The left and the right of it all

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Being left-handed is no small thing in this right-handed world of ours. It’s not leprosy or anything, but it does consign those of us who live with it to a never-ending status of Otherhood.

I tell my right-handed friends that my mind literally works differently from theirs. It isn’t anything that we get to choose, but it’s felt much more acutely by southpaws like me than for righties like (I’m assuming here) you.

Why can I assume the person reading this is right-handed? A lifetime of looking around classrooms and meeting rooms–which is about the only time a person’s hand preference manifests itself–tells me this. Maybe there’s another lefty in a given room, but more than one would be a shocker.

Although I wouldn’t trade my unique perspective on the world for anything, sometimes I feel the urge to describe what it’s like, for the benefit of those who never have to think about such things.

And now back to my right-handed world. Thanks for reading.

Gonna sail away

How sad it is to watch people who I’ve never met–but who still enriched my life in some way–cross over into whatever comes next. In just the past week, Chuck Berry died (and I’ve had Johnny B. Goode stuck in my head ever since), followed by Jerry Krause of the Chicago Bulls, Chuck Barris of the Gong Show, Dallas Green of the Cubs (and several other baseball teams) and most recently, Sib Hashian from the rock band Boston.

I can still picture seeing Sib’s image on the back of my vinyl copy of Boston’s debut album. He had the giant afro and was standing in the middle of the group, which made him look totally badass. The album was released in 1976, which was just before I discovered rock music for the first time. I regret that I wasn’t cool enough for this at age 8, but I got there once I reached high school in the mid 1980s.

I listened to the first two Boston albums over and over again back in 1985 and 1986, as I was biding my time and waiting for life to begin. I couldn’t have the kind of life I wanted to have–and I wasn’t very clear on what that should be, either–so long as I was living under my parent’s roof. So I waited, and listened to Boston every chance I got.

Sib Hashian was not the musical mastermind behind the group’s music, nor was he the voice that people hear on songs like “More than a Feeling” or “Hitch a Ride.” But his drumming was always there with me, and it will be for as long as the music means something to me, and to everyone else who feels the same way. That’s quite a legacy to leave behind, isn’t it?

It’s gotta be rock and roll music, if you wanna dance with me

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I’ve been writing this blog for almost six years now, and have put more than 1,500 posts up for the world to consider. I do it because I know that we’re all mortal, and when we leave this world there will be few traces of us left behind. Whether anyone alive today reads these things or not, I want future generations to have some insight into the life that I lived, in the early 21st century in the United States of America.

My main writing muses became pretty clear early on in the development of this blog. Baseball and the Chicago Cubs were one, and just behind that came a music genre known as rock and roll. I’m not a musician, so my interest in this music comes strictly from a consumer standpoint. I admire musicians a great deal, because they have a talent that I wish I had.

Rock and roll first entered my life back in late 1976 or early 1977, in my parents’ house in Jerome, Illinois. We had recently moved into the house, and their old turntable–along with a few LP albums–took up residence in the basement. When my siblings and I and our neighbor from across the street figured out how the thing worked, we immediately gravitated toward Side 1 of Beatles ’65. It was filled with two-minute songs that opened my world up like nothing ever had before. They were catchy, which was the essential part of the music, but they also told stories that went beyond “The Farmer in the Dell” and all the kiddie songs I had known before then. It was the first step in the transition away from childhood and into the world of adolescence. It truly did change my worldview in a way that nothing else had before.

My favorite song on Side 1 of Beatles ’65 was “Rock and Roll Music.” This song not only introduced me to the music I loved, but it gave it a name, too. “Just let me hear some of that Rock and Roll music…” was sung by John Lennon, but it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered he didn’t write those lyrics. Chuck Berry first wrote and recorded the song in 1957, and it ushered in a musical wave that I caught on to some 20 years later.

The first record that I ever bought for myself was the Grease soundtrack in 1978, and even though it had no Chuck Berry songs on it, it was filled with the music that he had inspired. Disco was also on the airwaves back in 1978, and I heard plenty of it on the airwaves of the AM hit music station where I lived. But it was a fad, which fortunately passed away in a few years’ time. While other genres have met with a similar fate, rock and roll has endured for me. As AC/DC once proclaimed, “Rock and Roll will never die.” And that’s exactly what Chuck Berry’s legacy will be.

If you ever wanted any perspective on how important Chuck Berry was in rock and roll’s history, consider that he opened up the Rock Hall in Cleveland back in 1995. Without Chuck Berry, the music–and the building that honors it–would not exist.

From the time I began purchasing music for myself–when I started to view the world through something other than a child’s eyes–I’ve wanted to hear some of that rock and roll music. My gratitude to Chuck Berry for creating it–and for giving it its name–is beyond my ability to describe it here. But the effort is one that must be made, so let’s just turn up his music and appreciate it for as long as we can.

Go Cats!

Northwestern didn’t belong in the Big Ten when I was on campus in the late 1980s, at least not in the two sports that most people pay attention to. That didn’t change how I felt about the school, but it was hard to routinely be embarrassed by all of the other schools in the Big Ten (back when there were only ten schools in the conference).

Since that time, the conference has expanded to 14 teams, while Coach Fitz and Coach Collins have taken their respective programs to places I never thought were possible.

This GIF shows the two coaches sharing a moment and savoring their success. I can’t wait for today’s game against Wisconsin, and all of the Madness that will follow.

Hit ’em high! Hit ’em low! Go Northwestern Go!

