In Flipper’s Footsteps by Brian d’Arcy James

From time to time, I help my cousin Brian d’Arcy James keep his website updated, and this recent post he wrote struck me as a perfect nostalgia article for “My Media Diary,” and for all those who grew up with 1960s TV (or its reruns).  So am sharing it with this blog’s audience. —Laura W. C. Fields is famously credited with this warning to all:  “Never work with children or animals.” My Uncle Brian was more specific: “Never act with a fish.” Let me explain. My namesake and my uncle, Brian Kelly, was an actor. He was a big reason why I do what I do today. He showed me that being an actor was not only possible, but also could be a viable profession. He gave me many tips and insights about the business I’m currently in, either explicitly or by example. However, the most memorable, if not best… Read More…

No Snow-Days at the Detroit Zoo: A Winter’s Afternoon with a Camera and a New Gadget

Dig through your parents’ photo albums.  If you’re from the Detroit area (or ever visited someone there in your childhood) there’s probably one of these shots somewhere, for example, the bear-pit where you used to be able to toss marshmallows, in the days before ursine diabetes… My mom was there twenty-two years earlier… The same day they were posing in front of the zoo’s signature water tower where my Uncle Larry (standing) perfected his sneer/smile to be seen fifty years later as a “Grumpa.” And perhaps the most recognizable family photo-spot in the park… In fact, you can Google “Detroit Zoo Fountain” and get a couple thousand family pictures like mine–some snapshots are even for sale on eBay… I hadn’t been there in five years–after all, the Detroit Zoo is nearly four miles from my house and I only drive by it every day.  But it was going to hit… Read More…

Converting Home Videos – From Basement to YouTube: The Cheapest Invaluable Gift You’ll Ever Give

Two questions guaranteed to get you the polite Umm..okay… instead of the actual Hell No!… Would you like to see the videos from our two-week trip? Want to hear about a dream I had last night? Unless you’re bed-ridden or Sigmund Freud, you could well be stuck for at least an hour getting far too much information on what should have been a five minute conversation under the category, “You really should have been there.” But with the magic of a $35 do-dad, YouTube and Facebook, I’ve managed to release my captives. In all of our basements and attics, there are boxes of videotapes, photographs, slides and 8mm movies.  I’ve lived in constant fear of losing those treasures to fire, flooding, mold or accidental bouts of cleaning.  I’ve written earlier about my attempts to tackle the hundred pounds of snapshots, but now what to do with all the video (and… Read More…

“Gobble Gobble!” Thanksgiving, Northern Michigan and Family

Perhaps Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s front-loaded.  All the work is done on the first day and the rest of the weekend is comprised of football, avoiding the mall and general digestion. Throughout the late 1970s and into the early 1990s,when the above couch wasn’t full of random cousins it served as my bed.  In 1984, I was a college sophomore, stressed out completely, and couldn’t wait to drive with my family five hours north to my Aunt Joan and Uncle Bill’s cottage on Oden Island, just north of Petoskey, Michigan. We’d load up the station wagon, pray for no icy roads on Wednesday evening and get going on I-75, along with a couple thousand other travelers–some, like us, not wearing hunting orange and plaid. It was one of those fatigued moments of joy when we’d drive across the steep bridge to the island and down the road… Read More…

Corinthian Leather: A Fond, Gas-Guzzling Reminiscence of Shag-Luxury

It’s funny what passes for luxury when you’re a kid. In 1973, we visited my Uncle Bob and his family in Winter Haven, Florida and I couldn’t believe they had a fountain in their backyard.  Along with so many in-ground pools, lizards running all over the yards was added the magic of my grandma’s mobile home park three miles away where they actually had adult bikes with three wheels! Moving into our new house that same summer, I was amazed to see that each of the kids’ rooms had its own color scheme of shag carpeting—pink, green, orange and yellow.  My parents’ room was a deep blue shag and the family room was a tasteful blend of all of the colors listed above. But what made me know we had really arrived was the plastic rake that the previous owners had left behind to tend the fluorescent blades of carpeting…. Read More…

