To paraphrase the great Pete Seeger, “Where have all the movies theaters gone?” I wonder that because many of the movie houses I frequented when I was a kid in the 1980s in suburban Detroit have closed. The movies were a big part of my childhood. It seems I saw a film nearly every weekend when I was young, and so I formed an attachment to various venues. I would go with my parents when I was of elementary school age. In middle school, when I was older and more independent, I graduated to being dropped off with friends. Going to the theater declined some in high school, but I rediscovered the experience in college.
Some of the theaters in my neighborhood included:
| |- Main – Opening in 1941, it’s still in operation at its original location in downtown Royal Oak. It showed several old and new Disney films when I was a child. Some of the features I recall included “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Lady & the Tramp,” “Herbie Rides Again,” “The Cat from Outer Space,” and the original “Escape to Witch Mountain.” (On a side note, I don't think I've ever been as terrified as I was by the witch in “Snow White.” She was nasty! Pure evil!)
Then, it was the Main Theatre. Now, it’s the Main Art Theatre, and I go there to see independent dramas, documentaries, foreign films, and such. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m intrigued by the “circle of life.” So, it's fitting that I saw family friendly entertainment there when I was a kid, and now I watch adult-oriented fare. Another thing: I appreciate marquees and the Main's is a great classic design. As you can see it in the above photo. I always get a rush as I approach the theater
– any theater, really
– and see the neon and flashing lights, as well as the title of the film I'm about to see. That jolt is one of my favorite aspects of going to the movies.
The Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, Michigan.
| |- Berkley – The Berkley Theatre was named after the town of Berkley in which it was located. It opened in 1940 and closed in 1993. A Rite Aid is now on the site. Like the Main, it was located in a downtown area, and it was a smaller venue. I recall only one large screen.The Berkley had a marquee shaped similar to the Main. Interestingly, it remains even though the theater doesn't. Now, instead of advertising movies, it promotes community events. I always glance at the sign when I drive by, hoping that there will be a movie playing. But, of course, there never is. Apparently, the Berkley was in disrepair by the time I was a patron because there were water stains all over the ceiling. Not that I minded -- it was my entertainment before the movie started. As one might do with clouds, I would look up and see what I could spot. I pointed out Cookie Monster on more than one occasion. | |
The Berkley Theatre closed but the marquee remains. The sign is located in Berkley, Michigan.
I caught several first run dramas and comedies when I was a kid including, “The Champ,” “Hopscotch,” “I Ought to be in Pictures,” “Nine to Five,” and the remake of the “The Jazz Singer” starring Neil Diamond. By the late 1980s, it was a second run dollar show. The last movie I saw there was in the summer of 1992 and it's one my favorites: “A River Runs Through It.”
| |- Americana – The Southfield-based Americana Theatre had a five-decade run, opening in 1967 and closing in 2001. A shopping center is now on the site.
The theater is where I saw some of the most memorable “event
” films of my childhood: “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” and “Ghostbusters." Adding to the impact was the fact that I watched these movies on the theater’s enormous 30 foot by 60 foot screen, one of the largest in Michigan at that time.
I didn't find a photo I liked of the Americana Theatre, so you'll have to imagine how it appeared in its heyday. The venue was in Southfield, Michigan.
The Americana was one of the first multiplexes on my side of town. They continued to add screens through the years, and there were eight by the mid-1980s. This made moviegoing a much different experience than at smaller venues like the Main and the Berkley. As a kid, the Americana felt like an event – there were more people, there was a larger title selection, and the marquee was bigger and brighter. Even the Milk Duds seemed to taste better! Now, however, I much prefer the intimacy of a small theater.
In closing, I want to include a portion from Martin Scorsese's recent National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture titled, "Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema."
The Academy Award-winning director talked about the history of cinema, and shared his own experiences as a film enthusiast. As you might image, he had a special relationship with the movies and the venues in which they were shown when he was young. I was particularly struck by the comments below as he captures the moviegoing experience beautifully.
Frank Capra said, “Film is a disease.” ... I caught the disease early on. I used to feel it. They used to take me to the movies all the time. I used to feel it whenever we walked up to the ticket booth with my mother or my father or my brother. You’d go through the doors, up the thick carpet, past the popcorn stand that had that wonderful smell - then to the ticket taker, and then sometimes these doors would open in the back and there’d be little windows in it in some of the old theaters and I could see something magical happening up there on the screen, something special. And as we entered, for me it was like entering a sacred space, a kind of a sanctuary where the living world around me seemed to be recreated and played out.
