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If these old buildings could talk…

From A to Zowie

If these old buildings could talk…

By Richard Zowie

(Published in the June 30, 2010 issue of the Clio, Michigan-based Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald)

COUNTY LINE, MICH. – If the town listed in the dateline doesn’t sound familiar, there’s a reason.

On June 22 as I headed up Willard Road for my latest story assignment, I thought of my oldest sister, Sabrina. She lives in Texas and has a unique pastime: whenever she sees old, abandoned houses, she likes to look at them and try to speculate about who lived there, what they did and what events occurred in that house.

I continued thinking of Sabrina as I reached where Willard Road meets the train tracks. The road is right inside Genesee County and right next to Saginaw County. About two miles to the north, within squinting range, you can see the bustling metropolis of Birch Run.

The event I covered was the unveiling of a monument along the Trolley Line Trail, an asphalt path just off Willard and about 10 yards east of the train track. The monument stood where a general store once stood more than a century ago.

It was general store neither of Clio nor or Birch Run, but of the little settlement called County Line.

A Google search for the town will turn up nothing. The town only exists in the records of the Clio Area Historical Association (and probably Birch Run’s as well) and in the memories passed down by nineteenth-century residents to their children and to, finally, their modern-day descendants.

Back in 1898, County Line had a population of 150 residents. With several saw mills, a hotel, school, saloon and Catholic church, it no doubt was a place where local residents kept busy earning a living and raising their families.

Now, when you look at Willard Road and the surrounding area, the monument stands out among the grass and railroad tracks to remind us that once upon a time, a small town existed there. That small town is pretty much a ghost town.

County Line reminds me a little of what King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:11 and in 2:15-16. The very wise, wealthy king of Israel, Solomon noted in his book that no matter now noteworthy a person is in their life, generations will pass until, finally, it’ll be almost as though they never existed in the first place.

The monument and remaining houses have stories to tell, and I wonder how many other old structures in Mt. Morris, Genesee, Clio, Birch Run and Bridgeport have stories to tell.

I am reminded of the gray building in downtown Clio that was built during the Civil War era and once served as the town’s post office. Maybe it remembers a grief-stricken mother sending a letter to President Abraham Lincoln, telling him her only son had been killed in the Civil War.

There’s also the “Marriage Mansion” in Birch Run. I’d love to ask it what the mood was like in southern Saginaw County when the stock market crashed in 1929 and many residents lost everything.

Life does, of course, come full circle. One hundred years from now, when I’m dead, it’s possible someone will stumble upon this column in the archives and will read it. I wonder if the Herald’s offices at 10098 North Dort Highway in Clio, where Dort forks into Dort and Saginaw, will still be there in 2110 or if it’ll exist at a new location. Will there be anything to indicate to a casual observer that a newspaper office once stood here?

If these old buildings could talk…

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

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An e-mail chat with David Schmoeller, director of ‘Tourist Trap’

 

The 1979 horror film Tourist Trap

When I was a teenager back in the 1980s, I watched the horror film Tourist Trap (which is reportedly one of Stephen King’s favorites). It creeped me out and was one of those horror films that did a pretty good job of mixing in some dark comedy but without sacrificing the scariness of the film. Misti, my middle sister, and I used to drive our Dad crazy by making the “AAAAAAAA!” sounds of the mannequins for weeks after the movie. In fact, whenever we get together we’ll still do that again as an in-joke within the family.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie:

A year or so ago on Netflix, I rented the 20th anniversary edition of Tourist Trap and watched the movie twice–once in the standard format and then a second time listening to director David Schmoeller’s commentary. Zowie! What a wealth of information! If you’re someone like me who thrives on movie trivia, this special edition was just what the doctor ordered.

Three of my favorite pieces of information from Schmoeller’s commentary:

1) The lead female actress, Jocelyn Jones, was a classically-trained actress while the lead actor, the crusty Chuck Connors, was self-taught. During filming, Connors would often ask Schmoeller why Jones had to go through various routines (such as breathing exercises) before filming a scene.

2) Connors had intended to use this movie as a sort of new stage of his film career as a horror movie villain.

3) The script originally called for nudity during the lake scene, but in the director commentary Schmoeller said he was too bashful and embarrassed to bring it up with Tanya Roberts and the other actresses during casting. When they got to the lake to film the scene, Schmoeller finally asked them if they’d be willing. Their collective answer: no.

Admittedly, Tourist Trap isn’t as scary now as it was when I was a teenager nearly three decades ago. But it’s still great fun to watch and still has very strong, creepy overtones. People disappear every year in America and most are never found. This movie seems to answer the question of what happened to a few of them. Plus, the idea of making them into living mannequins is very creepy also. I could very easily see this being remade.

