Kibbles ‘n’ b.s.

The day we took our first Jack Russell terrier home, the breeder gave us a deli container of food – Iams Eukanuba. “I’ve always fed my dogs Eukanuba, and they’ve done well on it,” she said.

So we took Spriggy home, gave the bag of Purina we’d already bought to the shelter, bought a bag of Eukanuba and never looked back. Sprig lasted until a month shy of his 18th birthday. So when we adopted Wendy, we bought a bag. I couldn’t find it at my beloved locally owned pet store (Lou’s, the best in town), so I bought it from a regional chain a few blocks away, one with a very all-natural, snooty kind of nothing’s-too-good-for-my-fur-baby vibe. They had a frequent-buyer’s program, and I dragged that punch card around for the more than two years it’s taken to buy 12 bags. On Saturday, I took it in for my free 13th bag.

“Just to let you know,” the clerk said, “but we’re not going to be restocking this when the inventory is gone. It has…corn in it, which is contrary to the Snooty Pet Store philosophy.” All this delivered in a sort of of-course-you-agree airiness.

I stood there thinking, “If it weren’t for the Chinese and their poisoned pet food, this place wouldn’t exist.” Also thinking, “If this is a ploy to get me to pay even more for dog food, it ain’t gonna work.” You can put organic lamb and mountain blueberries in kibble, but we’re still talking about an animal that will eat its own poop, and with gusto.

Any suggestions? This place gets on my nerves.

So, then. Perhaps you’ve heard about Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently learned the man who he thought was his father, wasn’t. His real father turned out to be Sir Anthony Montague Browne, an aide to Winston Churchill. But until you’ve read his mother’s marvelous explanation of how this happened, you really haven’t lived:

Gavin Welby, my ex-husband, was a very strong, possessive character. At the end of March 1955 he was bullying me to leave my job as personal secretary to the Prime Minister and run away with him and marry him in the United States where his divorce was being finalised. At the age of 25, as I was, the pressure became too great and in the end I found myself unable to resist.

One feature of this pressure is that I was already drinking heavily at times. Although I could then ensure that this did not affect my work, it was later to develop into serious alcoholism during the 1960s which only came to an end when I entered rehab in 1968. I have not drunk alcohol since.

Although my recollection of events is patchy, I now recognize that during the days leading up to my very sudden marriage, and fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides, I went to bed with Anthony Montague Browne. It appears that the precautions taken at the time didn’t work and my wonderful son was conceived as a result of this liaison.

Girl, that sort of thing happens all the time. Relax. You got a fine boy out of it. He grew up to be Archbishop of Canterbury! Blood will always tell. I’m sure he’ll forgive you.

You might have heard that Andrew Sullivan, the ultimate bad penny, is back on the job, or will be soon, this time at New York magazine. Roy makes the case for not forgetting Sullivan’s background, in case you need to be reminded, you fifth columnist.

God, here comes Tuesday. No entry tomorrow, alas — journalism awards tonight, so I’ll be curling my hair and getting my Oscar dress steamed.

Posted at 12:19 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 88 Comments
 

I know right.

Saturday, cold wind. Sunday, cold rain.

“Fuck this weather anyway,” I said on my way out of the gym Sunday. “I know right,” said the guy at the front desk, which I gather is an expression of affirmation, with no obvious punctuation. I KNOW RIGHT. Kids these days.

It wasn’t a bad weekend, but the weather was atrocious. There was a little chilly sunshine on Saturday, and that was a big ol’ compensation for the breeze coming straight out of the north, but meh. So I spent much of the weekend reading. Softhearted me, I undertook Jim Harrison’s final collection of novellas, “The Ancient Minstrel.” I finally had to put it down on Saturday and go make lamb chops, because I had my fill of goatish old satyrs assaulting 15-year-old girls. The final piece in the collection features such a pairing, which would be defensible, to my mind, if this fictional 15-year-old did anything remotely resembling what a real 15-year-old would do when a senior citizen is pawing her body. Cry, maybe, or go limp, or ask for money. But no — she welcomes the sexual attention of a 66-year-old man, enthusiastically. She rolls her hips around, teases him with peeks up her shorts, pouts when they’re interrupted.