Click here for Scorsese's complete presentation.
Your turn: did you attend movies often when you were young, or do you go frequently now? If so, what are some of your favorite films and what are/were some of your favorite theaters?
Welcome to "The D"
What will the City of Detroit become in the months and years ahead?
The future, as laid out by Dan Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures LLC, will be one of great change. Gilbert, the owner of 17 buildings and three million feet of office space, recently discussed his plans to transform “The D,” as it's affectionately called by locals. These improvements are to include more restaurants, retailers, and parking opportunities. The changes are due to occur across six downtown districts during the next two years.
The news led me consider my impressions of the city as a lifelong resident of the Detroit area – emphasis on “area.” I haven’t lived in the city, only the outlying suburbs. I have, however, spent time there through the years, and so I wanted to share my experiences as an insider/outsider.
| |I grew up in Huntington Woods, an inner ring suburb a few miles north of the Detroit border. When I was a kid, my contact with the city was limited to occasional trips there with my family or school. We visited various venues that included the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fisher Theater, and the Detroit Science Center (now Michigan Science Center). Basically, the usual touristy things suburban kids in Metro Detroit often do. | |
Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts
I admit that growing up I had a less than positive view of the city. This was the 1980s, and my impressions were shaped, in part, by stories of Devil’s Night fires. Images of burning homes often appeared in the media and that affected me as an impressionable child. There was always an ominous feeling when I ventured into the city. I was shuffled from vehicle to attraction during excursions, and so I didn't have the opportunity to explore the city with an adult and counter these notions. (Note: In fairness to Detroit, Devil’s Night arsons have declined. This is due to a joint effort between the city and its residents to combat the problem.)
The first time I spent any significant amount of time in Detroit was in the fall of 1997 when I worked as an office production assistant on the movie “Out of Sight.” We were based out of the DoubleTree Hotel (now Courtyard by Marriot) on East Jefferson across the street from the GM Renaissance Center (“Ren Cen”) a group of interconnected skyscrapers and one of the world's largest commercial complexes. The Ren Cen is one of the most iconic and prominent buildings in the city, and it can be seen on the far right of the Detroit skyline photo at the top of this post.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the lower Woodward corridor where we were based was deserted. There was very little car or pedestrian traffic even in the middle of the day during the workweek. Many of the storefronts were empty, and blight and decay was common. It was eerie.
| |This was before Comerica Park and Ford Field, homes of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions, had been built. It was also before Campus Martius, a two block business district had been constructed. General Motors had purchased the Ren Cen the year before, but they had yet to make major upgrades to the structure. These four developments have all had a huge impact, transforming the skyline, providing incentive for more suburbanites to venture downtown, and providing anchors for other businesses. | |
My time on the film lasted only a few weeks and the production entailed long days and weeks, so I had little time to explore the city. When I did venture out, it was usually to a few nearby restaurants to get the office staff their lunch (the production manager was particularly fond of the former Canfield's in Midtown) or to a supermarket in the area to retrieve groceries for the office.
After the movie wrapped, I returned to the suburbs and didn’t spend any significant time there until…
In the fall of 2002, I worked in the communications department of the Michigan Democratic Coordinated Campaign. The headquarters was in the Corktown area near Tigers Stadium (now demolished), the former home of the Detroit Tigers. I spend my lunchtime exploring downtown. I went to various restaurants in the areas of Eastern Market, Midtown, Greektown, and Corktown (Russell Street Deli and the former Eph McNally's were two of my favorites). This was the first time I genuinely explored Detroit, and so it was the first time I actually felt connected to the city. I was impressed with the districts, and the unique eateries. I enjoyed walking down the streets, which, by this point, were busier than they had been five years before.
But, once again, I returned to the suburbs after the campaign ended, and didn’t venture into the city much until…
| |In 2004-2006, I worked at the Ren Cen. I was a contract employee of General Motors, providing marketing support to Chevy Racing. The complex had been transformed by this point; it was now much more open and inviting. Some of the improvements included a windowed entrance in the front of the building off East Jefferson, and the addition of an enormous five-story atrium, the GM Wintergarden, at the rear entrance on the Detroit River. | |
GM Renaissance Center
As a full-time employee, I was downtown 40 or more hours a week. It was the most time I have spent in Detroit before or since. I explored the city during and after work – there were lunches and dinners in nearby Greektown, concerts at Cobo Arena and the Fox Theater, and frequent walks along the Detroit Riverfront. Sometimes, I would even venture downtown on weekends or holidays, eager to show off the city to my suburban friends. Some had only set foot in Detroit on a handful of occasions and they appreciated my willingness to play tour guide.
