A blast from the past

10515319_10202980211960774_5874144911201774641_oAs what may be my family’s last spring break rolls on, here’s my favorite image from the first one, back in 2005. My older daughter–who just turned 18 a few days ago–was in kindergarten at the time, and we spent a week in Arizona.

Near the end of the week, we went to a chuck wagon supper at a place I’ve since forgotten about. One of the attractions ions we could do was pose for an old time where photo in period dress. My kindergartener saw the blue dress and decided she had to wear it. So we all got dressed up, and the photographer captured a literal snapshot in time for us.

To remember that moment, and marvel at how quickly time passes, that snapshot is presented here. Many thanks to my two girls– who will always be “little” in my mind, no matter how old they get– for allowing me to take them to places I otherwise would not have gone. Thanks also to my wife, who picked out a number of interesting places to go over the years.

Yesterday we were at the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon when a family with three cute little girls caught my attention. I understood, in a way that I couldn’t have back in Arizona, that we are lucky to be where we are at any given moment, and that having children is like a concert or a play that’s over before you want it to be. All we can do is enjoy it while it unfolds, as much as we possibly can. And in the end, we’ll wish we had done more. But the memories of what we did do will just have to be enough.

 

Always in my heart

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On the occasion of my daughter’s 18th birthday, I have boxes of pictures and just as many stories to share about her. My life hasn’t been what it was before she was born on April 4, 1999, and I don’t mind that one little bit.

Being a parent once scared me to death. Nothing quite compares to holding a little one in your hands, figuratively and literally. I put it off for all of my twenties, and by the time I hit 30 it couldn’t be deferred much longer.

I’m sharing one picture here, and one story as well. The picture was taken when she was in kindergarten, and it shows the happy but shy girl that she was in those days. Looking at it reminds me of how kindergarten once seemed far away, and yet one day it arrived. And now she’ll be going away to college in a few months. I’ve always made a point of enjoying it while it lasted, because it sure didn’t last for very long.

My favorite story about the lovely girl who forever changed my life took place a few days before she was born. My wife and I had tickets to see a musical at the Oriental Theater in Chicago. During one rousing musical number–I think it was in the second act–my wife grabbed by hand and pressed it against her side. I was amazed to feel my unborn daughter kicking along with the music. She’s always been a theater kid, and studying musical theater in high school is as natural for her as a fish swimming in water. But I truly believe it started for her on that night.

She’s grown so much in the 18 years she’s been with us, and it’s been such a joy to watch it all happen. The law says she’s an adult now, and she can do many more things today than she could yesterday. I’ve lost whatever legal rights and responsibilities I ever had for her, but my job as a parent isn’t done, nor is it ever likely to be. So we’ll keep on travelling down that path toward whatever she’s going  to be in life.

This is an important day in her life and in mine, and I’m writing this to recognize how far the two of us have come together. It’s been quite a ride so far, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Here’s to a beautiful flag

 

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The Pride parade in Chicago was–and still is–an event I look forward to each year, because people can come together to celebrate who they are, whatever that is. The rainbow flag captures that idea, so much so that whenever a person sees the flag, they instantly know what it stands for. I can’t imagine how good that must have made Gilbert Baker feel. Long may it wave.

Gonna sail away

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

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

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

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

With thanks to my Dad on his birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell to 2016

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Hamilton and what makes America work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Last Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An amazing 48 hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My letter of thanks to Jack Brickhouse

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Dear Jack,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Harris

Chicago, IL

The hand of fate

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Watching my daughter as she goes through her senior year of high school reminds me of when I was 17, itching to leave my parents’ house and see what else the world had to offer. I wanted my escape route to be the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, and came about as close as could be to going there. But at the last second, fate intervened and I never set foot on the campus.

Flash forward thirty years. My daughter has spent the last three years at a performing arts high school, and the college selection process is now underway. On Saturday, I drove her to the U of I campus to get a look at the theater facilities, and audition for a place in the BFA program in theater. And I wandered around the campus for a while, wondering how things might have gone if I had enrolled there.

But there aren’t any do-overs in life. Had I gone to the U of I, I would almost certainly not have met my future wife, nor would I have the beautiful girl who has given my life so much meaning over the past 17 years. So it turned out to be an excellent trade on my part, all those years ago. I passed on the U of I, but still left home as I wanted to do, and I got this lovely girl (and her younger sister too)  as a  result. How could I ever be unhappy about that?

Josh Wilker says it all for me

 

I remember watching Yaz’s last regular-season at-bat. The Red Sox were bad that year, most of the superstars from my childhood gone. There weren’t going to be any postseason at-bats. I watched the game alone in a TV room at a boarding school that I’d be expelled from the following year. I’d started attending the […]

via David Ortiz — Cardboard Gods

I came to write a few words about the Cubs, and I expect to do that next, but Josh’s words of remembrance and parenting really got to me.

