525,600 minutes x 30.

Last week Alan and I realized we are about to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, and we should do something to observe it. So we made last-minute reservations in Stratford, where the Shakespeare festival isn’t quite up to full speed just yet, but the plays are starting to open, and still at preview-level pricing.

We drove over on Saturday and saw “Rent,” one of two musicals they’re doing this year. (The other is “Spamalot,” and as I’m only a casual Monty Python fan, the choice was clear.) It was very fine. I’m not much for sung-through musicals, but this was a good production. Just a few years ago, a 1996 play about the persecution of drag queens, homosexuals, AIDS victims, anarchist professors and others might have seemed dated. As it is, the only unrealistic thing about the show was the idea that artists could squat in a loft on the lower east side of Manhattan. The rest was pretty dead-on.

I was curious who was in the original Broadway production. I don’t follow B’way closely, but I recognized Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel (or as John Travolta called her at the Oscars, Adele Dazeem). Diggs played Roger, the AIDS-cursed guitarist Benny the bad guy, and Adele was Maureen, who gets a couple of big numbers.

Living so close to Canada, I always wonder why we don’t go more often, even to Windsor. We’re so close to Canada you can see cars driving the shoreline roads, and yet, once you get there, everything is different. The accents change, people say “soe-rry” for the slightest offense, miles change to kilometers, the roads are as smooth as glass, your chance of dying in a mass shooting drops off the table. You can pick up a little French just by reading labels and street signs. Even their vodka-and-tomato juice drink is different, the bloody Caesar instead of Mary. And yet, you’re still speaking English, the currency is still dollars and cents, just different, gaily colored dollars.

God knows what Canadians think of us.

As always when I’m in Stratford, I bought books. “Station Eleven” from the Canadian-authors rack. “Birnam Wood,” which got a rave review in the NYT today, and the text of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which I’ve never read. And a blank journal for Kate, who stepped up to watch Wendy on short notice.

Speaking of the NYT, some great work today, not only there. First, an infuriating, extremely well-documented project on how three assholes worked a number of fake charities via robocall, raising $89 million in the process, and spending only 1 percent on the issues they were allegedly raising money for. I know you’ll be shocked, shocked to learn these guys are…well, you know.

This is older, but from ProPublica, a report on the nation’s worst-funded schools, which are falling apart. It’s not where you might think. (But once you know, it makes perfect sense.)

Finally, is it past time for Dianne Feinstein to resign?

And with that, I’m going to doze and wait for my Mothers Day dinner with Kate. Hope yours went/is going well.

Posted at 4:43 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 55 Comments

In which we deserve a nice holiday.

We had a good Easter. I hope you did, too. We invited Kate and her boyfriend, then thought hell, make it a party and invited four more people, which is just about the limit for my entertaining-indoors skills. But it turned out great; the secret is always in getting the right mix of guests, and it was a fantastic four-generation mix (Boomer, X, Millennial, Z). We had ham and biscuits and eggs and fruit and lox and pumpernickel and all the fixin’s, including my effort to make a frittata for the vegan guest, that which collapsed, so it was rechristened a tofu scramble and it tasted fine. Plus cake. Can’t go wrong with cake for Easter brunch.

The weather finally broke, and it was sunny all day, so we repaired to the back yard, and that was fine, too. Alan bartended, and made killer daiquiris, bloodies and all the rest of it.

I needed one day of joy, after the news of the weekend. First Clarence Fucking Thomas, then Matthew Fucking Kacsmaryk. Every time I see that smug mug on Thomas, I think unkind thoughts, things like you look like a frog and I hope you die on the toilet. Kacsmaryk is another breed of cat, far, far younger, but like Thomas, he has lifetime tenure, so we’ll have to hope for judicial isolation in whatever shithole in Texas he currently occupies. I saw some defenses of Thomas’ sugar daddy, Harlan Crow (god, what a name, right out of Faulker, or Dickens) over the weekend, mostly of the he’s-a-really-decent-man-and-only-collects-Nazi-memorabilia-out-of-love-for-freedom variety. But I’d ask you: If for some reason you felt that way, would YOU keep such items in your HOUSE? Of course not. These people are awful.

