Surreality on all fronts.

With the sun rising at 6 a.m. and warm-enough mornings finally here (you can say that again; 30 degrees of difference in about three days), I’ve been taking some early-morning bike rides again. Get my sweat over with first, shower and face the day – it works for me.

Sunrise is a nice time of day to be out, even when you miss it by, oh, 20 minutes or so:

And then I headed inland. Good shadows on a day like…whatever day that was. Tuesday, I think:

In between, I passed a woman on a street corner, that goes around one of the two nearby hospitals. She was kneeling on the sidewalk, hands clasped in what looked like fervent prayer, face upturned toward the building, eyes closed. A relative or loved one inside on a ventilator? Just a generic prayer for the “health care heroes,” as the local yard signs say? Dunno. The weirdest detail: A toy-sized dog, fluffy, sat patiently behind her. (I think she was kneeling on its leash.) Looked like a papillon, very well-groomed.

I’d have taken a picture of that, but it was a private moment. Don’t be an asshole. The world has enough of them.

As I write this, the breaking news – and there’s been so much of it this week – is the president’s executive order on social media:

“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers,” Trump said before signing the document.

While Trump has threatened such action for years, his signing of the order Thursday was precipitated by a decision by Twitter earlier in the week to mark two of his erroneous tweets with fact-checking labels. The small move set off a firestorm of tweets by the president threatening social media companies with regulations and other punishments.

I’m not sure why, but I started thinking about this one guy, who was included in the Bridge project on the political division of the state when I was there. He was an affluent gent in his 50s who retired early by being a lifelong cheapskate and loved the president with his whole heart. After the election, he joined Twitter. No profile, no bio, no cutesy name. He follows one, just one, account: @RealDonaldTrump. I believe at the time he said he wanted to read the president unfiltered. (Like you have to be on Twitter for that.) I wonder what Twitter is like when that’s how you’ve crafted your experience, eh?

As I recall, he was stupefied – unbelieving – that anyone could not see the Greatness that had been unleashed upon our land by Trump. And yet, sitting there reading the president, oh the things he must be learning. And now this.

November. November, November, November. It’s my birthday month. I’d gladly give up five months of my life and the whole summer and fall ahead to get this shit over with, now.

Then my editor calls and tells me he was driving downtown, just to check on our deserted office, when he saw a goose family crossing the street. Geese are unusual downtown, but the river was only a couple blocks away, and that’s probably where they were headed. Another motorist stopped, and the guy got up, rushed the flock, scooped up two goslings and put them in his shirt before getting in his car to drive away. That story wrecked me for the rest of the day. WHO DOES THAT? I’m still bothered by it.

So let’s part on a more humorous note with… this. As usual, the best stuff is in the briefs at the bottom. Especially the item about Mnuchin.

Posted at 6:02 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 79 Comments
 

Close quarters.

Reading all of your reminiscences about apartment life tickled something in my memory. This blog has been around so long I expect I’ve told all my stories. (God knows I’m not collecting any new ones.) But yeah, we talked about bad neighbors once before, in 2011. I don’t know if I ever told the story about how Jeff Borden drove out one tenant in the four-flat we all lived in, thereby transforming it from 3 cool tenants + 1 pair of tightasses into an entirely cool building.

The tightasses were a couple, as young as we were but born 70 years old, apparently. They hated loud music, but had a yappy dog they’d leave in the back yard while they ran Saturday-morning errands. They had the nerve – the nerve! – to pound a broomstick on the ceiling if Jeff and his girlfriend made too much noise in bed. They were awful. So Jeff started a campaign of psychological torture to persuade them they really needed to get a new apartment. He cut up a hot dog and buried the pieces, shallowly, in her flower garden; the dog did the rest. He had a mark on his stereo of the maximum volume they’d tolerate, and would crank it up. As soon as the door downstairs would open and the angry footsteps start up the stairs, he’d drop it down to the mark. There’d be a pause, and the footsteps would retreat. He’d wait 10 minutes, then do it again.

There were other techniques, but I’ve forgotten them; maybe Jeff will remember.

