A tale of two appliances.

Some years back, I posted a picture of my popcorn popper. This one:


It’s a Sears Kenmore. My late Aunt Charlene — who was really my mother’s cousin — worked there all her life, and gave it as a gift to my Irish-twin elder siblings when they were “real little kids,” in my mother’s recollection. They’re both Medicare-eligible, so I’d put its age at, conservatively, 60 years.

It still works perfectly. I use it about once a month.

I don’t have a picture of the other appliance in this tale, because it’s sitting in the trash and I’m not going out in 20-degree weather to get a mugshot. It’s my Cuisinart coffee maker, dead at the age of 2. It replaced the Krups, which lasted about five years, maybe more. I don’t know what the hell happened to it; one day I turned it on, the light lit, but nothing happened. The plate didn’t get warm, the gurgle didn’t start, it just laid there like a sick old whore.

Once upon a time, I’d have taken it to a small appliance repair shop and gotten by for a week with Starbucks and the Kuerig, but nowadays? You just pitch it and buy a new one. It so happened I got another Krups, pretty much the identical model we had before. And I realized I’d forgotten something about that one — a design flaw that makes the pot dribble all over the counter unless it’s poured at precisely the right speed and angle.

“If you pour it at precisely the right speed and angle, it doesn’t drip,” I told a swearing Alan as he mopped up a spill yesterday.

“I SHOULD BE ABLE TO POUR IT HOWEVER I WANT,” he snapped back, and you know what? He’s right. I realize a coffeemaker is a more complicated appliance than a mid-century popcorn popper, but for cryin’ out loud, we ain’t putting up a shuttle here, either.

I haz a mad. So in that frame of mind I’m presenting a news roundup I’m calling the YOU FUCKERS digest.

She said she was a victim of the Knockout Game, that two black men had punched her in the face when she left a St. Louis bar, but guess what? Her boyfriend did it, and she was covering for him. YOU FUCKER. Do click through and check out that super-shiner she got, and scoff with me at the explanation:

The two claim Simms inadvertently hit DePew in the eye after she placed her hand on his and he “flung it back violently.”

Brandon Rios didn’t look that bad after going 12 rounds with Manny Pacquaio. But hey — blame the black guys.

I think I’ve mentioned before that the streetlights on I-94 between downtown and my exit were out, contributing to the general haunted-forest atmosphere of the east side. So in the last year,
the state department of transportation spent millions replacing all the lights with shiny new ones — I suspect LEDs because during the brief time they were on, lo they bathed the freeway in the pure light of heaven, or an UFO tractor beam.

Well, they’re all out again — copper thieves. YOU FUCKERS. This is a crime all authorities seem powerless to stop.

I need a job like this, where they fire you and then pay you $8 million just to keep your mouth shut. Because you and everybody you work for is a FUCKER. I would retire and move someplace where fuckers like me are welcome.

Non-fucker bloggage?

Here’s something amusing and fun — evidently students at Taylor University, a Christian school in Upland, Ind., observe a tradition called “silent night” at basketball games. (I don’t know if it’s every game or just one.) They sit in absolute silence in the stands until the 10th point is scored, at which point they — well, watch the video.

There isn’t much to do in Upland. I’m sure they like it that way.

Off to Lansing this morning.

Posted at 12:30 am in Detroit life, News, Same ol' same ol' | 72 Comments

Is this thing on?

Are you guys still waiting around for a post today? Sorry. I got distracted. The basement floor drain is glugging, but fortunately, I speak fluent Floor Drain. It is saying: Don’t you dare do any laundry today. Also, I’m investigating the Amazon Associates program site again, trying to figure out a non-obnoxious, non-intrusive way to mildly monetize NN.C. I’m sending out seven million e-mails relating to my other site, which is no longer entirely mine and is going to need some major attention if our plans for its relaunch are to come to anything other than a spinning buttfall. There’s a film festival we’d like to enter “The Cemetery Precincts” in, which requires attention and more e-mails. And there’s the fact it’s Friday, Jan. 2, which feels like something other than a weekday but not quite a weekend, so I’m discombobulated.