Appreciating Hooper Humperdink

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On Dr. Seuss’ birthday, which is also Read Across America Day, I wanted to take a moment to honor one of my favorite books. And as the title of this post suggests, it isn’t one of his more well-known titles like The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Those are great books, but Hooper Humperdink is far more obscure than that. But I’m all right with that, and I think he would be, too.

Hooper Humperdink…?  Not him! was written under the pen name of Theo. Lesieg (the last name was Geisel–Seuss’ real name–spelled backwards) and published in 1976. It was illustrated by Charles E. Martin, so the Seuss name isn’t anywhere to be seen in this work. But the message–and Seuss’ work always had a message underneath the funny names and whimsical drawings–is one that will always resonate with me.

The narrator of the story is going to have a party, and he or she wants lots of people to come. Unfortunately, Hooper Humperdink was most emphatically not among them. As the guest list begins with A and works its way through the alphabet, the party keeps getting bigger and more outlandish than it was before. And by the time Z is reached, the narrator has a change of heart. It’s as if the narrator gives up and says “OK, OK, I’ll invite him after all.”

Hooper is on the outside looking in through the whole book. He watches as the kids who are wanted at the party show up, but we never get to hear from him directly. Our only clue as to what he is thinking is his facial expressions and body language, but they don’t suggest that Hooper feels bad about being left out. The natural reaction to seeing a big party that you’re not invited to is a mix of shame, humiliation, and resentment, but Hooper never seems to be in any of those places.

Hooper is finally invited, not to a massive blowout complete with a marching band and multiple sets of quintuplets and a cast of thousands, but to a small little gathering with a picnic table in the backyard. The point is that he’s wanted there, and that makes it all right with him (and his little dog, too). Happiness is found in simplicity and sincerity, rather than the narrator’s opulence and excess.

There was a second version of this story, which was illustrated by Scott Nash and released (with the Dr. Seuss name on the cover) at a later date. But the kids I knew in the late 1970s are more represented in the Charles E. Martin version of the book, and I’m glad that I came across that version of it first. I see a lot of myself in Hooper Humperdink, and maybe that’s why I appreciate it the way that I do.

As a lover of books from as far back as I can remember, I owe Dr. Seuss and Theo. Leseig an awful lot. That’s why I’m happy to take a few minutes to try and explain why. May his words and thoughts and images be appreciated forever.

Failing Hamilton, Failing us all

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These crazy and terrifying political times have caused me to dust off my old copy–or more accurately, my father’s old copy–of The Federalist Papers. The paperback edition I have was published several years before I was born, but the issues described within its covers are timeless.

Tonight I pondered, as I have on many occasions over the past month, the subject of impeachment. A president has never before been successfully impeached and removed from office. It’s a rare and, quite honestly, a desperation tactic. It’s the “In case of fire, break glass” tool that should never need to be used. But these are not normal times, and we should be grateful that Hamilton and the other founders gave us this tool.

The tail end of Federalist #77, written by Alexander Hamilton, puts a very fine point on the reason for having a check on the authority of the president:

“The election of the President once in four years by persons immediately chosen by the people for that purpose, and his being at all times liable to impeachment, trial, dismission from office, incapacity to serve in any other, and to the forfeiture of life and estate by subsequent prosecution in the common course of law. The precautions, great as they are, are not the only ones which the plan of the convention has provided in favor of the public security. In the only instances in which the abuse of the executive authority was materially to be feared, the Chief Magistrate of the United States, would, by that plan, be subjected to the control of a branch of the legislative body. What more can an enlightened and reasonable people desire?”

Speaking strictly for myself–a fairly enlightened and reasonable citizen of the United States–here’s one thing that I want in America, 2017: a Congress that isn’t afraid to exercise their right to “control” the president and remove him from office. It’s not a question of whether he’s disqualified himself from office: The refusal to release tax returns, the backchannel discussions with Putin while President Obama was still in office, and the attacks on the legitimacy of the judiciary are all enough, taken by themselves, to establish that the current president has crossed a line and must leave office immediately.

The process for impeaching the president relies on the House of Representatives approving articles of impeachment against a sitting president, and then a vote in the Senate, after a public trial, to convict and remove the president from office. But Paul Ryan and his republicans in the house, and Mitch McConnell and his republicans in the senate, will not lift a finger to remove Trump. At least a few of them probably believe that they are sufficiently “safe” from any meaningful opposition in the 2018 elections. So instead they leave Trump alone and let him do whatever damage he wants to do. It’s a complete and utter abdication of the responsibilities entrusted to them by the Constitution.

Here’s what I’m asking for, Mr. Hamilton: A congress with integrity and courage. The congress we have now will not act, since they are clearly unwilling to give Trump his walking papers. Hamilton couldn’t see this situation coming back in 1787, so now it’s time to hunker down and hope we can survive until the 2018 midterm elections. Once those elections get here, we better damn well make sure that all politicians with an R next to their names get voted out of office. They have failed Hamilton and, by extension, they have failed us all.

Presidents Day wasn’t the same this year

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Presidents Day was earlier this week, and I know the idea is to celebrate Lincoln, Washington, and all the other presidents, but it didn’t feel right this year. Having a president to repulses me in so many ways will lead to that.

So in the few moments that I have for writing, I’m posting some images of President Obama, including a few I photographed back in 2009 but haven’t used here before. Here’s hoping this new one isn’t around long enough to do any serious damage, but it isn’t looking promising so far.

 

With thanks to my Dad on his birthday

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Family has been one of the constant themes on this blog, since I started writing it more than five years ago. I’ve put over 1,500 entries into this space since then, but I didn’t get through the first ten posts before I mentioned my dad for the first time. Since I’ve always been one who prefers writing over speaking, this is the best medium for wishing my dad well on his 70th birthday. I hope he still has many more birthdays ahead of him, too.

