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Welcome to Mike Redmond's home on the Weird Wide Web!

Greetings, Earth People. I'm Mike Redmond. Not the baseball player. Instead of making you guess the rest, I'll just go ahead and tell you who I am and what I do.

  • I'm a newspaper columnist -- formerly the feature columnist for The Indianapolis Star (back when you could call it a newspaper). I bailed out of the place about two years after Gannett bought it, and I still count that as the best decision I ever made. My creditors don't always agree.
  • Now I write for papers around Central Indiana, a magazine or two, and this site. I'm also a public speaker, a teacher, an historical (as opposed to hysterical) interpreter, a farm tour guide, and occasionally, when I can be talked into it, an author. They're all my favorite jobs.
  • This is where you'll find my online column, posted every Wednesday, unless I get ambitious and post it Tuesday. But don't count on it.
  • This is also where to look for news about speaking engagements, new jobs, friends, and stuff that strikes me as interesting. I'll probably throw in a few recipes, too. I get wild like that sometimes.
  • Take a look around. Let's have some fun.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The New TV Season Is Here. Stay Awake If You Can

Well, the new fall television season is upon us and ... oh, I'm sorry. I'll wait until you stop yawning.

Let's face it, the announcement of new television shows just isn't what it used to be. Then again, television shows aren't what they used to be, either. Hang on to your hats, kids, because Uncle Mike is about to tell you something that could knock them right off: Television shows used to be entertaining.

I know. Hard to believe.

Now, granted, this was back in the days when there were but three networks instead of the 14,000 channels available on your average modern cable system. Since the networks weren't scrambling to fill the lineup the way cable stations do now (I mean, does anyone actually watch "Monterey Cooking Pisto Style"?) the shows had to be good to make the lineup. Well, most of them. OK, a lot of them. OK, half. OK, quite a few of them.

There's just no explaining "My Mother The Car" or "Me And The Chimp." Or "It's About Time." Or ... ok, so there was a big batch of bad clams in your average old-time TV lineup. But I still say the percentage of good stuff was higher when compared to today, and the proof is in the fact that 9,000 of those 14,000 cable stations are showing classic reruns.

And what do we get now? What they call new shows are just versions of NCIS or CSI or WLS or whatever those alphabet soup cop shows are called, and a bunch of one-season sitcoms. To me, they all get boring PDQ.

I used to love the way networks would introduce their shows with 90-minute specials unveiling the new fall lineups. It was the broadcast equivalent of the new car unveilings down at the auto dealerships, which happened at about the same time of year.

Talk about exciting. A couple of weeks before the big reveal day, the showroom windows would be covered over with brown paper. The windows would be painted with legends - "14 Days Until The Dodge Boys Ride Into Town!" or "Coming Soon - The All-New Fords!" or "Chevy - Leading The Way!" The salesmen would stand around smiling like cats who hadn't yet eaten the canary, but were sure it was on the menu.

Reveal day was big. It was like going to the fair - hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream soft drinks and swag, lots of swag - brochures, pictures, a model car if you had your dad along and he pretended to be interested in buying. If he was pretending to be interested at the Dodge dealer you might even score a Rally Team windbreaker or a plastic cowboy hat. I still have a 45 RPM record that was part of a Chevy promotion in the 1960s. It's a gentle love song about a Camaro. The flip side is a rocker about the SS 396. Boy, they don't write them like that anymore.

Yep. TV shows and cars. People knew how to roll ‘em out. But that's all changed. The new cars come out when they come out. Or if. And while fall is still the traditional start of the TV season, it just sort of arrives in dribs and drabs.

It seems we've lost our sense of fanfare. Although I guess it would be kind of waste nowadays, when the shows and the cars all seem so much alike.

I think I'll go watch some reruns.
Tue, September 29, 2009 | link 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Plug In, Crank It Up, And Pretend

Among the things I just don't get - and that's a list that grows every day - is video game rock stardom.

It's been kind of difficult to avoid lately, what with the release of The Beatles Rock Band game, the one where you get to play along with John, Paul, George and My Close Personal Friend Ringo* at various stages of The Beatles' career.

(*Not really. That's a joke from my music critic days. Ringo called me to do an interview. I answered the phone and he said, "Hello, Mike. This is Ringo." "Ringo who?" said I.  He didn't think it was funny.)

Now that I think about, I really don't get video games, period. That doesn't mean I disapprove. If, for example, my brother -- who lives in Pennsylvania now, having worn out his welcome in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio - chooses to spend his entire visit to his  home state by camping in our sister's basement to play Let's Pretend To Be Soldiers And Shoot Each Other, that's his choice. It's just not something I would choose for myself, seeing as how I have a life, and how I stopped playing Army a long time ago.