Also, I overslept, if oversleeping means clear ’til 8:20 a.m. after retiring at 1:20 a.m.

How about a little hors d’oeuvre tray of bloggage, then:

Republicans flee D.C. on the eve of the Obama inaugurations. Stay gone an extra week, folks.

I agree with TBogg, who said that whenever he’s asked what three historical figures he’d like to have dinner with, he replies, “I’d rather have three dinners with Kathy Griffin.”

Finally, I took Kate to see “Gran Torino” on New Year’s Eve, on the grounds it was shot in and around our new hometown, including the Grosse Pointe Shores home of one of her friend’s cousins. I subjected my tender baby’s ears to a virtual barrage of profanity and racial slurs in the hope she might get a valuable takeaway message from it, and this is what she took away: “Where are the black people? I thought this movie was about Detroit.” Anyway, a big disappointment. If you’re torn between, say, Manohla Dargis’ review in the NYT or David Edelstein’s in New York magazine, take it from me: Edelstein speaks the truth. Alas.

Have a good weekend.

Posted at 12:00 pm in Movies, News, Same ol' same ol' | 34 Comments

Sport or game?

Since Kirk mentioned it in the comments on the body-building post earlier today, the thread seems to have heated up again. So let’s take it out here, then, and ask the question that has bedeviled humanity for ages:

What’s the difference between a sport and a game?

Ask Google, and you’ll get a number of answers, all of which indicate there’s no clear answer. I agree with Kirk that bodybuilding isn’t a sport, but I’m not sure what it is, either. Some say it’s not a sport if judging is involved, which would toss out much of the Olympic competitions. (My friend Ted, watching ice dancing with me one year, said, “It’s not a sport if you do it in a bow tie.”) I recall many newspaper photos of this or that professional golfer lining up a putt with a cigarette in his mouth, so I’d add that if you can smoke when you’re doing it, it’s not a sport, either.

What’s the criteria? Where do you sort them out?

Posted at 10:52 am in News | 31 Comments

The Committee.

The Committee had an early meeting today. That would be the Committee to Deprive Nance of Her Hard-Earned Rest. Over the years it’s had various subcommittees and chairs, but at the moment, the Worker Men are in their ascendancy, and have wrestled control away from the Blue Jays, the previous cadre at the top of the pyramid, squabbling REALLY LOUDLY for the chance to wake me up at an unreasonable hour.

The Worker Men are the guys in charge of tearing up our street, then leaving for a couple weeks, then coming back to push some stuff around, then leave for a couple more weeks, etc. Ostensibly they’re replacing a water main, but the new main has been buried for weeks now, and once again, work seems to have stalled. That doesn’t keep them from making an early appearance. For several days, someone was in charge of moving a backhoe from one end of the street to the other — CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK — at 7:45 a.m., then leaving it there, unused, for the rest of the day. I go to bed somewhere around 1 a.m.; all I want to do is sleep until 8; IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK? Apparently so.

This morning they put in a stronger, and louder, show of force, pushing several pieces of heavy equipment around, complete with those horrible beep-beep-beep backup noises. I look outside, and for the life of me I can’t figure out what they’re doing, other than making noise. I suspect the whole crew is comprised of toddler boys, who have discovered this cache of really big Tonka trucks, and are just having fun driving them around.

OK, rant over. Second cup of coffee in progress. I guess if I wanted I could close the windows and turn on the A/C, but it’s a cool, pleasant morning and I want to feel the breeze on my face as I sit next to the window. IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK? Never mind. Counting blessings now.

Actually, if it were permitted, I’d love to hang out with these guys for a day or two, just to watch them work. No one really knows how things are done anymore, do they? What’s involved in building a bridge, replacing a water main, raising a skyscraper? I’m 95 percent clueless. That’s where I envy Alan his time spent working in factories while he decided whether to finish college; he understands the grit-and-grime part of the world far better than I do. (Too well, actually; having worked in a canned-soup factory, he won’t eat canned soup. His stories about moving dough around in the frozen-pizza plant will put you off frozen pizza forever. The less said about Etch-a-Sketch production, the better, and if I can leave you with one lesson, it’s this: Don’t ever buy manufactured housing, unless you want to learn how “DAP it” became a catch phrase in our household.)

