“By necessity, we all quote”


Yesterday I wrote a post in this space about the passing of my dog, and I opened with a picture of my dog and a quote about how regrettably short a dog’s life can be. I’ve always been one who enjoys a good quote, something so profound that I wish I had said it myself. And the search for such a quote is always enlightening, in one way or another.

The book shown above dates to 1955, the same year that Little Richard went into a recording studio in New Orleans and changed the world with “Tutti Frutti.” Whoever purchased this book in hardcover that year may have paid four or five dollars for it, but they received centuries worth of insights and wise words, all of them arranged by subject in an appendix that makes finding a topical quotation an easy task. Perhaps not as easy as going to the Google and entering a keyword or two, but in the mid 1950s nobody could expect any better than this.

My daily routine, on the days when I’m working from home to help flatten the curve, is to pick up my Bartlett’s, page around in it for a few minutes, find something to fit whatever suits my mood on that day, and share it with those who keep track of my work hours. It sure beats having to pile into a car, drive 45 minutes on city streets and an interstate highway to get to work, and hope that there’s still space available in the parking lot when I get there. Paging through a book for something I can put into an email feels like a pleasure, compared to all of that.

And on some days,  I’ll even have a few minutes to learn something on the Google about the person who the quote was attributed to, which never fails to intrigue me on some level. With so many fascinating people, and all the thought-provoking things they either said or wrote through the centuries, I feel as though I got my money’s worth (whatever amount I spent on it) for this book a long time ago.

There’s an app for the iPhone that offer’s Bartlett’s for the sum of $3.99. That’s much more than I paid for my physical hard copy of the book, and whenever an app has more 1 star reviews than anything else, it’s a pretty good sign that purchasing the app is probably a waste of money. My advice, for what it’s worth, is that if you ever come upon a copy of Bartlett’s, whether at a used book store or especially at an estate sale (assuming we ever see them again), pick it up and spend whatever the seller is asking for. Few investments will ever pay off as much, if only in an intellectual sense.

NOTE: The tile of this post is taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Letters and Social Aims” (1876). Have I read the whole thing? Of course not. But Bartlett’s makes it so that I don’t have to, either.

6 years, and how many more?


Six years ago, I had a story to tell.

Actually, I had already told the story, just as I had a hundred times before, by sitting down in front of a computer and typing away. Most of the stories I had told before never saw the light of day. I had either abandoned them halfway through, or maybe saved them onto a disk, but that was about it.

But this story was different. It hit on some of my favorite writing muses: childhood, the Chicago Cubs, and finding something new. When I finished typing it up, I decided that this story had to live on. So I started a blog and named it after the object of my story. And six years later, I’m still writing it. I daresay that many blogs have come and gone since then, but mine has somehow endured.

None of the posts that I’ve created here (there’s at least 1,500 of them, but I stopped keeping track a long time ago) would ever win any writing awards. In fact, most of them don’t mean anything to anyone other than me. But maybe that’s the beauty of creating a series of words and ideas and images over the past six years of my life. For all of recorded human history, it was not possible–until the early years of this century–to create an enduring testament of one’s own life. Somebody could have written a diary, of course, but the ability to share that diary with anyone–much less the entire world–didn’t exist. What would Hemingway’s blog have looked like? Or Thoreau’s? We’ll never know. But those of us with internet access and the inclination to share a few thoughts with anyone who cares to read them have an opportunity that is really pretty amazing.

My Facebook profile lists this blog as my place of employment. And that’s ironic, because I’ve never made a dime off of any of this. Monetizing a blog is possible, and some have been very successful with it. But as for me, sharing a thought or two with people I’ll never meet is reason enough to keep on doing this.

I’ve never stayed in the same place professionally for six years, and I’m not sure that I ever will, either. But I could keep doing this for as long as I’m able to sit in front of a computer and type. However long that will be is still an open question, but I’m looking forward to telling more stories in the days and months (and hopefully even years) ahead.

What the future holds


Whenever I go to an estate sale, I invariably head toward the basement. My experience is that anything I might want to buy can be found there. And today was no exception.

I found the bookshelves in the basement, and quickly perused the titles. There was nothing I wanted to buy, but the one title that interested me was Rush Limbaugh’s The Way Things Ought To Be.

The book wouldn’t be on the deceased’s bookshelves unless there was a resonance with his world view. The aggrieved white man, who is threatened by a changing world, always gravitates to Limbaugh and his brand of humbug.

So now there’s one less person who agrees with Limbaugh in the world. Actually there are lots fewer people like this, as this title appears at estate sales all the time. The “dittohead” will probably never die out completely, so long as someone will pay Limbaugh to spout his toxic rantings on the airwaves. But their ranks are thinning,  and that’s the Way it Ought to Be.

An estate sale find


I go to estate sales when I find them, and sometimes I find interesting things at them. Whether this one counts as interesting or not, I wanted to say a few words about it anyway.

I wouldn’t know where to find a coffee mug like this in the modern world, at least when it comes to buying one new. And I wouldn’t go looking for one new to begin with, since I have lots of coffee mugs, already. But when the person who originally found this mug, and then paid retail prices for it, passed over to the great beyond, I was happy to relieve that person’s heirs of this silly little coffee mug for 10 cents. There isn’t too much else that a dime can buy, anyway.

I use this when I’m in the office, and for the rest of the week it’s safely out of my mind. I figure that every time I get up for some coffee, I get a reminder of what’s out there, waiting for me when my time comes. And I hope some like-minded soul will then happen upon this mug, give my heirs a dime, and continue the cycle.

A weird and wonderful baseball card


I have written about baseball cards on this blog from time to time, because they inspire me on occasion. But I’m not at all a believer in the idea that they have any actual monetary value. They’re fun to have, but they aren’t worth the cardboard or cardstock that they’re printed on, either.

Yesterday at an estate sale, which has been another recurring theme in this space, I came upon a metallic tin filled with old baseball cards. I didn’t even bother to go through it, knowing that whatever was in there, something of interest would be found. And was it ever.

