Desperate daring devils.

Thirteen years ago we took our first and only trip to Niagara Falls. Never say never – I guess circumstance could bring me back one day – but once is enough for that place, and having seen Iceland’s great waterfalls, none of which have a casino overlooking them, I see no reason to go back to Niagara.

Of course we checked out the gift shop. I believe I bought a tacky spoon rest which has never been used, and a book. Not much of a book, more like a fat pamphlet, self-published and titled something like “Daredevils of the Falls.” It might have been the only item in the store that addressed the thing everyone knows about Niagara Falls: People have been trying to “conquer” them forever. The falls generally remain unconquered.

I read the book on the drive back to Toronto, and a theme quickly emerged: The people who take on Niagara, almost to a man or woman, are desperate. They’re out of money, out of options, and think that one spectacular stunt will lift them out of their rut once and for all. Even the town itself has a certain desperation to it (the casino, just so no tourist dollar remains un-angled-for). It’s as though they arrive at the falls thinking here’s where the road ends for you, but maybe it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, won’t you have a story to tell. There was a little tourist boom in the 19th century, when people were amused and amazed at daredevils who would cross the river gorge on a tightrope. Then that got old, and the devils had to get more daring. They began to grapple with the falls themselves.

Humans have dreamed up and built all sorts of conveyances meant to carry them over the drop and let them live through it. We speak of “going over Niagara Falls in a barrel,” but that was only the beginning. Barrel after barrel has smashed on the rocks below, killing the occupants, as humans tried to improve the concept.

That’s not to say some people didn’t make it. A few did, and the Wikipedia entry is sort of a Cliff’s notes of “Daredevils of the Falls,” starting with Annie Edson Taylor in 1901, the first to do it and live.

The list of attempts reads like grim comedy:

1920 – On July 11, Charles Stephens from Bristol went over the falls in a barrel. Bobby Leach and William “Red” Hill, Sr. urged Stephens to test his barrel over the falls before attempting the stunt, but he refused. When the barrel was recovered at the foot of the falls, the ballast had pulled Stephen’s body out of the barrel, leaving just his right arm in the safety harness.

1930 – On July 4, George Stathakis, a Greek immigrant working as a chef in Buffalo, New York, went over the falls in a barrel. Upon impact, the barrel was stuck behind a curtain of water and could not be recovered for 18 hours. Stathakis had an air supply of up to eight hours – although he had survived the initial fall, he died of suffocation. Stathakis took the plunge with his pet turtle, which was said to be around 150 years old. The turtle survived the ordeal.

1990 – On June 5, Jessie Sharp went over the falls in a kayak. He intended to continue paddling downriver after the fall, and had made dinner reservations at a restaurant in Lewiston, 4 miles downstream. After beginning the plunge he quickly disappeared into the falls and although his kayak was later found, his body was never recovered. Sharp decided not to wear a life jacket in case it impeded an escape should he get trapped under the falls, and refused to wear a helmet in order to keep his face recognizable to cameras.

My all-time favorite, though, was Karel Soucek, a career stuntman. He crafted a special, high-tech barrel, and made it in one piece and with only a minor injury, caused by his own wristwatch hitting his face. He sought to capitalize on his fame with a tour re-enacting the feat. How do you do such a thing away from the falls? He rented the Houston Astrodome and installed a tank on the field, that’s how, and then had himself and his barrel winched 180 feet up to the ceiling, about the height of Niagara. Thirty-five thousand people bought tickets to watch this spectacle. The barrel started to spin as it fell, clipped the edge of the tank and killed its occupant.

Yes, he survived Niagara Falls, but not the Houston Astrodome. This was in 1985. I have to assume video of it exists somewhere, but it’s not immediately available on YouTube.

I was studying screenwriting at the time, and thought these stories would make a wonderful movie. A Robert Altman movie, to be precise.

I also recalled that a few months before our trip, right after we moved to Ann Arbor, a Metro Detroit man named Kirk Jones had gone over the falls and lived. He claimed it was a suicide attempt, although some dispute this, but it wasn’t his turn to die, and he lived through it without maiming or serious injury, only the second person to do so without any protective gear or conveyance. (The other was a boy who’d fallen from a fishing boat in 1960.) Within a few months he had joined a traveling circus. Adrianne? Fort Wayne peeps from the ’80s? He joined the Toby Tyler Circus, which is a whole other story. He didn’t have to drop from the top of the tent or anything, but was featured in a segment where he basically just told his story and, if I’m remembering correctly, gave the glory to God.

(I’ll tell the Toby Tyler Circus story some other day. Promise.)