I, too, am probably too cantankerous to live in an apartment anymore. Many days I wish my current neighbors could only be seen with binoculars, but they’re nice people and I tolerate dual Albums of the Summer blasting on the Bluetooth speakers (neighbors to the north and west), not to mention the Maximum Volume Lawn Service on the east. Our house faces south. So far the street hasn’t offended.

That said, I expect we’re headed for condo/apartment life eventually, although I’m hoping for a ranch house on a slab.

A long weekend, sorely needed. Saturday was warm and cloudy, Sunday hot, Monday ditto, and tomorrow, more of the same. I’m happy that it’s warm, but I resent that we were denied spring, going immediately from early April to July. That also said, we may have to turn the A/C on tomorrow. Work + computers = a need for temperature regulation. And it’ll be cooler later in the week. Knowing the way things have gone for us lately, the A/C will refuse to start and hello, get out the credit card for yet another major system repair.

Journalists swarmed over northern Michigan this weekend, as it was the first weekend the region was “opened up,” as we say now. And what happened? Two idiots who were symptomatic traveled in from out of state to visit family. They tested positive, and now six people are in lockdown. Idiots. This stay-home stuff is going to continue because of people like this.

Meanwhile, Kate the vegetarian is away from the house for dinner and I’m making a MemDay splurge: A USDA Prime New York strip steak, brought to medium-rare in the sous vide and seared on the grill. I bought it, plus two pounds of ground chuck yesterday, with plans to turn the ground into Sam Sifton’s Middle School Tacos, so Alan can pick at the leftovers for a couple days. Total bill? Forty-seven dollars. For three pounds of beef! Soon we will all be vegetarians.

Now, to figure out the sides. A good week ahead, everyone.

Posted at 5:56 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 76 Comments
 

Plan B.

There are times when the pizza dough you put together for dinner simply fails. It sits there like a lump in a warm oven, not doing anything, and suddenly it’s 6 p.m. and it’s time for Plan B, which is Indian takeout.

Our TrumpBux arrived this week, so why not a $35 splurge on Indian! STIMULATION, baby!

God, what a week. You’ve probably heard that an entire city – Midland – was inundated this week. This, on top of everything else. I’ve only been to Midland briefly. But man, they didn’t deserve to have two privately owned, oft-cited, badly maintained dams collapse on top of them, for sure. I recall reporting over the years that pointed out there are literally dozens of dams in precarious condition scattered around the state, and it’s only a matter of time before more give way. We used to be a wealthy state; we aren’t anymore.

The photos from the scene are bizarre. When the dams gave way, the lakes they were there to create drained, too. So once-lakefront properties now overlook a mudflat hells cape with a few boats foundering on the bottom like dinosaurs in quicksand. And downstream properties are…not so much lakefront, but lake.

Man, I hate flooding. Fort Wayne taught me that. It’s like having a toilet overflow all over and through your house. Hardly anything survives a flood. And as I’ve said before here, it’s one thing to have your wedding album burn up in a fire, but it’s another thing entirely to find it at the bottom of a sodden pile of garbage, stinking like a sewer. Flooding is worse. There’s more trash to take out, for starters, and it all smells terrible.

So. As we lurch into the unofficial Beginning of Summer, I’m just…not feeling it. All those weeks penned in, a seemingly endless string of 42-degree days, and right now I have my windows open, but nothing feels the way it should. No swimming — pools are closed. All the summer festivals, cancelled. No vacation planned. The one thing I have to look forward to is a friend’s wedding, in October. Unless that venue, too, cannot get started back up again, in which case he’s going to Vegas and who knows, we might go, too.

Hate to leave with that bummer, but there you are. Don’t let it bring you down, though — here’s to a good long weekend, and a better-than-expected summer, just the same.

Posted at 9:58 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments
 

Crazy times.

The police arrested a “Detroit man,” a white real-estate agent living downtown, for what they called credible threats against the governor, attorney general, mayor and Rashida Tlaib. His Facebook page is public, and still is, and it’s interesting to see the outlines of his obvious-but-not-too-obvious mental illness – paranoia, threats, conspiracies, etc. It reminded me of something that’s interested me for a while, i.e., how mental illness is shaped by the times.