I have fucking had it, I thought, and went downstairs to throw some fingerling potatoes in the oven.

A 15-year-old isn’t exactly a child, but this particular theme, old guys with young girls, has been a regular in the Harrison canon for at least the last 20 years. And it has become, for me, increasingly cringeworthy. It’s odd to feel embarrassed for someone you admire so much. He wrote some outstanding fiction in his life, books I’ve treasured, read and reread to figure out how he did it, how he made these meandering, plotless stories so interesting. He had a voice that made me want to spend time in his head and look at the world through his eyes. His characters were always wildly flawed and often sexually reckless, but they were funny, and they weren’t felons, at least not the ones we might be expected to identify with. (I recall a vile, moneyed patriarch who raped a child in one, but that’s it.)

But age takes its toll on everyone, and a few years back, I noticed the same stories repeating themselves, and evidence of little or no editing, self- or otherwise. The last book I bought was “The River Swimmer,” which asks us to believe a young man might swim from somewhere on the west Michigan coast at roughly the Grand Rapids latitude to Chicago. In Lake Michigan. Is this magical realism? Kinda. But I found the impossibility of the act – and the fact this 17-year-old character has all the attitudes and wisdom of his 70-something creator – hard to get past. (Even in these half-baked stories, though, there were flashes of brilliance, the old better-on-a-bad-day-than-almost-everyone-else-on-their-best thing. Which is why I kept reading.)

This April-December sex thing is a bridge too far for me, though, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, now that he’s dead. I finished the story the next day. Spoiler alert: The character commits suicide on the final page. Good, I thought, and regretted ever knowing about him in the first place.

Do I have some bloggage? I think so…

A columnist in Indiana apologizes for not saying something sooner.

I find Vice wildly uneven, but this was funny: I played “The Boys Are Back in Town” on a bar jukebox until I got kicked out. It was sent to me by a friend who said his evening had been ruined by some douche coming into the bar where he was playing pool and fucking up his sick jukebox set with some Kiss shit. Been there! Feel your pain!

Zika is coming. Congress is not hustling to find the money to fight it. Quelle surprise.

Premature death rates for middle-aged white women are climbing; the WashPost looked at one. A sad, familiar story.

OK, then, Monday awaits. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, J.C. BURNS!!! Enjoy yours.

Posted at 12:11 am in Popculch | 50 Comments
 

Baby’s first existential bleakness.

My first exposure to the work of Franz Kafka came sometime in high school. I read “The Metamorphosis” and “In the Penal Colony,” one as assigned reading, the other just because. The term “Kafkaesque” was being thrown around the culture, and I thought I should know what it meant.

(This led to a sub-fling with the French existentialists, but after “No Exit” I realized these frog poseurs were best for reading in public, or casually displaying on top of a notebook in a cafe or pizza parlor. “This? Oh, yes – I’m into Sartre,” etc.)

I’m sure the assigned piece was “The Metamorphosis,” as I recall my stern-but-amusing 20th Century Literature teacher (this was in high school, senior year) chortling over the first line: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” (This may vary, depending on your translation. I like “gigantic insect” better than “monstrous verminous bug,” which I found online.) “In the Penal Colony” kind of blew my mind, or at least the descriptions of the harrow did.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at the Facebook feed of a former colleague and discovered “My First Kafka,” or Kafka for children. From the Amazon reviews:

This kid’s book is a great one for the intellectual parents in your life. Sedate the kid in front of the TV with Spongebob blasting and read yourself this beautiful book. Look around and the shattered remains of your life and fall into a beautifully illustrated pit of existential despair.

I was so square, I read my kid Beatrix Potter. If you ask me, those animals knew existential despair, especially Peter Rabbit.