So this long story brings us up to Thursday, and guess what I read yesterday morning: Kirk Jones is dead, killed by Niagara Falls. And because this is Niagara Falls, the story is extra-weird:

A man who died going down Niagara Falls in a plastic ball may have taken a seven-foot snake down with him.

The body of Kirk Jones was discovered below the falls on June 2, and authorities now believe he may have put a boa constrictor inside an inflatable ball with him.

Following Jones’ death, police discovered a website called “Kirk Jones Niagara Falls Daredevil” in which he shared his plans for going down the falls with the seven-foot snake named Misty, the Associated Press reported.

Who knows, maybe Misty killed him. I’d be one pissed-off snake if I knew some unstable asshole had sealed me into a plastic ball and intended to take us both over a 200-foot waterfall. I might give him a good squeeze and hope he cushioned the blow for both of us.

If I’d met an actual Icelandic person at Gullfoss or Go∂afoss or one of their spectacular falls, I might have asked if that country had a tradition of idiots and famewhores trying to conquer their natural beauty. Somehow, I doubt it. This seems a peculiarly American pursuit.

So, a little bloggage beyond Kirk? Rex Tillerson threw a fit at the White House recently, but it doesn’t matter because the State Department is pretty much screwed, anyway.

And finally, a note about Trump’s tweets about Mika Brzezinski: I think these are flat-out lies. Not that a TV newswoman would never have a facelift, but when women in her position do have that sort of thing done, they don’t go out to dinner, even at a private club, when they’re still “bleeding badly,” or whatever. There are high-end spas and recovery centers for just this purpose, where you lie around in a robe and maybe get your toenails painted and eat dinner in your suite. Have you ever seen a woman’s face immediately after a lift? They look like they’ve been in a car accident — black eyes, puffy everything, the works. No woman would risk having her photo taken by a Mar-a-lago guest, or a paparazzo. I speculated on Facebook that maybe she got caught by Joe’s backswing on the golf course, and the president just made an assumption.

OK, then. Long weekend ahead for many of us. Enjoy.

Posted at 12:01 am in Current events | 124 Comments

Down days.

First, just a bit of housekeeping: For the remainder of the summer, I’m taking the blog down to a M/W/F schedule. I realize it’s been erratic for a while, pretty much a four-times-a-week thing unless it’s three times a week, so why not just do it? Three times a week it is, through Labor Day. Perhaps beyond, if the quality picks up, which I hope it does.

I dunno what’s behind this, except that I’m tired, and feel like there’s a new direction to take this thing, but I’m not sure what it is, yet. It’s not shutting down, it’s just slowing down. After all, I never promised to blog Every Goddamn Day, only most goddamn days.

Not shutting down, nosirree. Rest easy. We’ll just have some longer comment threads.

So. Today the indispensable David Fahrenthold dropped this lovely item into the mix: At at least four different Trump golf clubs, there’s a framed Time magazine cover on the wall. With Trump out front, of course. And it’s fake. Of course.

There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time magazine. And there was no issue at all in 2009 that had Trump on the cover.

In fact, the cover on display at Trump’s clubs, observed recently by a reporter visiting one of the properties, contains several small but telling mistakes. Its red border is skinnier than that of a genuine Time cover, and, unlike the real thing, there is no thin white border next to the red. The Trump cover’s secondary headlines are stacked on the right side — on a real Time cover, they would go across the top.

And it has two exclamation points. Time headlines don’t yell.

“I can confirm that this is not a real TIME cover,” Kerri Chyka, a spokeswoman for Time Inc., wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

I don’t know what to think anymore. The country is caught in some sort of horrible vortex. Why aren’t we running down the middle of the street, screaming?

If I’d been to Seth Mnuchin’s wedding, I’d sure be doing that.

Wellness: Such a goddamn scam. Thanks, Gwyneth:

When Gwyneth Paltrow first launched Goop in 2008, it was a great place to find out where to eat the best tapas in Barcelona. It was straight-up celebrity-lifestyle voyeurism, and Paltrow, with her long blonde hair and aura of complete self-satisfaction, was irresistible. There’s the expression “living your best life,” and then there is Paltrow: best life manifest.

But then Goop’s focus started to shift. Paltrow began to describe in detail her exercise regimen with her trainer Tracy Anderson, who believes one should work out two hours a day, six days a week. Then she began providing information on a cleanse she does each January. The mission became less about revealing the trappings of the good life and more about the notion that the really good life is internal. Rich and beautiful people don’t just go to nicer places, their organs work better. They even know how to breathe better, with more oxygen per ounce. They’re not afraid to try fecal transplants, with really top-notch, vegan-only feces. Goop became less about hotels and restaurants and more about chakras and thyroids, with the implication that maybe what’s actually standing between you and your inner Gwyneth is some mysterious virus that your overextended, pharmaceutically corrupt doctor is too narrow-minded to address.