There are two questions about the movie I have especially wondered: 1) Why didn’t any of the other actors and actresses (aside from Connors, who died in 1992) participate in the movie commentary and 2) Will there be a remake or sequel?

I sent an e-mail to Mr. Schmoeller, and he was kind enough to respond:

1) The producer didn’t want to go through the trouble or spend the money to add any more extras.

(I suppose that when you factor in plane fare, staying in a hotel, meals, time in the studio, it adds up).

2) Schmoeller revealed he has an option to do a sequel or remake of Tourist Trap but, at this point, nobody has agreed to finance it. He does, however, have another mannequins-coming-alive movie set in a shopping mall and is working on getting the financing for it.

If you’re a fan of Tourist Trap, visit Schmoeller’s website at www.davidschmoeller.com for more information.

Richard Zowie is a writer, journalist, columnist, fiction writer and blogger who has an unpublished short story based on a mannequin that used to terrify him when he (Richard, not the mannequin) was a child. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

Making a rare exception to my rule on column writing

As a writer who works both as a columnist and journalist at a newspaper (something I’ve done at other newspapers also), I have a firm rule: I do not write opinion columns on topics I cover as a journalist. After all, as a journalist, you are supposed to be fair and objective. If you write an opinion column about the subject you covered as a journalist, can the readers really believe you did everything you could to be fair and unbiased as a journalist?

Based on my experiences and some of my colleagues, I’d say the answer more often than not is a resounding no.

It’s something I’ve done before, with great reservations. In November 2008 while writing for the Oxford Leader, I wrote two news stories and a column about the opening of a Goodwill in Oxford, Mich. It was fairly harmless, but afterwards it didn’t quite feel right, so I decided to refrain from doing that in the future. 

Now, I am making a rare exception to my rule.

Last Tuesday, I traveled out to the edge of Genesee and Saginaw Counties to get photos and do a story about the commemoration of a monument where the general store of County Line, Michigan once stood. As I took notes, I thought of a great column idea.

When it comes to writing a column about a news item, one main requirement must be met. The opinion piece must not promote an agenda that the news story was neutral on. Even then, I am reluctant at best to venture into the opinion side of a news piece. That being said, I weighed the pros and cons and chose to write a column.

The column talks about how as time goes by, sometimes we forget about the generations that lived before us. Pretty harmless, I’d say.

Once I have confirmation it was published, I’ll post it on this blog around Thursday.

Richard Zowie’s a Michigan-based writer, columnist, journalist and blogger. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

A few random observations about McDonald’s, Frank Zappa, columns, guitars…

…A news report says McDonald’s is facing a lawsuit by a group who feels McD’s promotes childhood obesity by giving away toys in its Happy Meals.

Understand, I’m not defending McDonald’s: about the only thing I like about Ronald McDonald’s restaurant is the iced tea. But if they’re going to insist McD’s quit putting toys in its Happy Meals, maybe they’ll show concern over other areas of health issues. Such as beer companies that sell their product by the case or whiskey companies that sell their product by amounts that could easily make one person drunk very quickly. Or, to be fair to those who drink in moderation, to restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat buffets.

It’s a moderation issue. A responsible parent is not going to get their child a Happy Meal three times a day. In fact, I know of no parents who do so on even a daily basis…

…Lately I’ve been listening to music by the late musician, Frank Zappa. I’m not sure how to classify Zappa since I know from a final interview he loathed the monikers “rock legend” and musical “test pilot pushing the edge”.

Some of his music I like due to it being unusual with crazy lyrics (such as the Montana song where he talks about going to the Big Sky State to raise a crop of dental floss). But regarding his disagreement with warning labels on music albums? If we put ratings on movies, why not do something with music to make buyers and (for underaged buyers) parents to be aware of what’s on there?

That being said, I’ve seen some Zappa interviews and feel sad that he died at a relatively young age of 52. From a musical perspective, it’s bad enough how he had urinary problems for years but what’s even worse, somehow doctors still didn’t find the prostate cancer until it was too late. I imagine he must’ve been very bitter over what he probably deemed an early death…

…I did not write a column this week for the Herald. It was a combination of two things: one, I needed to take a week off and two, I didn’t really have anything interesting to write about. Not that south Genesee County and north Saginaw County are boring, but the ideas just didn’t flow. Besides, I’m a firm believer it’s better to write no column than a filler column. Perhaps next week From A to Zowie will return to the Herald’s editorial page…

…Had a talk a few days ago with a guitar store owner in Clio. After chatting, I gave him my name, number and e-mail and asked him to contact me if anybody brings in a left-handed guitar (preferably acoustic) on consignment. “Please keep in mind, sir,” I said, “This is not a notice to hold the guitar for me, but rather to let me know you got one in. If you happen to sell it before I get in to look at it, than that’s fine.”

