Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lessons from a Flintstone

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "You can say you are from Detroit and you can say you are from Flint. When you say you from Flint even the guy from Detroit gives you respect." - Isiah Thomas

Flintstones take a certain weird pride in our hometown's "down and dirty" reputation. We believe, by virtue of being born here, that we are somehow more street-wise and tougher than you.

As I've mentioned before, I didn't exactly grow up on the mean streets of Flint. In the south end, the only crack I was exposed to were those in the sidewalks of my paper route. However, even those of us Flintoids who were somewhat sheltered growing up in a middle-class neighborhood and attending Catholic schools, we couldn't help but eventually learning some hard life's lessons Flint had to offer.

For those of you not from here, I'd like to offer a few survival skills I learned the hard way.

Yes, I really was thrown out of the back window of a school bus by an upper-classman because I ran out of jokes. Ain't that tough enough? Have you ever heard of this happening anywhere else? I didn't think so.

I learned the hard way that conflicts rarely escalate slowly and deliberately. Prior to the face cast, I always thought a fight couldn't break out until each combatant expressed their intentions. Maybe first there would be a volley of "yo mama" insults, as each sized up the other. This process would allow for numerous exits for the perceived weaker combatant to yield. After all, a bruised honor never requires plastic surgery. Imagine my surprise when I learned that all those steps could be ignored with one unannounced sucker punch, and that one second you could be running across the field playing keep-away during 8th grade recess at Holy Redeemer, and the next instant finding yourself coming to and staring up at the face of a terrified nun.

It was then that I decided to try and avoid fighting as I didn't enjoy hospitals nor vomiting blood. However, if it was going to come to fisticuffs, I would throw the first punch next time. It was a strategy I employed to my benefit a few years later, ending my fisticuffs career (hopefully) with a record of 3-2.

NOTE (regarding exception to rule 2): 2X4s are actually 1.5 inches wide and typically spaced every 16 inches in the framework of walls, taking up about 8% of the total space behind the drywall. Therefore, a randomly hammered nail has a 92% chance of finding hollow wall. If you use an electronic stud-finder and clearly mark the stud's location, I've found the odds of my next nail finding said stud is about 90% (10% less than a random right cross).

Before you ask the obvious, my job required my presence in the projects. I kept that faux-$20 in my desk to remind myself the cost of being gullible. When my job required delivering an open route in the projects, I learned to take a couple extra packs of smokes with me. I would paste an idiotic smile on my face and pass out single cigarretes to anyone who looked at me cross-eyed as I hurriedly made the rounds. Hey, it worked!

Those were some of the lessons I learned the hard way. I'm from Flint... so RESPECT, yo!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dennis Rodman: Bad Boy and Good Guy

The Detroit Pistons organization announced last week that Dennis Rodman's #10 jersey would be retired into the rafters of the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 1st, and Dennis has indicated his intention on being there for what he calls "one of the highlights of my life." I, for one, am very much looking forward to this long overdue event, not just because of his stellar career, but also for what he did for one grieving family on a cold Michigan winter afternoon on February 5, 1989.

I have blogged before about losing my younger brother Donnie and his fiancee Marcie to a drunk driver here and here.

Donnie was 23 years old when he was killed in 1988, 23 years ago this July. Hard to believe, when put in those terms. But what I haven't told you about, until now, is what this has to do with Dennis Rodman. You see, in 1988 - long before his five World Championship rings (two with The Pistons and 3 with the Bulls), and before he became known for his rainbow-colored hair, an assortment of tattoos and body piercings and wearing women's clothing - he was simply "The Worm", a young rebounding phenom and original member of the Detroit Piston's Bad Boys. The Piston were coming off of their best season ever to that point, having eventually lost in 7 games to the 1988 World Champion Lakers.

Nobody was looking forward to that next season more than Donnie. He loved the Pistons, but most of all, he loved Dennis Rodman.

Perhaps it's easier if I post the following column that ran on February 8, 1989, in the Flint Journal (re-typed from a yellowed original I keep in a box on a closet shelf). Dean, I realize I didn't get your permission to post this, so just drop me a line if you want me to pull it. I just know I couldn't tell this story better.
Warmest Regards Rodman's reply touches grieving family
Journal sports writer
Letters can say so much.