Parenting is great for many reasons, but perhaps the best one is that it wakes you up to how just difficult it is to raise a family. My own daughters don’t understand that yet, and I’ve told myself that one day, if they’re lucky, they will. But it will probably take arriving at the gates of parenthood to drill that point home. That’s certainly how it worked for me.

My dad gave me his name, and for many years I hated being a Junior. But now I’m OK with it, and I like his (and my) distinctive middle name. The world has thousands and thousands of Robert Harrises, but at least we have an interesting way to stand out in that crowd.

I’ve also written about being left-handed on many occasions, and I get that from my dad. It makes me different from most people, since we lefties are never in the majority anywhere (except for the cast members of Seinfeld, where Julia-Louis Dreyfus is the only righty in the bunch). I also enjoy counting Jimi Hendrix, LeRoy Neiman, Barack Obama, and David Bowie–among many others–in my lefty tribe.

But the thing I’ll always be most grateful for is that my dad taught me to learn how to love baseball. I had no idea about what baseball was as a kid in the 1970s, but that summer my dad took me to St. Louis to see a doubleheader against the Mets in the first Busch Stadium.

I’ve written about this before, how being a part of the baseball experience shaped me like nothing had before, and not too much has since. The best way to get into a sport is to go and see a game for yourself, and that’s probably always been the case. I’ve been to hundreds of ballgames since then, but that first game still remains a treasured memory. At one point in the game, Ted Simmons doubled off the outfield wall, and everybody came to their feet and cheered. All subsequent baseball memories have built upon that moment for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked my dad for taking me along that day, but I need to do that here.

The Dad memories don’t stop there, either. I remember playing Pong with my dad in either a department store or a grocery store, back in the 1970s. The sensation of being able to move a controller and have it move something on a TV screen was pretty revolutionary to the young kid I was at the time. Today’s kids won’t ever know what that feels like, but I remember it because I was playing a game with my dad.

My dad also took me to see Star Wars back in 1977, around the time that I turned nine years old. Before that, the only times I had been to a movie theater were old Disney movies with my mom. Those were fun, but Star Wars was different. Seeing R2D2 on screen again in The Phantom Menace a year ago reminded me of how excited I was to see him for the first time. And without my dad, that moment wouldn’t have happened.

So as my dad celebrates a big round number for his birthday this weekend, I’m happy that he’s made it this far in his life’s journey, and that I was along for a good chunk of the ride.

It’s all hands on deck

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On the first day of this new year, I met up with a cousin I hadn’t seen in a very long time. He was in Chicago with his family, and we met up to see a few sights and–in true Chicago fashion–have some deep dish pizza. It was a great day, and I was happy to begin 2017 by renewing an old acquaintance.

As we were talking over dinner, I mentioned that I write a blog. My cousin asked if it was political, and I replied “It can be.” I didn’t start writing this blog for that reason, and baseball and family and rock and roll–the things that really matter to me–are my principal writing muses. But here in 2017, politics  appears to have crowded out everything else. These times don’t allow for much else besides a discussion of our government system and how to protect it against a despot. For progressives like me, this is our moment of truth.

The fact remains, no matter what is said to the contrary, that Hillary Clinton received millions more votes than Donald Trump did. He entered the presidency with that hanging over everything else, and the tens of millions of people who saw Donald Trump’s name on the ballot and voted for somebody else have a right to feel betrayed by the electoral college. We all were.

The ties to Russia and the hacks directed by Putin and the Kremlin on Trump’s behalf further clouded the matter of Trump’s ascension. How many votes would Trump had lost if this information had come out before the election? We’ll never know for certain, but it’s fair to say at least a few Trump voters may be feeling some buyer’s remorse at their decision.

And then there’s the actions Trump has taken since that dark and desolate Friday, just ten days ago. The immigration ban is by far the worst one, striking at the heart of what America has always been for the rest of the world. Those tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free have been replaced, inside Trump’s warped mind, with a bunch of angry jihadists. The countries where the terrorists actually came from–Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and a couple more–are left alone, while seven countries that are far less of a threat statistically are left out. So what if those seven nations aren’t lucky enough to have a Trump golf course or high-rise within their borders? That’s just a happy coincidence, isn’t it?

Trump’s nominees, from Jeff Sessions on down, must now receive “extreme vetting” by the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. And what about the Supreme Court nominee, who is expected to be announced as early as tomorrow? That needs to be a war like none other that has ever been seen. Clarence Thomas should wince by the time that process is over, if it ever does come to an end.

I love the sight of protests in airports and peaceful marches through cities and towns of all sizes, and all around the world. Trump’s presidency has awakened something that I had always hoped was there: the defiant mood of a people who realize that America is worth fighting for. And fight we must. Resistance is the watchword of whatever number of days or weeks remain in Trump’s presidency. I’m not suggesting violence in the streets, because Trump and the strongman facade will spring into action if that happens. More restraint will be needed, instead. But the cause couldn’t be any more important.

The time for remaining silent probably ended before Trump’s inauguration address. As Thomas Paine once wrote, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.” A Mike Pence presidency doesn’t seem like too much of a triumph to me, but we have to get Donald Trump removed from office. Every day his presidency reaches new depths, the likes of which Jefferson and Franklin and the others in Philadelphia could scarcely imagine.

I long for the day when this blog goes back to trivial things like guitar solos and baseball games. But on January 31, 2017, we aren’t at that point. A hard struggle lies ahead, and I’m in for whatever happens along the way.  The continued viability of America is at stake.

