e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


for Mardi Gras...

My friend and colleague Randy is on location in the Big Easy, reporting on Carnival. Check out his dispatches, including great visuals, on his blog The Portable Carnival.


a restaurant CV

Autobiography through food, 1996-2005

2002-2005. Southwest Ohio.
  • Saigon Dragon, on Route 4 in Fairfield. Their Pho cures what ails you. If I felt a bug coming on, straight to Saigon Dragon for a bowl of pho--beef broth spiced with chili paste and fish sauce, full of noodles and served with heaping plate of sprouts, cilantro, thai chilis, and basil.
  • Santo Domingo, the corner of Pershing and Third, on the eastside of Hamilton. Less than a mile north of Miami U's Hamilton campus. An odd combination of Carribean food and soul food and pseduo-creole. Ox tails, peppered steak, dirty rice, fried plantains. Everything you order comes with a big mound of fried onions. I always wanted to take job candidates there, because it was one of the only interesting places to eat in Hamilton, but I was always overruled based on the place's less-than-glitzy decor and fattening menu options.
  • Anywhere but those awful Skyline Chilis where they muck up the chili with cinammon and cocoa.
1998-2002. Tucson, Arizona.
  • Tortilleria Jalisco, on Irvington in south Tucson. Nobody speaks English there, and you're never exactly sure what you'll get, not just because of my barely inteligible, midwestern-accented version of Spanish, but also because they use whatever ingredients they have. Sometimes the tacos have cilantro on them, sometimes a little bit of cabbage, etc. But they always serve a little plate of radishes and lime wedges with the tacos, just like they do south of the border. And bottles of red Fanta from Mexico. Best tortillas in Tucson, too.
  • Sausage Deli, Grant and Euclid, a block from my Los Altos apartment, one mile north of the U of A. I used to hop off the bus one stop early on the way home from school to go in and get huge vegetarian or Italian subs. They serve at least fifty kinds of beer--all bottles, all displayed on cheap shelving around the perimter of the shop. I remember getting take-out there the night U of D beat UCLA in the first round of the NCAAs in 1999.
  • El Torero, can't remember which road it's on, but in the heart of south Tucson, about five or six blocks south of 22nd St. A huge, tacky marlin hanging on the wall. The tacos come with cotijo cheese and strips of bistec (no ground beef there!). We took Robert Connors there when he came to speak to us TAs in probably early 2000. Used to go there for lunch and spend maybe $6 including tip.
1996-1998. Youngstown, Ohio.
  • Little Pepino's. Where 304 dead-ends into 422, Girard. Little family-run Italian place. Wedding soup, gnocchi, strombolis. They used to do these $4 take-out box lunches, including one with a sandwich with fried bologna and greens, served on crusty bread with sesame seeds. Second best place to get Italian food in Youngstown...
  • Which leads to the BEST place for Italian food in late 90s Y'town. My grandma D's apartment, off of my parents' house. I moved back home after college in 1996 to work on my master's and teach at YSU, about a year after my grandparents sold their house and also moved there. Seems like everyday my grandma would make what she called "pizza"--actually just homemade bread dough brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with a little garlic and a lot of black pepper. Also "greens and beans" on a regular basis: escarole or whatever greens were around, great northern beans, diced bits of celery and potato and onion and garlic, all in chicken stock and served with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.
  • Inner Circle Pizza, Lincoln Avenue, on the YSU campus. Definitely the white pizza, and 3-4 "tall" (these skinny 22-0z. glasses they have) beers. Best post-TA practicum lunch ever. Every Wednesday during the 96-97 school year. Alright, all three Youngstown places are Italian. What can I say? It's Youngstown.

where have all the bad films gone?

Originally uploaded by bdegenaro.
A few months back, the New York Times asked that very question, in a piece that bemoaned the proliferation of mediocre Hollywood movies at the expense of both great and truly awful films.

Enter 'Snakes on a Plane,' which has been in production for years and hopes to see the light of day this coming summer.

