Broken eggs and the end of my blog



Today’s the first time I’ve put anything into this space since June 11, which represents a span of dormancy that never would have happened in the first six years I wrote this blog. At one point I was averaging ten posts a week, and sometimes five or six posts would erupt from my mind in the very same day. I had things I wanted to say, and was glad to finally have an outlet for them on the Internet.

In my experience, many blogs take a similar arc to mine. The person who starts them opens up with a burst of energy and creativity, only to have their interests dulled over time. Life changes, and priorities get reshuffled to the point that the blog isn’t so important anymore. I had managed to avoid that fate as of June 11, 2017. I even wondered how many more years I would keep my individual soap box going. It turns out–as I’m shutting this down the moment I finish writing this–that the number is smaller than I ever would have guessed.

Abraham Lincoln has been one of my most significant muses when it comes to stories for my blog. I’ve always admired how he came from nowhere, and left a mark on the world that those with superior advantages and opportunities never will. The greatness of this man is beyond our ability to fully grasp it, but I find it encouraging that some have continued to try.

I picked up a couple of books the other day at the annual Newberry Library book fair in Chicago. In one of those books, a collection of essays about Lincoln by historian James McPherson, I learned a small nugget about Lincoln that I didn’t know. When it came to waging the Civil War, McPherson said, Lincoln often used the analogy that broken eggs cannot be mended. As I read that line, it seemed like an appropriate metaphor to bring down the curtain on my little corner of the online world.

How many posts did I throw out into the world? Over 1,500, and I stopped counting a long time ago.

How many words were contained in those posts? My initial goal was to put a million words out into cyberspace, and I’ll just imagine that between the actual posts themselves, the keywords I attached to the posts, the responses I typed out to those who left a comment about something I had written, and the drafts that were started but never saw the light of day, I made the million word plateau somewhere along the way.

How much sleep did I lose out on? Quite a lot, I would suppose. It’s probably better if I never find out for certain.

In typing out this valedictory post on a perfect summer afternoon here in my beloved Chicago, my desire to write a blog now feels like broken eggs. Rather than letting BlueBattingHelmet fade away into nothingness, I’m taking one final stab at putting some words out there, for anyone who may be interested in reading them in the future.

I had a lot of fun doing this, but now it’s time to go on to something else. As Prince sang in a song that I heard in a pet store earlier today, “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.” The teenager that I was when I first heard this song would agree, and so do I.

And with that,



Appreciating Hooper Humperdink


On Dr. Seuss’ birthday, which is also Read Across America Day, I wanted to take a moment to honor one of my favorite books. And as the title of this post suggests, it isn’t one of his more well-known titles like The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Those are great books, but Hooper Humperdink is far more obscure than that. But I’m all right with that, and I think he would be, too.

Hooper Humperdink…?  Not him! was written under the pen name of Theo. Lesieg (the last name was Geisel–Seuss’ real name–spelled backwards) and published in 1976. It was illustrated by Charles E. Martin, so the Seuss name isn’t anywhere to be seen in this work. But the message–and Seuss’ work always had a message underneath the funny names and whimsical drawings–is one that will always resonate with me.

The narrator of the story is going to have a party, and he or she wants lots of people to come. Unfortunately, Hooper Humperdink was most emphatically not among them. As the guest list begins with A and works its way through the alphabet, the party keeps getting bigger and more outlandish than it was before. And by the time Z is reached, the narrator has a change of heart. It’s as if the narrator gives up and says “OK, OK, I’ll invite him after all.”

Hooper is on the outside looking in through the whole book. He watches as the kids who are wanted at the party show up, but we never get to hear from him directly. Our only clue as to what he is thinking is his facial expressions and body language, but they don’t suggest that Hooper feels bad about being left out. The natural reaction to seeing a big party that you’re not invited to is a mix of shame, humiliation, and resentment, but Hooper never seems to be in any of those places.

