I’m bringing 50 back

50

When I was a kid–from 1975 until about 1981– I was into baseball. I still am, really, but it mattered to me then like nothing else did.

I played it on the field in Khoury League, and I thought about it when I was wasn’t playing. I read Baseball Digest, which came out once a month and was something I looked forward to. I watched Cubs games on TV, but most teams weren’t televised back then.  I didn’t know how good I had it, in this sense.

That all changed once I started shoveling my quarters into video games, and spending my free time in arcades. And when ESPN came along, it seemed like baseball was available all the time. But since I had come of age in a different time, I tried to hold baseball in the same way that I always had, even as the game changed and I changed, too.

Hitting 50 home runs in one season was something that rarely happened back then. And in this Steroid/PED Era, it has been devalued greatly because of how often it has happened. But this year, I’d like to think it’s different.

A piece I wrote about why that is was published yesterday on TTFB. Feel free to have a look, if you’re so inclined.

Bozo and the Cubs

Bozo

I ruminated a little bit today about waiting lists: one that I was on, and one that I was not. The list I was not on was for Bozo’s Circus, back in the 1970s. I lived too far away from Chicago at the time, but I used to think about how cool it would be to see the show for myself.

The other waiting list was for Chicago Cubs season tickets. How or when I got on this list I don’t know, but I received a call about it this weekend. Rather than being happy about it–as I surely would have been, once upon a time–I just laughed it off and described the feeling for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, instead.

I’m always happy to get a Cubs-related nugget to write about, and this one surely fit the bill.

Such a Croc

2013-09-02_11-03-08_434

I have to admit that, many years after they were fashionable (if they ever really were in the first place), I wear Crocs. They were big among children, but somehow adults wore them, too. Crocs now has lots of shoes that don’t even resemble the ugly Crocs of yore. But mine are those ugly Crocs.

I picked mine up at a rummage sale for cheap–very cheap–and mostly slip them on when I take the dog for a walk. But I also took them along on a weekend trip, because I don’t own any sandals and I refuse to wear flip flops. So an old pair of Crocs was what I had with me recently, as my ten-year old wanted to go shell collecting in a Wisconsin river.

The shells that were available, at the sandy bottom of a cold and shallow stream, were little spirals that resemble colorful points. They were gray and brown and white, and completely lacked any sort of vibrancy. But they were shells, and my daughter wanted to look for them at the bottom of the river. I’m grateful that she’s still in such a place in her life, because she won’t be for very long.

She couldn’t just go down to the river on her own. There’s no real risk of a current or being swept away or anything like that, but the days of a kid just wandering off from an adult’s view are long past. I agreed to go with her, and as she scoured the water, collecting her precious finds, it occurred to me that childhood is really a great time in a person’s life.

Children don’t really know how good they have it. They want to be like the older kids and, eventually, like the adults, and they’re like a loaf of bread that wants to hurry its own baking process along. But once they reach the state of being baked, there’s nothing more to do but sit around getting stale, or eventually get either consumed or thrown away. If you’re a loaf of bread, there is no happy ending for you.

But to the baker, who assembled the bread dough and then put it into the oven to bake, it’s another story. The bread smells good when it’s baking, and there’s a sense of satisfaction that you did what you needed to do in order to make that happen. So sitting on a little metallic dock, and watching my daughter’s hunt for little shells, felt a bit like waiting for bread to bake. And I would like to think that I’ll remember it always.

But back to the Crocs for a moment. The haul of shells–the plunder taken from the river–reached forty, thanks to my daughter’s dedication to the task. She gave them to me for safekeeping, but they were more than even my hands could hold. It was made very clear to me that the shells were not to be lost, however. These were the results of her labors, and she wanted to take them home with her. I promised her they’d be safe, and I instinctively removed one of my Crocs to put the shells inside.

When it came time to leave, I walked along with one hand holding hers, and the other carrying the treasured cargo. I smiled at the thought of turning an unusual shoe into a storage container, and decided that wherever she goes, and whatever she does, I’ll be there, ready to do what I can to help her along. That’s what being a parent is, after all.

The birth of a column

Addison-St-Blues

I started writing for ThroughTheFenceBaseball (or TTFB) about a year and a half ago. I liked the idea that my random baseball musings could reach more people there than they could on this blog. I still dabble in baseball writing from time to time here, but by and large my baseball writings go to TTFB first. Then I write a post here with a link to that piece, and everything is good.