About that wall…

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The first week of the new presidency has shocked and alarmed everyone that I know. It’s an onslaught on the nation that still is, and will always be, my home. Since I love America, I’m willing to fight for it. I won’t sit and watch as our water is imperiled, our openness to immigration is shut down, and our treasury is further depleted in the name of “securing the borders.”

Simply put, the wall won’t work, and building it would be a terrible and unprecedented waste of resources. But Congress has become nothing but a servile accomplice, and they seem to be willing to appropriate whatever amount of money is requested. And they consider themselves to be fiscal conservatives? That’s a good one.

So in all the debate over building this ill-advised wall, the obvious issue is one that I haven’t seen raised anywhere, by anyone. Since this blog is my soapbox for addressing the world, I’m going to ask the question myself:

Does anyone truly believe there won’t be massive corruption involved?

Because I sure don’t. With that much money involved, and apparently no Congressional oversight being contemplated, the opportunities for graft are almost beyond description.

Will there be a bidding process to acquire materials at the lowest possible price?

Will land acquisition costs be paid fairly, or will politically connected people receive massive windfalls, instead?

Will contractors be selected for the quality of their work, or will their political allegiances carry the day?

And most importantly of all, how much of this $12-20 billion will end up in the pockets of Donald Trump?

These are questions that must be answered, but they haven’t even been asked yet. In the service of the great nation that I love, I’m willing to throw these out into the vastness of cyberspace. The wall is a terrible idea, which also threatens to become a swindle of epic proportions. We must not allow that to happen.

#Resist

The battle is joined

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Yesterday I wrote that I wasn’t too happy to call myself an American. Today I take it all back.

250,000 people in Chicago–my wife and younger daughter among them–participated in a march that grew so large that there was no marching to be done. Cities around the country, and even around the world, also joined in, and the total is easily in the millions. Not a single person of those millions was happy about the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency, either.

Trump sent out his press secretary to lecture the press about inauguration crowd size estimates, and basically try to shame the press into reporting the things that Trump and his people approve of. Oh, and deflect attention away from the marches that were going on at the very same time. It was an awful performance, but if it serves to get the people more fired up and ready to go than they already were, it will be a great thing, indeed.

I wasn’t able to attend the march today, but I did pass by it at one point. I noticed a sign saying “History has its eyes on us,” which is an obvious reference to Hamilton. The pro-Trump crowd will desperately search for something else–anything else–to put their eyes on at the end of this terrible day for them. But the message has been delivered, and Trump and his people would be terribly unwise to ignore it.

The Resistance begins

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Today was a dark day for my country. I’ll never want another one, but today I wasn’t too happy to call myself an American.

When 11 AM rolled around, and I heard the first strains of that all-too-familiar voice, I couldn’t listen to it. Presidential inaugurations have mattered to me, ever since the nuns brought a TV into a classroom to watch Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977. Watching TV in the classroom was a BFD, as Joe Biden might put it, and since then it always seemed like a good idea to listen to what the new president had to say. But it wasn’t like that today. Not in the least.

I judged a middle school science fair today, and was able to take on an additional project during the time of the inauguration speech. Science is apparently going to be politicized and de-legitimized in the coming years, in the name of raising corporate profits and continuing the assault on the planet we call home. When did Rex Tillerson, and the people who reported to people he knew at Exxon, first know that the icecaps were melting because of fossil fuels being burned? Was it on the day I watched Jimmy Carter sworn in as president, some 40 years ago? No, but it was just a few months later than that. And now Exxon will have one of their own shaping our foreign policy. How could it get any worse than that?

But just wait, because it does. Betsy DeVos has no background in Education, and no interest in  making the public schools system any better on her watch, either. She’ll gladly oversee the crippling of public education, and attack anyone and everyone who tries to stand up for the status quo. Public schools aren’t perfect, and they never will be. But we need a robust public school system in this country. And if we don’t have that, we’ll never be the best we can be.

So I was happy to be talking science with a seventh grader, discussing what significant figures are and hearing about his use of the scientific method. It was far more useful to me–and frankly, to society itself–than listening to a speech that was apparently more of the same from the guy who will be the president until further notice. Alec Baldwin thinks two months is what he’ll get, and that would be fine with me. However long it ends up being, the clock is now ticking.

Into the abyss

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The day that I’ve been dreading since last November is finally here. On Friday, January 20, 2017, America plunges into a deep, dark abyss. The look of trepidation on my young daughter’s face in this picture from a few years ago sums up the way I feel right now.

I wish I had a glimmer of hope to offer up in this space, but I don’t know what it might be. Not a single one of the cabinet nominees that I’ve seen so far appears to be right for the job. It seems like a rogue’s gallery, specifically designed to make a shambles of the government as a bulwark against tyranny. And if that sounds like hyperbole, it isn’t meant to be.

So let it come–since apparently it must–and let’s hope I’m wrong in my dire assessments. I’ll gladly eat some crow here, if it should come to that. But I’m not the least bit optimistic, either.

2 + 2 = 4

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George Orwell’s 1984 grabbed a hold of me when I read it in high school back in the 1980s, and it hasn’t let go since. But never did I think I’d actually be living through it, the way it appears all of us are today.

Near the end of the book, after Winston’s secret life with Julia has been discovered and rubbed out, the pace of Orwell’s writing becomes frantic. Everything is gone, nothing matters anymore, and Winston is holding fast to the idea that some things are objectively true.