Hooper is finally invited, not to a massive blowout complete with a marching band and multiple sets of quintuplets and a cast of thousands, but to a small little gathering with a picnic table in the backyard. The point is that he’s wanted there, and that makes it all right with him (and his little dog, too). Happiness is found in simplicity and sincerity, rather than the narrator’s opulence and excess.

There was a second version of this story, which was illustrated by Scott Nash and released (with the Dr. Seuss name on the cover) at a later date. But the kids I knew in the late 1970s are more represented in the Charles E. Martin version of the book, and I’m glad that I came across that version of it first. I see a lot of myself in Hooper Humperdink, and maybe that’s why I appreciate it the way that I do.

As a lover of books from as far back as I can remember, I owe Dr. Seuss and Theo. Leseig an awful lot. That’s why I’m happy to take a few minutes to try and explain why. May his words and thoughts and images be appreciated forever.

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.

Saying thanks to The New Yorker

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Many years ago (almost 34 years, to be exact) I wrote a letter to the editor of a wrestling magazine. The young teenager that I was at the time watched a lot of professional wrestling on TV, and they were to me what Batman and Superman were for those who read comic books. Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Dick the Bruiser and, most of all, Roddy Piper were living, breathing examples of escapism and super powers. I would practice wrestling moves on the bed at home, or with my two younger brothers. It was a fun time in my life, and I miss it in some ways.

I felt sufficiently moved by my admiration for Roddy Piper to write a letter and put it in the mail slot of the hospital where I went to visit my dying grandmother. I never really thought they would publish it, though. Just saying it, or writing the words down, was enough for me at that time. But they published my letter in the fall of 1982, and the excitement I got from seeing my words and my name in print is something I haven’t since forgotten. My name has occasionally made its way into print, but literally millions of my words have been submitted  for public review since then. It’s tremendously gratifying to know that many of my ideas and words are floating around, somewhere.

Two days ago, in the aftermath of Prince’s sudden and shocking death last week, I was again moved to send out a letter to the editor of a magazine, this time The New Yorker. I was barely aware of who Prince was back in 1982 when I wrote my first letter to the editor, but I learned not too long after that. And just as the Internet has come along and brought great change to the way news and ideas are shared with the public, I didn’t actually write out a letter this time, but I did compose the following as an email:

It’s April 25, and the news of Prince’s sudden passing still feels shocking and raw. We’ve all had a weekend to mourn and reflect on what his music meant for those of us who grew up in the 80s, as well as those who either discovered his music after that, or those who followed his newer music right up until the end. It’s a hard time for all of us, no matter which category we may fall into.

Your April 25 cover is a fascinating glimpse into this present day. There’s just no way that anyone connected with your magazine could have known that, by the date appearing on the cover itself, we would lose a man who was an absolute wizard on the electric guitar. Nor could you realize that the man whose music broke down every barrier–racial, gender, and generational, to name just a few–would leave us within days of this cover’s appearance. And yet, there it is on your cover, in red and blue (and the fact the two colors combine to make purple is another inexplicable coincidence).

We can see people of all concert-going ages, backgrounds, and stations in life joined together in a room, enjoying themselves in a way that would not be possible in any other public setting. The guitar’s fretboard we can see on the cover, but the guitarist’s identity in this idyllic scene remains unknown. My interpretation is that the guitarist most likely to make such a gathering possible is the one who is being commemorated in purple in your next issue.

I’m already thinking of these as the most accidental–and yet most appropriate–covers pairing that we’ll ever see. Many thanks for such an unintentional gift.

Whether the New Yorker does anything with this note is besides the point. I had something to say, and I said it. And the internet and this blog allow me share this message with whatever part of the online world wants to read it, too. Just having an outlet for the idea is enough. And when the Prince tribute cover arrived in the mailbox today, I had to put the covers side by side and share them here. They are the beautiful ones, indeed.

They only look minty


As I drove past a bagel shop this St. Patrick’s Day, painfully aware that I had nothing on that resembled green in any way, I wondered if green bagels were a thing. I learned, much to my surprise, that not only were they available, but that green cream cheese could also be procured.