While the movie and campaign positions were temporary, the GM position was permanent (in a contract sort of way). So, with longer-term employment in hand, I considered moving downtown before opting to stay on the outskirts. I commuted from Royal Oak, another inner ring suburb near Huntington Woods where I had lived before I was hired. Why didn't I take up residence in Detroit? At the time, I wasn’t convinced the city was a place I wanted to live. My roots where in the suburbs: that was where I felt most comfortable, and I wasn't willing to make a change.
I hadn’t spent much time downtown since I left GM until...
| |I joined the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue at few months ago. It’s one of the last active Jewish congregations in the city, and I’m usually there weekly either for dinner and services or for some social, cultural, or educational event. I see the synagogue as another example of the city’s continued progress. Case in point: through an online fundraising campaign, the synagogue was recently able to reach a $60,000 goal in just one month. The money, which will match $60,000 in private donations, will be used for various infrastructure improvements. | |
Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue
The growth of the congregation is an important step as it relates to the city because it’s at a local level. General Motors and the Detroit Tigers are businesses – when they buy a building or construct a stadium, they are usually motivated by profit. But, when folks donate their time and talents to something such a house of worship, it’s for more altruistic reasons. People are creating a place to gather and that builds community. While I enjoy going to a ballgame or a concert, it doesn’t provide nearly the same sense that the city is headed on a positive course like an evening of dinner and services.
So, what are my plans as they relate to Detroit? Am I going to continue to be on the periphery, working and socializing there while living in the suburbs? Will I ever truly embrace the city by becoming a resident? I honestly don’t know at this point, but I’m considering it.
But I do know this: I’ve seen the progress Detroit has made in the past 16 years. In many ways, the city is much improved – there’s more development, more people are out and about, and there’s more leadership. But, perhaps most importantly, I feel a great deal more optimism and positivity than all those many years ago. I hope the city continues to move forward – I sense it will.
Your turn: Are you a resident of Detroit or its suburbs, or a frequent visitor? If so, what are your impressions of the city now and in years past?
Part I: Mildred
| |I wanted to devote this post to my grandmother, Mildred Simon. She passed away on April 19 at the age of 98, having lived in the Detroit area her entire life.
Mildred, or “Grandma Simon” as we called her, was the mother of 10 (Yes, my mother is one of 10 children!), grandmother of 20, and great-grandmother of 11. She and my grandfather, Markus, were married for 58 years until his death in 1998.
My grandparents, Mildred & Markus Simon.
She earned a chemistry degree from Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit. Her first career was that of a medical technologist. She later went back to school, earning a master’s degree in education. She then worked as a Detroit Public Schools teacher until her retirement.
Mildred was active in the Detroit Jewish community, having belonged to various temples and synagogues over the years. Grandma attended services weekly, sang in the choir, and took part in torah study.
My grandmother engaged in many activities. She was dedicated volunteer, delivering meals to people in need, and sewing dolls for sick and injured children.
Music was another interest. Grandma enjoyed leading family song sessions and playing for the residents of a senior living community. I'd like to share a short film I made four years ago – “Mildred’s Love of Piano” – that explores her passion for the instrument.
Watch "Mildred’s Love of Piano."
The north wall of "Detroit Industry" at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Part II: Mildred and the Detroit Industry Murals
The second item I wanted to touch on is an interesting story that came up at a family meeting the day before her funeral. A few of her children – my mother, as well as my aunts and uncles – talked about her connection to Diego Rivera and the iconic Detroit Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).
| |Steve “Pablo” Davis is the last living member of the team of artists who worked with Rivera on the masterwork. Davis’ contributions included painting the mural's so-called “Dick Tracey” faces. According to his site, Davis also worked with Pablo Picasso, and has produced at least 3,000 portraits and several thousand paintings in other genres.
My grandfather was an attorney and did legal work for Davis in the late 1950s. Markus sometimes worked in trade, and in lieu of pay Davis painted 11 pastel portraits. He created pieces of my grandmother, grandfather, and nine of the 10 children in 1958-1959. (The tenth child hadn’t yet been born.)The paintings of my grandmother and grandfather hung on the wall of her last residence, and during a recent visit my mother commented on them. Referring to Davis, Mildred said, “I knew him when he was with Diego Rivera!”
My grandmother then recalled that when she was an undergraduate student at Wayne, she and her girlfriends would walk to the nearby DIA during their lunch break and watch the painting of Detroit Industry. The pieces were put up in 1932-1933.