“2+2 =4. Remember that!” Orwell admonishes us all. The powers that be –IngSoc in the novel itself–will tell you that 2+2 =5, but we must always be ready to assert that the truth is not what someone else decides it is. 2+2 has to equal four, because if we ever give up and allow it to equal five, they win and the rest of us lose.

At the Golden Globes the other night, Meryl Streep gave a speech about Trump mocking a reporter with a disability. Trump (and that’s all he’ll ever be to me–no titles will be appended to his name on January 20th) responded with his typical bluster and buffoonery, first by calling her overrated (which is demonstrably not true) and stating that he did not mock the reporter.

I know what mocking looks like. It’s impossible to find someone who hasn’t actively been mocked, or mocked someone else, or stood by as another was being mocked. Mockery is the fruit of the bad side of human nature, and we’ve all seen it. For Trump to say he didn’t mock the reporter is the same thing as trying to tell us that 2+2 =5. The question is are we willing to cast aside that which we know (2+2=4) and allow others to define it for us, instead?

I’m hereby calling bullshit on that. Orwell tells us to hold fast to what we know, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Trump could very easily offer an apology for what he did, even though it wouldn’t be the tiniest bit sincere. He could use the old “I apologize if anyone was offended” line that gets used all the time in statements like this. But no, that’s not who he is. The four years ahead of us all are scarier than anything I’ve ever contemplated. But 2+2 is always going to equal 4 to me, no matter what Donald Trump says to the contrary.

 

Farewell to 2016

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It’s been quite a ride, and I’ll always consider 2016 as a good year, because it was the “Next Year” that I had waited a very long time to see.

I went to Wrigley Field a few days after the Cubs’ World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians, and I wrote my recently departed friend’s name in chalk on a ticket window, a thank you to Harold Ramis in one place on the sidewalk, and “I’m glad I lived to see this” on another part of the sidewalk. Everything was powerwashed away the next day, so I was glad to have made the effort to get there when I did.

My Cubs buzz was as profound as it was short. The election of Donald Trump, less than a week after the Cubs’ victory, brought many people’s baseball-fueled euphoria to a crashing halt, but for me it ended a few days earlier than that. Mark Adams was a great friend–my drinking buddy, at an age when I wasn’t supposed to have one–but I hadn’t spoken to him in over 30 years. Life is like that sometimes. He died at a hospital in New York in August, a day after his 48th birthday, but I only learned of it through a newspaper obituary published on the Saturday after the Cubs won. So I got to enjoy about three days of supreme happiness, before life and death reminded me of how fragile everything on this planet can be.

The sad but unavoidable fact is that not everyone who rings in 2017 tonight will be here when it’s over. We lost many people that we once knew in 2016, and we’ll lose even more in 2017. Life goes on, until it doesn’t anymore. And the world will somehow continue spinning without us.

As we put a great and tragic year to rest in a few hours’ time, I’m hopeful that everyone remembers to enjoy our time here, and appreciate the ever-changing cast of characters who are along for the ride. Nothing lasts forever, nor will any of us. So let’s have some fun while we can.

 

 

What’s your definition of dirty, baby?

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I would be lying if I said I was, or ever considered myself as, a fan of George Michael’s music. In the free-wheeling days of the 1980s in which I grew up, I listened to the skirt-chasing, hellraising bands that made up the hair metal scene, but to groove on George Michael and his bubblegum pop stuff would have been a bridge too far for me in those days.

But having said that, I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t familiar with a lot of his music. Wham! first, um, made it big when I was in high school, his Faith album dropped when I was in college, and his radio relevancy continued into my first few years of post-college. Those are the years when musical tastes and memories are formed, and there he was, right in the middle of it. So how could I not have something to say about George Michael’s passing at age 53? Well, it turns out that I have got something to say about it.

When the Faith album came out in my sophomore year in college, the lead single was called “I Want Your Sex.” The desire for sex drives all of popular music, and it always will, but the word itself was largely missing–with one notable exception–until George Michael came along.

One predecessor that I can think of was the song “DMSR” from Prince’s 1999 album in the early 1980s. The meaning of those four letters are “Dance Music Sex Romance” and the word “sex” appeared in the song’s chorus a couple of times, but it could be that the use of those initials was intended to self-censor the word from the title to the song.

George Michael’s song did have a radio edit that I remember hearing, but I can’t recall if it was in and around Springfield, Illinois or someplace else. But the song edited out the word “sex” so that it effectively sounded like “I want your” being sung over and over again. But the word appeared in the title everywhere, and in the all-important music video (these were the 80s, after all) there was never any question about George Michael’s intentions or his lyrics. He wanted to get busy in the worst way, and he was more direct about it than any song that I can remember up to that point.

Now that we’ve had “I Wanna Sex You Up” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” and many other songs in that vein on the radio, it seems almost quaint to be bringing this up now. And the fact that George Michael was a gay man who had to hide who really was until 1998 makes his story all the more tragic. His music got the attention that it did because he was singing about the old-fashioned boy-meets-girl attraction. And while we’ve since moved toward acceptance of other sexual preferences, I can’t imagine that George Michael telling another guy he wanted to get it on would ever get too far on mass-market radio stations.

Speaking of mass-market and mass-media news, they’ll all be weighing in about his music and what it means. They’ll try to shape public opinion, just as they always do. But I write this blog because I like to share my own take on things, and sometimes it’s worth reading and other times it may not be. But the word S-E-X was seldom heard on the radio before George Michael came along, and for that alone he deserves to be recognized.

Thanks for the music and rest in peace!

Fires on the mountain

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The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville area of the Great Smoky Mountains–and the word “Great” does apply to this region–is a beautiful place. I’ve been there on a few occasions, beginning when I was ten years old, and I’ve written about it here before. So the news that there are 14 fires burning there right now is very saddening.