But starting with the piece that I wrote today, I have a featured column on TTFB. The title–Addison Street Blues–was my idea. It combines a Cubs theme (since Wrigley Field sits along Addison Street in Chicago) with one of my favorite TV shows growing up, Hill Street Blues.

I realize that the show was never specifically set in Chicago, but the “Metro Police” cars used in the show were pretty clearly patterned after Chicago’s police cars. And the theme song is one of those that can transport me back to the early 1980s at any given moment. So it’s not a bad way of combining two things I like into one place.

I’ll be writing more pieces for the column as the season winds down. There’s only five weeks of the season, and 32 games left to play. But there’s always some new angle to explore, and there’s lots of history and personal remembrances and things like that, too. So it will be fun, definitely. Feel free to check it out sometime.

The time has flown by

Sanibel

I remember this picture well. It was taken in late December of 1999, as we had traveled to Sanibel Island, Florida, to celebrate the coming of the new millenium. Fears of Y2K were in the air. Remember that? It seems silly now, all these years later, but the idea that computers would get all wiggy when the year switched to 00 had great currency, at least in some quarters.

But I had other concerns at that point in my life. My first daughter was born in April, which would have made her almost nine months old when this picture was taken. We hadn’t yet gone over to digital photography–that was still a few years away–and so this picture had to be taken in to be developed. There are now boxes and boxes of these prints, gathering dust in the basement of the house, bearing silent witness to one of the many changes that have come about during her lifetime.

She looks so happy in this picture. Sitting up was probably a new thing at this point, and I think it was the first time she had ever experienced sand, too. But the little grin on her face tells me a lot. She was having fun, and as a parent that’s the best you can ever hope to see.

The little girl playing in the sand starts high school tomorrow, and the relentless march of time will only get quicker over these next four years. She’s brought me more joy than I ever would have imagined, and I hope that it’s been as much fun for her as it has been for me.

The separation process that inevitably happens between a parent and a child will  become more pronounced, now that she’s around older kids and finds it harder and harder to live under her parents’ roof. I know that feeling because I remember it myself.

For now, I’ll smile and hope that she gets off to a good start in her new school. I hope she gravitates toward those who will build her up and make her better, rather than those who will tear her down. There are both kinds of people in the world, and learning to tell the difference between them is never an easy thing. But I’ll hope for the best, and be there to help her out in any way that I can. That’s in a parent’s job description, isn’t it?

Come to think of it, that’s the entire job description.

Back to Baker Street

Baker_Street-Bakerloo_Line-Sherlock_Holmes

I had a dentist’s appointment tonight, and when I went into the room to sit in the chair, I heard the familiar saxophone line of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. It’s as recognizable as any hook that’s ever been recorded, and I enjoyed hearing it again. But it also took me back to the last time I heard it, on a snowy day in early February of this year.

I had read that the new set of 2013 baseball cards was out, and since it was snowy and cold, I stopped at a place that sold them to remind myself of spring. And an observation I made led to a story that got published online and in print, and then it bounced all over cyberspace for 24 hours, and then it went away. But hearing the song reminded me of a connection that I initially made with Baker Street, and I wanted to share it here.

I made the point that baseball cards that refuse to acknowledge Pete Rose felt wrong to me. It seemed as if someone was trying to remove the saxophone solo from Baker Street. It wouldn’t be the same song that everyone recognizes the second they hear those notes. Baseball cards and Pete Rose went together for me back in 1978, and probably for thousands of other kids just like me.

So the Topps company decided to tell everyone that someone got 4,256 hits in his baseball career, but that someone must remain nameless. I thought it was dumb then, and I still think it’s dumb now. Pete Rose is as essential as the saxophone notes to Baker Street, as far as I’m concerned. And hearing that song will probably always remind me of this.

Together with them again

1986 001

Yesterday was a remarkable day in several respects. The weather is first, as it was sunny and warm but not at all humid or hot. In August, it’s very likely to be 100 degrees or at least feel like it is. But there was none of that yesterday. It was all the summer that you want, and none of the summer that you don’t. I could not have ordered a better day if I controlled the weather.

But the day got even better from there. My sister moved to Colorado recently, and the distance between her family and mine makes it harder to see her than before. But she came to my parents house this week, and we drove the 200 miles plus in order to see them.  My two brothers, who live closer than Colorado, were there too, so it was a rare opportunity to have my parents–both of whom are still with us–and my siblings and I together in one place. And our collective children were all there too, meaning that everyone I’m directly related to by blood was there at my parents’ house. That would have been special enough on a miserable summer day, but the weather pushed it over into the  realm of something memorable. Days like yesterday are what can sustain us when the weather turns bad and you’re not with all of your family. So I’ll certainly take it.

