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.

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.

My letter of thanks to Jack Brickhouse

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Dear Jack,

Today was the kind of day that makes cemeteries interesting. As I drove through Rosehill on the far north side of Chicago, I watched the dried leaves blowing across my path on the way to the mausoleum where you are interred. This is generally not baseball weather here in Chicago, but you never saw a team like this year’s Cubs, either.

As I arrived at the door and removed my Cubs hat, I was appreciative to live close enough to be able to pay a visit to you before the World Series began. Thanks to your broadcasts on WGN through the years, a person didn’t have to live in or around Chicago to become a Cubs fan. That was true for me, who grew up in Cardinals country near Springfield, Illinois.

The Cardinals games of the mid-1970s–when baseball entered my life–were broadcast on the radio on KMOX in St. Louis. Everybody knew the sound of Jack Buck’s voice, but nobody got to watch the team actually play, unless they appeared on NBC’s Game of the Week or ABC’s Monday Night Baseball. But the Cubs did it a different way in Chicago by putting every game on TV, and for me it made all the difference.

I loved being able to watch a few innings of the Cubs games after school, or even entire games during the summertime. Night games on the road were OK too, but afternoon baseball at that gem of a ballpark in Chicago was pure happiness to me.

Many of today’s Cubs fans aren’t familiar with your work, and I think that’s unfortunate. Without you and your broadcasts on Channel 9, the Cubs wouldn’t mean nearly as much to me as they do today. But the World Series is upon us, Jack, and I wish you were here to enjoy it. Ernie Banks never saw one, and Ron Santo didn’t, either. But Billy Williams is still here, along with names you used to call for me like Rick Monday and Jose Cardenal and Bruce Sutter. Cubs fans my age love names like Barry Foote and Mick Kelleher and Champ Summers, because they belong to a specific time and place, and the sounds they remember from that era are your “Hey Hey!” call and they way you pronounced every Cubs win a “thriller.”

There was no better way to remind myself of how I came to be a Cubs fan than to come and pay my respects at your gravesite this morning. I’ll make sure to enjoy these upcoming games against Cleveland, not only for myself but for you and all the other Cubs fans who weren’t able to see it. I hope you’ve got a great seat where you are, Jack, because you deserve to have it. Thanks again for helping me to take baseball in once upon a time. This week wouldn’t be the same without you.

Rob Harris

Chicago, IL

The best shot was the one I didn’t see coming

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On Sunday morning, I got up early and drove my younger daughter to her synchronized skating practice. Upon dropping her off, I realized that the sun would be coming up shortly, and I decided to greet it as it did.

The sunrise was a dazzling display of clouds and light and water and sky. The shades were incredible, and I took a few pictures, knowing that they could never capture the scene sufficiently. Pictures don’t do many things justice, particularly in the natural world. But it makes us feel better to record something, just the same.

I came away from the scene with about two dozen pictures and a video, all stored in my cameraphone’s memory. One is really all I needed, but for some reason I had to take more. I enjoyed the scene with my own two eyes as well–as I was supposed to do–but the surplus of picture-taking resulted in my favorite shot of all, and the one I’ll share with posterity in this space.

A bicyclist out on a morning ride zoomed past me as I was taking one of the shots. I don’t know–and suppose I never will–if it was a man or a woman, how old the person is, or anything else about him or her. The person was wearing a hat and a backpack, and riding a bike along the lakefront in Chicago. But that person’s timing, and mine, created an interesting piece of imagery: The eternal sun and the temporary person, on a seeming collision course with each other. The sun has come up every day for millions of years, and those of us here to see it are shifting every single day.

I couldn’t have posed this picture any better if I wanted to, and that’s the point. Random, unexpected, and perhaps even unwanted things can sometimes turn out better than anything we could plan for. I’m grateful that I took more pictures of a sunrise than I needed to, and I’m glad that a biker I’ll never meet came out of nowhere and crashed into one of them. It makes for a nice image, and a reminder to take whatever comes and be excited about it.

An electrifying tribute to Prince

I write my blog for many reasons, but at the bottom of it all I like having a place to go with a story like this one. It will be gone in the morning unless I capture it now, so here goes.

Chicago, very early Sunday Morning

I had picked up my teenager from a visit to a friend’s house, and while she stayed awake long enough to marvel at Chicago’s skyline lit up for the evening, she soon conked out. At least I would be able to pick the music I wanted to listen to for the rest of the ride home.

Changing the stations on the satellite radio wasn’t easy, with her leaning against my right arm and the steering wheel in my left hand, but I found a way. When I turned to the Bruce Springsteen channel, and his tribute to Prince from earlier this year, I knew I had found my place to be.

I wrote about Prince’s death a few times here, because it was a sad an unexpected moment for anyone who loved his music. I never considered Prince as being mortal, as crazy as that sounds. Bruce is like that, too, and perhaps a few others also fit this description. They make music, and we expect that they’ll always be there to make more of it. And then we get a reminder that musicians are mortal like the rest of us.

