Are you excited about the upcoming solar eclipse? I am, because any time it’s dark enough to take a nap during the day without closing the curtains, I’m all for it.
I understand hotels, motels and airlines are taking advantage of people who are generally in the dark by hiking rates and fares to areas where you can experience the total effect of the eclipse. Anyone falling for that highway robbery deserves to have their lights out. Not me. I understand that in Michigan where I live, I’ll be able to experience some degree of darkness and that’s pretty much all I need. You see, you can get the same experience of a large body blocking the light by walking behind the typical Walmart customer. Just make believe their butt crack is one of those “canals” they think are on Mars.
Personally, I enjoy the talk about eclipses because I like the words “umbra” and “penumbra.” You don’t get to use them very often because we most often opt for the more common “shadow” or “whoa! It’s freakin’ dark!”
If I still lived in NYC I might grab a spot on 8th Avenue and set up shop hawking special total eclipse “PenUmbraEllas!” After all, you don’t wanna get any of those dark shadows falling on your head before ducking into the subway, or a Shake Shack. New Yorkers love to buy crap from guys on the street with merchandise piled in large cardboard boxes, especially if you tell them it’s been “imported from Miami Beach.”
I think I’ll just sit on my deck, which faces the woods, crack open a Summer Shandy, and wait for something spooky to emerge, like a guy wearing spats, every once in awhile yelling to the moon, “down in front! Can’t see the sun!” And sure enough, it’ll take one small spin for mankind..and move its cratered ass.
One of my favorite CDs is “August and Everything After” by the Counting Crows released in 1993. It’s full of angst, honesty and the kind of whining I fondly recall from my days at Hebrew school during especially difficult attempts at properly applying tefillin. Lead singer/songwriter Adam Duritz is the spitting image of other guys in my bar mitzvah prep class who had hair that would not support wearing a yarmulke forcing them to make liberal use of bobby pins, which only made them appear more goofy, yet almost pious.
I bring this up because here we are in August—a month when nothing particularly momentous happens, punctuated by the NFL pre-season when success in games that don’t count are a sure harbinger of an utterly disastrous regular season, when they do.
It’s easy to understand why Duritz and the Crows chose August as part of the title of their musically brilliant but lyrically downbeat collection because August represents the transition between the joy of summer and the dread that “everything after” includes like the chill winds of fall, the tedium of raking leaves and the winter freeze. While I personally enjoy the change of seasons I would vote they be distributed thusly: Summer, 6 months; Spring, 2 months; Winter, 6 weeks; Fall, what’s left. I know, I know, some people love fall, the turning of the leaves, the golden sunrises. I’m sure if you asked the Counting Crows they’d explain in their dark logic that Fall is but the threshold into the dark, frigid tundra that is winter, when you lose your boy or girlfriend and you slip on the ice in such a way as to become permanently impotent.
I like a lot of songs on “August and Everything After,” but one that always gets to me is the fabulously pathetic “Raining in Baltimore.” Duritz whines that he “needs” the following: a raincoat, a phone call, a sunburn, a plane ride, a big love, but especially the raincoat which dominates the final lines of the whine: I need a raincoat
I really need a raincoat
I really, really need a raincoat
I really, really, really need a raincoat
I really need a raincoat
When I grew up in New York, if you needed a raincoat you had two choices: The old chain Bonds, or a guy on Broadway with cardboard boxes full of them. Poor old Adam just has to put a little more effort into it. These days, of course, you can easily pick up a raincoat online but you don’t get the cheesy salesman to tell you “ya look like a successful bra merchant in that one!”
As for the sunburn, plane ride, phone call and big love, those are issues for his shrink, or a quick search on Amazon.
Yes, August is perhaps the most dismal month of the year. Hot, featureless, bereft of holidays and hope. The kind of emptiness that I imagine makes Adam Duritz happy and inspires him to write catchy tunes like “Mr. Jones” that belie that fact they are actually paeans to pathetic goals where “we all wanna be big stars.” But August is the perfect month to be pathetic, because honestly, there’s nothing else going on. There’s joy in that….and everything after.