I realized, after we pulled out of their driveway to begin the long drive back to Chicago, that for the first 18 years of my life, the people in the picture above (and my dad, who took the picture) were an everyday part of my life. I lived with them, I ate with them, I laughed with them, I put up with them, and everything else that I could do with them, I did.

And then in the late 1980s, after I graduated from high school and had the chance to go away, I did that. I was the first one out of the nest, and the others all followed in time. I never really thought of it as breaking up the band, so to speak, but as I drove back home yesterday that seemed like exactly what it was. My all-consuming need to get away and find something new at age 18 was the first breach in the family dam. Somebody had to go first, and as the oldest child it made sense that I was the one.

When I say “my family” today in 2013, I realize that it’s not what “my family” would have meant back in 1985. And being with “my family” from the 1970s and 1980s, if only for one afternoon, reminds me of how much I love them all, then and now. It also reminds me that one day, parts of my 2013 family will depart, just as I once did. And I have no doubt that letting go will be a whole lot harder than breaking away once was. But that will be a struggle for another day.

Yesterday proved that, when a family branches off and goes their separate ways, the bonds between them can never be torn apart, so as long as everyone is still walking the earth. Whatever small dose of family time can be squeezed out is more than worth the effort it takes to realize it.

As I drove down the highway, kicking these thoughts around inside my head, John Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb” came on the radio. I appreciated the song’s sentimentality, and its recognition that life does indeed move on. I didn’t live on the outskirts of town–come to think of it, I actually did that–and I didn’t grow up in an 8-room farmhouse, but 17 has indeed turned 35–and then some–for me. And all of the people who mattered the most to me at both of those stages in life were with me yesterday. It was even more perfect than the weather.

Chico, don’t be discouraged

freddie_chico21

My teenager has been in a funk for the last couple of days, after hearing of the death of Glee‘s Finn character. And in a small way, I knew what she feels like, because I had to confront similar feelings at a much younger age than she did. The shocking death of Freddie Prinze in 1977 seems to parallel this in some ways.

First, I didn’t get half the jokes in Prinze’s TV show, Chico and the Man. All I knew was that his tag line”Looooking good!” always made me laugh. When you’re eight years old like I was at the time, laughter that didn’t come from Grover and Ernie and Bert was a new and powerful thing. I tuned in and listened to Jose Feliciano’s theme song and put up with Jack Albertson’s curmudgeonly shtick every week, all  because Freddie Prinze made me laugh.

And then, one day, I got the news that he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. And I could not understand why he would do that. I was more bewildered than I had ever been before, because I couldn’t understand. To this day, it seems like the sky was the limit for him, if he had only been able to rise above whatever his personal demons were. But he couldn’t do it.

This guy from Glee may not have necessarily made people laugh, but he was on a TV show every week that opened up many doors for him. In that sense, he was just like Freddie Prinze: the sky was the limit for him. Even if he never worked in TV again after being on Glee (which, for the record, I don’t watch and never have), he’d forever have the kind of recognition that people with equal or greater talent than he had will never know. That is, if only he could have conquered his demons, or at least not allowed them to get the better of him.

He wasn’t like Freddie Prinze in the way he ended his life, at least not directly. An autopsy is being done, but 31 year-olds with a history of drug problems don’t have too many other possible causes of death. He may not have put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, but he did–in all likelihood–author his own demise. And he sure as Hell deprived himself of what should have been a very good life for himself and all those around him.

Perhaps one day my daughter will come to grips with this. Or at the very least, maybe something other than endless Glee reruns will appear on our family television. Either one would be an improvement over where we are now.

Link to a post on TTFB…and Disco Sucks

DiscoSucks

Today is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, a man who I’ve come to appreciate more in the past year than I ever have before. But instead of writing about him, I went the other way and wrote about something else that happened on July 12.

Disco Demolition night happened on this date back in 1979, and though I’m not a White Sox fan, this was the sort of life-altering event that deserved a bit of reflection. Life-altering in what way, you might ask? Well, you’ll have to read the post in order to find out. It’s the kind of personal story that I enjoy telling in this digital medium. I’m glad that it won’t die out when I do.

Some thoughts about video games

DK-print

Image at http://www.chicagonow.com/inside-chicago-improv/files/2013/04/DK-print.png

I’m not sure who made today Video Games day, but they sure got me where I used to live. Between spending all of my 8th grade graduation money on game cartridges for my Atari 2600 VCS, to shoveling all of the quarters (yes, unfortunately it was all of the quarters) that I made delivering papers down the slot of any Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Defender, or Galaga machine I could find, my life between the ages of 12 and 15 probably revolved around video games.