Dear Rick:
I know there is nothing I can say to relieve your pain and grief. From what you've told me, your brother was a very special person. Your love for him and all the good memories you still have are obvious.
Your letter reminds us that our time is limited, so we must make the most of it. I try to demonstrate that when I play basketball. I would like to think that's the quality Donnie identified with.
Thanks for sharing those memories with me.
Warmest Regards,
Dennis Rodman

Rick Carlson went to the mailbox and opened up that letter late last month.
He was surprised.
Carlson's younger brother, Donnie, was a loyal fan of the Detroit Pistons, and Dennis Rodman, the Piston's super sixth man, in particular.
All of the Carlson family had looked forward to showing up at The Palace this winter, to cheer on Dennis "Worm" Rodman.
"Donnie couldn't stop thinking about the Pistons and the great year they just had," said older brother Rick. "We were playing golf last July, all us Carlson brothers. Nobody was thinking about basketball except Donnie. He couldn't stop talking about how much fun it would be to go to The Palace this year.
A few days after that golf outing, a tragic accident would take the life of Donnie, 23, and his fiancee, Marcie martin, 21.
A pickup truck ran a red light and smashed into the Carlson vehicle.
Two families mourned and still mourn today.

Dear Worm,
This is no ordinary fan letter. I read recently that you receive so many letters from fans that you have had to have a firm help you answer them. This letter needs no answer. I would only like you to personally see it.
See, it's about my brother Donnie, 23 years old last summer when he died. Don was the youngest of five children... we're a close family. If there is a closer family in the history of the world, I don't know about it...

Rick Carlson needed to write a letter to Dennis Rodman, for his family, for his peace of mind.
He had been thinking about it since Donnie's death. So, early last month he got the courage to sit down and express his thoughts. They were emotional, touching, from the heart.
Seven pages of feeling by pen and paper.
"I didn't want anyone to see this but Dennis," said Rick. "I wasn't looking for a response.This was just so personal to me I had to write it. I was preoccupied at work. I didn't think I'd hear from him."
But Rodman got the message and he responded.
A few days after writing the letter - Carlson can't remember when he sent it out - a call came from Rodman's agent's secretary.
And then came the letter which touched so many deeply in the Carlson family.

P'S. On Sunday, Feb. 5 vs. Chicago on CBS, I will try (technically against NBA rules) to wear a black stripe on one sock in memory of Donnie.

Rodman also said he would provide two tickets for the Carlsons, his guest at Sunday's game against the Chicago Bulls. Rick managed to scrounge up a couple more tickets and when the national television lights brightened The Palace, there were the Carlsons - father Donald Sr., Rick, Jerry and Greg, 15 rows up in the stands.
Watching Dennis do his thing with one black-striped sock.

It occured to me a couple weeks after the accident that I should write and tell you about Donnie. I knew then that this year would have been special for Donnie and that all eyes would be on you. Every time Worm made a play, grabbed a rebound, dunked on a layup, whatever, all of the family would get a tear in the eye, a lump in the throat and pay a quiet tribute to Donnie for his choice as favorite Piston player.
I didn't write then because, as I said before, I don't write fan letters. I thought it might upset you for no reason, thinking you couldn't do anything for our grief. But you can. Just continue to play the same inspired way you have been playing.

The game had been over for almost an hour at The Palace Sunday afternoon when Dennis Rodman emerged from the locker room to seek out the person who had written him one of the many letters he receives in a week.
The letter had left an impact.
Rodman took a father aside shook his hand warmly and spoke in soft tones. He met Rick and shook his hand. The others too.
"It's not so much what he said but what he didn't say that mattered to us," said Carlson. "We could see that he was a genuine, sincere, a feeling kind of human being. We were touched. I think Dennis was too."
Rodman dug into his duffel bag and pulled out one sweaty sock with a black elastic band stitched to the top.
The National Basketball Association would not penalize him for breaking any rules. Only Rodman, a father and his three sons had noticed the stitched tribute anyway.

By writing this letter, I'm going to believe during so many of the special moments watching you play that your inspiration just might be in some small part due to this letter and that some of what you are doing is being done for Donnie and Marcie and those of us left behind.

"I feel better now that I wrote the letter," said Carlson. "I didn't want to make it embarrassing for him. That wasn't my intent. I just wanted to let him know how much Donnie admired him as a basketball player."