Of course, if you want existential despair you can hardly do better than this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.24.18 PM

I generally power through winter with only my fair allotment of whiny bitching, but lately I think something changes in my body at this time of year, and I actually am physically colder. Because I’ve been freezing all week, and the above makes me want to weep. (When I visited San Francisco a few years back, we left Detroit in the middle of a standard withering summer heat wave. The first few days I strolled the night streets in a T-shirt, looking quizzically at the tiny Asian girls shivering in down jackets and wool hats. Within two days I had adjusted, but never put on anything thicker than a hooded sweatshirt.)

Speaking of which, some friends of mine are eloping to San Fran/Napa Valley in a couple of weeks. They’re trying to get reservations at the French Laundry, but they’re booked for months. Any of you Californians know the secret number to call?

So, bloggage:

You saw the Daily News front page. It looks like Eduardo Rafael Cruz is having a difficult time dealing with those New York values.

The headline’s not in all caps, but it should be: 20,000 LESBIANS IN THE DESERT: WELCOME TO THE DINAH, A WORLD WITHOUT MEN.

I usually try to post three links, but shouldn’t 20,000 lesbians count double? I think so. And with that, I wish you a happy weekend.

Posted at 12:29 am in Detroit life, Popculch | 70 Comments
 

Ghost, with bullwhip.

So Alan and I were watching “Robert Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” on HBO, and within the first five minutes, we get to the infamous bullwhip picture. The camera holds for a long, long time. There are voices of others who knew him, and the bullwhip picture stays on the screen. Stays and stays, for a few long minutes.

“Something’s wrong here,” I said.

“It’s a choice,” he said. “In your face.”

“But it makes no sense,” I said. “Even for in your face, this is too long.”

I fast-forwarded, and sure enough, the picture was somehow frozen, while the audio played on. Played a little with forward and reverse, and it happened again. I couldn’t get past the bullwhip picture just by hitting play.

Very strange. A ghost in the machine.

I love Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, and always have. A great artist. I wish I could be an artist like that. His work will outlive all the yammering of all the idiots who couldn’t — can’t — handle it.

So, got a better sleep last night, and felt enormously better on Wednesday, which was reasonably full — a radio interview, a regular old interview, lots of reading. Here’s something I read – Charlie Pierce on Ted Cruz, plus high dudgeon:

Make no mistake: Ted Cruz is running an explicitly theocratic campaign. (His well-worn Constitution seems to be missing Article VI, Section III. You know, that whole thing about banning religious tests for office.) He has mashed up radical Tentherism, talk-radio conservatism, and religious extremism into a great ball and he is running to lead a revival in this nation based in end-times Protestant eschatology. It is Dominionism 101. (There is more than a little irony present when Cruz mocks the president as “the chosen one,” when there is considerable evidence that Cruz was deliberately raised to believe that of himself by his crazoid preacher father.) When Steve King says he prayed his way to endorsing Cruz, and that he did so “hoping that god would raise up a leader,” he’s not kidding, and I promise we’ll get to that later. But the thing about it is, not only is Ted Cruz running an explicitly theocratic campaign, he’s running a very good explicitly theocratic campaign. Of all the true believers in Ted Cruz on that stage, nobody believes more truly in Ted Cruz than the candidate himself.

I also read a bunch of stuff about blood-borne illnesses, but no need to cut and paste that.

And now I’m going to listen to some Merle Haggard, just to make sure the day’s artistic content covers a pretty wide spectrum. Merle to Mapplethorpe. Have a good Thursday.

Posted at 12:10 am in Popculch | 58 Comments
 

Desperately seeking zzzz’s.

If you’re looking for some pithy content today, you’re in the wrong place. Slept extremely badly last night, so I’m looking for an extra-early bedtime, a melatonin and fervent hopes for a good night’s sleep.

I was in Ann Arbor much of the day, and had a first: A source who grew up in Columbia City, and remembered my stupid face in her parents’ evening newspaper. That would be Columbia City, Indiana, for you non-sophisticates out there. A real happenin’ town. I showed my horse there a couple of times, passed through the McDonald’s drive-thru lane. Woo. Good times.

Bloggage: Here’s the story I was writing when Wendy was editing me, on Friday.

I’m also reading up on the Panama papers, so I can think about them coherently.

