The Fading Power of Handwriting: My Dad and Journaling in Northern Michigan

D-Day was just three months away, but my dad’s Uncle Walt was instead worrying about the folks back home, specifically his sister Laura and her husband. I didn’t know my grandparents had a rocky marriage, or that they were even separated, until I’d read this folded letter in my grandma’s shoebox. Sixty years later,  I attended the funeral of Walt and Laura’s youngest brother Jerry in Florida, I had a chance to give the letter to Walt’s children, whom I had never met.   Walt had died thirty-four years earlier and they had never seen their father’s handwriting from a young hand–smooth, and confident.  They had only known their father’s shakey hand. When they had held the letter and seen the writing, the tears began. The afternoon of my own father’s death sixteen years ago this Thursday–before I could accept that he had left me completely, I needed to sense… Read More…

Thanking Two Men I’d Forgotten to Thank 30 Years Ago: Mr. Denstaedt and Mr. Wentz

After attending 25 years of high school graduation ceremonies, it finally dawned on me as I sat in my robe and was thanked by grateful students and their parents–I really didn’t deserve such nice seats. Compared, to the folks who were really responsible for the pomp and circumstance, my hourly contribution was minimal.  Elementary teachers put in the long hours and are stuck with the kids all day long.  Middle school teachers are fighting the two-headed dragon of hormones and immaturity in a short, nasty body that hasn’t often developed a soul yet. Within two days, Clawson lost two of its icons–John Denstaedt and Bill Wentz.  Both of them were outstanding educators and mourned by thousands.  Yet when I walked across the stage and grabbed my diploma in 1983 they weren’t there–or if they were, I wasn’t even looking for them.  I had moved on.  Clawson High School and Junior… Read More…

If You Meet Your Father On The Road…(Hanky Alert)

There is an old Buddhist proverb that goes something like this: if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. If you meet your father on the road, kill him.  I’m sure I got that wrong.  It’s been a long time since my “Eastern Religions” course in college.  The first part of the proverb reads like some vague comment a prophet might have screamed on a street corner, but that second part…kill my father?  I think I know what it means, or at least it has meaning for me which may in no way relate to its intended meaning, but as it turns out, I didn’t kill my Dad. Cancer did. My sister reminded me on Facebook that yesterday, 8/25, was my father’s birthday, but it’s not a day I’ve had cause to celebrate since that date in 1992. I don’t recall the celebration that year. Either it was… Read More…

Life Epicenters: Where Are Your Memories Formed?

It’s not normal, I suppose, to think of Cher at one’s high school reunion.   One of my favorite seeming non-sequitors in movies is from Moonstruck, when her Oscar-winning Loretta informs her dad Cosmo that she’s got to tell him something important. “Let’s go to the kitchen,” says Cosmo. I’ve seen it dozens of times at household parties, the living room and dining room are empty, and the 12×18 kitchen has 24 people in it.  We had a joke growing up that the only room in the house that had no life to it was the living room.  I still remember sticking to plastic seat-covers all over our neighborhood. Frank Lloyd Wright saw no point in a front porch for seating.  When he was designing homes, the automobile had taken full reign of the streets and the porch intended for sitting while conversing with passers-by in carriages was obsolete.  He even… Read More…

Dreaming and Hoping: Cruising Woodward, Happy Days and Retconning a Decade with Fictional American Idealism

I can see why a lot of people don’t like the Dream Cruise, especially if you live in that area. Or, as is in my case, the Dream Cruise can be a big ol’ inconvenience to those who have to work in the Bloomfield Hills to Royal Oak area. It’s loud, a lot of the people are annoying. You can’t get anywhere quick, if you can get anywhere at all. Vendors are closed, and it’s no honeymoon trying to make the last FedEx pick up in Birmingham the Thursday and Friday before the actual Dream Cruise.  So, I get it. It seems there are more haters every year, though. In classic Michigander style, we like to complain when there’s nothing going on as much as we like to complain when an event prevents us from doing the nothing things that we would typically do on any given weekend. From the… Read More…

Watching The Fish-Slapping Dance: An Unbiased Examination of British TV in America by an Anglophile

  I was the smug little kid who was laughing about the “fish-slapping dance” before anyone in my class had even heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was 11, and I was hooked by the crazy, absurd imagination in that show, by the accents, and of course, by the fact that no one else had heard of them. I watched The Benny Hill Show, but everyone had heard of that, so I stuck my nose up and moved on to The Young Ones.  In college, it was Doctor Who.  Now, I smugly gear up to watch the first episode of Broadchurch.  Yes, it’s true.  I’m an anglophile.  There, I said it.  well, I wrote it.  It’s out there now, and I can’t take it back.  Pshew!  what a relief.  Whatever, I was a kid from suburban Philadelphia raised on British TV.  Even as I watch TV as an adult, after years… Read More…

“Go! Go Fast! Hide Them!” – My Father’s Guns

About eight months ago, my granddaughter, Mara, was quite interested in family history and asked for more details. I said I would write but just couldn’t seem to do it. Fast forward to two weeks ago and I go to a poetry reading–mostly new writers, talking about their lives, easy to understand and with no rhyming. At the reception, I ask how they do it. “It just comes,” they say.  Hard for me to imagine. Then one woman suggests I make it like I’m writing a letter to someone. I think of my granddaughter. The next morning I wake up thinking in poetry phrases about my father’s guns.  Later in the day it all came out, fully-formed. ******************* My father had three guns. Cold, hard revolvers all. Passed from his grandfather, a policeman. They were always around, teamed with ammunition. We brothers learned to shoot them all. It was no big deal,… Read More…

Save The Dates!

