By popular demand.

Hello from Montréal. Our flight to Casablanca is late. But I hear the clamor for a fresh thread, and god knows what the Sunday shows will bring. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be across the pond. (I hope.)

Here’s Wendy with her dog sitter. She seems pretty happy:

Hope to be just as happy in about 12 hours.

Posted at 6:21 pm in Uncategorized | 20 Comments
 

Fridays at church.

I bitch about my job plenty. Non-specifically and vaguely these days, as both my gigs are pretty OK for now, but my irritation with the business in general remains the same. But every so often I look back at a day, week or month and think, “OK, so the money sucks, but just this summer alone I got to go to Jobbie Nooner and see Kanye West sing with a gospel choir, so it beats actuarial sciences.”

Jobbie was in June, Kanye was Friday. I’m not a Kanye fan. Most days, if he passed me on the street, I wouldn’t know who he was. But he’s probably stronger on my radar than most hip-hop artists, and so, when I heard that he was bringing his Sunday Service act to Detroit on about 24 hours notice, I figured, what the hell.

Sunday Service is West’s latest flight of fancy — short shows with a locally hired and hastily trained gospel choir doing both classics, Kanye covers and other pop hits. So it was intriguing.

It turned out to be almost entirely the choir’s show. Kanye sang maybe one verse and left almost everything else up to his director. As choirs go, it was pretty unconventional, with the group surrounding the musicians in a rough circle, unrobed, only casually grouped by voice. This picture should give you an idea:

Can’t find Kanye? Let’s move in closer:

Still lost? OK, visual aids:

I read in the Freep’s review that Kim Kardashian was there, too, but in that crowd, she would have been just another body in a very big crowd. I didn’t pick her out.

It was an interesting show. I love a good gospel choir, singing Kanye songs perhaps less so, but I always respect an artist who’s willing to try something different, and this certainly was that. He held another thing later that night, at the Fox Theater, which turned out to be a listening party for his as-yet-unreleased Sunday Service album. Didn’t go to that one. A little Kanye West goes a long way for me.

And even though Kanye is an infamous MAGAt, it was nice to think of something else, if only for a couple of hours. It was a beautiful day to sit under the big tent of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre and not consider the trouble the country is in.

I did more of that avoidance today, as our trip to Morocco is fast approaching. I wrote out a detailed itinerary, put all the Airbnb numbers in one place, so we can find them easily. I hope this trip is everything I need it to be, i.e. two weeks in not-America, paying attention to things that are not-Trump. I hope most the Instagram influencers have cleared out for the season. I hope it’s not terribly hot. I hope there’s lots of tea. I feel certain of the last one there. I also want to do some shopping, because I’m an American idiot and I love all the colors in the souks and OMG LEATHER GIMME GIMME.

Finally, we come to current affairs, and, well, I need a new emoji. One that combines the feelings of sadness, horror, contempt and simple OMG-is-this-really-happening astonishment that I walk through every day.

I also see shit like this:

Why does this woman even have a Twitter account? Why would she post stuff like this? So we can all dunk on her in the comments? Maybe so.

And so it’s nearly time for “Succession,” and certainly time for me to get back to my Frommer’s/Lonely Planet/Rough Guide Morocco texts.

Posted at 8:03 pm in Uncategorized | 70 Comments
 

Drain the swamp.

I’ve started and stopped this blog about 90 times since Tuesday. I started out inflamed about the MIT Media Lab thing about Jeffrey Epstein’s enablers, and hence the headline. Then 9/11 popped up, and I went down another dead end. In that spirit, I’m keeping the headline and much of the 9/11 chatter, and we’ll just get to the Publish button one way or another.

I’ve been thinking about 9/11 today, as probably most of you have, too, at least in passing. One thing I hear in the conversational buzz in both the digital and analog world is this: Remember how united we were, afterward? It’d be great if we could get back to that.

See, I don’t remember that.

Oh, there was unity of a sort. We all agreed what had happened was terrible. We all agreed something had to be done. We agreed in a rather vague, amorphous sense, that we were still The Best Country in the World, and Nothing Could Change That.