Will I see this movie? Duh. Do you see that publicity still? Of course I will. Yes, that's Kenan Thompson, he of the SNL Bill Cosby imitation. Yes, he's got snakes crawling all over him. Plus, Samuel Jackson plays an FBI agent tracking down a bad guy who releases snakes...oh forget it, all you need to know is Sam Jackson's in the house. Or, I guess, on the plane.

The phrase "snakes on a plane" has already become shorthand for something that is excessively silly. As opposed to something that's just a little bit silly. Show up in tracksuit pants and loud aloha shirt and folks might remark, "That outfit's kind of snakes on a plane, friend."



Went down to U of D and saw the Titans win their last regular-season game yesterday, and what a game it was. Homecoming, and they did us alums proud. Guards Jon Goode and Brandon Cotton combined for 41 points, and what you need to know about these two is that Goode's 5'10, former-MSU-Spartan Cotton's 6', and both are confident enough in traffic that you'd never know they were running circles around guys four and five inches taller than themeselves. Next up, Tuesday night's first-round Horizon League tourney game against Cleveland State, also down at 6-Mile and Livernois. Happily, I'm on Spring Break and will be there. Go Titans.

After game last night, drinks at Honest?John's down in Cass Corridor. Hadn't been there since they moved about three years ago from their original location across Jefferson from the bridge to Belle Isle. Honest?John's is no longer the dive it once was, but they still have a fine selection of beers, an even better selection on the jukebox (upon arrival, I quickly selected a combination of Lou Reed, Etta James, and Sly Stone), and a clientele that's almost absurdly diverse in terms of age, race, class, levels of intoxication, etc. Some things don't change.


Detroit's working poor

This week, my church hosts a roving shelter. For a week about fifty people sleep in the gym and eat their meals in the cafeteria. Next week they'll do the same at a different place. The following week, a different church or school. Nicole and I have spent several evenings distributing towells and toiletries, bagging popcorn for the night's movie (Crash, interestingly enough), making lasagna, chatting.

Nearly everyone I've talked with has a job. Cass Community Services picks them up from their temporary homes each morning and takes them to jobs that don't pay enough to save up a deposit and first month's rent. (CCS and cooperating churches, I suppose, are in effect subsidizing the employers. A familiar, all-too-common arrangement.) The mythology of homelessness still revolves--in addition to stories of mental illness--around stories of laziness, joblessness, shiftlessness. But the stories of the underclass are also stories of industry, stories of corporate decision-making, stories of lean operating budgets, stories of how wealth is distributed, stories of American capitalism.

But stories of laziness are more compelling, more interesting, more worthy of outrage, and more firmly (permanently) cemented in our national consciousness. That line from last night's poetry reading keeps echoing: "too right wing to do the right thing."


the poetry of anger, the rhetoric of anger

Here at UM-Dearborn tonight, an explosive poetry exchange featuring Arab-American and African-American spoken word artists and poet-activists. Dubbed "Over the Counter, Under the Skin," the event at once provoked audience members and celebrated the power of words.

Anger served as the dominant motif of much of the poetry. Omari King Wise of Detroit's own 3rd Eye Open collective performed several pieces about various intersections of injustice including a raging poem addressed to Bush-Cheney about the invasion of Iraq: "Are you too right wing to do the right thing?" And riffing on the name of Saddam Hussein: "You got me so damn mad, I have to wonder who sane?" Karega Ani was the evening's standout, and, taken with his pitch perfect slam-poetry delivery and his Last Poets-esque voice, I picked up one of his CDs afterward. Ani juxtaposes neo-soul and radicalism, moving between spoken and sung words. Really engaging stuff. Definitely hope to see more of him around Detroit.

Legacy Leonard ended the night with a poem about perceived mistreatment of African-American shoppers at the hands of Arab-American shopkeepers in Detroit. An interesting cultural moment. The evening's performers: half black, half Arab. The audience (according to my *extremely* rough estimate): one-third black, one-third Arab, one-third white. The topoi: as divisive as any tackled during the whole performance. A very "Detroit" moment, too...blunt, raw, agonistic. Another reminder that the evening's version of "multiculturalism" went beyond tired tropes of one-ness. Anger as a teaching tool, as a mode of learning.