In fact, I think we’ve talked about this here before, how once, people claimed demons visited them in their sleep, usually having sex with them. Today, they’re more likely to claim aliens did it. A transparently obvious memory of, or reaction to, sex abuse of some kind gets wrapped in the trappings of the time.

We’ve also talked here about Edward Bodkin, the Huntington castrator (Google it). I still remember the debriefing from a colleague who’d just hung up the phone from interviewing the editor of Ball Club magazine. He was trying to get an idea why men would go to a grimy house in rural Indiana and willingly let someone cut off their testicles (free of charge, but you had to agree that the procedure be videotaped). The editor explained that some might have been transsexuals (we didn’t use terms like transgender then) who couldn’t afford sex-change surgery (we didn’t say gender-reassignment or gender-conforming then), and figured getting rid of part of the offensive anatomy was good enough.

But then he went off down a rabbit hole about the whole cult of body modification. These are people who simply don’t think the body they’re in is the one they’re supposed to be in. They’re not trans, just…unsatisfied. If there were a spectrum, at the mild end might be tattooing, with extreme plastic surgery closer to the middle, and at the other, people who use shotguns or saws or other implements to do enough damage to a limb that a doctor might have to just amputate what’s left. Because in their minds, they are amputees.

(You might put fitness freaks somewhere on that continuum. Rare is the person who is 100 percent pleased with every pore on their face, but I also think there’s a reason so much fitness activity is dressed up in the virtuous clothing of better health. Certainly it is better to be active than sedentary. But if you’re spending hours and hours a week in search of a different pair of arms, maybe you belong on that scale, too.)

Hoarding – was that a thing before the last 20-30 years? We’ve called people pack rats forever, but there’s something about the great, post-1980 age of Getting and Spending that seems to fold into hoarding rather neatly. Animal hoarding, ditto.

And so now we’re in an age when people in the highest offices in the land freely talk bullshit about American carnage and Qanon and pedophiles in pizza joints, and suddenly we have all these very suggestible, mentally fragile people making threats against the political enemies of those who, just to use one example, imply that a U.S. senator is a pedophile, and, well, you see what happens.

(The president’s eldest son, I have zero problems diagnosing from this distance, has extreme daddy issues and, I am sorry to say, these tactics won’t work to make daddy finally love him.)

Back to the guy who was threatening the Michigan politicians. If he hadn’t included the mayor, I’d think he also has…problems with women, shall we say. Actually, I will say it: He has problems with women. The other day I was emailing about this with a former colleague, who didn’t think the complaints about Gretchen Whitmer are motivated by sexism. I said, what are we to think when the expressions of those complaints are so often made with gendered insults? TYRANT BITCH, etc. Hmm? No answer.

Of course, part of the problem is, there are far fewer gendered insults for men. “Prick,” maybe. But even “asshole” doesn’t work; we all have them, after all.

OK, then. How was everyone’s weekend? We had one perfect day and one rainy day. Rode my bike on both. The Spotify mix tossed up “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar,” which is always amusing, and I regret to say that was the high point of Sunday’s ride, because then it started to rain and the now-predictable right-side lower-back pain came in right behind it. Saturday’s was better; I went with a friend and when it was over, got a couple of tall boys from a nearby likka sto’ and that was the cool down. We sat at opposite ends of a bench and talked about different types of feta cheese.

And Friday was our 27th anniversary. There was cake, there were flowers, there was a mushroom risotto. It was all quite nice.

And now the week ahead awaits. Let it be peaceful and healthy for all, but if Barack Obama’s gentle reproof in his virtual commencement address makes a particular skull explode, yeah well shit happens.

Posted at 5:30 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 121 Comments
 

Our day.

Ah, Mothers Day. The day when I eat waffles made my someone else, which, I should add, I thoroughly enjoyed. And based on the several wire photos I saw from places that “opened up,” as we’re saying, today? I will be enjoying home cooking for quite some time. Yes, by all means, let’s all crowd into a tiny restaurant because free at last free at last, etc.

Y’all go first, Alabama. I’ll wait.

On the other hand, when I was thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that maybe the first thing I would do if it were safe is, find a good Mexican restaurant with a liquor license, and split a platter of tacos with friends. With two margaritas, and maybe three if I’m not driving.

