Category: Uncategorized

Making Misbehaved 2020 Go Back and Get it Right

If 2020 was a kid we’d never let him/her get away with myriad of misbehaviors it exhibited over the past 366 days. No…we’d first have a long talk with the kid, make sure there’s an understanding of how badly they screwed up, then make the kid go back and correct those mistakes. If that fails, the errant child is grounded..in this case, the naughty year, meaning no new year for, I dunno, a year. 

You see, it royally ticks me off that 2020 is allowed to skulk into history without any sort of accounting or retribution. Is it fair to a world that has had to endure a deadly pandemic, loser’s tantrum from a roundly rejected POTUS and an all-too-soon ending to Schitts Creek? Sure…just tear off a page from the calendar, ball it up and toss it in the trash and that’s it? 

The parent in me says to order 2020 to think about its utter disregard for the health and well-being of the entire human race, then go back and do it right! No COVID, extend Schitt’s Creek another 10 seasons and send the sulking lame duck home…in silence. But that’s just for starters. Bring back all those lives lost to the pandemic, restore the businesses that went under, reduce Zoom usage to occasional meetings and family reunions or non-contact blind dates, and let our kids go back to school and workers back to the office…safely. 

Bring back hugs and visits that aren’t bisected by acrylic or glass barriers. Abolish pandemic-induced loneliness. Don’t bother restoring hand shakes. Those needed to go anyway. 

We love our sports, but not without the sounds of fans in stadiums and arenas cheering or booing or vendors hawking beers and peanuts. 

No matter how you feel about the presidential election, 2020, you need to go back and teach the loser to take it like a mensch and set an example for our kids that even if you fail, as we all do at some points in our lives, instead of pitching a fit, accept the outcome and move on. 

Of course my vision of forcing a major “do over” on 2020 is impractical since time is a one-way process. But I hope while 2021 was waiting to march in, it was watching and learning and listening…because we won’t accept another year like 2020 and there’s no option for a time out. 

So let’s hope the next 365 days offer the kind of healing and humility so sorely lacking in the previous 366, and the cast of Schitts Creek blesses us with a reunion, and perhaps a bebe.

Happy New Year everyone. I wish you all the best! 

Remembering Phil Niekro and Lessons of Retirement

Sporting News Photo

Every time I’ve thought about the concept of retirement, my thoughts would drift towards the great Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. Those thoughts are especially vivid after hearing the sad news he passed away this weekend. 

Why Niekro? My wife and I were in the stands on Sept. 27, 1987 when he pitched in his last game. It was at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. CNN employees at the time were granted tickets to two Braves games each season because the company owned the team. Atlanta was as much in love with Niekro as he was with the city and team, for which he pitched for a quarter century. That’s why it hurt so much when the Braves released him in 1983. He ended up with the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays for but longed to return to the Braves. When he was 48, the Braves, maybe feeling guilty for their premature jettisoning the pitching legend and fan favorite, offered Niekro the chance to pitch one last game as a Brave. 

It was the last game of the season for the non-contending Braves and we knew this would be it for Niekro regardless of the outcome. He started fine, but the game rapidly got out of hand against the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Then, in the third inning, Braves manager Chuck Tanner slowly walked out to the mound, put his arm on Niekro’s shoulders and told him he didn’t want him to be the losing pitcher. There was a long ovation, but it was over. A man’s life’s work done, and that always got to me. 

Throughout my working life I always thought what that would be like to punch out, walk away, say goodbye and never again do what I’d done for so many years. Would I be sad relieved, feel bereft, rudderless, miss the routine, miss the people, miss the work, become a pain in the ass to my wife who was used to me being away during the day, and many, many nights on the road? Did Niekro have those same thoughts as he took in the crowd’s long ovation wondering what the hell was next? 

