New York City, November 24, 2014

weather review sky 112414★★★★ Sometime in the night, the rush of tires on the wet avenue began to penetrate the windows and the deafness of sleep. Rain spotted the panes as the deep blue of dawn brightened to gray. There was just enough variation in the cloud cover to show that it was moving fast. The downpour ended, leaving air too humid and warm for a jacket. The subway turnstiles and platform were wetter and drippier than aboveground had been. The clouds weakened and left, and the sky attained a piercing blue, the autumnal blue so rare this season. Only a wisp of cloud moved through it, here and there. After dark there was a warm lively breeze, a breath from another time and place, springtime in Boston long ago with the magnolias out. Late at night, through the still-open window, there came the grim throbbing of a helicopter.

Lies Told to Me About Thanksgiving by the New York Times

pieAccording to Google and the New York Times, the most “distinct” Thanksgiving recipe in Georgia, my home state, a place known for fine delicacies like peanuts, peaches, pecans, Vidalia onions, Moon Pies, Coca-Cola, and RC Cola, is key lime cake, which the Times cheerfully describes as taking key lime pie “to the next level.” Leaving aside the fact that I have never heard of anyone in the state of Georgia producing a key lime cake for any occasion, much less Thanksgiving, this dish is, on its face, a farce.

How 'The Bernie Mac Show' Changed the Future of the Sitcom

bernie-mac-show“You know I ain’t lyin!”
“America, I tell the truth you can’t say!”
“Bust his head til the white meat shows!”

Bernie Mac was already an up-and-coming comedian when he starred in Spike Lee’s Original Kings of Comedy in 2000. Having risen through the ranks by way of Chicago, Mac made a name for himself during the Def Jam comedy years, as one of the funniest and most unflappable comedians on the tour. So by the time he was introduced in Spike Lee’s film, his confidence and persona was on full display.

From word one, he owns the crowd, making light of everything from his sex drive to the disappearance of grandmother figures to why he has no problem telling the truth about children. It’s in this last bit that a new avenue really opened up. Mac talks of how his sister has recently been arrested and imprisoned for drug use and how he has become the legal guardian of her three children. He then begins to go down a path which in today’s culture might be deemed offensive but in his hands is mined for humor: Children are evil and in need of a heavy hand with discipline, heavy enough to show the white meat. Within this routine, the seeds were planted for The Bernie Mac Show.

As told to The Champs podcast, series creator Larry Wilmore, himself a TV veteran, had the idea for the show from watching the movie and thought Mac’s story on raising his sister’s children was fascinating. At the same time, he had been mulling the idea of spoofing the still young but soon to be omnipresent reality-TV craze. By marrying the two ideas together, the general framework for The Bernie Mac Show was born. Mac would star and it would depict him struggling to raise children while at various times breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the camera in a sort of tell-all confessional. This framework in part laid the groundwork for what would eventually become an en vogue comedy style: the TV mockumentary.

The show, which debuted in 2001, came during a dry period for the single camera style in comedy. The top comedies of that time were all multi-cams, Friends, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will and Grace. All extremely well done, funny shows but all still playing more or less within the common framework of the multi-camera setup. The lone exceptions were Fox’s Malcolm In The Middle, itself breaking new ground with it’s own 4th wall breaking and shows from other countries, chiefly, the UK’s The Office which would rapidly become the template for future shows.

Lizards Rude

Finally, the Jurassic Park franchise gets its very own Jaws 3-D. Which, in a surprising but apt twist, means Chris Pratt is our era’s Dennis Quaid.

I'm Sorry About Your Thanksgiving

I’m sorry about your Thanksgiving! I’m sorry you’re going to have to have tense conversations about politics and race when you see your family. I’m sorry that you need to make the choice between two paths of mild discomfort: engaging or not. I’m sorry that nobody can stop this, but I’m glad that when you tweet that you are “preparing yourself for battle” with your family, whom you love but apparently do not respect, your sentiments are quickly mirrored, and empathy seems to find you instantly. I’m sorry that your best recourse seems to you to be to ask for public approval for inaction or gratitude for action; to ask, from people who are experiencing something acutely and personally and existentially, for assurances that, despite your ambivalence about conduct and communication and conflict, your self-evident rightness remains self-evident and correct. And I’m sorry that your de facto allyship feels suddenly quite precarious, for some reason. I’m sorry that you will have to “survive” discussions with people to whom you are uniquely influential. I’m sorry about your Thanksgiving!

Photo by Andy Pixel.

Zillow Is My Pinterest: On Buying A House Before 30

Screenshot 2014-11-23 18.56.52Last spring I was hired at a charter school in Nashville, Tennessee. At a recruitment carnival I met two of my colleagues, both single women in the process of buying their first houses. Something happened in that conversation – I guess it was the nonchalant way they said they were proud of themselves for having done this independently of their boyfriends and describing the process as much easier than they thought it would be – and I became obsessed with the idea of buying a house for myself.

