Back to the Classroom, Slide Projectors, Mountains & Mole Hills

Four years ago, my intended formula for this blog was pretty simple–pick a form of media (TV show, movie, billboard, cat footprints) and let it take you down a path or two.  But the last path I took was in August, before I returned to the high school classroom for my 26th year.  Being in an office setting since 2012 certainly gave me more physical and creative energy for activities like blogging as well as producing a documentary series, but it also pulled me a bit away from some basic reality-check questions that I’ve always enjoyed from teenagers–beyond “Can you give me passing grade and a pass to go home?” The days following Election Day produced some poignant conversations for this English major turned video production teacher–with just a minor in US History. Q.  How can the losing candidate can have 3 million more votes–and what the hell is an Electoral College? It’s certainly a… Read More…

From Detroit to the Bulge: Priceless Snapshots of One Soldier’s Journey Across Europe

Before he was selected in WWII’s first draft for 18 year-olds, Detroit’s Lawrence Dupuis didn’t know the value of being color-blind.  “They would take me up in the aircraft and I could detect where the landscape had been disturbed and camouflage was laid down.” His cartooning skills were even put to use, although someone else would have to color the wall-sized illustration below:  “This drawing was painted on the stage of the Great Dunmow Airport Building that was to be used as an all-purpose room by the 8th Air Force who were to take over the field.  They sent over a sergeant to check the work which he would color later.  I don’t remember how I got involved but I do remember spending my nights after supper–for a month!” “I got called down to the chiefs one day and he informed me that I was to go to London to be a part… Read More…

New Podcast: Fathers, Daughters, Wedding Songs & Horse Racing with Ladd Biro

Ladd Biro has loved music and been a performer his entire life–but never wanted to be a starving artist either.  For 40 years he has worked in the entirely non-9-to-5 world of the track–and been in bands and created albums. He contacted Kevin Walsh about creating a music video for “In Days Gone By,” a song that a friend of his wrote for his niece’s wedding–dedicated to the special relationship between a father and daughter. Ladd joins Kevin as they discuss: The world of horse-racing Loving music–and keeping it as part of your life The creation of “In Days Gone By” Raiding photo albums of family and friends The universal appeal of daddy/daughter dances What makes a band work Mars and Venus–and editing a video for both Ladd’s album, Transition, from Roscoe Records Check out the video of “In Days Gone By” on YouTube.

“Let Jim Run His Own Funeral” – Irish Laughter Through Tears

At the end of the 98-hour day that my father died, it surprised me that the hardest part wasn’t hearing “He didn’t survive surgery,” but instead having to tell others–the slow pressing of numbers of the phone, knowing that someone’s life is going to be changed right after, “Hi Kev.  What’s up?” In a strange twist of fate that afternoon, my three sisters, Katie, Colleen and Maureen were all en route to Detroit Metro within an hour of one another.  When they had left Chicago and New York, after our call from the hospital, they knew only what we were told—“Dad’s been in a bad accident—he’s in surgery.”  By the time they were air-born, my mom and I were told of his passing and taken upstairs to see his body.  My mom’s friends Anne and Betty volunteered to drive us to the airport so we could meet the girls—we were cutting it close, so we just hopped… Read More…

New (and Old) Frontiers: Above Detroit with Aerial Photographer Alex MacLean

Alex MacLean has seen Detroit from the sky at various stages since 1980.  The large green-spaces below, for example, were once crowded neighborhoods and business districts in a city’s footprint that is large enough to fit Houston, Boston and Manhattan.  These grassy fields seen from Google Maps might be mistaken for parks. Similar green spaces a few miles north of town generally have bunkers and greens fees. A trained architect, pilot, author and photographer, MacLean lives in Massachusetts but has seen Detroit from above as Ronald Reagan received the Republican presidential nomination, for the 1998 demolition of the landmark Hudson Building and last autumn at  a request from the New York Times.  Each visit is like dropping into a different chapter of the city’s history–urban farms were previously dangerous abandoned homes and lots. From the sky, many travelers have to change planes in the hub of Detroit Metro.  As they glance out the window and see the river and the skyline, are they like… Read More…

New Podcast: Detroit From Above – Alex S. MacLean’s Aerial Photography of Detroit

  Following the December 7, 2014 publication of his New York Times Sunday Review, “Detroit By Air” which examines the city’s dramatic haves and have-nots, photographer Alex MacLean is interviewed by Kevin Walsh and Thomas J. Reed, Jr. of the new website, DiggingDetroit.com. Topics include… Alex’s background, including his fear of flying leading to his pilot’s license Detroit’s past, present and future Regrowing urban communities Alex’s transition from aerial surveyor to gallery artist His favorite audiences Switching to digital, but still loving prints—and those amazing drones!   More information on Alex can be found at his website:  http://alexmaclean.com