I was happy to use whatever money I had to buy my way into a world that someone else had created. In those worlds, I wasn’t some awkward kid with goofy glasses and a bad haircut. Instead, I was a heroic figure trying to accomplish some noble goal like saving a damsel in distress, or at least keep away from those crazed ghosts that were after me. It was escapism, and I was more than happy to escape anytime that I could.

Video games today are so much more sophisticated than they were back then. And my life isn’t so bad that I feel the need to escape from it anymore, but I can understand why some people do. To them I say that life is the best video game of all, and there’s never any wait for a machine to open up, either.

Here’s to the nines

2012-12-08_16-52-31_826

WordPress is of the opinion that this is my 1,000th post on this blog. I’ve been keeping track of the posts with a spreadsheet I created–for whatever reason–and think this is post number 998 instead. WordPress is probably right, but I’ll split the difference and call this post number 999. That’s three nines.

Nine is a special number, as I have a nine year-old daughter now, and I had another nine year-old a few years back. That nine year-old is now fourteen, and about to begin high school in the fall. Nine is a special age, filled with love and wonder and a sense that life is coming up to greet you, whether you want it to or not.

When you’re a kid, you want to be Ten a whole lot more than you want to be Nine. I think I started telling people I was nine-and-a-half on the day after my ninth birthday. But from a parent’s perspective, the reverse is true. I wish that Nine could last for several more years, and that all of the beginnings of separation could just hold themselves off for a little while longer.

My kids want to get on with their life, just as I did when I was their age. The world and all of its flaws and shortcomings and disappointments are coming for them, and I’ll do what I can to help get them ready for what lies ahead. But they’ll one day have to go out on their own, just as I once did. Nine is halfway to Eighteen, after all.

So I love Nine, even if Ten is less than two weeks away. I won’t ever see Nine again, at least not with my own children. I have to say that Nine has been fun times for me, and I hope for them as well. And ready or not, we’ll all have to face that brave new number–Ten– together.

With every paper I’d deliver

paper

I had a paper route from the time I was old enough to get one (you had to be 12 back in the day) until I left it to take a “real” job bagging groceries at age 16. That’s four years of delivering newspapers, every single day. If that won’t drill a work ethic into you, nothing will.

So newspapers  have always been important to me. And on days like today, when a story I wrote appears in a newspaper like the Chicago Sun-Times, it’s practically overwhelming. Newspapers have changed a lot in my lifetime, but they’re still around and hopefully always will be.

The young kid who once lugged 46 newspapers around every morning now stands in awe of what the middle-aged version of himself has been able to accomplish. It certainly is a good feeling to have.

My Lou Brock moment

LouBrock

Lou Brock is probably the most special ballplayer of all for me. I remember seeing him steal second base in the very first baseball game I ever attended, in the summer of 1975. The Cardinals fans in attendance began yelling “Louuuuuuuuuu” and I thought he was being booed. My dad then explained that they were saying his name, as a sign of respect and appreciation. This made sense, and I felt a lot better about it then.

In 1977, two years later, Brock made history by passing Ty Cobb as the all-time leader in stolen bases. He held this record until Rickey Henderson passed his record in 1991. For those 14 years, Brock could legitimately say he was the best base stealer there ever was.

But records are made to be broken, aren’t they? It must have been a bittersweet moment for Brock when Henderson nudged him aside. And today, on a much smaller scale, I know how that feels. Back in February of this year, I wrote a piece for ChicagoSideSports that pointed out how Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader in baseball–has been left off of Topps baseball cards this year. The story went viral, as the saying goes, and within 48 hours I had seen my story, and sometimes even my name, in places I never thought possible. It was amazing, but like all things it had to end.

The story generated a lot of attention, as measured by retweets and Likes on Facebook. The number of Facebook Likes reached 1.3K (as they display the number), which was far and away more than any piece that had run on ChicagoSideSports. And I liked the feeling that nobody ranked above me in that regard.

And now, four months later, that mark is about to fall. A piece called “Rivalrybait” appeared at the beginning of the Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, and it, too, went viral. It’s now at 1.3K on the Facebook likes, and as the series progresses, I’m sure that number will rise. After all, we’re only two games in, and it seems like the series will go seven games. I hope it does, so long as the Blackhawks are victorious in the end.