Someday.

Another weekend of misery, cold and sunny one day, less-cold and rainy the next. Went to the Saturday market for the first time in a while. Scored some ramps and green garlic and jumbo eggs, the usual spring haul, and I hope we’ll have a chance to enjoy them in the coming days. Most people were masked and it was fine, but a visit to the market without a stop for breakfast just isn’t the same. Just to sit over a plate of eggs, scrolling Twitter and knowing someone will be around to warm up my coffee presently was a pleasure I didn’t appreciate enough when I had it. Although, who am I kidding. I appreciated it every single week. Market Saturdays were the highlight of my week, finding my secret parking spots, picking out the beautiful food, enjoying a solitary breakfast. So I miss it all the more.

I’m afraid I don’t have any bloggage to recommend, having plowed through the profile of NYT magazine Val Kilmer and thinking, huh. So let’s just wait for the week to unfold and to be appalled by it, OK?

Posted at 9:02 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 62 Comments
 

A slog of a week.

And so we lurch toward the end of a…surprisingly unproductive week for me, although I have high hopes for Friday. I worry I’m losing my mind. I worry I’m losing my motivation. I worry I’m going to gain even more weight before this is over. I worry. I could use some therapy, maybe in the form of a socially distanced walk with the world’s best therapist, but I don’t think that is on offer these days, and anyway, I can’t afford it, and anyway, my insurance wouldn’t cover it, and anyway, fuck all this shit.

The governor extended the stay-at-home order through May 28. Alan informed me he’s work-at-home through June. Kate is itching to get a Real Job and move out, and I don’t blame her. It’s what I wanted at her age. All week long I’ve been reading, or editing, pieces about the policy/budget fallout of all this, and I realize just how long this is going to continue, and how bad it’s going to be.

So yeah, just a little out of sorts, sorry.

The latter half of today was amusing. My editor wants a story on what it’s like to date in a pandemic, or to be more precise, to kinda date. To look forward to dating. To flirt online, maybe. Since my dating days are over, I asked some younger people I know. Had one spectacular interview, with a woman, who informed me Zoom has a setting called “enhance my appearance.” But it’s hard to find sources. So today I went ahead and just installed a dating app and started trawling for subjects. I described myself as bisexual, I guess, because I said I was “interested in everyone.” I started Liking pics and pasting in a note that ID’d myself as a journalist, looking for sources. The first respondent was a woman, who wanted to know everything about me, then went dark. The second was a man named Rod. OK, then, Rod, here’s who I am, here’s what I want and…

…he said, “You’re a little old for me, anyway,” but he was willing to talk, and I have high hopes for our chat tomorrow afternoon.

Meanwhile, the weather has turned south again. I got an actual, no shit freeze warning on my phone a few hours ago. Low of 28 threatened for tomorrow, and won’t touch 50 all weekend. And it’s Mother’s Day.

So. In the interest of getting out early, just two bits of bloggage today. First, a death worthy of a “Six Feet Under” cold open:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The woman attacked and killed by an alligator in a gated community along the South Carolina coast was visiting the homeowner to do her nails and was trying to touch the animal when it grabbed her, authorities said.

After briefly getting away from the alligator Friday, the woman stood in waist deep water in the Kiawah Island pond and said “I guess I wont do this again,” but the alligator grabbed her in its jaws again and took her under, according to a supplemental police report released Tuesday.

Of course the poor gator had to pay with his life. The whole story is fantastic. Read.

And as someone else on my Twitter feed said today, “Axl Rose owning the Treasury Secretary on Twitter was not on my 2020 bingo card.” And yet? It happened.

OK, then, I’m outta here and I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. I’ll be shivering.

Posted at 7:22 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 66 Comments
 

Astroturf.

Various news sources that have drifted past my eyes this weekend — I apologize, I didn’t pluck each one from the raging river, note the URL, then free it to float on — have indicated that the “grassroots” protests in recent days and accompanying social-media blitzes indeed are not grassroots at all. In fact, they may in fact be organized at a higher level, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been so shocked since it came out that Liberace was not losing all that weight because of the Watermelon Diet.

