Soup and nuts.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, we don’t eat canned soup in our house. Alan once spent a summer working the Campbell’s soup factory in Napoleon, Ohio, an experience that put him off canned soup once and for all. (He also worked in a pizza factory for a spell. Don’t get him started.) Because I really like soup, this led to me having to learn how to make it from scratch. The good news is, homemade soup is so much better than the canned variety that the bad news — yes, it takes longer than opening a can and heating it on the stove — is entirely eclipsed. We eat soup throughout fall and winter and into the spring, and I don’t resent any of the time and effort spent to make it myself.

Which brings me back around to Blue Apron, which we chewed over a few weeks back, and something else that bothers me about it.

I poked around on their website for a bit, which is the extent of the research I’m willing to do about it. Here’s a vegetarian offering, for cauliflower “steaks” and farro salad:

This dish highlights the delectable potential of one of autumn’s most abundant vegetables: cauliflower. We’re roasting thick slices until they develop a crisp, golden crust and a tender, sweet interior. Our “steaks” get an elevated topping of juicy grapes, toasty hazelnuts and fresh rosemary quickly cooked in a brown butter sauce, which also lends its incredible flavor to a hearty farro and arugula salad. A pinch of fennel pollen (an intensely aromatic spice with notes of citrus and sweet anise) completes the dish with sophisticated flair.

Sounds delicious. But if Blue Apron and similar services are being used as a crutch, or an intermediate step by young and busy people toward actual kitchen independence, they are going about it all wrong, in my opinion. Fennell pollen is not an ingredient that should be in a beginner’s kitchen, or even, it could be argued, any kitchen.

You want to cook more at home? Start with soup. Easy-peasy. You have the stuff that gives the soup its name (tomatoes, squash, chicken and noodles, whatever) and the stuff it floats in (clear broth, cream/milk), and that’s pretty much it. You can mash up some of the first stuff to make it thicker, but that’s up to you. Play around with it, figure out what you like, and move on from there. No need for fennel pollen.

So, we can discuss cooking today, or we can talk about the business genius involved in throwing a few more millions of taxpayer dollars at a company, so it’ll make a show of staying in Indiana. And all this from the party that said government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. All bets off.

Posted at 9:47 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments

Cans to the curb.

Well, that was a much-needed break. Saw some movies, read a novel, celebrated my birthday, had a Thanksgiving dinner of tofu and vegetable stir-fry. And it was a productive one. The end is in sight for the Great Basement Clean-out; we should be mightily slimmed down by Christmas, our most precious basement stuff high off the floor and much old junk taken to the curb on trash day. The precipitating event for this project was a flood in nearby neighborhoods, caused by a heavy autumn thunderstorm. The city claimed it was simply too much rain for the sewers and pumps to handle, so it ended up in people’s basements. While there is a counterargument to be made, it’s undeniable that climate change is giving us more such rain events, so I feel good about being prepared. It’s only a matter of time before our number comes up; this is a low-lying area.

Among the things I unearthed was a pile of 20-year-old News-Sentinels, most with columns of mine somewhere in them — journalists used to save clips like relics. Into the trash they went. One edition puzzled me, until I noticed a story at the bottom of the features front, written by an intern. It was a puff piece on some woman who’d written a book for younger women married to older men. She’d grown up in the Fort and was in town for her high-school reunion and had worked a book signing in there. I suppose I was taken by two passages:


First, that someone born Margaret can become Beliza, and second, the blithe way her marriage is described in the story. I recall a colleague dropping this on my desk with a witty note: “In other words, she broke up a family and now we’re writing about her self-congratulatory book.” Oh, well. They’d been married 25 years at the time the story was written, so it wasn’t an entirely Trumpian match. I wonder more about how Margaret became Beliza. I’m suspicious of first-name changers, like the woman who broke up John Edwards’ marriage, born Lisa Druck and morphed into Reille (pronounced “Reilly”) Hunter. Beliza sounds like it might have been the product of rather determined self-reinvention, but what do I know? Maybe she fell in love in Belize.