You knew the high from Janet Protasiewicz couldn’t last. I only hoped for a few more days.

So here we are at the beginning of the week. Temperatures ABOVE 70 predicted by Wednesday, so we should celebrate, at least a little.

Neil Steinberg has a good column today, which you can read, paywall-free, at the Sun-Times. It’s about a man living with HIV, among many, many other obstacles to a good life, including mental illness, autism, recent homelessness and at least some gender dysphoria (he uses male pronouns but is planning to live as female at some point in the future. But he’s also benefiting from a wide array of social programs, too. I always appreciate the twists Neil’s columns often take:

Since I know that readers can take a Victorian view of philanthropy — those benefiting from social service agencies ought to somehow earn their support by cleaving to a hazy puritanical ideal — it’s worth pausing to ask how the city would be better if Cox were being ravaged by AIDS in Grant Park rather than living his best life, healthy in an apartment in Forest Park?

He’s certainly better this way. And, it’s fairly clear, so is Chicago.

OK, so it’s on to the Monday grind. In the words of our sex-working former First Lady: Be best.

Posted at 9:51 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 73 Comments

Waiting, and waiting, and waiting…

Kate was staying with us for a few weeks before she left on tour for three more weeks, which is over as of today. Her rental house’s single bathroom was being remodeled, and there’d be no shower, so back to her parents’ it was. Alan picked her up at their terminus and she informed us she’d be with us for a few more days. Turns out the original contractor demo’d the bathroom and replumbed it and then ghosted. So her roommate had to find a new contractor, and the work won’t be done until midweek at the earliest. Story of, well, so many lives.

The tour was a success, even at the hardscrabble level they generally work at. They made some money and had a good time. That’s what it’s about when you’re 26 and in a band.

Not a terrible week, but a busy one. The temperature is finally moderating, although in some ways it’s even worse now, because today it was 52 degrees and tomorrow? 41 degrees. This is…cruel. It’s been five months of this shit, it’s time for a full week of 52 degrees with no threat of more cold, but even as I write this, I remember every April in Michigan since we’ve lived here:

The Michigan Sucker Punch. Every year.

Thursday I had some errands to run, and took the opportunity to give a deep listen to a couple of mix CDs Jeff Borden sent earlier this month. The revelation was Fadoul, aka the Moroccan James Brown. Seriously: Want to hear “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in Arabic? Click. Something to welcome Ramadan, although I bet Morocco wouldn’t welcome Fadoul so much these days. (The recording is from 1971.) This is definitely a relic of the days when Iranian women went around in miniskirts with their hair uncovered. A different world.

Another thing I did Thursday was attend a short Detroit high-school jazz showcase downtown. It was held in a small club, the quarters were close, and I was surprised to see how many kids were wearing masks, and reflected on how rare they are in the loftier suburbs where I live. No surprise, I guess — Detroit was hit way, way harder by Covid, and it left a mark. It’s entirely possible some of these kids live in multi-generational households, and don’t think anything of protecting their grandparents by masking up, something…well, you don’t see it here. Here, the school board majority shifted in the last election, in part because the administration did not buck the county’s mask mandates, keeping kids in them until February 2022. Just a couple weeks ago, we were in an exercise class discussing who’d had Covid, and someone remarked, “I got it from my kids, and they got it when the masking ended at school,” like hey, no biggie.

As we’ve said here more than once: Our country is stupid and stubborn.

Speaking of which! Indictment watch continues. And the northern lights, which are going great guns the last couple of days. I don’t think Ann Fisher will mind me snagging one of her Facebook pix to share with you. She lives in the U.P. and can see them, and said they were the best of her lifetime. (And she’s no spring chicken!) Enjoy and have a great weekend:

Posted at 8:30 am in Same ol' same ol' | 23 Comments

This bag, it is mixed.

You can hate on clock-changing all you want, but there’s nothing like a little extra sunshine, and that springlike angle to the light that says: It may still be very cold, but winter has been driven from its fortification, and I am back, baby.

