Mini-break.

This weekend — today, Sunday — is the Derringer Co-Prosperity Sphere’s 29th wedding anniversary. While we’re beyond the “Gone Girl” tributes, it’s always nice to mark a milestone appropriately, so we had a 24-hour getaway.

To St. Clair, Michigan, previously known as the place where Nancy and her friend Bill go ottering in high-to-late summer. Just north of Palmer Park there, where we otter, is the St. Clair Inn. It was once a highfalutin vacation spot for swells (Bill spent his first honeymoon night there, once upon a time), then fell on hard times, then went through a lengthy, oft-delayed renovation, and reopened only recently as a swank hotel. We booked a room there for Saturday. River view, of course — what’s the point of going to St. Clair if you can’t watch the freighters go by?

That’s the…I forget which one that was. Wait, lemme zoom in… OK, it’s the Federal Columbia, a bulk carrier, upbound. A salty, which is what they call the ships that leave the Great Lakes for open ocean. We saw at least a dozen, a few of them thousand-footers like the Edmund Fitzgerald. The Federal Columbia is headed for Burns Harbor, in Indiana. Got a ways to go, but I bet it’s closer than I think.

The St. Clair River drains Lake Huron, into Lake St. Clair, then Erie, Ontario and out to sea. It’s blue, and it runs at a clip.

The bar in the Inn is called the Dive, and this sculpture outside pays tribute to the end-of-season tradition from the old days, where the wait staff would go for a swim themselves. My man on the right has about a second to correct his position before he does a bellyflop.

Today, it was a slow drive down the riverfront, through Algonac to the northern coast of Lake St. Clair, then the long way home. A whole trip that felt like a mini-vacation, and we used less than a quarter of a tank.

Of course you can’t get entirely away, and the news intruded. Another goddamn mass shooting, because we gotta have one of those every so often. Otherwise we might not have Freedom.

Bloggage: If you haven’t read this, from the Atlantic, about “how politics poisoned the evangelical church,” it’s worth your time.

Oh, and look — another mass shooting. This one…at a church. Kinda fitting.

Posted at 8:46 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 41 Comments
 

What comes later.

Years ago, when I was younger, callow and a lazy newspaper columnist, I opened my mail one morning and a story fell into my lap.

The letter was from a former resident of the Pixley Home, a long-closed child welfare agency in Fort Wayne. Back in the day, if you lacked the resources to support your own children, you didn’t get cash or food stamps or other help from the government. Rather, the government would take over the care and raising of your children in a place like the Pixley Home, sort of an orphanage for children who weren’t orphans. This woman’s time at Pixley was sometime in the ’30s or ’40s, when the Depression, and then the war, disrupted many families. Kids at Pixley might have only one parent, often a widower father but sometimes a woman who had no family of her own to help with her burden. Child care outside of a grandmother or aunt was virtually nonexistent, so if you had to work to support yourself and had no one to watch your children? You surrendered them to a place like the Pixley Home.

If it sounds cruel to you, you’re not the only one.

Parents could visit their children, of course, on Sundays. And parents could get their children back, once they were back on their feet. I don’t recall what the process was to reclaim them, but I do know children generally stayed for months or years.

Anyway, the woman who wrote was trying to put together a reunion of Pixley kids, and hoped I could publicize it. I dug up a picture of the old building, called a few of the other residents that she had already tracked down, and wrote a column describing this merry, loving place, because that’s how my correspondent remembered it. She described it as something out of Little Orphan Annie, with stern-but-kind caretakers, big group dinners and so forth. It was like having a couple dozen brothers and sisters, all sleeping in dorms and bunk beds. About the worst thing she remembered was the weekly dose of castor oil everyone had to take.

The column ran, a few more Pixley kids were found as a result, the reunion went as planned and then, a few weeks after that, another letter arrived.

Like the first, it was written by an older woman. Only her memories of the Pixley Home were very different. She described a particular delivery man who would hang around after he’d offloaded his groceries and find a way to corner her in a quiet place. You can imagine what happened next. She certainly hadn’t forgotten it. She said she told the matrons about him, but nothing was done. It’s safe to say that decades later, she was still pretty upset about it. She certainly didn’t want to go to a happy reunion, and didn’t. But she wanted me to know.

Jeff has written about this elsewhere, and he’s right: Sexual abuse of children and women is absolutely nothing new, and was far, far more widespread than any of us know. My Fort Wayne neighbor’s mother-in-law was profoundly deaf from birth, and it happened to her. If you wanted a perfect victim, why not choose a girl who couldn’t talk? Or a girl in an institution? Or a servant or other low-status worker with no power and few resources to fight back?

The good ol’ days weren’t, in other words.

I thought of this other Pixley girl a couple years ago, when a father in one of the Larry Nassar sentencing hearings lunged at the defendant, calling him a son-of-a-bitch and asking for “one minute alone,” etc. He was subdued by deputies before he laid a hand on Nassar. So now his daughter, molested by Nassar at 13, has to further deal with the sight of her father being taken from the courtroom in handcuffs.