The card itself was printed as part of a collector’s set for the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s birth in 1995. This would have been right on the edge of the Internet age, so I don’t know if anyone has ever commented on this card before. It wouldn’t surprise me either way, really, but it’s so unique that it does demand a few words on my part. I’m all about the unusual and the unique, after all.

I love this image of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig–teammates during the season– having some fun together in a realm entirely outside of baseball. If two big baseball stars went fishing together today, I wouldn’t care too much about that. But these are the greatest 1-2 hitters the game will ever see, and they’re hauling in fish together. That’s very cool to me,

And the color of the photograph is also something special. This has probably been colorized by somebody somewhere, because I don’t think that color film existed in 1927. But the idea that I have that life itself appeared in black and white back then is upended by this image. And I like having my assumptions–wrong though they may be–challenged like this.

Finally, I wonder who the guy lounging on the rail behind the Babe Ruth logo is. He seems like a kid or a teenager, and he must have felt like the luckiest kid on Earth to be spending time fishing with two of baseball’s legends. And he’s the only one who seems to be aware of the camera’s presence, which makes the image even more interesting to me. I think I would call this one “Baseball Immortals Catch Fish, while One Very Lucky Kid Smiles for the Camera.”

I think the tin filled with cards cost me a dollar at the estate sale. This one card alone made it worth that, from a storytelling perspective.

He was the villain


Saturday morning, Lincolnwood, Illinois

This morning I find myself at an estate sale. I’ve visited them before, and written about them before, and today is more of the same: picking through the worldly possessions of someone who’s no longer worldly. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, over and over again in Slaughterhouse-Five, “So it goes.”

I come across upon a large box of baseball cards from the early 1990s, but the sale’s proprietor wants much more than I think they’re worth. They aren’t worth the cardboard they’re printed on, in my view, but pawing through a box of them is sort of interesting, so we agree that I can pull out the ones I wanted for a dollar.  So I’m looking for something of interest, and I found it in the form of this John Starks basketball card.

In the early 1990s, during the first Bulls’ championship run, John Starks was the embodiment of  the New York Knicks. They were the only team that could threaten the Bulls, and they came within an eyelash of actually beating them, but for this remarkable defensive sequence. Starks had the ball, and thought about shooting it but passed the ball off to Patrick Ewing, who then passed it to Charles Smith under the basket. I’m sure Smith just wishes that Starks or Ewing had shot the ball instead.

As I’m walking out of the sale, recalling those glorious times from twenty years ago, my eye catches the Bulls logo on the shorts of whoever it is that’s defending Starks. I laugh at the irony of this. Of all the teams it could have been on that player’s shorts, it had to be the Bulls. It’s almost as if Starks has no purpose, other than serving as the Bulls erstwhile, yet ultimately unsuccessful foe. In a very weird twist of fate, Starks played four games in a Bulls’ uniform in 2000, after he had left New York. Seeing him in a Bulls’ jersey is proof that anything can happen.

I pay a dollar, and leave the sale with a reminder of the Bulls’ glory days and a story to tell on my blog. That seems like a fair trade to me.

Something from another time and place


There’s a reason I go to estate sales. There are several reasons, really, but one of the biggest is that I like looking for unusual things. And if I can get them for cheap, so much the better.

Today was just such an example. A man with an apparent love for all things Vegas must have recently passed, and people had descended on his house to pick through the things he didn’t need anymore. I stopped in, headed for the basement–since that’s where the most interesting things usually are–and found the perfect holiday present for my father-in-law. I very much doubt he reads this blog, so I can write about it here.

What I found, and purchased for the grand sum of two dollars, was an enormous zip-lock bag, filled with matchbooks and match boxes from various Las Vegas casinos. Many of the places probably don’t exist anymore, which makes them all the more interesting. As a cigar aficionado, and a seemingly part-time Vegas resident himself, this is something that he’s never received before, and never will again. Sometimes the best gifts just present themselves.

But the most fascinating match box of all, at least in my mind, is the one that I scanned and am presenting above. I’m not sure who Debbie and Alan are, but thirty-two years ago they got married–where, I can’t tell–and they had match boxes printed up with their names and their wedding date on it. Would anyone think to do such a thing today, when smoking has undergone such a dramatic shift in public opinion? I can’t believe that they would.

Other matchbooks may be presented here, if something interesting reveals itself. But for now, I can only hope that Debbie and Alan are happy with their spouses, whether they are listed on that matchbox or not.

Making a circle of flags

Earlier this week, I spent a day with some colleagues at work, making cards to send to soldiers who are stationed overseas. We began the day with a stack of blank sheets of cardstock, and ended up with many dozens of brightly-colored greetings. Or at least they had the potential to become greetings, because the insides were left blank, so that the soldiers can fill them out to send to a loved on back home. It’s a great idea, since going to a Walgreens or a CVS to pick up a greeting card probably isn’t an option for soldiers stationed overseas.

From the experienced and talented scrapbookers, to the people who struggle with drawing a straight line, we all wanted to give something back to those who serve this country so bravely. We rarely see them–which desensitizes us to the work that they’re doing–but we know they’re there, and their families are still among us, bearing the burdens that these absences surely cause.

I’ve never been in the military, but my grandfather served in the Navy during World War I, almost a century ago. It made me proud, on the day that Veterans Day was being observed, to give some time and effort on behalf of those in uniform. Sending the finished cards out, knowing they would help to abridge a long and perilous separation, was a very humbling experience.

Since I was coordinating the day’s card-making activities, I spent last weekend looking about for room decorations, craft supplies, markers, glue, different types of paper, and anything that might make the experience go better for those in attendance. And one of the things I found, or so I thought, was a string of lights with plastic American flags over the bulbs. I secured them, together with a box full of envelopes, at an estate sale. Estate sale purchases, like garage sale finds, are always a crapshoot, and this strand of lights was no different from the rest.

As I was setting up the room on the day of the event, I pulled out my strand of lights and found a place where they would look pretty good. I plugged the strand in and…nothing happened. I tried other outlets around the room, and still nothing happened. I then put the lights back into a box, thinking that it had been a quarter wasted.