I suppose y’all will be discussing Wisconsin by the time I check in tomorrow, but for now, it’s lights out for me.

Posted at 12:11 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 31 Comments
 

Very, very successful.

I confess, I was only about halfway through the Donald Trump interview when I posted it last night. It went on and on and on, and it never got coherent. How can a person talk and talk and talk like this, in an interview with one of the most important news outlets in the country? Here, they’re trying – and trying and trying and trying – to get him to say when he decided to run for president. Not a difficult question, you’d think. But nooooo:

Remember this crazy man, Lawrence O’Donnell — he’s a total crazy nut — he said, Donald Trump only made a million dollars with “The Apprentice.” I said, “A million dollars?” You know, when you have a show that’s essentially number one almost every time it goes on, you can name it. . . . So anyway, when they added it all up — and these are certified numbers, because you have to do certified numbers — it came out to $213 million. Okay? That’s what I made on “The Apprentice.” That’s just — and that’s one of my small things. That’s what I made. You know? So it was put at $213 million, and it was certified. And your friend Joe in the morning said, “There’s no way he only made. . . .” They had a big fight, and O’Donnell, Lawrence O’Donnell started crying. I never saw anything like it. Do you remember? He started crying. [Laughter] He actually started crying. But that shows the level of hatred that people have. But what happened is, I made — I had a very, very successful show. And they put me in polls, and I was essentially leading right at the top, without doing any work. Not one speech, not one anything. But any time I was in a poll, I did very well in the poll. Anyway, I decided not to do it. NBC called and Mark Burnett would call, and I did see if I could get out. I had another year on the contract. Because you’re not allowed, because of the equal time, you’re not allowed to have a show . . . .

RC: What happened between 2011 and 2014?

DT: Well, that’s what — I mean. . . . Between 2011 and 2014? I would say, just thought process. Only thought process.

And that is pretty much the level of deep thought and intelligence that goes into what seems to be the entire interview. If I were a loyal Republican, I’d be drinking pretty much nonstop.

That’s the really long thing I finished reading. Also, this really long thing, which is incredibly creepy: A Gay Talese exploration of an extremely dedicated voyeur. If I stayed in a motel in Aurora, Colo., anytime between the mid-’60s and mid-’90s? I’d be staring at the ceiling tonight.

Otherwise? It was cold today, and I’m damn sick of it. I dug out my winter dog walking pants – that’s how cold it was. I wore a B-level sweater I don’t like much – that’s how cold it was. I wore a fleece scarf. Today sucked.

I also read this piece, about Gov. Snyder and the Flint water crisis, and even after running it through the usual filters – Salon, generally leftish-y writer, etc. – it’s still not unfair. If you’re still scratching your head about how this could happen, read it.

This week’s episode of “Girls” had a play within it about the Kitty Genovese murder. Then this happens – the man who killed Genovese died in prison.

Finally, you don’t have to be a web designer to know that colors in HTML code are expressed in six-digit numbers, do you? Maybe you do. Well, anyway, time can be expressed in six-digit numbers, too. So here’s a clock that changes colors, very slowly.

Posted at 12:11 am in Current events | 34 Comments
 

A fighter.

Thursday was the first night of the Free Press Film Festival here in Detroit, and a few of us went to a screening of “T-Rex,” a documentary about Claressa Shields, the first woman to win a gold medal in women’s Olympic boxing, which she did in 2012. She was just 17 when she won, and is training in hopes of repeating in Rio this year.

Shields hails from Flint, and that’s where most of the film was set. As you can probably guess, she doesn’t come from money. In fact, she comes from some pretty grinding poverty – her mother, seen in only a few scenes, is missing most of her teeth and seems to be a pretty enthusiastic drinker. Her sister is a feral force of nature; in one scene, the sister tells us how she dislikes her mother’s current boyfriend. As if on cue, he steps into the scene and the two exchange insults.

She calls him a pervert. I sighed. How often do we have to learn this lesson? When a teenage girl calls mom’s boyfriend a pervert, pay attention to her, because she is telling you something very important. Sure enough, a little googling and look here:

There frequently wasn’t food much on the table. The family received food stamps, but the food stamps never seemed to turn into actual food.