Two letters sent in the night.
Perhaps the only two letters ever between new friends, the Carlsons and one pro basketball player.
They have become pen pals for life.
The Pistons went on to win the Championship that year, sweeping the Lakers for their first of back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.

Right or wrong, it's my fault this personal story was told. I was so taken with the kindness Dennis showed us, that I thought others should know of this Bad Boy's heart of gold. As an employee of the newspaper, and in a fit of impulse, I took the marbeled stairs up from Circulation to the newsroom. I sought out Howe in the Sports department, sat across from his cluttered desk and told him this story. It never occurred to me that I could be earning Dennis a fine, nor that I probably should have asked my big brother for permission to tell his story he had meant to be private. Thankfully (as far as I know) Dennis avoided punishment and Ricky has never chastised me for doing this to this day.

I'll never forget waiting for Rodman to exit the locker room. Vinnie "the Microwave" Johnson exited first, wearing a full length fur coat, glittering bling and topped with a cool fedora as he made his way through the garage. Rodman must have confided in his fellow "X Factor" partner, John Salley, about us. Salley came out and made his way to Greg and I. His hand was the size of a small snow shovel, as he shook our hands. He looked down at us smiling, and asked, "Are you two twins or did your mom mess up twice?" He must not have spotted Rick at that point or he would have sworn triplets. My most cherished memory of that day was when Rodman finally exited the locker room and made his way to our father, taking him aside and offering his condolences. I know it meant a lot to my dad. He died about a year later. The doctors said it was the result of mesothelioma, a cancer casued by asbestos he ingested some 40 years earlier on a construction job in his youth, but we all know he really died from a broken heart.

So come April 1st of this year, when #10 is raised to the rafters, I know I'll be thinking of my brother "The Donz" and the special gift Dennis Rodman gave us so long ago. It is truly "one of the highlights of my life."

PICTURED: A signed autographed picture by Isiah Thomas driving the basket on Michael Jordan, with Worm and his black-striped sock positioning for the rebound during the February 5th, 1989 game between the Pistons and the Bulls. I was there... (Picture courtesy of my pal Pic Pic)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl wrapup

First, I'd like to offer my congratulations to the Green Bay Packers (or is it Packards?) for their impressive victory over the "Stelers".

Having lived and worked in Wisconsin over the past summer - only a cheese brick's throw away from Lambeau Field - I take special credit for this victory, having moved back to Michigan in the fall and thereby paving the way for the Pack to grab the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Since I am convinced that the world revolves around me, I do not find a coincidence in the Detroit Lion's annual football woes and my presence in this state. You're welcome, my Wisconsin brothers and sisters.

Much is being said regarding Christina Aguilara botching the National Anthem. While sad and unforgivable, one would have to admit that her version was at least slightly better than Roseanne's.

CHATTERING TEETH EXCLUSIVE!: Transcript of Christina Aguilara's bizarre Anthem
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
Hormones racing at the speed of light
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
But that don't mean it's gotta be tonight
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, If you wanna be with me, baby there's a price to pay,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, I'm a genie in a bottle.
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air Baby, baby, baby,
Gave proof thro' the night you gotta rub me the right way.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
I'm a genie in a bottle baby, come, come, come, on and let me out

I only wish that Snickers would have seen fit to include Aguilara in the log hit.

My favorite Super Bowl commercial had to be this obscure Orville Redenbacher's popcorn ad showing Cameron Diaz feeding a vacant looking Alex Rodriguez with Orville's delicious kernels of puffiness.

What would have made this commercial even "awesomer"? A John Madden telestrating this exchange with circles and graphs and President Bush vomiting in Madden's lap... and maybe a devastating log hit taking out Diaz and ARod.

Finally, what did you think of the Black Eyed Peas halftime show? Had I been consulted in the planning stages, I would have insisted that Axl Rose join Slash on stage to sing Sweet Child o' Mine instead of the Pea's Fergie, conditioned on Axl agreeing to be auto-tuned. Now THAT would have caused a bigger spike in beer sales than any other beer ad that ran.

I will say that I dug the costumes and have already completed my own version using Christmas tubelights and an old bicycle helmet, complete with flashing strobes. I am now ready to attend my neice's March wedding in style.