But tonight, while putting some of the room decorations away at my house, I rethought my position about that. After all, the light bulbs themselves might not be working, but the flags covering them were still just fine. I separated the flags from the non-functioning lights, and considered what to do with them. Christmas is coming soon, and attaching them to a strand of lights on our tree is one option. Another is to get a different strand of lights, perhaps white lights used outdoors in the summertime, and attach the flags onto them, instead.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw these patriotic light-coverings away, but didn’t know exactly what to do with them, either. So I arranged the flags into something approaching a circle, took out my cellphone, and captured the image shown above. The flags themselves are now in my basement, awaiting further use in the future.

In the meantime, here’s a brand new picture of Old Glory (almost a dozen Old Glories, really) up on the internet, just waiting for online image searchers to access it for as long as the internet is in use. And here’s a story about them on my blog, as well. It now feels like the best quarter I’ve spent in quite awhile.

Paying the price

Over the weekend, my young daughter had a swimming lesson at a park district pool here in Chicago. As she was in the water, I had a chance to do a bit of wandering, and before I knew it I found myself in a used bookstore that I hadn’t known about before. My love for books in general, and used bookstores in particular, has been well-documented in this space, so I went inside and started to look around.

The store’s square footage was limited, since it’s on a busy street in a gentrifying area. I imagine that the rents are very high where the store is, while even five years ago it would have been far more reasonable than it is today. But better to have a bookstore, or any business really, than to let the space sit empty.

The store was a labyrinth of books, literally stacked from floor to ceiling in order to maximize the space they did have. How anyone can browse for books that are far off the ground I never bothered to ask. I figured my time was too limited to get into any of that. I’ll ask about it next time, if there is one.

I had engaged a few of my old friends from high school in a discussion on Facebook earlier in the day, and I had invoked Thomas Paine and his Age of Reason. It occurred to me that I was familiar with the work in a general sense, but hadn’t actually read it before. And what better place to remedy that than in a used bookstore? It was as if I had gone there for exactly that reason, even if it seemed like I was just trying to kill some time during a swimming lesson.

I somehow managed to find a copy of Paine’s work, but there wasn’t a price written inside, as there were with many of the books in the shop. So I took the book to the checkout register, presented my find, and asked what the price was. The proprietor of the shop gave me a price of six dollars, tax included.

The price seemed a bit high, since I’m used to going to garage sales and picking out books for a quarter or fifty cents, at the most. There was also a public library nearby, and I could have probably found a copy of Paine’s book there, for free (that is, once I pay off whatever overdue fines are on my account). The bottom line was that six bucks for a book seemed a bit high to me.

But then I realized that the cost of the book also took into account the rent on the space, and the electric bill, and the heat, when the winter sets in. Used bookstores are a rare treat, in the world of Amazon.com and Wal-Mart selling books and titles on Gutenberg and e-readers proliferating every day. If I want to help keep this bookstore in business, I need to pay a premium to do it. So I dug out the money, handed it to the shop’s owner, and walked away with a couple hundred pages of Thomas Paine’s take on matters of faith.

On my way back to the swimming pool where the lesson was finishing up, I felt good about supporting the cause of bookstores like this one. They’re an endangered breed, with all of the pressures that are building up on them every day. And if I have to kick in a little bit more to get a book that I want, I’ll do that because I’d hate to consider what a world without these types of shops would be like.

Hey yo, Apollo

I’ve always wanted to write something about Apollo Creed. The Rocky movie series (some call it a franchise, but I prefer series because it sounds less like a business that way) was dependent upon this character. The first movie told the story of a bum fighter, more of a street thug really, who was chosen by the champion of the world to get a shot at the title. If you accept that that can happen, then the rest of the series just falls into place: Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, all of it (up until Tommy Gunn, that is).

So when I picked up a couple hundred random baseball cards from the 1980s at a resale shop recently, I started pawing through them, looking for interesting things, when this card turned up. An Apollo Creed card! It was better than any baseball card could ever be.

Yes, Apollo Creed is a movie character, but that’s beside the point. He gave meaning to the Rocky series, which was escapist storytelling at its best for the teen-aged male that I once was. I hated Ivan Drago, but less for being a steroid-using Russian than for being the guy who killed Creed. That whole speech Rocky gave after beating Drago was nice, but avenging Apollo’s death was the real satisfaction for me.

Rocky V is almost like it never existed. Carl Weathers, the actor who played Apollo Creed, wanted a part in the movie, and Stallone said no. So Weathers wouldn’t allow footage from the earlier films to be used in Rocky V. And where there is no Apollo Creed, there is no Rocky series. If I’m the only one who feels that way, so be it.

So an Apollo Creed card, which I didn’t even expect to find, was a rare treat. And not rare meaning valuable, either. I had to convince the people at the resale shop that these cards, all of them, aren’t worth a thing, at least not to me.

There’s still some notion that a little cardboard rectangle with a picture on it can have some monetary value. Great monetary value, even. I can only shake my head and wonder how that ever came to be. The real value in these things is the memories they bring back, and the stories they can lead to. So yes, this is a very valuable card, in that sense. But the people at the resale shop might not agree with me on that.

Those days are gone forever

My car was in the shop this afternoon for some routine maintenance. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, and they were probably busier than they are during the week, I was told it would be an hour and a half before the car was ready.

At this point, I could either sit in the waiting room, looking for a magazine to read or getting sucked into whatever was on the television at that moment, or I could get out and explore a little bit. Of course, I chose the latter course of action and, predictably enough, I came away with a story that I want to tell. Or at least try to get the words in my head into some sort of an intelligible thought. We’ll soon know how well I can do this.

I remembered seeing an estate sale sign on my way to the service place, and even if I did nothing more than walk over there and walk back, it would be more enjoyable to me than sitting in a waiting room. It was (and still is, as I write this) a lovely afternoon in Chicago, and the “it’s too hot to do anything outdoors” excuse of the past few weeks couldn’t apply to even the laziest person alive. Well, perhaps the laziest person alive, but fortunately I’m not that person.