He then informed me that for around $150, he could order me a new left-handed acoustic guitar. I plan to visit with him to ask about layaway and how quickly I’d have to pay it off. In fact, I’ll probably be seeing him in a few days to buy a replacement string for my son’s guitar.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to play guitar, not to be a professional musician but for the sheer pleasure of playing it. Time will tell whether or not I’m successful. Jennifer, my wife, suggested I try out an electric guitar. If I do that, I’d play it mostly unplugged since hooking it up would eat into our electric bill. I pride myself on keeping a low profile in my private life, and I doubt my neighbors would like to be inundated with discordant guitar chords…

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based journalist, columnist and blogger. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Slaps on the wrist, The Herald Asks, an interesting letter

From A to Zowie

Slaps on the wrist, The Herald Asks, an interesting letter

By Richard Zowie

(Published in the June 16, 2010 issue of Clio, Michigan-based Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald)

…I have no criminal record, but if I should ever break the law, maybe I should do so in Detroit. Preferably, of course, after having held public office. Just a few weeks ago it seemed that disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was heading to prison for 1.5 to five years for violating terms of his parole and hiding half a million dollars in assets when he whined he couldn’t afford to pay restitution owed to the city. Now, it seems Kilpatrick may be allowed to attend a 90-day boot camp and may be released from further prison time if he completes it.

I am reminded of a colleague who told me once that media have only uncovered about ten percent of all Kilpatrick’s (alleged) crooked ways.

First, probation and then a cushy job in Texas, and now possible boot camp instead of going to prison?

I’m no penologist, but it seems to me the powers-that-be are giving Kilpatrick zero incentive to become a born-again good citizen. Each time his hand is found in the proverbial cookie jar they seem all too ready to give him a proverbial slap on the wrist. If they keep this up, Kilpatrick may grow up to become a crooked politician.

Kilpatrick’s freedom almost certainly has nine lives. At this stage, I think the only thing he could do to be sent to prison for hard time is to be caught voting republican…

NOTE: Later this week after this column had been submitted for publication, a judge denied Kilpatrick’s request for boot camp.

…It really amazes me how vain even the most beautiful women can be. Gathering comments for the June 23 edition of The Herald Asks took longer than normal for a certain newspaper edition because about three women refused to let me take their picture for the paper. It goes like this: I tell people what the question will be and if they agree I get their name, city, take their picture and turn on my digital recorder.

I know there are such excuses as Bad Hair Day, Bad Makeup Day, There Are Outstanding Arrest Warrants For Me and I’m In The Witness Protection Program, but sheesh. Ladies (and gentlemen), the camera never breaks when it takes a picture of me and my big nose, so you should do just fine…

…Some letters I receive from readers can be pretty fascinating. Lately, nobody’s sent me any hate mail. This is evidenced, of course, by my painstaking efforts to be everybody’s best friend and to offend nobody. One former colleague loved to write in an acerbic style and then really tear into a person who complained, a style that seemed counterproductive and foolish beyond explanation.

A man recently wrote to me telling me that we needed to recognize more athletes whenever we cover high school sports. I politely wrote him back and explained that there’s only so much we can do in the confines we have to work with—especially when you consider we cover five high schools. I could always clone myself to write more, but as my wife would emphatically point out, one Richard Paul Zowie in this world is more than enough.

After I sent the response, a week later I realized that I inadvertently had granted the man’s wish. As it turns out, I was busy putting together a feature story about his left-handed grandson, who’s also a catcher…

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Visiting movie set encourages this writer to ‘act’

From A to Zowie

Visiting movie set encourages this writer to ‘act’

By Richard Zowie

(Published in the June 9, 2010 issue of the Clio, Michigan-based Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald)

Back in the 1990-1991 school year, I was a senior at A.C. Jones High School in Beeville, Texas. Needing an extra elective, I chose to take a theater arts class.

After a week, I kept asking myself why I waited until my senior year to take this class.

What fun it was to get up and act out skits, scenes from plays and even minor class productions! In one skit, myself and three other guys played police officers breaking up a drug deal. Then, my friend Francis and I acted out a scene from Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. Then there was the mock news broadcast and, at the end of the year, I even had the privilege of acting in two plays: Dr. Frankenstein’s Space Operation (as Bruce, the wisecracking astronaut) and as the head alien on the planet Meanus, a planet—mistaken for Venus—where nobody ever jokes or smiles. I enjoyed acting immensely and made a note to myself to try to get into it again someday.

