Back to the mangle.

And in just a week, that’s that.

No complaints here. Last year’s vacations were about getting out and exploring and doing new things. This year’s was more about retreating and refreshing, and that is fine. Fine, I tell you. I desperately needed both parts of that R ‘n’ R, and the setting was lovely. The image above was from the same walk that yielded the last one, when the first maples were just starting to redden. By the time we left, the bracken ferns were browning, the milkweed was yellowing and while the forest is still mostly green, the last act of the year is underway. Sorry to break it to you, but I guess most of us check the calendar from time to time.

Thank you all for keeping up the conversation in my absence. I tried to avoid most news, but couldn’t get away entirely. Actually, me on a news diet is approximately an average American who considers themselves well-informed, I suspect, at least judging from the conversations I overhear in restaurants. We had zero cell signal where we were staying, and no wifi. Have you noticed how the only place you find video stores these days are in rural areas and poor neighborhoods? One can’t get decent-enough internet service to stream, the other can’t really afford it. I’m leaving out the exceptional film-snob place deep in some university-adjacent neighborhood, but even those are going away, I expect. So we watched cottage-shelf DVDs and read. Got through three New Yorkers, one a disappointing fiction issue, and two books – “Conversations With Friends” and “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which a friend gifted me with and said I’d love. (I realize it was a best-seller for a long time, but I remind you, I was the very last person in the world to see “A Chorus Line” on Broadway, too.)

It turns out I liked-short-of-loved it, but it’s an interesting artifact of its time, I’ll say, that time being the bygone Clinton presidency. Sigh. Remember that time? Everybody was earning good money, the newspaper business was robust and Al Kida was a guy who sold you your morning bagel. (Carbs were OK then, too.) You could publish a memoir about resetting your life by undertaking the renovation of an Italian villa on an American academic’s schedule, and people found it refreshing rather than self-indulgent. Even “Tuscany,” back then, was sort of a yuppie Brigadoon, a destination you visited, fell in love with and vowed to return to ever after. It’s a richly detailed book, but after the main work on the house is over, it lost steam for me.

“Conversations With Friends” was richer, and I bought it based on the fact I read this New Yorker piece about it all the way to the end. It’s not a substantial book, but it’s interesting, as a glimpse of how young people think about love. At least the young person who wrote it.

I did much of my reading on the screened porch, because the weather was so warm, approaching fall or not. This is overexposed; I was trying to capture the gnat cloud at the center — look closely — but it also captures the warmth of the day:

The next day was ever warmer, and we floated on the river for about six hours. Lunch was a sandwich on a convenient gravel bar. Longtime readers will remember the boat from 2004, when Alan built it.

Our time in the cottage was done Thursday, but we couldn’t bear to go home, so we headed over to Traverse City in hopes that the usual summer crowds had abated somewhat. They had, but the place is still too much for me, except food-wise. We had a couple of good meals there, a couple more good beers, and I found a pair of cool boots, half-price, which makes it a good trip.

And then, homeward bound. As the cell signal grew stronger, I caught up on some reading. Almost all of it is outdated, but here are a couple you might not have seen yet:

The death of expertise, via Politico. We’ve hashed this out here many times, but the dark side of the internet’s democratization of everything has been the idea that anyone can be…oh, take your pick. A filmmaker, a publisher, a writer, a politician, a designer, etc. etc. I’m ready for the smart people to make a comeback, but god knows when that might be:

Voters say they reject expertise because experts—whom they think of as indistinguishable from governing elites—have failed them. “Americans might look back on the last 50 years and say, ‘What have experts done for us lately?’” one USA Today columnist recently wrote, without irony. Somehow, such critics missed the successful conclusion of the Cold War, the abundance of food to the point that we subsidize farmers, the creation of medicines that have extended human life, automobiles that are safer and more efficient than ever, and even the expert-driven victories of the previously hopeless Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. Experts, in this distorted telling, have managed only to impoverish and exploit ordinary Americans; anything that has benefited others apparently happened only by mere chance.

Also from Politico, the loneliest president, by Michael Kruse, who has made Trump-the-man his beat over the last year.

Finally, maybe a little housekeeping note. I’ve decided to continue the 3x/week posting, instead of the former 5x. I need to do some other writing, personal writing, and I need the time. You folks seem to carry the freight well in my absence, so keep on keeping on.

Now to find the bottom of my inbox. Over and out and back to the mangle. See you Wednesday-ish.

Posted at 4:04 pm in Housekeeping, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 85 Comments
 

Who are these jerks?

Today’s question: What’s wrong with the College Republicans?