If you spend even a minute of your day thinking, “Should I get a fecal transplant?” and you’re not in the hospital with C.diff, you need more things to worry about. Maybe the wrong fecal transplant will give them to you.

See you Friday.

Posted at 9:23 pm in Current events, Housekeeping | 91 Comments

Rainbow connection.

City life: I took the dog for a walk close to 7 p.m., and even though it wasn’t raining here at all, there was a pretty grand rainbow in the east, which we enjoyed until it disappeared. For a while it was doubled. Very nice.

A while later Alan pulled into the driveway.

“See the rainbow?” I asked.

“Yes. And I think someone on I-94 saw it, because he’d run his car up the embankment and rolled back down. He was standing outside smoking a cigarette, and grocery bags full of his crap were all over.”

Just another Monday evening. An exhausting one, for me — slept badly and had a series of frustrating blah-blahs, but oh well. A couple squares of dark chocolate and a glass of wine should do it.

So, a little bloggage?

Your daily presidential embarrassment, via Haberman at the NYT:

In the span of 72 hours, President Trump described the email hacking that roiled the 2016 campaign as a Democratic “hoax” and as clear aggression by Russia that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, failed to address.

Other times, Mr. Trump has said the hacking might have been done by China.

Or, as he claimed during the first general election debate, the hacking could have been the work of a lone wolf weighing 400 pounds, sitting on his bed at home.

Then there was the time Mr. Trump blamed “some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

Or, as Mr. Trump has also suggested, there might not even have been hacking at all…

Twenty-two million more uninsured. MAGA, mofos.

I think I need to see “Wonder Woman” or something. Happy Tuesday to all.

Posted at 9:04 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 59 Comments

One busy weekend.

Welcome back, hostess-with-the-leastest. This has been a hectic past few days, but at the end of it:

1) I am a lifeguard. There will be no drowning if I have anything to say about it.

2) I nearly drowned my phone, but it recovered.

3) I attended an iftar on the last night of Ramadan.

4) I missed the Cannabis Cup.

I guess the catch-up begins on Thursday night, when a fundraiser I helped organize was held — it was a bikes-and-beer pub crawl/poker run, i.e, a visit to five closely adjacent historic taverns, on bicycles. The day was hot-hot-hot and sticky until it wasn’t, which in summer in the Midwest means we were all dying of sweatiness until a massive thunderstorm blew through. We were on stop no. 2 when it hit (the one with the best jukebox, I’m relieved to report), and it pinned us down past our departure time, and sundown. Finally, we made the executive decision to dash two blocks to the next place in a light shower, and things were pretty OK for a while.

I was riding what I called Bike Uber, our old Schwinn Twinn, a c. 1971 tandem that has a curb weight about half that of my car. I always liken its ride to that of a Soviet limousine; it takes its time getting up to cruising speed, but once it’s there, it has a spectacularly solid momentum that’s truly a pleasure to pilot.

We scratched the fourth bar and I was headed for the final stop, alone on the bike, in a light drizzle. And the skies opened. By “opened” I mean all the water in the world fell on my head for about two minutes. I was already damp, but now I was well and truly soaked to the skin. I checked in at the last bar, made sure I had no chores to do on the fundraiser, and left for home – air conditioning is nearly intolerable when you’re that wet.

But by then the rain had stopped for good, and the ride home was kinda magical. The pedaling banished the chill, and Grosse Pointe was reflecting light from every wet surface in the face of inky darkness. All the storm drains were gurgling; hardly anyone was out and about. When a car’s headlights appeared in front or behind me, I just turned a corner and adjusted the route home, noticing which blocks had the new LED streetlights and which still had the old ones. The Soviet-limousine ride was pleasant. I made it home in about 15-20 minutes, and didn’t even have the brown stripe of muddy water up my back, because old bike = fenders.

The only casualty was my phone, which had its ports facing up during the downpour, and the mic/speaker stopped working. But Alan put it in a bag of desiccant in the hot sun, and it healed itself.

Lo, I have a lucky star.

Saturday was more lifeguarding class. We practiced all our saves and had our water test, which we all passed. I still don’t feel competent, but I’m less incompetent. Sunday was the written test. The instructor plugged some gaps in our instruction, including the dreaded AFR — accidental fecal release. We were told the sanitation procedures for both the Baby Ruth variety and the chocolate-milk spill, and she revealed that some years ago, her lowest-performing guard arranged just such an event to force a closure and an early quitting time for himself.