Or it’s a mashup, like Elian Gonzalez. I don’t speak Spanish and don’t know the culture of Latin America all that well, and when I first heard the name just figured it was one I didn’t know, but then I read it was one of those late-20th-century one-offs that his mother came up with…why? Why? Yes, to be “unique,” because if there’s one thing every inhabitant of planet earth has a right to, it’s a name like no other. There are only 365 possible birthdays (366 in leap years), but you needn’t share your name, not anymore.

Which brings us to the big story of the weekend, the death of Elian’s patron, Fidel Castro. I made up my mind to read just one major piece about him this weekend and decided on the NYT obit, on the strength of Anthony DePalma’s byline. He spoke to the Knight-Wallace Fellows way back when I was one, and I was impressed at the depth of his understanding of Cuba, and his encyclopedic and unsparing knowledge of Fidel. It’s a very long obit, so I’ll break my three-paragraphs rule for just this marvelous passage:

He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting: “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

Most people in the crowd had no idea what Mr. Castro planned for Cuba. A master of image and myth, Mr. Castro believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland, an indispensable force with authority from on high to control Cuba and its people.

He wielded power like a tyrant, controlling every aspect of the island’s existence. He was Cuba’s “Máximo Lider.” From atop a Cuban Army tank, he directed his country’s defense at the Bay of Pigs. Countless details fell to him, from selecting the color of uniforms that Cuban soldiers wore in Angola to overseeing a program to produce a superbreed of milk cows. He personally set the goals for sugar harvests. He personally sent countless men to prison.

But it was more than repression and fear that kept him and his totalitarian government in power for so long. He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world. Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as the crowds did that first night, as a revolutionary hero for the ages.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a dove land on me before, but maybe that day is coming.

A little googling on Elian turned up this great Gene Weingarten piece from when it was going on, 16 years ago. I bet Weingarten likes his old clips better than I like mine.

Also this weekend I tried to stay…not away, but maybe an arm’s length from the news, just for a while. It helped, although I couldn’t avoid this piece, about magical thinking among some Trump voters:

Dalia Carmeli, who drives a trolley in downtown Miami, voted for Donald J. Trump on Election Day. A week later, she stopped in to see the enrollment counselor who will help her sign up for another year of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“I hope it still stays the same,” said Ms. Carmeli, 64, who has Crohn’s disease and relies on her insurance to cover frequent doctor’s appointments and an array of medications.

Yeah, sure, why wouldn’t it? More:

More vulnerable are people like Gerardo Murillo Lovo, 44, a construction worker who never had health insurance before signing up for a marketplace plan in 2014. He pays $15 a month and gets a subsidy of $590 for a plan that covers his wife, as well. When he renewed his coverage last week at the Epilepsy Foundation, he learned that the price would not increase next year.

“I’ve heard that what he wanted to do first is get rid of Obamacare,” Mr. Murillo, a Nicaraguan immigrant who is a citizen but did not vote, said of Mr. Trump. “But my personal opinion is that he will discuss it with other people who will convince him that we can’t get rid of this. I think it’s going to be maintained one way or another, and I’m going to keep it as long as I can.”

Thanks, low-information voters.

OK, then. The week ahead will be the week ahead, and it’s time to take it on. Break’s over, back on your heads.

Posted at 6:06 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 91 Comments

Leftover mashed potatoes.

One of those days today. It was our family Thanksgiving/birthday dinner. Alan is working on the holiday itself, and we have no guests to invite to an evening feast, and with Kate now a vegetarian, it seems silly to make a turkey for two people. So it’ll likely be grilled cheese sandwiches and a couple of movies on Thursday. As the sole cook and baker, I can tell you it was a real shitshow. Every pot boiled over. I neglected to add baking soda to the cake, and the resulting pair of rock-like layers had to be pitched. The ensuing mess was epic — I think I did dishes five times — but it finally wobbled from the kitchen to the table. Fat roast chicken, mashed potatoes, Asian green beans and a big side of mac and cheese (for the vegetarian). And a lopsided, but homemade, birthday cake.

Plus a bottle of champagne. You really can’t wreck a dinner utterly and completely if there’s champagne. That might be the only smart call I made.

And now it’s Sunday night. The president-elect was up at 6 a.m., tweeting about “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live.”

I’m so far past the can’t-even stage, I don’t know what to say. Except maybe this: When Axl Rose is a voice of reason? I can’t even can’t even:

And now I’m kind of depressed, but it might be the end of the champagne talking. Or it might be that I just realized how long four years really is.