On October 11, 19-something, I got a call from an old college buddy. October 11 is apparently National Coming Out Day, a significant day in the gay community when LGBT people come out to someone close to them who doesn’t know.  I was shocked–I had no idea.  We had talked about girls for hours over beers and “za.”  (transl. pizza).  To help process the information, I called another friend, who was apparently sitting next to his wife when the phone rang. Me: “Mike, does the date October 11 mean anything to you?” Mike: “October 11th? No, what’s special about that date…OUCH…yeah, it’s my wife’s birthday.”    Most of us have heard by now about Eugene Han and Kirstin Davis, a married couple who will not likely ever forget their wedding anniversary.  They were on a date in a movie theatre in Aurora Co on July 20th, 2012 when a crazed… Read More…

Reading Was Boring–Until I Met Matilda

I was one of those kids who was always performing in front of his/her parents on top of the laundry basket/stage. I never sang into a hairbrush. My thoughts – What’s the point? I need an actual microphone to amplify the sound. Yep. I was (and still kind of am) that kid. But there comes a time in every child’s life when you need to learn how to read. Being the tiny, perky, ball of energy I was, reading was boring. You have to sit down for long periods of time and be quiet. There was no involvement, no reaction from others. You were the audience. Boy, was it lonely to be stuck with a book for a mandatory 20 minutes of homework per night. Then, when I was around 8 years old, I was introduced to the movie Matilda starring Mara Wilson, Danny Devito, & Rhea Pearlman.   A… Read More…

Motown’s Magic: Soul-Searching at 5th Grade Camp

I work a lot with people who are from out of town. When they ask me what’s special about Michigan and Detroit, the thing I bring up first is always Motown. A lot of people who don’t grow up in the area aren’t as conscious about Motown and its history as we are here in Southeast Michigan. The thing about Motown songs, though—just like, I’d say, songs by The Beatles—is that even if you aren’t a hardcore fan, you still “know” every song. So when I tell people that “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” “Baby, I Need Your Loving” and “Do You Love Me? (Now That I Can Dance)” all came from Detroit’s most successful pop culture think-tank, Motown Records, everyone is always impressed and intrigued about Detroit’s cultural history. And these songs and talents resonate with us so. Growing up, it seemed like 104.3 was always on in my car when… Read More…

The Ring Around the Rosie: Nursery Rhymes & Nightmares

    Have you ever wondered why every child under the age of 10 is a sociopath? OK, age 20. Psychologists talk about the years kids spend consumed with themselves, the years spent acknowledging only their own needs. I’ve developed a theory about this after about two hours of moderate research. Here it is: consider what we’re putting in our kid’s heads? When we force them to turn off the television to protect them from stories like Sandy Hook, Zimmerman, and from crazy people like Adam Lanza and Antonin Scalia, what are we using to replace these disturbing images? Here are a couple examples from my own experience.  Like every other kid ever, I frequently heard the singsong rhyme, “Jack and Jill.”  When Jack fell down and broke his crown, my brother told me, “You know, that means Jack died.”  What?  I couldn’t sleep that night.  Years later, driving home with… Read More…

No Surprises: Raising a Son with Asperger’s–and Training His Dad

A trip to Disney Land–what could be a better gift for your small child? Certainly Parent-of-the-Year awards were likely–if not for originality at least the East German judge would most likely hold up a “7.8” for enthusiasm. My wife and I had been giggling to ourselves for over a month as we prepared for the look on our four year-old’s face when we pulled into the parking lot. We knew he’d see Mickey Mouse on some billboard and it would be magic time. Wrong. Again. Aidan didn’t see a mouse; he smelled a rat. As my wife unpacked the video camera during a supposed routine morning drive while in Los Angeles visiting friends, he looked suspiciously at her. It was third day of our visit to the coast and both kids were pretty numb after going in and out of seat belts in various cars, airplanes and strollers. We watch… Read More…

Film-Strips, Ventriloquism and Skipping Class – My Tenth-Grade Idol

I was nearly hit by a golf ball Sunday and I laughed, remembering one of the funniest guys I ever knew.  It was a scramble but apparently not fast enough for the guy behind us. We heard that unmistakeable plop you shouldn’t hear without “Fore!” yelled first.    After a couple quiet expletives aimed at the jerk, I told my buddy Dave about Jim, who would simply walk up to the errant ball, driver in-hand, and proceed to pound it into the fairway. Jim always did what I still just dream of doing. He was a year behind me in tenth grade–and miles ahead of me in everything else.  He was hilarious in class, always ready with the funny observation–just skirting the edges of detention and making the teacher bust up.  But his two greatest skills were in the audio department.  He could, in one half hour, mess up a… Read More…