The estate sale was a five minute walk, and I entered the house, as usual, looking for just a few things: books, first and foremost, and anything else that might catch my interest. For every estate sale where I buy something, I probably go to five or six more where I don’t. It’s always interesting to see what you can learn about whoever the recently deceased was, just by combing through the things that they left behind.

Today’s sale was being run, as many of them are, by a service that comes in and appraises everything, in order to make sure that no priceless piece of art is sold to a sharp-eyed collector for ten bucks. I can understand why this is done, but these services–whose job depends on wringing out enough for the estate to justify the cost of hiring them to begin with–make negotiating  more difficult than it otherwise might be. That’s probably good for the sellers, in the long run, but less than ideal for those on the other end of any potential sales.

Another thing I keep an eye out for at these type of sales is baseball memorabilia. I’m not a collector of it by any means, but if something with a personal attachment presents itself and isn’t too expensive, I’ll gladly pick it up. And so, at today’s sale, it seemed like I hit the jackpot. On a table in the garage there were boxes and boxes and boxes of old baseball cards. There were more of them than anyone needs to have, myself included, but I still wanted to see what I could get them for.

The manager of the sale came over, and I explained to her that I didn’t know what exactly was in that pile, but I was interested in taking the whole lot of them away if they wanted to sell it. She told me that she would value them at $300 for the entire set. She’s apparently under the delusion that it’s still the early 1990s, when a childhood hobby somehow turned into an investment game. Sports cards went from something that you looked at and held in your hands, to something that was enclosed in plastic binder sleeves, and never touched for fear of bending the corners.

I explained to her that sports cards aren’t nearly as valuable as she thought, and I was looking for things that I could look through and tell stories about, more than anything else. I then offered her $50 for the whole bunch of them. A counter-counter offer on her part might have continued the process, but she suggested that she would be “giving them away” and she couldn’t do that. With no agreement reached, I walked away empty handed and returned to the auto shop, where my car was ready and waiting for me.

I would have liked to see what could have turned up in this mega-lot of old sports cards but, in the end, I reserved the right that a buyer always has in any potential transaction: the right to hang on to his or her money. I don’t know whether any of the cards were sold later in the sale, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. I already have a lot of these things anyway, such as the truly bizarre one above, from the 1976 baseball card set. There’s really no good reason for acquiring 50,000 more of them, that I can think of.

So I was able to fill up the downtime, get some exercise, and remind myself that the sports card craze was a period that I’m glad has gone away, even if not everyone realizes that it has.

A different reaction this time

At some point last summer, I went to a garage sale on a Friday afternoon and found the helmet that appears on the top right corner of all my posts. I was so happy to find it that I wrote about it, and even named my blog after it. Strange? Yes, I suppose it is. But that’s how this space came into existence. I suppose that the conditions were right for it to happen.

A couple of days ago, I found myself in a resale shop in Chicago (which is just a bigger and more formalized garage sale, really) and I saw another Cubs helmet, identical to the one that started me off down the blogging trail. It cost more than I procured mine for, but it was still quite reasonable. In fact, it looked newer and shinier than the one I have now. But I wasn’t interested in upgrading, either. I took a picture and left it alone, in the hope that someone else might happen along and want to make it their own.

Whatever the conditions were that made me want to start writing about a plastic helmet last year have changed. I’m not sure why that is, but everything in life changes, one way or another. I’m happy that I started this blog, but it felt weird to come upon another version of it and not feel that same way.

I’ll just post a few words about this turn of events here, and show a picture to whoever might care, and move on with the realization that conditions are always changing, and something that sets off a long-running therapy session for me one day did not have the same effect a year or so later. That’s life, isn’t it? And I’m certainly glad to be a part of it.

“Next year” never came for him

Today I went to an estate sale with a friend. I’ve written about them before, and being at one is different from going to a yard sale or a garage sale. As I get older, and realize that everyone’s time on this earth is limited, I also appreciate the opportunity to take a peek into the remains of a stranger’s private life.

I picked up a book, as I sometimes do at these things, along with a couple of Cubs-related artifacts. One was a couple of ticket stubs from Wrigley Field–one of which is shown above– and the other was a number of special pull-out editions from the Chicago Sun-Times detailing the 2003 Cubs’ playoff run. The absence of anything related to the others sports teams in Chicago led me to conclude that the recently deceased was a Cubs fan, and only a Cubs fan.

The fact that he saved only 2003 newspapers was especially telling for me. Like him, I thought that was finally going to be the year, the “next year” that every Cubs fans dreams that he or she will live long enough to see. There were no papers saved from the 2004 season, when the Cubs tried to get back into the playoffs before fizzling out late. And nothing from 2008, when the World Series looked to be a lock before the playoffs actually started, and the Dodgers swept the Cubs instead. Nothing from 1984, 1989, or 1998 either, suggesting that the urgency that set in after 2003 hadn’t arrived for him yet.

Psychoanalyzing someone based on their possessions isn’t something I do lightly. But it became clear to me what his story was, at least from a Cubs fan’s perspective. 2003 was the year that it was finally going to happen, until, regrettably, it didn’t happen.

Following that final crushing defeat against the Marlins in 2003, nothing again ever made a newspaper feel like a relic that was worthy of keeping. That feeling probably saved me a dollar or two at today’s estate sale, but it was something that I can completely empathize with. I feel the same way about it, myself.

A “win now” mentality for the Cubs took root in 2004, and it persisted until General Manager Jim Hendry was let go during the 2011 season. Then Theo Epstein came in and a building program started, where young prospects are being allowed time to develop into big league ballplayers.

This strategy might pay off in the long run; I’m certainly hoping that it does. But the downside is that the man whose estate sale I went to today went to his grave, without seeing something that he apparently wanted very much. I never met that man, but I can appreciate the way that he felt, just the same.

I’m sure that this story has repeated itself hundreds, if not thousands, of times already this season. And it will continue to be repeated, until the one moment that an MLB12 video game commercial has envisioned for us already. I can only hope that the current “rebuilding” process–which won’t end before 2013, at the earliest–doesn’t extend past too many more Cubs fans’ lifetimes.