Posted at 8:31 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments

Our best friends.

I think it was last week, when I was running around lower Ferndale on this and that errand, that I started thinking about how we treat our dogs. There’s a small hobo encampment under an overpass, and not far away, a pet boutique on Woodward called Fur Babies or something, a term I’m always struck by.

I coo and baby-talk to Wendy as much as anyone, but I never call her a fur baby, although I refer to myself as her mom, Alan as dad and Kate as sissy, so I can’t really talk. The biggest gift you can give an animal in your care is to simply try to understand them, to the best of your ability, knowing you’ll never get it all the way right. And while they show their devotion to us in many ways, our relationship is not parental. At all.

I think back on the way we treated my first dog, which we got when I was in junior high school, and want to cringe. Housebreaking was done by rubbing their nose in their accidents. You corrected chewing and other slights with a rolled-up newspaper across the nose. Crate-training was unheard-of; while you might confine a dog to the kitchen or another room with a baby gate or something, for the most part, when you left the house the dog was simply left to its own devices and expected to figure things out. If they didn’t, if they chewed up a sofa pillow or magazine or something, we applied the rolled-up newspaper. This was a commonly accepted training practice; everybody did it.

Don’t get me started on spaying and neutering. OK, go ahead. Only female dogs were ever sterilized, but often only after a litter or two — people spoke of “letting” their dog have puppies first, as though reproduction was a matter of personal happiness for the animal. Males were never neutered, because it was an understanding that no male would willingly inflict castration on another, even in a different species. And so lots of mutts happened, because here was the other thing: Dogs were generally free to roam. Not every dog; some were confined to a yard or tied out on a long line. But an amazing number were simply let out in the morning and did their dog thing in the great outdoors all day, at least in good weather.

Alan’s dad had a pair of Irish setters that lived in the garage, year-round. The cat stayed out all night long. Sometimes she brought home a frog.

Some exceptions: Cats were routinely neutered, because tomcats spray, but the females were more often left to go in and out of heat. But cats were hardly ever confined to a house.

There were consequences to this, of course. Dogs getting run over by cars was a thing that happened, a lot. Stepping in poop was another thing that happened, often, because no one carried bags on walks. Dogs and cats defecated where they wanted and it was left to the property owner to clean up or step in. Oh, and lots of dogs ran away and were never seen again.

This was just pet culture.

When did it change? Hard to know; I went through a long pet-free phase, but when we got Spriggy, everything was different. He was my birthday present in 1991, and Alan bought a book by the Monks of New Skete, who are known for their beautifully bred and trained German Shepherds. From them, and others, we learned just how wrong we’d been doing it. Housebreaking was learned through routine and reward, with messes cleaned up quickly and without incident. We used a crate. He was neutered promptly at six months and needless to say, never roamed free. When we walked him, we carried poop bags. The world was different.

Things seem to have shifted a gear again. I can’t tell you how many people I know who share their beds with their dogs, and not little dogs, either. Sometimes multiple dogs. Those cushy dog beds Orvis sells — my first dog slept on an old blanket on a concrete floor, in the basement — are only for when the family, “the pack,” isn’t sleeping together in the king-size. It’s routine for people to expect to take their dogs everywhere, on vacation, out to the bar, even to work. I’ve known people who get insulted when told their dogs aren’t welcome at a particular place, because of allergies or whatever reason, including because it’s a dog. People do DNA tests on their dogs, expensive surgeries for conditions that would have suggested euthanasia just 15 or 20 years ago. Aging dogs get assistive devices, slings to help big ones up and down stairs, even diapers.

You can see why I think of dogs when I see homeless camps. Most middle-class dogs live better, eat better and certainly sleep more comfortably than a great many humans.

It’s not just household pets, either. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are way out there on the fringe, but the fringe has a way of working its way to the center. Today I saw this ridiculous PETA video about what normal people call selective breeding and PETA calls “rape.” Yes, rape. Of animals. “I am you, only different,” one woman says, holding up a photo of a cow.