Fires are natural, and the region has no doubt burned before. But this is awful news, and rebuilding won’t be an easy process. Some will certainly lose all they have. My heart goes out to them, absolutely.

The beauty of the mountains won’t look like this again for quite some time. I’m glad I have memories of how it once looked.

May those who suffer losses one day feel whole again. And may we wake up to the reality of what we’re doing to our planet.

A new word for these times

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Portmanteau is a concept that we all live with everyday. It’s taking two–or sometimes more–words and combining them to form a new word. My dog, for example, is a schnoodle, or a cross between a schnauzer and a poodle. Other portmanteu words include jeggings, listicle, and threepeat. The malleability of English guarantees that new words of this sort will always be created.

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as president, a wave of aberrant behavior swept across this country. One of the more publicized acts–because it occurred in New York and had to do with well-known artists–was painting swastikas and the words “Go Trump” in Adam Yauch Park, which is named for a member of the Beastie Boys, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Yauch was Jewish by birth, but he was a practicing Buddhist from 1996 until his death. With this in mind, the swastikas don’t make any sense–there or anywhere else–other than to identify religious animus in the hearts of whoever committed this act.

In trying to cope with this stupid act, a gathering was held in Adam Yauch Park on November 20. Adam “AdRock” Horovitz addressed the crowd, and advised them to fight back in any way that they could. “If you’re a writer, write” was one of the bits of advice he gave. So consider this an attempt to live up to AdRock’s advice and speak out against the Trump-inspired acts of hate that are taking place in this country.

“Antipathy” is a word that someone who isn’t a writer doesn’t normally use. If you don’t like somebody, it is usually enough to call them a name and be done with it. The saltier and more profane the terms used are, the more it gets the speaker or writer’s sense of antipathy toward that person across.

In thinking about my feelings toward Donald Trump, and the divisions and fears he exploited in order to appeal to millions of voters across this country, I realized that “antipathy” is a fitting word to describe them. But I also realized that the word “Trump” can be dropped into the middle of the word, and the general feeling of both words would still make sense. Thus, antipathy directed toward Donald Trump will be forever known–at least by me–as “antrumpathy.”

Whether I’m the only person who ever uses this word, or it spreads like wildfire and gets added to a dictionary someday, is secondary to the idea that Trump’s election will lead–and already has led–this country into places I’ve never seen go before. Hate crimes are on the rise, and this is before Trump even takes office. Trump’s never going to explicitly call for any attacks, of course, but some who look on his election approvingly are now acting in ways that they would not have done just two months ago. So fight back we must, and I’m using creativity and my humble blog to do exactly that.

So please use this new word in whatever setting works best. Don’t try making any money from it, though, because I’m not and I don’t want anyone else to, either. This word hopefully won’t be needed in four years, when Trump leaves the White House after a single term in office. But for now, consider it a nonviolent addition to the language of our protest. And the Beastie Boys would certainly approve of that turn of events.

Hamilton and what makes America work

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I’ve written before of my fondness for Hamilton: An American Musical. I’ve listened to the songs–over and over and over again–but haven’t seen it on stage, and don’t think that I will for a long time, if ever. Not because I don’t want to, but the price of tickets precludes that from happening right now. But maybe someday…

It’s beyond ironic to me that Hamilton’s life story has been ignored for so long. There was talk of removing him from the ten-dollar bill before this musical came along, but it’s pretty safe to say that it won’t happen now. In fact, if Hamilton wasn’t already depicted on our currency, we might be calling for his inclusion somewhere. But he’s there, and he’s not going away, nor should he.

Hamilton was an immigrant who contributed mightily to the birth of the United States, both on the battlefield and as a political mover and shaker. And, as the Ron Chernow biography of his life–which inspired the play–points out, it’s quite possible that he was powerfully attracted to John Laurens, a fellow revolutionary. Two of the groups that Donald Trump and Mike Pence have targeted can claim Hamilton as one of their own.

So when Mike Pence went to see the show on Broadway yesterday, it’s possible that he understood this about Hamilton’s own life story. But then again, perhaps he did not. I certainly did not know either of these things before 2016, and I’m glad to have a fuller understanding of who Hamilton was and how he contributed to the country I call home.

When immigrants, gay people, and those who support and love them have an opportunity to address someone who is on the record as opposing them, they must seize it. They must not, in the words of one of the show’s main songs, throw away their shot by remaining silent. They waited until the show was over, and then addressed the vice-president elect with warmth and hope. Nothing disrespectful was said, or even suggested, by the remarks delivered from the stage. It was a message on behalf of Americans, who may not have voted for Trump and Pence but will still be affected by the decisions they will make.

But the Trump supporters went bonkers. Perhaps they want actors, musicians, poets, and everyone else who creates art to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. But our Bill of Rights unequivocally protects their right to speak their minds freely. To misunderstand that is to miss what America is all about. And Trump’s demand for an apology would be laughable if it weren’t so clueless. Who has more to apologize for that Donald Trump? Yet he won’t do it, so why should anyone else? Particularly when nothing improper or offensive was done or said.

I’m not looking forward to a Trump presidency, but I’m expecting all Americans who oppose him to feel empowered to protest and speak out, because that’s what make America what it is. Silence and acquiescence are not American values, and shame on us if we ever allow them to become so.

So I will apologize to Donald Trump, since he seems to need one. My apology to him is that America will not be bowing down to him, his family, his cabinet members, his advisors, his donors, or the thugs who now feel like it’s open season on the Other in this country. We’ll reserve our rights, and exercise them freely, at every opportunity over the coming four years. Sorry if you don’t like that—well, on second thought, nevermind.