Which is to say: Happy vernal equinox to all who celebrate, i.e. all of us.

I’m reconsidering my relationship with Amazon, if that’s even possible. Last week, I ordered four different things that I can’t find at stores here — a nice facial moisturizer that I discovered in France and is the one I’ve been searching for ever since I entered the Age of Wrinkles; the Klorane conditioner that restores my hair to something resembling hair, not flyaway gray straw, after a swim, also discovered in France; a descaler for our coffeemaker that Alan has decreed is more effective than vinegar; and a separate cleaner for the carafe, ditto. This is arriving in no fewer than three separate shipments, presumably because they’re coming from warehouses all over the region. There is nothing, not even extended idling on a cold day just to keep the car warm, that can make me feel more like a climate traitor than realizing a truck had to drive to my house to deliver a bottle of conditioner. And two separate locations for the coffeepot cleaners?! What the what!

But chances are I will do it again, because this is modern life.

The moisturizer, by the way, is Embryolisse. I think they call it that because it makes your skin as soft as a fetus’, but what do I know.

I started a conversation yesterday on my Facebook page, and it’s generated some interesting responses, so I’m going to continue it here. The question: Do you share your location with your family members, via some sort of smartphone app? More or less permanently, via the Always On feature? This came up in a conversation with friends last summer, and when I expressed wonder that anyone would do that, I was informed that it’s commonplace. You can do it via various apps, the most common being Google Maps; there’s a setting you can click to allow anyone you choose, who also has a Google account, to know where you — or your phone, anyway — are, every minute of the day. Parents share with their teenagers, spouses with one another. It’s most common in family units, obviously.

I’ve used it with a one-hour expiration a few times. When we were in Madrid, we had friends there at the same time, and it was a nice tool when we were meeting at some sidewalk cafe at the corner of two medieval streets with names I couldn’t spell anyway. But the idea of leaving it on forever? Hell no. And yet, I’ve seen it more than once, and some of the people who answered had their reasons for doing so.

Would you be comfortable doing this? It seems like it’d be an easy tool to abuse, particularly for bad spouses and partners.

Finally, is Trump really going to be indicted? Will we get a mugshot? That’s all I care about.

And with that, I’ve come to the bottom of my mixed bag. I had lunch today with Eric Zorn in Ann Arbor, and I want some quiet time to think about everything we talked about. That’s the best kind of conversation.

Posted at 6:45 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 94 Comments

Road trip.

Some friends of ours who used to live in Detroit moved to Nashville a couple years ago and occasionally suggest they’re open to visitors, but the timing was never right until it was, and then it wasn’t. Shadow Show is headed down to SXSW again this year, and is playing gigs along the way. There was one Saturday night in guess-where, so we thought, sure, we can drive down for a long weekend, see the girls, see our friends.

Unfortunately, one of our host’s aunts died, the funeral was a can’t-miss event, so they invited us to stay at their house anyway, etc. etc., and we decided what the hell, let’s go.

I’m glad we went. I hadn’t been to Nashville in decades. It is a decidedly different city than it was then, by a factor of about a million. The changes are…well, it doesn’t matter if we approve or not. They’ve happened and they’re not going away. Yeah, I remember Broadway as a scene but not a Scenetm; back then we went to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and had a few beers but did not exit into the alley behind the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Old Opry, where it was said countless performers before us had done, having one last snootful before taking the stage. On Sunday, I wouldn’t have entered Tootsie’s with a live cattle prod. It was SEC tournament weekend, and the entire strip was rockin’ with basketball fans, drunks and brides-to-be, all entranced by the cover bands playing in every bar.