Top: Steve "Pablo" Davis. Bottom: the portrait Davis painted of my grandmother.
When my mother asked my grandmother if she had met Rivera, her memory now failing, she said, “I don’t recall.” But, mom is confident that she must have encountered the artist considering Davis was close with both Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo. In fact, Davis lived with the couple in Detroit during the creation of murals.
An extraordinary story from an extraordinary life. Goodbye, grandma. I love you and I'll miss you.
| |Let me tell you about my encounter withDave Chappelle, the actor and comedian.
I was having a late dinner in Greektown in Detroit in April 2001. I was with a group of friends on a Friday night and we walked past the Atheneum Hotel around 11 o’ clock. There, I spotted Chapelle, alone and smoking a cigarette. He wore jeans and a jean jacket, had on a bucket hat, and carried a backpack.
“Are you Dave Chappelle?” I asked.
“Yep, sure am!” he answered enthusiastically.
This is about how Dave Chappelle looked
when I came across him (minus paparazzi).
So, I stopped to talk for a bit. I asked him what he was doing there and he told me he had just performed a stand-up show at the nearby State Theater (now The Fillmore Detroit). I don’t recall much of what else was said other than I told him he was a funny guy and he expressed gratitude (“Thank you! Appreciate that!”).
My friends were off to the side, talking amongst themselves. They had no idea who he was, so they weren’t particularly interested in engaging. “This guy is a comedian!
” I explained.
“He’s really funny! He’s on TV and in movies!” He wasn't as publicly known at that point, as this was two years before “Chappelle’s Show” debuted. In 2001, he had appeared on TV talk shows like “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” and had supporting roles in movies, including “The Nutty Professor,” “Con Air,” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”
Also of note: I've been around people under the influence and Chappelle may have been under the influence. He was swaying and didn't make much eye contact. His state was entirely plausible if you’ve seen “Chappelle’s Show,” or his act -- there’s a lot of drug humor in both. He also co-wrote and co-starred in “Half Baked” about a group of friends who are, yes, half baked. Still don't believe me? Here are actual Chappelle quotes: "Hey, hey, hey, hey. Smoke weed every day." and "I don’t do drugs. Just weed."
Dave Chappelle: "Hey, hey, hey, hey.
Smoke weed every day."
Our encounter ended when Chappelle asked us -- and I'm not making this up -- if we could take him to a party. I was open to the idea and I queried the group if they knew of a gathering, but they found his request odd and suggested we depart. I thought it was a nice gesture -- he wanted to hang out with us! So, we left him as we had found him, milling about and smoking. And he seemed content to do so.
I still wonder, 12 years later, what might have happened if we had taken him to a party. What stories would have come out of it? It’s a great unknown.
Your turn: have you met any celebrities or public figures? If so, who did you did you meet, and when/where did it occur?
1: an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely — called also biotechnology, human engineering, human factors
2: the design characteristics of an object resulting especially from the application of the science of ergonomics
— er·go·nom·ic adjective
— er·go·nom·i·cal·ly adverb
— er·gon·o·mist noun
“Ergonomic” is one of my favorite words, one that comes out frequently in conversation. I’m always looking for items that not only look great, but feel great. I’m a small person – I stand about 5’3” ½ and I have little hands. So, that’s a factor as far as my choice of products. Appearance is also a consideration as I gravitate toward earth tones and darker colors, especially navy blue,
dark brown, black, and grey.