It turns out, that when I retired in 2016 I had none of those thoughts. The truth is, I was glad to walk out of Fiat Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich. headquarters for the last time. Oh, I would miss my wonderful team, because any success I had during my 11 years there I had because of them, their friendship and support. But I felt like I’d completed my task, Had many successes, overcame tons of challenges and more that anything, owed my family time I spent away chasing stories as a reporter and on business trips for the automakers. Bottom line is, I felt great. Swiped my badge for the last time, took a deep breath, called my wife and told her “we’re retired, let’s have some fun.” 

The one thought I never had, though, was that I would never again do the kind of work I always enjoyed. I love writing, and learning, and writing about what I’ve learned in both my careers as a reporter and corporate communications team leader. I just didn’t love doing it full time anymore and so I’ve spent the last four-plus years taking on some freelance work in both camps working as much or as little as I like. I don’t do it to make a living, I do it because it’s fun, stimulating and natural.  Indeed, Niekro continued to contribute to the Braves as a mentor, allowing him to stay around the game. 

No one put their arm around me as I spent my final moments working full time but I did enjoy a very heartfelt send off that I will always cherish and think about more than you might believe.  

But that day, July 28, 2016, when I left the building and headed for my car in the parking deck, I guess that’s sort of equivalent to the late Mr. Niekro walking off the mound heading for the clubhouse. Thoughts of what we both just left behind fresh and raw, but knowing neither of us was washed up. Sure, we walked away, but not too far. 

RIP Phil Niekro. 

Stonewalling Against The Granite Countertop Infatuation

It seems the world’s gone mad for granite or anything that resembles the hard rock and if your house doesn’t have large slabs of it in the kitchen you may as well figure on living there forever because it won’t sell. 

When we tried to sell our beautiful home three years ago it sat on the market for almost four months because the sheep watching too much HGTV whined it had no granite. Oh, the kitchen counters were clean, flawless and decent looking butcher block but the lookie-loos with rocks in their head demanded rock over the cupboards. 

Even our agent tut-tutted to us we had made a fatal mistake not shelling out thousands of dollars to “update” our kitchen. It was plenty up to date…it just wasn’t up to the current fad hawked incessantly by the producers of House Hunters and other similar programs that completely stage the fake “surprise endings” where the couples “reveal” their decision that had already been made before they rolled one frame of video. 

Ya gotta have granite, and a certain kind of ceiling, and don’t even get me started about hardwood floors. I love that. The couple whines they must have hard wood floors. What’s the first thing people do when they move into a place with hard wood floors? They cover most of it with area rugs and other bits of carpeting! 

What else? Oh…the shows say appliances must…MUST be stainless steel. Another useless feature. Stainless steel isn’t magnetic, yet it attracts every sort of smudge, nose and fingerprint, which means you spend half your day wiping the damn things, when you should be using that valuable time to raid the fridge for beers and fatty snacks. For awhile, appliance makers built the stuff with a sort of textured material that resisted all the things I mentioned above. No..that was too effective, and probably cost a lot less than smudgy stainless steel. 

You see, that’s the other angle. All these useless “must haves” cost a bundle compared to more practical and budget-friendly surfaces. 

We’re in the process of selling a small condo our daughter and partner lived in for six years. Knowing the game, we replaced the carpeting on the first floor with vinyl planking that looks a lot like wood, but is much easier to maintain. The upstairs and finished basement are fully carpeted and are cozy as hell and the entire place has a fresh coat of pain. But NFW we were replacing the perfectly fine laminate counters in the small, galley kitchen. There’s nothing wrong with them and they look pretty damn good. Most importantly, like granite…they’re flat. 

Of course, when discussing the listing price our selling agent fawns over all the stuff we did to make the place attractive, then suddenly her face drops and in a scolding tone informs us, “you could ask so much more…if only you’d put in granite.”  

Not gonna happen. It’s just a matter of principle now–digging in against an overpriced, overhyped igneous intrusion. 

UPDATE 12/23: The condo sold in one day after only two showings. Someone obviously appreciates luscious green laminate!

When PR People Are Rockin’ the Oldies

I like oldies as much as any grizzled Boomer, but that only pertains to music and maybe fashion styles. Ever see my wardrobe? Hey…stuff comes back! Anyway, oldies for which I have no appetite are news stories, but this week that’s what I’ve been served up in my email.  Since I’m both a journalist and PR consultant I’m claiming rights to offer this brief observation.

