The beginning of the slog.

I have a number of looming hurdles to clear in the last weeks of summer, and none of them are brush boxes — a little hunter/jumper reference for the two or so of you who might get it (hey, Charlotte). That is to say, not easy. So there may be some outages between now and mid-September. Be advised. And be advised we’re going to be a little jangly today because: See above.

On the other hand, I learned that one of my colleagues was working at a farmers’ market last week, and there was a shooting just across the parking lot. If anyone ever tells you think-tank work is boring? They don’t work in Michigan.

Did you know Apple, as part of the promotion for “Straight Outta Compton,” is making it possible to do things like this?

StraighOutta

Is that not awesome? Even though I hate that Beats stuff.

Neal Rubin is a columnist for the Detroit News I should include here more often, because he’s frequently wonderful. This piece, about a 71-year-old couple who accidentally wandered into a thrash-metal concert at a local amphitheater, is particularly so:

Jeff, whose goal was to take his wife to the nearest show to her birthday, thought maybe he’d bought tickets to an oldies revue. But The Shirelles weren’t on the bill, either.

Instead, there was an Australian metalcore band called Feed Her to the Sharks. At the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, the Pardees were most definitely fish out of water.

Finally, it’s a function of how out of it I’ve been lately that I saw these Serena Williams photos earlier this week and didn’t think I should blog this. Fortunately, LA Mary sent them along and nudged me out of my torpor. Check ’em out. She’s amazing.

So forward we go into a big month or so.

Posted at 12:24 am in Housekeeping, Popculch | 62 Comments
 

Break coming up.

First a little light housekeeping: Light-to-nonexistent posting next week, as it is time for the Derringers to lay down their scythes and head into the cool north woods for a few days. It’s one step up from a staycation, but the price is right and a river runs through it. Alan will take his fishing gear, I will take a stack of books and other non-work reading, and we will both eat a lot of tavern cheeseburgers while I avoid cooking.

I might do a little yoga on the deck, but nothing more strenuous.

There might be some photo posts along the way. It depends on how picture-perfect things are. And how robust the cellular network is, and whether the WordPress mobile app is still a pain in the butt to work with.

Funny to think about these things. Kate is off in the great American west with intermittent cell service, and I just have to get used to her being out of range for a while. That’s what life used to be, and not that long ago.

I’ll do what I can.

Meanwhile, it remains hot here, although a line of thunderstorms yesterday blew out the humidity, if not the heat. It’s a little Los Angeles-y today, hot and dry and blindingly sunny. This I can live with, even as it makes me feel a little like a kid stuck in school, having to work when all this gloriousness is going on outside. But that’s what next week will be about.

I’m ready to take a news break, frankly. Donald Trump, lion killers, the construction outside my front door — it’s time to unplug.

That said, this isn’t a terrible take on Trump, and by a Republican, no less.

Capturing people who don’t collect their dogs’ poop with? What else — DNA.

Finally, Jon Stewart comes clean about his relationship with POTUS.

As for the rest of the weekend, I think Connie said it best:

Hope yours is good.

Posted at 12:03 am in Current events, Housekeeping | 88 Comments
 

The title is the review, sorta.

“Trainwreck,” the Amy Schumer movie that opened earlier this month, plays like a third-draft script (six were probably needed), made by people who simply don’t care about such things. It’s too long. Individual scenes go on forever and some don’t end so much as they run out of gas. There are weird tonal shifts. I kept hearing the voice of my screenwriting teacher in my ear, saying, “But how does this raise the stakes? What’s the point of this action?” As a reinvention of the rom-com, I give it a B-minus — tries hard, chickens out in the end. In other words, as much Judd Apatow as Schumer. Oh, well.

And yet, I laughed throughout and am glad I saw it. I wanted 30 percent more Tilda Swinton, 25 percent more LeBron James, 8 percent less Hollywood sex, i.e., the kind actors have in movies when they have contractually agreed not to show their nude bodies. You see it on premium cable a lot; I call it bra sex because actresses on HBO — at least the ones famous enough to have their names in the credits — are the only women who keep their bras on during the act. There’s one scene — again, too long and sorta pointless — where Schumer seems to be having sex entirely clothed, while her boyfriend, the pro wrestler John Cena, is entirely naked.

I’d like to have seen 15 percent more John Cena, too. Cena is sort of delightful, even with his clothes on, as is James. In fact, all the pro athletes in this mess are pretty great playing themselves, with the exception of poor Chris Evert, who reads two or three lines like a hostage statement, but then again — the scene she was in is terrible and makes no sense. See above.

