They only look minty

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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

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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

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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

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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.