This week marks a year since I retired. It also marks eight months since I retired from retiring, although only partially. When I swiped my badge for the last time after 11 years at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on July 29, 2016 I took a deep breath as I imagined a freed prisoner having done hard time would do, inhaling fresh air and marveling in the blue sky and bright sun. My lockups had been conference rooms and stuffy offices. My shackles were a corporate culture where too many employees cared about the size of their workspaces rather than the quality of their work…with the bold exception of my amazing FCA Digital Media team…the best in the business.
Now, all I had to navigate were the aisles of the supermarket with my wife who, like a field general, marched us from meat to melons to milk plundering the shelves and making a beeline to the checkout unscathed by less focused shoppers, meandering with their carts with no purpose or strategy. We emerged the victors every single time reveling in many dollars of coupon savings. We went out to lunch and paddled the Huron River, hiked nearby trails and took roadtrips. There was no schedule, no Outlook calendar entries, no meetings or town halls. There was only all the time in the world to do whatever, whenever. We ate dinner as a family every single night and spent every night together. It was perfect. It was retirement. It was too good to last.
It ended on October 17th. That’s the day I began a part-time job at Automotive News on their video team. We would say I was now, “semi-retired” which means you work a little..in my case a max of 29 hours a week, have no career aspirations other than keeping your nose clean, doing a great job and having some fun while you earn a few bucks to pay your Medicare and bourbon bills. When you show up people seem happy. When you need to take a day off for one thing or another, no one minds and when you offer some insight based on many years of experience, it’s appreciated. Sometimes I show my age with some timeworn reference and my younger colleagues give me crap, but it’s all in fun because they know I have no interest in their jobs. They work a full damned week! I have every Friday off and most any other day if I need one. Maybe the best part of it all is having a chance to continue to do the kind of work I’ve enjoyed for so many years, but in much smaller bites. Most days I’m home by 2 or 3 and rarely, if ever, miss dinner. I still play ice hockey once in awhile and mow my own lawn.
I’m no Rockefeller (timeworn reference) but we’re comfortable, so it’s not about the paycheck. The currency I crave comes in denominations of relevance, sharing, team work, curiosity, social connection and fun.
I don’t know when I’ll make the move back from “semi” to full retirement. Right now I’m having too much fun..and I’m still around enough to push the shopping cart for my wife at the supermarket, lug the heavy jugs of milk and juice, and reach some items on the top shelves..on my tippy toes.
Shortly after arriving at work the other day I began to hear murmuring around me that had me thoroughly confused. I heard snippets about a “really big cake,” then the question “are you gonna do it this morning?” followed by crinkling of aluminum foil and finally a co-worker muttering “hmm..I smell a reveal.”
Now I’m at the age where my contemporaries are long past birthin’ babies and mainly celebrate the birth of grand babies, or the arrival of a new pet teacup dog, so I didn’t pick up at all what the hell was going on around me until people started to gather, looking at the cube where the young lady who is several months along, proudly lifted the foil off the big piece of cake revealing frosting with blue trim, followed by shrieks of “oh yay! A boy!”
Being a seasoned reporter I put 2 and 2 together and deduced we were being told the gender of the child yet gestating safe and warm in the impending mom’s womb. Indeed, an ultrasound photo was passed around, apparently so we could each verify what the blue icing had already heralded..that the fetus..is a he-tus.
I was later informed by my much younger colleagues I had just been a witness to what’s known as a “gender reveal.” Doing some research I discovered this is a big deal these days with all sorts of gender reveal party supplies available including a piñata you whack to get the answer,
gender-appropriate smoke bombs
and a volcano.
When my kids were born in the 1980’s this was not a “thing.” Yes, some prospective parents did choose to learn the gender of their babies in advance to assist in decorating the nursery and tossing hints to friends and family about what stuff they should buy. We opted for the mystery and hedged our bets. I painted two walls of the nursery yellow and papered the other two walls with a colorful geometric pattern in primary colors. We couldn’t lose. Our son didn’t mind a bit and four years later our daughter didn’t either.
I get the practicality of knowing and the joy of sharing but I’m totally old school where my idea of a gender reveal party is taking a look to see whether or not there’s a shmecky on the infant when he/she emerges from the tunnel of love. I don’t need cake, although it’s appreciated. Don’t need to beat the crap out of a piñata to drop colored stuff to let me know or have a bogus volcano erupt in my face with the revelation. Back in the day, once the simple fact was determined by a quick look at the kid’s loins, the proud dad handed out cigars..real or bubblegum, with a pink or blue band denoting the newborn’s gender. If your friends were too stupid to figure it out, the bands helpfully were emblazed with “It’s a Boy!” “It’s a Girl!” Simple, despite your choice of cigar contributing to the contraction of cancer or tooth decay.