I want to tentatively raise my hand and ask a question: Is it possible to acknowledge every one of Nassar’s victims, to let them speak and describe how they were hurt by him, and still give them what they need to live the rest of their lives, not as victims, but as survivors? Because as creepy as having some doctor stick his ungloved fingers in you might be, having that define the rest of your life is far, far worse.

All of these stories are terrible, and some are unendurable. A father whose guilt over not protecting his daughter drove him to suicide. A victim who committed suicide herself.

When I read that ESPN piece about Todd Hodne, the rapist who played briefly at Penn State, I was struck by…well, by so many things. But what elevated it, in my eyes, was the careful attention paid to what happened to the women after they were raped by this behemoth. The girl who, at 16, successfully fended him off found strength in what she’d done, strength that has buttressed her throughout her life. Betsy Sailor, the woman who tried so hard through her terror to remember every detail, so she could testify later in court, similarly carried that good-deed-that-came-of-a-terrible-one into how she lived. Others were broken, or nearly so, by what happened. One woman remembered her mother, a Hodne victim, and the anxiety she was never able to shake afterward.

Of course you can’t blame those who didn’t turn straw into gold; no one knows how they’ll come through a trauma until it happens.

I was also struck, reading the Hodne story, that we’re finally getting better at how we treat women (and men) who endure these crimes. Victim impact statements are only part of it. We obviously have far, far to go. But there’s a glimmer of a bright side to look on, at least sometimes.

I don’t want to bring y’all down today, but the Pixley Home has been knocking around my head for a while now, and it needed to come out.

Bloggage?

In Michigan, the state GOP continues to delaminate. The guy in that story is deep in the DeVos organization, as I recall, and if he’s out, well, Katy bar the door.

If you were wondering if there’s a worse businessman in the world than Donald Trump, I do believe we’ve found him:

Boeing should have rejected then-President Donald Trump’s proposed terms to build two new Air Force One aircraft, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

Dave Calhoun spoke Wednesday on the company’s quarterly earnings call, just hours after Boeing disclosed that it has lost $660 million transforming two 747 airliners into flying White Houses.

Then-President Trump, an aviation enthusiast, took a keen interest in the new presidential jets, involving himself in everything from contract negotiations to the plane’s color scheme. As part of the deal, Boeing signed a fixed-price contract that required the company, not taxpayers, to pay for any cost overruns during the complicated conversion of the two airliners.

Then-Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who was dismissed in December 2019, personally negotiated the Air Force One terms with Trump at the White House and the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

P.S. Dennis Muilenberg left his “dismissal” with a $62 million exit package.

Posted at 5:09 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 41 Comments
 

Our bodies, our selves.

I’ve been wanting to write something about transgender issues. I’m waiting for the static in my head around the issue to stop being so staticky, but the more I read and think about it, the louder it gets, so here goes. I usually work through these things by writing about them, anyway.

Let me begin with a revelation that shakes me to my core:

I find myself largely in agreement with this Ross Douthat column.

People? That never happens. Until now.

It’s paywalled, and I’ll clip/paste/summarize as best I can:

After laying out some rather eye-popping statistics — that 21 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBT, he notes:

Here are three possible readings of these statistics. The first interpretation: This is great news. Sexual fluidity, transgender and nonbinary experience are clearly intrinsic to the human experience, our society used to suppress them with punitive heteronormativity and only now are we getting a true picture of the real diversity of sexual attractions and gender identities. (Just as, for example, we discovered that left-handedness is much more common once we stopped trying to train kids out of it.)

So the response from society should be sustained encouragement, especially if you care about teenage mental health: This newly awakened diversity should be supported from the time it first makes itself manifest, at however young an age, and to the extent that parents feel uncomfortable with their children’s true selves, it’s the task of educators and schools to support the kid, not to defer to parental anxiety or bigotry.

The second interpretation: We shouldn’t read too much into it. This trend is probably mostly just young people being young people, exploring and experimenting and differentiating themselves from their elders. Most of the Generation Zers identifying as L.G.B.T. are calling themselves bisexual and will probably end up in straight relationships, if they aren’t in them already. Some of the young adults describing themselves as transgender or nonbinary may drift back to cisgender identities as they grow older.

So we shouldn’t freak out over their self-identification — but neither should we treat it as a definitive revelation about human nature or try to build new curriculums or impose certain rules atop a fluid and uncertain situation. Tolerance is essential; ideological enthusiasm is unnecessary.

A third interpretation: This trend is bad news. What we’re seeing today isn’t just a continuation of the gay rights revolution; it’s a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating. These kids aren’t setting themselves free from the patriarchy; they’re under the influence of online communities of imitation and academic fashions laundered into psychiatry and education — one part Tumblr and TikTok mimesis, one part Judith Butler.