During the q-and-a, a man self-identified as an Arab-American store-owner in the city and articulated offense at what he perceived to be the poem's generalization and stereotyping. He referenced several violent crimes and explained that he never refers to the perpetrators by their race, but rather as criminals. Another moment, also uncomfortable, blunt, raw, personal. Vigorous discussion followed. No consensus, but many points-of-view stated in a public forum (and I would say a safe one, too, though I hesitate to characterize the atmosphere, as others perhaps felt differently).

In the world of rhetoric--and often in the worlds of poetics too--anger too often becomes yet another subset of emotion, a lesser motivator, a lesser (base) strategy for knowledge construction, for communication, for social change. The ineffectual step-sibling of rationality. Indeed, somebody after the event suggested to me that the anger at times gave the poetry an err of superficiality. She suggested that anger is the superficial emotion, that *pain* is the deeper emotion that the poet ought to expose.

But I say, why? At this performance--a rhetorical *and* poetic space--anger, emotion, affect all took a collective bow, becoming a prompt for reflection, a prompt for more discourse, more language, more dialogue. Why is anger a lesser starting point? Why does anger need to be seen only as the surface experience with the material world? I need to think more about the role anger plays in rhetoric. This was extremely scattered--sorry about that--but I wanted to get all of this down right away.


blogging in crisis

Clearly blogging has become the dominant form of online communication...overtaking chatrooms and instant messaging in terms of popularity, and also in terms of attention from mass media. Just today, myspace--a kind of amalgam of blogging, social networking, and self-promoting--has gotten more ink than Vice President E. Fudd.

Locally, this story out of Dearborn:
On Friday, prosecutors charged two Dearborn High School sophomores who in a note on My Space threatened to shoot up the school. The teens, ages 15 and 16, told police the threat was a prank, and school officials said it appeared to be a hoax. But authorities took the case seriously, arresting the boys initially on suspicion of terrorism and holding them in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility in Detroit.
The language of the post is at once chilling and goofy: "I'm sure they'll show the footage on the news or something." The language of the "adult response" sounds stodgy, a list of cliche tips for parents ("oh, so I SHOULD talk to my kids about what they're doing?"). The language of the media reports reveals a lack of understanding of the technologies involved, especially of the differences, nuances, and overlaps between blogging and social networking programs. I kept thinking, especially with regard to the obvious tips for parents, of a term Mary Soliday uses in describing literacy crisis rhetoric: "always newness." No matter how old, tired, and familiar the rhetoric, always the implication of novelty.

In the more national (not to mention more sublime, more riduculous) arena, a story about the underage children of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, posting to my space about, GASP!, drinking. And the young son of P Diddy blogging about--and here comes another connection to the wonderful world of the literacy crisis--how he has no interest in, or use for, GASP!, reading.


Gossip: Standing in the Way of Control

Been reading lots of student papers this week and the newly released album from dance-punk trio Gossip has provided the soundtrack. Led by the soulful, sometimes-angry, always-hopeful Beth Ditto, Gossip churn out noisy gospel with a beat. The band has roots in the south and it shows, as they begborrowsteal readily from every homegrown genre one might associate with that region. Gossip has no bass player and have a raw aesthetic that begs comparisons with garage rock revivalists, but here's the difference: Beth Ditto's voice. The guitar and drums avoid extra flourish, preferring down-and-dirty blues, but Ditto's vocals stand in sharp contrast. All flourish, flash, and show. And she's got the chops to back up her performative flair. More Big Mama Thorton than Patti Smith, Ditto could be a fine gospel singer. She could hold her own with the purveyors of what passes for soul these days. She has a vocal range beyond the singers of most punk bands (exception: Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, whose influence drips from every Gossip track).