When the song came to the Nils Lofgren guitar solo, it found a level that I hadn’t known about before. The combination of the song and what it has meant to me through the only parts of my life that I care to remember, and the haunting way that Nils was playing the notes, and the fact that although I had watched the video a dozen times online but had never heard it on the radio before, and the realization that my daughter would be getting into it as much as I was if she had only stayed awake, and the understanding that Prince wasn’t around to play the song himself anymore, hit me in a way that I wasn’t ready for.

All the hairs on my left arm were standing straight up as the solo came to a conclusion. Music is the only thing that ever has (and probably ever could) give me goose bumps like that, and the music of one great musician, played as a loving and respectful tribute by another great musician, is the kind of moment that doesn’t come along often enough in life. When a moment like that happens it must be savored and–if possible–remembered or described in some way.

For anyone who loves Prince’s music and hasn’t yet seen the tribute, check out the link above and prepare to experience some goosebumps of your own.

Cubs look to buck the trend

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The Crosstown classic begins tonight, and continues through until Thursday. The teams appear to be on different arcs, with the Cubs playoff-bound and the White Sox thinking about who they can trade away at the deadline coming up. But none of that matters when the two teams take the field tonight at U.S. Cellular Field.

On paper, it looks like the Cubs will be able to take it to the Sox, especially since Sox ace Chris Sale is out of action. This should be a mismatch, right?

But there’s an undercurrent that Cubs fans should be aware of, and it doesn’t bode well.

This year MLB has decided to create an interleague “home and home” series for every one of its teams. There were two games played on Monday and Tuesday in one city, with the action switched to the other ballpark for Wednesday and Thursday. Four days, four games, two ballparks. Fun, right?

Some of the matchups are geographically obvious, like the Cubs and the White Sox and the Giants and A’s in the Bay Area. But others are harder to understand. Boston and Atlanta are in the same time zone, and the Atlanta Braves were once the Boston Braves, but somehow they had an interleague series against each other already this season. The Red Sox took three of the four games of the series, so that counts as a win for the American League.

You might think that 4 game series like this should split two games apiece, with neither team able to declare victory over the other. Everyone ties, and nobody loses. But in only one of the 11 series so far this season has this happened. The Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins–bound together by being located in the upper midwest, I suppose–split their four games this season. But in 10 out of 11 series played so far, a winner could be declared.

Guess how many of these ten interleague series were claimed by the National League team? Five, right? After all, that’s half of ten, and it makes sense for the two leagues would split these series in this way.

But no, it isn’t five series for the National League, and five for the American League. In fact, that’s not even close to being the case.

Well then, let’s be optimistic and say that seven series went to the NL team, and three went to the  the AL team. After all, the American League pitchers have to bat sometimes, and that must work to their teams’ disadvantage, right?

But no, that’s not the case. In fact, you’re getting further away from the correct answer. You’re getting colder, I might say.

6 series for the AL, and 4 for the NL? Warmer.

7-3? Warmer, but not there yet.

8-2? Now you’re really warm.

9 wins the AL, and 1 for the NL? Congratulations.

Yes, the breakdown goes like this:

The Miami Marlins of the National League took 3 out of 4 from the Tampa Bay Rays when they played over four days back in May. And it’s all downhill from there, for the Senior Circuit.

Houston (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Detroit (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The LA Angels (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Dodgers back in May.

Seattle (AL) took 3 of 4 from the San Diego Padres.

Kansas City (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Cardinals to claim Missouri bragging rights.

Oakland (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the San Francisco Giants last month.

Toronto (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cleveland Indians (AL) outdid everyone by sweeping the Reds and claiming the Ohio Cup (or whatever it’s called).

So after 44 games of interleague play in these eleven “home and home” series, the American League has won 31 games, to just 13 wins for the National League. That’s a beatdown, no matter how anyone decides to look at it.

After the Cubs and White Sox play their series this week, there will be only the Mets and Yankees, Nationals and Orioles, and Rockies and Rangers left in this new format. I like the idea, and I hope it continues in the future.

But anyone thinking the Cubs will mop the floor with the White Sox needs to understand the odds of this happening aren’t real good.

With that said, Go Cubs!

 

 

Saturday in the Park

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I’ve just passed my actual birthday, and I’m in between two very important dates to me. So at sunset on a beautiful day in the park nearest my home, it’s time for some reflection.

For five years, I’ve filled this blog with stories, ideas, pictures, limericks, and whatever else has come into my head at any given moment. I truly enjoy the creative outlet that this provides to me. It’s never been anything but a diversion for me, but I can’t imagine a time where I haven’t got anything I want to say.

The other anniversary, coming up in about a week’s time, is five years since I gave up drinking, once and for all. All but a very few posts on this blog have been created by me in this new and (I have to believe) better state I’ve chosen for myself.

Are the two related in some way? I’ve thought about this, but I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not chronicling my sobriety, at least not intentionally. But it’s bizarre to me that after a quarter century, I was able to just set it aside so quickly and so completely. I never needed it as much as I thought I did, apparently.