I recently received a pitch from someone offering me an interview with the CEO of a company that’s doing digital auto sales with a bit of a twist. OK..got my attention. But then it lost my attention after I took 20 seconds to do a search on the company and discovered the company actually launched last summer, winning excellent coverage from Bloomberg and Automotive News. The reason they call it “news” is because stories are supposed to be about something, um, NEW, not an exercise in nostalgia. Being the nice guy I am, I politely informed the PR person of the total UN-timeliness of such a story and suggested she should have pitched me the story when it was fresh, and not as smelly as a four-day old carp. I’ve yet to hear back from her but I imagine my response elicited a murmured “screw off old man,” or something more NSF.

Earlier this week I received a pitch for another stale story and politely declined, explaining my publication is not an oldies station. The PR person was temporarily stymied by my snark before replying inexplicably, “thanks for the update!” HUH? Update? No….DATED!  

Since you’re all smart and accomplished pros I won’t belabor the point with more examples of which I have no shortage. The point is, if you’re going to pitch a story please do a quick search to see what’s been previously reported about the company, then come up with fresh angles to give the reporter a reason to write another story about the business. Pro hint: just offering a profile of a company is often a loser unless that company is segment-buster or the CEO’s work station is an actual shark tank. 

I Gave Up Turkey to Save My Neighbors

I won’t be eating turkey this year. Perhaps I’ll never eat it again…at least until I move to a different neighborhood.

Oh, I’m not against turkey per se. I’m just against eating my neighbors. Shortly after moving to our current location a little over three years ago, we gradually got to know the folks who live in our small subdivision. A few came over with well-wishes and even bottles of wine to welcome us.

We got became familiar with others during our nightly walks through the sub, often stopping to chat or making a fuss over someone’s dog. It’s a small community so it didn’t take long to take complete inventory of who lives where. Then one night we discovered a family we hadn’t yet met.

As I looked out my front window I saw them sauntering in the street and entering a neighbor’s driveway, perhaps to offer holiday wishes and trade non-poultry-based recipes. I managed to capture some of the rather large clan’s approach on video while inviting them to waddle over some time.

A few weeks later I noticed a lone member of the family in the woods behind my house with his feathers fully extended. The object of his flamboyance was about a hundred yards further in the brush out of camera range. The poor Tom was hoping to score a little Tammy on that crisp fall morning. It took him awhile to get there. I don’t know if they did, indeed, hook up, but our whole family was in his corner hoping at least one of them enjoyed some stuffing.

All in all, they’re pretty good neighbors. They pretty much flock together and don’t make much noise except for occasional squawks of pleasure or recognition. Once in a while if a mischievous squirrel or raccoon pisses them off the squawks will take on a little more urgency, but who can blame them.

Look, I’m not a hypocrite. I eat meat and fish and poultry and understand the process, but in this case, I have to put my foot down at eating my neighbors. Besides, if you gobble them, you never know who’s gonna move in next.

It’s Time For the NFL To Pull the Detroit Franchise

Call it a coincidence but the Detroit Lions embarrassing whitewashing 20-0 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday was exactly 57 years to the day Pres. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, thereby ending the idyllic era that became known as Camelot. It was also on that fateful day the franchise came under the sole ownership of the late William Clay Ford, ending the era of hope for Detroit Lions fans.

Since the Ford family took ownership of the team more than a half-century ago, the Detroit Lions, the City of Detroit and the National Football League have suffered unending embarrassment and futility. Indeed, the startlingly inept management of a lucrative franchise over such an extended period of time is more than enough justification for the NFL to invoke Section 8.13 of the league’s constitution and bylaws which states the commissioner can determine if an owner or any other official “has been or is guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football.”

While the rule is generally cited when seeking to punish a franchisee for a serious breach in personal behavior or business ethics, a more liberal construction of the rule would certainly include devaluing the NFL’s brand through an extended period putting forth a grossly inferior product through poor management decisions related to hiring team officers and coaches that led to boneheaded moves both on and off the field that make a mockery of the level of professional football expected by the NFL and Detroit Lions fans.

