Brunettes, Jocks, Cooking Shows, and Other Gifts that Keep Giving



It’s the end of the year. Our office is closed for a week. The editor says we got to fill this space anyway. So here goes.

Home for the Holidays. It's nice to go home and see the old places looking good. West Michigan not only doesn't have any snow, the grass is green. I climbed a sand dune near Benton Harbor the day after Christmas and people were walking the beach on Lake Michigan. Not even skim ice on the inland lakes near Grand Rapids that we used to play hockey on over break. Eds and Meds seem to be keeping the area going, but it's been a bad decade for pyramids. Steelcase office furniture closed its pyramid-shaped headquarters in GR, and General Motors closed its factory a few years ago. United posted a last-minute $156 round-trip fare from Memphis to O'Hare, leaving a three-hour drive around the lake on Christmas Eve, which was a pleasure, listening to the Lions beat San Diego and make the playoffs. The flight was two hours late because of a delay in Denver. Memphian Michael Lightman was getting off the plane, and he said the problem was a delay in Durango. In Durango they're probably blaming the dog. I bet the pilot we wouldn't take off before 1 p.m. He burned rubber backing away from the gate, taxied at about 100, took the u-turn on two wheels and won the bet by seven seconds. I made a note to call the FAA after I climbed down from the ceiling.

Fashion. Looking good and good looks are not the same. A newspaper reporter doesn’t know much more about fashion that a cow does, but at least reporters can report what they see. And what I see in downtown Memphis on the sartorial front does not bode well for high-end haberdashery. Mayor A C Wharton is one of the last of the sharp dressers. There's a joke that he mows the lawn in a shirt and tie, and maybe he does. City Hall and the courts are one of the few downtown places where you see men in suits and women in heels. Dressing up for work is going the way of fedoras and shoeshine stands. The bank headquarters are all gone, except for First Tennessee. Ad agencies are consolidating and moving out of downtown, and some of the ones still around are casually hip. The Glankler Brown law firm left. Morgan Keegan is endangered, and so is Pinnacle Airlines, even before it completes its move into One Commerce Square. Some of the other big downtown employers: MLG&W is strictly utilitarian in every sense; AutoZone is a fine company but a suit salesman’s nightmare of black pants and gray or red shirts on the rank-and-file and the executives; At The Commercial Appeal, not even the publisher wears a tie; and at the University of Memphis Law School, every day is casual Friday.

Social media. Facebook has 800 million members. I bet it is 500 million in three years. The lack of any assurance of privacy is the Achilles heel. Facebook is planning an IPO (initial public offering) of stock next year. For a publicly traded company, what good are all those members and friends if you can’t share their information with someone who wants to sell them something? One look at your email inbox should make you think twice. Another opportunity for spammers and hackers.

The Big Shrink. Developer Henry Turley says his fellow commercial real estate pros are preparing for the coming era of much smaller offices, and fewer of them, as people work at home and on computers. I was struck by all the excess space when I visited the office of a full-service brokerage firm last week, and even moreso a month ago when I did a story on a commercial real estate pro who has left a big expensive office in Peabody Place, appointed with art work, leather chairs, huge tables and desks, expensive paneling, and all the other trimmings. Maybe some version of “Mad Men” in 2030 will take a nostalgic look back at the era of office excess.

Books, and movies. When it came out last spring I thought James Stewart’s “Tangled Webs” was the most important nonfiction book of the year, and I didn’t see anything after that to make me change my mind. His analysis of public corruption, perjury, and enablers has special relevance to Memphis. Another winner: I bet there is more truth than fiction in John Weisman’s “KBL: Kill Bin Laden” billed as “a novel based on true events.” In fiction, I'm amazed at how Lee Child keeps churning out terrific thrillers in his Jack Reacher series. The 2011 offering, “The Affair,” is set in northeast Mississippi and has a couple of scenes in Memphis. If I’m stranded on a desert island (or in an airport) I want the Reacher series and a magic genie and two more wishes. The other series I always recommend to people is Loren Estleman’s Amos Walker mysteries. Estleman works on a 1950 manual typewriter, and Walker is a Detroit private eye who lives by the code. "Infernal Angels" is about the proprietor of Past Presence (“Everything you require for the modern regressive lifestyle”). Child's series jumps back and forth in time, but Amos Walker has aged steadily and chronologically through 21 tales. Finally, the late Christopher Hitchens (“Arguably”) won’t be easy to replace as an essayist. A secular humanist, conversationalist, humorist, William Buckley without the conservative politics or the wardrobe.