November 22, 1963: A Seventh Grader’s Loss of Innocence

  Saturday was to be the day that my Mom and I would move out of the house my family had lived in for eight of my 12 years. The large three-story home which had held within its walls a family of eight and all that that entails had grown too large.   Dad was gone and gradually the family had dispersed as families do. Now it was just me and my Mom. She had rented the bottom of a house across from the University of Detroit. She worked there managing the bookstore so the location made sense. The local Catholic school was Gesu and run by the Jesuits who also ran the University of Detroit. I had been attending school since the first grade at Precious Blood, a  middle class parish with several thousand families within its boundaries.  I was in the 7th grade when mom decided to move. … Read More…

5 Love Songs That Send the Wrong Message

Love. We are obsessed with it. Many of us bask in its glory; worship its treasures and truths. Others are shaped and molded by its destructive affect and merciless circumstance. Then there is the rest of us: those that are almost certainly meant to spend life trying to figure out if love is as real as Bigfoot, honest politicians or a Detroit Lions Superbowl win, and not some made up, human hoax to sell greeting cards and movie tickets. One thing is certain, though. We love to sing about love. If it’s not about partying or politics, at times, it appears that every song ever written is about the wonder of or dismay for love. The Beatles, for example, used the word “love” 613 times in their songs. From Tin Pan Alley to Daft Punk, musicians have been trying to figure out the best ways to formulate their feelings. Some do… Read More…

Autumn Falls in South Florida

Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile…William Cullen Bryant. I love seasons…that’s why I live in a place that skips the @#%ty ones…Daniel Tosh Autumn fell on us on a Sunday this year.  As I type this, it’s a brisk, autumny 85 degrees in downtown Miami. There will be a hard rainfall later today from about 5:45 until 6:05, depending on what time I get on I-95 to go home.  The rainy season will most likely be over sometime this month  It’s football season, and after the Sunday game, kids spill out of their houses to play outside in their favorite team T-shirts and shorts.  Since this is South Florida, the shirts will read NY Jets and NY Giants. We’ll all try to enjoy this last bit of outdoor activity before the winter makes the outdoors unbearable, with temperatures dipping down to the mid 60’s, when Floridians shut their doors and grab… Read More…

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…

College Football is Back, and So Are the Memories

I didn’t choose to go to Michigan State University for Big Ten football, even though if you meet me today, I’ll jokingly tell you that that was the reason. The first time I ever really started to feel old was when I–for the first time in my life–didn’t have a school to go back to last fall. To add insult to injury, I couldn’t even be in the same state for Michigan State’s home opener vs Boise State.  That stunk.  Because there’s something special about College Football, isn’t there? I’m not even talking about the play on the field, though that is special in its own right. No, I’m talking about the way that College Football serves as a special place in our puny little human hearts.  The way that cool air and and those changing leaves beckon the call for new adventures, new experiences and new student section shirts…. 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…

Death of a Whistleblower: Detroit’s Bankruptcy, Edward Snowden and Jerry Buckley

*Updated on 3/24/14 with video of hotel implosion courtesy of Laurie Rutzel Lessard. 50,000 people is a considerable crowd at a ballpark, but a graveside service is pretty remarkable–particularly in a thunderstorm. Two recent news events have merged for me to remember the 1930 Detroit gangland assassination of a man with a questionable past that was compared to half of Mount Rushmore’s occupants… Quite a quote from the one-year anniversary memorial service on Belle Isle honoring a martyred radio announcer–even elaborated upon by none other than  Fr. Caughlin, the controversial radio-priest who would soon be baiting FDR after his New Deal proposals started taking root when President Hoover did not win re-election in another 18 months. For Detroit, it was not the first in a long series of black-eyes celebrated most recently in last week’s Time, which made our city the “Or Else” for even Chinese concerns. We’re the ugly… Read More…

Ma Kai

I have been trying to find the right words to express what it felt like sitting on the beach last week in North Carolina last week on vacation.  It was a feeling on insignificance, but yet peace.  I was going to try to put my words around a blog, but decided to try my hand in poetry. Indulge me!  Ma Kai Your waves crash on the beach Your breeze blows across my face The sun beats on me, just me Decisions to be had, Deadlines to be made, Not today as I hide my feet in your sand The enormity of your being makes me feel insignificant… ….but strangely at peace The things you have seen, The years you have thrived make my years pale in comparison Is there someone just like me on your other side feeling the same way? Watching your waves? Feeling your breeze? Problems to be… Read More…

