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

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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.