So like Lou Brock, I’m about to see my record fall. Good. It’s better to have something like this happen than not have it in the first place. And besides, there will be other stories to write in the weeks and months ahead. None are likely to create so much interest, but I’m willing to give it a try.

Chasing that dream

New_1_DSCF5227

As I was out running errands yesterday, I heard Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” on the radio. It’s always been a song I can listen to, and yesterday was no exception. Upon hearing the late Brad Delp’s vocals, I was reminded of how, at the end of my high school days, I quoted the line “It’s been such a long time/I think I should be going” as a farewell note to my high school.

In truth, four years isn’t really such a long time. When you’re 17, though, it seems like forever. The 17 year-old who quoted that line was ready to move on to something else in his life. And now, more than a quarter-century later, I’m at that place. I’ve chased the dream that I had when I was a teenager, and I wound up here. And that suits me just fine.

From an early age, I knew that I had to leave my hometown in order to have the kind of life that I wanted. Where I would go to was an open question, but standing still was never an option. I suppose that’s called wanderlust, and I had it bad when I was in high school. But the irony is that whatever I had back then now seems to have gone away, entirely. I like where I am now, and have no desire to leave anytime soon.

The large part of that is wanting to have a sense of stability for my two daughters. As they get older, they will probably come to feel–as I once did–that the only thing that matters is going anywhere else. But the forces arrayed against them now are so much more powerful than what I was up against. College costs are soaring, and opportunities for people with a degree–but not much else–seem to be drastically reduced. The numbers that I’ve heard for college graduates moving back in with their parents (85 percent is the number I’ve seen) are just stunning. I literally would have gone berserk if I had to do that when I graduated from college, so many years ago.

It seems silly to be giving this matter too much thought now, when my oldest daughter (shown in the picture above) is graduating from 8th grade, and not high school or college. But my hope for her–and for her younger sister–is that when they get the wanderlust themselves, they will be able to beat the odds and successfully chase their own dreams, whatever those might be.

Father’s day and baseball

100_2128

Game two of the NHL finals is going on as I type this out. I’m following the finals with great interest, because Chicago teams don’t win all that often. In the 23 years I’ve lived in Chicago, there was the Jordan era (six NBA titles), one Blackhawks Stanley Cup (and hopefully another one on the way soon) and some baseball title in 2005 that I try to block out as much as I can. And that’s all. So Chicago championship winners are few and far between.

But I don’t really follow hockey as a sport. My game is, was, and always will be baseball. And I know exactly why, too. I’ve written about it before, but it comes down to something that I picked up from my father back in the mid 1970s, when I was old enough to appreciate the game, and before my contrarian impulses toward my father had developed. There was a short window for baseball to enter my consciousness, and I’m happy that it did.

Whenever I see or talk to my father nowadays, we talk baseball. It feels like it’s the one thing that we have in common. In some ways, I think that’s why Field of Dreams resonates so well. Like Ray Kinsella’s character in that movie, I disagree with my father on just about anything. But baseball is the exception to this rule. At the end of the movie, Ray and the spectral version of his father utilize baseball as the way to bridge their differences. I get that, and I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who does.

So with Father’s day upon us, I’m compelled to point out the reason why baseball means so much to me. Baseball is what my father passed on to me, and I’ll forever hold onto it for exactly that reason. While I’m following hockey at the moment, it won’t ever capture my heart the way that baseball has.

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, and every other father who reads this.

All that you eat

2013-06-03_22-04-10_681

I missed out on some things growing up. Perhaps the thing I most notice–the one gap I’ve been able to correct most completely–is the taste of fresh pineapple. It sounds crazy, but I can explain.

When I was growing up, pineapple came in a can. Pineapple rings, pineapple chunks, crushed pineapple, it was all the same thing. I might have been able to point out what a fresh pineapple looked like, based on some artwork on the can’s label, but the taste of it was something I had never considered.

That all changed when I was on my honeymoon in the Caribbean. One day the cruise ship we were travelling on set out a plate of fresh pineapple, and I instantly realized what I had been missing out on for all those years of canned pineapple. Now, I’m that guy who, whenever there’s a fruit assortment available, grabs as many pineapple chunks as possible, leaving everything else for whoever comes next.

An offshoot of this fondness for pineapple–and likely the reason why I never ate it growing up–is that it’s a pain to cut one up. The first step is to hack off the pointed crown at the top (as shown above) and then to get inside with a pineapple corer. So tonight, as I lopped off the top of a fresh pineapple, I realized that my children will have it much better than I did at their age, since they now appreciate fresh pineapple as much as I do. It’s not the most important thing I’ll ever do for them, but it’s a start.