But I need to do this, instead. Flannery O’Connor once said she wrote in order to find out what she thinks, and I completely understand this. The thoughts that escape my brain and make their way onto the blog achieve a type of immortality (no pun intended). So now, for as long as the Internet and WordPress survives, the thoughts in my head will live on. The park setting, the sunset, the Shakespeare play being performed on the lawn (It’s 12th Night, for the record), my kids having snacks with their friends, the bells of the palateria in the distance, the shouts of the children at play, all of it will now live on, at least in some small manner. And the man that I am–who is inevitably going to change in the months and years that I hopefully still have left–is hereby leaving a marker for anyone who might care to find it someday.

YOU MUST AMEND YOUR DRUNKENESS!” an actor on the makeshift stage just bellowed, as if he and the Bard knew about my ruminations on having done exactly that. It was a change that was long overdue, but the words “better late than never” never seemed quite so appropriate. I hope to never go back to that place again.

Time to go and watch the rest of the play. Happy Summer to all.

 

One Proud Nation

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I’m heartbroken over the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It’s a guns problem, for certain, because not a single person deserves the right to take 49 lives in an instant. Banning assault weapons makes perfect sense to me. Keep some guns if you want to, but don’t put that kind of firepower in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to control themselves.

It’s also a hatred problem, too. The shooter targeted people whose lifestyle he didn’t agree with. If there is a hell, hopefully he’s in it. But either way, dozens are dead, and millions are crushed and angry at the same time. And moments of silence must not become a token gesture, or a cover for a Congress that won’t change a damn thing, no matter how many lives are lost.

When I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, gay people were hidden deep in the closet. They were a curiosity, a punchline, and something to be afraid of, because of course they wanted to make everybody else gay, too. But then I went to college in the late 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic was raging. I began to realize that even though being gay wasn’t my thing, it didn’t pose any threats to me, either.

I moved into Chicago in the early 1990s, and found the Gay Pride Parade, as it was known back then, to be the highlight of the summer. People came from far and wide to line Broadway, soak up the sunshine, and have a good time together. For as long as I lived in Lakeview and what later became known as Boystown, it was the summer event I looked forward to all year long.

It’s amazing that society–at least the part I want to be a part of–has moved to gay rights acceptance so quickly. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a shame that it didn’t happen sooner than it did. But it has happened, and people can live their lives openly and marry the person they love, regardless of what gender they are.

And that bothers some people, clearly. But those people are being pushed to the fringes, on their way–hopefully–to ultimate extinction. The person I got into a shouting match with across Diversey Avenue more than a decade ago, about whether bringing my young children to the Pride Parade (as it was known by then) was a sin, has hopefully moderated his position since then. But if not, he’s quickly becoming outnumbered in society, as he deserves to be.

I haven’t been to the Pride parade in many years, because I don’t live in the neighborhood anymore, and because fighting the crowds–routinely estimated at over a million people each year–seems like a hassle. But this year, in light of the Orlando shooting, I feel as if I have to go.

Pride started out as something organic within the gay community, but it’s since grown far beyond that. And the millions who will line Broadway Avenue again in ten days’ time will serve as a beautiful testament to our capacity for celebrating ourselves and having a good time in the process.

About the guy in the gold top hat above: I’m not sure why I took his picture a long time ago, but my daughters and I have affectionately referred to him over the years as “Captain Buttcheeks.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to devote an entire post to him, but I definitely wanted to share him with the world. Wherever he is today, I hope he’s still rocking the boots with the top hat, and waving at everyone he meets.

A Freudian Slip

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It’s fitting, in some way, that the trial I served as a juror for ended on Tax Day. I realize that taxes aren’t due until the 18th of April this year, but everyone knows April 15 is the day that we’re supposed to settle up with the IRS by filing our tax returns. Money changes hands on that day, generally in the form of a tax refund that people use for whatever they need some extra money for.

That didn’t happen for me this year. Instead of a healthy refund, I owed something to Uncle Sam, and not a trivial amount, either. But I paid that amount because, well, that’s just what you do. It keeps the National parks open, and pays for social programs and military defense and all the other places our tax dollars go to. Living in America is a privilege that I can’t fully appreciate because I haven’t lived anyplace else. But that privilege comes with a price, and the IRS is there to extract part of it from us all, whether we want to pay it or not.

Another price of citizenship in this country is jury service. In my many years of living, I had never served on a jury, of any kind, until this past week. The right to a trial by jury is an enormous gift, and that entails giving up your time when called by the courts to do so.

The trial I served as a juror on wrapped up yesterday, and I made a point to ask the judge if I was allowed to write about the case online. Writing is a form of free, self-induced therapy for me, and I needed to put a few things out into cyberspace, before the experience fades away into memory. I expect jury service to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and after this trial, I very much hope that’s the case.

Part of me wants to get into the specific facts of the case, but that’s not really going to help anything. Painting in broad strokes about what happened is probably good enough, at least for my purposes. I could write a long treatise about the case I was charged with deciding, but the end result wouldn’t change, not even the tiniest bit.