Midnight-Screenings: Magic, Memories and Marketing

The other night, whilst sipping a brew or two, a debate arose amongst my friends and me—a debate that will seemingly never end. We discuss it all the time, and we can never come to a consensus: What is the greatest superhero movie of all time: “The Dark Knight” or “X-Men: First Class”?  Because it is, of course, either/or. There is no (c) to this multiple choice question (sure, maybe “The Avengers”). My friends and I can’t seem to come to a decisive conclusion. No one wants to pit one movie against the other, but, as wayward, mentally adrift early-20’s males, it’s our duty to come up with some sort of conclusion to this mind-boggling question. Thus, that night, the debate carried on: (SPOILERS) “Dark Knight” has the better acting, with Aaron Eckhart’s pinpointed, head-to-tails District Attorney overshadowed by Heath Ledger’s immortal, then-new-take on comic book’s most ink’d villain, The… 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…

Duck and Cover: Educational Fallout Shelters for a Sputnik Moment

I’d only been through this doorway a few hundred times in my life–and never noticed it.  There, on the top left. I certainly hadn’t noticed that there was a faded “capacity” circle.  I wonder who had to enforce that one? And who knew that the Department of Defense, while protecting us from Cold War nuclear fallout, was also eagerly pursuing copyright infringing pranksters who would try to divert the unknowing to faux-shelters? In 1958, Kimball High School became the second high school in Royal Oak.  It was the height of modern architecture, rebelling against all that was pleasant and pleasing to the eye.  It was a time of practicality; no one had time for cornices, trim or even placing the pretty side of the building outward. A year before, the unthinkable happened.  We dropped out of first. “Are you glad, mad, sad or afraid?” a psychologist once asked me.  “Because… Read More…

ID Those Old Snapshots! The Orson Starr House and “Lots of Love, Lois”

You don’t meet that many women named Lois–perhaps Superman was kryptonite to that name after the 1940s.  But today I met one and was immediately reminded of another–someone I’d never met but I’m sure I’d like her. As a family historian, I’ve always been grateful to the long-gone folks who took 30 seconds to identify people on the backs of their snapshots.  In the large shoebox of Brownie pictures I inherited from my grandmother, most with no notations (since it was obvious to her who they were!) I enjoy this note the most. 89 years ago, Lois even took the time to double-over the ink to be sure it came through clearly.  She seems fun and perhaps a bit scattered–not everyone’s slashes go in two directions and not all dates have a period, but the flip side of the picture seems to bear out my armchair pschoanalysis… A middle of leaf-covered yard is… Read More…

Brain Ruts: Phantom Pets, Facebook Anger & Geographical Literacy

I’ve been opening the wrong cupboard for 15 years now. After the first two weeks in our house, it became obvious that having the glasses right above the dishwasher made more sense.  (You can stack plates, so moving them all at once to the cupboard four feet behind us was more “logical” — to quote my Spock-fan son.) But it doesn’t matter.  When I’m thirsty, I swing open the wrong door, swear under my breath, and trudge across our eight foot kitchen floor and get a glass from the correct place.  15 years. I was recently going through a three-day training of a new software platform at work.  Part of the drill was for us to respond with insightful comments on our experience.  My comment one day was, “It’s taking me a little while for my geographical literacy to figure out where on the screen they moved everything.”  That started… Read More…

The 5-Cent Anti-Parent

I’d ruined years of my wife’s child-rearing–for only a nickle.  My two-year old son and I  were heading into the local K-Mart.  I can’t even remember what I was buying, probably something for my beat-up boat, but I’d brought Aidan along.  We were heading in to the store’s entrance when he saw the merry-go-round, one of those three-seaters. I put him on the donkey and congratulated myself on my parenting skills.  Aidan rocked back and forth, having a wonderful time.  I smiled at the joy that was about to happen.  I put the nickel in the box,; he lurched forward with the music and grabbed those painted ears tight.  His eyes widened, then a large grin came over his face as he rode the 4.5 laps around the little circle.  When it abruptly stopped he tried doing what we all do with a broken car or a stalled fairground pony; he rocked back and… 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…