A smile relieves a heart that grieves

Stones logo

Back in the fall of 1981, I was getting into the Rolling Stones for the first time. I had bought a cassette version of Tattoo You, and listened to it all the time on my fake walkman. Little did I know that it wasn’t the Stones’ best work, or that most of the songs had been left over from the 1970s. None of that mattered to a kid who didn’t yet know that Start Me Up wasn’t exactly about racing cars.

I remembered reading about the Stones tour in the fall of 1981, but noticed that they never played anywhere close to where I lived at the time. It was the first inkling I had that some places were big enough to merit a Stones concert, and other places weren’t. And I only wanted to live in a place that did.

In the mid 1980s, as I was looking toward a future outside of the Stones-free zone of Springfield, Illinois, I considered where the Stones might play someday as a very small piece of the college-going puzzle. But what I never thought about was how to get to–and then how to pay for–a concert tour that was basically building up demand all through the 1980s. When the Stones finally did come to Chicago in 1989 with the Steel Wheels tour, the tickets were priced far out of my budget, and Alpine Valley, Wisconsin may as well have been on another planet for someone who didn’t have a car.

I say all of this because the Stones are playing in Chicago this evening, but my desire to see them perform live has gone the way of my Tattoo You cassette. I still love their music, and was singing along with Start Me Up and Waiting on a Friend while driving home from work this evening. I’m sure that the Stones are a great band live, but some things in life will just have to remain a mystery. And reliving the memories from another stage in life is enough fun for me.

Remembering Miss Kathleen

IMG_0843

My teenager is away this weekend, visiting a friend over the holiday weekend. In her absence, the rest of the family worked to clean up a room that we call the play room. It doubles as our guest room, and in a few weeks we’ll be having visitors in for a graduation weekend. We may need a couple of weekends to get the room looking guest-worthy.

One of the things I need to do during this process is remount an dry erase board that once hung on the wall. And it’s not just any old board, either. It holds a very special meaning to me and my family. It was once used by Miss Kathleen, who was my older daughter’s alter ego. It seems like a month ago, but it’s really been a number of years since Miss Kathleen plied her trade in our guest room.

Miss Kathleen was the firm and persistent teacher who taught my younger daughter how to read. She ignited a passion, and instilled a love of the printed word that will hopefully never be extinguished. She was my little one’s most important teacher, and one that I will always be grateful to.

Time moved on, as it always does, and Miss Kathleen went on a never-ending sabbatical several years ago. I once tried to press her into duty again, but the willingness wasn’t there, on either side of the instructional divide. This made me sad, of course, because there’s always a hope that the past can be relived again, if only for a brief moment. But Miss Kathleen, and her eager pupil in our play room, will live on in my heart. And now that I’ve told her story online, she’ll outlive me, as well.

I’m grateful that Miss Kathleen once came to pay us a visit, and I hope that all children get to know–or even to become–someone like her in the course of their youth. They’ll be better people for it.

Me, quoted in the Times

Topps card

A number of years ago, I would travel for work on a regular basis. The usual destination was Seattle, and to take the edge off of that long flight I would treat myself to a copy of the New York Times. It would help me to pass the time, whether waiting in the terminal or up in the air. The Times writes stories nobody else would write, and uses words nobody else would use. That’s why they’re the one newspaper everyone knows about, whether you live in New York or New Delhi or anyplace in between.

So when I recently got a call from Stuart Miller, a writer for the Times, for a baseball card story he was working on, I gladly shared my thoughts with him. The nine year-old kid who once spent all of his allowance money on baseball cards was awestruck at the situation playing out for the middle-aged man I have become.

The story is here, and I’m referred to by my pen name of R.Lincoln Harris. Most importantly of all, the blog that I started almost two years ago is now cited in the Paper of Record. I hardly know where to begin with that.

I’m grateful to Stuart Miller for writing the story, to Josh Wilker for suggesting that he call me up, and to the Topps Company for giving me an entry into following baseball. It’s been a big part of my life over the years, and without baseball cards it wouldn’t have happened.

I hope that everyone reading this eventually does something their inner kid would be impressed with. I can assure you it’s amazing feeling.

No Love for Cooter

GeneralLee

When I was a kid, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I loved The Dukes of Hazzard. It was probably the TV show that I looked forward to the most, because it made the exploits if the Duke family seem cool, at least to a 12 year-old who had no idea about the South or even the Civil War. But I could sing that theme song about the good ol’ boys, that’s for sure.

