Vanity plate: TITANIC.

I once wrote a story about a man who’d staggered, drunk, out of a bar one night and apparently vanished. No one had heard from him, no one had seen his car in any ditches between the bar and his house, he just, poof, disappeared.

Well, of course he only disappeared in the sense that no one could see him. A week or so after my story ran, the police fished his car, and his body, out of a farm pond on his route home. He’d driven off the road and into eternity, another of the less-celebrated residents of Davy Jones’ locker. (Maybe, in this case, it should be Farmer Jones’ locker.)

His was an easy case for the crack missing-persons team in that jurisdiction, and it’s what I thought of when I read (HT: FWOb) about how divers went into some retention ponds on Indianapolis’ north side after a report that a car had been dumped there, and found…five. Most had been there “for a long time,” the Indy Star reported.

I don’t get it. When our plane passed over Pearl Harbor en route to landing in Hawaii a few years back, the pilot told us to look down at the wreck of the USS Arizona, still leaking a streak of diesel fuel half a century after Dec. 7, 1941. Granted a car isn’t a battleship, but wouldn’t you expect there’d be some surface evidence of a dumped car in a retention pond? And if not, if they keep their secrets that well, I wonder why Hollywood always shows us the killer digging the shallow grave by lantern light, when it would be so much easier to wire a couple cement blocks to the corpse and roll it out past the drop-off? Note to self: Never wonder again what the bluegill might be feeding on in those things.

Friends, that should give you an idea of the sort of conversation-starters I have today. Maybe you guys can carry the weight. Here’s a picture by Brian Stouder, snapped in the wild night before last:

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And here’s little Brianette Jr., which only serves to remind me that in Michigan, the Easter egg hunt is likely to be cancelled for snow:

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And here’s some bloggage:

There simply has to be more to this story than we’re getting:

It was incorrectly reported in Tuesday’s Tribune Chronicle that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton answered questions from voters in a local congressman’s office.

Reporter John Goodall, who was assigned to the story, spoke by telephone with Hillary Wicai Viers, who is a communications director in U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson’s staff. According to the reporter, when Viers answered the phone with ‘‘This is Hillary,’’ he believed he was speaking with the Democratic presidential candidate, who had made several previous visits to the Mahoning Valley.

Goodall’s next assignment: Interview Santa Claus.

A new MacBook Air costs $1,800. It’s nice to know Charlie Rose can think fast. And has his priorities straight.

What if they gave haircuts at Hooters? Why, then it would be Lady Jane’s Haircuts for Men. They advertise heavily on local TV, and I gotta admit — the ads are pretty funny.

Finally, I try to keep the aw-isn’t-my-kid-cute stories to a bare minimum here, but indulge me this one: Last night at dinner, Kate plucked an onion ring out of the pile, a very small one. She slipped it over her index finger, held it up and said, “Look, a literal onion ring.” Then she ate it. Please remember this 11-year-old the next time you’re watching your local news and a highly paid, college-educated TV reporter says, “The work is literally back-breaking.” If my 11-year-old can grasp the meaning of the word, so can, and should, he.

Now I’m thinking about onion rings, with the start of spring already upon us. Ah, well, it won’t be bathing-suit season for a good long time here, will it?

Off for my 60,000-mile service. The car, not me. I have way more miles.

Posted at 7:51 am in Current events, Holiday photos | 47 Comments
 

On the first day of Kwanzaa…

Because the true lesson of middle age is to never say, “Things couldn’t get any worse” — because there’s always a way for anything to get worse — a warning that my presence may be scarce around here the next couple days. We’re preoccupied with a family situation. Nothing for you folks to worry about; we’re all healthy and safe. But others aren’t, and we’ll be traveling today, and out of touch.

But that’s OK, because we have a truly fabulous photo from Julie Robinson, who writes: For the holdiays at the Robinson household, we like to encourage our children to engage in cross-dressing. This is our son in his Madrigals tunic and tights. He doesn’t understand how girls can wear such short skirts. Carefully, said Mom, very carefully.

She doesn’t tell us the young man’s name. Let’s call him…Ashley.

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On day one of Kwanzaa, I wish you all umoja. Let’s try this again tomorrow.

Posted at 9:10 am in Holiday photos, Housekeeping | 6 Comments
 

It’s a Fort Wayne Christmas…

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…for the Stouder kids, standing in front of the city’s best-known holiday decoration, the Wolf & Dessauer Santa. It once adorned the side of the city’s largest and best-loved downtown department store. It was where kids from the whole region came to sit on Santa’s lap while their parents did their holiday shopping. It closed decades ago, but the sign was rescued from storage and restored by volunteers, a story that’s retold about every five minutes by one media outlet or another — look, here’s one now. Anyway, it’s a charming display. Here’s a wider shot.