The case had to do with a fraud, pure and simple. The federal government rooted out the defendant’s misdeeds, which were filing tax returns in the name of people who had no idea they were having returns filed on their behalf. Their names and social security numbers, and access to online tax filing software, are apparently all it took to set these wheels into motion.

So prisoner A (We learned his real name and saw him testify in court, but his first name began with A so I’ll call him that here) is doing time. I learned what it was for, but it really didn’t matter that much. He’s serving time, and not receiving any Social Security benefits from the government. But a tax return was sent to the IRS, indicating that not only was he receiving these benefits, but he had a portion of those benefits withheld by the IRS, and he wanted the withheld portion back. It’s a classic case of turning nothing (as in the Social security benefits which were never paid in the first place) into something (as in a few hundred dollars that wound up in the tax preparer’s pocket.

This happened for hundreds of prisoners, and the IRS paid off like a slot machine by depositing the money in waves. There were hundreds of prisoners, and thousands upon thousands of dollars being shoveled out for this scam. The legal term is “scheme,” which sounds a hair more respectable than a “scam,” but this was the scammiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. And it makes a mockery out of those who pay taxes and wouldn’t think to  run a fraud like this.

At the close of the trial, on Thursday afternoon, the jury received instructions from the judge about what the relevant law is. We were told to follow those instructions, whether we agreed with them or not. One juror failed to do so, and that vote was enough to result in a hung jury. Our romantic notions of “Twelve Angry Men” and the noble juror who spares a defendant from being wrongly convicted by standing up to, and ultimately persuading, his fellow jurors didn’t apply in this case. Life didn’t imitate art, at least not in this instance.

But the two sides had to give closing arguments before we could begin deliberating, and the otherwise masterful defense attorney nearly gave away the game with one small, practically imperceptible slip. I may have been the only one that noticed it, but it was very telling. It didn’t make a difference, in the end, but I wanted to preserve it here, anyway.

A Freudian slip, also called a parapraxis, is when someone gives away their inner feelings by accident. As the defense attorney was summing up the defects in the government’s case–since they have the burden of proof, his job was to point out the ways they haven’t done so, regardless of whether any such defects actually existed–he said “They have fooled–failed–to show….”

The “fooling” that the defense attorney referred to, in his moment of unintended candor, wasn’t the government’s doing, but his own. He was there to fool the jury into believing that his client had been wrongly accused of defrauding the government–and by extension the taxpayers on the jury and all over the United States–out of withholding proceeds from prisoners who had not receive any Social Security benefits while they were behind bars. All he had to do was fool one juror, and the week’s worth of trial would have gone for naught. And that’s exactly how it played out, too.

I put a picture of Frederick Douglass in this post, because the holdout juror bears a strong resemblance to him. I even thought of him as Fred, though his real name was something else. Frederick Douglass became friends with Abraham Lincoln, and their unlikely rise from the circumstances they were each born into has always inspired me. I will always admire Frederick Douglass, but I’ll probably see pictures of him now and think about the juror who wouldn’t agree with the rest of us on the jury. Life takes some strange twists sometimes.

On my way home from the courthouse, after the verdict had been read and my fellow jurors and I were excused with the thanks of the court, I took a train to a bus in order to get home. The transfer point from train to bus led me to a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which I’ve written about before in this space. I looked up at Lincoln, who is depicted not as the bearded president we all know, but as a clean-shaven Illinois attorney, which he was for many years before he was elected president.

As I looked up at Lincoln’s representation, I tried putting my frustrations with the case into some type of order. And I realized that our legal system, for all of its imperfections, is still something to be proud of. The defendant wasn’t set free by my jury, and he still has to face the prospect of perhaps another trial in the weeks and months ahead. We as jury did what we had been charged with doing. I didn’t like the final result, but it was far from the first time where something I was involved with didn’t end up the way I wanted it to. Those are the breaks, whether in the courthouse or anyplace else in life.

The Lincoln statute reminded me that our legal system is worth preserving and supporting, even if it isn’t perfect. It won’t ever be perfect, but it will always seek to do justice. The truth is  that I’d rather live in such a place than anywhere else.

Back to the bench

A a quarter of a century ago, I was fresh out of college, and finally on my own. There were bills to pay, of course, but life as I had imagined it to be was underway.

I moved into an apartment in Chicago, lured by a free month’s rent. And each day, I rode the bus downtown to the job I had, as a legal go-fer for a solo practioner attorney in the Loop. It was an exciting time in life.

This week, after a good chunk of my lifetime has passed by, I am back in the Loop again, serving on a jury trial. I walked through the lobby of the old building I once worked in. It was just as stately and marbled as I remembered it being.

I also sat on a marble bench, but that may not be the right word for it because it has no back, outside of the post office  a block away. I would sometimes eat my lunch there, watching the people going by as I tried to imagine what my place in the world was going to be someday.