The closest the Detroit Lions have been to a Super Bowl came in 2006 when the big game was played in its building, featuring two other teams.

It hasn’t mattered which Ford has owned the team. After Mr. Ford passed away in 2013 ownership went to his wife Martha who talked a good winning game but in the tradition of Ford family stewardship hired a coaching staff that’s emulated even less success than another branch of the Ford family did with the Edsel. Martha Ford, in her 90’s, has now put the team in the hands of her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp. In her first year running the hapless show, the Lions suffered its first shutout in 11 years, to a team that had only two wins this season going into Sunday’s horror show.

Think about it. What if, for example, a McDonalds franchisee consistently served up rancid burgers and treated its customers like lepers? McDonalds would summarily pull the franchise and disassociate itself with someone whose actions threatened the company’s good name and reputation.

Detroit Lions’s customers, aka fans, have been served rancid burgers for almost two generations. Isn’t it time for the NFL to end its association with a perennially poor performing franchisee to protect its reputation and value of a team in a major market? We fans have been more than patient but with Sunday’s utter inability to exhibit even a hint of a professional football product the NFL must make its move.

Honestly, who wants to be served rancid burgers every Sunday?

Another View of Alex Trebek–The Game Show Thespian

I’m old enough to remember the very first day Jeopardy debuted with Art Fleming as the host. He was genial, mature and dignified, but there was no way I ever thought he knew the answers without looking at his cards–the way we thought Alex Trebek knew them.

Those who only knew Trebek as Jeopardy host don’t realize the way he convinced us all he was the smarted guy in any world was actually a master display of his genius as a thespian–playing the role of a game show host a million different ways to fit the game itself.

I first became aware of Trebek when he hosted High Rollers. He tossed ran the dice game like a seasoned croupier with his dark, curly bush of hair and suave, flowing mustache. He played the role perfectly, keeping the game moving, encouraging the contestants to go for it all while playing his rakish role in his own TV casino. 

At one point he actually ran three shows at once, but it was his time at Classic Concentration where I saw a completely different guy. He ditched the mandatory game show guy suit and tie, exchanging it for a much more casual look–sweaters in the cold weather, golf shirts when it was warm. Sporting a deeper tan and gold bracelet, the guy’s energy level was high, speaking more quickly and running down to the game board to explain each rebus. He’d even cozy up to some of the female players and they swooned at the handsome Canadian so close but lovely parting gifts and a sincere send-off away. 

On To Tell the Truth, Trebek did his best Bud Colyer, the show’s original host. Back to game show guy garb to match the mood of the show along with dialed down pacing. 

By the time he dropped all other shows in favor of Jeopardy exclusively, Trebek was ready for his greatest role. As he explained in his book “The Answer is…Reflections on My Life” his personal goal was not to call attention to himself but rather to make sure the players shined. He really never said a lot, acting more like a facilitator, keeping the game moving, encouraging players having a rough time and celebrating the successful ones. Yes, he came off a bit professorial conveying the false message that he actually knew the questions to all the answers, but man, that’s just how well he played his role. 

If there was one constant about Alex Trebek, no matter what role he was playing for each of the many game shows he hosted, honesty and sincerity were always prime ingredients of his performance. Indeed, those two qualities were who he was…and that wasn’t acting.  RIP Alex Trebek.

Poll Dancing-My Next Move

In my semi-retirement I’m enjoying my part-time freelance gigs that keep my brain from turning to grits and thanks to this election cycle, I think I’ve decided on my next endeavor. I’m going to be a pollster.

What I’ve learned from watch actual, professional pollsters is it seems like you can make some decent money while never actually being accurate. As a journalist, this goes against all my ethics.  Then again, news organizations are among the biggest spenders on polls in order to manufacturer news stories that may or may not be true, but every time the poll is referenced in a story the name or names of the sponsoring news organizations are mentioned, providing some effective promotion.