But I don’t remember any particular unity beyond that. Here are a few things I do remember:

Conservative Republicans pressing their advantage almost immediately. Disagreement with the president was frowned upon. We had to be united! Division is what the enemy wants! So we had to bow and scrape to every pronouncement – that we would “answer this” with fire and fury, etc. That GWB was the man to handle it; OMG can you imagine Al Gore? We needed this tough-talking Texan. And so on.

Even without social media, we endured the stupidest prole-level static imaginable. God, talk radio was insufferable. We didn’t have Facebook, but we had email, and memes. “If you have to fly, carry a small baggie of ham chunks, to throw at the hijackers.” “Did you hear that they found a full-size SUV under the towers with six uninjured firefighters in it? SUVs rule!!!” Here’s this thing Leonard Pitts wrote. Here’s this thing Christopher Hitchens wrote. Here’s something even stupider than the last thing I sent.

I don’t excuse myself from any of this; I was there, I was as crazy as everyone else. But lordy, I don’t look back on those days of grief and pain and fear as something I’d like to get back. Yea, Republicans and Democrats sang “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. But about five minutes after that happened, the American flag started to be worn as a political statement and sartorial wish to turn Afghanistan into a sea of glass, not as an expression of patriotism. Who knew an Old Navy T-shirt could be so unnerving?

Anthrax. Also, anthrax. Yeah, that was no fun, either. That sense that what happened with the planes was only Act I, and soon we could look forward to car bombs and amorphous poisons sent through the mail — that was real unnerving. It didn’t help that there kept being more stupid stories in the media; even the lifestyle writers were pressed into service to ask whether high-end cookware might sell more now, because we were all eating in instead of going out. There was a piece on giving “comfort” gifts at the holidays. There was one on workout routines, for fuck’s sake; more women were taking up swimming, so if they needed to evacuate Manhattan in a big ol’ hurry, they could get to New Jersey or Brooklyn in the water. (As a recent open-water swimmer, I have some news for those gals: No, you can’t. Unless you can steal a boat.)

So no, I don’t have any particular nostalgia for 9/12, for the rise of horrible people like Pamela Geller and Instapundit and all of those. I did read this piece on Wednesday, though, which read in part:

The best of us rushed into burning towers in September or descended upon Afghanistan in October. The rest of us watched in stupefaction or satisfaction, or perhaps both. That goes even for direct witnesses of the great massacre, including me. We spectated. It was not two years later that the phrase emerged, not from Afghanistan but Iraq, that in the post-9/11 era only the American military was at war: the American people were at the mall.

It irritated me, only because it underlined something I’ve always despised, this idea that only first responders and soldiers can be “the best of us,” because man, have you been paying attention to what some cops have been up to lately? Did you hear about Abu Ghraib? But it wasn’t a terrible piece, and I read it, and thought, OK, now I have read that.

Today I surfed past the Indiana Policy Review site, to see if it’s still got my old colleague Leo writing his airy, dismissive, who-really-gives-a-shit columns (yes), and found this, by an Evansville attorney named Joshua Claybourn. Note that I’m posting it from one of the Indiana newspapers that accepts syndicated columns from the IPR:

The best of us rushed into burning towers in September or descended upon Afghanistan in October. The rest of us watched in stupefaction or satisfaction, or perhaps both. That goes even for direct witnesses of the great massacre, including me. We spectated. It was not two years later that the phrase emerged, not from Afghanistan but Iraq, that in the post-9/11 era only the American military was at war: the American people were at the mall.

And yes, for a minute I thought, wearily, JFC, another one? But I’m not entirely sure what happened here. Because besides Claire Berlinski’s blog and the IPR site, it also appeared on another site, Israel National News, also with an anonymous byline. Which doesn’t really suggest someone stole it, because it appeared more or less simultaneously at all three sites.

So is Josh Claybourn Claire Berlinski’s anonymous friend and the Israel National News site’s anonymous contributor? Or is some other funny business going on?

I DM’d Claybourn on Twitter. He is indeed Claire’s correspondent. And what are the odds that I, of all people, saw both pieces in the course of two days? I’m probably the only one. What a distinction. Why can’t this happen for the Powerball?