Look, I know things change and that’s fine. I’m all for being thrilled by impending parenthood and wanting to share the good news in fun and creative ways. Oh no..I won’t be labeled an “old fart.” Change is good…and if it involves sharing cake..reveal all you want.
Sorry I haven’t been here in awhile. I’ve been smothered under a pile of stuff I started gathering as far back as the ’60’s, when I was a pre-teen, and now I’m in my 60’s, pre-mortem.
The boxes and tubs and drawers and file cabinets and shelves and assorted other fossils of my life were doing just fine taking up space until my wife and I decided we needed to move to another house a couple of miles away. The premise was simple. The house we lived in for 25 years had a nice yard and plenty of room for our kids to play. But the kids are adults and not interested in frolicking on a swing set, so the yard became just something for me to mow and fertilize and water, but never enjoy. So we ditched the big lot for a bigger house on a smaller piece of land and a lot less upkeep.
That’s when we discovered we messed up by letting sleeping stuff lie. There was one tub of reporter notebooks I saved…from 1979-80 when I was a budding local TV reporter in Tucson, Arizona. Would I really need to reminisce about covering the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission? There was a tub stuffed with ball caps I had collected. My favorite? The brown and gold cap with the embroidered Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board logo. Just the color scheme is almost as hazardous as the product it represented.
I was pleased to find my old scorecards from Yankee and Shea Stadiums, especially the one from the Yankees-KANSAS CITY A’s twi-nighter with Phil Rizzuto’s and Joe Garagiola’s autographs along with a blade of grass from right field, which I swiped after the game on my way through the old rightfield wall to the subway.
Oh, there were a dozen or more coffee mugs that were freebies at press events, political buttons, some “very important” t-shirts I collected along the way. A couple that stand out were “I was there. 7.1” that I picked up when covering the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and one emblazoned with one of the brands involved in the “great mustard war” at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Something kinda cool I still have are the original watercolors our courtroom artist made of Pete Rose in Federal Court in Cincinnati during the time he was kicked out of baseball. The artist was a large fellow, seated in the vacant jury box. The judge was not amused when the poor guy kicked over his water pot during the proceeding. Alas, the paintings were never completed but just fine under a withering deadline.
I have a Howdy Doody pen given to me when I interviewed Ed Kean. He was the head writer on the show and invented the Clarabell the clown character, played by Bob Keeshan before he was Captain Kangaroo. Howdy’s legs and arms are posable. The pen part sticks out of one of his legs. That’s something I’ll never part with.
On the other hand, I have two big boxes with hundreds of press passes. Some are keepers like the one I got covering the very first Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. I also have a few White House pool tags and a laminated one from the Secret Service when covering a campaign swing through Arizona by then First Lady Rosalynn Carter. But I also have scores more from every assortment of automotive events, especially auto shows, conferences and drive programs.
All this stuff takes room. What else do you do with it all besides leave it in repose in whatever repository it happens to be laying in? It’s not like I’m gonna sneak in the basement in the middle of the night to grab a quick peek at that six-foot tall plastic faux pencil I have courtesy of Kmart, which sent it to our bureau to promote its back-to-school campaign of 1990. Yes, I have it. Can’t part with it. Moved twice with it. Need it? Nope. Want it? Yes. Insanity? Could it be anything else?
My wife implores me to “weed out” anything considered a dust or space collector, but reporters don’t do that. We keep thinking we’ll need to refer back to some specimen of detritus to write a book, or something. “Oh no! I need those notes from my feature on dwarf tossing in Grand Rapids!” I actually was assigned that story by CNN in 1989. Not proud. Not proud at all.
See? I already got some use from some of those, um, artifacts, lurking in dark spaces by writing this blog post. Does that mean I’m done with them? Are you crazy? I’m certain follow-ups will be necessary, in fact, demanded, by my two or seven readers. Don’t worry. I know where everything is and where it will always be. Indeed, I don’t know how many more moves I have left in my life…but I know what will be moving with me.