Someday we’ll look back and realize that while “Saturday Night Live” gave a lot of promising actors a good start, it was mainly a waste of time, comedically. Improv and riffing can be wonderful things, but in a movie, it better sing. And a lot of “Trainwreck” is, in comparison, humming.

That said, the funny stuff is really funny. There’s an opening-scene flashback to her father’s explanation of why her parents are divorcing, a long speech about cheating and dolls, that’s hysterical. If it had stayed that funny and sharp throughout, it’d be perfect. Alas.

That was Saturday night. Friday night was a free Bootsy Collins show at Campus Martius park. It’s always interesting to attend events in the central business district that more accurately reflect the racial mix of the city as a whole. It was a hot night, hotter in the crowd, so after a while we extracted ourselves from the press and wandered over to the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink and some more remote listening. These folks were all around:

lightson1

lightson2

I see bikes tricked out like this every so often, first at the Dlectricity festival nighttime bike parade. I actually looked into adding some really flashy LEDs to my own ride, just for the sake of visibility. It added up real fast, and required battery packs and other foofraw I didn’t want to mess with. Glad to see someone’s getting creative.

Links? Maybe.

Reading this story, about the strangeness of digital memories after the corporeal has passed — i.e, death — inspired me to write a letter, including all my social-media account logins and passwords, and seal it in an envelope with “J.C. Burns” written on the outside. It’s going in with my estate documents. I’m putting him in charge of my digital archive; he can have all the blog content to do with as he sees fit, and I’m asking him to seek out and destroy my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as whatever else piles up in the interim. I’ve known a few people on those platforms who’ve died, and it absolutely kills me to get notifications of their birthdays, or to go to their pages and see people leaving miss-you messages months or years later. When I’m gone, I want to be gone.

If you had asked me last week what I wanted to read about the Lingerie Football League, I’d answer, “Um, nothing?” I was wrong. This was interesting:

A primer: Yes, they play football while wearing next to nothing; and yes, the spirals and tackles and playbooks are real. No, most players are not aspiring models or actresses; and no, they do not get paid. “If we paid a dime to a player, we wouldn’t sustain a season of play,” says Mitchell Mortaza, the league’s founder and chairman.

They practice seven to eight months a year, often three times a week. They show up in tank tops to sports bars and tailgates, where they sell tickets and promote the league. When they walk into the arena, they are transformed. “There is nothing,” says one former player, “like stepping onto that field and getting ready to knock a bitch out.” Although their sport can be a source of intense joy, it also creates acute pain. Bones break. Ligaments tear. Medical bills mount, and often, no support arrives. For some, hopelessness sets in: Are my skills really worth nothing? Few complain about the lingerie. They’re bothered more by what their uniforms seem to represent: that they are replaceable bodies, each no more valuable than the last.

“No one is here to watch you play football,” players say Mortaza has told them.

Raising children is hard. Raising children in public in the age of the smartphone is harder.

And with that, we march forth to face Monday.

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping, Movies | 46 Comments
 

Things can’t stay the same forever.

I’m thinking lately of making some changes here. Not shutting down the blog, no, but I’m trying to figure out a way to re-fit it into my life. It seems, night after night, I find myself sitting in front of this screen, trying to think of something to write about, tapped out. Sometimes this goes on for far longer than it should. A hobby shouldn’t be frustrating, and it shouldn’t consume this much time on the way to being frustrating.

It’s not that I lack opinions. I have them. My job doesn’t allow me to express (many of) them (publicly). It’s not that I lack links; I have those, too, but Jolene usually beats me to them. No, what I’m lacking these days is the energy and time to post those long, meandering column-like things that built whatever readership this blog once had, and maybe still has, but probably doesn’t. Honestly, I haven’t checked my traffic in years, because I fear what I might find. This was never a big-readership blog, but it had some fans.

So I thought, hell, treat it like social media — a post here, a post there, and let the comments coalesce around them. Then I consider how our commenting community here is very much like a family, and I fear what would happen if there were three posts a day here instead of one. Then I think, is that my problem? and I’m afraid the answer is yes, it is. I am my blogger’s keeper. To mangle a phrase.

All of which boils down to this, I think: Maybe we’re in a dry patch, maybe I’m sapped by too much stuff here and there, maybe it’s just one of those things I have to ride out. I’m not sure now. What I am sure of is, I don’t want to be staring at my laptop screen for hours after the work day is done. I may have to trim here and there. I’m asking for forbearance.

The blog can’t go away. Because otherwise, where would I share gems like this?

fifthwettest

(THAT’S WHAT JUNE SAID, as Jim Romenesko noted.)