Hopefully we’ll all be greeted with similar tasty surprises, today and always.

(Not) Wasted away again


Last night was the end of the school year, in the sense that the parents of my daughters’ classmates–at two different schools–each had a year-end party. It years gone by, I would have loaded up on alcohol at parties like these: Beer, mixed drinks, wine, it didn’t matter as long as it could help to feed my buzz. For 27 years of my life, I drank and drank and then drank some more. Never once did I consider myself an alcoholic, but I sure did love to drink. It would appear the obvious conclusion was the hardest one for me to make.

But last night, I had not one drop. I stared margaritas down, and emerged victorious in the end. I can’t get back all those years of pummeling my liver, but I can honor my realization that alcohol is not–and never was–a friend of mine. So I drank Diet Cokes all night, and ate a lot more than I should have, but I continued a nearly two-year run of life without booze. Life really is better, at least for me, without it.

Drinking, from XXI to XLIV


It’s Super Bowl Sunday today, and once again I have no interest in the game or who wins it. The NFL hasn’t mattered to me in twenty years and yet, with the Super Bowl being the event that it is, I wouldn’t dare miss it, either.

From the first Super Bowl of my college years, back in 1987, the game was an excuse to get together with friends and drink lots of beer. It was the building block around which all else depended.

Is the game on? Check

Do I have beer? Check

And then it went on from there.The wings, pizza, chips and anything and everything else at any Super Bowl parties I ever attended were just extras. The beer was what always mattered most to me.

And so it went, for decades of my life. I remember the last Super Bowl where I drank, Super Bowl XLIV where Drew Brees beat Peyton Manning (and whatever teams they each played for). I drank like a fish, for hours on end. It was nothing out of the ordinary, for what is a Super Bowl if not a premise for an overdone tailgating party? But for the first time in my life, I took note of what it said about life, and the way I had been living it.

I didn’t have an epiphany the next day, where I renounced all my ways and then didn’t touch the stuff ever again. That finally did happen, closer to the end of 2010. So today, using the Super Bowl’s preferred notation, will make III Super Bowls where Diet Coke is the strongest thing I’ll avail myself of. The first one was a challenge, but by now I probably won’t even give it a second thought.

I’m not a sermonizing dry drunk. Any grown-up (which wasn’t yet me back when Super Bowl XXI was played) has the right to put this into their body if they want to. There’s certainly no room for me to suggest otherwise. There are also risks involved, since too many people die from alcohol abuse and drunk driving and fights that can break out where one or both parties have consumed more than a sensible amount. But my experience–earned over the course of XXIV (and that’s 24) Super Bowls–is that the only sensible amount–at least for me–is none at all.

The old beer game


To follow up on the last post that I wrote, this is an example of what has replaced the old TORCO sign across from Wrigley Field. For all I know, it’s still up there today, and has been there since the season ended in early October. There’s no reason to change it now, since there are no fresh eyes coming to Wrigley Field. But some marketing people are probably already at work, thinking up witticisms to use when next season begins.

“Last call” inside the ballpark seems to begin in about the 5th inning, to the beer vendors who work the stands. But there’s really no such thing, when it comes to alcohol in our society. If you have money, and you want a drink, somebody will find you and make it available to you. That’s the American way.

Whether that’s right or wrong isn’t for me, or anybody else, to say. People make their own decisions in these matters. And now, as marijuana is legal in two states–with more certainly to follow–the same questions will arise. I’ve already seen pictures of people lighting up beneath the Space Needle, and the term “Rocky Mountain High” is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Will the federal government, which bans marijuana, try to force Washington and Colorado to toe the line? Or will other states decide to take the same path in order to force the government’s hand, one way or the other?

If Prohibition taught us anything, it’s that some people are going to use banned substances, while others will make vast amounts of money by providing these substances. For them, the profit will be worth the risk.

Enforcing laws that people aren’t inclined to follow not only drains away resources, but it also breeds contempt for the law in general. And don’t tell me that tourism to Washington and Colorado isn’t picking up, either. This might be the first Spring Break in recorded history where college kids go chasing after snow peaks instead of palm trees.