There is no clear evidence that any of this is making kids happier or better adjusted; instead all we see is a worsening of teen mental health, blurring into a young-adult landscape where sex and relationships and marriage are on the wane. So what we need now is probably more emphasis on biology, normativity and reconciliation with your own maleness or femaleness, not further deconstruction.

I find myself solidly in Camp #2. Like most people I know, the second interpretation fits with my direct experience and observation. I have known trans people, know them now, see elements of it in younger people, and even in the young children of people I know. I am happy, proud even, to support trans people in every way I can. I’ll use whatever names or pronouns they might want, treat them with respect. Share a bathroom. Hell, share a locker room if that’s the ask. It seems pretty simple to me, very live-and-let-live. People exist across a broad, vast spectrum of individuality, and that’s what makes them so wonderful.

That said, I am uncomfortable with some of the radical treatments being made available to children, adolescents and even young adults. I’m talking surgery, hormones, puberty blockers, etc. I understand that an older trans man, weary of binding his chest, may opt for breast removal, and OK, your body, your choice. But I’m really leery of saying that to a 19-year-old, let alone a 14-year-old.

Here are some of the ideas and experiences that contribute to the static in my head these days. I offer them in no particular order, just as a slide show of my brain:

** Many conservatives like to say trans people are mentally ill. Having recently shared an evening with a trans woman (hi there, you know who you are), as well as many other encounters in recent years, I reject that out of hand. (Although I’m convinced this trans man has more than one screw loose, sorry. It’s impossible to look at the near-full-length photo of him, showing off the new, surgically constructed bulge in his tighty whities, and not see the enormous divot on his thigh, where the flesh to construct it was harvested, and not be appalled. That’s not to mention the still-obvious female waistline, and I shudder to think how that’s going to be rectified in some future operating room.) But mental illness? For living as a person of another gender? Sorry, no.

** I think back on, of all things, Edward Bodkin, whom you can google, although Hoosiers will remember him as the Huntington Castrator. In the less-edified fog of the late ’90s, there was lots of discussion as to who, exactly, would seek out the castration services of a man who practiced his craft on a filthy kitchen table. As I recall, the easiest answer was transgender women who couldn’t afford the services of a reputable surgeon. I also recall one of my colleagues hanging up the phone after an extended interview with the editor of some fetish magazine — was it Ball Club? Something like that — and coming over to my desk, rather shaken, for a debrief. The gist of the interview was basically that body dysmorphia is real, that it doesn’t always break down along clear gender lines, and that for whatever reason, some men might want to kiss their testicles goodbye.

** Not long after that, the Atlantic published a long story about people who seek out amputation of healthy limbs, sometimes by mangling the ones they have in self-inflicted injuries, out of nothing more than a sense that they are meant to be amputees.

** I’ve been told most people do not regret assuming genders other than those assigned at birth. I accept that. But I reject that this number is so overwhelmingly large that those who do have second thoughts are outliers we can disregard. This essay, recently published in the WashPost, seems noteworthy:

When I was 19, I had surgery for sex reassignment, or what is now called gender affirmation surgery. The callow young man who was obsessed with transitioning to womanhood could not have imagined reaching middle age. But now I’m closer to 50, keeping a watchful eye on my 401(k), and dieting and exercising in the hope that I’ll have a healthy retirement.

In terms of my priorities and interests today, that younger incarnation of myself might as well have been a different person — yet that was the person who committed me to a lifetime set apart from my peers.
There is much debate today about transgender treatment, especially for young people. Others might feel differently about their choices, but I know now that I wasn’t old enough to make that decision. Given the strong cultural forces today casting a benign light on these matters, I thought it might be helpful for young people, and their parents, to hear what I wish I had known.

There follows a list of regrets, and they boil down to: I wish I’d been able to come to terms with my homosexuality. She concludes:

What advice would I pass on to young people seeking transition? Learning to fit in your body is a common struggle. Fad diets, body-shaping clothing and cosmetic surgery are all signs that countless millions of people at some point have a hard time accepting their own reflection. The prospect of sex can be intimidating. But sex is essential in healthy relationships. Give it a chance before permanently altering your body.

Most of all, slow down. You may yet decide to make the change. But if you explore the world by inhabiting your body as it is, perhaps you’ll find that you love it more than you thought possible.

One reason I am sympathetic to this view is my direct experience with a member of our commenting community here. Alex commented on this essay:

If I’d been given the opportunity to change genders at adolescence, I would have gone for it. After a dozen or so years of psychoanalytic work as an adult, I’m glad I didn’t. The counseling I underwent taught me many things, but perhaps most important of all, to accept myself as I am. My identity is no longer tied up in the arbitrarily rigid gender norms that I grew up with, and I find this so much more liberating than if I had gone under the knife and endured a lifetime medical regimen in order to conform to a physical ideal that I would have fallen short of anyway.