Oh, those brides-to-be. Someone informed me that Nashville is now Bachville, i.e. the country’s biggest non-Vegas destination for bachelorette parties, and not having known that already makes me feel like I’m not keeping up. March is considered the beginning of Bachelorette season, and they were already evident, traveling in packs, squealing, caroling WOOOOO from pedal pubs, you know the drill. (An aside: Is there a more jarring disconnect between the people on a pedal pub and the people watching them from the street? I don’t think so.) In googling for why this is so, I came across a five year old, but still excellent story in BuzzFeed that goes deep into not only the trend itself, but what it says about the city, which is gentrifying at a staggering pace. This piece was great, too. And full of tidbits like this:

(Bachelorette parties) love taking pictures in front of murals, which, over the last decade, have come to dot every gentrifying section of the city. What started as a covertly capitalist art form (a “I Believe in Nashville” mural designed by a merch company) has become overtly so, as business owners all over town realize the free advertising potential of Instagram location tags. During peak bachelorette season, the photo line at the most popular Nashville mural — artist Kelsey Montague’s “angel wings,” just a block away from Biscuit Love — can take 90 minutes.

An hour and a half wait to take a picture!? I sent this to Alan while we were eating lunch on Sunday, and who should come in and take a nearby table?

We did get to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which was much better than I expected — thoughtfully curated, spiced up with music interludes and interesting artifacts, like Les Paul’s log guitar, outfits from Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors and a lot more. The Hatch Show Print shop is in the same building, so we stopped there, too. Worth a visit for sure.

The Saturday-night Shadow Show was, however, one of their worst, as judged by the musicians themselves. The PA was shit, there were no monitors, they had to play last — touring etiquette in these situations say the road band goes second, I’m informed — and Kate said she never wanted to play a gig like that again. As for me, I’m just glad no one gouged me for parking, which happened in nicer parts of town on Sunday. And it was nice to catch up with Mr. and Mrs. Bassett, who joined us for most of a very long evening.

Did we try hot chicken? We did. It’s a spicy chicken sandwich.

Sunday night was another show, this one at the Brooklyn Bowl, a benefit for uninsured musicians. Elvis Costello and Billy Gibbons were the co-headliners. Elvis sounded less than great; his voice wasn’t coming through, the band wasn’t tight and his roadie brought out a new guitar for nearly every song, none of which seemed to please him. Fortunately, the show was closed by Gibbons, and once he banged out the opening chords to “Sharp Dressed Man,” we knew everything was going to be fine, and it was:

Oh, and that little text block on the mural in the first picture? The one you can’t read? A version of George Jones’ infamous lawn-mower story. His wife would hide all the vehicle keys when she left, to keep her hopeless alcoholic husband from heading to the liquor store:

And I didn’t have to wait at all to take it.

Posted at 3:28 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 90 Comments

The phantom sweater.

Every year there’s a perennial between-the-holidays story to be written, at least here in Michigan. It’s about the unclaimed property office in the Department of Treasury, and how to search and claim what might be yours. And every year I try, because there’s a $50 gift card from Lands End waiting for me there. I have zero memory how it got there. Maybe it was a Christmas gift I never redeemed, or store credit for a sweater I returned, or something else, but there it sits, year after year, with my name on it, mocking me.

It mocks me because I can’t seem to claim it. One year it required a notarized statement, which was probably more than I could get around to that year. But every time I see it in the database, I fill out the form, and at some point the form asks me to submit proof the unclaimed property is really mine. I have said, over and over, that I don’t have the gift card, so I can’t do that.

This year, I wrote a more detailed letter. I explained the concept of Catch-22, and said it several ways: If I had the gift card, it wouldn’t be unclaimed, but I don’t, so it is. And I asked, politely, that if I was going to be denied again, I would appreciate the Department of Treasury using the card to buy clothing for a poor child, and just delete it from the database.

Most years, I never hear back at all. But this year, I opened it, and the first word was Congratulations, so it’s a 2023 miracle.

And it gets better: They’re not sending me the gift card, but a $50 check, and that’s good, because Lands End quality has really slipped over the time I’ve been angling for my phantom gift card. So I guess I should donate it to a clothing bank, or something, because I already sent that intention out in the universe. Or I could combine it with the $180 that Michigan Democrats want to send me as part of their policy package this year (“inflation relief checks” is what they’re called), and have a nice dinner with Alan somewhere.

Oh, and I should add: This year’s stories about the unclaimed property office notes that the biggest single piece it has is a $2 million life-insurance payout, so if you’ve lost any relatives in Michigan lately, might want to search that database.