Two of the tiki-torch marchers ID’d by the general public are College Republicans, and anytime I hear about that group, I’m reminded of a Fort Wayne story from 2002. I finally tracked down a copy of it, and since I can’t link, I’ll post larger-than-normal chunks of it here:

A Fort Wayne woman with dementia wrote nearly $50,000 in checks within six months, mostly to political organizations. She doesn’t recall making the donations, but her family wants the money back.

The more Mary donated, the more money the organizations pleaded for. They told the 82-year-old our nation is in danger of communist takeover and implied the letter writers had close ties with President Bush and other high-ranking government officials.

All the solicitations were through the mail.

…It’s a family’s worst nightmare, said niece Jan Rediger of Leo, who asked that her aunt’s full name not be published.

Last summer, her aunt told her, “The bank has stolen $30,000.”

“I knew things were going downhill when I stopped by to see her and there were stacks of mail everywhere, especially from Republican groups.

“There were hundreds of letters, most of them addressing her by her first name. She thought they were letters to her personally. She didn’t realize they were form letters. They all asked for money,” Rediger said.

…Last year, she began getting more letters from the College Republican National Committee, which is affiliated with the Republican National Committee.

Mary also received 20-30 letters a day from lesser-known GOP groups, including the National Republican Victory Campaign, Republican Strategy Headquarters, Republican Headquarters 2001 and the National Republican Leadership Committee.

All her checks were deposited and cashed, including several Mary made out to individuals listed as directors of the organizations.

One of the letters said:

“I need you to send your $200 contribtuion immediately. If I don’t hear back from you, I will be forced to shut down several critical Republican programs.” The undated letter was signed Scott Stewart, chairman of College Republican National Committee.

In another letter:

“I feel that we have gotten to know each other well enough that I may write to you using your Christian name …It always brings a smile to my face when I open a letter from Fort Wayne, Indiana because I know that it is from you. Mary, I am writing to you and sharing all of this with you because I have nowhere to turn. I am writing to you to ask you if you will make a major commitment to Republican Strategy Headquarters now to help President Bush in the amount of $25,000…

“This is the true amount that I need within the next three weeks if I am to help the president’s proposals pass through the Senate …I beseech you, send $25,000 now. Or if you cannot send it all at once, perhaps $5,000 now and the rest in a little while.” The letter, dated June 15, 2001, is signed: “Your sincere friend, David Harris, director of Republican Strategy Headquarters, PO Box 4442 Salisbury, MD 21803.

Although Mary did not send the requested $25,000, within a few months she did send nearly $13,000 to Republican Strategy Headquarters, which listed a different Washington, D.C., post office box on some letters.

…The College Republican National Committee “is not in any way connected” to Republican Strategy Headquarters, said committee Chairman Stewart.

But the family wonders why, in the June 15 letter, Harris writes: “You have been enormously generous toward me in the past and also to Chris, Scott and others.” Chris Tiedeman is general chairman of the National Republican Victory Campaign, a project of the College Republican National Committee.

Stewart said he had no explanation and “is going to be seriously looking into it.”

He said the national committee “does not ask for large sums of money,” adding solicitations usually are for $25 to $50.

In a March 28, 2001, letter, Stewart urges Mary to “rush me back $300 right now. …If we delay then the Rule of Law may be dead and America may turn into a Communist police state.”

There’s more, but you get the idea. A little Googling shows Stewart seemed to be cut from the usual College Republicans cloth — an early sexual harasser who rose like cream to the remunerative top layers of corporate America. And, of course, Mary wasn’t the only one. This was part of a national fundraising strategy, and most of the money went to pay vendors, not elect Republicans.

I had to chuckle over this passage in the last link:

College Republicans serve as the party’s outreach organization on college campuses. The group has been a starting place for many prominent conservatives, including Bush adviser Karl Rove, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed.

Elite company, right there. But seriously, given this history, wouldn’t you think job one would be to rebuild the brand? Rhetorical question, because of course, this is the brand – take-no-shit aggression in pursuit of party over all. Bilk a bunch of seniors? Hey, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few bank accounts. March with racists? A few bad apples, heavy hearts, thoughts and prayers, etc.

Blegh. Enough.

I want to leave you with something delightful after this grim week, I’ve found it, and it isn’t a kitty video, but this breezy history of true-confessions magazines, from their founding to today. Yes, today — they still exist!