OK, so that’s it. I’m still gathering my thoughts on Epstein’s enablers, and maybe that’ll gel over the weekend. For now, I’m done, and you all have a great weekend. I’m getting my hair cut.

Posted at 7:30 pm in Current events, Media, Uncategorized | 51 Comments
 

Shrinking pains.

My little narcissistic suburb is going through some agonies at the moment — falling enrollment in the schools, which leads to less state aid for education, which means schools operating well under capacity, which means schools closing. This is a community that Values Education, which means these decisions are Fraught With Drama, with lots of Impassioned Speeches at the Podium, etc.

Last night they voted to close two elementary schools and reconfigure middle school into a 5-8 arrangement. OMG THE DRAMA TODAY. But it made me think about my own schoolin’, way back when, and how it compares to the educational trends of today.

My high school class was around…750. Whew. Peak of the baby boom, 1957 was. We only had three grades in the building, so we’re talking over 2,000 kids under one roof. Nowadays that would be considered a warehouse, an abuse factory, a place where kids can’t get Personalized Attention and a Supportive Environment, but man, I loved it.

Two thousand kids in one building means you can find 20 or 30 who want to take Russian, and hire a teacher to take them through four years of it. Two thousand kids means one-English-class-fits-all ends in ninth grade and for the rest of your time there, you take one-semester classes that can pick up everyone from the dummies (Reading for Pleasure and Profit) to the smarties (20th Century Novel/Poetry/Drama, plus about a dozen more high-level electives). There was World History, European History, U.S. History, Ancient History. Math and science were similarly diversified.

The other great thing about a big school is, you can get lost in it. With every classroom in use every period, there was no study hall — we had “free periods” in which you could go to the library, the open cafeteria in a non-lunch period or to the smoking area. If you were Nancy, you might also slip away to the trouper deck in the auditorium, various janitorial supply rooms or my favorite — the room under the pool, where the pumps and barrels of chlorine powder were kept. There was a window there that let you observe the swimmers underwater, digging their suits out of their crotches after a feet-first landing off the high board. The janitor was very cool and let us sit with him. My friend Jeff, a gay misfit, was a genius at finding these secret spaces. We spent a lot of time in them.

When I went to college, I found it no harder than senior year, and a lot more interesting.

I guess my point is, if your parents are on the job and your teachers aren’t total idiots, things tend to work out, no matter what your brick-and-mortar setup is. Also, schools in that period had not yet been defunded and charter-ized and otherwise manipulated by yokel legislators. Although they certainly were during Kate’s public-school years, and somehow she got through OK.

Might have been one of the lucky ones, I fully acknowledge. Probably was.

So, Wednesday dead ahead. I’d post links, but I’m tired and as we all know by now, anything I post today will be outdated in four hours. So enjoy your Wednesday, and let’s see each other going on Friday.

Posted at 9:41 pm in Uncategorized | 47 Comments
 

Amazing grace.

I wish I could say I were surprised by stuff like Betsy Devos’ budget proposal for the Department of Education, the one that zeroes out funding to the Special Olympics, but who could be surprised at this point? And yes, it’s just a budget proposal; it won’t pass any more than zeroing out support for the Great Lakes ecosystem will.

But it says something. Doesn’t it?

I wish I could shut out what’s happening to the country, but that can only happen for brief snatches of time. So I was fortunate to get a couple of tickets to “Amazing Grace,” the long-delayed — like, 40-some years delayed — film of the sessions that produced Aretha Franklin’s album of the same name. It was her gospel album, made after years of pop hits. A return to her roots, two nights of performance at a Los Angeles church with James Cleveland guiding the session and Sydney Pollack filming it all.

Needless to say, the songs are great. The film is imperfect — lots of ’70s technique, which is to say, cut to out-of-focus shot and several-second delay while camera finds focus; grainy film stock; lots of cuts because cinema verité, dude — but imperfect in a great way. Aretha sweats through her makeup, along with everyone else, because gospel music is hard work. There’s a spectacular choir backing her up, and an even more spectacular choir director with the amusing name of Alexander Hamilton.

The film was shelved because Aretha didn’t like it, probably because of all the sweating. She doesn’t look glamorous, but she looks about as taken by the spirit as it’s possible to be. And now she’s dead, and her estate is not so picky, so here we are.