“I honestly don’t know what happened to the food stamps, but I think she sold them for drugs,” Shields says.

But mostly what Shields remembers from those early years is the men. Her mother had a lot of acquaintances, she said, and every time she turned around, there was another one, it seemed.

Three of them, she said, raped and sexually molested her.

A friend of mine is a therapist, and did a stint in a low-income mental-health facility. She said sexual abuse of her clients was so common that it was easier to just assume they’d all been molested by someone in their lives.

Shields isn’t asked about this in the film; she only revealed it later. But the sister’s exchange with the boyfriend got a big laugh, I guess because she’s so sassy and all.

But the film was good. I’ve seen so many lousy documentaries I wasn’t expecting much, but it was shot well, the story was coherent and reasonably honest and the conflict that so many docs have to trump up was right there – Claressa fighting her way through qualifiers, trying to have a relationship with her sparring partner (a young man, as there were no other girls in her gym to spar with), and the classic athlete’s story of gradually growing away from the first coach who believed in her. The coach and his wife took her into their home, and for that they deserve a medal of their own. But sometimes you can’t go further until you change teachers; it happens, it’s not a tragedy, but it’s sad for the ones left behind.

Oh, and for those who assume an Olympic gold medal is a ticket to riches? She didn’t get one endorsement offer, not a single solitary one. With her strong features and stocky body, and her comments in interviews that she actually enjoys landing punches, I guess corporate America just couldn’t deal. Things seem to be going better this year; some of the rough edges have been sanded off, and of course, the attention paid to Serena Williams in the past year helped the world accept bad-ass black women.

I’m rooting for her, anyway.

And that was why no blog on Friday. Out late Thursday.

The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing. Sunday was ladies’ schvitz brunch, and I took a friend. We killed a bottle of champagne, sweated through a few cycles in the steam, went shopping and found myself a floor-length Tadashi Shoji gown at a vintage pop-up, for $5. The boobal area may need some special foundation wear, but I’m set for the next auto prom.

Eight years ago this blog picked up a few readers when I pointed out some plagiarism by a guest columnist in the paper I used to work for. The following isn’t precisely plagiarism, just extreme aggravated laziness by the editor-in-chief, to fill his always-mediocre Saturday column space. The column is here. The source material, here. He added one quote, from George W. Bush, one that Slate included in its Bushisms collection. Sigh.

Thanks to Deborah for pointing out this outstanding piece on Aretha Franklin, including a quote from the current president, when asked about his reaction to her recent Kennedy Center Honors performance. You might recall it; Obama shed tears.

When I e-mailed President Obama about Aretha Franklin and that night, he wasn’t reticent in his reply. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope,” he wrote back, through his press secretary. “American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘A Natural Woman,’ she can move me to tears—the same way that Ray Charles’s version of ‘America the Beautiful’ will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed—because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”

I’d bet a paycheck he wrote that himself, or gave the quote to the press secretary. What do you think?

A trip to Crazytown, with the full transcript of a recent WashPost interview with Donald Trump.

Finally, since y’all like dog pictures, here’s my Friday-morning editor. Wendy likes to suggest changes before I get too deep into the weeds:

wendyhelps

Let’s all have a Monday, shall we?

Posted at 12:12 am in Current events, Movies | 26 Comments
 

Your digital assistant, and no-show.

I have a deadline at lunch today, and it means I’m going to have to write through blog time. So accept this photo of a typical cool-weather evening on my couch —

sleepywendy

— and a few links. (Wendy is quite the snuggler, when the snugglee is possessed of body warmth. Once the weather warms up, she’ll be back on her tuffet.)

I admit that I have yelled at Siri in the car. I have told her she’s a stupid fucking twit, that all I want is a sense of the traffic between me and downtown, and how should I phrase that request so you can understand it?! I wonder if I’d be so profane if her name was Sam, and she was a he. The Atlantic explores the issue.

Donald Trump says one thing, backtracks. Oh, how long 2016 will be.