Television and media: Food shows are brilliant. Colorful contestants, interesting new wrinkles, and clever hosts. I love "Chopped," and I had Geoffrey all the way on "The Iron Chef." "The Good Wife" is Mr. Crankypants’ favorite non-reality show. Late to the party as usual, I got hooked on it in 2011. It’s all about the beautiful women with black hair, black eyes, black clothes and attitudes. Kalinda is Hottie of the Year. Julianna Margulies is runner-up, but her best work was in the movie “City Island.” Lea Michele of "Glee" is second runner-up. "Glee" is ridiculous. Those high schoolers must be about 30. Fox shows always go over the top but I’d have quit every sport, trashed my Chuck Taylors, and joined the glee club if Lea was in it.

Health and fitness and sports. As I get older, the desire to play sports gets stronger and the desire to watch other people play them, especially pros, gets weaker. It's weird how sports loyalties endure. I have not lived in Michigan for 40 years but still root for the Red Wings, Tigers, and Lions, all of whom had good years in 2011. They say the Catholic Church has you after your childhood, and teams do too. I’m surprised that people spend $40 a ticket or more to sit in the nosebleed seats at an NBA game. The St. Jude Marathon is still most impressive local participant sports event, with 13,000 people running 5k or 26 miles. I’m sweating though if I have to find sponsors for the tennis tournament, golf tournament, and minor sports with our corporate community shrinking. I think Peter King of Sports Illustrated is an exemplary reporter. His Monday notes, analysis, commentary, and reporting on Sunday’s games are better than the games themselves. What a workhorse he is. Another sportswriter, Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, is also really good — funny, serious, and original in the difficult twice-a-week format that limits the timely topics.

News Media. The Wall Street Journal has changed a lot under Rupert Murdoch from a business newspaper to more of a general interest newspaper with daily reports on fashion, sports, and fitness and health. The Journal’s brand has always been separation of reporting and the editorial page. The reporting is so good it can and should be a course syllabus in Journalism 101. Compassionate, wide-ranging, fair, fiends on attribution and accuracy. But after 30 years I can’t read the editorials or the Oped columnists with the exception of Dorothy Rabinowitz who manages to be tough as nails, brilliant, jaded, always interesting, and look like a fascinating woman in a Woody Allen movie. I still admire the Journal's disdain for on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand columns. The New York Times put up a pay wall, and I paid. Gail Collins is great. So is Maureen Dowd. I can’t make it through a Thomas Friedman column though, much less his latest book, "That Used to Be Us." David Brooks is good in his back and forth with Collins but otherwise kind of blah. Why don’t conservatives ever criticize their own? On the list of Things I Don't Do Much Any More: watch the national news at 5:30 p.m. Bad timing. I’ve checked national papers several times already, and the drug commercials drive me crazy. Boniva my ass. Sally Field is the Devil. Local television reporters work really hard and do their work well for the most part. Like baseball infielders, the more chances you get the more errors you are going to make and there were some beauts in 2011. Do we need four stations for saturation coverage of Kapone the lost dog? In local print media, paid obituaries have become an art form and a bright light of community journalism.

Random Notes. Occupy Memphis makes no sense to me, and like that three-story American flag in front of Guardsmark’s building after 9/11 I don’t see an ending. I want to cry when I see a story about a Memphis area man or woman who died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Make an extra visit to the Little Tea Shop next year to help Suhair and the staff recover the time it was closed due to family illness in 2011. The television commercials for Red Lobster and the hot dogs at Sonic make me want to go there right now. Ghost River beer is great. Congrats to Chuck and the gang.

Happy New Year.

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