But back to this rock band thing. It's fun to pretend to be a Beatle - I did my share of it as a kid - but I find myself agreeing with Bill Wyman, former bass player for The Rolling Stones, and Nick Mason, drummer for Pink Floyd, who expressed some concern about Rock Band in an interview with the BBC:

"It encourages kids not to learn, that's the trouble," said Wyman. "It makes less and less people dedicated to really get down and learn an instrument. I think is a pity so I'm not really keen on that kind of stuff."

Added Mason: "It irritates me having watched my kids do it - if they spent as much time practicing the guitar as learning how to press the buttons they'd be damn good by now."

Not to pick on my brother - well, actually, I am, but as I said, he's in Pennsylvania, so it's not like he can do much to stop me - this is like when P.D. got all whacked out about a computer flight simulator. Played it night and day. He worked his way up from flying small personal aircraft to piloting jumbo jets - on the computer. But when I'd ask him why he didn't take this diligence and apply it to real flying lessons, he shrugged his shoulders and mumbled, which is P.D. for "I dunno."

I've been playing guitar since I was about 10. One of the things I love most is that I'm still learning the instrument. Guitars have a lot of secrets and for most of us, they give them up grudgingly. That's what keeps me playing - the chance that I'll uncover more secrets.

But that takes work and dedication, qualities that are in diminishing supply these days. It's easier to get a computer game and play make-believe. Why go to all the trouble of learning a skill when you can just pretend?

Oh well. As I said, I don't get it, which is good. Those video games, I am told, can be addictive, and the last thing I need is an addiction to something that keeps me connected to fantasy for days at a time.

I may not get video games, but neither can they get me.
Tue, September 22, 2009 | link 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Weather I'm Right, Or Weather I'm Wrong ...

Maybe you saw the headline about the Farmer's Almanac predicting another Ice Age descending on the Midwest this winter. It set off a weather panic the likes of which you usually don't see from people who aren't TV meteorologists.

 Chat boards were full of anguish and worry about snow and cold, including plans to move to Florida or Nevada, and of course the usual comments about how this is all the fault of the Obama, Bush, or Clinton administrations.

And it was all for naught. You see, had people bothered to read beyond the headline they might have noticed the comments from the National Weather Service saying, in effect, "Um ... we disagree."

The Farmer's Almanac is calling for a deep freeze this winter. The NWS says El Niño - that wacky Pacific Ocean warming event we all know and love - will cause just the opposite.

It's a standoff. In other words, if you want to know what kind of winter we're going to have, your guess is as good as anybody's.

And no matter what form it takes, worrying about it doesn't make a lick of sense.

Let's say you know for certain that we're going into the deep freeze in December and won't come out of it until March. What, exactly, are you going to do about it? Moving to the desert isn't an option for most of us. Besides, things die there. That's why they call it the desert.

So is moving to Florida. Even though I recently read something indicating that Florida's population growth is scaling back for the first time in decades, the fact remains that there are entirely too many people living there already.

That leaves complaining, which I try to avoid. I've always found that complaining about the weather just makes it feel worse. It's like the wind chill factor. The temperature may say that it's five degrees above zero, but once you start griping about it, it feels like 15 below.

Besides, it's not like Indiana turns cold and stays that way all season. Our winter weather is nothing if not changeable. You can have chill blains on Thanksgiving and be running around outside in your shirtsleeves on Christmas. You can ride a motorcycle in January and find yourself on a snowmobile in February.

(Of course, this always compels people to say something like, "Welcome to Indiana. If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes." Which isn't nearly as clever once you learn that people say this in every other state in the union, including Alaska and Hawaii.) 

I think a lot of us take a sort of perverse pride in Indiana winters. They can be tough, but so what?  Indiana winter isn't a season - it's a character-building experience. Why, we don't even button up our overcoats unless it's below zero, and the long johns don't come out until the snow is over the roof.

So bring it on, Farmer's Almanac. It'll take more than a little snow and cold to stop us. We are Hoosiers, descended from hardy pioneer stock. Well, that, and we also own snowblowers, cars with heated seats and furnaces that will melt glass if you turn them all the way up. Take that, Farmer's Almanac.

And if you want to blame someone, I am pretty sure this is all the fault of the McKinley administration. Maybe Coolidge.

Tue, September 15, 2009 | link 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Cookie By Any Other Name Would Still Be Goofy



I named my dog Cookie because she has a white stripe running up the center of her black forehead. When I first saw her, it reminded me of an Oreo cookie.

As dog names go, I'd call it a good one, although it has confused some people who haven't met Cookie. More than once I've been told they were expecting a little yappy dog of some sort, instead of the 80-pound Canine Love Machine who greeted them. But I like it, almost all the time.

This morning was not one of those times.