Triple shot

My teenager had a skating lesson today, and I went out in search of some Starbucks as it was going on. It was more of a day for iced coffee, instead, but old habits are hard to break.

I was on my way back to the skating rink when I saw a garage sale sign. I’m a sucker for these things, and I had some time on my hands, so I stopped to take a look. I was drawn, like a moth to a flame, to a big box of old Sports Illustrated magazines. At 50 cents each, it seemed like a good deal. They’re relics of the past, in a way.

Since Kerry Wood retired yesterday, and ended his career with a Hollywood-type flourish, I picked up three SI issues with him on the cover. I don’t know if there were any others, but three covers is very impressive, in its own right. But my belief in the SI cover jinx, which was never very strong until today, was confirmed by at least one of these covers.

Take a look at the three covers above. The one on the left with Mark Prior, where they’re both holding baseballs that appear to be on fire, is pretty cool. The one in the middle, which hit newsstands right after the Cubs beat the Braves in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, I remember from that time. And, in hindsight, that cover seemed to work against the Cubs in the next series against the Marlins. I read somewhere that the Red Sox appeared on a cover too, and their collapse that year was just as bad as the Cubs’ was.

But the cover on the right is the worst one of all. It was the 2004 Baseball preview issue, and it says it right there on the cover: “Hell Freezes Over  The Cubs will win the World Series.” Well, the Cubs failed to even make the playoffs that year. And they went into a freefall for the next two seasons after that. So whoever it was at SI that decided to pronounce the Cubs as champions–much like the late Bernie Mac did in the seventh inning stretch of that terrible Game six against the Marlins–wasn’t quite on target. It probably was not relevant to anything, but it’s out there, just the same.

Kerry Wood had a long career in Chicago, there’s no question about it. He had more success than just about any Cubs player has in the last half-century or so. He even pitched the Cubs to the doorstep of the World Series. And so now he leaves, unable to say that he finally got the team over that hump.

He’ll find other things to do in baseball, perhaps even with the Cubs organization. And he’ll remain a fan favorite, like Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe and Jody Davis and some others. There certainly are worse things to be than that. But he’ll also be Exhibit A in the list of What-Might-Have-Been-But-Never-Actually-Was. May there never be another one to replace him at the top of that list.

The future of books

If I haven’t admitted this before, I love having books. I enjoy reading them, but there’s also something about surrounding yourself with lots of books. I think it makes a statement about valuing the written word. I frequently go to yard sales and book fairs, searching for old books that I can buy for a quarter or 50 cents.

This past Christmas, my wife surprised me with an Amazon Kindle Fire. She uses it much more than I do, but in theory, at least, the thing is mine. I even have a Cubs carrying case for it, and I took a picture of it when I was out on New Year’s eve. If I can carry it around without losing it or crushing it somehow, I think it will be a great thing to have.

But what does the proliferation of tablets, and e-readers, and smartphones that allow you to download and read books, mean for books in the future? For starters, it means that books costing $20 or more can now be purchased digitally for several dollars less. Which option are most readers going to choose? I know the answer to that, and you probably do, too.

Physical books, as we have known them all our lives, have been in a downward spiral for a few years, at least. I work in publishing, and there aren’t any growth opportunities in this field. Digital publishing, yes, but books themselves are moving the way of carbon paper and pagers.

But books should be different, you might say. Ever since Gutenberg and the Renaissance, people have had a kinship with their books. And I fully agree with that. However, people’s need to read will adapt to whatever form the material is presented to them. Books will always be one of those formats, of course, but digital is also coming into view as an appealing alternative.

This is all being fueled, of course, by the internet. Isn’t that how you’re reading this, after all? The internet has made photographs obsolete, has brought the Postal Service to its knees, has put many booksellers out of business, and has turned analog forms of recorded music into relics.  The diminution of the printed word–consisting of ink on paper with binding and a nice cover–is another logical step along this progression. Whether or not it’s actually “progress” is open to discussion, but it is happening, and will continue to do so.

The final frontier in this process is school textbooks. My children now lug an inordinate amount of paper to school with them each day, and a tablet that can be used to present all this material to them–and to make it come alive for them in a way that textbooks cannot–is something that almost needs to happen. As digital content changes our everyday lives, it seems foolish to require that children remain burdened–literally as well as figuratively–by these behemoths.

Once tablets become cheap enough that schools will buy them, instead of bulky textbooks that will become outdated in two years, this evolution–revolution, really–will be complete. And like smoking indoors, it will only take a small amount of time before we wonder how we ever got along any other way.

Hanu-Cubs, Night 1

Hanukah begins tonight, and I wanted to put my collection of Cubs baseball cards to work to commemorate the season. In order to do this, I have brought out a ceramic menorah that was purchased at a garage sale many years ago. If I was actually Jewish, I’d probably have a better one to use for this purpose. But you have to play the hand you’re given in life.

The first candle, the one that is used for lighting all of the others, is going to be Steve Goodman, who was not a Cubs’ player, but he did write and sing songs about the Cubs. This is one you’ve heard before:

So on the first night of this celebration, I’ll highlight (no pun intended) the late Dave Roberts. No, not the Dave Roberts who is known for “The Steal” but the journeyman pitcher who pitched for eleven different organizations in his thirteen-year career. His salad days were with the Detroit Tigers in the mid-1970s, and the Cubs purchased his contract from the Tigers at the end of July in 1977. This was also around the time that the Cubs brought Dave Giusti in from Pittsburgh, as the Cubs were hoping to stave off a second-half collapse that saw them go from 25 games above .500 to finishing 20 games out of first place. Clearly, the Roberts/Giusti combo wasn’t enough to save their season that year.

Roberts spent the next full season with the Cubs, splitting his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen. The 1978 Cubs were an awful team, managed by Herman Franks, but they were enough to keep a nine-year-old boy in Springfield, Illinois occupied all summer long. I don’t have any specific recollections about anything Roberts did that summer, but I can tick off the guys that he played with: Reuschel and Sutter, Kingman and Buckner, DeJesus and Trillo. And there can’t be too many people who remember Mick Kelleher, but I’m one of them.