No apologies will be forthcoming. If Pence and Trump want to lead America, they must accept that Americans are going to do the American thing and speak out. And any attempt to vilify that course of actions is where a true apology would be needed. Not that we should ever expect to see one, of course.

One Last Time

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Not that I’m trying to be cute, but Life is like the World Series: Sometimes you have finality, but more often you don’t. When this year’s Series went to seven games, we knew that whoever won that game would be crowned champions, and whoever lost would have a long offseason to think about how things turned out.But not every Series goes that far, and most are decided in four, five, or six games instead.

My friend Mark was a presence in my life from kindergarten until we graduated from high school together. I saw him thousands of times, and we passed through–or at least we started to pass through–the difficult period of transitioning from children to adults with each other. But for all that, nobody ever told me when the last time I would see him would be. Try as I might, I can’t even remember it myself.

When I learned a week ago that Mark died in a New York hospital over the summer, I was hit very hard by the news. I hadn’t seen him since probably August of 1986, before he went away to study at Arizona State. I went off to a different school the following month, and our paths had forever diverged. I had hoped to see him again someday, somehow, but it won’t happen like that. And that’s why I want to get a few words down, to record what this feels like.

I went to the chalk mural that sprang up at Wrigley Field during this year’s playoff/World Series run last Wednesday, and wrote Mark’s name among the thousands of others that covered every available inch of space. I couldn’t find a good spot on the walls, so I used the ledge of a ticket booth instead. I wrote his name and the years of his birth and death, and took a picture to commemorate the event. It proved, in case anyone ever needed to see it, that Mark–who wasn’t a Cubs fan, at least as far as I knew–was there, at least in spirit. It felt very good, and very humbling, to be able to do that for one of my oldest and best friends.

Yesterday, less than 72 hours after visiting the mural, I drove past it and was saddened to see it had been removed and fenced off. I could see the wall, and the booth where I had written Mark’s name, but none of the names and artworks and victory messages were seen. Again, nobody told me it was going away, so I had no way to know that I was getting in at the end of the process. But I will be forever glad that I did.

As I have probably mentioned here before, I love the music from the Broadway show Hamilton. And my favorite song of all is “One Last Time,” which speaks to finality and the importance of making a known parting of the ways matter. When we get this finality on lives we must savor it, but we must appreciate all the other times in life when finality may (or may not) be present. An old Stones song that says “It may be the last time, I don’t know” is equally fitting. This could be my last blog post, I don’t know. I hope it’s not, but if it is, at least I enjoyed putting it together.

And now on to the rest of the weekend…..and hopefully not my last one, either.

An amazing 48 hours

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It’s been just about 48 hours–give or take a few minutes–since Kris Bryant threw over to first base to end the Cubs’ long championship drought. In an instant, a lifetime of losing was washed away. The “loveable losers” never existed in the first place, but that concept went away forever on the night of November 2, 2016.

I had already paid my respects to Jack Brickhouse at the start of the World Series, and now that it had come to a successful conclusion, I wanted to do the same with Ernie Banks. He wasn’t known as “Mr. Cub” for nothing, as his devotion to the team was matched by the love and respect that all living Cubs fans have for him.

When Ernie died in early 2015, I went to a spot on the sidewalk outside of Wrigley Field to pay my respects. I also felt something change inside of me, with a new sense of determination that the Cubs had to win, and the sooner the better. I put these thoughts into words for a piece published by FiveWideSports, and I fully understood that winning on the field was beyond my control. All I could do as a fan was expect it to happen, which I never really did before that moment.

When 2015 started going well for the Cubs, I was ready to finally go all the way, and it made their eventual flameout against the Mets that much harder to bear. Every season now had an all-or-nothing sense about it, which carried over into 2016. I told a Cardinals blog back in February that “This Year” had finally arrived, and following a terrible scare in Cleveland my prediction came to pass. The euphoria this has made me feel hasn’t yet worn off, either.

So I went to tell Ernie that we finally did it, by inscribing a baseball and leaving at his gravesite in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. It was a lovely fall day, and I had some time on my way into work. I never met Ernie Banks, but I did sing a song with him once, and I tried to use the experience to put being a Cubs fan into words. Ernie Banks meant a lot to me, and I wanted to thank him for this.

There was a reporter at the gravesite, and I spoke to him for probably 15 or 20 minutes about being a Cubs fan. I wish that every Cubs fan could have had a few minutes with a reporter yesterday, because each of us has so many stories to tell. I did my best to give him something worthwhile, and apparently I did because the story ran in the New York Daily News today, complete with my grinning mug at the top of the page.  My elation at having just come from the team’s victory parade down Addison Street in Chicago was made even sweeter by the news that for today I was the face of Cubs fans for newspaper readers in New York. It’s a daunting idea, but a role I would gladly accept for the team that means so much to me.

The papers themselves will all go into a landfill soon enough, but the story will live on digitally for a long time to come. And I’ll have a story that will live on here on my blog, as well. The greatest feeling I’ve ever had about anything–other than the birth of my two daughters–was greatly enhanced because I took some time to remember an ambassador for the team I’ve identified with for so long. That’s the stuff life is made of, isn’t it?

The parade report will come soon enough, but for now I’m off to get some rest. Good night to all.

The Cubs Win, at last

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It was the darkest moment of the Cubs’ 2016 championship run. The Cubs had lost to Korey Kluber for the second time in Game 4, and found themselves in a three games to one hole. Elimination seemed to be staring them in the face in Sunday’s early hours, and I wanted to do my part to help.