For me–and evidently for him too–baseball fills a place that nothing else can. It’s a connection to our past, and a reminder that life is always moving forward. Passing the game on to the next generation is the best thing we can do, for them as well as for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The left and the right of it all

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

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

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

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

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

An easy way to help

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This evening, I had the nightly internal conversation about what to make for dinner. Since we already had some tortilla chips, some lettuce, and a few small tomatoes in the house, my thoughts turned to taco salad. But a few ingredients were also missing, so I pulled on my low cut Chuck Taylor’s and headed to the market a block away from my house.

After picking up a jalapeño pepper, a lime, some cilantro, and a bunch of green onions, I went over to the real purpose of my trip: the avocados.

I usually expect to pay a dollar or so for a large avocado, but today I was greeted with a sign offering two avocados for 5 dollars, or $2.50 apiece. I couldn’t justify spending that much, so I purchased the other items and walked home. The whole trip took about five minutes to complete.

Being able to walk out the door and find the produce I want within walking distance is a luxury I take for granted. The concept of a “food desert” is a hard one to wrap my mind around. There are places, even within the city I live, where avocados are not overpriced, because there’s no one willing to sell them, at any price.

This morning, I saw a sponsored tweet from @nakedjuice in my Twitter feed. For every person who takes a selfie with fresh fruits or vegetables, and adds the hashtag #drinkgooddogood before posting it to social media, the company will donate ten pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to fight against food deserts.

It only took a second to go into the kitchen, pick up a Pluot (still not entirely sure what it is, but it’s definitely a fruit) and take a picture of me taking a bite of it. I looked like Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction with a ball gag in my mouth, and I typed an explanation of what was in my mouth before adding the requisite hashtag and posting the shot to social media.

I hope that the donation made by Naked Juice includes some avocados, and if so I’m laying claim to them right here. I love the idea that a free and painless act like putting a selfie on social media can also used to fight against something as regrettable as food deserts. I encourage everyone who reads this to grab a fruit and join in.

A better world where food deserts don’t exist isn’t here quite yet, so if a company that sells juices and drinks made from fresh fruits and vegetables wants to give something back, while raising their brand profile at the same time, I’m happy to lend a hand in this effort.

An electrifying tribute to Prince

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

Chicago, very early Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to understand

FC Pride

The picture above dates to 1998, and it shows a much younger, much thinner version of me during my teaching days on the south side of Chicago.

This was taken in the days before cameraphones, or even before digital photography, with an old school camera. They were fun because you wound up with a print that you could actually hold in your hands. It seems like forever ago, sometimes.

When I saw the video on Facebook of the death of Philando Castile, I thought about the kids I used to teach, two decades ago. They’re teenagers in this picture, but every one of them was already living with the possibility of ending up in a deadly encounter with a police officer. Not a day has gone by where they aren’t considered a suspect, in a way I never was and never will be.

I enjoyed teaching and coaching, but I also reached a point where I was ready to leave. For four years I tried to make a difference, in whatever small way I could. I watched as a group of freshmen–some of whom are shown in the picture–grew into seniors and got their diplomas. And then I left, disillusioned with what I was doing and the way I was doing it. I was a visitor into their world, and my skin tone gave me exit options that they never had.

I’ve since connected with some of my old ballplayers on social media, and I’m glad to see them at the stage of life where they aren’t teenagers anymore. But many of them I couldn’t name today, either. I hope they’re all happy with their lives, but I don’t have any way of knowing whether that’s the case.

The other coach, on the left side of the picture, was the cafeteria manger at my school, as Philando Castile was in St. Paul. I’m certain that there are lots of kids at that school who aren’t yet able to understand why it happened. They’ll learn in time, or possibly this event will force understandings on them that they weren’t ready to deal with. There’s pain in that school community, and it will be magnified once classes start up again in the fall.

Black lives matter. That should not be a controversial statement, but somehow it is. The ongoing shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Walter Scott and Philando Castile and countless others reinforces the fact that this country, writ large, views black men as suspects.  Woe unto us as a nation, if we see these shootings occur and don’t think that something must change.

I write this blog to sort through my thoughts, and then share the results with some tiny piece of the online world. Facebook posts and tweets aren’t sufficient for saying anything of importance, and this subject is about as important as it gets. The killings have to stop, and the only way of making this happen is to demand action.

Police have got to held accountable when they fail to live up to their oaths, and social media must be used whenever and however it can be to preserve events as they happen.The memory of what happened to Philando Castile demands nothing less.