Barely a day has gone by in the past 25 years that I haven’t driven by this sign. From 1957-1990 it let families, young lovers, teens giving their new drivers licenses a workout and anyone with a set of wheels entertainment under the southeastern Michigan sky or maybe something a little extra in the backseat.
We moved to the Detroit area in the spring of 1989 but didn’t discover the Commerce Drive-in sign until it was too late. Like so many drive-in movies around the nation, it lost out to mulitplexes, home video options and home computers. The internet hadn’t yet become a factor.
Over the years the Commerce Drive-in sign stood sentry over an intersection that morphed from a quiet suburban corner to almost gridlock today as urban sprawl lured families northwest of Detroit to Commerce Township. We had always hoped the fact that the sign continued to hang in there while discount stores and subdivisions and brewpubs and carwashes were built around it that someone would re-open the drive-in. Of course, that made no business sense, although the Ford-Wyoming Drive-in in Dearborn continues to thrive.
The Commerce Drive-in sign grew forlorn but defiant as time moved along, fighting a losing battle against the elements and neglect. Motorists making a left or right at the T-intersection of Union Lake and Richardson Roads would give it a reverent glance as they went on their ways, many, I guess, wondering why it would still remain long after the last picture show. Still, not a word was heard asking to have it torn down. It’s just a constant you expect to be there, even though it serves no purpose other than, perhaps, reminding those who were there, of good and simple times, when one could enjoy a double-feature with friends and family on a giant screen with bags of hot buttered popcorn and ice cream and Milk Duds under the stars not in the solitude of a hand-held smartphone.
Last New Year’s Day the sign fell victim to vandals who sprayed graffiti on the landmark. That’s not something the community would stand for. A local resident and real estate agent, appalled by the insult to our beloved sign got to work lining up help with powerwashing and cleaning the sign.
A GoFundMe campaign was started but community businesses were so generous in donating their services to renovate the sign, there was no need to raise the initial goal of $50,000. The long-vacant lot where the actual drive-in stood may also be turned into a park aimed at activities for children with special needs.
It would cost about a quarter-million dollars to get the Commerce Drive-in sign fully functional again…a little too rich right now for cleanup organizers But even if its neon never glows again, the effort to rehabilitate the sign sheds a bright light on a community coming together to take care of a beloved roadside companion.
On this first day of summer I would suggest we move Groundhog Day to around May 10th, or roughly six weeks before the Summer Solstice.
The rationale is really quite simple and sensible for several reasons.
First and foremost, the groundhog is never correct in its prediction of whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter. Let’s face it, you’re dealing with a fat, furry rodent who is perfectly snug and asleep when its violently rousted at dawn by a guy who grabs it by the scruff of its neck with the sole purpose of determining whether the groundhog sees its shadow on a crappy February morning when there’s never any sun that would generate said penumbra. What the groundhog is seeing is red because it wants to get back to sleep. That leaves it up to the rouster to simply fabricate the big announcement. Doesn’t matter. Either way the weather is likely to suck for the next six weeks so what’s the point? Sees its shadow, doesn’t see its shadow. Who cares? Spring will get here when it’s good and damned ready… so don’t push it.
Pushing Groundhog Day, if there must be one, to May 10th would still allow the town of Punxsutawney, PA to suck tourists into the ersatz event, only the results would actually be more definitive. Screw looking for a shadow. Place a calendar with a handful of peanuts outside the sleepy guy’s hole, and gently poke him. He’ll still be pissed off but he’s sure to walk over to the calendar to snag the nuts. If you put the nuts on the right date, he’ll make a beeline to the snack and find himself standing right on the start of summer. Then you can accurately announce, “the groundhog has duly verified the Summer Solstice will occur on June 21st!” It’s foolproof. The rodent is right every time, people aren’t given false hope of an early onset of nicer weather, no one freezes their asses off on a frigid February morning, Punxsutawney makes its nut for the year and everyone goes home happy. What’s the hook then, if there’s no drama about the outcome? Ah..that’s the part I saved for last. Pets would be allowed to accompany their owners to the event totally off their leashes. Bowser who scoops up the groundhog first…wins….breakfast, thereby changing the furry guy’s moniker to “Punxsutawney Fill.”