These are a few items I often use and the reasons I find them enjoyable:
| |- Cool-Gear EZ-Freeze Bottle with Flip Cap – I tried several water bottles before I settled on this one. I like the rubber grip because it contours to my hand. I also enjoy the wide mouth for drinking, so more water pours out than with a narrow opening. Some people may prefer to drink from the straw built into the cap, but I like to unscrew it and gulp from the bottle. There's also a loop on the cap. This allows me carry the unit with one finger. I’ve found that when you’re hauling several items, it’s easier to free up a single finger than an entire hand. | |
Cool Gear EZ-Freeze
Bottle with Flip Cap
| |- Microsoft Basic Optical Mouse – I use a Microsoft mouse, and I’m now on my second one. When the first one stopped working, I immediately went out and got another. Again, I have small hands, so a mouse can’t be too large. But, I also don’t like something too little, either. I need something in between, and this model fits nicely in my hand like the Cool-Gear bottle. Another thing I like about the mouse is it has a smooth surface that's free of rubber. When I've tried rubberized mouses, I've found the material can stick to my palm. | |
| |- OXO Good Grips – OXO Good Grips is my favorite brand of kitchen utensils. I have several items including a few knives, an ice cream scoop, tongs, kitchen scissors, and a mallet. I love the oversized rubber handles, which, like the Cool-Gear water bottle and the Microsoft mouse, feels great to touch. OXO items are also easy to handle when wet, so there's less chance of slippage. Side note: I went to a party recently and the hostess had several OXO products. I was excited when I saw her can opener and such, and I gave her high praise. | |
OXO Good Grips
| |- SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack – I searched for a while for the best way to carry what I call my “work stuff,” including my laptop, notebooks, pens, etc. I had tried a few messenger type bags that went over one shoulder, but I found the uneven weight distribution uncomfortable. I’ve had Swiss Army pocket knives since I was a kid and I had seen several people with the company’s backpacks, so I decided to invest in one three years ago. And I’m glad I did! The shoulder straps adjust easily and the back is padded, so I can pile in the weight and it never feels uncomfortable. And, because it’s a backpack with two shoulder straps, there’s an even weight distribution. There are also several pockets and compartments to hold my belongings, and the zippers open and close easily. | |
SwissGear Travel Gear
It’s interesting why we gravitate toward certain items. As I mentioned, my physical stature plays a large part in my choices. Just as I use certain items, in part, because I’m short, folks who are tall have told me they choose equipment for the same reason. Ergonomics is a fascinating area, and I plan to explore it further.
Your turn: Are there items you use because they feel “right?” If so, what are some of your favorites?
| |Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! What are ya gonna watch? The same thing!
The movie is one of my favorites, having seen it dozens of times over the years. I first caught the science fiction comedy as a kid when it was initially released in the theater and I’ve taken it in every which way since – on TV, on VHS and DVD, and now via online streaming. Its premise is explained on IMDB: “Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.
Click the image to watch the "Ghostbusters" trailer.
What makes the film so special? There are several aspects, including the themes, the cast and characters, the script and dialogue, and the direction.
- Theme – I enjoy the underdog tale of “Ghostbusters.” In the beginning, the team are fired from their jobs in academia, having been dismissed as kooks and con men (“You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman!"). The threesome then start their own paranormal business in a dilapidated firehouse and drive an old retrofitted station wagon. They slowly build their operation, as well as their credibility, and become media stars in the process. Ultimately, they end up saving New York City from supernatural forces. In many ways, the movie is a classic American success story and a number of American ideals might apply – rugged individualism and self-reliance, to name a few.
| |- Cast/Characters – The film features a great ensemble cast including Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Rick Moranis. I especially enjoy Bill Murray’s character, Dr. Peter Venkman. He’s a complicated fellow – the leader of the group, he can often be disinterested, selfish, and self-involved.Yet, he takes charge and rises to the occasion when the team finds itself up against dark forces and needs him most. In addition, even though Venkman makes his livelihood in parapsychology, he's skeptical of the spirit world and doesn’t take his profession too seriously. This makes for an amusing contrast to his partners and fellow ghostbusters, Dr. Ray Stantz (Akroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis), who are both eager practitioners and firm believers in the supernatural. | |
Bill Murray as Peter Venkman in "Ghostbusters."
One of my favorite Venkman moments is when he returns to the office, exhausted after a long day of dealing with otherworldly phenomena. A cigarette dangles from his mouth as his admin, Janine, approaches with news that an EPS representative is waiting to see him. Murray masterfully underplays the scene, simultaneously conveying both wariness and suspicion. He stands hunched, squints his eyes, and mumbles through pursued lips.
- Script/Dialogue – In addition to co-starring in the film, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis also wrote the movie. As one of the original cast members of "Saturday Night Live," Aykroyd is a legendary actor and performer. Many of the characters he played on the show are now icons, including Elwood Blues, Julia Child, and Beldar Conehead. He also co-wrote the movies "The Blues Brothers" and "Spies Like Us." Ramis, while lesser known publicly, has been just as influential a creator of comedic projects having either written, directed, or appeared in many of the best American comedies in the past 35 years. In addition to “Ghostbusters,” he also had a guiding hand in “Animal House,” “Caddy Shack,” “Stripes,” and “Groundhog Day.”
Here are just some of the many classic lines from the “Ghostbusters”:
- “All right! This chick is TOAST!”
- “Nimble little minx, int' she?”
- “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”
- “He slimed me.”
- “NOBODY steps on a church in my town!”
- “Okay, who brought the dog?”