We’ve seen from both the 2016 and the 2020 presidential election cycles that pollsters can swing and miss by a mile the eventual results. Guess all that victory party planning by Hillary Clinton’s campaign based on polling that she’d wipe Trump’s butt in the election was a big oops. Maybe they should have charged the pollsters the costs of streamers, confetti and caviar. 

They blew it again this year, prediction a big blue wave where the Democrats took back the Senate, widened their majority in the House and Joe Biden would sashay into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Dems won’t regain the majority in the Senate, their majority in the House narrowed and days after votes were cast, Joe Biden still can’t tell the post office to begin forwarding his mail as of Jan. 20, 2021, even though it seems inevitable. It wasn’t supposed to be this close…according to the polls. 

The irony is, despite their total whiff, pollsters will still make big bucks for what really amounts to an attempt at legal jury tampering. The supposition by political organizations that buy polls is if voters see their candidate as a winner in the pre-election polls, they’ll be likely to support him or her with real votes. Turns out voters may enjoy reading news stories about the latest polls but when they cast their ballots they think for themselves. 

If I ran a polling agency I’d be more honest about it. I’d run the poll and report the results with a margin for error of plus or minus 100 points. The client would get the numbers they paid for and if they turned out completely wrong I could always say, well…they were within the margin for error. 

I would give my new polling agency the appropriate title, “I’ve Got Your Numbers” or IGYN. Can’t wait to pick up the New York Times and read the lead, “In an IGYN-NY Times poll, 78% of those on the Acela Express Amtrak agreed that railroads take people places. 17% said they wandered on the train looking for packs of Saltines and the rest had no opinion and asked to return to their naps. ‘This poll is conclusive evidence people depend on Amtrak for something,’ said Amtrak spokeswoman Dee Rail.” 

See? I think this could work out. In fact I polled my family on the idea. 94% nodded their heads while muttering “yeah, sure,” 2% smirked and 4% asked me to bring them beers. None responded negatively. Margin for error, 100%. I’m goin’ with it. 

Playing By Baseball’s Numbers–My Personal Sabremetrics

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is being blamed today for making a bonehead move that probably contributed to his team’s loss in the World Series. You see, he pulled the team’s ace pitcher, Blake Snell  even though he was tossing a great game…surrendering to the endless babble of numbers, acronyms and abbreviations known as Sabremetrics…or as I call them….”WTFetrics” Cash just didn’t want Dodgers batters to get a third time at the plate against the guy, even though Snell was basically mowing them down.

As a lifelong fan of the national pastime I was content with knowing a batter’s average, a pitchers earned run average and other stats like how many homers a guy hit, bases he stole and runs he batted in.

I get that things have moved along and we now know esoterica that help managers, owners and players supposedly make better decisions on the field and off. Therefore, I’ve decided to go with the flow and adapt this development to my own life.

I started today at noon with my midday repast. As I lifted my ham sandwich to my piehole I asked my meal mate to take some video on their phones that I could later examine to better understand what I have designated my “Lunch angle.” Could I more effortlessly ingest my ham on rye by reducing the angle at which it enters my mouth? By  adjusting my lunch angle, I might be able to keep my mouth shut longer, thereby allowing me to listen to the gossip being offered before taking another sloppy, noisy bite. I love anything that improves cognition.

Another stat I find useful is how I measure and regulate complaining. I’ve set a hard and fast limit by establishing a firm Bitch Count. When I find myself getting too whiny, I cut myself off after four complaints within an 8-hour period. Then I engage in a self-enforced cool-down cycle by swilling two fingers of Jack Daniels on the rocks. The same goes for anyone I happen to be with. Hit the Bitch Count and you’re cut off–forced to join me for happy hour until you calm down. Could take several rounds.