Cape memories

My wife and younger daughter are on Cape Cod this week, and it’s been quiet around the house in their absence. But I wanted to share some old pictures before they left, because time moves so fast, and one day’s little kids become another day’s adolescents/teenagers. Enjoying this process–as I’ve always tried to do–is the best we can hope for.

Five years and counting

Five years ago today, I announced on my blog that I was giving up drinking for good. I had only started this blog a few weeks before, and had written just ten posts beforehand. Once I typed out my intention to give up alcohol I knew that this blog–or at least some part of it–would be a testament to this decision. And that’s pretty much what it’s turned out to be. I don’t write about it all the time, but it’s enough of who I am to mention it on occasion. I can now appreciate just how devastating this clip from The Onion is, too.

Our society glorifies drinking, and probably always will. And most people can probably handle alcohol in a responsible manner. But I was not like these people, for twenty-seven years of my life. I didn’t need to drink every day, and told myself over and over that I was most definitely not an alcoholic. Once I started drinking, though, I never wanted to stop. So it has to be cold turkey or nothing for me, and for five years that’s how it has been.

It will still be a few more years before my number of non-drinking years equals the number of my drinking years. Perhaps I’ll get there, and perhaps I won’t. I hope to, but life is a big unknown for all of us, so we’ll see how it winds up in time. I will say that I’m happy I’ve made it this far, and my vital organs probably are, too. Here’s to more posts like this one in the future.

No More Guns Over People

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I’ve never held a gun, owned a gun, fired a gun, or had the first thing to do with a gun. They aren’t my thing, but they are many people’s thing. That’s fine. I’m not here to pass judgment on anybody for that. But the Columbine shooting happened just a few days after my older daughter was born, and how many mass shootings have happened since then? Sandy Hook hit me hard, and Orlando did too, but there are probably a hundred others where I shook my head and moved along until it happened again. That can’t happen anymore.
 
I’m quite comfortable with the 2016 elections being a binary propositions about guns in this country. Either we do nothing at all to limit people’s access to guns–the NRA model–or we do something in the hope that it saves even one life somewhere. If your home is on fire, you don’t passively watch it burn. But that’s what our Congress is doing, and will continue to do. The NRA owns them, and their inaction on this matter is entirely by design.
 
So vote guns this fall, or don’t. It really is just that simple. Mark Kirk, my senator in Illinois, broke ranks with his party (the GunsOverPeople crowd) but it won’t be enough to get him re-elected, not when his war hero opponent was on the House floor during yesterday’s sit in. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are indeed desperate times. Grieving families from coast to coast will attest to that.

Saturday in the Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Proud Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Years and Counting

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I wanted to start a blog for a long time–probably for at least a year–before I actually did it. But I put off doing it, because I thought there was some special quality I was lacking. Others who “blogged” (the word was still new and unusual back then) had it, whatever it was, and I simply did not.

That type of self-doubt has always held me back in life. Others are better than me, and I’m not good enough, so why bother? Why take a risk, if it’s just going to end up revealing all of my flaws?

So for all of 2010 and a good part of 2011 I kept things to myself, just as I had been doing all my life. Until one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I had a story to tell, so I typed it out–that part has always come easy to me–and I wondered what to do with it. And that was the point when I remembered something Jimi Hendrix once said: “My own thing is in my head. I hear sounds, and if I don’t get them together, nobody else will.”  So I took the leap and stated writing a blog, five years ago today.

I once thought, if I kept up with the same frenetic writing pace that I had for the first two years I did this, that I’d be upwards of a million words on this blog after five years. A million is a nice big number, and I’d like to say I wrote a million words for free online. But as it so often happens in life, that old crazy dream kinda came and went.

For one thing, I started sending my writings to other websites. I always enjoy seeing my words in print or online, so sending out hundreds of pieces to someone else seemed like the natural thing to do. And I also found that sleep is nice, too. I went from 700-1000 words per post down to 200-300 words.  So a million words, at least on this blog, feels like a long shot anymore. I stopped counting how many words are here some time ago, anyway.

But I continue having fun with this. I consider this blog as a digital legacy, for people I love and for people I’ll never meet, in equal measure. If my relatives going back a few generations had something like this available to them, I’d be happy if they put some of their thoughts and fears, their hopes and memories down where I could learn more about them. But this blogging thing is still too new for anything like that.  I can write these things down, and so I do. And bravo and good day to anyone who happens upon them, too.

Five years of sharing my thoughts and ideas with the world feels like a lot. But at the same time, it’s now been so long I don’t know why I didn’t start earlier. When it comes to writing a blog–like so many other things–there ain’t nothing to it, but to do it.

Here’s to keeping at this for as long as I’m able…..