Gender fluidity is a state of mind, and a perfectly healthy one that needs no surgical augmentation.

Honestly, I think no one can make an informed choice who hasn’t had a sex life or gained significant social maturity beyond young adulthood. Not an easy message to impress upon young people who fervently believe that a sex change is the one thing they need in order to find fulfilment when they’ve gotten it from nothing else. But I’m willing to go out on a limb and risk being called a stodgy old fart and a buzzkill if I can persuade even one young person to reconsider. Next to getting myself some good counseling, it was the best decision I ever made.

Alex and I exchanged a few emails over “In the Darkroom,” Susan Faludi’s outstanding memoir of her reconciliation and short-lived relationship with her estranged father, following his gender change. I won’t share them; if Alex wants to, he knows where to do it. I highly recommend the book, by the way.

** Conversations with gay men on this topic all seem to end, maybe after a drink or three, with a lowered voice, a glance around to see who might overhear, and a confession that while they are supportive, etc., they sure seem to know a lot of hot-mess trans people. Maybe that’s because they’re treated so badly by others, so misunderstood. It can’t be easy.

** I know I’ll clash with some of you over this, but I’m a feminist who wonders why, once again, women are carrying most of the burden for all this societal enlightenment. Yes, I’m talking about That Swimmer, but also the issues J.K. Rowling is raising: What about women’s prisons? Domestic-violence shelters? What about…identity? Graham Linehan is affirmatively anti-trans, but it can be useful to check in with these folks from time to time. Do scroll through his recounting of the story of Jaclyn Moore, and make your own conclusions.

I’ve known radical feminists who are deeply offended by drag culture, who find it, at base, a mockery of womanhood. I’m not among them, but I feel that way about Jaclyn Moore, sorry.

** Speaking of identity, you know another bad actor in all this? The fucking Kardashians, who have steamrolled through the culture with this insane version of femininity that, had I confronted it at age 14 or so, might have made me call myself non-binary, too. The plastic surgery, the dieting, the fucking waist trainers, the laxative teas, the injections of fillers and plumpers and slimmers and all the rest of it — just fuck them all the way out of town. They are not helping. Has femininity always been this rigid? I thought we’d learned something during the ’70s, and here we are 50 years later, making the same mistakes.

** Language. Oy, the language. Here’s my declaration: I will never, ever be able to say “pregnant people” or “menstruating people” with a straight face. Never mind the they/them stuff. You should hear me talking to Kate about some of her friends, it’s like the who’s-on-first routine: “They’re going with you? X and who else?” etc. Language should make messages clear. This language does not.

Finally, I guess my conclusions are that I have no conclusions. I just have static. Some people are indeed walking around in a body that feels all wrong, and if they accommodate it in some way that doesn’t hurt others, that’s perfectly fine. Young people should be in counseling, maybe for years, before they undergo surgery or drugs that will leave them forever changed. And that’s it for me, for today. How’s everyone else doing today?

Posted at 2:51 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 106 Comments
 

We need to talk about Kevin.

Oy, what to do with Kevin. This is why I’m in such a mood of late — that and the cough that is now in day 10, but is oddly just-a-cough; I otherwise feel fine. (I don’t think that sentence was properly punctuated, but I don’t care.) Anyway, I find myself more sympathetic to Kevin, at the same time I wonder if we’re the right home for him.

His energy is boundless. (Ours is not.) His training is…sketchy. (Our expectations are higher, shall we say.) His attitude is stubborn. (So is ours.) Right now he’s whining at Alan because I’ve hidden his incredibly loud squeaky toy. And this is at the end of the day after a lot of fetch and a trip to the dog park.

So I feel like I need to look for someone who can fill those gaps. At the same time I’m trying to civilize him. He’s mastered Sit, some limited Stay and is working on Come. But he only does it under ideal conditions. Also, he nips. The little shit.

Then he jumps up on the couch with me and gives me the eyes:

I can’t help I got these long legs and too much energy. The other day he jumped on the couch and smashed me in the face in the process.

Ah well. We take it day to day.

Hope you all had a great Easter. It’s cold here. Supposed to snow tomorrow — three inches. It’s plainly going to be cold for the rest of my life. It is my curse.

So it was a good day to read this bone-chilling longform piece on a heretofore un- or little-known serial rapist to come through Joe Paterno’s Penn State football team. It’s a difficult read, but such a well-reported story. It doesn’t skimp on the details, but goes so deep, and covers the whole case without being exploitative. Set aside an hour, or a few days, to absorb it all.

That’s all I got — naughty Kevin and a rapist. We’re promised “a nice warmup” as the week goes on. We. Shall. See.

Posted at 9:45 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 74 Comments
 

Weekend things.