No. Sorry, but you’re not. This is what I mean about understanding animals, about their essential nature. What are they about? In many ways, the dogs of my childhood, turned out to sniff and poop and hang out at the bitch-in-heat’s house, may have had a better life than the pampered, bed-sleeping ones of today, provided they could avoid getting hit by cars. I don’t believe dogs want to necessarily live like humans. I think they want to be dogs, if a dog can be said to want anything so abstract as the experience of being themselves.

Here’s Wendy, not minding the floor one bit:


And woo, looky here — another whole politics-free post to take us into the weekend.

One piece of bloggage: Farhad Manjoo states the obvious, that we’re living in a fact-free world, and in posting it I’m dedicating it to everyone who clogged my social media with the “news” that the Chicago Tribune was calling on Hillary Clinton to step down, when in fact it was one Tribune columnist, and the jerk one at that.

Happy weekending, all. Not much longer now.

Posted at 9:48 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 84 Comments

Pimping iron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Zanes are still together, and are still adorable.

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

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

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

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

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

Trick or treat, then trickery.

Halloween was a whirl, the usual madhouse. I gave away probably 300-plus pieces of candy and turned off my light with 20 minutes or so left to go. I could have made it to the bitter end if I’d not been fooled by a lull around 7; I started giving away doubles, for fear I wouldn’t run out. Plus, I discovered the assortment bag I bought was heavy with Almond Joys, and do kids even like those anymore? With all that coconut? I paired those with Whoppers and then full night fell and we were besieged.

I didn’t feel too badly, though, as the kids showing up late already had buckets that were overflowing with treats. No one went un-sugared.

Then I came inside and read the latest Trump tax story. I expect you’ll want to talk about that. Me, I have a heavy lift of editing to do this morning, so I’m-a open the floor to sputtering outrage and slip off into the wings.

Is there a trustworthy real-estate developer on this planet? Do any of them play by conventional rules?

Oh, and if you haven’t read this outstanding Fahrenthold piece on the GOP nominee’s “philanthropy,” you must. It rings on the anvil of truth, fo’ sho’. My favorite nugget:

New findings, for instance, show that the Trump Foundation’s largest-ever gift — $264,631 — was used to renovate a fountain outside the windows of Trump’s Plaza Hotel.

Its smallest-ever gift, for $7, was paid to the Boy Scouts in 1989, at a time when it cost $7 to register a new Scout. Trump’s oldest son was 11 at the time. Trump did not respond to a question about whether the money was paid to register him.

It won’t change a vote, but it’s a great read.

Happy Tuesdays, all.

Posted at 9:06 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 76 Comments

I put a spell on you.

There’s one in every neighborhood, isn’t there?


Truth be told, this isn’t my neighborhood, although there’s an even more elaborate display at the end of my street. That one is, in true rah-rah Grosse Pointe fashion, a haunted-yard thing that I believe raises money for local causes. I suspect the people who put up this display just seriously dig Halloween.

Which is today. Boo.

I look forward to getting the candy out of the house, and may have deliberately bought just a tad less than I think we can use, just so I’m assured it’ll all be gone and temptation banished by the time Nov. 1 dawns. I bought a new dress last week, and it is not for candy-lovers. Yes, another new dress. I need something new for the auto show in January, and as it happens, we’re invited to a black-tie event next weekend, for which it will do nicely. It’s not my usual style, but it does have a plunging neckline, in case you’re wondering, and I know Brian is wondering.

I spent the weekend busy, and I recommend it highly as we lurch toward D-Day. Errands. To-do lists. Closet clean-outs. The sort of thing that gives you a sense of accomplishment and requires just enough mental engagement that you don’t have to think about the election, the stupid things written about the election, and pretty much anything else except whether to toss, sell or save item X found forgotten in the basement. Before psychotropic drugs, psychiatrists used to calm mental patients with occupational therapy. Build a birdhouse, an ashtray, a paint-by-numbers gorilla — all of this unhooks the mind from that which is making it so upset.

I did read this clear, sober Fact Checker column on the new email story, or, as the GOP nominee would say, the biggest thing since Watergate. And I read this Susan Faludi column on the Democratic nominee:

It was my third day at the Republican National Convention in 1996, and my notebook overflowed with a one-note theme: “You do know that Hillary Clinton is funding the whole radical feminist agenda?” “She had Vince Foster killed.” “She’s behind many more murders than that.” “It’s well-established that Hillary Clinton belonged to a satanic cult, still does.” The consensus among Pat Buchanan’s supporters seemed ardent and universal, though the object of this obloquy wasn’t even on the opposing ticket.