- “Boy, the superintendent's gonna be pissed!”
- “What about the Twinkie?”
- “Are you the key master?”
- “Back off man, I'm a scientist.”
- Direction – Ivan Reitman headed the production. Like Ramis, he’s had a hand in several classic comedies. He also directed “Stripes” and “Meatballs,” and produced both “Animal House” and “Old School.”
Reitman seamlessly blends humor, fantasy, and suspense. A scene that I particularly enjoy occurs early in the film when the team is up against up a ghost in the New York Public Library. In the moments before the group sees the spirit, the viewer is presented with eerie music, dark lighting, long tracking shots, and falling bookshelves. These elements create a sense of dread. And yet, the uneasiness is mitigated by Venkman – he tosses out sarcasm, wipes ectoplasm off his hands onto the stacks, and even incorporates slapstick by pulling one of his colleagues by the ear. After
Watch the library scene from "Ghostbusters."
the seemingly benign spirit turns out to be a monstrous creature, the team nervously scampers from the library to the fun, uptempo track “Cleanin’ Up the Town” by The Bus Boys.
So, yes, “Ghostbusters” is a fantastic movie! Writing this post makes me appreciate it all the more, and I plan to watch it for the umpteenth time. But before I do, I'll want to share this side note:
My love of the film seems to run in the family (I like that expression, having also used it my previous post on libraries). My brother was really into it for a time when he was a kid, as he watched the movie on video nearly every day after school for months. Sometimes I would see all or part of it with him, and others times I’d listen in from another room. For that reason, I know much of the dialogue. I can tune in at almost any point, and recite lines from memory. I suspect the well-wore tape is probably in a box somewhere in our parent's house.
Your turn: have you seen "Ghostbusters”? If so, why do you enjoy it?
Libraries are among my favorite places. I’m not sure there are many other spots where I can work, socialize, and learn all in the same place and in short order.
My interest goes back to when I was a kid, and I used to frequent my hometown public library. It was a babysitter of sorts – it was next to my elementary school, and I used to walk over and stay until my parents picked me up after work. This was around ages 10 and 11. I used to sit on the floor of the children's section and read – what, I don't remember. Although, I was a big fan of Dynamite magazine in those days. In tenth grade, I landed my first job at another local public library. It was near my high school, so, here again, I would walk there after classes. As a page, I shelved books, magazines, and videos (remember those?). It was a decent job, and I still keep in touch with many of the folks with whom I worked. Some of the other student workers even went on to library careers.
My attraction to libraries seems to run in the family. My mother has a master’s degree in library science and has worked as a children’s librarian. I also have a cousin who has a master’s in library science and is now a children’s librarian – although that’s not entirely coincidental. Mom actually encouraged her to pursue that path. And, I have another cousin who's a library director. Here are a few additional reasons why I appreciate libraries:
- It's a Place to Work/Study – This is obvious. There’s a long running joke of the stern librarian putting a finger to his/her lips and shushing patrons. I appreciate the enforcement of the rules; the silence allows me to concentrate and completely focus on whatever I’m working on. For that reason, rarely am I unproductive at the library. I don't understand how people can study regularly at coffee shops. I love coffee houses as places to hang out, but I find them less than ideal places to work – there's loud music, people are constantly coming and going, and there's dozens of competing conversations.
- It’s a Place to Socialize – Even though a library is a quiet space, there’s still a social element. I’ve actually made friends at the library. In fact, I recently ran into someone at an event and we recalled how we came to know one another. We often studied at the same library when we were both in graduate school and we would pass each other and nod and wave. At some point, we stopped to chat and discovered we grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same high school (though not at the same time). We began studying together after that. As the characters of Rick and Louie say to each other at the end of “Casablanca,” it was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
- It's a Place to Learn – This is also apparent. Libraries are home to all sorts of materials – books, journals, maps, DVDs, etc. I can always find something of interest to read, watch, or listen to. I’m productive for only so many hours on any given day before I lose focus. And that’s about the time I wander around and look for information to consume. One of my favorite things to do is flip through a pile of various newspapers and magazines. Or, I’ll pick a subject, venture into that area of the stacks, and pull books off the shelvesSo, yes, I love libraries, which reminds me of an anecdote:
I had my photo in my local newspaper in fifth grade. Why? Because I was a library regular! I came in one day after school and was told by one of the staff, “Good! You’re here! The Tribune is coming and we need you!” The library’s first desktop computer had been donated by the city's men's club, and a photographer was coming to take a picture. (This was back in the days when the purchase of a computer was news.) They were looking for a kid to appear and I fit the description. And so, I was photographed pretending to use the device with two adults. It was my big moment.