The magazines are staple-bound and always 64 pages long—ten stories, two “Inspirational Mini-Stories, and one recipe, released once a month. The paper inside is newsprint, the photos all stock images, and the prose leans toward Kindle single. They’re not exactly the kind of magazines that anyone would describe as “venerable” at a glance, but the goofy covers belie the publications’ age and legacy. The first women’s confessional magazines, True Story and True Confessions are now approaching their centennial.

I think I’m going to have to seek one out. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Posted at 9:18 am in Current events, Popculch | 83 Comments
 

Cricket time.

Did we talk much about Glen Campbell? I don’t think so. Of course his death was coming, everybody knew it. (Yours is coming too, and if you don’t know it, you should.) I took the opportunity to run through a few Jimmy Webb-written classics on YouTube, and thought what I always do: Jimmy Webb is an astonishing songwriter.

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” are two of the best songs ever written about adult heartbreak and loneliness, and Webb was barely out of his teens when he wrote them. He’s only 71!

I just said this again, at dinner. Alan pointed out that Billy Strayhorn wrote “Lush Life” when he was 17, and that song is even more knowing and sophisticated and world-weary. But then, Strayhorn was gay; some of those guys have that stuff baked into their bones. I love those lyrics as much as I do anything by Webb:

I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come-what-may places
Where one relaxes on the axis
Of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life
From jazz and cocktails

The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distingué traces
That used to be there
You could see where
They’d been washed away
By too many through the day
Twelve o’clock tales

I snuck a “Wichita Lineman” reference into a Bridge story, because I could. Here’s to Glen, a great artist.

Man, it’s been a long week. Long for the usual reasons (work), long for the newer reasons (Trump), short for more poignant ones (ah, fleeting summer). I want to take two full days to myself this weekend; I think I deserve it.

In the meantime? Some bloggage:

Someone said on Twitter a while back that everything you need to know about dietary supplements can be seen in the fact that so many grifters find their way to them. Alex Jones is no exception, and Buzzfeed sent away for a few of his branded products and had them tested. The good news is, they’re basically what they claim to be. The bad news is, they cost about 200 percent more than they should, but of course, only Alex Jones is sending you Alex Jones-branded patent medicine. For something called Anthroplex, for instance:

Claimed ingredients:​ Zinc Orotate, Horny Goat Weed, Tribulus Terrestris, Tongkat Ali-Longjack, Fulvic Powder

Test results: Labdoor found that Anthroplex passed a heavy metal screening but noticed a discrepancy in the reported amount of zinc in the capsules. According to Labdoor, there’s 31% less zinc than advertised. “When we look into the zinc dosage, it’s so ridiculously low that you’d basically be buying a worthless product for $40,” the report reads.

Review snippet: “This product is a waste of money. The claim that ‘Anthroplex works synergistically with the powerful Super Male Vitality formula in order to help restore your masculine foundation and stimulate vitality with its own blend of unique ingredients’ is fluff on multiple fronts.”

Can’t get upset by this. If you’re dumb enough to believe Jones, someone’s going to get your money. Might as well be him.

From Philip Kennicott at the Washington Post, an essay about his border collie, a rabies scare, and some thoughtful thoughts about how we behave in a crisis:

In a serious pandemic, in a country full of people not just skeptical about scientific consensus but also deeply hostile to government authority, what chance is there that people will abide by basic public health mandates during an emergency? What if the Ebola virus scare of 2014 happened today and was managed from the White House by tweet? Even if you understand the idea of risk intellectually, the words “There’s a very low risk” aren’t comforting when it’s your health in the balance, which is one reason it is so difficult to contain costs in our medical system.

Finally, how you-know-who and his right-wing pals latched onto the death of Kate Steinle and rode it across the finish line. Good policy is based on fact. What is based on distortion of fact?

You tell me. And have a good weekend.

Posted at 9:05 pm in Current events, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 97 Comments
 

Who is this man?

For all that I complain about having to think about Donald Trump, I admit that I spend a lot of time thinking about him voluntarily. I was flipping through laps at the pool the other day when it came to me why I find him so unnerving: I can’t find the human inside.

I may be bitchy and glib, but I consider myself a fairly empathetic person, in the sense that I try to figure out what’s going on inside people that makes them act the way they do. We’re all just little boys and girls, after all, scared and lonely and fearful and silly by turns. It doesn’t excuse our bad behavior, but it does at least begin to explain it. On the surface she might be a bitch, but when you understand that inside she’s terrified that now that her looks have faded no one will ever pay attention to her again, well, at least it makes her easier to approach.

I can’t do that with Trump.