My favorite number was this one, “How I Got Over.” Mainly because of the choir.

It was screened at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the second night of a two-night run. The first night, the Franklin family threw things off by putting a few close friends on the guest list — a few hundred, which meant there weren’t enough seats, which meant a second night was added. We were lucky to get the seats, but it was worth it.

This was actually a Plan B. We were originally going to Extreme Midget Wrestling at some bar. Next time, maybe. You have to leave your Tuesday nights open from time to time, for stuff like this.

So, bloggage:

Actually, I don’t have any. You can look up Betsy Devos if you like. It’s not going to be a good week for her.

Posted at 10:12 pm in Movies, Uncategorized | 55 Comments
 

It’s all burning.

California is burning, and the president is doing everything wrong. Was there a bigger story to emerge from this weekend? No? Didn’t think so.

Honestly, I can’t say “it can’t get any worse,” because obviously it can, but seriously, a president who can screw up one of the easiest parts of the job? Nothing is out of reach of that. I mean: You show up, you look solemn, you put your hand over your heart, you walk to this mark and that mark, you pose for photos. What you don’t do: Cancel for some transparently bullshit reason, then sit in your hotel room tweeting about California. AND NOT EVEN THE RIGHT THING ABOUT CALIFORNIA. Again, this is the easy stuff: Our thoughts and prayers are with all in harm’s way in California, for instant, or Stay safe, and federal resources will be available for you to rebuild. What the hell EVER.

I spent more time than I probably should checking the lines on the crazier Twitter and Facebook accounts I monitor, and no one was taking his side in this. It’s just…crickets.

Sigh. I ask you.

Not much to report from the weekend. We spent almost all day trying to get a bifold door back on its track, and no, I’m not kidding. In and around that — grocery, gym, laundry, dry cleaner and a Robert Mitchum movie on FilmStruck, which we just discovered and is now, we were dismayed to learn, is going dark at the end of the month. This is a streaming service that has all of the Criterion Collection stuff on it, as well as every classic Hollywood movie you can think of, but away it goes.

This just in: Robert Mitchum in his prime was supremely hittable, if you know what I mean.

And now I am tired and would like to read a book and forget about you-know-who for a while. An old Martin Cruz Smith title might be just the ticket. Happy Monday, all.

Posted at 8:00 pm in Uncategorized | 43 Comments
 

Blood.

Yes, of course I’m heartsick. What happened yesterday in Annapolis is simply appalling. I sometimes wonder how much the public knows about how exposed journalists are, and how common the sort of abuse Jarrod Ramos visited upon the Capital Gazette before his shooting spree really is.

It’s been years and years since I’ve worked for a newspaper, but in my experience, we saw guys like Ramos all the time. Most weren’t violent; in fact, none were. But that simmering layer of insanity? All the time.

When I worked the night shift in Columbus, a regular newsroom caller would rail about Queen Elizabeth to whoever would answer the phone. I don’t know who he was, or the names of the voices in his head, but he could go on and on. We were not encouraged to be cruel to callers, so most people just let him run on. One night, an editor picked up just as we were heading to dinner. He said, “OK, what do I need to know?” and put the receiver down on his desk. When we came back 45 minutes later, the guy was still talking.

A man who looked strangely like a brontosaurus (sorry, I know brontosauruses have a new name now, but I can’t think of it) — long, long neck and tiny head — started writing to me when I was a columnist, and dropped by the newsroom one day to chat, clearly with love on his mind. (He asked me to dinner.)

Another man apparently developed a crush on me after three phone calls and also dropped by the newsroom, clearly with love on his mind. (He brought flowers.)

Then there was the elderly man who came by to tell me about the good work done by his Kiwanis club, then started talking, with far more enthusiasm, about his fondness for at-home nudity, and his daily effort to make sure the early-arriving newspaper carrier got a good look at him through the bay window, on dark winter mornings. (“Did he have a boner?” Alan asked later.)

Yeah, all these people were harmless. A couple were pathetic. But none were 100 percent stable. One guy sent me his self-published book about police persecution, which he described as a nightly phenomenon. Another guy sent mash notes for a while, and when I failed to respond, switched to fuck-you-whore with an alacrity familiar to any woman who’s ever had a crazy boyfriend.