When the Bug spreads back to the rural areas of these various states, they’ll die and claim they aren’t dying, they just had a bad reaction to the Watermelon Diet.

Hope everyone’s weekend was good. Mine was amazingly productive. Project Paint the Living Room is nearly over, enough that I had the distinct pleasure of mopping the entire floor with Murphy’s Oil Soap this morning. I was the only one up and the sun was streaming through the windows onto the clean floor. It was a Zen moment, like looking at a clean notebook page. There is still stuff to do, but the biggest part is done and we can move the furniture back in, which we’ll do as soon as I’m over the pleasure of looking in at a totally bare room with fresh paint and a clean wooden floor.

Does anyone else ever dream of houses? I hardly ever remember my dreams, and the ones I have are mainly of houses. (We’ve discussed this before, I’m fairly sure.) The other night, it was books. But mainly: Houses. Maybe that’s why I like looking at my new living room so much.

I also got Kate’s taxes done, did a deep clean of the kitchen, started Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” and got a few other things done. I also scored a 12-pack of toilet paper, so that minor anxiety is abating. We’re good for a couple months with that.

And now, it’s a little Criterion collection and bed. What a week ahead.

Posted at 9:23 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 124 Comments
 

And now, this.

It rained hard overnight Friday. I was on the early-morning-weekend-update shift (we rotate), and I was lying in bed, preparing to get up, when I heard a different rhythm to the rain on the roof. A separate drip-drip-drip that didn’t belong to the dripdripdripdripdrip coming down on the bathroom skylight. I thought Alan might be awake, so I asked him:

“Do you hear that?”

“Yes.”

And that, friends, is how we were up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, me trying to aggregate the fucking onslaught of overnight news — Friday night was when the president christened “that woman in Michigan,” our governor, “Half.” (Her name is Gretchen Whitmer. If you don’t get it immediately, think about it.) There was also a hot nursing home and the usual skyrocketing disease numbers. And Alan was clambering around in the attic, trying to set up drip-catchers and figure out where the leak was coming from, because it is indeed the Month from Hell, house-wise.

On March 2, we had our gigantic backyard oak tree taken down. Very close to the house, very tall, and I hated to do it but it had to be done — the thing was rotten all the way through. But hoo-boy, expensive. A couple weeks later, the hot water heater started to leak because why? Because it had rusted clean through. So the new water heater came next. Now, a leaky roof. And a pandemic.

But we’re all healthy! So that’s good. Seriously, it’s good. I’m reading more and more about people younger than me dying, older than me dying, lots of people close to dying. (Like John Prine, please keep him going just a little longer.) The tree, the water heater, the roof — all these can be fixed with money. Your health can’t.

Good to remember. But man, I wish I made a lot more of it.

So it was only a half-terrible weekend. Except that the auto show was finally cancelled, for the upsetting reason that FEMA is taking over the Cobo Center (now known as the TCF Center) for a 900-bed field hospital for the next six months.

I did have to do some food shopping. I put a bandanna over my mouth, which did nothing but maybe made others feel better. Kate went with me; her bandanna was red, which, she said, meant she was a Blood.

I’d like an N95 mask, but they’re only to be had in 300,000-piece lots. I’d like some more hand sanitizer, and businesses are making it, but again, only in gigantic lots. When this stuff trickles down to the retail level, someone let me know.

Or maybe I could buy one “out the back door,” like the president says.

Anyway, the Kroger now has floor stickers to space people out in the checkout line, and plexiglass sneeze shields between customers and the checkout clerks. Our new normal.

Kate says we can make our own sanitizer, but we’ll need aloe gel. That’s probably disappeared from the stores, too. Might have to sacrifice our kitchen aloe; her day may well have come. We’ll see.

What to read? Here’s something I wrote: An obituary, but non-COVID. No, just the tragic loss of a 33-year-old man, widely beloved, who had an aggressive form of colon cancer. He first had symptoms on his honeymoon.

An entertainingly written history of Purell, from the WP.

And I guess that’s all. For once I can ask, what fresh hell awaits us in the coming week and be almost entirely sure there will be some, and a lot of it.

Stay safe! Keep washing those paws.

Posted at 7:13 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 104 Comments
 

The list.