But times have changed since the early 80s, and the Confederate flag painted on top of the General Lee doesn’t seem so cool anymore. That flag has become a symbol of “Southern heritage” for some, and slavery, racism and–let’s be honest about this–armed insurrection against the United States to many others.

I come down on the side of the latter, and I regret that slavery was so deeply ingrained in American culture that 600,000 or more had to lose their lives over it. But I’m glad that it happened, and I have no patience for anyone who romanticizes the Confederacy. Such people just don’t know their history, unfortunately.

So when Ed Markey, a congressman running to fill a senate seat in Massachusetts, decided to disinvite his friend, and fellow Congressman, Ben Jones from a fundraiser that he was planning to have, I cheered this move. Massachusetts, like every other state in the Union, sacrificed thousands of its sons and husbands, fathers and brothers during the 1860s. Those men who died, or had their lives forever altered by an amputated limb, did so because the cause of secession was–and will forever remain–wrong.

But Ben Jones and many, many others can’t see that. They rail against “political correctness” whenever the rebel flag is challenged, but are apparently unaware, or unconcerned, about the sacrifices that the Southern cause once extracted from the United States. Massachusetts paid that price, and now someone who wants to represent that state in the U.S. senate has the right–and almost the obligation–to tell an avowed Confederate sympathizer to take a walk.

Well done, Representative Markey, for honoring those who paid the highest price to put down secession and end slavery. The racial underpinnings that created the Confederacy are just as wrong today as they were in 1861. May more people wise up to that fact some day.

A tragedy in Kentucky (with update)

fly_thumb

The story out of Kentucky today is enough to break the heart of anyone who has one. A five-year old boy, who apparently was given a rifle as a present by his terminally vacant parents, fired a shot from his rifle and killed his two year-old sister. Yes, a two year-old was shot and killed by a five year-old. If that’s not a sign of the price that guns exact on our society, I’m not sure what could be. Something needs to give, in order to keep something like this from ever happening again.

But a look at the website–and especially the “Kids’ Corner” page–of Crickett.com is nothing short of terrifying. Here’s a company that makes real, actual rifles, and markets them specifically to young children. Children like the five year-old who just killed his little sister. Amendment Two apparently trumps the life of a Two year-old child.

So what should be done to the parents of the boy and his dead sister? They negligently left the gun out, with a round still in it, and now a child–their child–is dead. Are the parents to face criminal charges for this? They need to, or else a little girl will have died in vain.

I want somebody to make a statement about how enforcing the existing gun laws would have prevented this, or how the death of this child is a price that must be paid to keep the status quo in place. There will be some worthless platitudes given about grieving for the family, but the NRA will continue to fight against anything that might have prevented this from happening. The two year-old wouldn’t have understood this term, but tough luck for you, kid.

It’s a sad day in America when something like this happens. What can be done to fix it? As a society, we must try to come up with something to make a change. To do nothing would be the coward’s way out.

UPDATE: Speaking of cowards, the Crickett website is down today. I imagine they don’t like the light that has been shone on their business since this happened.

It really makes me wonder

Martin

There’s no doubt in my mind that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is the song of my lifetime. I’ve written about the song before, and it always seems to be able to lift my spirits up. And today, as I was contemplating the senseless attacks at the Boston marathon, the song worked its magic once again.

I had seen a picture of one of the fatalities on Facebook earlier in the day. His name is Martin Richard, and he was eight years old. It hit me hard, because eight years old is such a great age. Kids haven’t yet become jaded and cynical, and they haven’t learned that constant stimulation is necessary, lest they become “bored.” And the look on Martin’s face is enough to suggest that this was a good kid, the kind that anyone would want to have for a son.

So where does Led Zeppelin come in? The repeated lyrics about “it makes me wonder” came into play for me.

I wondered who would do such a terrible act, taking the life away from a good kid like this.

I wondered if other people will get any sinister ideas from this attack, and if so whether they will be able to be thwarted before other innocent kids are hurt.

I wondered if the person who made these bombs and detonated them had any remorse for the damage they did.

Whatever the answers to these might be, I hope that we, as a people, can learn something from Martin Richard’s senseless death. Let’s all hold the children around us a little bit tighter, and realize how precious they really are.

My lifelong Lincoln tour continues

image

Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln comes to you through osmosis. Lincoln’s Home, Lincoln’s Tomb, the Old State Capitol where the “House Divided” speech was delivered, it’s all right there. And I’ve been to them all. And it’s expanded into other Lincoln sites outside of Springfield: The Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theatre in DC, the birthplace and childhood home sites in Kentucky, the bed that he died on in Chicago, various statues and art pieces that I’ve written about here, and others I can’t think of at the moment. If it’s Lincoln-related, I’m interested in it.