Here’s the story of the day for me, about how Colorado took a bold chance on sharply reducing unplanned pregnancies in the state, and damn if it didn’t work. The magic formula: Long-acting birth control, provided free of charge to anyone who wanted it. And holy shit, look at these numbers:

The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.

“Our demographer came into my office with a chart and said, ‘Greta, look at this, we’ve never seen this before,’” said Greta Klingler, the family planning supervisor for the public health department. “The numbers were plummeting.”

White House Warns Insurers About Surcharges and Gaps for ContraceptionMAY 11, 2015
The changes were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state, places like Walsenburg, a small city in southern Colorado where jobs are scarce and many young women have unplanned pregnancies. Taking advantage of the free program, Hope Martinez, a 20-year-old nursing home receptionist here, recently had a small rod implanted under the skin of her upper arm to prevent pregnancy for three years. She has big plans — to marry, to move farther west and to become a dental hygienist.

“I don’t want any babies for a while,” she said.

It’s not just birth control, it’s good, long-term, safe and free birth control. Spend a dollar there, save $6 in Medicaid funding. What a radical idea. And it worked. Amazing.

Do I have anything else?

No, I don’t. Onward to a new era. Or maybe not.

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping | 57 Comments
 

Where I am today.

So here we are, in beautiful, warm, sunny Atlanta. For a wedding, but of course we’re staying with J.C. and Sammy. Who have some spectacular neon in their neighborhood.

neon3

neon2

neon1

We drove, and broke it into two days, leaving after work Thursday and spending the first night in Cincinnati. A question for the room: Whatever happened to Red Roof Inn? I recall it as the cleanest and safest of the budget-hotel segment, and given that we were staying for less than 10 hours, it seemed silly to pay for anything more. Alas, it was seedy and smelly and creepy. There were bloodstains — yes, bloodstains, falling well short of shotgun-massacre but definitely WTF-happened-here — on the wall of the bathroom, and the door of the room next door had dents in it, at precisely boot-kicking height: CHRISTINE! YOU BITCH! YOU AIN’T KEEPIN MY KIDS FROM ME! OPEN THIS DOOR OR I’MA KICK IT DOWN!

Well, we got shut of that p.d.q. Friday morning and had breakfast at Bob Evans. Another bad idea, alas.

But now we’re here and dinner last night was far from a bad idea. And it’s not cold, and the sun is out, and everything is groovy. Open thread, and enjoy the pictures. Because I’m a journalist, one more — Manuel’s, the media-hangout bar, doomed-but-not.

manuels

Happy weekending, all.

Posted at 9:40 am in Friends and family, Housekeeping, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 73 Comments
 

I been workin’.

Sorry no post for a while; in the past few days I’ve been up and back to Port Huron twice, then up and back from Mackinac. I have a freelance assignment to write/edit the 100th anniversary book for the local yacht club that sponsors the Port Huron-to-Mackinac race, and it was last weekend. Today, two German teenagers are arriving for a few days; we’re a host family for their summer-camp arts tour, a way to close the circle on Kate’s trip to Europe last year.

So it’s been one of those weeks, and will continue to be so.

But here’s what the sunset over St. Ignace looked like on Monday. As the kids say, it’s all good:

mackinacsunset

Carry on. I’ll be in and out as circumstances allow.

Posted at 11:27 am in Housekeeping | 103 Comments
 

Some housekeeping.

First, an announcement and some general air-clearing: There may be gaps here in the next few days, and over the course of the summer. I’ll be doing some traveling next week for my book project, and I won’t necessarily be near wifi and all the rest of it. And then I will need to double down on the book project, so that might mean some dark nights or days. I think I will put up lots of photo posts this summer, sort of like T-Lo’s lounge posts, for general chitchat in the comments and something to look at in the bargain.

Next week I will be in a pretty place for a couple of days. (Mackinac.) So we’ll start with that.

And today, I’m a little wrung out. Slept badly, drove a long way (to Lansing), drove back. Thank God for the iPod, so I could sing, loudly, all the way home. I love me some public radio, but after a while, the only thing that keeps my heart beating is the original cast recording of “Oklahoma!”

Gonna give you barley, carrots and potaters, pasture for the cattle, spinach and tomaters — that’s my favorite line.

Hello, am I ever out of gas. So.

J-Lo, don’t ever change. Don’t ever change the batshit outfits and especially don’t change your makeup.

Taylor Swift, optimist, takes apart the contemporary music business. Of course I don’t believe she wrote a word of it, but nice try.

He shot his eye out, kid: Local TV weather guy loses an eye messing around with fireworks.  Not at my neighbor’s house.

