Here’s to Baseball and Sand Castles

first-franklins-lo

My kids don’t know from Peanuts, the comic strip that was a big part of my life as I was growing up. They’ve seen the Charlie Brown holiday specials and can name Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy and all the others, and that’s something, I suppose. But when I was their age, back in the 1970s and 1980s, each day brought a new strip in the local newspaper. I took it for granted back then but things change, just as they always have.

Newspapers aren’t what they used to be, and new¬†Peanuts¬†strips haven’t been published since early 2000, when Charles Schultz retired and passed away at essentially the same time. And into that void my own children have grown up.I feel like they’ve missed out on something, in a way.

To honor the 64th anniversary of the first Peanuts strip in 1950, I’m presenting some of my favorites, which introduced Franklin on a beach encounter with Charlie Brown in July of 1968. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April of that year led to a suggestion that perhaps an African American character could be introduced to the strip. Like much of America in the year of my birth, the comic strips were segregated, too, which is to say that white cartoonists didn’t draw African American characters. And so far as I know, there were no African American cartoonists at the time.

Schultz initially resisted the idea, saying that he didn’t want to be seen as patronizing. But the proponent of the idea–a school teacher in Los Angeles named Harriet Glickman–persisted, and Schultz eventually added Franklin to the strip.

It may have looked and felt strange for a previously all-white comic strip to introduce a new African American character in the summer of 1968. But by the time I began reading Peanuts in the early to mid-1970s, it seemed–at least to me–that Franklin had been there all along. And we can count that as progress, right? That’s what it seems like to me.

The year I started working

abe-lincoln-squirrel

For some people, the penny is a waste of effort. It costs more to make them than they’re actually worth, so why bother with them in the first place? I can understand this line of thinking, but I respectfully disagree with it. For me, a penny is a relic from the past, and a chance to be transported back in time, if only for a moment. And so it was today, when I bent over to pick up a 1978 penny in a 7-Eleven parking lot here in Chicago.

1978 was an interesting and important year for me. That may be true of any given year, as I’m sure I made that point about other years in the past in this space. But 1978 was the year I got my first job, delivering a local paper called the Springfield Shopper to houses in my neighborhood at a penny apiece. The Shopper was a new paper, the 1970s equivalent of a start-up. Perhaps this was a reason they signed up a ten year-old to help get the word out. You do what you have to do, especially when you’re new.

I was glad to discover that the Shopper still exists. It’s still loaded with ads, trying to help people find places to spend their money. In the internet age, I’m sure that the business climate they operate in today is far different from what it was in the late 1970s. They probably don’t deliver to people’s homes anymore, either. That’s progress, isn’t it? And if nothing else, The Simpsons have borrowed their name many times through the years. That alone is something to be happy about.

My teenager recently auditioned for a musical based on Studs Terkel’s Working. The irony is that besides a few babysitting gigs, she hasn’t ever worked for anyone in her life. Her studies come first, of course, but the experience of making money through working for someone has been lost on her.

My Shopper experience lasted until I turned twelve, and then I started delivering the local newspaper instead. It was a job that I held until I turned sixteen, and got my first “real” job as a grocery bagger. I’ve done lots of things–for lots of people–in the years since then, and I’ve spent the past 36 years as a working man. And I’ll likely be working for someone until the day I die.

My two children will likely start working at some point in the future, and in the American tradition this work will probably define who they are to the rest of the world. When somebody asks “So what do you do?” they aren’t wanting to hear about the places that you travel to or the hours you spend parenting your kids or doing anything else you find interesting.

I’ve had some great jobs in my life–and some lousy ones, too–but doing something for someone else has been a constant in my life since 1978. Things really changed for me that year, in ways that I did not fully appreciate until now. That’s a lot of self-realization to be gleaned from a discarded penny.

A lifetime of following the Cubs

image

I recently had an opportunity to take in a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, and Wrigley Field at the same time. I enjoyed them all, but the one shot that I wanted to have with me in it was the Wrigley Field vista. That speaks volumes as to who I am, really.

I started following the Cubs by watching their games on WGN, Channel 9 in Chicago. The first time I tuned in was late in the 1975 season, when I was seven years old. And now, almost forty years later, I realize that it has been a large part of my identity over the years and decades. There aren’t too many things in life that are more deeply-seated than my attachment to the Cubs.

And they’ve disappointed me in so many ways over the years. Losing is the most obvious way, which forces me to watch while baseball’s other teams taste success instead. And even when they win, it’s just a prelude to more losing in the end.

After so many years and so many disappointments, I am, quite frankly, embittered. I have no faith in the rebuilding process that has been going on since 2012. I don’t think it will pay off with the championship that I and other Cubs fans are craving, at least not in my lifetime. And if it happens after I’m gone, what’s the point?

I don’t have any terminal diseases that I know off, and it’s not like I’m expecting to die anytime soon. That’s not the motivation for writing this. It’s just that every season should be treated as though it will be the last because for many fans, that’s exactly what it is.