Something else my friend wrote me the other day, about the hard-right lunatic of our mutual acquaintance:

As for how to move on in a nation nearly half-filled with people who would vote for Donald Trump, I think it’s back to the basics of organizing: If you and your neighbor disagree on 10 vital questions but agree on two, there’s the start of a coalition on two issues.

I hear that a lot. It’s Counseling 101: Find the things you agree on, however slight, and work from there. I worry that I’m past that. That requires me to assume that the other side is dealing in good faith, and I no longer do, even as I realize the reason they aren’t, and can’t, is that they’ve brainwashed themselves. They’ve locked themselves into an information bubble so thick and impenetrable I’m not sure it can be breached. Something has to happen to make them unlock it from the inside and come out into the sunlight of facts.

And that’s where my thoughts are on what is, for 2022 anyway, a reasonably nice spring day. The sun is out, it’s chilly but not intolerably so, and I have something in my chest that is making me cough like a tubercular wino. No other real symptoms despite Despair Over This Dog, so I haven’t repeated my Covid test. Maybe I should. We’ll see how things develop.

The dog: Today Kate came over to print a couple of documents for her European trip (they leave tomorrow night). Kevin growled and barked at the printer as though it was an invading predator. He’s also doing it, still, when Alan comes to bed, which is usually an hour or two after I turn in (morning person / night owl). He cries non-stop in the car, and I’m talking about from the end of the driveway to destination, no matter how long or short the trip. Every day this week I open my eyes and think: Fuck. Kevin. What will today be like? No wonder I’m grumpy.

Ah, well. Neutering is bright and early tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes from here. My vet: “It’s the start.”

I joined a Facebook group for former employees of the Columbus Dispatch. This photo was shared today:

The copy desk was outsourced to some other place – maybe Texas – a while back, and I guess the workload is starting to strain capacity, eh? Either that, or someone started the Saturday-night party a bit early.

Finally, in what is turning out to be a mixed Sunday bag: I’ve been reading the reactions to the verdict Friday, the one that acquitted two defendants in the Whitmer kidnap plot and deadlocked on the other two. Of course this is being spun in MAGAville as COMPLETE EXONERATION, as though two other defendants weren’t so convinced they’d be going up the river for a long time that they didn’t plead to six years in return for their testimony. Ah well. The best thing I’ve read so far is this column by Brian Dickerson at the Freep. It’s paywalled so you can’t read it, but here’s the gist:

In her star-crossed 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton famously consigned half of Donald Trump’s supporters to a “basket of deplorables” that included “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Trump pounced on her indiscretion, insisting that Clinton had slandered every Republican voter in the land. MAGA devotees responded by donning shirts and hats that proudly proclaimed their “deplorable” status.

But Clinton was giving voice to what has since become an article of faith among millions of Americans (including many Republicans): the conviction that, far from being a fringe minority, the paranoiac “deplorables” she spoke of have become a significant presence in thousands of communities.

And even before they began deploying their theory that Whitmer’s accused kidnappers had been snared in an entrapment scheme masterminded by FBI provocateurs, defense attorneys set out to convince the public that their clients were no more sinister or dangerous than the deplorables we encounter everyday at our workplaces, grocery stores and family reunions.

And:

In his closing argument, defendant Adam Fox’s lawyer sought to convince jurors his client posed no greater threat than the garden-variety deplorables in their own lives. “He isn’t a leader,” defense attorney Christopher Gibbons insisted. “He doesn’t have the equipment. He doesn’t have the skills.”

Gibbons was being diplomatic, but his subliminal message to jurors was unmistakable:

Look, Adam Fox and his friends are idiots. When Hillary Clinton spoke of those pathetic souls you’d cross the street to avoid passing on the sidewalk, she was talking about my client.

But hey, you all know people like my client. And if we allow the government to lock up all the Adam Foxes in the country, how long before your own neighbors and crazy uncles find themselves behind bars?

Sorry for the longer-than-usual snip, but: Paywalled.

Personally, I think the jury, freighted with Up North Michiganians, just couldn’t face their neighbors back home if they didn’t acquit at least some of them. So they did.

OK, then. Time to make Sunday dinner and maybe a cocktail. God knows I need it.

Posted at 5:48 pm in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 51 Comments
 

The age of grief.

I’m getting Alan’s cold. It’s a chest-living variety, and yes, we both tested, him twice, and we’re both negative. People still get colds. Especially after two years of living behind masks. As if trying to civilize this fucking dog isn’t enough of a stressor, now this.

But I did get about 20 minutes of down time yesterday afternoon, and caught up in nostalgia, I did a little Facebook-searching for old colleagues, classmates, etc. — the sort of people I don’t stay in touch with, but am intermittently curious about from time to time.

I looked up a guy I used to work with, who I remember as a gentle soul who was certainly traditional and probably Republican — like 90 percent of Hoosiers — but the sort of Republican I remember from there, which is to say, wrong but not an asshole about it.