Reader, I cannot tell a lie: My first thought was, I bet I know who he voted for.

And Saturday night was a big feed for the final night of Ramadan. Dearborn was popping. Fireworks and food trucks all over, once the sun went down. There were Eid gifts for the children, and for once, I went home from a dinner party with no wine in my belly and woke up Sunday feeling just fine, although not capable of driving 70 miles north to the Cannabis Cup, where LAMary’s son was selling swag. I should’ve, but it just felt like a bridge too far.

So sorry, Pete.

I didn’t have time to do more than glance at the Sunday papers. What did I miss?

Posted at 8:38 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 58 Comments

Midweek. More week.

There are times, in the middle of a busy week, when only “The Great British Baking Show” and a glass of wine will work to calm one’s shattered, or at least frayed, nerves.

Frayed. Yes, that’s it. It’s been a long one, and it won’t stop until…a few more days. I have weekend stuff, too. But there’s a long weekend coming up eventually, and it’s not like I’m digging coal here.

Lifeguard training is going well, in the sense that no one has actually drowned. I had difficulty doing the deep-water rescues, as either the victim or the saver, because I float like a cork. I think it’s Charlotte who has difficulty floating? I can’t sink.

“Adipose tissue,” I said as I failed to touch the bottom of the deep end yet again. “I’m a manatee.”

But little by little, we four are getting it. You wouldn’t necessarily want to hire us at your water park, but we can certainly be useful assistants in an emergency. At least I hope so.

Man, water parks. I’ve been to the one at Cedar Point a time or three, when Kate was at an age to enjoy it. I always liked the lazy rivers, and could have stayed in one all day, if I were allowed a cocktail every third circuit or so. But guarding them must be maddening; so many people simply don’t know what they don’t know. (How to swim, for starters.) Not that this keeps anyone out of the water. I’d go nuts in 15 minutes.

So. Shame about Ossoff, although I wasn’t getting my hopes up. I’m done with that. Grim resignation, that’s my new default. Pendulums swing. Let’s just hang on for the ride.

In the meantime, some bloggage: A WashPost story about Kosciusko County, Ind., just west of the Fort, where the demand for skilled factory workers to fill the artificial-joint plants is acute and not being met by the market:

Kosciusko is only one of 73 counties in the United States with unemployment rates of 2 percent or lower, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many are in ­energy-rich counties in the Midwest and Colorado, where the fracking and natural gas booms have vacuumed up the workforce.

They also include communities that defy the heartland stereotype of industrial decay — like Warsaw, in northern Indiana, and Columbus, about three hours south.

Cummins, a global engine builder based in Columbus, recently opted to open its new distribution center an hour north in Indianapolis, where the labor market is much larger. (Columbus is the seat of Bartholomew County, which also has a 2 percent unemployment rate.)

Companies in Warsaw probably would not move manufacturing jobs abroad, said (economist Michael) Hicks, who follows the region. Firms are more likely to transition to Indianapolis or Chicago, he said, since quality control is crucial for medical implants, and businesses want to protect their designs from foreign competitors.

This is where the importance of talent comes in. And that is where the importance of good schools comes in. I’ve been gone from Indiana long enough that I can’t recall the quality of the schools in rural Indiana, but I think it’s safe to say they’re hit-or-miss. And the legislature has been working mightily to strip the public districts of funding, so that vouchers can be issued for religious schools. Dunno how they do in preparing the workforce of tomorrow. They need to be good. They better be good.

(We talk about this issue in Michigan a lot. Safe to say the legislature is not entirely in agreement.)

And the Senate health-care bill is set for its big reveal. Discuss.

Posted at 10:03 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 95 Comments

So scripty!

It looks like we all need a fresh thread. Day one of lifesaving went well. Three women, one man, the latter of whom is tall, lanky, and over 200 pounds, i.e., no picnic to tow back to the side, but we made it work. I’m sure much of the class looked like a comedy of errors, but once I got the hang of how to deploy the rescue tube in different situations, it got better.

And I slept like a baby last night. Excellent.

This was the view from day one of morning swim yesterday, which I share just because:

I won’t see the sky like that for a while, because I showed up extra-early. But the solstice is just after midnight tonight (dammit) in my time zone, so come it will. (Dammit.)

One link today: Politics in Cooz’s state. No wonder he’s grumpy. I would be, too. Not that Michigan is much better.