I know a lot of women my age who spend time pinning their dream weddings, browsing for engagement rings, keeping Facebook friends until after they’ve gotten married just so they could see pictures from the wedding (okay, maybe that’s just me?), but none of that has ever been as enticing to me as looking at real estate listings on Zillow and Movoto.

I never thought I would seriously consider buying a house before I turned 30, or at least before I got married.

Perhaps the most surprising element of the new rules was the inclusion of alcoholic beverages, which had not been part of an earlier proposal. Beverages served in food establishments that are on menus and menu boards will be included, but a mixed drink at a bar will not, F.D.A. officials said.#

It seems overly cruel of the FDA’s new calorie-count requirements that if you should find yourself in the kind of place where a drink is listed on the menu with a bold, splashy graphic next to some wings drenched in a sauce whose most prominent flavor note is branding from a major multinational liquor company and wads of processed cheese rolled in “exotic” panko crumbs before being deep-fried, you must be forced to confront the reality that the barely palatable Fireball Whiskey Lemonade (which also contains… vodka?) keeping you level contains as many calories as that soft brick of a potato wedge encased in semi-congealed cheese and sprinkled with too-crunch fake bacon.#

The City That Split in Two

gary

Last month, police in Gary, Indiana found a woman’s body in an abandoned building. When they apprehended her alleged killer, Darren Deon Vann, he confessed to murdering her and six other women and hiding their bodies amongst the some ten thousand empty buildings strewn across the city.

Gary, which was founded as a company town by U.S. Steel in 1906, has slowly amassed these abandoned buildings since the early sixties, when the city steel plant laid off thousands of workers, beginning a long, ongoing process of atrophy. In 1968, when the city elected its first black mayor, Richard Hatcher, a tidal wave of white flight compounded the exodus. A civil rights leader, Hatcher was one of the first black mayors of a major US city, and spent twenty straight years in office.

Today, Hatcher still lives in Gary. He’s eighty-one now, with a sharp, wonkish recall of town history and politics. We talked on the phone about the abandoned buildings’ backstory, and what white flight looked like when he was mayor: less like flight, and more like secession. In 1971, whites from Gary created Merrillville, a new, separate town on Gary’s Southern edge. More than forty years later, it’s still whiter than Gary—forty-six percent to Gary’s eleven—and more prosperous—a forty-six-thousand-dollar median income to Gary’s twenty-six thousand dollars.

Gary’s abandoned buildings have gotten a lot of media attention recently, with the serial killer case. In your view, what’s the story of how they came about?

It’s important to understand what has happened to our city. Once I was elected mayor, and as blacks in Gary gained more political power, whites began moving out of the city. That was not limited to the average white citizens of Gary. What really did great harm was that the major businesses chose to move out.

Sears and Roebuck had one of the biggest stores in this area in downtown Gary. It closed that store and built a new one in Merrillville. We tried to stop them. There were demonstrations, people tearing up their Sears charge cards, and all of that. But they said the people—and they were obviously talking about whites—were moving south. Before these commercial businesses left in the early sixties, we’d also had this problem with our real industry, United States Steel. They’d had this huge plant in Gary that employed more than twenty thousand people. They decided to adopt the technology that the Japanese had been outcompeting them with, and suddenly those twenty thousand jobs went down to seven thousand, which is what they have out there today. Now, the managers boast that a steel ingot can go through the whole plant without touching human hands.

New York City, November 23, 2014

weather review sky 112314★★★ The trip to the supermarket for milk and breakfast ingredients was chilly but only chilly, the sun glowing through fissures in the sheet of clouds. Then the clouds separated further and  were overlaid with contrails, collage-work in the west. Haze shone downriver. The afternoon’s mildness made a promise that the early sunset threatened to revoke. There was a rustic smell of fallen leaves on the air, and now some trees were wholly bare—one strung with holiday lights, one dangling with lumpy blue-black seed pods. Children stayed on the playground late into the twilight, though it was still early in the evening.

David Baldacci, who signed several thousand copies of his new book, “The Escape,” said he hoped the effort would help the last big bookstore chain standing to better compete against Amazon. “You can go online and buy any book you want, but there’s not a lot of excitement with clicking the buy button,” he said.#

The uncanny quality of this statement is explained not by the fact that Barnes & Noble, the entity that Baldacci and a hundred other authors are partnering with to sell more books on Black Friday, is the biggest bookseller in the country, with over six hundred and fifty retail stores, and is a Fortune 500 company and billions of dollars in annual revenue, but by the fact that it, as the last national chain of bookstores, desperately needs their charity.

Perhaps it could adopt the Strand’s twin strategies for staying alive as an independent book store in this, the year of our Lord Bezos two thousand and fourteen: #branding and New York real estate. Or something else that people love, which has nothing to do with actual books! Tacos, maybe. Or Cronut knockoffs. People love those.#