You see the punchline coming, right?

He’s fond of memes. This is the one that rocked me back on my heels:

Oh. OK. I sent this to a friend, who also worked with him, and he replied:

The greatest underrecognized impact of Trumpism is grief. I feel it so often when I look at all the people who taste-tested authoritarianism and decided they wanted more. They’ve been carried away by some kind of psychological contagion, but I remember so much else about them and share so much history and experience with them before the mess we have now become. In the shortest form, I stand by what I told (my wife) the morning after Trump’s election, when she demanded some kind of explanation from me, because I’d been pretty confident about an HRC win: “I guess there are a lot more rotten people in America than I thought.” I can posture as smug or contemptuous or dismissive, but five or six years later, more than anything else, I’m still grieving the loss of so much regard for so many people. Living with so many fellow citizens who are so diminished makes me feel diminished, too.

I think that is exactly right. It’s less so for me — I tend to skip grief and go straight to anger — but I, too, have that disorienting, dispiriting feeling of looking at someone you thought you knew and realizing: I didn’t know. Of course you don’t know, in the know-know sense, someone you work with. But every day we have to interact with people we aren’t intimately acquainted with, and that’s the feeling I’m talking about, of going through a day, buying groceries, working, commuting, walking in the park, and having to think: Is it you? Are you one of them?

The day after the 2016 election, I walked Wendy in the morning, still feeling utterly shell-shocked, and a man passed me on the street. He looked me in the eye and gave me a smirk-smile that I still remember. And that was before we knew how terrible Trump would turn out to be! In 2016, that smile said, “I hate Hillary.” Today it would say, “I’m OK with all of it.” I’ve lived deep in Republican country for most of my life. Like I said, I thought I knew these people. I didn’t know them.

Oh, well. Let’s uplift the mood a little, shall we?

I found this story, which someone in my network posted, the other day. I’m astonished this is the first I’d heard of it. Just the headline, OMG: The guitarist who saved hundreds of people on a sinking cruise liner, and it does not disappoint:

“I was calling, ‘Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!’ and just waiting for somebody to answer,” Moss says.
A big, deep, rich voice eventually replied. “Yes, what is your Mayday?”

Relieved, Moss explained that he was on the cruise ship Oceanos and that it was sinking.

“OK. How long have you got left to float?”

“I don’t know – we’ve got the starboard railings in the water, we’re rolling around, we’ve taken on a huge amount of water,” Moss said. “We still have at least 200 people on board.”

“OK. What is your position?”

“We’re probably about halfway between the port of East London and Durban.”

“No, no, no, what are your coordinates?”

Moss had no idea what their coordinates were.

“What rank are you?”

“Well, I’m not a rank – I’m a guitarist.”

Why has no one made this movie? You know who helped him save all those people? His wife. His wife the bassist. It’s too good.

OK, off to shower and consider how I’m going to handle Kevin today. Yesterday started well and ended badly. Today is calm so far. We’ll see.

Good weekend, all.

Posted at 8:57 am in Same ol' same ol' | 41 Comments
 

Double-secret probation.

Kevin is still on probation. After a nipping incident Monday morning, I was ready to surrender him to a shelter, but a very nice trainer saw my Facebook post on it, dropped everything and came right over. She worked with him a while and taught us some tricks to get some manners into his head. Her assessment: A very smart dog, but stubborn, and virtually untrained. We’re working on Sit/Stay, and he’s doing pretty well. Still to come: Down, Shut Up and No Goddamn Dogs on the Bed. But I have faith in the little bastard, who has many good traits besides cuteness — a prancing walk that’s fun to watch, 99 percent housebroken, walks well on the leash for a lunatic and a lotta personality.

Fingers crossed for Kevin, who may yet need a good lawyer.

Sometimes my morning rambles take me past the Indiana Policy Review, the right-wing organization in the Hoosier state, which the editorial-page editor of my former employer departed to found and run sometime in the late 80s/early 90s, can’t remember. They exist to spread ideas, etc., because there’s a real shortage of those in Indiana. Some of you have mentioned that the Kendallville papers run the column they offer by my former colleague Leo. Does anything else they offer ever see eyeballs other than in their magazine/website? Because I gotta say: This shit is whack.

The founder, who signs his pieces “tcl” but otherwise goes by T. Craig Ladwig, devoted the home page today to an attack on, get this, the Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper. For an opinion piece. About the right’s favorite pinup girl, Ann Coulter.

Craig, like lots of newspaper editorial writers, considered himself something of an oracle. He didn’t mix much, but when he did he’d say things like “the problem with journalism today is a lack of adult supervision,” which I never quite understood but he seems to think quite witty, because it’s a phrase that turns up often in his work. It seems to be the driving force of this column about the IDS, anyway. He starts by complaining that the speech wasn’t covered by any other media, “for posterity,” although a quick Google turned up a video of part of the speech and a fairly perfunctory report from the local public-media stations. The speech was billed as, “Conservatism. Let’s Review the Evidence with Ann Coulter,” but the news seemed to be that Coulter abruptly left the stage, claiming she had a plane to catch and had already stayed longer than she’d agreed to. (She’d make a good prostitute. Admirable time management.)

