Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fifty becomes the new 90

The cultural icon of our era is dead at 50.

Millions of fans adored his facial features and bellowing delivery helped make millions of dollars. People of all colors and creeds hung on his every word at his rare public appearances. He nurtured an aura of trust and understanding that rang true in a cynical world.

Michael Jackson? Nope. I'm talking about Billy Mays.

Mays, the ubiquitous product huckster who was the star of numerous television product infomercials, died recently of issues apparently related to his heart. His signature beard, which appeared almost spray-painted and chiseled, combined with a carnival-barker voice to move products that none of us ever thought we needed. But he had that sincerity and eye-twinkle irresistible to the buying public.

Never since Paul Popiel -- "It slices, it dices and makes mounds and mounds of cole slaw" -- has there been a better spokesperson for the sprays, pans, hoses, hoes, brooms, kitchen gadgets, and tens of other products produced by anonymous makers. Mays was worth every penny they spent for his services and delivery, honed hawking goods on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

A couple of months ago, Fortune magazine had a profile on Mays. Fortune interviewed Mays as he spun around Tampa in his Bentley...thrilled with his unexpected success but humble enough not to wallow in it or get taken up in it or in his success.

It's a certain contrast with the single-gloved one. But neither needed to check out at 50.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wimp gets toe hold on fluke injury

I stubbed my little toe on my left foot on Sunday. A relatively slow crunch with a chair leg has made my flipper look like I dropped a bowling ball on it.

It's your basic black-and-blue imprint on an unfortunate case of wrong place, wrong time

While it's not in the league of a broken leg, ovarian cancer or even swine flu, it is the type of seemingly minor injury that has become a major nuisance. It has put my old-person's hockey career on hold, kept my feet out of hard leather shoes and put me out of action for the 40-minute treadmill run at the Y.

And, oh yeah, I'll never drive a golf ball straight again. (But never did that before either with healthy ground digits.)

I'd like to kick back at the chair but it would hurt too much. I suspect it's a bad sprain. Of course, I went to the web to find out what constitutes a broken toe. Apparently, the battle between a sprain versus a break is a draw. You can't put a splint or a cast on it so you just stay off of it and tough it out.

I will man-up with this malady and move ahead by reading a book and talking to people on the phone -- two things that are on the short list of endangered human activities in a world of Tweets and texts.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The state of June gloom

I have returned from a sojourn out west to the The Nation of California. Unlike those of us here in the midwest, The Nation isn't obsessed with automotive company bankruptcies or the Stanley Cup Finals.

But it does wrestle with its own regional narcissism, self-contradictions, and general self-absorption about all things Californian.

Californians seem smug in extending their environmental viewpoint about motor vehicles to the rest of the country, especially in terms of fuel economy and choice. However, it seems that not all Californians want to impose that philosophy evenly.

In Paso Robles, I was treated to beautiful vistas and memorable scenery. The picture I will always remember, however, was the sight of a 30-foot motor home towing a Hummer H2 right behind it. It would be great as the June photo on the official OPEC wall calendar.

The folks in the southern portion of The Nation always seem proud of their perpetual sunny skies and warming temperatures. But I seemed to have visited at a bad time for planet alignment.

On a Wednesday in Temecula, I got to see quadruple lightning bolts and thunder claps that would drown out a 40-lane bowling center. For good measure, the cold, grey skies then pelted us with marble-sized hale. I thought I had to worry about earthquakes more than bizarre weather.

But while the midwest frets about its corn, cherry and wheat crops, The Nation of California is powered by its wine grapes. The industry is flourishing in outposts such as Paso Robles and Temecula and, judging by prices, sees itself immune to global competition. They have yet to learn what the midwest has painfully accepted -- never say never. Like a Japanese car of 40 years ago, a $5 cabernet sauvignon from Chile or a $4 syrah from Australia could evolve into a product that could undercut established domestic markets. And might not get bailed out by the feds.