Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Three Notable Arborites

It was my first year in Ann Arbor back in the late 70s and I was riding my bike to class at the University of Michigan when I encountered a man standing on a streetcorner, dressed in a cream-colored suit and carrying a guitar. He said something to me in a raspy voice.

"Excuse me?" I asked. He repeated something which to me was unintelligible. I nodded, and pedaled the heck away, fast. I noticed he always seemed to be on that same streetcorner in downtown A2. Always well dressed, always carrying that guitar, which sometimes he would play, though I thought not very well.

I eventually learned that man was "Shakey Jake" (the man pictured), who became an Ann Arbor icon--a streetperson whose colorful dress and flamboyant manner entertained locals for decades until he passed away last week at the age of 82. His life was subject of much speculation locally, which he did little to clear up in interviews he gave over the years. At various times he told reporters that he began smoking at the age of one and had traveled around the world eight times though never in a plane.

Jake was quintessentially Ann Arbor for those who revel in its counterculture reputation.

Another notable former Arborite passed away last week. Unlike Jake, this man will not be mourned. Coral Eugene Watts was a confessed serial killer whose tally of victims may never be known but may have included scores of women in more than one state. I still remember the palpable fear felt by the women in the office where I worked in the late 70s after a young woman was brutally killed in Ann Arbor. One newlywed wife refused to leave her locked apartment when her husband was away.

Eventually, police fingered Watts as a suspect but they did not have the evidence for an arrest and he migrated down to Texas where he was tied to a string of killings there. Texas authorities had enough evidence to convict him of one brutal attack, but granted him immunity in up to a dozen other killings in exchange for his confession.

Through our wonderful loophole-laden justice system, Watts was to be released a couple years ago. Michigan prosecutors successfully had him extradited to Michigan where he was convicted of murder here. Watts died in an area hospital of prostate cancer, no doubt more peacefully than many of the women he encountered over the course of his criminal career.

Culling through the local news, I ran across the name of one more familiar Ann Arborite (former Arborite now that he teaches at the University of Minnesota). This area always has had a reputation of being a hotbed of literary talent and one of the more successful of these writers is Charlie Baxter.

"Feast of Love" is a movie opening this week which is based on Baxter's novel of the same name. Though Baxter used Ann Arbor as the setting for his book, producers chose Oregon as the locale for the story instead. What, is there that much more love in Oregon than in Ann Arbor?

I met Baxter myself when he formed a series of writer's support groups in our area through a grant from Reader's Digest maybe a dozen years ago. When Baxter returned some months later, I was embarrassingly the only one left to show up amongst my original group of aspiring scribes. However, the Ann Arbor author was circumspect about it and dutifully listened to the opening of a screenplay I had been drafting. He pronounced it at least as good as the work of a former student who became a TV writer in Hollywood.

Maybe he was just being charitable, but then again maybe not. Maybe my wife and I should quit our jobs, pack up, and head for tinseltown. I'll borrow from Baxter himself for my soon-to-be-award-winning movie script. I'll title it, "Feast of Blogs." Great title! Now I just need the plot and stuff.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Revenge Of The Blog

Not that long ago my wife and I were playing Scrabble. Early in the game I created a word, positioning my tiles in a way that made it nearly impossible for her to create a word of her own. When she noted this, I told her it was part of my defensive Scrabble-playing strategy.

"Yeah, well do it again and I quit," she retorted.

Nobody appreciates my competitiveness. Well, maybe they do. It makes them want to beat me all the more. I used to tell my wife that whenever we played board games with her family, we weren't playing Boggle, or Balderdash, or Scattergories. The game really was "Beat Dave."

Now during last year's fantasy football season, everybody "beat Dave." I came in last place. It motivated me all the more to do better this year in our family fantasy football league. We added a few new managers too--both of my brothers, as well as my 77-year-old dad.

With all these new managers, I'm determined that my "Revenge of the Blog" team finishes on top. I bought a $7 fantasy football strategy magazine at the store. I study it constantly. I purchased stat-tracker from Yahoo so I can be up on all the latest statistics.

I even created two more fantasy football teams just so that I could have the practice in conducting a live draft. My other teams are The Living Dead and Zombie Troopers, which prompted one of my opponents there to remark, "Hand me a wooden stake."

Last week I beat my brother, the Enforcer, who sometimes comments here. This week I face off against dad. He's totally new to fantasy football. He drafted for his team somebody who isn't even playing professional football this year. A friend of mine felt sorry for my father and said as his eldest son I should let him have my superstar quarterback, two-time SuperBowl MVP and former Michigan Wolverine Tom Brady.

Heck, no! Dad, you're going down, man. You're going down!

I did feel bad when I got an e-mail from him saying that after losing his first two games, he felt he needed some advice. I told him that I could give him some advice next week, AFTER I beat him. Until then, I said I would post a note here in my blog. If anybody out there has some fantasy football tips for my father, go ahead and post them in comments.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This Blog Censored!

True. My wife Wendy who proofreads all my blogs before they appear here thought my latest post about a few recent trips to the doctor (nothing serious) was too personal. But it was funny.

