My brain asked for the weekend off after a long week of the majority of us realizing we are not going to get the America we voted for, that we will have to accept the pandemic may never completely leave us as we settle in for a long-term endemic instead, and that millions of our fellow citizens seem to be arming themselves even more for another unsuccessful coup attempt as the Republicans install traitors in State Capitols to rig the vote in ‘22 and ‘24. Only thing is, we’re The Majority, so we will outsmart, outwit and out-organize them, as we nonviolently defeat these unvaccinated morons in a margin of victory that will double the drubbing we gave them in 2020. Too harsh? NEVER harsh enough when they try to destroy our Democracy. If you don’t believe me, then you’re watching too much cable news or reading too many pundit know-it-all know-nothings who never leave their bubble.
Yes, it’s been a grueling, depressing start to the New Year, and beloved Americans from Betty White to Meat Loaf have decided not to slog it out with the rest of us, and who can blame them? They will truly be missed. Farewell, Bob Saget. So long, Stephen Sondheim. Have a good time in Guadalajara, my dear overworked Brain.
So for today’s Substack letter, I’ve decided to borrow a page from Oprah’s playbook (as I am wont to do) and share with you for the first time ever a list of my favorite things — or, as Oprah calls it, “Mike’s Favorite Things.”
My only request: Please, no judgment.
MIKE’S FAVORITE THINGS
1. Japanese Felt Pens
It was my first trip to Japan, a book tour for Here Comes Trouble (my personal favorite). It was a wild, weird and eye popping trip, from the 300km/hr bullet train to Kyoto, to the somber day spent in Hiroshima. The late night talk shows were like acid trips shot in widescreen LSD. Then there was the monk who wrote a remembrance in beautiful calligraphy to my deceased Uncle Lornie, shot and killed by a Japanese sniper on March 10 of 1945.
But it was the Japanese ink and art pens that fascinated me because of their beauty, accuracy, comfort, ink dispersal, ergonomics and easy flow from mind to paper. I found them in art stores, bookstores, department stores. I can’t tell you their brand names because I can’t read Japanese, but take the adventure online and find one or two. You won’t regret it. Try to buy some Japanese writing paper and notebooks. Once you put pen to paper, your first short story will write itself. It’s that magical.
2. My Favorite Color is a Brilliant Yellow.
The color yellow is a primary color, and that is both weird and a blessing. Red and blue are colors of this Earth. Yellow is not. It’s closest existence is 93 million miles away. We do have the occasional yellow flower, the golden finch, the giraffe, but that’s a real stretch, and an unintentional pun. I’ve painted the interior of my apartment a sunflower yellow. I wake up to it, I work to it. It makes me happy. If you’re feeling down, look at this yellow.
3. My Top 5 Favorite Foods:
Kühne’s German dill pickles
Roasted or grilled cauliflower w/herbs and spices
Smartfood white cheddar popcorn
Homemade chili over a plain baked potato
Clear, cold water at 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Up to a gallon a day
4. The Big, Full Wall-Size Bulletin Board Displaying Dozens of Neon Color 4x6 Index Cards.
No computer screen, no TV screen, is large enough for me to “see,” in my own handwriting, the entire sweep of the movie I’m making — all in one blink of the eye. I play my movie in my head first, then I write it out on this huge bulletin board, then I make it, and then I show it to you. And if I do my job right, the movie you see will look nothing like what’s on this massively helpful board.
5. The PreCor 546 Elliptical Machine
The best exercise of course is simply going for a short walk. It’s just good to be outdoors. Except when you can’t be, or the weather is too punishing. That's when I look for an elliptical machine in a gym. It’s sorta like a stair climber but easier on the joints. Great cardio and good for lower body strength (I don’t like the ones with the moving arms). But still, it’s best if you can move around outside!
6. My Blue Waste Basket
I love this color and its unobtrusive shape so much, I hate to throw any trash into it. How can I? To me, it’s a work of art.
7. The Fugitive
I’ve rediscovered this groundbreaking and prescient TV series from my childhood on a cable channel called MeTV. It aired on Tuesday nights at 10pm on ABC in the early to mid-1960s. It came on past my bedtime, so I’d sneak out of my bedroom, and crawl out to the living room where I’d hide behind the sofa and peek around from the back of it to watch. Never got caught thanks to the show being so riveting, my parents eyes were glued to it and not me. The message of the series is the criminal justice system makes a lot of whopping mistakes and incarcerates a lot of innocent people. The storyline took the side of the “criminal” and portrayed the police in pursuit of him as having little concern for the truth. Wow. Not the typical TV fare for a 10-yr old!