To give perhaps the strangest analogy you will ever hear on the subject, if my allegiance to the Cubs is concrete, it was poured in late 1975, hardened in 1976 and 1977, and by 1978 it was set for good. I couldn’t break it now if I wanted to (and believe me, there have been some times I have thought about this). Roberts is a part of my Cubs history, and so he gets the honor of leading off the Hanu-Cub festival of Jewish Cubs players, all of whom have come and gone in the past 35 years. More will follow over the next few evenings.

The 1978 Topps card for Dave Roberts showed him as clean-shaven, but I liked the 1979 version better, and I included it above. However, it was obsolete by the time it was printed, as Roberts signed with the San Francisco Giants in late February, probably in time for spring training that year. He played with two teams in 1979, two teams in 1980, and ended his career in early 1981 after a short stint with the New York Mets.

Roberts supplemented is baseball income by working as a boilermaker in the off-season, where he was exposed to materials that gave him lung cancer. He died in 2009 at the age of 64. His service, both to the Cubs and to baseball in general, is remembered here.

Party like it’s 1986

The 1985 Bears are having a pretty good season. The 2011 Bears? Not so much.

After the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986, they were going to the White House to meet with President Ronald Reagan when the space shuttle Challenger exploded after liftoff in Florida. I still remember finding out about it in the lunchroom of the high school I attended, and then passing the news along to my younger brother in the hallway that day (“Dude, the space shuttle exploded” was how I put it, I believe). It was one of those “remember what you were doing when you heard the news” moments.

The Bears’ trip to the White House was cancelled, and the Bears–who were unique in so many ways–remained the only team that won the Super Bowl but did not visit the White House. And the first president to actually come from Chicago rectified this earlier this month. Walter Payton wasn’t alive to see it, Dan Hampton chose not to attend, and the Fridge has all kinds of medical issues going on, so not all of the team was able to be there. And the Bears aren’t unique anymore, at least not in this sense.

I wrote a piece about the 1985 Bears, where I argued that maybe they have passed their period of relevance, and it’s time to let them go as these larger than life heroes in Chicago. The sad ending of Dave Duerson, who killed himself earlier this year by shooting himself in the chest, is just one example of the trouble that a lifetime of head injuries can cause. They lived life at the highest level, these players did, and life might now be waiting to extract some revenge.

I’ve written about a recent rummage sale I went to here. But the most interesting thing I acquired there is a Chicago Tribune from the morning after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986. It’s not a reprint, and it’s not one of those “special commemorative edition” papers that always seem to come out nowadays. This was just the paper you would expect to find on your front porch way back in 1986. All of the sections are there, and the paper has yellowed some but is otherwise intact. It’s about has close to a historical artifact as you can get, at least in terms of Chicago sports.

Some people–maybe even most–would see this as an item that could be sold on eBay. After all, they aren’t making any more of these things. Back when people still subscribed to newspapers, saving a paper when something big happened was a way of remembering that day’s events. There was no internet back then, and it would have sounded weird if someone from today’s world went back to explain it to them.

Somebody who was around back in 1986 realized that the Super Bowl was a big deal, so they saved the paper from that day. And now, a quarter of a century later, it’s in my hands. I’d like to flip through it and read about some of the stories that were making news in the city I would one day call home.

I’m certain that life has changed a lot in Chicago since 1986, just as it has everywhere else. And this might be my chance to understand just what those changes are. But there are also a lot of fanatical Bears fans out there, especially when it comes to the only Super Bowl winner this city has seen. Perhaps selling it for ten bucks–or whatever it might actually bring–would be a good return on a $3 investment at a rummage sale.

It seems clear that whatever I decide to do with it will say something about my values as a person. A 1986 Chicago newspaper, especially this one, could be like Niagra Falls, powering the creation of lots of new material for this blog. It isn’t like too many other 1986 papers are out there, after all. But money is money, and the scarcity of similar items like this shouldn’t be ignored.

I’ll be content to leave it on a shelf in my basement for now. And if it leaves that shelf, one way or the other, this will be the first place to know about it.

Three historical relics, two of them unopened

I went to a church rummage sale at just the right time last weekend. To clear everything out, they offered a shopping bag for three dollars, which could then be filled up with whatever you could fit in it.

When I went to the books section, I found a boxed set of Bruce Springsteen Live 1975-1985 on three cassettes. I didn’t have any cassette player to play them on, but I liked the booklet that came with it, and so I put in into my shopping bag and kept looking for other things.

I’ve been on something of a Springsteen bender lately, and I wrote a post about what might happen to the E Street Band after Clarence Clemons passed away last summer. I have great respect for his music, and I was happy to discover that several songs from his Hyde Park concert in 2009 are available on YouTube.

As I was putting some things away in the attic yesterday, I came across an old stero system that had apparently been put away for some reason. And I was quite happy to see that it contained a cassette player, so I immediately dug it out of the spot it had been occupying, and set it up in my bedroom. It still worked fine (I’m not really sure how it wound up in the attic to begin with), so I went to get my new Springsteen tapes (a quarter of a century after somebody else had bought them) and put one in.

One of my favorite songs, “Badlands” was the first song that came on, and I listened to the rest of the tape, flipped it over and played the other side (for everyone who doesn’t know, you had to play the songs in order, and could only listen to the 4 or 5 songs that were on the side that you were listening to. That explains why CDs became so popular instead).

At the end of the second side of the first tape, there were still two more tapes to be listened to. But they were each still wrapped in the plastic they came in. So these tapes, which were made 25 years ago, had never even been listened to once. At least there would be no issues with tape wear and tear. Whether they would still work as they were supposed to was another question, though. It turned out that they were fine.

I immediately understood what had happened. This boxed set, which was a rarity in the 1980s (although now everyone seems to have put one out), spanned the length of Springsteen’s career, and so people (like me, back in the day) who got into his music with Born in the USA didn’t know songs like “Badlands” or “Independence Day.” There’s a lot of great music there, but unless you knew the songs already, you weren’t really going to give these a fair listen. At least, an 18 year old like me (or whoever bought these and only listened to one tape) wouldn’t do that.