There are clues. Has anyone else noticed that his desk and credenza are almost devoid of family pictures? He has five kids, three kids-in-law, several grandchildren, and one family photo. It’s his father. Seen here:

This man is 70 years old. To say he has “daddy issues” is almost a joke. Anyway, I’d think a man with daddy issues would act more like a son. He doesn’t. He’s Big Daddy. Only the original Big Daddy had a wider vocabulary. He knew what “mendacity” meant:

(Goddamn, Liz, that dress. I’m invited to a black-and-white ball next month, and I need that dress. Size 10, please.)

Anyway, I keep searching for the one scrap of actual human feeling that I can grab hold of, attempt some sort of mind-meld with the president, and keep coming up empty. I can understand that he’s intensely narcissistic, but even a narcissist should show some occasional fellow feeling. All I’m getting — it’s like I’m standing over a brain scan here — is a yawning void, or a grim landscape littered with…coal dust and lava, maybe.

Anyway, the big presidential talkers today were the Time story, in which we learn that Trump gets two scoops of ice cream on his chocolate cream pie, while Pence prefers a fruit plate. And also this:

But few rooms have changed so much so fast as his dining room, where he often eats his lunch amid stacks of newspapers and briefing sheets. A few weeks back, the President ordered a gutting of the room. “We found gold behind the walls, which I always knew. Renovations are grand,” he says, boasting that contractors from the General Services Administration resurfaced the walls and redid the moldings in two days. “Remember how hard they worked? They wanted to make me happy.”

Trump says he used his own money to pay for the enormous crystal chandelier that now hangs from the ceiling. “I made a contribution to the White House,” he jokes. But the thing he wants to show is on the opposite wall, above the fireplace, a new 60-plus-inch flat-screen television that he has cued up with clips from the day’s Senate hearing on Russia. Since at least as far back as Richard Nixon, Presidents have kept televisions in this room, usually small ones, no larger than a bread box, tucked away on a sideboard shelf. That’s not the Trump way.

I know a lot of people put their big TVs over the fireplace, but I’ve always hated that placement. And never mind the watch-TV-while-eating thing. Sigh.

The other one was the Economist interview. You can look up the link; I prefer this excerpt from a gobsmacked Matt Yglesias at Vox:

The Economist then rightly asks him how something like eliminating the estate tax could fail to benefit the rich, and Trump appears to enter a fugue state:

I get more deductions, I mean I can tell you this, I get more deductions, they have deductions for birds flying across America, they have deductions for everything. There are more deductions … now you’re going to get an interest deduction, and a charitable deduction. But we’re not going to have all this nonsense that they have right now that complicates things and makes it … you know when we put out that one page, I said, we should really put out a, you know, a big thing, and then I looked at the one page, honestly it’s pretty well covered. Hard to believe.

Do take the 10 minutes it takes to watch this entire video, of a constituent with a powerful head of steam confronting Rep. Tom MacArthur, who should be staring blankly at the wall after this beatdown.

Finally, because we must enter the weekend on an up note, a charming profile of Dwayne Johnson, i.e. the Rock, in GQ. The writer visits his private gym, in L.A.’s warehouse district:

Johnson’s in Los Angeles now to film HBO’s Ballers, but he’s got gyms wherever he goes. He’s building one at his farm in Virginia, where he keeps his horses (and also, he says, a piano once owned by Benjamin Franklin; it came with the farm), and he has a workout facility at his primary residence in Florida, where he lives on a compound on the edge of the Everglades, in a tiny rural town popular among professional athletes who yearn for country living within an hour’s drive of Miami. As he crisscrosses the country for work, he’s constantly scouting new spots. If he has to go to New York for a night, he will find a gym there, and it will be in a dank, subterranean room, probably off an alley that only Johnson can find. If you have a basement, he might be in your house right now, doing leg presses and staying hydrated. Found an incredible little out-of-the-way spot, he might write on Instagram, under a photo of himself lifting your washing machine. #HardestWorkersInTheRoom #ByAnyMeansNecessary #LateNight #StopNever.

He seems to be a genuinely nice guy. Maybe he’ll be our next president. Sigh.

A good weekend to all.

Posted at 8:54 pm in Current events, Popculch | 78 Comments
 

Practicing avoidance.

Let’s see if we can do this, OK? Let’s see if we can go one day, just one day, without mentioning The Thing That’s Happening. Come on, let’s try. It’ll be good for our mental health. And I’ll start:

One of the things I did in my midwinter madness this year was re-watch “Mad Men” in its entirety, which of course gave me a powerful hankering for all things mid-century, but certainly the TV of my youth – the commercials, anyway.

So I was delighted to find this Terry Teachout roundup of some of the most memorable spots of the ’60s and early ’70s, including, yes, the flying couple whom Hertz somehow installs in the driver’s seat.