I was again reminded of this on June 3 when I went to rural Vienna Township to get pictures of Brothers War Normandy, a movie being filmed there and to talk to the director and cast members. They did take after take from various camera angles, posed in character for movie stills and relaxed and chatted between takes.

It made me think of how I need to rework my free time and see if I can find local productions to become involved in.

No, I have no interest in becoming a multi-million-dollar “A-lister”, and winning an Academy Award doesn’t really interest me. What does interest me is getting on stage and trying to convince the crowd I’m somebody I’m really not. For me, there’s something exciting about getting up on a stage (crowds don’t scare me) and being part of a live story to be told.

Who knows, maybe I could even moonlight as a character actor. Being around 5’8” with coke-bottle glasses and a Karl Malden honker of a nose, I could probably get work whenever a director says, “I want Rick Moranis but I can’t afford Rick Moranis! Get me somebody who LOOKS like Rick Moranis!”

When it comes to acting, I’ve had the privilege over the years of chatting online with a few actors. Among them Adam Vernier (who guest starred on Dharma and Greg and was a finalist to play Danny Torrance in the 1980 Stanley Kubrick horror film The Shining) and Gary Kent (who’s also directed, produced, written screenplays, worked as a stunt man and who has worked with notables like Bruce Willis and Jack Nicholson and James Caan).

Vernier and Kent’s collective advice can be summed up this way:

One: Acting is extremely competitive. If fame and fortune are your motivation for getting into acting, don’t even bother.

Two: Find out where acting classes are being offered in your area (or near your area) and sign up. Study and learn.

Three: Get involved in local productions.

Four: Be very careful when turning down work. If you’re reluctant about a character you play, just remember what acting is at its core: being a “faker” as you pretend to be somebody you aren’t.

Five: Be professional on and off the set. Actors who develop reputations as being difficult to work with will have a tougher time finding work.

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Kwame, everyone’s new favorite Detroit Tiger and ‘One Tough Nerd’

From A to Zowie

Kwame, everyone’s new favorite Detroit Tiger and ‘One Tough Nerd’

(Published in the June 2, 2010 issue of the Clio, Michigan-based Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald).

By Richard Zowie

…Last week came the news that former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 1.5 to five years in prison for violating his probation for perjury and for hiding assets instead of paying back restitution to the Motor City.

Wow, was I shocked.

Ok, not really.

While he’s serving his time in prison, I sincerely hope that Kwame’s handlers will encourage him to use his free time to listen to the Dave Ramsey Show and learn about money management. I’m far from rich, but it amazes me how Kwame had a $120,000 per year computer salesman job (before taxes, but in Texas where there’s no state income tax) but at one point said all he could pay towards monthly restitution was six dollars. I hope he likes making license plates…

…Detroit Tigers fans are no doubt excited about their team’s closer, Jose Valverde. As of the writing of this column on Sunday afternoon on May 30, in 22 appearances he has a microscopic 0.44 ERA (he’s given up only one earned run) to go with his 1-1 record and 11 saves.

Sigh. As a Houston Astros fan, I remember how Valverde was very successful in his two seasons as a closer with the Astros. This past offseason, Valverde wanted a multi-year deal of around $10 million per season. Houston wanted to go to arbitration. Valverde, figuring Houston would whine about their team and payroll and would argue to an arbiter they should be able to pay him a few million less, refused and filed for restricted free agency.

True, Houston saved about $10 million annually by not re-signing Valverde and will get a draft pick or two from the Tigers, but one has to wonder if Detroit indeed got the better end of the deal. Especially since Houston now has one of the worst records in baseball and especially since Houston has been horrible drafting players lately. It’s pointless to draft a promising player if you’re going to offer him a contract that’s laughable…

…This is 2010, which means we’ll have the fun task in November of electing a new governor. I suspect the main issue with Michigan voters will be the economy and fiscal responsibility. The “One Tough Nerd”, Republican candidate Rick Snyder, looks like he could fit that bill as he founded the computer company Gateway and turned it into a successful company. But in 2006, Dick DeVos looked pretty solid as the head honcho of Amway, only to fall flat against Governor Jennifer Granholm in the main election.

What dirt could there be on a computer geek/businessman like Snyder? Maybe he likes to use the ancient 5.25 floppy disks for skeet practice, or maybe he’ll be caught sometime with cannibalized Commodore 64 parts in a Gateway computer. Or maybe he’ll be caught on camera having no idea how to text message on his cell phone.

Something needs to be done since Michigan has turned into a business-unfriendly state with an economy that’s in the toilet…

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.