Sitting on that same bench yesterday morning reminded me of how the world has turned upside down since then. I got married, had two very lovely daughters come into my life, and now have a house and a mortgage and two cars and a few other things. The ride of life has been very good over those years, and I have many fine memories that have shown up in this space over the years.

But the ride still  continues, as it will until I finally come to the edge of my mortality. When and how that happens remains a mystery, but I’m leaving this behind as a remnant of my life for after it happens.

I moved away from the building and the bench, as I imagined I would, and was happy for the having the chance to sit on it once again and remember those days.

Ferris Bueller said that life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t look around, you could miss it. I’m writing this to affirm that it does, and that I haven’t.

The First Amendment, UIC, and Donald Trump

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I earned my Masters degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC for short, back in the early 1990s. I never really considered it as my alma mater, because I didn’t live on campus and my degree only took two years to complete. I was working full time and going to school at night, so my heart was never completely invested at UIC. But I am glad to have an affiliation with them, all the same.

I didn’t like the fact that Donald Trump had planned a rally on the UIC campus for the Friday before the Illinois primary. I wrote a piece for HistoryBuff.com, pointing out that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was at odds with the life’s work of Jane Addams, who ran Hull House for decades in the neighborhood where UIC now stands, as a place where immigrants could feel welcomed into Chicago and the United States.

If you were to strip away everything else from this country, you would find that immigration is what makes the USA great. Trump simply doesn’t understand this, and it’s one of a long list of reasons why he’ll never be president.

But before tonight’s rally at UIC could commence, there were tensions both inside the venue and out. Trump called off the rally, and his supporters cried foul. They wanted to hear their guy speak, and those who opposed him had denied them of their opportunity to do so. What the protesters did, at least according to Megyn Kelly of Fox News, was deny Donald Trump’s rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

At the risk of sounding crass, I’m calling bullshit on that argument.

Strong language is needed here, in order to fully address the claims that have been made. The suggestion that Donald Trump has a First Amendment right to make a speech at any public venue of his choosing is simply false. It reveals an ignorance of what the First Amendment actually says, which is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment, as adopted more than two centuries ago, restricts the actions of Congress. That’s all. And Congress has made no laws restricting what Donald Trump says,  either in Chicago or anywhere else.

Donald Trump can say just about anything he wants to say, and so can the protesters both inside and outside the building where the rally was scheduled to take place. Nearly everyone feels passionately about Trump, either in favor of him or against him. And Congress should have better things to do than sorting out what Donald Trump and his protesters have to say.

If Trump didn’t speak tonight, it was because he decided not to take the stage. Trump let down his supporters at UIC, but Congress had nothing to do with this.

Freedom of speech is alive and well tonight. But as for an understanding of the Constitution, that’s a different story.

A day with my mom

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I’m getting to a place in life where many of the people I know have lost one or both of their parents. I have to admit to an embarrassment of riches on this front, because both of my parents are still with us, and still physically and mentally vibrant. I don’t usually think in terms of blessings, but it’s impossible to see this as being anything else.

My mom came to Chicago this weekend, to see both of my daughters perform onstage. The weather was abnormally spring-like for late February, and I was glad because it allowed us to get out and enjoy the city. The planet’s still in trouble from all the things we’ve been doing to it, but at least it gave me the chance to enjoy a day with my mom. Everything’s relative, isn’t it? And yes, I did intend that pun to get through.

My mom has given me and my siblings everything she had, and feels bad that she couldn’t do more. I feel that way about my own kids, and every parent has the same feelings, I suspect. But if we’re really lucky, we’ll get the chance to spend a day with them and tell them how much it is appreciated. That’s what love is made of.

 

Life imitating Art

The death of David Bowie has continued to resonate with me this week. And an example of this came from an everyday incident that turned into a haunting encounter with his music in a Chicago cemetery.

I was driving south on Western Avenue yesterday, on my way to pick up my older daughter from play rehearsal. I had a bottle of sparkling water from our garage with me, to drink it along the way. As I pulled up to a red light, I twisted the cap on the bottle and things went dramatically wrong.

The bottle’s contents were in a semi-frozen state from being stored in the garage, and the act of releasing the pressure caused a spray all over the car’s interior. In an instant, I had drenched myself without intending to.

Fortunately, the light I was stopped at on Western Avenue  is the street that leads into Rosehill cemetery, which I’ve written about many times in this space. I decided to pull into the cemetery, get a blanket from the trunk to dry myself off, and use some wipes to clear off the car’s control panel. When the light turned green I signaled for a turn, just as David Bowie’s “Lazarus” came on my iPhone shuffle playlist.

Driving into the cemetery, the initial bars of the music spoke to me. The music is haunting and beautiful, and the wail of the horns reminded me that, like David Bowie, every one of the people who are buried here have already crossed over to the next world, whatever it is.

I remembered why I was there, but only just barely. I parked the car, and got out to witness a 360-degree panorama of death, in some ways similar to the one I had experienced on Halloween just a few month ago. But this time I had a musical accompaniment, and it made things that much more affecting.