And the fact that these were recorded live didn’t help much, either. Springsteen is at his best in concert, and if you haven’t been to one of his shows you might not know that. I’ve only been to one, but it opened up my eyes to how unique his music is. It really is life-affirming, in a way that I don’t know if any other performer can match. And the bootlegs of his shows, which inevitably make their way around the internet and in the “real world” don’t always capture the music as well as they could. But these are are top quality recordings, so the music really does come shining through.

When I was 18, I loved hearing a good guitar lick. I suppose I still do. But when I heard the extended jam that Bruce played at the end of the live version of “Born in the USA”–a song I wouldn’t have associated with guitar playing, at least from the studio version–I said to myself, “I would have loved that when I was 18.” But truth be told, I love it today just as much.

So the next time I find a rummage sale, I think I’ll wait until the end to go. Hopefully the next three dollar bagful will yield as much good stuff as the last one did.

Mini BlueBattingHelmets available!

I went to a church rummage sale this weekend and was able to procure a few mini blue Cubs helmets. Since I have one already, I wanted to share my good fortune with those who read this blog. Here’s what I’ll do:

If you leave a comment below with the name of your favorite ballplayer, Cubs or otherwise, I’ll go through the archives here and see if I have anything for that player. If I do, and if I have a good story to tell about the player, I’ll put it up here, and send you the card and one of the helmets. The approximate value is a fraction of a cent, so you won’t have to pay taxes on it or anything.

The supply is very limited (three, to be exact) so I’ll do what I can until they run out. And if you don’t get one, fear not. Better things than this will probably come your way in life.

Thanks for reading, as always. More expansive posts will follow soon. Content creation in this space is only limited by the time available to write these posts. The well of ideas will never run dry here.

Once somebody loved me

The saddest three minutes I’ve ever seen in a movie takes place in Toy Story 2. If you’ve you already seen it, and you read the title to this post, you know exactly what part I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, a brief set-up is required.

Toy Story was an animated film series (they’ve made three so far, and I hope they make another one someday) that revolved around Woody, a cowboy doll from the 1950s, and Buzz Lightyear, a more contemporary space doll. They have other sidekicks, too, but these two are the main protagonists (sorry for the literary lingo. I can’t help myself sometimes).

After the first Toy Story came out, and a sequel was greenlighted, the studio introduced a cowgirl doll named Jessie as a way to address the gender imbalance of the first movie. Jessie’s backstory is told in the form of a music video for a song by Sarah McLachlan named “When She Loved Me.”

Jessie was once a little girl’s doll of choice, and as long as that was the case, the doll thought that “everything was beautiful.” But as time passed, and the little girl grew up, the doll became neglected, and was eventually given away by the girl who once loved her. The children are saddened for the Jessie character, but the parents in the audience are the ones who take the bigger emotional hit.

The song, and the video that goes with it, are a reminder that kids are growing up every day. There’s no stopping it, and no warning signal to let us know when their childhood is slipping away. It’s so imperceptible, yet so inevitable, that we’ll miss it terribly when we realize it’s gone.

I was on my way to do some grocery shopping today, with my eight-year old daughter along for the ride. I saw a sign for a yard sale, and took a detour to check it out. It was late in the afternoon, and the proprietors were putting their things away as we walked up.

My daughter just wanted to leave, and told me so in no uncertain terms. Before we walked away, though, the lady who apparently owned the house told us of a box of Beanie babys that she had just put away. My daughter’s eyes grew wide, and I knew right away that we wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.

As my daughter pawed through a box of the dolls, and clothes to put on the dolls, and accessories for the dolls like a bunk bed and a tent, the woman having the sale explained to me that her daughter was once very much into Beanie babys. But now her daughter is graduating from college, and told her mother it was OK to sell off the beanie babys.

My daughter found some things she liked, and I handed over a couple of dollars, which I’m sure was only a tiny fraction of what was spent on them years ago. My daughter gave me a big, happy smile, and played with her new treasures in the back seat as we drove to the grocery store. I had made my daughter happy, created a memory for the two of us, and cleared out a tiny part of a now-unwanted Beanie baby collection. Every transaction should work out so well.

Someday soon, my little girl is going to be in a different place, and playing with these Beanie babys will be the last thing she wants to do. Maybe it will be next week, and maybe it will be three years from now. But it will happen, and I’ll be terribly sad when it does. So I’ll enjoy watching her grow as much as I can, as with her older sister before her. And we’ll all be the better for it.

Probably just as well

I wrote about my fondness for garage sales in the very first post here. On most weekends, it’s hard to drive very far without seeing a sign for a yard sale or a garage sale. And going to them is fun because it costs nothing, and offers a chance to find something interesting. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, after all.

I usually have a very limited range of things I’m looking for when I go to these sales. First and foremost, there’s always a box of books somewhere to be found. I don’t always read the books that I find at garage sales, but I like having books in the house. And usually a dollar is enough to find something of interest. A related search item is old CDs, which can usually be had for a dollar, too. Again, even if I listen to something only once, it’s a whole lot cheaper than it would be to buy it new.

But the best kinds of sales, for me, are estate sales. It’s sad when someone dies, of course, but the deceased’s family usually wants to unload everything as quickly as possible. And going into someone’s house, knowing that just about anything in it can be bought for the right price, is a strange mix of creepy and intriguing.

Last weekend, I saw a sign for an estate sale and drove to the address given. It was on a Sunday, so the sale had already gone on for a day, and everything was half-off the marked price. But the sale was being run by a service, who appraises everything and makes sure that the thousand-dollar art work isn’t sold for 20 bucks. It sucks for a scavenger like me, but I can understand why people do this.

I wandered around in the living room, and out in the back yard, but couldn’t find anything interesting. The best stuff is usually in the basement, anyway, so that was my next stop. I got to the bottom of the stairs, and there it was: my adolescent dream, staring me in the face.