And here’s the thing: No one was really bugged by any of this. It’s part of what makes newsrooms more fun places to work than insurance agencies. Shitty pay, bad coffee and the nut of the morning. After a while, I would tell some callers, “Are you on medication? Have you taken your medication today? Why not? I think you need to take your medication and call me back in an hour.”

But as we all know now, the internet has taken harassment and one’s imaginary worlds into new, self-reinforcing places. It used to be hard to stalk someone; you used to have to do some legwork. Now it’s as easy as sending a friend request. The rhetoric around the business — you’ll hear more about enemies of the people and Milo in the next few days than you ever wanted to know — is reckless and criminal, and shouldn’t be tolerated.

We pause for a word from our sponsor:

Most of the newsrooms I’ve been in had some sort of security. None of it was very good security. I expect that will change now. And one more place a member of the public could saunter through without causing alarm will become locked-down, with visitor badges and sign-in sheets. We’ll all be lesser for it.

Two bits of bloggage today:

Here’s my first big piece for Deadline Detroit. It’s about a local radio station with an unusual promotion strategy. Speaking of harassment, read to the end.

I know a lot of you are friends of Bill and fans of country music. I liked this deep dive into country’s boozy subculture from the WashPost. The most interesting part was how much individual artists can make off liquor tie-ins, an important consideration for artists whose revenue streams are being stolen by the internet.

A very hot, very steamy weekend awaits. I hope to be sailing for the worst of it. Enjoy yours.

Posted at 9:12 am in Uncategorized | 37 Comments
 

A few words about vomit.

Don’t run away, reader! I’m not here to gross you out. I’m simply struck by how often barfing, the act itself, has crossed my radar lately, without actually having done so myself in…well, it’s been a while.

I started limiting my drinking when hangovers progressed from a nuisance headache to a half day in bed, to a whole day in bed to a whole day in bed with one or two next-day technicolor yawns thrown in for fun. I didn’t want to find out what might come after, because I really hate to throw up. It’s one thing to be legitimately sick, but when you’re barfing because of your own bad life choices, well, that’s another thing entirely.

There’s a seasonal concert venue here in southeast Michigan, corporately branded DTE Energy Amphitheater, but before that it was known as Pine Knob, and everybody still mostly calls it that. I’ve been three times, always with my friend Dustin, who is young enough to be my son but loves — fiercely — the music of my youth. The summer-touring nostalgia acts all stop there, if they can still put that many butts in the seats, and together we’ve seen Steely Dan, Jimmy Buffet and Alice Cooper, along with multiple opening acts. None of these musicians are still putting out records, but people my age are happy to save their money for tickets, spread blankets on the grass and feel like they’re 17 again. They also drink like they’re 17, and two out of the three times I’ve been there, someone has barfed in my vicinity. (Not at the Jimmy Buffet show, in case you’re wondering — those people practice all year, and know their limits.) The first time, it was the row in front of me, and the lady didn’t even make it past the Elvis Costello opener. It smelled abominable, but a staffer came in with a cleaning kit of absorbent something-or-other and made short work of it. I got the feeling it happens a lot.

The second time was during the encore for Alice Cooper, and I stepped in it. Needless to say, this ruined the remainder of the evening for me; I considered an emergency amputation of my left foot, because of course I was wearing sandals. The cleaner didn’t arrive until the show was over. I considered throwing my sandal into the bin on my way out, but saved them with a deep clean the next day.

I recently ran across this in a local newsletter, about a downtown development — the AV is “Asian Village” — that didn’t endure:

Of course I’ve had some embarrassing barfs in my life, times when I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. (You know it’s love when your boyfriend is willing to get a mop and bucket and swab the dorm hallway of your half-digested pepperoni pizza and one million Little Kings, even though he’s pretty hammered himself.) But it hasn’t happened in a very long time, maybe not since that incident, freshman year. Of all the places I might choose in a pinch, a fountain would be my very last choice, after the floor or a potted ficus. But I’m bougie that way; I don’t like to see furnishings or atmospheric amenities like waterfalls ruined.