You guys. This throw-grandma-from-the-train argument the lunatic fringe is making these days is no surprise to me. I have a select group of Deplorable blogs and Twitter accounts that I follow, and they’ve been saying this since almost the beginning.

A lot of them live in smaller towns — nothing like those crickets chirping in the inky night to make you think you need a lot of guns, and nothing like living elbow-to-elbow with people of all colors, creeds and ethnicities to make you think we could do with a lot fewer (but more of their tasty national dishes). They’re convinced the disease will never make it to wherever they are, and if it does, no biggie. They’ve been treating chest colds with grandma’s secret poultice since they were babies, and it never fails to knock them out in eight to 10 days, tops. They’ll be fine. It’s the Dow they’re worried about. Also their taxes. And so on.

So they’ve been saying two things for a while: 1) Is the death rate really so bad that it’s worth wrecking the economy over? And 2) MAGA!!!!!

For the record: I do not intend to sacrifice myself for anyone’s grandchildren. Until a month ago, I was feeling pretty good about retiring in three to five years, and then doing things. Some people would call it a bucket list, and I guess that’s what it is, but it doesn’t include skydiving. Over the last few days I’ve been mentally adding to it whenever my brain starts to sizzle a little from the ambient stupidity in the air. Here’s what I have so far:

  • See a few more Vermeers. (I’m not in the every-Vermeer-in-the-world camp, but just, y’know, a few more.)
  • Spend a day at the Prado and examine “The Garden of Earthly Delights” from every angle, from as close as I can get, until I’m satisfied. Then maybe go back two days later and see if it has anything else to say to me. It’s Madrid, after all — I won’t get bored.
  • Go to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Hermitage, the Neva, Red Square, and Lenin in his tomb, then home before I get arrested.
  • Rent a big, steady, kind horse and ride through the Irish countryside for half a day, with at least one short gallop and a couple of low fences.
  • Drive the Pacific Coast Highway from end to end, north to south, not too fast, then have dinner in Tijuana.
  • A month in Asia, itinerary TBD.
  • Read way more books. Maybe write one, maybe not.
  • Sell house in Grosse Pointe, buy condo in Detroit.

I think of a couple more every day.

The only thing I can recommend you read today is this, a story about how the Trump morons were handed a report that literally said PANDEMIC PLAYBOOK on the cover, then threw it away. Because they are morons.

Gotta get to work. Have a great weekend, all.

Posted at 9:16 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 94 Comments
 

Brokedown.

Poor Shadow Show. Ten days ago, they were on top of the world, headed out on their triumphant tour. Now, limping home from a mere two shows in California — one in Oakland, barely attended, the other in a record store in Fullerton — their van broke down. In rural Utah. Ferron, Utah, to be exact, which is where they limped when it started making an awful noise on the interstate.

Apparently they chose it because it looked like it had a service garage. It did, but it’s been closed for years, which they discovered after sleeping in the van like a trio of hobos.

But the sun rose Tuesday, they found a tow truck to take them to the next-closest, somewhat larger town — Castle Dale — where they were diagnosed with a bad wheel bearing. Alan advised them to have all four replaced, we sent them the money via the miracle of electronic transfer, and they spent the day hanging out in Castle Dale. Everyone was very nice, in rural-Utah fashion. They skated around a local playground in their fancy Moxi skates, and I’m sure they were quite a sight. A rock band! All girls! With a Michigan license plate and a van covered with stickers! And cotton candy-colored roller skates!

They’re really cursed this tour, but then, we all are. We’re working our asses off, all day. I believe Detroit’s alt-weekly is on life support and who knows, maybe Deadline Detroit will be soon, too. We’ll keep working until the bitter end, though. It’s how we do.

How about that stimulus, eh? Those airlines really need the help, so they can hoard the next bailout.

Meanwhile, in the checkout line at Whole Foods…

My friend Deb used to put out these products. I believe they’re called “bookazines,” or something like that. Look at the fear in those eyes. Americans can make a buck off anything.

Meanwhile, enjoy working at home tomorrow. Grocery stores are still stripped here, but we have plenty of food.

Posted at 9:03 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 76 Comments