Dahlia Lithwick with a genius proposal for Merrick Garland.

Back for the end of this long week tomorrow.

Posted at 12:15 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 53 Comments
 

Patty.

Meet Cathy who’s lived most everywhere, from Zanzibar to Barclay Square
But Patty likes to rock ‘n’ roll, a hot dog makes her lose control
What a crazy pair

We all know by now that Patty Duke died this week. Because most of us are boomers at least, we probably all know the theme and lyrics to “The Patty Duke Show,” which didn’t exactly put her on the map — that was “The Miracle Worker” — but it was the show that spoke directly to us, because we weren’t blind and deaf, like Helen Keller.

Truth be told, I was a little young to be a teen when Patty was playing the Patty/Cathy dual role. I paid more attention to the show when it went into reruns and ran on the UHF station in Cleveland that reached Columbus via cable. My friend Paul, who was gay, loved it the way straight stoner kids loved “Star Trek,” so of course the next step was to find “Valley of the Dolls,” also starring Patty, and fall in love with that. Which we both did. To this day, when I hear the theme song, or recall the crazy ’60s cinematography, I think of Paul.

United with Patty now, maybe, somewhere in the afterlife. The original wig-snatcher.

Speaking of deaths, 180 degrees opposed in every way, you’re going to want to read this elegant, elegiac piece by the great Dan Barry, yet another boxing tragedy, about the day a couple of flyweight boxers went at it and one died in the ring. Died. It’s always possible, but it’s still appalling when it happens.

Boy, this blog feels out of gas these days, doesn’t it? So do I. Sorry about that, but it usually comes back, in one way or another. Let’s hope so. Wednesday, is it? Here we go.

Posted at 12:13 am in Current events | 29 Comments
 

The rebirth, and one death.

A pretty good weekend ripened into a perfect Easter — bell-clear, warm, perfect. The Facebook pictures on my feed are a glory of sunshine and pastels, little girls in pretty dresses and boys in bow ties, egg hunts and big family feeds

Me, I wore black. Still not ready to transition to my springtime color palette of white, beige and gray.

But a good weekend. It included “The Ten Commandments” (not the whole thing, of course, because there were commercials roughly ever 45 seconds), a David Bowie tribute concert, Easter, spaghetti and a few other wonderful things. Now a thunderstorm is drawing the curtain down on the whole thing. Not bad.

Here’s an OID story for you: A mediocre avant-garde artist partially disassembles a Detroit house and ships it to Rotterdam for an exhibition, promising he’d clean the whole thing up within six months.

Yeah, that was a year ago.

The story of 20194 Stoepel has become a tangled web of lofty artistic intentions, unintended consequences and broken promises, leaving neighbors living next to blight they say is worse than when the house was simply abandoned.

“I feel disrespected to the max, like we are nothing,” said Beverly Woung, who lives next door to the crumbling remains.

Which is bad enough, but when you read the guy’s self-justification, it’s enough to turn you into a Republican.

When I started on this project, my thoughts were clear. I wanted to bring a house back to Europe from America. When I arrived in Detroit in March 2015 I realised that this city – in the country I had left in 1992 out of distaste for its nationalistic, isolationist, police-dog mentality and its privatised prison system, along with its thick dictionary of rules and tax codes and its ingratiating political correctness – had, aside from the positive developments that were mostly in the downtown area, begun to look like a war zone.

This guy is such a douche it takes your breath away. And now the city is going to have to clean up his mess.

What happens when you make a great research university an arm of the state chamber of commerce. In Wisconsin, specifically.

But the big news of the weekend is the death of Jim Harrison, a great poet, novelist, gourmand, and Charlotte’s neighbor. It was only a matter of time — he was old and looked terrible — but it’s still a shock. I won’t sugarcoat his last few books, which were not his best and sometimes embarrassing to read, but when he was good, he was as good as anyone. And he wrote a lot when he was good. Almost everyone slips a little in old age. And even when he wasn’t great, he was better than almost everyone.

A big loss. Now I have to download his last book.

Posted at 12:08 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 37 Comments