The chilluns belong to Brian Stouder, one of our most loyal readers and commenters. From left, Grant (named for the Civil War hero, not the drunken president), Chloe and Shelby. Merry Christmas!

Posted at 9:26 am in Holiday photos | 12 Comments
 

Omar don’t scare.

One last Halloween picture, with your indulgence:

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A true pumpkin artist merely removes the parts of the pumpkin that don’t belong. Note: I am not a pumpkin artist. But when I saw the scar on this one, I knew it belonged in front. My thought was to incorporate it in a tribute to Michael K. Williams, everybody’s favorite “Wire” villain, but…well, I’m no pumpkin artist.

Posted at 7:36 pm in Holiday photos, Same ol' same ol' | 4 Comments
 

The Halloween parade.

Just got back from the costume parade at Kate’s school. Your correspondent’s eyewitness report: No obvious baby-tart costumes, one borderline, no big deal. Overwhelmingly, it was cute kids having a cute time on a nice day. Among the highlights, Nancy Drew:

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Ever-popular in Detroit, sports and rock ‘n’ roll:

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A whoopie cushion:

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One of the better baby costumes I’ve seen — li’l rock lobster:

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Happy Halloween!

Posted at 12:29 pm in Holiday photos | 8 Comments
 

Too much candy.

Halloween is sick-making

Inspired by the Encyclopedia of Immaturity, Kate wanted to carve a barfkin this year. Of course I said yes.

The costume? She’s a hippie.

Posted at 10:08 am in Holiday photos, Same ol' same ol' | 6 Comments
 

Blown up.

I originally started this post with a few paragraphs about unlucky Miss Nevada and her problems. It had a gratuitous swipe at Donald Trump and some other stuff, but Kate has started reading my website again, so I can’t do that anymore. Back to PG-13 material. And no, no links for you. You know how to use Google News.

Anyway, how crude of me, to bring up Miss Nevada on a day like today, the weekend before our Savior’s birth, when every other blogger in the world is putting up soft-focus shots of his family and offering joy to the world. Especially when there’s other, holiday-related bloggage, like this NYT story on inflatable holiday decorations:

“Appalling,�? Catherine Bruckner, a traditionalist who decorates only in holly and evergreen, sneered as she stopped her car in front of an inflated Santa playing poker with two shrewd-eyed reindeer in a menagerie totaling two dozen figures. “It’s bad enough to see those things on Halloween. At Christmas, they rise to a level of tackiness that is horrible.�?

Well, yeah. But when has that stopped Americans from expressing themselves at the holidays?

But the inflatables have brought the notion of Christmas self-expression to another plane. Now, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that televised triumphal march that inaugurates the season, can live on in miniature for weeks at a time, swaying and bobble-heading across the front lawn of anyone willing to pay the electric bill — maybe a thousand dollars if you keep them inflated all the time, less if you leave the skins of your Christmas characters sprawled on the ground most of the day, their crumpled faces staring blankly at the sky or the sod, depending.

Why I love the New York Times: The story contains the fascinating detail that Gemmy, the company that makes the vast majority of these things, had its first success with? Anyone?

Yes, “the wall-mounted singing fish known as Big Mouth Billy Bass.” Perhaps my favorite Sopranos-episode prop.

And there’s also this fabulously dry sentence: The company also sells inflatable turkeys, pumpkins and the occasional dreidel.

“The occasional dreidel.” That cracked me up.

Oh, my, but I’m done here. I’m taking the holiday weekend off along with everyone else. Until the 26th, have a great time with you and yours. One last Festive Foto, although not the one the photographer was perhaps expecting to see. Colleen sent a link to a picture of the Fort Wayne Santa, but it was a tad out of focus and the bulbs were burned out in the sleigh’s runners. So I browsed her Photobucket and found this shot I like a lot more. Not Christmasy, but it is, to me, the essence of my drive to work when I was on the 5 a.m. shift. The city is never more deserted than it is between 4 and 5, which gives its lighted displays even more impact. I knew I was almost there when I saw this:

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It doesn’t exactly say “sleep in heavenly peace,” but it works for me.

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas!

Posted at 11:28 am in Holiday photos, Popculch | 20 Comments
 

Feliz Navidad.

Today’s Holiday Foto Fest submissions come from our stalwart reader Mary Beth Poole, out Los Angeles way, where, if it’s December, it must be time for Las Posadas:

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The festival — posada means “inn” — commemorates the failure of Mary and Joseph to find so much as a Motel 6 open in Bethlehem during tax-collection season. Presumably, the festiveness of the occasion suggests that today’s Mexican-Americans wouldn’t turn the couple away, and would even fete them with tamales. deport.jpg(Note to self: Go down to Mexicantown today and buy some tamales.)