One of the mysteries of 2016 is the degree to which Hillary Clinton is reviled. Not just rationally opposed but viscerally and instinctively hated. None of the stated reasons for the animus seem to satisfy. Yes, she’s careful and cagey, and her use of a private email server, which the F.B.I. flung back into the news on Friday, was a big mistake. But no, she’s not more dishonest than other politicians, and compared with her opponent, she’s George Washington. Her policies, even where bold, are hardly on the subversive fringe.

Yet she’s cast not just as a political combatant but as a demon who, in the imaginings of Republicans like Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Representative Trent Franks, would create an America “where passion — the very stuff of life — is extinguished” (the former) and where fetuses would be destroyed “limb from limb” (the latter).

Indeed. My alma mater, that excuse for a newspaper that should be made to surrender its Pulitzer Prize, used just that argument to justify its endorsement of Trump on Friday. I knew it was coming; I mean, the editorial page editor has been pee-dancing (Roy’s priceless phrase) around Trump, mainly over GUNZ, WHICH HILLARY IS GOING TO TAKE AWAY, JUST LIKE OBAMA DID. But the final endorsement, which I suspect he didn’t write (I have an ear for prose styles, and this hits a little flat), uses the subtle headline, Let’s keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. It’s a pathetic argument, which seems to run this way: Yes, Trump is a problem, but Pence! And Hillary is SO BAD. So vote Trump, because Pence.

I’m so embarrassed to have ever worked there. My new resume line is that I worked at “the News-Sentinel, a Knight-Ridder daily which, sadly, no longer exists.” It’s true. What’s left is a shopper.

I think I need to clean a few closets. Join me? And have a great week. Boo!

Posted at 12:10 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 59 Comments

Signing out.

And so we lurch to the end of another week. Reasonably productive on this end, how about you? It was sort of evening-heavy, though, which explains the short rations around here. We just got back from dinner, which was preceded by drink, which was preceded by a pre-funeral visitation. Don’t waste a black dress and heels, I always say.

(The death was a friend’s mom, and not unexpected.)

I’m also pretty empty. Truth be told, the best links come from you guys. So here’s a dog picture:


Li’l Wendy in the car, watching for Alan at the Subaru dealership.

We took 8 Mile over from the Pointes. I love 8 Mile; talk about the scenic route. It’s a nonstop thoroughfare of strip clubs, likka stores and weed dispensaries. And one charter school, which I noticed today. It’s in a former retail space; across the parking lot is a furniture clearance center, and across the street, a strip club. I looked up its testing data when I got home, and even among peer schools, its performance is pretty miserable. It’s hard not to think, so this is what it’s come to. This is school choice. Someone looked at the local public school, and chose to drop their kid at a strip mall, with a view of Players Club across the street.

Down the road, 8 Mile Chronic Provisioning Center, which you have to admit is a very Elmore Leonard-ish name for a weed shop.

Ahead to the weekend! Back Monday.

Posted at 10:02 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 92 Comments

In the grinder.

Wasn’t I just saying I hoped this week would be a little easier than last? Guess what? It’s not. Nothing horrible, just a fairly blistering pace. Plus, Alan’s sick — came home with a sore throat and a canker sore, the latter of which seems to be bothering him more than the other. I hate canker sores so bad, so I get it. Probably shouldn’t have made ribs with so much chipotle pepper in the rub, however.

But once the weekly menu is set in this household, it is set. No substitutions!

Now it’s Wednesday, and things are finally slowing to a nice, steady trot. Have some lines to re-bait, and an application for a workshop/conference next spring in Columbus, spaces in which are to be awarded on a competitive basis. That means I must start the bullshit machine that lives deep in my chest, so a nice steamy batch can be perked up when I start to write.

The spot includes a week of lodging in my ol’ hometown. That’ll be fun. I’ll invite all my friends over to trash the hotel, Led Zep-style.