 

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

Alas.

We had a power surge today that appears to have fried our internet. Open thread until we get it sorted out? As always, thanks for your patience.

Posted at 8:01 pm in Housekeeping | 37 Comments
 

Condolences.

I posted the following over at Prospero’s obit:

To Michael’s friends and family,

Michael’s passing poses a very 21st-century quandary: How to sincerely acknowledge the passing of someone I’d never met, couldn’t identify in a lineup and yet still feel I “know” — via his near-daily participation in the comments section of my blog.

In fact, it was his silence on the passing of Phil Everly that led one of our number to wonder why we hadn’t heard from him in a while. As he was one of the few who knew “Prospero’s” real name, he googled and got the bad news.

We knew Michael as amazingly intelligent, eccentrically knowledgeable and never boring. His interests, his passions and, of course, his colorful vocabulary — all set him apart from the rest of us mortals.

We who knew him at nancynall.com will miss him mightily. Please know you have our condolences, and best wishes for comfort.

I also plan to make a donation to his charity — Second Helpings of Hilton Head, S.C. — and if any of you are so inclined, I’m sure it would be appreciated.

If you’re just joining us, go check out the previous comments thread. Pros’ daughter and at least one other relative checked in to say thanks for the good wishes.

What a strange world we have constructed, where we are having a virtual wake for a virtual stranger, although someone we “know” via the internet and communicate with, or hear from, almost every day.

Perhaps more will be revealed. I hope so.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if I checked out suddenly. J.C. is in charge of the NN.c archive, and can do with it as he likes. Maybe there’s a book in these millions of words. Maybe there’s a new blogmaster or mistress who wants to wrangle the commenting community. At some point it won’t matter.

I have links, but I think I’ll save them for tomorrow. For now, the news of Prospero’s death cut short the Tonya Harding thread, and late in the day, a newcomer posted this comment, and it bears repeating:

What I recall, though, was how completely and utterly (Harding) reminded me of the people I knew who came from the same parts of Clackamas County she did. These were people who were just accidents waiting to happen, a deadly combination of barely-bright, poorly-educated, indisciplined-and-almost-undisciplinable shit magnets. “Bad stuff” just “happened” to them; car wrecks, arrests, lost jobs, lost husbands and wives. Tonya was a kind of patron saint for those people. She WAS them, just a little bigger, a little sparklier, a little better known.

Exactly.

You Jim Harrison fans might enjoy this:

Once I start, I very rarely change my mind about the nature of the story. And when I begin writing, it’s sound that guides me—language, not plot. Plot can be overrated. What I strive for more is rhythm. When you have the rhythm of a character, the novel becomes almost like a musical composition. It’s like taking dictation, when you’re really attuned to the rhythm of that voice.

You can’t go to it. It has to come to you. You have to find the voice of the character. Your own voice should be irrelevant in a novel. Bad novels are full of opinions, and the writer intruding, when you should leave it to your character.

I love Jim Harrison, but most of his characters sound very similar to one another, but oh well –he’s right about this.

Me, I have a big day Wednesday, and should prepare for it. Let’s all stay this side of the soil for one more, eh?

Posted at 12:30 am in Housekeeping | 66 Comments
 

RIP, probably.

Friends, I think I have some more bad news to share, and you can thank/blame Coozledad, who has better reporter’s instincts than me, evidently.

I fear Prospero has left us.

He last commented Dec. 27, and, as Coozledad noted in an email, “It was totally out of character for him not to weigh in on Phil Everly.” Absolutely right.

The age is right, the name is right, the city is right, even the sketchy details of the obituary are right; I know he lived with a woman, had a daughter and young grandchildren. I guess it’s possible it’s some other Michael Johnson — it’s not that rare a name — and if so, I look forward to him crashing the funeral like some sort of profane Tom Sawyer. However, something in my gut says this is real.

This is such a strange relationship we all have here. I guess at some point I will have to compose a note for the guestbook, but I have no idea what to say. Dear relatives of Michael, those of us who knew him only as Prospero will miss his crazy presence in our virtual community. Or what? Honestly, I’m stumped. I guess I’ll wait a few days and then make a donation to his designated charity.

In the meantime, weigh in if you’re so inclined. The bar is open, and the wake is under way. As Coozledad said in his note, “Poor bloke. I was wondering how long his heart could take it.”

UPDATE: As he has done for our previously deceased commenters, J.C. has collected all of his comments — 7,673 of them, under at least three names — on a single page. You can find it here, in chronological order.

Posted at 2:52 pm in Housekeeping | 53 Comments