A Chicago radio station was taking calls from its listeners, and I had a long drive ahead of me so I called in to add some words of encouragement. I have done this many times over the years, as recently as the Dodgers series when the Cubs also seemed to be on the verge of losing. My message then was “keep the faith, it’s not over yet, remember what the Red Sox did in 2004.” It felt good to say that, and know that everything was going to work out in the end. And it did, because the Cubs came back to beat the Dodgers to move on to the World Series for the first time in my lifetime.

But the Sunday morning talk show wasn’t having it. I told the call screener I wanted to talk about the Cubs on air, and he asked me what I wanted to say. I told him that the series wasn’t over, and that past experience shows that a series isn’t over until the last out is recorded. He asked me if there was anything to add to that, and I told him that 2004 was evidence that comebacks can happen.

He sounded put upon for some reason, and told me that saying that sounded “dumb.” He then asked for my name, because perhaps he realized it was 1:30 AM and people aren’t lining up to call radio stations at that hour anyway. I think he was going to put me on the air, but I decided that he and the station he worked for didn’t deserve hearing such crazy thoughts as mine. I hung up, and asked myself what was dumb about trying to exhort Cubs fans to not give up on their team. The answer was there was nothing “dumb” about it at all.

The Cubs did indeed come back, and the station’s call screener probably celebrated like the rest of us last night. But he should realize that hope is sometimes all that a person has, and suggestions that such hope is dumb is, well, beyond dumb. It’s cruel. Hope must always be encouraged, wherever it exists.

I feel great today, as I knew I would after an event I’ve waited for over most of my life. And I realize that the hopes and dreams of Cubs fans–which sustained us over a terribly bad period of losing and despair–make the victory that much sweeter. In 1776, in the first volume of The American Crisis, Thomas Paine wrote “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” And today sure feels glorious to me.

The Cubs’ 2016 Graveyard

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Some people, in my neighborhood and in other places, turn their front lawns into faux graveyards at this time of year. So with Halloween upon us and the Cubs still playing meaningful baseball, here’s a look at some of the fake styrofoam tombstones that the Cubs could plant at Wrigley Field this year:

The Cardinals’ reign as NL Central champions: The St. Louis Cardinals have been the bullies of the division for some time, going all the way back to Albert Pujols’ days with the team. Wainwright, Molina, and all the rest have won and won and won again, and were trying to be the first team to ever win the Central division four years in a row. The Cubs laid waste to that, and controlled their division from Day 1 of the season.

The Giants’ beliEVEN thing: Winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 was a nice pattern to be in for Giants fans, and when their team won the Wild Card came this year they thought the pattern would repeat itself this year. The Cubs had other ideas, though.

The Billy Goat Curse: Oh, that curs’ed goat. The reason–some would have us believe–for the Cubs’ decades worth of World Series absence is the old story of a goat that was denied entry into the 1945 World Series. A man who brings a goat to a baseball game has no mystical powers of any sort, but people talked about it, anyway.

1969? Billy goat curse.

1984? Billy goat curse.

2003? Billy goat curse.

But the Cubs finally laid that one to rest and made the World Series. May we never hear about that goat again.

So the one thing left to do is scratch the 108-year itch and win the World Series. The Cubs have to beat Korey Feldman tonight, or find themselves in a Series of elimination games. They’ll come around tonight, I hope, and even the Series up with three games left to play. It’s been a great, cemetery-making run this year, and it’s not over yet.

Looking forward to some Mighty Cubs Blasts

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I recently happened upon Evangeline, a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I’m not very much of a poetry guy, but I found an old book at an estate sale with some poems inside, and decided to start paging through them. I even spent a quarter on the book, so I may as well see what is inside.

Evangeline, as Longfellow wrote it in the middle of the 19th century, tells the story of the expulsion of the Acadian people (who were largely French) from the village of Grand Pre, located in what is now the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The events happened in 1755, and nearly a hundred years later Longfellow decided to tell their story in poetic form.

In the initial lines of the poem, Longfellow writes:

Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.

Longfellow’s blasts had nothing to do with baseball, but instead with the cold wind gusts that can occur at this time of year. But there’s a different type of blast that will hopefully be on display tonight and through the weekend, as the World Series returns to Chicago’s north side for the first time in my lifetime.

The mighty blasts I’ll be looking for will come from Rizzo and Bryant, from Russell and Zobrist, and perhaps even from Contreras and–dare I say it?–new folk hero Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs won a game in Cleveland without the benefit of any longballs, but the October winds will be blowing this weekend, and the blasts should follow in short order. We’re just three wins away, after all, and things are looking great for the weekend ahead.

Go Cubs!

 

 

It’s gonna be a World Series weekend in Chicago

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One of my favorite old school Sammy Hagar songs–and I have quite a few of them–is Rock and Roll Weekend. Not only does Sammy name-check Chicago (and Cleveland) toward the end of the song, but he paints an image of the best part of the week, being filled up with the best music there is. A better combination could not exist.

So it’s worth pointing out that while Cleveland had the early part of the 2016 World Series on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, and they may get the final games of the Series again next week, this weekend will belong to the Chicago Cubs. The city has been starving for World Series action my entire lifetime (and probably yours, too), and when it finally does arrive it’s in the form of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games.It could not be any more perfect than that.

So let’s rock, Chicago. Let’s fill the air with a celebration that none of us have ever known, and one that we may not ever see again, at least not exactly like this. Get on the phone, tell all your friends!

Tell ’em it going to be a World Series-winning weekend.