One of the irritating things about Madonna, to me, is how thoroughly she has snowed people who should know better. (I’m not talking about her music – even I have a playlist on my Spotify account. It’s called “Tolerable Madonna” and is about 40 minutes long. I use it on short bike rides.) As long as she’s been around, she’s been bullshitting academics, critics and others with the idea that her “reinventions” are thoughtfully calculated, thick with carefully considered details, cultural references and other frippery that makes her, basically, a walking/talking PhD dissertation in pop-culture studies. She used to tell interviewers about how well-informed she is, and that her IQ was 140, so obviously, y’know, this is all real.

When it was pretty obvious to anyone who pays attention that what Madonna does well is scan the outer regions of pop culture, the place where her soccer-mom fans don’t spend much, or any, time, and import them into her routine. Also, that she is a narcissist without peer.

This has been going on for decades now. Camille Paglia, I’m looking at you.

Now the torch has been passed, in this case to Jennifer Weiner, who takes note of Madonna’s new face, which has been there for a while but got its widest exposure yet at the Grammys:

All of Madonna’s features looked exaggerated, pushed and polished to an extreme. There was her forehead, smooth and gleaming as a porcelain bowl. Her eyebrows, bleached and plucked to near-invisibility. Her cheekbones, with deep hollows beneath them. The total effect was familiar, but more than slightly off.

…Beyond the question of what she’d had done, however, lay the more interesting question of why she had done it. Did Madonna get sucked so deep into the vortex of beauty culture that she came out the other side? Had the pressure to appear younger somehow made her think she ought to look like some kind of excessively contoured baby?

Perhaps so, but I’d like to think that our era’s greatest chameleon, a woman who has always been intentional about her reinvention, was doing something slyer, more subversive, by serving us both a new — if not necessarily improved — face and a side of critique about the work of beauty, the inevitability of aging, and the impossible bind in which older female celebrities find themselves.

Oh, pfft. Madonna is 64, and can’t stand it. So she fell into a trap many people, most of them women, have fallen into already. She’s probably had dozens, scores of procedures already done to her face and body, most of them good; until recently, she looked great. But at some point the body says, “Girl, it’s time to stop,” and she ignored it. This is not a critique of “the work of beauty.” It’s a sad woman grasping for relevance.

Has anyone noticed that Madonna always wears gloves, and has for years now? I’d bet plenty that it’s because the veins on her hands bulge, a common side effect of exercise and vigorous physical activity: Exercise delivers lots more blood to the muscles, and veins return that blood to the heart. Athletes have larger veins than non-athletes, and that’s okay.

Madonna has always been proud of her commitment to fitness; she was trained as a dancer, after all. You’d think she’d display her hands without shame. And she’s going around these days talking about how the most controversial thing she’s ever done was to “stick around.” OK, then! Look like someone who’s been sticking around for a while. Patti Smith is almost aggressively old and gray these days, as she continues to make music and write. Most of the older female musicians at the Grammys that night, like Bonnie Raitt, looked their age. What’s so terrible about being old? (Other than knee pain, she said, wincing.)

OK, enough. I’m going to wait by the mailbox for my $50.

Posted at 11:08 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 54 Comments

Going to ground.

Well, that was a nice trip, except for the ending — a five-hour flight delay out of Newark, with the five hours (closer to six-seven because I’m an early arriver) spent at the Newark airport. Now the real slog of the long winter begins. I’ll be spending it mostly in more-or-less isolation, as I feel I’ve been taking too many Covid chances and need to atone.

If I escape getting it from this trip, it’ll say something about the efficacy of vaccines, because I took chances. Masked on the flight, but not in the airport, unless it was crowded. Masked on subway trains, but not in subway stations; my rule was, if I can feel air moving across my face, it’s OK to take it off. Outdoors, not at all, indoors, depended on the venue. This, I recognize, is a little like sometimes wearing a condom, but oh well. Something’s gonna get all of us, and you gotta live your life.