As for Casa NN.C, the other night we celebrated our long-standing tradition of I Can Never Remember: Do We Have Latkes for Hanukkah, or One of Those Other Jewish Holidays? Why, when we’re not even close to being Jewish? Because potato pancakes are damn tasty, that’s why. I’d sit down at the table of brotherhood with Osama bin Laden if the food was good enough. (Note, though, that Osama is thin as a rail. Figures. Probably lives on tea, fasting and self-flagellation.) Our other holiday traditions are pretty flexible — nothing like a major relocation to throw a bomb into those things. But we have them. mpcactus.jpgThey include decorating the tree, Kate rearranging the NOEL stocking holders to read LEON and eggnog French toast on Christmas morning. We are a small family; it works for me. Oh, and by the way, that is Mary’s backyard Christmas cactus, blooming naturally on schedule.

I have some linkage this morning, yes I do. A new blog, found via James Wolcott: Ken Levine, “the world as seen by a TV comedy writer.” Great Hollywood stories, told by someone who can really write. Whenever I find a new blog I like to go back to the first month of the archives, just out of curiosity. In Levine’s November 2005 archive: Porn Star Karaoke. Worth the visit.

I always thought the dividing line between a true big city and a wannabe was how the hometown folks handled the successful locals. Do they make a big honkin’ deal out of them, or play it cool? (For years I thought “Fort Wayne’s” was a permanent attachment to Shelley Long’s name, and she just dropped it so it would fit easier on a marquee.) You’d think, with Detroit’s rich and ever-evolving musical tradition, we’d be able to handle a Bob Seger concert without making our pop music writers break a sweat, but I was wrong:

The Freep, today: They waited a decade. Sometimes impatiently, sometimes forgiving. Always with passion intact. Wednesday night, at last, they got Bob Seger. In the most prominent concert of Detroit music since Eminem played Ford Field in summer 2003, more than 17,000 fans watched — and sang, and screamed — as the local icon lit up the Palace of Auburn Hills for his first hometown show in more than 10 years.

The News, today: When the crowd sings all of “Turn the Page,” word for word, loudly enough to almost drown Seger out, there’s obviously a lot more than a concert going on. There are innumerable layers of communal and personal memory kicking in, with Seger acting as the much-loved host and emotional touchstone.

Well, it is Bob Seger. I forget not everyone spend the ’80s listening to the Ramones and B-52s and snapping the radio off in irritation when “Roll Me Away” came on for the 11 millionth time. I really need to get out more. And to think, after two years in Michigan the only place I’m really interested in seeing Bob Seger is out on the water. (And he didn’t do “Heavy Music”?! Or “Feel Like a Number”?!? Those folks wuz robbed.)

Most people think genetic engineering of plants to make them resistant to disease and other stresses begins and ends with soybeans, corn and wheat. Nope.

Finally, the video that made Kate giggle all morning:

Me, too.

Posted at 10:22 am in Holiday photos, Popculch | 24 Comments
 

Tales of copy editing.

Not much time today — the biggest part of the Big Edit still stretches before me, and I got five hours of sleep last night, which means an afternoon nap is a necessity. I sent the first part of the job to the client last night, and discovered we differ on whether the phrase “unpaid volunteer” is redundant.

I said yes, but then considered the volunteer military, which is paid, so OK, he wins on that one. And so it will go for about 50 more pages. Which I volunteered for.

Whenever I do a project like this, I can feel myself slipping into editor mode, ready to go 15 rounds over unnecessary adverbs and “unpaid volunteer.” Every so often I have to smack my cheeks, screech “big picture!” to the empty room and reset the ol’ brain. Good writing, and good editing, is all about details, but obsessing over details is the original slippery slope leading to madness. I didn’t know my journalism fellowship was really over until I was back at work on the copy desk, beefing with a colleague over…(harp glissando, swimmy-screen effects)

When I was away on my leave, the newspaper was redesigned yet again, with the usual results: More big type, less little type. Stories now carried a main headline, a sub headline, something called a “lead-in” and my personal favorite, the overline. The relationship between all of these elements was complex and changed from section to section, but it went basically like this: The main head could be Tarzan-speak: Fire kills 3. The subhed was longer, still Tarzan: Space heater blamed for early-morning blaze. The lead-in, if there was one, had to be more of a complete sentence: The home had smoke alarms, but they lacked batteries. (By this point the poor reporter could file a story saying, “Blah blah blah blah blah” and not worry about being found out. By readers, anyway.)