Besides, I bet there would be some very interesting billboards going up outside of Wrigley Field if legalization ever came to Illinois. Much more interesting than “Last Call,” anyway.

What margarita?

Alcohol used to be one of my favorite things in life. I was, let’s say, a young guy when I started drinking, and it was a constant in my life for a very long time: A beer while watching TV, a glass of wine at dinner, and of course a healthy bar tab at restaurants or social functions. I did it without ever giving it any thought. It was as automatic as drawing breath.

Margaritas were easily one of my favorite drinks. The stronger the drink, and the bigger the glass it came in, the happier I was. Salted rims, lime juice, you name it, I was always up for it. After all, you can’t enjoy Mexican food without it, or so I thought.

So when I was able to resist ordering a margarita in a Mexican restaurant recently, it felt like a small victory. OK, more like a large victory. And it turns out Mexican food is just as good without a side order of lime and booze. Who knew?

At the end of the dinner, I spied a half-finished margarita on the table (and no, I didn’t order it). The urge to pick it up, give it a sniff, and possibly have a taste of what I’ve been missing never entered my mind. I’ve put my liver through enough already, and now I’m hoping that laying off the margaritas, and everything else with alcohol in it, will allow my internal organs to keep on working like they should. That’s the hope, anyway.

Thunder Road, one week later

A week ago at this time, I was in the afterglow of the first Springsteen concert in Wrigley Field. It was the music that I love, played for over three hours in a place that I also love. It seemed a little bit like Heaven on earth, to be honest about it.

Has it really been just seven days since tens of thousands passed through the turnstiles to sing, dance, scream, and generally reaffirm that Bruce is, in fact, the Boss of rock and roll? It somehow seems like a lot longer than that.

Maybe it’s the teachers’ strike in Chicago, or the realization that the Bears still can’t beat the Packers, or something else that’s made this past week seem so strange. Or maybe it’s knowing that Bruce and his band have now moved on, and they won’t be seen again in these parts for a couple of years. Whatever it is, this has felt like a week of withdrawal.

But what a weekend it was. Perhaps someone, someday, will be able to exceed what Bruce, Steve, Nils, and all of the others gave to us from that stage out in center field. Maybe someone else will literally bleed during the show, as Bruce did on Saturday night. But until and unless that happens, the bar for concerts at Wrigley Field has been set, and it’s at a very high level, indeed.

Mission Accomplished

If there’s a piece of advice I would give to someone going to a Bruce Springsteen concert (other than to go in the first place), it would be don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t play a particular song, unless it’s “Born to Run.” With hundreds of songs on his albums, and fans who bring signs asking for nearly every song under the sun, it’s possible that your song will get left out of the evening’s setlist. It doesn’t mean it’s not a great song, or that others won’t hear it in another city or at a different show.

Earlier this year, when news that Springsteen was bringing the Wrecking Ball tour to Wrigley Field was first reported, I wrote a piece in this space about “The Promised Land.” I love the song, and would suggest that it’s probably my favorite one of all his songs. The meaning of the lyrics is what gets me: not so much the guy who works in his Daddy’s garage in the Utah desert, but the underlying idea that faith in something that hasn’t yet been seen is an essential part of who we are as people.

My lack of a religious faith does not mean that I don’t believe in things. I believe in people’s ability and desire to do good things. I believe that cooperation is not always easy, but it’s always better than conflict. And I believe, most irrationally of all, that the Cubs will win the World Series one day. I just hope that it happens in my lifetime.

The piece I wrote back in March suggested that since Bruce had played “The Promised Land” at the first of his Fenway park shows back in 2003, it may have had something to do with breaking Boston’s supposed “Curse of the Bambino.” They did, after all, win their first World Series in many decades the following year. I’m not sure if it would have happened without that song appearing on the setlist for one of the shows, but nobody can deny that he played that song in that place, and then the baseball team that plays there finally won a championship.