Woodward Dream Cruise: Happy Days, Unhappy Neighbors

My wife and I started a Yahoo Group in our neighborhood that’s grown to over 100 residents.  It’s come in very handy as a local Angie’s List for handymen and landscape companies.  It’s also found many a lost pet and alerted folks to local burglaries; we even sold some furniture and donated a piano to a little girl around the corner. But like any forum, it can get a little dicey–particularly with the boon (or bane) just down the street from our Royal Oak home–The Woodward Dream Cruise.  This southeastern Michigan 18-year tradition of classic cars from the 1950’s through the early 1970’s involves close to a million participants up and down the first paved highway in America.  And our neighborhood, near 13 Mile Road has been celebrated as the epicenter of all memories brought forward by American Graffiti and Mel’s Diner from Happy Days. It wasn’t a problem with… Read More…

Kid-with-Fish Picture: Leon, Jerry and a Free Ticket

There’s something very romantic and nostalgic about a kid holding a fish–especially if it’s a first-catch. There’s that mix of pride, fear and joy that is far different than you find with most any other kid-meets-creature encounter.  Far different than the parent holding a camera shouting: “Nope.  Go back to where you just ran over that worm with your bike.  Get down on your hands and knees and smile!” It’s nothing like stepping on a spider or worm-steamrolling–both instances are necessary for sanity or unavoidable just after a rainy day…or one of my more vivid bits of cruelty as a child–Ray-of-Death with a magnifying glass and a pedestrian ant. And I’ve been that parent.  When we’re on the dock and accidentally actually catch something, it’s a big deal!  “Go get mom,” I would holler to the other kid.  “Have her bring her camera or phone or something!”  And there we… Read More…

Micro Toy, Big Disappointment

I go into FedEx a lot. At every FedEx in the country, they place these really unhealthy snacks at the counter. Namely, those really good-looking but surely-disappointing white chocolate covered pretzels, Flipz, are always sitting at the counter for purchase. They are strategically placed, of course, so that when a busy businessman or woman waiting in line at FedEx sees those bags of Flipz he or she will say to him or herself: “Damn. I am hungry. Those look delicious. Convenient. Unhealthy, sure, but I deserve it! Might as well…” And every time I am in a FedEx, I see those Flipz and I think: “I’m better than those people. I am fighting the urge. I won’t succumb to the man–to the subconscious of business and consumerism.” And I never do.  BUT, the other day I came across the most genius item placed at the end of a checkout line that… Read More…

Father’s Day Legacy: Jim’s Love of “Now”

I was doing some vital, long-forgotten yard-work in 1995 when my neighbor Beth yelled across the street, “Happy Father’s Day!” It took me a minute to realize she was talking to me.  Aidan was already a day or two over-due, so officially the greeting was premature.  But I smiled and realized that she was right.  I was in the club.  And someday, if I did things right, my kids would dread that holiday, as much as I did.  Jim Walsh was impossible to buy for and it didn’t help that his birthday fell on June 28th, so we needed to double our futile efforts as soon as school got out. I have taxing memories of Saturday odysseys through the sporting goods and office-supply aisles of  K-Mart trying to find something, anything, for my dad.  And when I  was wrapping up the golf-score clicker, the “World’s Greatest Dad” trophy,  the back-scratcher,… Read More…

“The Meanest Mom on the Block” – Misdiagnosis of a Four Year-Old

You wouldn’t know she would win the award to look at her–the picture of innocence at 22 years.  She even took pains to perpetuate the illusion, showering me with exotic presents like wooden mallets and fancy ribbons, my favorite chocolate cake, even my cousins Pat, Sharon and Susie standing by as witnesses on my second birthday. I can see it so clearly now; I was already on my way out–like the crooked candle on the right.  Somewhere out of frame, lurked my upgrade–the 1966 Katie. And in two years it would be official; the election results would be in. Ann Walsh, by unanimous decision, would be voted the “Meanest Mom on the Block.”  Apparently, when she was informed of the official tally she was reduced to tears.  My misdiagnosis of my mother’s parenting style came back to haunt me in a tattered album that I’d pretty much ignored most of… Read More…

“Want to help me hide the eggs?” Farewell to the Easter Bunny…and Childhood

Please excuse this rerun from 2013, in honor of Easter today… It was already a big night.  I was able to stay up a little later than my three younger sisters.  I was a cocky 8 year-old sitting on the vinyl couch in the lower floor of our tri-level watching “The Ten Commandments.”  Of all the scenes, I’m not sure why Edward G. Robinson’s unlikely casting stays with me even to this day, but it was this scene… The door-wall slid open, and my dad’s face appeared, “Want to help me hide the eggs?” It took a moment for the shift away from my childhood to sink in as I looked back to Edward G. as I considered my father’s words. “What eggs?” “The Easter eggs.” “Oh.” Then I must have given the cartoon double-take as my wide-eyed expression made my dad laugh. “You’re the Easter bunny?” He laughed and… Read More…