Cookie has what we might call a wandering spirit. That's the nice way to say she has been known to run off from upon occasion. She's not the escape artist she was when she was a peripatetic pup and inclined to take off at least twice a day, but she'll still follow her nose out the door and down the street from time to time.

This morning was one of those times.

She was out in the garage. The door was open for the ceremonial Retrieval Of The Garbage Can, which I'm sure is as much a pageant at your house as it is at mine. As the can, amid cheers and fanfare, was being wheeled back into its proper location, Cookie decided to go visit the neighbors.

I'm not sure how long she was gone before I noticed - not that it would make much difference.  Gone is gone, and when Cookie gets to running, she's not really good about noticing where she is or even where she's going.

I'm recalling the time Cookie took off, going flat-out, heading for one of Indianapolis' busier downtown streets, me behind her, yelling and whistling and waving the leash and collar she had slipped. She ignored me, went out into the traffic and ran headlong into the passenger door of a red SUV.

The woman behind the wheel was apoplectic. "Oh my God," she cried. "I hit your dog! I hit your dog!"

I caught up, put the collar back on Cookie and addressed the woman.

"No, ma'am," I said. "My dog hit your truck."

Sure enough, right there on the door was a dent the size of Cookie's head. And Cookie? She was standing there, wagging her tail and panting, making new friends of the passers-by, and having a high old time. Although her eyes did seem a little crossed.

But back to this morning. I did the dog owner thing: Jumped in the truck and drove around the neighborhood, looking for my dog and calling her name. And this is when I kind of wished I had called her Spike or Tippy or Mildred or some other good dog name, because I got more than a few funny looks from people who saw me hanging out the window yelling "Cookie! Cookie!"

And while I was busy embarrassing myself, Cookie came home with the jogger she had decided to accompany on his route.

Oh well. I've known worse embarrassment. I once was given a dog that was even more of a flight risk than Cookie, and people did more than give me looks when I drove around calling his name one morning.

The dog's name was Saturday, that's what I yelled, over and over.

I suppose this is a good time to mention it was a Thursday.

They called the cops on me.
Tue, September 8, 2009 | link 

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Riding With Some People Is The Pits

Now here's a news tidbit that made me laugh out loud: A theme park in England is telling visitors they must keep their arms down on the rides, on warm days - not for safety reasons, but olfactory ones.

It seems the atmosphere gets pretty intense when a hot carload of sweaty Brits crests the hill of a roller coaster arms-up, so the park has enacted a rule it calls "Say No To B.O."

You know, you just can't make up stuff this good.

I can understand the reasoning behind the rule. We've all been there - behind the unshowered in a grocery store line, in an elevator with someone whose roll-on rolled off. I once found myself on an airplane behind a surfer who evidently believed his time in the ocean was sufficient for bathing purposes. He was wrong. All the way from Honolulu to Phoenix. And the further we went, the worse it got. I kept hoping for a sudden drop in cabin pressure so one of those little yellow oxygen masks would fall down from the ceiling.

And while I've never had the experience of riding behind a stinker on a roller coaster, I did recently encounter the Anti-Deodorant Family on one of those hot days at the State Fair. They were looking at the Grand Champion Sow and Litter and had one whole side of the pen all to themselves. Wowsers. When you can outstink the Swine Barn, you are ripe.

These are unpleasant experiences, so I can certainly sympathize with the people who came up with the rule, and the patrons who suffered before it went into effect.

The problem, same problem I see with a lot of rules, is enforcement.

Let's start with identifying the miscreants. Simply put, how are you going to find them in an amusement park full of people? Say someone reports an olfactory malefactor on the Tilt-A-Whirl. How are you going to find the perpetrator?

"All right, everybody! Hands up! This is a Pit Stop!"

I can also see this turning into a personnel problem:

"All right, people. The gates are about to open. Ferguson, you've got the merry-go-round today. Milford, you get the Wild Mouse. Snerdly, you're on pit patrol."

"No! No! Anything but that! Give me one of those little brooms and dustpans instead! I'll sweep up cigarette butts! Put me on barf duty! Make me wear the Marty Moose costume! I'll do anything, anything, but not ... pit patrol!"

Until they develop a B.O. screener like that wand they at the airport to catch terrorists who forgot to take their keys out of their pockets, Amusement Park Pit Checker is not going to be a popular job.

You know, the problem must be pretty bad when an amusement park has to make a rule against it. What happened? Did they run out of soap and water over there? Is there some sort of deodorant shortage? Did they just stop caring? Did they ever care at all?

Oh, well. Just add it to the list of reasons I plan to stay out of amusement parks. Especially the ones in England. On hot days. It's the same justification I use to stay out of airplanes with surfers coming back from Honolulu: Too pungent.

Well, that plus I can't afford another Hawaiian vacation. Which also stinks, but in a different way.

Tue, September 1, 2009 | link 

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