Scanning the horizon, I saw graves with inscriptions for people I’ll never know. And I reminded myself, yet again, that my stay on this planet won’t be any more permanent than theirs were. Whether I will get 69 years and two days on Earth like David Bowie did still remains to be seen. But the time will come when I will have to return to the wardrobe, as Bowie does at the end of the Lazarus video.

Do yourself a favor and watch this, if you haven’t already. With 22 million views and counting on You Tube, it’s having quite an impact.

After the song was ended, I cleaned up the mess in the car and on myself that had led me to the cemetery in the first place. I then drove away with a new appreciation for the fleeting nature of life, and the astounding work of art that David Bowie created in his final days. And an understanding of gas trapped inside frozen bottles, as well.

Art, Religion, and David Bowie

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 This is a tale about art and religion, with some David Bowie added in for good measure.

The story begins in a Catholic grammar school during the 1970s and early 1980s. The pastor of my parish was an elderly man who called every boy “Butch” and every girl “Sissy.” The priest’s name will not be used here since–as with most of my recollections–it’s not really germane to anything. But he was the leader of my church, and a figure that everyone in the parish was familiar with.

I never embraced Catholicism very much, and by the time I started high school in the early 1980s, I was going through the motions of going to mass every Sunday morning. I’d routinely find ways to get out of it, usually by claiming to go to Saturday mass instead and then driving around for an hour. My parents always went to mass on Sunday, and we (my brothers and my sister) went with them more often than not.

After I went away to college in the late 1980s, I found that even the pretense of attending mass was no longer necessary, so I stopped going altogether. My break with Catholicism was several years in the making, but by 1987 it was finally done. I became the “recovering Catholic” that I have been ever since.

In the summer of 1988, I attended a screening of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ at the Biograph theater in Chicago. It played in very few cities, and on a very few screens, because of the controversial nature of the book that it was based on. In a nutshell, the movie plays out the story of Jesus’ life, and then adds a twist as he is nailed to the cross. He is offered a chance to live as others do, with a wife and children. And Jesus is shown with Mary Magdalene and a family. And that was more than some were ready to handle, including my old parish priest.

A week after seeing the movie, I went home to visit with my family before classes began again in the fall. And, as per family custom, we all went to mass on Sunday. I hadn’t gone in a long time, but I didn’t want to create a scene by refusing to go, and so I joined in.

The mass was the same old same old until the time came for the priest’s homily, and that’s when it got interesting. It turns out that he had an opinion about the movie, and he wasn’t afraid to share it, either. The very idea that the movie showed Jesus “fantasizing on sex” (an odd phrasing, but one that he kept repeating over and over throughout the sermon) was just too much. It was a reprehensible movie, in his view, and no one in our parish should go and see it.

After years of mass attendance, and hundreds of services, I had finally heard too much. It was obvious to me that the pastor had not seen the movie at all, and had only read or heard about it from someplace else. The very limited release of the film meant that anyone in his parish could not see the movie for themselves, absent a 400-mile round trip to Chicago. And nobody should ever go to those lengths to see a movie.

The movie didn’t show Jesus in the way that the priest was claiming. People might fantasize about something of their own volition, but temptation–as I understand it–comes from an external source. The devil in the movie holds out the possibility of a different life to Jesus, with the hope that he will find this way preferable to dying on the cross. But Jesus rejected Satan’s offer, and at the end of the movie he dies on the cross, instead.

The only difference between Jesus in the movie, and Jesus the way I learned the story in Catholic school, was that the fictional Jesus was tempted, unsuccessfully. The devil’s failure to persuade Jesus to give up his divinity for a domestic life instead was intended to challenge–but ultimately reaffirm–the traditional ideas about Jesus. Roger Ebert understood this, but it was somehow lost on my parish priest. Perhaps this is because Ebert had actually seen the movie in question.

I began writing this piece in the summer of 2013, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the film’s very limited–and very controversial–release in theaters. Something came up on that day, and I saved a draft of what I had written, with the  intention of finishing it off and getting it onto my blog. It wasn’t until the death of David Bowie earlier in the week that I even realized this was still here, languishing in my Drafts folder. And at this point I’d like to pivot to Bowie’s involvement in the movie, in one scene as Pontius Pilate.

Bowie was certainly no stranger to the silver screen, and his list of film roles underlines what a screen presence he really was. I don’t like like writing about him in past tense, either, but that’s the way it has to be now.

So the film’s second-worst character (after the big serpent, of course) was filled by one of the biggest musical stars of the decade. If there was any sense that this could have been a hazardous or toxic role for Bowie’s career as an artist, it didn’t prevent him from brushing them aside and taking the role, anyway. And he nailed the part, playing a Roman official with a gravitas that made you forget about his Ziggy Stardust days and his jumping around with Mick Jagger in the Dancing in the Street video.

Art, such as the Last Temptation novel and the film it was later turned into, has the ability to challenge us, and make us question who we are and what we’re all about. It has the power to change us, if we want to be changed, and the power to reinforce things that we may already know. But art’s ability to do either of these things is limited to our willingness to expose ourselves to it in the first place.