A Cubs fan just like me will probably die over the next week. I won’t know who it is, but they’ll be a victim of this process of a still unknown duration. The younger men than I am who run this team can afford to take the long view of the process. The rest of us–who just want to see it once before we pass from this earth–don’t have that luxury.

Still life

 

wpid-2014-07-04_20-28-23_600

Last night, as I was waiting with my family for a fireworks display to begin, my little one amused herself by doing gymnastics moves. The soft glow of the early evening, and an outsized American flag in the vicinity, seemed like a picture in the making.

As darkness drew closer, my daughter continued her flips and whatever the names are, but she handed me her iPod and told me to record her moves. Being the dutiful dad that I am, I complied and made about a half-dozen videos, which she watched until the show started. It was a great show, too.

It occurred to me, as she was watching the videos of her that I had made, that any images of me from the stage in my life she’s at now are all of the still variety. The first time I was videotaped, at least to my knowledge, was probably when I was in college. At age 11–which is how old my daughter will be in a few days–no footage of me exists, and I’m quite happy about that.

Does all of the video recording, and selfie taking, and other ways to record an image for posterity have an impact on the way that today’s children grow up? It would be silly to suggest that it does not. Whether or not that’s a good thing is not for me to say, but it seems clear that watching themselves–and others, when videos are shared online–is a part of childhood now. But sometimes a good still frame can capture a moment well enough.

This used to be our playground

 

wpid-2014-06-23_12-42-50_269

Today brought a particularly cruel reminder of the changes that life has in store. Chippewa Park is a small little niche in the public parks of Chicago. If you live more than a mile away from it, you probably know nothing at all about it. But in another sense, if you’ve ever had children, you know some place exactly like it.

Chippewa was a place where I would bring my two young daughters to play. There was a slide and some swings and a large climbing structure, where we would spend time laughing and inventing games and finding ways to have fun. I say “we” because it was my time as well as theirs.

I always knew that these days wouldn’t last, and that my daughters would grow out of this one day. I promised myself that I would drink in those days, and enjoy every last drop of being an essential part of their lives. And, for the most part, I think I’ve accomplished that. But that didn’t make the sight of the empty ground, where the playground equipment once stood, any easier for me this morning.

It had been a few years since we last visited Chippewa Park, even though we drive past it all the time. My daughters have indeed outgrown the playground stage of childhood, and our relationships have changed along the way. I’ve become something other to them than I was in those days.

It’s unfortunate that we can’t freeze moments in time, or all of us would have done so at one point or another. Freezing an afternoon with my daughters in Chippewa Park would have been all right with me, but life marches on, and playgrounds and childhood are no exceptions.

The playground equipment that helped to mark my daughters’ younger days still exists, in other places around the city. But the memories I have of this place will remain with me, even if I can longer see the swings where they once sat, or if the swinging tire they once enjoyed so much has now gone someplace else.

If you have a child in your life, embrace them, and also embrace the fleeting nature of their childhood. When it goes away, or at least morphs into something other than what you’re used to, there’s no getting it back.

For the love of the game

image

There was no better place to be on Father’s day than at a baseball field, watching my little one play. She doesn’t love the game as I do, and that’s OK. Seeing her bat and play the field is enough for me.

It feels as if the intergenerational transfer of the game–which is the only way it can really take root–is now underway. And it’s better than anything she could have bought or made for me.

The gamechanger

image

On the day that my older daughter was born, life changed for me. Irretrievably, permanently, and completely changed. When another person depends on you for everything, you can’t possibly be what you were before that happened.

I like the person I am today so much better than I liked the person I was before she came along. Fatherhood has brought out things in me that I had only hoped were there before. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in life, and the best I ever will do, either.

People thank their own fathers on this day, and they should. But I’m recognizing my daughters for admitting me into the realm of fatherhood, which is a noble place for a man to be.

Happy day to all fathers and, just as importantly, to the children who made it all possible. We’re doing what we can for all of you, because you deserve nothing less.

For the love of books

2014-04-07_16-25-56_310

If anything ever made me as happy as reading books makes my younger daughter, I would be very fortunate, indeed. School book fairs are a commercial endeavor, to be sure, but they also help reinforce a child’s love of books. And that’s a very good thing.

I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache

keys

Actually I don’t, but I’ve always thought of this song as a distillation of the ethos that fuels much of this blog. It’s about nostalgia for the past, in a world that no longer remembers–or cares much about–the subjects in the remembrances. Just the way that it used to be.

I’m heading down to the Florida keys in the coming days, and either the atmosphere will make me want to put things on this blog all the time–as has happened on some trips I’ve taken–or it will make putting any thoughts together the furthest thing from my mind, which sometimes happens too. But I’ll be sure to enjoy it with some of the Jimmy Buffett music that the place has inspired through the years.

Peace.