So, before the second show at Wrigley Field had even been announced, I suggested that, if there would only be a single show at Wrigley Field, perhaps playing the song would help the Cubs, too. I went to the show on Friday night hoping to hear that song, but after 28 great songs–“The Promised Land” not being one of them–I left happier than I had ever been at the end of a concert. And there was still a second show at Wrigley, so perhaps that would be when the song was played.

And sure enough, not only was it played at Wrigley Field last night, but it was the opening song of the entire show. So my admittedly strange theory that one song, played by one performer, can break curses and lead to better times for the sports team that plays there, has now been put into play.

The Cubs clearly won’t win anything this year, but the “billy goat curse,” and any other hexes or spells which may have been hanging in the air at the old ballpark, may have just met its match. And if I live long enough to see it, I’ll be sure to dig this piece out, present it to the world, and then go looking for Bruce at Mary’s place, wherever that might be, because we’re definitely gonna have a party.

Bruce Springsteen and the power of rock and roll

For several years, I waited for a chance to see my next Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert. Then it was announced he would play at Wrigley Field, and I bought tickets to the show .

For many months, I lived my life knowing that the Springsteen show was off in the distance, like a proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. When the day finally arrived, I drove down to the ballpark with friends, one of whom had never seen the Boss play live before.

For three hours (and a good chunk of a fourth one), we all clapped and yelled, danced and sang, and gave witness to the power that music has. Bruce shared the stage with some of the biggest names in rock and roll (Eddie Vedder and Tom Morello) and with a starstruck young girl with a flower in her hair. He called out to the ghosts that follow us through our lives, and he honored his friend Clarence Clemons He played songs that everybody came to hear (Born to Run, Thunder Road, Jungleland, and many others) and some that nobody expected to (I had been singing the rather obscure Darlington County around the house all day, and sure enough, he played that one too).

I don’t consider myself religious at all, but last night I was part of the loudest, strongest, and most passionate service that I’ll ever be a party to. I knew it had to end, but I enjoyed it to the limit while it was going on. In that sense, it was just like life: it can’t last forever, but it can be such a blast while it’s going on. That only happens when you give yourself over to it and I, along with 40,000 other pilgrims in a baseball cathedral named Wrigley Field, did exactly that.

“Land of Hope and Dreams” closed out the first set, and there’s a line in the song that claims “faith will be rewarded.” That’s what transpired in that place last night. Rock and roll, as channeled through the guitar of Bruce Springsteen, the drums of Max Weinberg, the saxophone of the remarkable Jake Clemons, and the rest of a very large and talented musical contingent, touched our lives and gave us hope. I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

A sort-of homecoming on Chicago’s North side

The upcoming Bruce Springsteen concerts in Wrigley Field in September promise to be a good time. But it’s not widely-known that Springsteen’s first show that wasn’t on the East coast came way, way back in early 1973, at a Chicago club known as the Quiet Knight. I wasn’t in Chicago back then, but if I had been, the Quiet Knight seems like it would have been the place to be.

Bob Marley once played there, as did an unknown Jimmy Buffett. Muddy Waters played there in 1978 (with some group called the Rolling Stones). While the club shut down in 1979, the building still stands today, housing a clothing store named NeverMind. It’s located just steps away from the Belmont el stop, and a few hundred steps away from the venue where Springsteen and his band will be playing two shows in one of the best-known concert venues in the city, if not all of America.

I’m sure Wrigleyville will enjoy the party when these shows take place next month. The music will fill the air for blocks and blocks around the intersection of Clark and Addison Streets.  And it might even be heard on the same spot where, nearly forty years ago, an unknown kid from New Jersey arrived, with only his music and his dreams to offer to the world. And, fortunately, the world has now heard and appreciated them.

A flash of inspiration

A few years ago, I was working as an editor for a large educational publisher. For Halloween, there was a costume contest held in one of the conference rooms in the afternoon. The safe route in a situation like this is to not dress up at all, and let others run the risk of embarrassing themselves. It’s something like singing karaoke in a bar: funny to watch other people try to do it, but a different story altogether when you’re the one behind the microphone.