Well, obviously I got nuttin to say. Do I have bloggage? Not much of that, either. (The world is on vacation.) But a little:

Why charity is complicated these days: CARE turns down 45 million American dollars, because a needlessly complex system of shipping subsidized American crops overseas to sell in the Third World wastes money and undermines local farmers. Color me shocked.

Hacking Starbucks, testimony that nonfat journalism doesn’t have to be boring.

In my perambulations around Flickr the other day, I found this gem, shot by Bobby Alcott, a local Detroit pro. It reminded me of my ex-neighbor Dennis in Indiana, who left our little street in the city to move to the country and breed championship Angus cattle. He mostly dealt in embryos and frozen semen but kept a few head around the place, and I loved to scratch their sweet-smelling foreheads. “You really like livestock, don’t you?” he asked once, amazed. Well, how can you not? They’re irresistible.

This story has so many coulds, mights and isn’t-even-on-the-drawing-board-yets you wonder why it even exists, but the idea is intriguing: a muscle-car hybrid. A Camaro hybrid. I’d buy that just to piss people off, even though I know it’ll fall apart in six months and cost me thousands of dollars and thousands of tears. It’s just funny.

What’s that I hear outside? It’s the beepbeepbeeping of a backhoe! Time to get to work.

Posted at 9:48 am in News, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 29 Comments

Got a match?

A very smart person who liked to portray himself as otherwise — yes, I’m talking about you, Rob Daumeyer — once told me the secret to business reporting: All stories are business stories. Find the money angle and emphasize it enough to satisfy your boss, then tell the rest of the story. A good story is a good story; don’t get in its way and all will be revealed.

That’s a wise outlook, and it’s one reason I enjoy my night-shift editing job, surfing the great digital media landscape in search of stories of interest to our corporate clients, who are in the health-care trade. Many of these are four-graf snoozers on ABC Biotech being bought by XYZ Pharma, but several times a night I find real gems, great stories that just happen to be health-related. As Rob pointed out, almost every story has a money angle. That’s also true for health-care stories. If a doctor appears somewhere in the story, you’re good to go. Every hospital in your town is more crammed with pathos, humor, greed and plot twists than any newspaper can carry.

All this by way of pointing out one I found last night, from The Hindu, an English-language paper in India. It’s about the elephant in the Chinese living room, which coughs and smells like an ashtray:

Eyes shining and lips aquiver, the bride stands along with her family at the entrance to a five star hotel in downtown Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province. Outfitted in layers of meringue-like white lace, she hands out welcome gifts to the wedding guests who pull up in a steady stream of flashy cars.

The gifts consist chiefly of cigarettes. Later on in the festivities the bride lights the cigarettes of all the male guests, a common ritual at Chinese weddings that is supposed to auger well for the newlywed’s ability to have children.

Would you not kill to see this? I mean, can you even imagine the sight of a bride making the rounds of her own wedding with a Zippo? I wonder if this is done casually — if she mingles through the guests, lighting everyone up — or if it’s more of a ritual, with all the men lining up with a Marlboro dangling from their lips, and she flits, bride-like, down the line. We could spend all day discussing how this became a ritual in the first place, how putting flame to a tube of a known carcinogen somehow became a fertility ritual. (I suspect Hollywood, and all those post-coital cigarettes.) Or we could just enjoy the essential weirdness of our big world, and feel grateful that we live in it, at a time when you can read The Hindu online.

The rest of the story, by the way, is about what happens when all those guests have been smoking for a few decades:

Chinese society today is in a crisis. The crisis is to do with the health of the world’s most populous society and the culprit is tobacco. With an estimated 350 million smokers, China is both the largest producer and consumer of tobacco, accounting for a third of the world’s smokers. According to official statistics, the country sells around 1.6 trillion cigarettes a year.

