probably already seen the infamous Craigslist vagina couch, but maybe you haven’t heard the ne plus ultra oh-snap from my new fave site, Datalounge, where a million queers get together to trade the snark: Once a month you have to stuff a sheep in it for five days.

You’ve been a great audience! Have a wonderful weekend!

Posted at 10:02 am in Current events, Friends and family, Popculch | 26 Comments

Digital lipstick on his collar.

Sing along with me now: When will they ever learn? Oh when will theyyyyy ever learnnnn? Detroit’s mayor becomes approximately the millionth public official to learn that it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. The Free Press FOIAs his text-message records and discovers a rather mundane game of hide the salami going on between the country’s first hip-hop mayor and his chief of staff. Which is tawdry, but only tawdry, until you consider that the denial of said affair under oath was the centerpiece of a lawsuit brought last summer against the city, one that led to a number of whistle-blowing cops swallowing a $9 million canary. I won’t bog you down with details, which you fans of public-official ugly-bumping can look up yourselves; it’s a complicated story and the Freep provides a million links. Just absorb the takeaway lesson: Sometimes you have to stop lying, even if it’s really, really embarrassing.

Also, this: If you really have the rank to pull, you shouldn’t have to pull it. The chief of staff, pulled over for speeding in 2004:

The cops say she pointedly asked them: “Do you know who the (expletive) I am?” before calling Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings. Beatty later acknowledged calling the chief from her cell phone, but denied pulling rank on the officers. She was never ticketed.

Someone needs to teach these folks: You sit silent and take the ticket. Then you hand it to your close personal friend, the chief of police, who makes it disappear. Is there any sentence that looks worse in the cold light of morning than “Do you know who the (expletive) I am?” Don’t think so.

Reading this story reminds me of the olden days, when reporters staked out love nests with long lenses. I guess another takeaway lesson is: Everybody leaves tracks. It’s just a question of what form they take.

Speaking of the cold light of morning, the sun is blazing on new snow outside, which fills the house with light and casts every dog hair into sharp relief. I should be cleaning, but I’m not. (Obviously.) Instead, I’m making preparations for the next emergency I might face, by adding Mary-Kate Olsen’s number to my speed-dial:

The masseuse who discovered the body of Heath Ledger in a Manhattan apartment on Tuesday twice called a friend of his, the actress Mary-Kate Olsen, before calling 911, New York City police officials said on Wednesday.

I suppose it’s a side effect of the preposterous spotlight even D-list celebrities find themselves in that when an ancillary member of the support staff finds another human being unconscious, unresponsive and not breathing, her first impulse is to call an actress rather than 911 — when in doubt, think: Damage control! Or maybe not. Maybe what we have here is a young woman of rather spectacular dimness. Or just confused. It doesn’t sound like it would have made much of a difference, but still.

A final note: I’m sucking Brian Stouder’s tailpipe on this, but so be it: prokopowiczOf all American presidents, probably none is more-studied than Abraham Lincoln, and yet there’s always something new to learn about him. “Did Lincoln Own Slaves? And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln” is the new book by Lincoln scholar Gerald J. Prokopowicz (pictured), and he’ll be reading and signing January 28 at Border’s in Grosse Pointe.

Gerry teaches at East Carolina University, but spent many years in the private sector, as resident scholar at the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, which is where I came to know him. But he has a local connection, too — he moved to the Shores in ninth grade and his mother still lives here. So if you’re one of my few local readers, stop by Monday night at 7, and I’ll see you there.

Posted at 9:44 am in Current events, Friends and family | 42 Comments

Michael’s world.

MichaelG sends a photo of his weekend activities:


This is roughin’ it, California-blackout style: Coleman lantern, book to read, glass of wine and a roaring fire — all four burners.

Let me just say, on behalf of the journalists in the room: We have all covered a zillion fatal fires that started exactly this way. If you leave the room, turn off the stove.

Posted at 1:49 pm in Current events, Friends and family | 25 Comments

Kilroy was here.