Your turn: do you visit libraries often? If so, what sorts of things do you like to do while you're there?
| |My photo appeared in the Daily Tribune, based in Royal Oak, Michigan, when I was a kid. I'm seen using the Huntington Woods Public Library's desktop computer.
I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got 20 dollars in my pocket
I, I, I’m hunting, looking for a come-up
This is f***king awesome
-“Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
“Thrift Shop,” which extols the benefits of buying secondhand, now sits atop the music charts. The track is currently #1 on Billboard’s “The Hot 100,” and that led me to consider my own thrifting habits. | |
Click the image to watch the “Thrift Shop” video.
I’ve bought clothing, furniture, kitchen items, and assorted “bric-a-brac” (toys, books, music tapes) at various thrift stores during the years. These locations include The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Volunteers of America. I’ve found the quality of used goods is often as decent as new, while the cost is between half and a quarter of retail. It’s just unfortunate that in years past I paid full price for so many of my belongings. What a waste of money!
I actually get excited when I walk or drive past a thrift shop that I haven’t been in before. If I have time, I’ll immediately stop and go in. If I don’t, I’ll make a point to return at some point. I love history museums, so it’s fitting that I’m drawn to thrift stores. I think of them as a depository of consumer items spanning decades.
Some of my best finds have been clothing, including:
- London Fog Coat: I wear it in cold weather with a few layers underneath. The original size was extra long and I’m extra short, so I had it altered. I paid less than $20.
| |- Polo Cargo Pants: The inseam was too long, so I paid another visit to my tailor. They are probably one of the most comfortable pair of pants I’ve ever owned. I believe I paid no more $8. | |
| |- Lake N Trail Hooded Sweatshirt: The item is made of extra heavy material, and so I wear it in the winter under the London Fog coat. The name “Jodi” is written on the tag and there was a fishhook embedded when I bought it – that’s all part of the appeal of buying used. I'm pretty sure it was less than $10. Fortunately, no tailoring was needed, but I did have to remove the hook. | |
Here are some other reasons thrifting appeals to me:
- The Hunt: The merchandise isn’t organized as well as it is in department stores – shirts are with other shirts, blue stuff is with other blue stuff, etc. I really have to dig in and pick through the shelves and racks before I find something of interest. This extra effort makes for a sense of accomplishment when I come away with something decent and usable.
- The Randomness: You never know what you’re going to find from one day to the next at a secondhand store because the merchandise is largely dependent on unplanned donations. Sometimes I’ll buy half-a-dozen items, and other times I won’t come away with anything. The unpredictability is intriguing and it keeps me coming back.
- The Circle of Life: I like the idea of someone using something and when he/she no longer wants or needs it, they pass it along to another person. Some folks have told me they find it creepy or distasteful to wear or use an item that belonged to a stranger, and quite possibly a deceased one at that. Not only don’t I mind, I find it kind of beautiful.
As you can see, thrifting is about more than great deals. It's an adventure. And so, I agree with Mackelmore – thrifting is “F***king awesome!” I just wish they could eliminate that musty thrift store smell. Lysol? Febreze? Scented candles? Something!
Your turn: do you shop at thrift stores? If so, what have been your best finds?
"Do the Harlem Shake!" Left, the original meme. Right, the "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" version.
Click the images to watch the videos.
Has “Harlem Shake” mania finally died down? It seems so, but it was popular there for a minute or two. I found the whole thing amusing, and I admit that I added to YouTube’s viewer traffic of the videos.
For those who don’t know, the Harlem Shake meme is a short video running about
30 seconds that’s set to the electronic tune “Harlem Shake” by Baauer. Typically, one person will dance – usually in a mask or helmet – for around 15 seconds among a group that seems oblivious to his/her moves. After that time, the track intones “Do the Harlem shake.” There’s a jump cut, and the entire group is seen dancing wildly, and often in costume, for the remaining moments.
Just how popular was the “Harlem Shake” at one point? YouTube reported that by February 15, the meme’s height of popularity, 40,000 videos had been uploaded, totaling 175 millionviews. In all, more than 2,700 years of "Harlem Shake" videos were watched in just one month!
I especially enjoyed the versions created by the talent and staff of popular shows, including
“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “The Daily Show with John Stewart,” and “The Today Show.” I suppose it’s because Fallon, Stewart, and others are known figures, and the production values were high given these are national programs. Although, the cynics have said that the meme “jumped the shark,” as it were, when “The Today Show” got ahold of it. By the way, “Late Night” is the champion of the bunch with more than 1.9 million YouTube views.