But it was still a very nice trip. Ate good food, saw lots of great entertainment, actually got to a Broadway show (“Between Riverside and Crazy,” which was Just Meh). Took some pictures:

That’s the Bleecker Street subway station, built at a time when a little beauty in a public place wasn’t considered a waste of taxpayer money.

Chinatown fish market:

Beautiful ceramic of a gruesome scene, at an upper east side commercial art show.

At the same show, a depiction of my state, late-ish 18th century:


(I think the proper reading of that is, “I fucking love New York.”)

Jazz at the Blue Note:

Now I’m ready to economize and get back to dry January. Nothing like spending $18 for a mediocre glass of wine to make you ready to clip coupons and switch to Diet Coke.

Posted at 9:28 am in Same ol' same ol' | 47 Comments

Walk between the raindrops.

You guys are all having a nice conversation in the comments and I hate to interrupt it, but just popping up to say we’re having a great time in NYC, despite some terrible weather. Yesterday was nice, though:

Today was just cold, rainy-all-day and dreary. I did capture Alan near a tag that he’s never, ever seen before, just down the street from the Whitney, where we bought two senior-discounted tickets and beheld the Edward Hopper show there:

We saw this cabaret show last night. (Seriously, it’s a video of the entire show. Watch along with us! It was very funny.) Tonight, a shocking twist: There’s a Broadway play, a Pulitzer-winner, we were able to get $40 tickets for — “Between Riverside and Crazy.” After that, who knows? I just want it to stop raining.

OK, carry on.

Posted at 4:15 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 49 Comments


Sunday I signed up for a sound-bath meditation. You people into Woo know what that means: An hour lying on a mat in a yoga studio, while a woman plays singing bowls at the front of the room, trying desperately to get my buzzing brain to stop buzzing for…not even an hour. Can I get 15 minutes? Fifteen minutes in a theta state? Is that so much to ask?

The leader talked about how her various bowls were tuned to our chakras, and gave us all a heart-shaped piece of rose quartz. She said January was for self-care, and we should all be good to ourselves, and were free to place the quartz heart wherever we felt it could do the most good. Maybe at the end of the mat? Maybe on our third eye? Or just on our heart? (I tucked mine into my bra, where it still is. It’s very warm.) Then she commenced to play her half-dozen bowls, and it was very resonant, and I put on a black eye mask and concentrated on my breathing. I listened to the bowls, and I may have gotten 10 or 12 minutes of true theta state, because I was startled by the closing sound, if one can be startled with a pulse rate of 58.

Then I came home and learned they’re having a January 6 in Brazil. Why bother seeking inner peace. I should have donated that $30 to a charity that helps asylum-seekers. American exceptionalism:

Oh well. Hope you had a great weekend. I didn’t stay up to watch the fun in the House of Representatives, having better things to do. (Sleep.)

Monday awaits.

Posted at 9:09 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments

Going high on the turns.

I mentioned my one-word New Year’s resolution? Balance. I was thinking more of my failure to execute tree pose competently, but today offered a new way to approach it.

One of my Christmas gifts from Kate was a class at the Lexus Velodrome here in Detroit. We took it together. It was really fun, but kinda humbling, too.

The 101 class had four participants: The two of us, plus a father-daughter team, the father a skilled indoor cyclist, the daughter less so, but then, she looked about 11 or 12 years old. In an hour, we had to learn how to control a fixed-gear bike with no brakes, then ride with enough speed and competence to go “on the track,” which is to say, to go from the relatively flat apron onto the banked part. I handled the straightaways fine, but the turns were freeee-keeee, and I bailed. But by the end of the hour, I felt comfortable enough to say I’d sign up for another lesson.

I was also, if not the oldest, certainly one of the oldest ones there. I’m well aware of my physical limitations and the brittleness of my bones. But I’m-a try again.

It was a good day, for the most part. I alternated between writing my latest freelance story and switching over to Kevin McCarthy’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day of utter humiliation.

Friends? It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

But I have to get up extra-early tomorrow, finish the story, send an invoice, and do more chores. Also, buy bagels. Stay in your lane today, and if you have to go out of it, keep your speed. It’s crucial.

Posted at 9:31 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 31 Comments