Before I go on, though, I want to make a book recommendation. (I haven’t changed the On the Nightstand feature in close to a year, but I have been reading, promise.) I recently finished “In the Darkroom,” Susan Faludi’s memoir about the last year’s of her father’s life, after he underwent a sex change in Thailand and emerged as Stefanie. I bought it on the advice of Hank Stuever, mainly in an attempt to sort out my frankly confused thoughts about transgenderism. I lie somewhere between full-and-open-embrace and the position laid down by more radical feminists, who reject transwomen as having a claim on the gender at all.

I don’t come to the debate with animus, however. I’m just very confused.

Faludi came to the reopened relationship with her parent — they had been estranged — as a middle-aged woman and an incisive journalist. And she misses very little about the tangle of contradictions that Istvan Friedman, who became Steven Faludi, who became Stephanie, presents to the world. A man who’s had three names and two genders in the course of a lifetime will have an interesting life’s story, and s/he is no exception. Istvan Friedman was a Jew in WWII Budapest, which meant he was no safer than Jews anywhere else in Europe. Born to a wealthy family that was atomized by the Holocaust, Istvan survived on luck and hustle, shape-shifting his identity and front to match the occasion, many of them perilous to his health. He later emigrated to Brazil and then to the U.S., where he became Steven Faludi (“a good Hungarian name”), married and became a father. But that didn’t work out, and he repatriated to Hungary and eventually shed another skin, emerging as Stefanie. His tale is only reluctantly told by the septuagenarian matron that was his final identity, but his daughter is relentless in her pursuit of her parent’s true nature. The picture that emerges — the title is a play on both her father’s occupation as a photographer and photo processor and the nature of his manipulated self — is hardly sharp. People are complicated, and some people are really complicated.

But the book is wonderful. It’s in Alex’s hands now; his father was a Hungarian immigrant, and Stephanie’s story is of a piece with her native land, itself a bundle of contradictions. I thought I knew my Holocaust history, but I knew little of Hungary’s role in it, it turns out. The details were appalling and dispiriting in the age of Trump, and the behavior of Istvan/Steven/Stephanie, both then and in the contemporary era, are baffling and revelatory. (Stephanie votes with the far-right party, the one that teeters on the edge of ethnic cleansing.)

I don’t really understand transgenderism that much better now, but I’m enlightened about one of its story threads now, and I recommend “In the Darkroom” to anyone in search of a good read on this or any of its related topics.

So, a new thread for us to chat about the final debate, and some bloggage: I’m appearing on WDET tomorrow to trade snappy banter about it with two other panelists; I’ll be the one with the higher voice and XX chromosomes. Listen live in the 9 a.m. hour Thursday, if you’re so inclined.

Last week I went to Flint and stared into a hole, watching a typical pipe replacement, a huge project just getting ramped up. Read this thrilling tale of mud and infrastructure, here, after it goes live at 6:10 a.m., EDT.

The catastrophe of citizen journalism, from NYMag.

“Mulatto cock.” OK, I’m done.

Posted at 5:50 pm in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 53 Comments

A little light reading?

Friends, I have another insane evening and busy day tomorrow, and I have simply no time to blog here. Part of the reason is, I spent most of the day at a local hospital, waiting on Alan as his designated driver for a little outpatient stuff — nothing worrisome, but even with a wifi connection, phone and laptop, I didn’t get much done, not with the TV and the various incarnations of the Loud family who filtered in and out.

I considered working in the chapel but figured that wouldn’t be included in the practice of a respectful agnostic.

Not that there wasn’t lots to read for when I simply had to shut down and reboot my brain. Like this:


And this:


I kept looking at that U.S. News, thinking of the cleaning crews, the hundreds of families who have drifted in and out of this waiting room over the last decade. How many hands have straightened that issue and put it back in a stack for the next day’s influx, never thinking to look at that giant date on the cover and ask if maybe this one could be pitched? I didn’t even want to consider the germs that might be on it. (I washed my hands four times over the course of the day and didn’t put them near any mucous membranes.)

The iPad was introduced in 2010, if you’re interested. Steve Jobs did the rollout in San Francisco. Sunrise, sunset…

So back to work for me, and high hopes I can pick up this burden again tomorrow. Talk amongst yourselves.

Posted at 7:45 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 115 Comments