Faded Snapshots & Time Travel: Unfogging the Past with PhotoShop

Take a minute and flip through your phone’s pictures taken this Thanksgiving weekend–now zoom-in to something in the background.  Do you notice anything interesting–or something that <em>might </em>be interesting in a few decades? The new Stephen Hawking bio-pic, The Theory of Everything, can drive you a little crazy if you are one of those people who needs to straighten a picture frame in a friend’s house.  Hawking’s glasses are always crooked and always needing cleaning. The color-correction folks in film know what they’re doing when they choose their palettes.  It’s hard not to get nostalgic with a shot like above–and if you add in string instruments and piano you’re already reaching for the Kleenex for memories you didn’t even have.  Flashbacks in film often have an orange or yellow tint to them and, like the world through Hawking’s dirty specs, are generally fuzzy as well.  I wonder who in Hollywood decided this was what nostalgia looked like…. Read More…

And you may tell yourself/This is not my beautiful house!

Everyone has a “first place” story (except those of you who never moved out of your parents’ basement). My definition of a first place is that it’s where you were in charge of your fate and rent for the first time, rather than your school or your parents. I maintain that whether you loved or loathed your first place, you never forget it. There is a special tribe of “first place” survivors, and it’s those who were bold enough to venture to New York City—often with nothing more than hope in their pockets. Some had lived on their own in other cities; some were going out on their own for the very first time in NYC. Some lived in their first NYC apartment for 3 months; some for 30 years. To capture these stories before they’re lost in time, I decided to start a little “story website” called MyFirstApartmentNYC.com, much like Kevin’s My… Read More…

The Biggest Story Few of us Heard: British Phone-Tapping & American Media Apathy

Ladies and gentlemen, have I got a story for you. Please, take your seats and listen closely. It’s a story about the fall of the mighty and about personal tragedy. It’s a story that involves one of the most powerful men in the world. It features princes and sexual dalliances. It’s a story that speaks to our paranoia and justifies it, like the Snowden revelations and the US government’s wire-tapping program. And most important, ladies and gentlemen, it has murder. It has desperate parents and missing children. A mighty corporation, 168 years in existence, crumbles at our feet. This story has been out there for years.  The question is, why aren’t we paying attention? The British hacking scandal, which led to the end of The News of the World, has one element which likely saps most of our interest: it’s a British story. It happened far away, to people who speak with… Read More…

Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence: What’s in a Smile at Graduation Time?

I hadn’t seen this smile from my son in a long time… As you might expect, we don’t dress this formally around the yard most days. It was prom night last Thursday and Aidan and his date Katie had just finished twelfth grade two days earlier. And, aside from the $200+ to rent the tux, we also got this pretty rare expression thrown in with the shiny shoes. In fact, perhaps the last time we’d seen that smile was right before Aidan started his career as a student… We were heading down to Indianapolis to visit some friends and stopped at a rest stop to find one of those trees that you’ll spend the rest of your life just walking by. I grabbed Aidan and stuck him up in the branches and you’d think he’d just been taken to Disney World. One of my favorite Mark Twain nuggets is: “Why… 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…

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…

Jimmy Kimmel’s Flaming Yoga Pants or Syria: What Climbs Your Firewall?

Thanks to my teenage son and a gaming site, I spent five hours last Saturday removing a virus from our computer.  “Conduit,” was a crazy search-engine device that refused to leave, breezing past my security software.  The kid had let the intruder in disguised as an update of Adobe Flash that was “required” on my computer. A good friend was startled to see a scary warning of a virus on his computer–so he clicked the large red “Remove Virus” button and thus began infecting his hard drive. With “tears in my eyes” and begging for money from a US Embassy in London,  a modern Odysseus, disguised as me, wrote to hundreds of my contacts.  Most didn’t fall for the scam but a few did write back asking for more details where to send the cashier’s check.  It started two weeks earlier as a fake Yahoo informed me that I needed… 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…

“Brotherly Love” is Ironic? I’ve Never Heard That.

(Mike Schmidt, arguably the greatest third baseman to ever play the game, a career Phillie and a hometown hero.  In this photo, he’s in comic disguise to hide from Philly fans.) Look up the phrase “philly fan” in the online “Urban Dictionary” site and you will see adjectives like “obnoxious,” “juvenile,” and “unruly.”  It can be rough for visitors to our sporting events…well, it can be rough for home teams as well (see Mike Schmidt above), but visiting teams and their fans know that Philadelphia may be a great place to live, but you don’t want to visit. To a great extent, the reputation of Philly fans are over-rated. Are they full throated?  Yes.  Obnoxious?  Sure.  Homicidal?  You bet.  But if you’re wearing an opponent’s jersey and happen to visit The Link (Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles) or Citizens Bank Park (home of the Phillies), there’s a decent… 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…

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…