First realization: They’re mostly a minute long. Second realization: You need that long to set up the punch line for the Volkswagen ad, and it would be a crime against a rather lavish production budget to limit Ann Miller to 30 seconds.

Also, while I don’t often look to the Tablet for pop-music criticism, this takedown of Billy Joel is well worth your time. I always appreciate a writer who goes for broke, even when it doesn’t succeed; it’s like watching a waiter run behind a teetering pile of plates:

“From the very beginning,” Alana Newhouse wrote recently in Tablet, “there was a tacit agreement made between this country and its Jews: You, America, give us liberty and freedom from the extreme degradation and oppression we experienced everywhere else and, in turn, we Jews, will gift you with our … Jewishness. With Jewish thinking, and Jewish reflexes. With the ideas and impulses, honed over thousands of years, that could help a country create an unmatched economy, unparalleled creative industries and artistic and literary cultures, social and civic organizations, and more. America, at least so far, has kept its side of the bargain. But we have not.” Instead, we’ve practiced passing, an insidious art few have mastered more than Joel himself. When asked—in Germany, of course—about his Judaism, this is what the lyricist had to say: “I had the snip and I had nothing to say about it. I’m still a little pissed off about that.”

Finally, let’s just confine our commentary on this photo to the fashion it depicts — a prosperous middle-age couple coming back from vacation, relaxed and ready:

Don’t compare it to any recent photos out of Palm Beach or D.C. You’ll jump out a window.

Posted at 8:11 pm in Popculch | 71 Comments
 

Laugh tracks.

Are we feeling sad these days? I know I am. Not stick-my-head-in-the-oven sad, but more like gray-bowl-of-Michigan-winter sad, mixed with I-need-to-read-more-novels-and-less-Twitter sad and orange-elephant-in-the-room sad. If I were wealthier, I’d book a flight to Havana and do the major change of scenery thing. Can’t do that either? Then maybe this will help, a two-parter from New York magazine on the jokes that shaped modern comedy.

It’s not actually a two-parter, just a piece that was published last year, and the new one, dropped in the last couple of days. I like both, because you can really get lost in them, and then you find yourself laughing, and soon it’s as though you aren’t living in the first months of 2017, but in some bubbly comedy land.

Until you hit 1988:

The most influential magazine of its era left a mark on every other: complicated tiny typography, kitschy clip art, little floating heads as illustrations, charts and graphs analyzing everything it covered, and big memorable stories told with an ironic sensibility and unironic rigor. But clearly its single device with the longest legs was the compound hyphenated pejorative epithet, an update of the old Time house style. “Churlish dwarf billionaire Laurence Tisch,” “sex-kittenish Vanity Fair model Diane Sawyer,” “musky, supersuave love man Billy Dee Williams”: Spy’s editors had a knack for summing up an entire person in three or four words. Including one “short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump,” whose rage at this characterization continues to this day, and who now has his tiny, tiny finger on the button. (Sad!) Their glib irreverence would continue well beyond the magazine’s final issue in 1998; it’s almost impossible to find a funny blog that doesn’t at least somewhat depend on Spy’s voice and tone.

Oh, well. Nothing lasts forever. It’s still funny.

I remember that era at Spy. Tisch had his lawyer send a letter that explained Tisch was not “medically, technically a dwarf,” and cease calling him one. So they started ID’ing him as “Churlish billionaire Laurence Tisch, who is not medically, technically a dwarf.” Good times.

We need more use of the word “churl” and all of its variations.

So, what else happened today? The president got into a pissing match with a department store, that’s what. Something I didn’t know:

Last week, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores sent a note to employees — a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times — telling them to throw away signs for Ivanka Trump products.

“Effective immediately, please remove all Ivanka Trump merchandise from features and mix into” the racks where most products hang, the note read. “All Ivanka Trump signs should be discarded.”

The instruction was to eliminate special displays for the merchandise, “not to remove it from the sales floor,” said Doreen Thompson, a spokeswoman for the TJX Companies, the retailers’ parent corporation.

And no one even called the first daughter an escort to wreck her brand. Maybe something else is at work here. Hmm, what could it be?

Finally, no less a writer than Hank Stuever decreed this story the best feature story about life in 2017, an account of Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit to the University of Washington, and the events that flowed from it. I’d say it’s right up there, and totally worth your time, Sherri and others.

Who’s ready for a measles outbreak? Because it’s coming.

Posted at 8:34 pm in Current events, Popculch | 101 Comments
 

The world’s longest to-do list.