Ah, the things we leave behind. I think I’ve mentioned before that Alan’s father, Roger P. Derringer, was an infantry paratrooper during World War II. I’ve called him the Zelig of the European theater because it seems he was everywhere, and he was — southern France, the Battle of the Bulge, North Africa, Italy. Their job was to jump in ahead of regular forces and raise hell.

Anyway, he came home with three Purple Hearts and many souvenirs — maps of the front printed on silk, handmade uniform patches, the thanks of several grateful nations — and a lot of snapshots, many taken with a Leica camera he took off a German officer they captured (and gave to an American surgeon not long after). But the most interesting relic turned up decades later, after he died.

Their regiment underwent training in England, and were billeted at Chilton Manor in the village of Chilton Foliat, a country estate belonging to some titled aristocrat. During restoration work at the estate in the late 1990s, workers turned up what appeared to be a discarded roofing tile, upon which a bored soldier had etched his name:

R.P. Derringer, Sept. 1, 1942
2nd BN, 503 parachute RN

The workers checked the records, contacted his widow and shipped the tile to her. Decent of them, I’d say. Alan’s sister had it framed behind glass, making it difficult to photograph, but you get the idea:


Underneath that, a little parachute:


The 503d was later reorganized and redesignated the 509th, and they fought and died nearly to the last man. Wikipedia’s entry on the 509th says that of the original 700, only about 50 survived to January 1945, at which point the unit was disbanded and survivors plugged into gaps in the 82nd Airborne. Roger’s war ended in a VA hospital stateside. He didn’t tell many stories until near the end of his life, but I think this was the time he had both his arms splinted by a battlefield medic, pointed away from the front and told, “Run, or your ass belongs to Hitler.”

His ass never belonged to Hitler, but he got one of the Fuhrer’s battle flags, liberating St. Tropez. That picture’s in a book somewhere. If it turns up in the estate distribution, I’ll scan it and post it.

Well. Back from Ohio, safe, sound and ready for the new year. Thanks again for all your kind comments. Life is going on, and will commence with some more blogging later today.

Happy new year to all of you.

Posted at 9:19 am in Friends and family | 9 Comments

The last word in 2007.

This was the plan: To celebrate Christmas with my family in Columbus on Saturday, head for Defiance on Sunday and celebrate with Alan’s family then. It was all going according to plan and we were en route to northern Ohio Sunday when Alan’s sister called with the news that his mother had fallen and was being taken to the ER with a goose egg rising rapidly on her forehead.

This was no surprise, in that Alan’s mom is 89, has had a series of strokes and was generally weak as a kitten. Also not surprising, though upsetting, was that the blow to the head was now a “significant” subdural hematoma, bleeding in the brain, the only treatment for which was invasive surgery. What was more surprising were the preposterous hassles all this touched off, even after her children made the difficult decision that this injury was not survivable in any meaningful way and that she be given comfort care only in the final days of her life, but, well, life begins in pain and ends the same way.

Alan’s mom, Marian Derringer, died Thursday afternoon in a hospice in Defiance. As you can imagine, this will preoccupy us for a while. We thank you in advance for your condolences, and we’re doing fine. Once all the hoops had been jumped early in the week — did you know you have to be in a facility where you can have brain surgery before you can refuse brain surgery? Visit beautiful Toledo! — the last few days were about as peaceful as can be expected. The hospice movement has been a great comfort to many families going through a difficult time. I expect that’s because after a long interaction with the medical profession, it’s pleasant to interact with nurses who speak plain English, move at a leisurely pace and let you have a dog in the room.

That’s what we did Wednesday — had our family Christmas at the hospice, with the dog. It was a nice afternoon.

There’s a lot going on in the world this week, and I’ve been jotting notes everywhere. (Heard there was a big to-do in Pakistan; you might want to check the papers.) But for now, I’m laying that stuff aside, closing the laptop and stepping out for a bit. Be back…let’s say New Year’s Day. You’ve been a great audience, and we’ll see you then.