I liked these people I worked with, though, and I wanted be a part of the contest, without overdoing it or calling too much attention to myself. So I played it safe and dug out an old black felt hat, similar to the red and white striped “Cat in the Hat” style that was popular about a decade ago.  Mine was solid black, though, and it was clearly meant to pay homage to Abraham Lincoln.

The Literature books that we were in the process of putting together had materials from a variety of authors, including Lincoln. His Gettysburg Address, besides being a brilliant explanation of what was at stake in the Civil War, is brief enough that students will read it without telling you how boring it is. This makes it ideal for inclusion in any textbook to be placed in a high schooler’s hands.

I took my hat to work that day, and put on a solid black sweater that I wore all day long. I figured that I would put on the hat, stroll down to the meeting room and, if not win the contest, at least feel like I was a part of the festivities.

As the day wore on, however, I got a sense that things wouldn’t be that simple. A casual sampling of what others had done revealed that clever plays on words were the order of the day. A colleague dressed entirely on orange, with a green hat atop her head, was going as a “caret,” while another was going as “falling action” (which entailed making a motion as she would tumble to the ground). And worse yet, it appeared that no other literary figures would be in attendance. I knew that my Lincoln “costume” wasn’t going to go over very well.

What to do, what to do?  I went back to my desk and put my thinking cap on. And not my black felt hat, either. But I did stare at it for awhile, wondering if I should just stuff it into a desk drawer and go to the contest wearing my black sweater, acting like that was just what I wore to work that day. Problem solved, right?

But then it hit me. I could still make it fly, but first I’d have to do some prep work. Fortunately, there was still a little time.

At lunchtime, I went to a drugstore in the building next door. It was late October and the Holidays were right around the corner, so I found a strand of blinking Christmas tree lights that would do just fine. Then I went back to the building I worked in to pick up some Chinese takeout, a pair of chopsticks, and a few straws. I went back to my desk and got to work.

I’ve never been able to use chopsticks effectively, but I wasn’t going to use them to eat. Instead, I wanted them to poke some holes into my black felt hat. You’ve gotta break some eggs if you want to have an omelette, right?

I assembled the straws into the shape I wanted, but I needed some way to fasten what I had done onto the hat. I made a visit to the supply room and procured a handful of brass fasteners, which could be twisted so that they would hold everything together. Then, when I thought I had everything the way I wanted it, I made a nervous trip to the part of the floor where the restrooms were. This entailed leaving the office and waking past the elevators, where I was certain that somebody would see me. What this would mean, I wasn’t sure. But I didn’t want anyone to know what I was up to.

I went into the restroom, which was thankfully empty, and tried on my creation. It looked OK, but a couple of mirror-aided adjustments were in order. If anyone had come in at that time, they probably would not have any idea of what I was up to. But it was a nervous few minutes, anyway.

I finished up, exited the restroom, and went back to my desk. My afternoon coffee that day contained the added flavor of success.

When the time for the contest arrived, I grabbed my handiwork and headed on my way. I didn’t think I would win, but I felt confident that I had done enough to make an impact on my colleagues. That was all I really wanted, anyway.

The meeting room had some munchies and drinks set out, for people to mingle a bit before the contest started. I grabbed a cookie and some juice, and talked with some of my colleagues for a bit. We were all happy to have a momentary respite from the crazy, irrational deadlines that we often lived under. And the deadlines would still be waiting there for us when the afternoon’s festivities were over.

The contest started, and everyone taking part had to get up in front of the others to see if anyone could guess what their costume was. When it was my turn, I walked to the nearest outlet, plugged in, and said a line that I’d wanted to say ever since I first heard Linus say it in the Charle Brown Christmas special:

“Lights, please?”

One of my colleagues standing near the light switch indulged my request. It was daytime, but the lights had been on, just like they always are in an office. The room got moticeably darker, and I waited for a second or two for the lights to take effect. Needless to say, I had everyone’s attention at that point.