The WHO says smoking related diseases kill one million Chinese annually and if unchecked this number could double by 2020. With incomes in China rising steadily over the last few decades, so has the average daily consumption of cigarettes per smoker from around four in 1972 to 10 in 1992 to nearly 15 today. Smokers are also beginning to develop the habit at ever younger ages with a staggering 100 million smokers estimated to be under the age of 18.

But despite the alarming evidence, many in the Chinese government claim the country cannot afford to quit smoking, given the value of the tobacco industry to the Chinese economy. Cigarette companies not only generate tens of thousands of jobs (up to 100 million Chinese are directly or indirectly dependent for their livelihood on the tobacco industry) but are also among the top tax payers, contributing $30 billion or eight per cent of total central government revenue in 2005.

It’s the oldest story in the world: Oops, we did it again.

So, some bloggage:

Yesterday I said I love the internet. Sometimes I hate it. The story of Allison Stokke is one good reason to. It’s about a teenage athlete of some accomplishment who has become the new Cindy Margolis on the strength of one photo of her looking very pretty (or hawt, as you kids like to say) at a track meet. And then, well…

Three weeks later, Stokke has decided that control is essentially beyond her grasp. Instead, she said, she has learned a distressing lesson in the unruly momentum of the Internet. A fan on a Cal football message board posted a picture of the attractive, athletic pole vaulter. A popular sports blogger in New York found the picture and posted it on his site. Dozens of other bloggers picked up the same image and spread it. Within days, hundreds of thousands of Internet users had searched for Stokke’s picture and leered.

The wave of attention has steamrolled Stokke and her family in Newport Beach, Calif. She is recognized — and stared at — in coffee shops. She locks her doors and tries not to leave the house alone. Her father, Allan Stokke, comes home from his job as a lawyer and searches the Internet. He reads message boards and tries to pick out potential stalkers.

Argh. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, I considered not linking to the photo. But what was the first thing I did after reading that story? Look for the photo. And what is the one thing my editors used to do that drove me insane when I worked in newspapers? Decline to publish something widely known/available elsewhere, on the grounds of moral or ethical purity. I try to live in the reality-based world. Anyway, I looked at the photo and said, “That is a girl who takes great care of herself.” Your reaction may be different.)

Fortunately, though, we can console ourselves by turning our attention spans, now whittled down to a sub-toddler level, to more amusing pictures like this. Look, something shiny and funny!

That’s it for now. Tune in tomorrow for our semi-whatever salute to “Ode to Billie Joe”!

Posted at 8:18 am in News, Popculch | 12 Comments

Pea-green with envy.

Kate and Allie (yes, really) finding Nemo.

I give the place a lot of grief, but never let it be said I don’t give Fort Wayne its due, either. The renovation of the main library, a gut-to-the-studs bump-out, was a major project, the centerpiece of an $80 million bond issue for improvements system-wide. A remonstrance, in which the arguments ran from “that’s too much money” to “splutter taxes splutter eggheads splutter a café?!?” failed, and so construction commenced more than three years ago. The entire main branch was relocated a few blocks down the street for the duration. When it became clear we were leaving Fort Wayne for good sometime in 2004, one of my first thoughts was: I’m not going to see the library completed. Damn.

Eighty million smackers is a lot of money. Noted. However, it won’t even buy a middling stadium anymore, a facility that policymakers everywhere are convinced is a veritable golden goose for any city. But I don’t follow most sports, and step into their arenas only rarely, whereas I’m in a library at least once a week. When my child was younger, it was more often. It helped that the Allen County Public Library was such a rich well of resources, a facility that seemed to belong in a city three times the size of Fort Wayne. And it wasn’t the crown jewels — a top-three-in-the-country genealogical collection, a rare-book room with everything from an unopened copy of Madonna’s “Sex” to a complete set of Edward Sheriff Curtis’ “The North American Indian” folios — that I used. They just kept up with everything, from new fiction to kid-lit to internet resources to music and DVDs. The staff was friendly and sharp. I was grateful for it every time I stepped through the doors.