A compilation of popular "Harlem Shake" memes.
But all has not gone well for those who have participated. Here in Michigan, a group of Milford High School students found that out when they were suspended for staging a “Harlem Shake” video at their school. The administration charged that they lied to gain access to a classroom, and objected to their use of – get this – a live duck. Talk about a sign of the times! When I was in high school, kids were suspended for things like fighting and skipping class, not making and posting Internet videos. I laughed when I saw the clip, and I especially enjoyed the inclusion of the animal, which wasn't harmed. It’s unfortunate that the students were punished, but sometimes people must suffer for their art.It’s interesting when something goes viral and becomes a cultural phenomena. You never know what’s going to strike a chord and stir public imagination. While other videos with a music component have been viewed millions of times and have led to parody – “Gangham Style,” “Friday,” and “Chocolate Rain” are a few – “Harlem Shake” is something different. I don’t recall another instance where others have actually created their own versions in such numbers. The craze underscores why the Internet is so revolutionary: it allows for the spread of ideas, and the subsequent participation on an immediate and global scale.
So, do I plan to make or appear in a “Harlem Shake” video? I suppose the answer is “no” considering last month I was at event where one was produced. I could have joined in, but I stayed on the sidelines and opted for another type of shake – a chocolate shake. (Ha, ha.)
Your turn: are you a fan of the "Harlem Shake" meme? If so, which video was your favorite?
| |Farewell Yahoo! e-mail. It’s been nice working with you, but it’s time to move on. I’ve found Gmail to be a better service.
I do, however, still have some sentimental attachment to email@example.com. It was my first web-based e-mail, having opened it 11 years ago. It’s served me well -- I’ve used it to correspond with friends and family, apply for jobs, receive various alerts, etc.
I've been on Gmail for a few years. I started an account, but I didn't do much with it, opting instead to communicate mainly with Yahoo!. But that changed when I launched my website, elinatinsky.com, a year ago. I opened firstname.lastname@example.org in connection, and it operates through Gmail. So, I began using the address as a way to promote my online portfolio. And the more I used it, the more I liked it. Now, it’s all I use.
There are three reasons I’ve come to prefer Gmail to Yahoo!:
| |- Better Security – My Yahoo! e-mail was recently hacked for the second time, which was very aggravating. As with the first occasion, someone or something (an evil robot, maybe?) sent strange communication to my contacts. So, I was forced to send out yet another apologetic message (“Sorry, guys, but my email was hacked...”). I was forgiving the first time, but I lost confidence in the site’s ability to provide security to its users after incident #2. I realize Yahoo! e-mail is a free service, but I still have some security expectations. Of course, there is a possibility that my Gmail will also be compromised at some point. We shall see. | |
- Better Interface – The appearance of the Yahoo! and Gmail e-mail queues are similar with columns for sender/receiver, subject title, and time/date. The difference is Gmail allows me to see sent/received messages in one continuous stream, and this makes it easier to keep track of correspondence. With Yahoo!, I had to constantly toggle back and forth between my inbox and outbox to monitor communication.
- Fewer Distractions – I like Google’s homepage, which is blank save for the logo or an occasional Google doodle. My e-mail queue is also free of extras except for a single line of advertising text near the top of the page. Yahoo!, however, is quite the opposite. Its homepage is overloaded – every conceivable category of information is offered, including news, sports, weather, stock quotes, celebrity gossip, dating, and jobs. I’ve gone to the homepage to get into my
e-mail and ended up looking at red carpet photos for a half hour. It’s not much better when I’m actually in my queue as there are large ads. I do give Yahoo! credit, though. The service has taken steps to simplify its content, having recently launched a less cluttered homepage. While it is an improvement, there's still too much activity for me.
| |“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door,” is an expression attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, lecturer, and poet. It’s actually a misquotation of something else he wrote, but, nevertheless, the point is taken.
Yahoo was an early innovator of web-based e-mail, having launched the service in 1997. Gmail became available to the public in 2007, a decade later. Six years hence, Gmail is now the most widely used with 425 million active participants worldwide. Meanwhile, Yahoo! is the third-largest with 281 million. I wonder: How many Gmail users do you suppose are dissatisfied Yahoo! folks like me? A lot, I reckon.
Your turn: Do you use Yahoo! e-mail or Gmail? If so, what do you like or dislike about either?