Every so often we all wonder if we’re in the right place, job-wise, right? Don’t you look at job listings from time to time? Sure you do, even if you like the one you have. Grass is varying shades of green, so we’re always looking on the other side of the fence.

So here you go: $125-150K per year for running six separate estates, all owned by the same family (or LLC, most likely), in three different cities (Franklin, Mich., Aspen and Palm Beach). Basically, you’re at the beck and call of Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags and their adult children, as a combination event planner, food and beverage manager, diplomat, maintenance supervisor, human resources director (“in an environment where everyone is given clear expectations and loves coming to work daily”) and six or seven other full-time jobs, all rolled into one. And you have to be able to travel at the drop of a hat and pay the bills and, and, and…

That sounds like a fat salary until you consider that it’s really a bargain for a family that apparently needs six houses to encompass all their money. On the up side, you’ll learn a lot of interesting things about the Trumps.

The weekend turned out to be 50 percent of one. I’m working pretty much all day Sunday, writing a story and doing other chores, so I can leave early on Friday — I’m hoping to attend the Columbus Dispatch alumni holiday party for the first time in a few years. I’m also hoping not to be detained by the weather; a polar vortex is headed this way, with “frigid air tied up (that) has its origins in Siberia and northern Canada.”

As if Russia hasn’t fucked with us enough as of late.

A story I’m not getting into, because I feel the top of my skull is just barely holding on.

Although you should read this.

This Twitter account is mainly for comic relief.

I have to start writing other things now. It’s snowing like crazy, too. Hello, winter.

Posted at 11:55 am in Current events, Popculch | 38 Comments
 

Brandy, you’re a fine girl.

I don’t know why, but I think this belongs here:

rock3c

It’s one of those nights, folks. Too much work, a trip tomorrow — to Kalamazoo, perhaps my favorite city name in the whole state — and too much miscellanea in the One of These Days file. Like this list, not the top 100, but the first 81. So many songs that should never be played again, and yet, I probably know every word, because if there’s ever an effective memory-cementing device, it’s a 14 year old and a transistor radio. Alan digs up “Troglodyte” on YouTube every few months, just to torture me. “She was one of the Butt sisters!” he crows, and justlikethat, the song is re-embedded in my frontal lobes, along with…pretty much everything else on this list. There may be two songs here I couldn’t sing beginning to end, and I don’t think I want to learn them.

More fun fotos! The royal family before the annual Diplomatic Reception:

royalfamily

I love the fam’s official photographic record. Those knickers, the heir, the heir’s heir, the consort and the young commoner-turned-duchess. Do you ever wonder if, while getting dressed, maybe Bill and Cathy Cambridge sing “Duke of Earl” to one another?

And when I hold you
You’ll be my Duchess, Duchess of Earl
We’ll walk through my dukedom
And a paradise we will share

I hope so, anyway.

Finally, pro tip: “Pumping Iron” is on Netflix this month. You should watch it. I did, the other night, for the first time since the 1970s. It holds up, with young Arnold Schwarzenegger displaying all the charm that took him to fame and riches. He’s smart, confident and a real competitor in this bizarre sport. Plus, it’s 87 minutes long, which strikes me as pretty perfect for a documentary.

Into the weekend we go.

Posted at 9:56 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 91 Comments
 

Pimping iron.

I don’t know what got me thinking about the Mr. Olympia contest the other day; probably saw a reference to it in the zillions of words that fly past my face in a typical crazy-ass day. The contest was held in September. In Vegas, natch, but for years it was held in little old Columbus, Ohio. In the early ’80s, before the internet, when personal fitness was barely getting started and bodybuilding was a weird subculture with a seriously gay vibe, I attended one. Alone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was working at the Dispatch, a rookie, in the women’s department, when the press people for Mr. Olympia came calling. I’m sure they’d started with the sports department, and struck out, because as far as the sports department was concerned, bodybuilding was not a sport. It was a weird subculture with a seriously gay vibe! No one wanted to be associated with that; no one in sports, anyway. And so somebody with Mr. Olympia called my editor in the women’s department and pitched a really crazy idea: Women who lift weights and train and do bodybuilding contests. It so happened that the reigning Mr. O, Frank Zane, was married to a beautiful woman named Christine, with whom he trained. We could interview them both at the Sheraton down the street that very evening. I got the assignment.