The one baseball stat I find mind-numbing is OBP, or on-base percentage. Here’s now the pros figure it: On Base Percentage (aka OBP, On Base Average, OBA) is a measure of how often a batter reaches base. It is approximately equal to Times on Base/Plate appearances. The full formula is OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies)

In real life one can use a similar formula to measure a person’s inability to use tact or diplomacy or Obtuse Bile Percentage. The formula would be expressed thusly as: OBP= Swear words + Corporate slang + Inappropriate hand gestures / Text messages with angry emojis + Selfish demands + Supportive References to Sean Hannity. A perfect score of 1.000 wins the designation as PTB or Perfect Trump Boor.

My final example is the fascinating, yet polarizing stat known as the WHIF…or Wife plus Husband per Issues Fought. It’s fairly self-explanatory and is considered an important predictor of future evenings bereft of connubial connection.

That’s just a start but I’m sure by the end of the season I will have established a new benchmark for UNR  or Useless Numbers Referenced. Play ball!

Don’t Be So Quick to Shuck Candy Corn

I know there are plenty of weighty things on everyone’s minds, but a recent story I read in the Detroit Free Press has me really bewildered. I can only describe it as a misinformed, unfair and disappointing diatribe against a completely innocent element of long-standing tradition. Have you read it? I’m actually still reeling from the vicious attack on something that has a potential lifespan longer than obsidian and just as impenetrable. Yes…we’ve all found some in the folds and recesses of our trick or treat bags, car seats and oral cavities.

Yes, in this period of social and political polarity, let’s come together on the benefits and joys that can only be derived from one diminutive source: candy corn.

Sure, the multicolored confection will rot your teeth and expand your gut but man, that’s so half-empty. Let’s start with the whole teeth rotting thing. So what? Your natural choppers erode from the twin forces of attempting to chew the unchewable and being bathed in pure sugar? No problem. Skip the dentist, reach into the bag and as fast as you can say “high deductible” you’ve got an entirely new set and you’ve avoided the cost and pain of the traditional substitutes. Besides, orange and yellow are so much more fun than the boring all white. It’s 2020 man! The year where normal doesn’t exist.

Now let’s address those who advocate for the Second Amendment. Personally, I’m not a gun guy. When I was in the Boy Scouts I was so bad at the shooting range I could use the same paper target over and over again. Not even close. For sure, the targets were safe. Not so sure about my troop mates. Now, be open-minded about this. Swap those hollow-points for Brachs white tips.

Instead of putting holes in a person or animal, they might merely cause an annoying welt before disintegrating. I think that amounts to reasonable stopping power in self-defense situations. I imagine any charges filed would have be reduced from those related to using a “deadly weapon” to merely “firing fattening projectiles.” The use of candy corn rounds won’t provide meat on your table but I find the best hunting in the wild aisles of Costco anyway.

Personally, I always keep a few bags of the stuff in my workshop. Candy corns are small and strong enough for use as shims and for temporarily filling holes in drywall until I can get around to spackling them. The added advantage is, when they’ve outlived their utilitarian uses you can just pop ’em in your mouth—no waste. I love the environment!

An important consideration when discussing sweets is the mess factor. Candy corn doesn’t make one because they don’t melt like chocolate or marshmallow. In fact, they’re fairly indestructible. Little known fact—candy corn is a favorite among those carrying out testing of thermonuclear devices due to their ability to withstand blistering temperatures. The folks I’ve spoken to who work in that field really appreciate the quick jolt candy corn provides after a hard day of testing the stuff that could result in the end of humanity. Come to think of it, eating too much candy corn could pretty much be anyone’s final meal.

All I know is, as a kid growing up in Queens, I never turned my nose up when a neighbor tossed a bag of candy corn in my trick or treat bag. Maybe that’s because I knew they were awesome slingshot projectiles, I could use them as little door stops or to terrorize my parents by sticking a bunch in my mouth, getting my brother to play act that he was slugging me in the face and then I spit them out as if he broke all my teeth. Fun! As a parent I’ve been repaid for my idiocy many times over. Wouldn’t change a thing.

So don’t discount the value of much maligned candy corn. Sure, it tastes like sugary wax but as Jerry Seinfeld once told his father when he thought The Wizard personal digital assistant was merely a tip calculator…….

It does other things!