So I’ll ramble on about other recent events instead.

Could talk about our little dog Doogie. Last week he was barking furiously downstairs in the middle of the night. I rushed down to see what creature or intruder he had surprised only to find our mutt nonchalantly circling our living room. He looked surprised to see me. Then it was as if he said, “Wow, you’re up too? Well, as long as you’re up, why don’t you let me out” as he strolled to the door.

Here’s something odd. Another rant I wrote about our dog, Dogging The Dog, was visited quite often by web surfers from overseas, particularly the United Kingdom. Why? “Dogging” is British slang for engaging in sexual acts in semi-private places—cars, movie theatres, parks, etc. or watching the same. What “Dogging the Dog” meant in that context I don’t know, but whatever it was sounds pretty perverted if you ask me. Shame on you Brits.

Oh, the bees I wrote about a couple weeks ago? They won. I bought another mailbox and attached it to a different part of my house. This exasperated a friend of mine who e-mailed me, “Now what kind of self-respecting home-owner are you, losing a battle with the bees. That is too pathetic to even comment on. And spending money for a new mailbox? I’m starting to think I don’t know you anymore.”

So I tallied up the score for him in my bee war: A bottle of insecticide that attached to my hose so I could spray the nest ($12). A re-fill of the same when that didn’t work ($10). About five cans of cheaper “kills on contact” spray ($2 to $4 each). A plastic bee trap that is supposed to attract the bees from the nest ($10). I saw one bee checking out the trap from the outside. No bees trapped.

All this money and effort hardly put a dent in my bee population so . . . one new mailbox ($12). Problem solved. My buddy is a literature professor and has been a bookworm going back to our high school days. I said to him, “You’ve must have read the phrase, ‘throwing good money after bad.’” Hence, the mailbox.

After another catastrophic football loss by my beloved Michigan football team on Saturday, some have noted that this is the fourth straight loss for the U of M since the death of former head football coach and U of M legend Bo Schembechler. So some fellow Wolverine fans and myself are going to try to resurrect Bo this week to stop the losing. We’ve never done anything like this before so anything can happen. If you notice ALL the dead walking around later this week, we screwed up.

Speaking of screw-ups, I tried to tamper with my computer—me of little computer knowledge. My son Scott had received a picture of his Russian family he stayed with when a student abroad. When I tried to re-program the computer so it would open the FotoCanvas file, I inadvertently made it so ALL my programs now open with FotoCanvas. I tried to do a “restore” to fix it but even my restore program opened in FotoCanvas. So I just have internet access right now. Oh, and the Fotocanvas program didn’t make the picture appear either.

Scott also mentioned something else which is pertinent since it’s 9/11 or thereabouts. We Americans sometimes forget that there are terrorists operating in other countries that we never hear about. Scott found out that about a train bombing in Russia that happened on the same rail line he had traveled on about a month earlier. Sixty people were injured, six critically.

Kinda puts my FotoCanvas, bee, Bo and dog problems in perspective, doesn’t it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Black Day In Ann Arbor

I've never been a good loser. I'm not a particularly good winner either. Anyway, pardon the rant that's about to follow here.


They're calling it possibly the greatest upset in college football EVER. My beloved Michigan Wolverines whom I proclaim and defend to all comers--Bonnie here mostly--lost their opening game to a team that I never heard from a college that I didn't even know existed.

This is a loss of Biblical proportions. Not since Davey beat Goliath has such an event occurred. And I'm thinking there were some who laid odds on Davey just because of name recognition--there were a couple Davids in the Old Testament, right? Reports were that Las Vegas bookies refused to quote a line on Appalachian State versus Michigan because the Wolverines were so favored to clobber them like god did the devil.

Worse yet, I was THERE! There, at the Big House among over 100,000 fans almost all wearing maize 'n blue, in a festive mood to see the debut of our latest conquering heroes. I enjoyed reading the t-shirts--my favorite read "Beating Michigan State" on the front, which didn't make sense until you read the back--"So Easy a Caveman Could Do It."

But instead of seeing our dream team, it was a nightmare. "Unbelievable," cried those around me over and again as the Wolverines stumbled, bumbled and generally stood like a deer in the headlights. Whatever could go wrong in a football game did. I watched in horror as our senior quarterback Chad Henne tried to throw a short pass to a teammate with two opponents draped all over him while another Michigan receiver stood all by himself in the end zone, waving frantically to get Henne's attention.

I think every man, woman and child in the stadium saw Michigan's top receiver wide open in the end zone. EVERYONE EXCEPT THE MAN WE COUNT ON TO THROW THE BALL TO THE RIGHT GUY!!! So it went the whole day. We lost 34-32 when we had our second blocked field goal in less than two minutes, while the other team stuck their final winning kick. Sick, just sick.

You KNOW some Hollywood outfit is going to make a movie out of this some day. I just hope they pick the right actor to play Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr, who rightly took the blame for this debacle. Jim Carrey comes to mind.

Many are calling for Carr's immediate firing. I don't believe in being that hasty. He should be tarred and feathered first. THEN fired.