Thinking back, I’m amazed at how strange this idea seemed — a woman pumping serious iron. A friend of mine was working at the time at a fitness studio called Spa Lady. She wore tights and a leotard and leg warmers to work, as did all of the customers. They had dance classes and a few pieces of equipment, and if any weight was lifted, it was no more than one or at most, three pounds. You’d move more pounds putting away your groceries. Women didn’t lift anything heavier because, conventional wisdom maintained, she would get grotesque, Popeye muscles, just like the guys in Mr. Olympia. And if she for some crazy reason wanted such things, and then quit, all those muscles would “turn to fat.”

These are some of the things I knew to be true as I walked to my interview with the Zanes.

A publicist opened the door to their hotel room. This is approximately what they looked like, only they had more clothes on. In street clothes, she was a slender beauty and he, a guy with really broad shoulders. Charming, down-to-earth people. They told me what we now know about women and weights — that we lack the hormones to put on bulk, that a muscle cannot actually turn to fat, etc. And so on. I took notes, the photographer took pictures. As I left, I asked Frank to “make a muscle,” as people said then — flex his bicep. He did, and a bowling ball rose on his upper arm. I gave it a little squeeze. It felt like a bowling ball, too. The publicist handed me a couple passes to the event that upcoming weekend.

My story was just a lame advance for the contest, on a page that approximately zero people who were interested in it would read. But I started noticing more broad-shouldered people around town that week, of all colors, speaking languages I could only guess at, as they arrived to compete and watch. Probably a few thousand of them all told, from all over the world, and my dumb story on page D6 was the only notice the paper took of an internationally famous event.

When the contest came, I asked some friends if they’d come with me. None were interested. So I went by myself, carrying my Nikon with the longest lens I had, a paltry 135mm. Veterans Memorial was sold out. Let me tell you, it was an experience. The gay vibe became a full-throated roar during the pose-offs, hundreds of muscle freaks screaming like banshees as Frank and the others turned and flexed their lats and delts and so forth. Real appreciators of the human form, this crowd. I walked down the aisle and took a few shots as close as I could get, most of my new friend Frank. Who repeated as Mr. O, in the end.

The next day, the photo editor came out with a worried look on his face. The AP was calling, wondering why the biggest paper in town hadn’t covered this international sporting event, and could we give the co-op anything in the way of photos? It so happened I had the roll of film I’d shot, and handed it over, black-and-white Tri-X, my favorite. They ran it and brought me a contact sheet. Is this the guy? the editor asked. Yep, that’s Frank.

And that, my friends, is how young Nancy Nall got her first and only photo on the AP’s sports wire. Or any wire.

The Zanes are still together, and are still adorable.

I think this is what got me thinking about Mr. Olympia; I must have glimpsed a promo when it ran a few days ago, but just got around to reading it today, a profile of Phil Heath, who is …startling-looking, at least in the performance photos. This guy trains, eats and sleeps. Just like Michael Phelps, only his food bill probably isn’t $1,000 a week. And like Zane, he seems more or less normal. Not crazy, anyway.

What draws people to such things? The same instincts that push us up mountains, I imagine.

No more links today, because everything good I read today was posted by you guys in the comments yesterday. After you guys went off on a tangent about barfing, I was going to link to Atul Gawande’s magnificent 1999 essay on nausea, but it’s back in the paid archive. I reread it a few years ago, when Kate Middleton had hyperemesis of pregnancy — that’s the through line — but they locked it back up.

So no politics today! Woo! Just a few more days…

Posted at 6:12 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments
 

Oh, grow up.

I’m relearning, in my recent enthusiasm for podcasting, something I’ve long contended: If you really want to know who’s reading/listening to a media outlet, check the advertising.

When I first started reading right-wing political magazines, I noticed the back-of-the-book ads were for things like The Great Courses and Increase Your Word Power flimflams, the intellectual equivalent of Charles Atlas’ don’t-get-sand-kicked-in-your-face-by-your-liberal-friends pitch. The lefty mags had personal ads for what sounded like a whole lot of lonely academics with nose hair, handmade jewelry and leather elbow patches on their blazers. And from what I’ve been able to tell, millennials (who are the natural audience of podcasts) simply can’t do a damn thing for themselves.

Caveat up front: Every time I’ve ventured an opinion that maybe young people need to brush up on their adulting skills, I get one of them jumping down my throat about the five jobs she works for practically nothing, and “we’re not all Lena Dunham, you know!” Noted. Noted, noted, noted. I’m just saying.

Anyway, the ‘casts I subscribe to offer some truly weird services, like various incarnations of the Clothes of the Month club — these are services where you fill out some online forms, and every month, a box of outfits appears on your doorstep. You try everything on, pay for what you like and send the rest back. How mystifying, and yet also seductive. Also, a waste of money; of course everybody has “no time to shop,” but seriously, find time to shop if looking good is important to you. It’s not that fucking hard.