I wouldn’t have allowed a priest to tell me I can’t see a movie, not in 1988 and certainly not today. And if I hadn’t already seen the movie when I heard that ill-informed homily back then, I would have missed an interesting film and a very credible performance from an artist who’s no longer with us. And that would have been very unfortunate, indeed.

David Bowie could do it all: sing, play guitar, write music, act, and look the part of a Roman with a style that nobody else had. Dusting off an old, half-finished idea from long ago and posting it online is a humble tribute to him, but one that I’m still very glad to offer here.

Art has always been made, and will always be made, and Bowie’s role in this process is worth remembering and emulating, whenever possible.

 

The calendar says it’s Christmas time

 

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I must point out that this is not my house. I drove by it yesterday, on my way to work in suburban Chicago. The warm weather, dense fog, and lack of anything suggesting winter temperatures made the collection of lawn ornaments seem forlorn and out of sorts.

Everybody has their passions in life, and whoever lives in this house has probably been collecting these things over many years. I understand that they’re lit up at night, too, which must take this display to another level altogether.

This planet is in trouble, everyone. Blame it on El Nino if you want, but I’m more than a little concerned that my younger daughter could walk around this evening, at night time in Chicago, and hand me her coat because she didn’t need it. On December 23.

We love our fossil fuels, myself included, but they’ve come with the price tag of a warmer planet, melting ice caps, and rising sea levels. And while these lawn ornaments won’t actually get flooded, they will look a little silly on those warm December days in the years ahead.

I wish peace to everyone, whether they read this or not.

 

He never had a chance

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This undated autopsy diagram provided by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office shows the location of wounds on the body of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald who was shot by a Chicago Police officer 16 times in 2014. A judge on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015 ordered the city to release squad car dashcam video of the shooting. The officer has been stripped of his police powers, but remains at work on desk duty. (Cook County Medical Examiner via AP)

Today I’m going to the football game between Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Soldier Field. I’m wondering if there will be any crowd control issues, given all that has happened in the wake of the Laquan McDonald video release. I certainly hope not, but my mind goes back to Camden yards in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray case. They played a game in an empty stadium, rather than serve as a target for what was going on in the streets at the time. That’s not going to happen today, so we’ll all have to wait and see what plays out.

I’m taking my cellphone to the game. If anybody wants to sign up for periscope, a twitter app that allows for videos to be broadcast live, and follow me @Rlincolnharris, I’ll put anything interesting online. I hope I don’t get that chance, but I’ll probably show something at some point, regardless.

But my larger point, which I may come back and revisit after this is all over, is that a kid like Laquan McDonald never had any chance of making it onto campus at either school. None whatsoever. He likely attended a school in the Chicago Public Schools, or CPS. I taught in CPS myself, many moons ago, and I left as quickly as I could find something else to do. And after years of being under-educated or merely just looked after, Laquan McDonald probably did the same thing.

At 17 when he was killed, it’s possible that he was still in school when he was killed, but I think I would have heard something about that by now if he was. My guess is that his crappy school, whatever name it was known as, had nothing to offer him, and so he left. No diploma, no opportunity to get a job (because those were shipped overseas a long time ago, or they never existed to begin with), no chance at anything but a life on the streets. It is preferable to death on the streets, but in time he would have found that, too. The officer who is being charged with Laquan’s murder just got there first. And the murder charge is all a show, too. It won’t stick, and when the case is dismissed or the jury refuses to convict, we’ll be right back here all over again.

I hope they play the football game today. And I hope something somehow changes so that a kid like Laquan McDonald can aspire to go to either school someday. The first could happen, but the deck is very highly stacked–overwhelmingly so–against the second.

My sweet, yet troubled, home

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Chicago has been my home for 25 years. I sometimes struggle to remember a time when I lived anywhere else. But there’s many parts of Chicago I don’t see, and don’t really want to see, either.

There could be some troubled days ahead for my city, after the release of the dashcam video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald. I’m hopeful that something positive can come from all that’s about to happen.

Come on

Baby don’t you wanna go

Back to that same old place

My Sweet Home, Chicago.

The orange sunrise

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On my morning commute the other day, I was looking toward the sunrise, waiting to merge into traffic. I was stopped at a red light, fortunately, or I wouldn’t have had the time to get my camera open and take this picture.

Filters can allow for any effect at all to be achieved with a photo, but I didn’t have to do anything to make this one look good. Nature and what Thoreau once called “The Great Artist” did all the work for me. All we have to do is appreciate it.

A Halloween creep-out

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Today I dropped off my teenager at her Saturday class, and then took a detour through the local cemetery on the way home. It’s a gray, cold, and slightly rainy day here in Chicago, and it’s also Halloween, so I figured why not.

I parked the car in a random spot, got out and walked around for a bit, determining how old people were when they passed on. Some were older than I am now, and some were younger. Life is short, no matter how many years and months and days you actually end up getting here on earth.