The Fugitive often ran into other fugitives unjustly convicted, and found himself helping undocumented refugees, helping people organize a union at work, interrupting all sorts of racists — which often got him arrested — and each week I found myself rooting for the Fugitive and against the cops. Even though the Fugitive often stopped to help a wounded officer (he was a doctor before being sent to prison) or any cop in peril. Then, after he saved their lives and they found out who he really was, they’d arrest him and try to send him back to death row. So he’d have to find a way to outwit the dimwits, and that was when I had to make sure my parents couldn’t hear me cheering from behind the Sears davenport.
(The series was directed by greats like Sydney Pollack, Ida Lupino and Leo Penn [Sean’s dad], and featured brilliant actors like Ruby Dee and Ed Asner — and young actors getting their start like Bruce Dern, Beau Bridges and Kurt Russell).
During this time at home we’ve all binged like crazy on movies and TV series. I could give you a long list of recommendations, but this one, Maid, is one that didn’t get much attention — and yet it’s one of best series that has streamed in the last year. It’s about a single mom who leaves her abusive husband, and in order to survive cleans the homes of the rich and upper middle class. It is the rare movie or TV show that offers a true depiction of the working class. Maid does so with pitch-perfect heartbreaking authenticity. There’s no pandering, no faux liberal pulling of the heartstrings. It had me from the first ten minutes, and I was committed to the bitter end. Can’t say enough in my encouragement for you to watch this one-season-only limited episodic series.
9. The Cashmere Scarf.
I guess I’m that guy — you know, the one who you never know what to get him for Christmas. But this has not been a bad thing for me. It has resulted in my now having over a half-dozen scarves for the bitter Michigan winters. And not just any scarves. Thick ones, long ones, ones knit by hand and ones made of cashmere. Oooh, Cashmere. Where have you been all my life? The warmest. The softest. On days I have to spend filming in the frigid outdoors, it’s the old cashmere scarf that gets me through. Thanks to my loved ones for all those scarves, and for the cushy socks, the Lucky jeans, the Chuck Taylor high-tops, the mittens, and the Seahawks beanies.
10. Immune System Help
I can’t help you prevent Covid (other than personally taking you to get your booster shot), but I do think taking 50mg of Zinc and at least 1000mg of Vitamin D3 each day isn’t a bad idea to give your immune system a boost. If your throat starts to feel sore, consider getting a real PCR Covid test — but for instant relief there’s nothing better than sucking on a Ricola Honey-Cherry lozenge. Breathe in the eucalyptus, go for a walk, and then watch an episode of The Fugitive.
BONUS: Things I Used to Hate but Have Learned to Love During the Plague:
Jeez, this guy just had a bad day losing to the Rams, and for all I know he may soon announce his retirement. I’ve come to see him as a kind and decent person. He was compassionate to Antonio Brown, a teammate who was having mental health issues and lost his marbles in the middle of a game. Watching Brady, at age 44, it’s like a combination of the Bolshei Ballet, Olympic archery, and Eddie Haskel cool — if Eddie Haskel grew up to be Tom Hanks. (Note: I haven’t watched a whole NFL game in years in protest over what they did to Colin Kaepernick. What I’ve learned during this boycott is that I don’t miss it — and I don’t really like it. I now enjoy watching what the rest of the world calls “fooootball.”)
How many times have you wanted to quit your shitty job just like he did last month? Strip half naked, run around your place of work, do running jumping jacks, flash the peace sign, and make your grand exit with high fives to all. YES!
There’s nothing like them. You bite into a fresh one and you think this is going to take you to Heaven. What else in this miserable, wonderful, hardscrabble life has done that for you? And why can’t we find a single tomato grown in American soil that does that? The tomato is NATIVE to the Americas! Columbus and his cohorts slaughtered the indigenous people here, stole their tomato plants — and their chocolate, corn, potatoes, and tobacco — and brought it back to the elites of Europa. I’ve always hated tomatoes, but now I know it’s because that Italian conqueror swiped all the best ones for himself.
When you grow up with winter 8 months of the year, wood floors are cold. You want carpet or rugs under your feet. Then when Covid hit, we started caring less about our feet (few have ever died due to bad feet), and focused more on our respiratory system. You don’t want to breathe what’s been raising its own family in your gold shag carpet. Or your grandparents’ throw rug, bought during the Presidents Day sale circa The Great Flu of 1918. I tore up the carpet last year and instantly loved the look — and feel — of the wood floors. Did it to the bedrooms and hallways, too. Not a stitch of carpet left.
There’s something authentic and reckless about it. A daily reminder that when this is all over and many are rushing to the HOV lane to, “get back to normal,” I will be heading against traffic going the other way, to the “new normal,” which means disposing of living normally. I had been trying to create something like that for myself — and had almost succeeded, just before The Bug That Ate Earth descended upon us. Hello, wood floors! We’re almost there!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this random list. Send me a favorite thing or two of yours. I might want to try it out!
Here’s for a better ‘22.