Still growing used to the new fonts. As always, we are a work in progress around here.

Happy Tuesday, all.

Posted at 8:37 am in Same ol' same ol' | 41 Comments

Drowning in…something.

So, Father’s Day is upon us. Barely noon, and I have already tired of the social-media parade of World’s Greatest Dads. (Admittedly, I contributed.) Holidays like this turn us all into Mitch Albom; there’s just no room for shadows, even though shadows are what give figures dimension and make them more interesting.

My dad did OK. He could be a jerk, but he was my jerk, my dad, and he did well enough. That’s all you need to get a headstart in the world. Good-enough parents, not great ones.

And in the Department of Pre-emptive Apologies, I have a week’s worth of evening stuff coming up. And guess what it is? One of the women in my swimming cohort is training a few of us to be lifeguards. I’ve been thinking for a while now that I haven’t had a CPR refresher since I took a class in the ’80s, and my first aid is equally rusty. Tim, our coach, is 77 and creaky, and has said often that he’d really like to have some backup on morning swims, so here we all go. It should be over in a week, but I have another conflict Thursday, so it might take a little bit longer.

I did the qualifying stuff Saturday: 300-yard swim, two minutes of no-hands water treading and the infamous pick-up-a-brick exercise. That’s where you swim 20 yards or so, surface-dive to pick up a 10-pound brick in 10 feet of water, then take it back to the starting point, get it out of the pool and then heave yourself out behind it, all in a minute-forty. The last was harder than I expected, but I made it with plenty of time to spare. The two women I was testing with needed multiple tries, but then again, none of us are planning to get jobs as lifeguards. But you never know. The siren song of the red tank suit and the privilege of sitting on the high chair in mirrored shades may well lure me out of journalism.

Speaking of which, this is an outstanding “This American Life” segment on a 66-year-old lifeguard who sued New York City for age discrimination. A NYT account of the same situation.

Who knows, I may not pass the final. But I’ll be fresh on my CPR and first aid. I have this fantasy that my post-retirement career will be as a personal trainer to postmenopausal women. Step one!

Just one link today: Mark Bittman is doing regular food writing again. For New York magazine, no no registration, no paywall. Huzzah.

So, maybe see you guys on…Wednesday? That’ll work.

Posted at 1:31 pm in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 66 Comments

In which I am doctor-shamed.

Guys! I’m feeling much better! After a week of misery, I finally dragged myself off to the doctor, and told her about the ears and the sore throat and the fever and the non-arc of this affliction, so it must be an infection and I need some serious meds and oh my I feel terrible and–

“Your right ear looks normal.”

Well, the pain is mostly on the left side, and–

“Your left ear is fine, too.”

But, but, fever! And pain! In my ears! I’m a swimmer!

“I’ll just do a strep test, then.”

You know the end of this story. The test was negative. My ears were fine. Diagnosis: “Viral blah-blah.” Her words.

“Don’t put that on the internet or anything.”

I wouldn’t dream of it.

The next day, the very next day, I was much improved. Enough that I headed out for a quick dinner with a friend, and posed in my boss Mike Tyson T-shirt in front of one of Midtown Detroit’s dwindling number of corner stores:

This time next year it’ll be an artisanal paper store, or something. Just you wait.

But now the hour is growing late, and I want to go to bed. A couple quick links:

This was on Slate Plus, and I’m not a member, but I was able to open it: Is Trump experiencing cognitive decline? Yet another examination of the StatNews piece a couple weeks back.

Obstruction of justice and the world of hurt to come.

Let’s hope the weekend heals me fully. Have a good one, all.

Posted at 10:46 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 82 Comments

Fresh thread.

I suppose we will need a fresh thread for the Congressional shooting. Here it is.

Posted at 8:57 am in Current events | 57 Comments

That cabinet meeting.

Still sick, still gotta deadline, still 90 degrees. Have this mixed grill.

What’s the matter with Kansas? They took the craziest tax-cutters at their word, and look what happened.

The 101 canonical tweets. In the depths of my feverish misery, I wept my mascara off, laughing at some of these.

Speaking of Twitter, though: As the kids say, Thread.

Is North Korean diplomacy a job for the secretary of state? Or…:::echo FX here::: Dennis Rodman?

Finally, I repeat what I said yesterday: Has there ever been a more unctuous windbag than Mike Pence? When he says, “the greatest honor of my life,” I wonder how he explains it to Mother. Ah, she’s probably Pinteresting inaugural ballgowns; what am I saying?

Hope I can see the doc today.

Posted at 8:09 am in Current events | 44 Comments