So. Came the weekend, and one of Kate’s playdates fell through, and we had time on our hands. Where to go? No question.

I only took a few pictures. If you want to see pictures, go to the ACPL’s Flickr page, which documents every nook and cranny. My immediate first impression: They were right to aim high. To call Fort Wayne “fiscally conservative” is laughingly inadequate; Midwestern frugality is the bass note of every discussion of spending tax dollars. There’s a main traffic artery on which you drive with your heart in your mouth, so narrow are the lanes. They are the absolute bare minimum allowed by law, constructed to save a few shekels on concrete and land under the administration of a previous, tight-fisted mayor. To drive on Lake Avenue is to experience a literal manifestation of penny wise and pound foolish — it’ll have to be widened at some point, at a cost that dwarfs what it would have been to just make them wider in the first place — but nobody cares. The editorial pages call the old miser not a bullheaded obstructionist but a necessary voice of fiscal restraint. Whatever.

It would have been easy to do the same thing with the library, to address parking and space issues a little bit at a time, settling for good-enough rather than great. But library administrators didn’t, and the public backed the play, and good for them. They bought themselves not just a wonderful facility but a new focal point for downtown. Example: The plan called for the abandonment of one block of Webster Street, even though the building wasn’t going to grow significantly in that direction. Instead they built a wide plaza at the main entry, an outdoor gathering place suitable for everything from political speechmaking to lolling with a good book. (I’m assuming there’ll be some benches there once the weather turns.)

And that’s apart from the other public spaces within — a theater, meeting rooms, acres of study tables and computer work stations. There’ve been some criticisms that the 21st-century design slights the books, but I think it’s more a question of scale; the spaces are so vast now that the books take up less space than they used to. In any event, the new library eliminated one of the odder traits of the old one — storage. There were two basement levels, and if the catalog said the book you wanted was in storage, you filled out a slip and sent it down on a dumbwaiter. An unseen library troll fetched it for you and sent it back up in a few minutes, which was always amusing. (I always wanted to send down a cupcake or love note or something.)

Now all the books are in the public stacks, and the basement levels are underground parking. You swipe your library card to raise the gate.

When the old library closed, Kate mourned the loss of the children’s department, which was cramped but cozy, a place we both loved. The star attraction was an aquarium featuring a single occupant, which we called Mr. Fish. The new children’s section is vast, with several play areas and, well, a big upgrade in the aquarium department — two semicircles of beautiful saltwater tanks, along with a tubular bubble display that drives the toddlers wild with delight. One of the librarians recognized us, and after marveling over the tall girl at my side who has replaced the little storytime regular, we asked whatever happened to Mr. Fish.

She made a face. “Poisoned,” she said, when a kid poured soap into the old tank. “The new ones are a lot taller,” she said. “I don’t think anyone will be able to reach that high.” Or will want to, I expect. It’s all too beautiful.

Finally, the café, a detail that drove the remonstrators crosseyed. The library is a draw for lots of out-of-towners, mostly amateur genealogists. Downtown Fort Wayne can be a dreary place after dark and in certain seasons, and a place to get a sandwich and coffee without going too far was always these visitors’ No. 1 request; the circulation desk used to give out a photocopied list of all reasonably priced restaurants within walking distance. But a restaurant struck many as the ultimate unnecessary detail, a luxury for the sort of Starbucks-haunting layabouts the new place would be sure to attract. Why, there’s a Taco Bell right across the street; couldn’t they be happy with that?

The café shares a space with Twice Sold Tales, the used bookstore run by the Friends of the Library. I ducked in to see if I could score some cheap hardcovers, and found a few, only to see that the Friends’ cash register was unattended. A sign instructed me to take my purchase to the café register and pay there. I looked over. A line had formed that was nearly to the door, at least a dozen people. The lunch crowd, in other words. I put the books back and left empty-handed but heart-full. I’m so proud of the old place. They aimed high and hit a bullseye.

Posted at 9:51 am in News | 32 Comments