Tuesday, October 21, 2008

News flash: "Dog crap threatens Pleasantville"

Arriving home from work today, I found the inaugural edition of the "Ryan/Ulrich News" stuffed into my mailbox along with the regular pile of coupons, credit card solicitations and bills.

Ryan and Ulrich are two of the streets in our Pleasantville subdivision, so at first I assumed this was someone's nifty effort at creating a hyperlocal news product to replace the "dying newspaper" in our close-knit community.

Upon further investigation, however, I learned this news product was the creation of someone whose target audience was perhaps even smaller than hyperlocal -- microlocal? -- it was directed at the owner/owners of two dogs who have apparently been crapping all over our neighborhood.

"Wanted: (sic) for being off leash," the alarming headline read. "Bonnie and Clyde."

A short synopsis of smoldering anger is accompanied by five pictures, three of the offending pooches in their squatting positions and two close-ups of their brown droppings.

The publication then points out that the writer became a part of his/her own story -- never a good idea for you prospective journalists out there -- and picked up the refuse themselves.

I can sympathize with the letter writer. I'd prefer to not be confronted by this obviously dangerous twosome, and certainly do not want to encounter their curly refuse. I'd prefer that Pleasantville be free of such unsightly products.

However, what bothers me more than the occasional stray turd is the knowledge that there's some neighborhood busybody who has nothing better to do with his/her time than craft and distribute these elaborate newsletters -- leaflets that include freaking pictures of the dogs caught in the act.

A better idea? Invest that time in seeking out the owners of Bonnie and Clyde, and rationally explaining the nuisance created by their lax oversight. I know where one of the dogs lives. It's not that hard, certainly not as hard as investing a ton of time and ill will into a ridiculous newsletter anonymously distributed throughout the neighborhood.

Anonymity is nothing but a veil for cowardice.


Squawking VFR

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

A2's Angel of Death

Quite a few wacky things have happened to the local school's athletic program since Mrs. VFR and I arrived in town.

So many so, that I'm beginning to suspect that I am unknowingly the Angel of Death in town.

To recap:
  • The day after I was invited to interview in person, Bo Schembechler died. The day of my interview was the day of his funeral.
  • Within my first months here, the men's and women's basketball coaches, Tommy Amaker and Cheryl Burnett, were both fired.
  • No. 5 Michigan lost at home to I-AA Appalachian State, perhaps the greatest upset in college football history. The following week, the team loses 38-0 to Oregon, its most lopsided defeat ever.
  • Lloyd Carr retired after one of the most disappointing seasons in program history.
  • The local paper ran a four-day series that showed how the school guided student-athletes into gut classes for which they did little to no work.
  • Rich Rodriguez arrives after an ugly divorce from West Virginia that's litigated in the courts for months, an inauspicious start for the new coach who loses the $4 million buyout case badly.
  • In 2008, Rodriguez is off to a 2-4 start in his first season, the program's worst start in 41 years and one that threatens the team's 33-year consecutive bowl streak, the longest such stretch in college football. It's fair to say that it's almost certainly going to end this year.
I'm not Lucifer, but if I was, it'd be about time to say, "Hmmm ... I think my work here is done."

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bruce in our back yard

(Photos courtesy of Devin, who was smart enough to bring his camera)

In its heyday, Ypsilanti, Michigan stood as a shiny, chrome example of the best the industrial age had to offer.

In the 1930s and 40s, its population swelled with middle-class workers who manned positions in Ford's famous Willow Run assembly plant. World War II brought factories that made the Detroit suburb the epicenter of B-24 bomber production.

Like so many other Rust Belt towns now, Ypsilanti has seen better days. Many of its ornate Victorian homes are in disrepair. Its school system is crumbling.

Main Street, Ypsilanti, is the prototype of the Main Street that politicians are referencing in desperate hopes of connecting with Americans worried about their jobs and mortgages. Troubadours who sing songs about "boarded-up windows and vacant stores" would find ample fodder here.

All this is a long-winded way of explaining why it seemed perfectly natural to see Bruce Springsteen walking down the sidewalk there Monday. Ypsilanti could be Atlantic City ... or Freehold ... or any of the other places where people have been left behind, cast aside and left to linger on the fringes.

Springsteen has written about those factories and displaced workers all his life.

He was in Ypsilanti to lead a Vote For Change free concert in support of Barack Obama.

Upon reaching the stage from the sidewalk, he kicked off his eight-song acoustic set with "The Promised Land." It was not the jangly anthem that punctuates a lot of his E Street shows, but a stripped-down version that prompted listeners to reflect upon the serious cause for which we gathered.

He dove right into "Ghost of Tom Joad," which started with the same melancholy tone of Promised Land, but reached an angrier crescendo with each chorus, during which Bruce clenched his jaw and let spittle fly.

(We could see it; that's how freaking close we were in the second row of the general-admission crowd).

The song was a haunting spectacle, the lines "Shelter line stretchin' around the corner/Welcome to the new world order" seeming particularly appropriate given the stock-market turmoil the last few days.

GOTJ was a special treat for me, because it was the No. 1 song on my wish list of songs that I wanted to hear Bruce do live. In 10 shows, I had never seen this one before, and it did not disappoint.

From there, we got the rare, acoustic Thunder Road, followed by Devils & Dust. Hard as it may be to believe, the rarest of treats was still to come.

Next, Bruce played a gentle "Used Cars," a song off 1984's Nebraska album that he has only played a few times in concert, most recently in 2005. We were mere blocks from Michigan Avenue, and Bruce laughed and acknowledged that playing song here was a good way to get "cheap applause."

But it was so much more than that. It was the quiet, simple highlight of the afternoon. Here's a clip.

He followed with the political stump speech that he's delivered in Philly and Columbus, Ohio, the two other pit-stops on the three-city tour, making a couple cracks about how he had "the tequila all lined up" in 2004, and that this year, he's taking nothing for granted.

A lot of good schtick from Bruce throughout the show.

At one point during Used Cars, he forgot the lyrics, and just said "Awww, fuck off," as the crowd laughed at the awkward pause. At the end of the song, he told us that the occasional f-bomb is "one of the tricks of the trade, ladies and gentlemen."

"No Surrender," "The Rising," and "This Land Is Your Land," another excellent tune that I've always hoped to hear live, closed out the set.

Overall, an excellent 50 minutes. You know it's good when I barely mention the acoustic Thunder Road. It was a unique show, too, in the sense that he was playing outside in the middle of a gray afternoon. It's hard to place it in context with the other arena shows I've seen for the that reason, as well as the political nature of this performance.

But it was a show I'll never forget, and one that outlined a pretty compelling vision for change on Nov. 4 in this Land of Hope and Dreams.


I awoke at 6 a.m. on Friday morning to get in line for tickets. Expecting a line of thousands, I arrived to find out that it was me and one other cat on a bench awaiting tickets. By the time they started handing out the freebies, I procured not only one for myself, but one for Mrs. VFR, Reako and a few of our other co-workers.


One hilarious note from the pre-concert:

Debbie Dingell, the wife of ancient local Congressman John Dingell, gave a shrieking, boilerplate stump speech that irked the crowd because it sounded like over-amplified nails on a chalkboard.
The crowd wanted Bruce, and as is customary at any Springsteen show, started shouting, "Bruuuuuuuuuuce."

Mrs. Dingell apparently had never been to a Bruce show before and mistook the fervor for boos. "Now, let's not get negative," she said more than once.

"Who do we want to be the next president?!?!?!" she shrieked.

"Bruuuuuuuuuce," the crowd answered.

It was great.

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