It doesn’t sound like she was shouted down or otherwise abused, although she complained about the final question (about her religion) before leaving. What I found weird? In that video I posted above? Look at all that male-pattern baldness on the heads watching. Doesn’t look like a student crowd.

Maybe Craig hasn’t figured out Google yet.

But I don’t want to go deep on the Indiana Policy Review, an outfit that essentially hung another co-founder, Mike Pence, out to dry after January 6 — he wasn’t asked to do anything other than give us a little more time to investigate was the argument, as I recall. For years now, it’s essentially functioned as a sinecure for Ladwig and maybe a couple of others.

A sinecure. That would be nice, except for the putting-your-balls-in-escrow part.

What an exhausting week, and it’s only Tuesday. I feel like Josef Stalin, and all I’ve done in the last three days is yell NO and grab this dog out of one form of mischief or another. Let’s get over the hump and see what the downslope offers. Please behave, Kevin.

Posted at 8:42 pm in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 40 Comments
 

Years and years.

I had to make a quick trip to Columbus Wednesday. (Brother in hospital, not immediately life-threatening, a couple of complications to iron out, no further comment.)

The complications ironed out early, so I thought I’d kill an hour revisiting my old neighborhoods before heading home, particularly the house I grew up in. I don’t have any of my own photos of it, but that’s why Google Street View and Zillow exist. This is how I remember it:

Very idealized photo, admittedly — color-corrected, mostly, maybe a little bit of wide-angle lens trickery. But it’s essentially the house I lived in, with three tall firs in the yard, and a screened porch on the east side. It was always a big deal when the porch opened for the season; Columbus Tent & Awning would come and erect the stored awnings, we’d sweep the winter’s dust, put the furniture out and spend summer evenings there, avoiding the mosquitos but enjoying the breeze. My dad would watch baseball games there. It had a tatami-type mat on the cement floor. Nice.

My parents sold in 1995 for about $160,000, maybe, as I recall.

A few years later, this, via Google Street View:

RIP, screened porch. I guess it couldn’t last in today’s MOAR SPAAAAAACE housing market. Maybe it became someone’s home office, or a play room, or something. The tradeoff? They added back that window on the second floor, assuming there was one at some time; it always puzzled me. That weird painted patch was basically right on the wall between the two front bedrooms. And I approve of the new frame for the front door. So I can live with that.

This was yesterday:

I have to think — I desperately think — this is just after the latest renovation, and they still intend to add back the shutters and certainly do something with the landscaping. All three front-yard trees are gone, with one anemic sapling now the sole arboreal occupant of the front yard. But I cannot lie: I kinda hate it. So. Much. Brick. When we moved in there was a lot of climbing English ivy on the house, which my parents tore down for the usual reasons. But this pile could use a little. It could use something, that’s for sure.

Now I really miss the porch. And I don’t even live there.

By the way, for those wondering about that light standard rising out of the back yard? My childhood home backs up to a middle-school athletic field. Before what was then the “new” high-school got its own gridiron, they played there, and one of my Saturday-morning jobs was cleaning up the trash dropped from the spectator stands into our yard — cups and popcorn boxes, mostly.

The last time it sold, this was a $610,000 house, and with this new work, I’m guessing the next sale price will be much higher. It’s the American dream to be priced out of the neighborhood your parents managed on two modest incomes.

And if you’d like to host me on your psychiatric couch, here’s the house I live in now:

Yeah, kinda familiar-looking, ain’a?

The apartment I lived in after moving out of my parents’ place, a four-flat in which the other second-floor resident was our own Jeff Borden, still looks exactly the same. So there’s continuity in the world.

The weekend awaits, and I need a shower. So I’m gonna take one.

Posted at 8:23 am in Same ol' same ol' | 41 Comments
 

We do our part.

I really don’t love weightlifting, although what I do hardly qualifies — call it strength training, say. Sherri’s a weightlifter. I just have to drag my whiny ass to the gym once or twice a week to push around some dumbbells to supplement, and hopefully improve, the other things I do. But I dragged it today, whining all the way, for the first time in a long while (Delta, Omicron) and I can just tell I am going to be so sore tomorrow I may not be able to move. So best get this thing out of the way now, while I’m still capable of keyboard entry.

I’ve been exercising all pandemic, just not with the heavier stuff. But no, I did not feel “in shape” enough to not be sore.

Whine, whine.

So as my time here is limited, here’s what we did last night.

I know many of you are doing the hard work of supporting the Ukrainian people — writing checks, collecting donated goods, all that. The Derringers and their friends the Walshes did their part by going out to eat.

