Detroit Sports Masochism: Big Papi, Crazy Uncle Jim Leyland and Neanderthal Man

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I learned long ago that my garage is never more organized than it is on autumn Sunday afternoons.  When the Lions are on, something positive has to happen by 4 PM.  So, to the embarrassment of my wife, I buried a coaxial cable under the ground and ran it to the garage so I could keep half an eye on my latest garbage-picked 32″ television  while I fold paint tarps, sort screws, clean bike chains or set mousetraps.

I have been a Lions fan since the mid 1970’s.  I have seen the Dallas Cowboys and 49ers go from bad, to great, to bad again, then … Read More…

Imaginary Guns and Real Bullets

lennonI’m pressed up against a wall, waiting.  Hunting.  The gun I’m holding is inches from my nose, my two hands folded as if I’m praying.  My enemy, James Lyons, is around the corner, and I’m about to spring as soon as he comes into view.  I’m secret agent John Lennon, and besides making the greatest music ever, I also work for the government, saving the world.  Yesterday, I was Captain Kirk.  I’m 12 years old at 6th grade recess, the gun is imaginary, but I did actually save the world.  (Things are still going on, right?  You’re welcome.) 

Let me tell you … 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

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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 … Read More…

Little League Purgatory: Nostalgia is 20-20 and Cornfields Line All Outfields

It might have been a Hallmark Channel’s special–everyone was completely bathed in sunset gold; there was even corn behind the outfield.  But hidden in this pastoral setting lies the fine print for parents–the eleventh commandment of my nephew’s little league game.

  • “If a new inning doth start ere 8:30 PM, the game must continue until both sides have batted completely.”

Coach-pitch is that bastard child, somewhere between tee-ball and concussion–when dads (mainly) publicly humiliate themselves by missing the plate repeatedly–at least that was the way it was way back when my kids played.

Now, after too many trips to the chiropractor or too many threatened lawsuits, some clever dude invented a gadget that throws a perfect pitch each time.

But … Read More…

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

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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 … Read More…

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

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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.  … 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.

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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.

kitchen

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 … 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 … Read More…

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

Brit tv 

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 … 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.
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Save The Dates!

me and dad 2

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 … 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 … 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 … Read More…

The Ring Around the Rosie: Nursery Rhymes & Nightmares

  The ring 

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 … 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 … 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 … Read More…

Woodward Dream Cruise: Happy Days, Unhappy Neighbors

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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 … 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, … 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 … Read More…