Thematically, "Standing in the Way of Control" tackles familiar riot grrrl themes. At times there's too much angst, too much bemoaning one's "outsider" status, but Gossip balances the anger with an eternal optimism. Not only in Ditto's lyrics, but also in the pervasive rhythms and upbeat tempos. Nine out of ten tracks on the album are uptempo and would fit on a club dj's playlist. Refreshing, this juxtaposition of critique and revelry. LeTigre, also one of Gossip's cited influences, come to mind. "Keeping You Alive," the title track, and most especially "Yr Mangled Heart" are standouts. Occasionally the lyrics move too wildly from statements of angst to abstractions of hope, but mostly Ditto gets it just right, with ambiguous and provocative lines like "If everything you do has got a hold on me/Than everything I do has got a hole in it." Recommended.


looking for a job at ABC

UMD keeps me busy, don't get me wrong, but I gladly would have picked up a little work on the side planning the Super Bowl halftime show. First thing, we need multiple acts, duets, collaborations, musical synergy. Second thing, we need two segments for the show.

Set one:
Eminem comes out and performs "Lose Yourself." What Detroit anthem is more custom-made for the spirit of the Super Bowl? Crowd goes crazy. After, Em introduces Detroit's own Dirtbombs, who take the stage with city councilperson Martha Reeves and back up the motown legend on her hit "Nowhere to Run." Reeves exits and Dirtbombs frontman Mick Collins introduces Stevie Wonder who comes out and trades verses with Collins on a "Livin' for the City" duet. Crowd loves it. End of set one. Break for overpriced commercials.

Set two:
Now the Rolling Stones come out and do the obligatory "Start Me Up," but this time the sound system's already had the kinks worked out. Then, Mick introduces Jack White, who joins the Stones on a version of "Stop Breakin' Down" (The White Stripes did a sped-up version on their first record and of course the Rolling Stones did a slowed-down version on "Exile on Main Street"). Jack White alternates guitar solos with Keith Richards, then takes a bow and exits. Mick introduces Aretha Franklin who comes out and duets with Jagger on "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Crowd again goes nuts. End of set, end of halftime show.


gender, body, super bowl

Here in Detroit this week, celebrities and representatives of the national media have flooded town in anticipation of the Super Bowl, throwing parties and throwing around money. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration has led efforts to mask Detroit's abandoned buildings with fake facades and little-to-no-mention has been made of Detroit's status as the nation's poorest city, where one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, nor of last week's news about the auto industry's latest crippling round of lay-offs.

But perhaps the most striking feature of the pre-Super Bowl action has been the prominent place of mainstreamed softcore porn. Two of the most talked-about (in the mainstream press)parties are the Playboy party and the Maxim "are you hot?" shindig. The hook of the latter party: local women e-mail their photos to Maxim and receive invitations based on hotness. Slightly less racy fare included a party on Belle Isle where guests could pay top dollar to hang out and have their pictures taken with hot twins.

A Penthouse party admittedly has received less ink, but is part of the festivities nonetheless. And Jimmy Kimmel, Kid Rock, Tommy Lee, and Snoop Dogg (who produces pornography videos on the side)--the latter two host the Penthouse party--are four of the high-profile revelers in town, so lots of lines are blurring between "mainstream entertainment" and the once-marginal world of "adult entertainment." Lots and lots of jokes about Detroit's storied stripclubs (never anticipated a joke on national tv about 8-Mile's Booby Trap club). Detroit alt-newsweekly Metro Times includes a story in its Super Bowl issue about the stripper district along 8-Mile, which is anticipating big business this weekend.

And a not-unrelated dynamic of the media coverage this week: the acceptability of fat jokes regarding Aretha Franklin, who will sing the national anthem. The Detroit News speculates that perhaps Franklin will join the Stones during halftime, tacking on the smarmy headline, "Franklin may provide a Super-size surprise." Various news outlets and commentators have made the obligatory joke about how appropriate it is for Franklin to perform at Super Bowl XL (get it? extra large? wocka wocka, stick around folks I got a million of them). Not just late-night comedians. Mainstream news outlets. Because bodies--whether the disciplined, elevated, valued bodies of strippers and hot twins and Playboy playmates or the transgressive, ridiculed body of Aretha Franklin--are here for our consumption and critical commentary, like a well-executed ("that was awesome") or flubbed ("aww, would ya look at that") touchdown pass.