Posted at 11:36 am in Friends and family, Housekeeping | 33 Comments

Fatal distraction.

Nothing like a little smack in the face to start your Monday off right. From a story in my alma mater, the Columbus Dispatch:

Patrick Sims was driving and typing a text message when he fatally struck a bicyclist in Colorado. Ashley Miller was doing the same when she killed a driver in Arizona. And New Yorker Bailey Goodman might have been reading or typing when she slammed into a tractor-trailer, killing herself and four passengers.

Even if you discount the final example — dead men tell no tales — that’s some sobering stuff there. People sometimes ask me why I still drive a stick shift, and I tell them, “Because you have to pay attention.” Also, it occupies your texting hand.

Ah, what a weekend. Lessons learned: Don’t eat braised lamb shanks at 10 p.m., followed by a big cup of strong coffee, if you want to sleep well that night. Also, avoid scallops the next night, unless you want to spend early Sunday morning throwing up. In between was some fine sailing with John C and his wife Mary, on their share-boat Voyageur, which is docked at Windmill Point, Grosse Pointe Park’s public marina. Windmill Point is at the very bottom of Lake St. Claire, where it funnels into the Detroit River. The current is stronger, and the freighters come a lot closer:


But you get a little skyline with your sunsets, imperfectly captured here:


Everybody looks at the sunset, but when you’re on the water, it’s always rewarding to look to the east, too, to see the dark rising out of the lake:


I don’t know if I got bad scallops or just too much fine food in too short a time. My life is so PB&J these days, it’s a shock to the system to see a white tablecloth. Maybe that’s what did it. In any case, it made for a wasted Sunday; nothing like dehydration to take it out of a gal.

So let’s skip to the bloggage:

The pros but mostly cons of mercenaries: “If I’ve got one ambition left here,” (the American officer serving in Iraq) said, “it’s to see one of those showboats fall out.” Out of the helicopter, that is:

In a style now familiar to many living beneath Baghdad’s skies, a Blackwater sharpshooter in khaki pants, with matching T-shirt and flak jacket, sat sideways on the right side of each chopper, leaning well outside the craft. With their automatic weapons gripped for battle, their feet planted on the helicopter’s metal skids, and only a slim strap securing them to the craft, the men looked as if they were self-consciously re-creating the movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Blackwater defends its low-flying, ready-to-shoot posture as a powerful deterrent to attacks on American officials being moved through the capital’s streets. But that posture has become, to the company’s critics, a hallmark of its muscle-bound showiness.

…Contractors say the high profile of their armored convoys, coupled with the covert nature of the insurgents, places a premium on high mobility and rapid response — driving at high speed and in a bullying manner through city traffic and driving on the wrong side of boulevards and expressways, always ready to resort instantly, at the first hint of threat, to heavy firepower.

It is a formula fraught with potential for error. To be overtaken on Baghdad’s airport road by a private security convoy driving at 120 miles an hour, with contractors leaning out of windows or part-opened doors with leveled weapons, waving their fists in a frantic pantomime, is a heart-stopping experience even for other Westerners in armored cars with guards of their own. For ordinary Iraqis, with no weapons and no armoring, it can be pure terror.

No shit. Never mind when they open fire on a carload of civilians.

I guess the UAW didn’t learn from the Detroit newspaper strike: It’s unwise to strike an industry already on the ropes. But hey, they’ll give it a try. Maybe. This all comes with the news the state legislature has one week to get the lead out and put together a budget agreement that will keep state government running into the next fiscal year. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a UAW strike and a government shutdown at the same time?” Alan wondered this morning, a surly note in his voice. Sure. Our house has already lost 18 percent of its value since we’ve lived here; soon it’ll be like Mississippi, only with more snow.

T-minus 12 minutes to strike deadline? Better hit publish and hope for the best.

Posted at 9:53 am in Current events, Friends and family, Same ol' same ol' | 14 Comments