Blue Apron is a similar one, only for food. Blue Apron delivers pre-portioned food boxes with easy-to-follow recipes, for those who want to cook at home but pay the same price they would at a restaurant, or at least I assume so. I honestly don’t know how you put together boxes featuring everything individually packaged, including the spices, all refrigerated, all with the usual buzzwords (“sustainable,” “locally sourced”), and deliver it to someone’s front door without charging an arm and a leg. Seriously, folks, have you considered the alternatives at your local fast-casual restaurant? You might be surprised.

It turns out keeping people from the necessary adult step of shopping for food and figuring out how to cook it themselves has a price beyond mere dollars and cents. It’s driving their employees insane:

August 26, 2015, was, by all accounts, a stressful day at Blue Apron’s facility in Richmond, California.

As the sun rose over what would be an unusually warm Wednesday, a 21-year-old employee made a phone call to a supervisor at the $2 billion food startup’s Bay Area fulfillment center, where tens of thousands of meal kits are packed into cardboard containers and shipped across the continental United States. The supervisor didn’t pick up the phone that morning, so he left a message.

In it, he said he planned to quit his job at Blue Apron later that day. He also said he planned to bring a gun to the warehouse and shoot his manager, as well as other people at the facility. In two messages, he named three people specifically who he wanted to put bullets into when he got there. Around 8:30, en route to work, the supervisor called the police.

Police apprehended the man, who did not have a gun, later that morning. But at Blue Apron, the day was just getting started.

While company security and a Richmond police officer on patrol monitored threats outside the warehouse, inside, Blue Apron management was meeting with representatives from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health at the conclusion of a two-week inspection by the agency that would result in nine violations and proposed penalties totaling $11,695 for unsafe conditions that put workers at risk for fractured bones, chemical burns, and more. This penalty came on top of $13,050 following a forklift accident earlier in the year, giving Blue Apron the most OSHA violations in the fast-growing, $5 billion meal-kit startup industry, and among the most in perishable prepared-food manufacturing in California. (Like many companies, Blue Apron appealed these findings, and had some of its violation classifications downgraded to “general” or “other.” One of its cases is still open.)

Just after 4 p.m. on the same day, the police were back at Blue Apron for the third time, following a noontime patrol. They were prompted by yet another call from a security guard, concerned that “a weapon might be brought.”

This time the problem was a 26-year-old man who, after being fired earlier in the day for groping a female co-worker, had then threatened the person who let him go. He was later arrested for sexual assault, as well as for violating his parole on an earlier robbery charge.

“I definitely remember that day,” said David Reifschneider, who was general manager of the facility at the time. “It’s not what happens on a typical day in a typical warehouse.”

Forgive the extra-long excerpt; it’s well worth reading the entire piece. It’s the classic story of our century so far: “Disruptors” have a big idea, regular old people suffer in its incarnation. I wonder when “disruptor” will give way to the more accurate “motherfucker.” What’s wrong with learning about food in your own way, eating out, eating in, learning what you like, what it takes to make it appear on your table? What is the need for this packaging-heavy, labor-intensive step? If your life is so busy that this is what it takes to put a home-cooked meal on the table in your house, maybe you need to reconsider your life. Or maybe I’m full of shit, but man, the thought of human hands in a California warehouse putting one tablespoon of vinegar or soy sauce into a tiny bottle just makes my heart sink.

My daughter Kate is living in a co-op house at school this year. Basically, it’s a commune with some structure imposed by the university, which owns the house. It’s a vegetarian group, and all the residents share cooking duties. She’s eaten more vegetables in the past month than she probably did the 18 years she lived here. But she’s learning how to do all this stuff I tried to show her over the years and she either ignored or didn’t care to learn: How to cook rice, plan a meal, etc. Good. Life is full of challenges large and small, and mastering rice is one you need to learn. The failures teach you plenty. I have no idea what Blue Apron teaches you; maybe how to make it all a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

Let’s give these poor hard-working kids a break, maybe? A night off from work, maybe a cooking club with their friends. They can figure it out together.

OK, then, back to the topic of the hour and many hours before and to come. If nothing else comes of this fucking election, I hope it leads to the utter flushing down the public toilet of Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and much of the right-wing media-sphere. Guys, you had a good run, but the party’s about to be over. Hope you saved your money.

Hello, Tuesday, dead ahead. Dentist appointment and deadline for me — how about you?

Posted at 8:18 pm in Current events, Popculch | 64 Comments