Notice I said it, rather than she. That’s because when I was 11 or 12 years old, I spent all of my money, and most of my time, in video game arcades. I got up every morning and delivered newspapers in order to feed my habit. And I shoveled quarters into the machines, one after the other. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Moon Patrol, Missile Command, you name it.

My arcade of choice was the Wabash Amusement Center, but there was also an Aladdin’s Castle at the mall, and nearly every store back then could find a few square feet for a Frogger machine. I played them all, because the graphics and the sounds and the gameplay experience were so much more advanced than that crappy Atari that I had at home.

An added incentive was that, if you had an especially good game, you could enter your initials for everyone to see. It seems quaint now, but back then nothing made me happier than being able to enter R-P next to my score. It’s a long story, but essentially I was honoring Roddy Piper, my favorite professional wrestler, before he turned all “Hot Rod” on us. Perhaps that’s a post for another day.

There was a show on TV back in the 80s called “Silver Spoons,” where young Rick Schroeder played this kid who was so rich that he had a collection of arcade games in his house. It seemed like an overt display of wealth, being able to own an arcade game and play it all you wanted without having to put a quarter or a token in first. Only TV could make such a thing seem possible.

So at the bottom of the steps, in the second and last day of an estate sale, I saw a real life Defender machine. It wasn’t Donkey Kong, which I would have really freaked out over, but it was still a game that I had played many times.  It was very much a guy’s game, too, because of the space theme and the idea that you were protecting something from an external threat. It played to a caveman instinct, but threw in a hyperspace button for good measure.

As I walked toward the machine,  I saw the comically small yellow sticker that read “SOLD” in the corner of the screen. I was bummed out because, at this stage in my life, I could probably afford to buy it, especially if it was half off, and I even have some space for it in the basement. It would have been perfect.

But there were issues to consider. Getting it out of the basement and into the car would have required a dolley or another person, neither of which were available to me. Stuffing it into the back of my Prius would have also been a challenge. And, perhaps most importantly, the matter of a $500 impulse buy (I’m just guessing at the price) wouldn’t have gone over so well when I did get the thing home. And I doubt the estate sale would have allowed me to return it, either.

I’ve lived this long without owning a Defender machine–or any other arcade game –and I suppose I can keep on going without one. It would have been fun for a day, at the most, but then I would have tired of it, as I did with all of the Atari games I had back then, and all of the Nintendo Wii games I have now. So whoever bought that machine actually did me favor. I’ll just call them Rick Schroeder and hope that they didn’t have all of the logistical challenges that I had.

A short story to start things off

I wrote a story about something I picked up at a garage sale last week.  So how does one get their thoughts out to the world nowadays? By putting it on a blog, right? So I started a blog to put this (and future musings) out there for whoever might care to read it. And putting it out there somewhere just has to be better than letting it die in my brain or on my desktop. 

My hometown of Springfield, Illinois has a rich baseball history that most people don’t know, or care, too much about. In fact, three members of the baseball Hall of Fame were born there (and in case you’re curious, they are pitcher Robin Roberts, executive Ed Barrow, and umpire Al Barlick). That may not sound like much, but consider that 21 states haven’t produced so many Hall of Famers as a town of 125,000, and it does seem like something.

Maybe that history is what caused the St. Louis Cardinals to move their triple A farm team from New Orleans to Springfield in the late 1970s. The team, which was named the Springfield Redbirds, even had the great Satchel Paige in their front office. I certainly wish I knew more about who he was back then, and that I had the foresight to hold onto the program that he signed for me at one of their games.

But the real draw for the team was probably that Springfield, located only a hundred miles from St. Louis, is right the middle of Cardinals country. And that was my problem growing up. Somehow, in the middle of all that, I had to get by as—get ready for it—a Cubs fan.

The Cubs had the cooler ballpark, so far as I could tell. WGN and Jack Brickhouse  brought Wrigley Field into my family’s home every afternoon. Jack Buck and the radio couldn’t compete with that. Besides, the Cardinals had astroturf on their field, and this big batting donut-shaped ballpark with arch designs all around the top. After attending one game at Busch Stadium with my dad, I knew that I couldn’t follow such a team. But this other team, the one with afternoon games in the funky ballpark and a grandfatherly TV announcer, was just what I had in mind. And so an agonizing relationship began, and it continues to this day.

But back to the Redbirds for a moment. One of their promotional giveaways in the late 1970s was batting helmet night. Kids at the game received a Springfield Redbirds batting helmet, which was actually a Cardinals batting helmet with a Redbirds logo covering up the Cardinals insignia. My desire to get a free helmet–albeit a red and thus Cardinals-related one–trumped my personal misgivings about the Cardinals and their farm team.

I can still remember seeing a picture, which was obviously taken the next day, in which my brother, sister, the neighbor across the street, and I are all proudly wearing our bright red batting helmets. We played a lot of backyard whiffle ball in those days, and we wanted to look the part of a real ballplayer. The red helmets allowed us to do just that.

But time went by, and as it did the whiffle ball games stopped taking place. The dirt spots that marked the bases eventually returned to their original grassy state.  I don’t know what became of those helmets, either, but I imagine my mom tossed them out one day. Maybe she looked at them wistfully when she did, and maybe she didn’t. But for my part, I never really gave it any thought at all. That is, until I went to a garage sale this afternoon.

There wasn’t much to be had at the sale, and I was about to walk away when I spotted a batting helmet, just like the one I had when I was a kid. But this one was blue, and had a Cubs logo on it! My inner 10 year-old thought Man! If only I had one of these back in the day, instead of that freebie Cardinals/Redbirds one that I got at the ballpark, I would have been the happiest kid there was. So for the grand sum of one dollar, I bought a whole bunch of memories, and I thought about how much my life has changed since those carefree days in the late 70s.

After I made off with my find, I had to adjust the inner lining (called the “Adjustrap”) to its biggest possible setting. After all, these things weren’t really made for men my age. Once I put it on my head, though, I wore it around the office for the entire afternoon. The feeling I got from it is something I can’t fully put into words. If only every dollar I spent could bring me so much happiness, and every garage sale could transport me back to a time and place I had long since forgotten about.