I pointed at my hat and asked my colleagues what they saw. Three straws had been stuck together with some tape, and then surrounded by the flashing lights I had bought earlier in the day. Immediately, several of my colleagues recognized it as the letter A.

“Very good,” I said. “Now, what is this letter A doing?”

“Flashing,” one of my colleagues ventured.

“Keep guessing,” I said.

“Blinking,” another called out.

“Right! So put them together,” I invited.

“Blinking A” someone said. It was a moment that I recognized from my days as a teacher. They were close, but still needed just a nudge to get to where I wanted them to go. An editorial term seemed to be the way to do this.

“Transpose the two and then tell me what you get,” I told them.

“A blinking.” I looked at who said it, and then pointed at my hat.

“Ayy blinkin!” I could almost feel the light bulbs turning on in the minds of those in the room. If there had been more moments like that when I was teaching high school social studies, I never would have left the classroom to do anything else.

From my colleagues’ reaction, I could tell that my gambit had worked. The idea, and the work required to bring it into being, had happened in just over an hour’s time. Everything should come together so fast.

I didn’t win the prize for best costume (and I honestly can’t remember which one did), but I did accomplish the things that I wanted to do: keeping the Lincoln motif, while giving my creativity a workout. I think Lincoln himself would have been impressed with the results.

Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on the Pride parade

The picture above was taken at the Chicago Pride parade a few years ago. It’s an annual event in the Chicago neighborhood known as either “Lakeview” or “Boystown,” depending on who you talk to. I lived in this neighborhood for several years, and the parade was always a fun time. I haven’t been to it in years, and I understand that it’s gotten bigger and rowdier every year. So the City has decided to make some changes.

Time will tell if these changes will successful in addressing the issues of crowds and drunkenness, but experience with another Chicago parade is instructive on some level. Years ago, the St. Patrick’s day parade was held on March 17 (even if it was during the workweek) and went down Dearborn street in the Loop. Think of Ferris Bueller on the float, or Harrison Ford on the run in The Fugitive. Urban setting, skyscrapers all around, it was great. Exactly what you want in a parade, or at least it was for me.

But the City’s politicians felt otherwise. They moved the date to the weekend before March 17, and moved the parade route to the open-air environs of Columbus Drive. It’s still well attended every year, but anyone who remembers it from before will tell you it’s not the same as it once was.

Everything changes–parade routes included–and that’s neither good nor bad. And the Pride parade next summer will have a similar feeling to it. And wherever it is, I’m sure it will still be a party and a half.

Crafts with a grown-up twist

A friend of mine just turned 40. I’m the type of person who, whenever possible, likes to give birthday gifts that are tied to a person’s age. For example, every one of my daughters’ friends gets a Magic 8 Ball when they turn 8. Pink princess color, if available, but otherwise the classic black one. Because really, it doesn’t make sense to give them one at age 7 or 9 or 15.

By that reasoning, my friend–who likes to imbibe as much as anyone I know–seemed like a prime candidate for a 40 ounce beer on his 40th birthday. Again, it wouldn’t make sense at age 38 or 41, but for the big 4-oh, what better way to embrace it than with a cold bottle of Magnum?

So I went to my neighborhood liquor store on his way to his party, picked out his “present” and insisted they put it in a paper bag. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never really seen a bottle that size without the bag over it. It just looks funny, like a dog wearing a sweater.

So with the 40 now encased in brown paper, I started off toward the party. And then an inspiration hit me: why not personalize the bag? Adding the name of the recipient, along with his age, will help to remind everyone of why he’s drinking out of a paper bag in the first place. So after a stop at the store to pick up some glittery stickers (can’t have too much bling, you know) and a few minutes’ effort, he had a bag to call his own. What could be better than that?

To his credit, my friend drank from the bag all night long. And people got a good laugh when they saw it too, which is always good. So when you have a friend approaching this milestone in life, go ahead and have some fun with it.