I sometimes wonder if people are throwing up more these days, and what might be to blame for it. (Yes, I should find better things to think about.) Four Loko, sure. Red Bull as a universal mixer? Yep. The general juice-boxification of the American intoxicants market? Oh my yes. But there’s also the general amping up of drinking in general, the puke-and-rally culture of the frat house that endures well into adulthood. A man in his 40s confessed his hangover to me a while back, blaming the shots he’d been doing the night before. Shots! No one older than 25 should ever do shots. I have been known to pour them into potted plants while everyone else’s head was thrown back. A woman I know described offloading a bellyful of vodka-and-cranberry juice in a snowdrift outside her back door, and having to explain to her daughter the next day that no, it wasn’t blood. Vodka and cranberry is a brunch drink, people. Limit two.

Of course, not all vomiting is due to overindulgence. Alan had a spell of food poisoning a few weeks back, and had to rid himself of whatever it was that caused it. It was agony, the worst, he said, since the unfortunate Reuben Sandwich Incident that put him off Reubens for nearly 20 years.

If nothing else, I have vomiting to credit for my love affair with Atul Gawande, the author and New Yorker medical writer. If you have a subscription, I highly recommend “A Queasy Feeling,” which was the first thing of his I read, and fell in love with. The throughline in that piece is hyperemesis of pregnancy, i.e., the all-day sickness that Kate Middleton has endured through three of them. This explains everything about why I do not drink gin and likely never will again:

Break a leg on a ski slope and – as bad as traumatic pain can be – once you can, you’ll ski again. After one unfortunate experience with a bottle of gin or an oyster, by contrast, people won’t go near the culprit for years.

I doubt Alan will ever eat again at the hamburger restaurant he blames for his 48 hours of misery.

And now, like a good barf, I believe I’ve said everything I ever wanted to say about throwing up, and I invite you to share your stories. Please, not too gross.

Posted at 10:52 am in Same ol' same ol', Uncategorized | 90 Comments
 

Testing, 1 2 3.

I had to stick close to home today. I was taking a test. A medical test. Not the infamously gross one everybody should do starting at 50 – did that one a few weeks ago – but a less well-known one. You’re regulars, and we share a lot of our lives here, so here you go:

It’s the Tankard of Pee test.

AKA, 24-hour urine, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like: You have to collect every drop of pee you make in 24 hours. It has something to do with my early-stage osteoporosis, seeing how much calcium I’m losing with every trip to the loo. It’s not nearly as gross as it sounds; they give you a bowl and a big ol’ bottle, the aforementioned tankard. You pee into the bowl, then pour it into the bottle, and then stick the bottle in the fridge. The fridge part is important. You could put it outside if the day is cold enough, but it was too cold today, and the nurse told me not to let it freeze. So I spent the day with my bowl and my tankard and the fridge, where I had a special place for it, next to the orange juice. I’m very careful, and have yet to spill a drop on either my hands or any other surface.

There’s something about this ritual — this is my third Tankard of Pee test — that makes you philosophical. You think: Now I have something in common with Howard Hughes. You think: I’m going to run out of space in this tankard; shouldn’t have had that third cup of coffee. You think: At least I can pee, right? I mean, the alternative is much worse. You think: I want to go to the gym, but what if I have to pee? I’ll have to run home. To my bowl and tankard. You think: I never knew 24 hours could last this long.

I also thought: No way am I watching the State of the Union tonight. I’ve had enough excretory functions for one day.

Read this New Yorker story on Jahi McMath, the 16-year-old girl who’s been in a persistent vegetative state for five years. It’s fascinating.

I see some of you have posted the Chicago Reader story that takes a look back at Bobwatch, which is full of linky goodness of Neil Steinberg’s career interlude writing the column of the same name. I spent an hour reading those 20-year-old clips. It made me happy and sad; such good writing, but such a bygone era in alt-weeklies. Hardly any are that good anymore.

OK. So. The speech has started. I’m going to the refrigerator one…more…time. Maybe two.

Posted at 9:31 pm in Uncategorized | 92 Comments
 

It’s heeeere. 

Briefly have wifi, zero cell service. (Thank God.) But guess what’s coming?

Posted at 7:31 pm in Uncategorized | 141 Comments