A one point I stopped and scanned the horizon. It was 360 degrees of rain and cold and falling leaves and general reminders of death. It was so creepy that I actually enjoyed it. I’m definitely in the Halloween spirit now.

As I started walking back toward the car, a small gravestone caught my eye. It was grey with a rounded top and some jagged edges. Nothing fancy, but its isolation was what made me notice it. There was nothing within at least 20 feet in any direction, which is unusual for this cemetery. And along the top one word was carved: ROBERT. No dates, no description of who the person was or when they walked the earth. Just my given name, ROBERT. The creep factor went off the charts with that one. But I think I’ll enjoy this day, both for myself and that other Robert who can no longer do so.

Goodbye Goose

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I still remember so many things that happened twelve years ago tonight. I’ve relived some of them here so many times. But try as I might, I haven’t just let them go. I’ve been like Maverick in the movie Top Gun, wishing things had turned out differently than they did. And the only way to finally get past it is to wind up and let those dog tags go. Here’s the music that plays during the scene, if the audio experience is desired.

So goodbye, memories of a champagne bottle that was never acquired, much less consumed.

Goodbye, Bernie Mac singing “Root, Root, Root for the Champions” during the seventh inning stretch.

Goodbye, Moises Alou jumping up and down like a baby.

Goodbye, Mark Prior melting down at the worst possible moment

Goodbye, shortstop who couldn’t start the double play that would have ended the inning.

and most importantly of all, Goodbye Steve Bartman. I’ve written about you a dozen times and more without ever typing out your name. It was my way of trying to respect you as a person and a fan, and not make things any worse than they must already be. But dredging up that moment over and over again wasn’t helping anybody out, so I won’t do it anymore. May you find peace one day, if you haven’t already.

Great things are ahead for the Cubs in the coming two or three weeks. I predicted this early in the year, before Spring training even got started.  And only through clearing away the past will this celebration be complete. This is my one last time of rubbing the dog tags, and

away…..

they……

go!

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There! I feel better already.

GO CUBS!

Right Now

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I must be one of the few people who prefers the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen over the David Lee Roth incarnation of the band. I’ve written about Sammy before, and his solo work and the songs he wrote and sang for Montrose are great examples of what rock and roll sounds like. Dave, on the other hand, has a couple of clownish videos to his credit as a solo act.

The piano intro to Van Halen’s Right Now sets a tone of immediacy and urgency, as the opening lyrics suggest.

Don’t wanna wait ’til tomorrow

Why put it off another day?

So much of my personal energy is tied up in the Chicago Cubs. One glance at the things I’ve written for this blog and many other websites confirms this fact. Baseball is my game and Chicago is my home, and the Cubs have sustained me on things other than success since I was a very young child.

But games are played to have winners and losers, and this is finally the year when the Cubs win everything. There’s no division title, as I predicted in several places last spring, but the biggest prize of all–the World Series championship–is still out there, waiting to be had.

Right Now! There’s no tomorrow

Right Now! Come on, it’s everything

Right Now! Catch that magic moment,

Do it right here and now!

First there’s a game to win on Wednesday night, and the Cubs will have to take the game away from Pittsburgh on their home field. It will be done, though. I’m close to being able to explain why, too. Details are coming soon in this space, I hope.

So many Cubs fans have already waited so long, and so many others couldn’t hang on to get to this point in time. Were the Cubs to come up short this season, a few more Cubs fans wouldn’t make it to next year’s opening day, let alone the postseason. I think about them as much as I think about myself when I say that the winning has to happen this year.

“Next Year” is for losers and fools, and I’d like to believe I’m in neither category. To partially steal a idea from Justin Timberlake, Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, and today is ours for the taking. There’s no day but Today. Let’s do it Right Now. It really does mean everything.

A Lincoln gallery

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One hundred and fifty-three years ago today, Abraham Lincoln began the process of righting America’s greatest wrong. Slavery had existed for centuries, sanctioned by law and practiced by many of the men who spoke of human liberty when they applied it to white folks, but were more than willing to deny it to those who did not look like them. Hypocrisy at it worst, it appears to me.

But Lincoln upset that apple cart. He said that slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. He was elected president, and the slaveholding states (most of them, anyway) decided to leave the Union before they accepted him as their leader.

Lincoln held firm to his position that secession was not allowed for in the Constitution, and was therefore not a legitimate course of action. Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and the rest did not leave the Union, because they could not leave the Union.

The first year-and-a-half of the Civil War was a fight about preserving the Union. But in the fall of 1862, Lincoln gave the abolitionists what they wanted. It’s true that not one slave was freed as a result of this action. It’s also true that slaves in Missouri and the other border states were not affected by Lincoln’s action. But the die had been cast, all the same. Slavery became the war’s defining issue, from that moment forward.

We can never do enough to honor what Abraham Lincoln did. I have tried many times to explain what Lincoln means in this space, and here’s a sampling of them on this day.

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I’ve said many times that Lincoln is with us still, so long as we want to see and acknowledge him and the new America that he brought about. May we never lose sight of this.