So the chance to see the Mary Todd house in Lexington, Kentucky yesterday was something I could not pass up. It intrigued me because Lincoln would have come face to face with slavery within the Todd household. I wonder how it went down when that happened. It was probably an interesting time, I would imagine.

I took it all in, made a couple of suggestions based on things I had heard or read about Lincoln, and bought a Lincoln pencil sharpener in the ever-present gift shop at the end of the tour. I even signed the credit card receipt with Lincoln as my middle name, which I had never done before. It was an interesting experience, and it was something I’ll likely never do again. The Lincoln bucket list continues to shrink.

A fortuitous stain

soccer ball-by annette crimmins

My kids have always enjoyed hearing bedtime stories about when I was a kid. I’ve now mined my childhood for events, both large and small, that will amuse them and help them get to sleep faster. Both are very noble goals, and part of what I consider to be my job as a parent.

Last night, the teenager wanted to hear a story, and I was able to warp back in time to a sunny day circa 1980. I don’t recall if it was 6th grade or 7th grade, but I’m certain it was one or the other. The date is less important than the concept, anyway.

The nuns who ran the school had decided that a soccer game between the two classes that made up the 6th or 7th grade was a good idea. I had never played organized soccer before, and I’m sure that most, if not all, of my classmates were in a similar situation. Soccer was not the sport of choice for school kids like me in those days, the way it is now. My kids each have several years worth of soccer under their belts, but the admission that I only played in one soccer game my entire life was something of a revelation to my daughter. The story had already accomplished something, before I even started telling it.

The thing I remembered about the game was the painter’s pants. There was a fad that year in school, where everyone wore Osh Kosh painter’s pants. Or at least, almost everyone did. I unfortunately was not able to tell my parents what all the kids were wearing, and expect that these items would be provided to me. I had a pair of white painter’s pants that I wore sometimes, but they weren’t Osh Kosh and so they didn’t seem to count. It’s not such a big deal thirty plus years after the fact, but back then it was a mark of embarrassment for me. And I’m sure that, in 2013, the items and the brands are different, but the concept remains the same. Either you wear what the crowd wears, or you feel bad that you don’t. It’s human nature in all its glory.

Anyway, I was wearing my not-quite Osh Kosh pants to school on the day of the soccer game. Nobody had given us any advance warning about the game, either. We showed up at school one day, to find that soccer goals had somehow appeared in the night. And changing into shorts, or even putting on shin guards or cleats to help play the game better, was simply not an option. Playing soccer–much less at school–was uncharted territory for all of us.

I remember playing in the game, and I’m trying very hard to remember if it was both boys and girls who played the game, or if it was boys only. I might put this on Facebook in order to crowdsource this memory, and see if anyone I went to grade school with remembers it better than I do. I hope that it was the boys and the girls playing on that day, but I suspect that in the very early 1980s, the prevailing mindset didn’t allow for co-rec soccer games.

The way I remember the game was that I scored a goal, but my class/team still lost. Maybe the score was 4-3, or 2-1, but it was a pretty evenly-matched affair. And I hope that it was fun for everyone, although it would have been better if my team had won. After all, “The burgers taste better when you win.”

But the way I scored my goal is where the story gets interesting. I recall seeing the ball just out of my reach (maybe it was an actual soccer ball, but I’m not clear on that), but still near enough that I could do something with it. I slid and kicked the ball in the same motion, and the ball somehow found its way into the net. I was happy to have helped my team, of course, but I had also learned–the hard way–about what a grass stain is, and how well it can show up on a pair of painter’s pants.

If I had been a different kind of kid, I would have been more celebratory in the wake of scoring a goal. I think of how professional players act when they score a goal, and how it usually becomes a mob scene around the scorer, if only for a brief instant. But I had a different reaction. My thought was “Oh no, look at these pants! Mom’s going to be so upset with me.” What should have been a happy moment turned into fear and despair, instead. It was my childhood writ large, now that I think about it.

But the story actually did have a happy ending. My knockoff painter’s pants were never worn again, because the stain on them was too deeply green to ever be removed from the fabric. And whatever I took to wearing instead of those pants didn’t cause me the same level of embarrassment that the painter’s pants did, so it turned out well enough in the end. And by writing this story–before it goes back into the darkest recesses of my memories again–I’m actually celebrating a more successful soccer career than I ever knew that I had. It seems that telling bedtime stories has a benefit for me, after all.