A former Wayne State student of mine, who went on to become the Free Press restaurant critic, is a Slavic emigre who came to this country as a boy. From Lithuania, but his family is Ukrainian. Lately he took the buyout from the paper and became editorial director for a pop-up dining space in Hazel Park. We’ve been there a few times — they do themed dinners with guest chefs, classes, that sort of thing. When I saw they had a Russian dinner planned, I perked up. We’re between Covid waves, we haven’t had a fancy dinner out in ages and what the hell else is your American Express card for, anyway? So we signed up. Then the war started, and the idea of paying tribute to Russia became a record scratch, so the theme was changed to “Slavic Solidarity,” and the profits directed to Ukrainian relief.

So we got dressed up and headed to Hazel Park. Took two bottles of our own and paid the steep corkage, but it was worth it because one bottle was bubbles, and we had that with the first two courses.

Sunflowers on the table, of course. And what else do you drink with caviar but good champagne?

The chef introduced those as “caviar tacos,” and even though I’m not really a caviar girl, it was fabulous with the eggs, the blini, the sour cream, a little squirt of lemon. Yum.

We brought a bottle we got in France, and those Reidel glasses and the candle made it look so purty, I can’t even remember what point Lynn was making here.

The main course? Chicken Kiev, of course:

Surprisingly, that was the only course that wasn’t great. I wanted the butter to squirt, and it didn’t. But it tasted fine, and that’s what counts. Dessert was another blini with a berry compote and whipped cream. Just a lovely dinner on a cold night in the very early spring.

I wondered, as we drove home, if this is what rich people tell themselves after they do one of their over-the-top “fundraisers” for charity — that yes, I ate caviar and drank champagne, but it was for a good cause and I am a good person for doing so. I didn’t feel like a particularly good person, only a well-fed one.

Anyway, that was the highlight of the weekend. There may be more news coming soon, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Signing off, here is the Nall/Derringer co-prosperity sphere, FaceTuned to a near-unrecognizable state, but hey, that’s what digital photography is for, right? Warping reality:

Have a great week ahead, everyone.

Posted at 5:44 pm in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' | 20 Comments
 

Monday.

And…justlikethat, the weekend slips away. It’ll do that when you’re concentrated on stuff like taxes, laundry and watching “Licorice Pizza,” i.e., the same sort of weekend I’ve been having for maybe two years.

Taxes were the big bummer. We’re going to owe a lot, thanks to a Roth conversion we did last year. But that money will grow (theoretically) and be tax-free when we spend it as liver-spotted old people, so: Good thing, I guess. But there are worse fates, and it was balanced by good news: Apparently my brain MRA turned out fine, so I don’t have carotid blockages causing my vertigo. Taxes are a cakewalk next to that. Still: Ouch.

As we tend to say at this stage of life: Consider the alternative.

Have you considered the alternative? As I’ve said before: I have a letter in my estate folder, bequeathing my online presence to J.C. He is instructed to kill my social-media accounts and do as he pleases with the archive of this blog. (Estimated retail value: $12.98.) Let this be another declaration of intent.

And speaking of the alternative, Clarence Thomas has been hospitalized with “an infection.” Thoughts and prayers.

Sorry I didn’t update Friday. I went out on St. Patrick’s Day, had a beer and a half and got another little spinning bout. It was 10 percent of the one the week before, but enough that I asked Alan to pick me up at the bar. (I’d ridden my bike there, as a celebration of the first 70-degree day of the year; talk about luck of the Irish.) The day ended with takeout pizza, not corned beef and cabbage, but I know which one I prefer.

Is anyone else watching “Winning Time,” the HBO dramatization of the rise of the L.A. Lakers? You know me — no sports fan — but I’m enjoying the hell out of it. It’s funny, weird, fourth-wall-breaking and simply a hoot to watch. I have no opinion, or knowledge, of its historical accuracy, but it’s well-cast (Gaby Hoffman! John C. Reilly!) and so much fun. A lot of the early episodes are spending a great deal of time on Magic Johnson, and the most recent delves into his sexual profligacy, particularly with prostitutes. I’m a little puzzled by this because I assume all pro athletes are like this, but then, Magic lives with HIV and I expect this is laying the groundwork for the eventual revelation. However. Didn’t I read sometime around then that there had been rumors in L.A. for years about him being bisexual? I feel like I did. Whatever. This week introduced Adrien Brody as Pat Riley, and I’m absolutely there for it. (I have an irrational attachment to Brody’s nose. I can’t explain it.)

So, the week ahead yawns, and at least it’s a nice day here. Since this is short and boring, a photo from my St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t see a lot of these outside Greenfield Village, but it’s a real Model T and it starts with a hand crank. Fun thing to bring to the bar on a beautiful day, I’d say.

Posted at 9:07 am in Same ol' same ol', Television | 39 Comments