And then there was the overline, which hovered over everything else like a vengeful god. It was a short little all-caps thing that was at the very top of this explosion of verbiage, and no one really knew what to do with it. In sports stories, it was always whatever sport or league the story below concerned: NFL, COLLEGE BASKETBALL. Elsewhere, it was sort of a Greek chorus commenting on the story below. Think of an old-fashioned painting where a cherub flies above the action, trailing a banner like a little airplane, helpfully spelling out the scene’s moral lesson. For our fire story, it might be HOLIDAY TRAGEDY.

So on this one day in the summer of 2004, I was handling the Page One story about an insurgent attack in Iraq. The main hed was something like 4 Marines die in bombing and the subhed Truck explodes in crowded marketplace; 12 civilians killed, many more wounded. And there was probably a lead-in, too, but today’s story involves the overline. The one I wrote read BAD DAY IN BAGHDAD.

Can you guess what was wrong with this, and why it had to be corrected between editions? Was “bad” considered undue editorializing? No. Did it happen at the cusp of sunrise or sunset, making “day” not precisely accurate? No. Grizzled copy editors with the AP stylebook tattooed on their frontal lobes know the real problem:

Baghdad is not a stand-alone city in AP datelines; hence it must always have the country appended to it on first reference. And since this was part of the headline array, it might be the very first word a reader’s eye falls on. On the one-in-a-billion chance that this might be the first story read by a recently awakened coma victim who didn’t know the United States was fighting a war in Baghdad, Iraq and not Baghdad, Iowa, and might spend a nanosecond or two in terrible confusion, the overline was changed to read BAD DAY IN BAGHDAD, IRAQ.

No, I’m not kidding.

This is why I’m really not cut out to be a copy editor. However, I do it because I care.

Today’s holiday foto feature is submitted by Alex Jokay, who notes it’s from Aboite Township (the Fort’s hoit-to-the-toity suburb), “but not the tonier side of the tracks.” Ah, suburbia:

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Now go out there and pick some nits of your own.

Posted at 10:14 am in Holiday photos, Media | 10 Comments
 

Bent the wrong way.

Someone has stolen David and Amy Flach’s horse. They’d like to get the horse back, so they offered a description, to wit:

Mecca, estimated to be 16 years old, is described as having speckles and a scar on its right rear knee.

Sigh. Horses don’t have “rear knees.” Neither does any other four-legged animal. They have two knees, just like us. The hind legs fold the other way, and the joint that allows such movement is called a hock. After years in the newspaper business, I can tell you that these little details mean a lot. If you get them wrong, people who notice assume everything else is wrong, too. As a horseman, I don’t expect lay folk to know the difference between a cannon bone and a croup, but I don’t think it’s too much to expect a reporter to know the difference between a knee and a hock. We’ve all heard of ham hocks, haven’t we?

It’s little details like this that make reporters and editors such fearsome contestants on “Jeopardy!” And if we’re ever together in New York, and hail the Cash Cab? You should let me do the talking.

Speaking of quadrupeds, Kate and I went on a grocery run yesterday and ran across a living Nativity. Of course we stopped; anyone who passes a living Nativity is a person who deserves coal in their stocking. When we actually got to the tent, however, we found that we were either too early or too late, as the Nativity had no Mary, no Joseph, no Magi, no baby Jesus, but did have two donkeys, two sheep, three goats and a chicken munching hay in a pen under a tent, next to a caged rabbit.

“I missed the part about rabbits in the Gospel of Luke,” I said to the man next to me, who didn’t get the joke.

There was a camel outside, ruminating, held by a man dressed as a shepherd. His Gore-Tex boots peeked from under his robe while he discussed the living Nativity circuit with a friend: “Yeah, we’re in Sterling Heights tomorrow, then Roseville, I forget where else.” Make that camel pay for its hay, dude.

We aren’t religious, but I try to explain its rituals whenever I can, so Kate won’t be entirely ignorant of the world. I searched for one in this menagerie, considered telling her the legend of how the donkey got the cross on its back and realized it would confuse her, as it’s a Holy Week story, and it’s only Christmas.

“I once knew someone who had a donkey named Milton. Milton Burro,” I said, lamely. She didn’t get that, either.

We left.

Holiday picture week continues. Here’s frequent commenter Brian Stouder’s wife Pam and daughter Chloe with the Man last week, photo taken at Pottersville Mall. Chloe appears to be asking for her own domain for Christmas, as MySpace is just so over:

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Keep ’em coming.

Posted at 10:39 am in Holiday photos, Same ol' same ol' | 9 Comments