2016 and the USA

 

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The upcoming presidential election is going to dominate the news, as it should. The person who emerges from the grotesque carnival we have constructed for this purpose will be able to make decisions that may seem important, but in the end life is going to move forward, no matter who it is.

I have my preferences, and I won’t be shy about sharing them here as the year goes on. But it’s not a process I’m going to want to watch too closely, because it seems to appeal to what’s worst in us, when it should be anything but that.

Yesterday my younger daughter was at the orthodontist’s office, and I was in the waiting room while they were doing what they do with her. Good Morning America was talking about the Republican debate from the night before, and they labeled it as “Showdown in South Carolina.” And the whole evening seemed to turn on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and whether Cruz could serve as President because he was born in Canada. It made me sick to realize that the combative, frivolous nature of that moment was all that the media saw fit to show to We, the people. Grown men in engaged in a glorified schoolyard squabble. It made me ashamed for this country.

Republicans can say whatever they want to say, and do whatever they want to do. Unless they can cure cancer and bring David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Dan Haggerty back for an awesome episode of Grizzly Adams on the run from Professor Snape with a cool soundtrack and cameo appearance from the Thin White Duke, I won’t be buying what they’re selling. But that’s beside the point.

The media can play this from whatever angle they choose to, but what they give us instead is “Showdown in South Carolina.” It’s a good thing that Montreal isn’t this country, because we would have had the “Brawl in Montreal” if it was.

Someone in the bowels of ABC had to think this one up, and they were probably very excited to see their idea up on the screen for the morning audience to absorb. But it’s a terrible reflection on us all that they feel empowered to give us that.

We deserve media coverage that befits our country, and if “Showdown in South Carolina” is truly what that is, we’re a global laughingstock for reasons that don’t have a single thing to do with ISIS or al Qaeda.

Rant over.

Farewell, Harris

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When I played youth baseball in the Khoury League many years ago, there was one kid on my team I really hated. And hate isn’t a feeling I come by very easily, either. But I had my reasons, and they came flooding back to me this evening. The best thing about writing a blog is having some outlet for the thoughts and stories that swirl around inside my head, so here goes with this one:

Harris is my last name, but I never thought of referring to anyone by using their last name. Tom Jones would have been Tom to me, not Jones. But this teammate of mine delighted in calling me “Harris.” Even though he had the same first name that I did, he never once referred to me by my first name. I found it strange and more than a bit disrespectful, and if I was a different sort of kid I would have let him know about it. But I was a tall, awkward kid who wasn’t prone to violence, so I let it go. There were other things worth getting upset about, I suppose.

The way that “Harris” was pronounced made it even worse. It was a drawn-out nasally sneer, like “Haaaaaris,” and it was irritating enough to hear it in the first place. But to then realize that not only was I being mocked, but so were my parents, my siblings, and essentially my entire family, it made it really hard to hold that inside. So I internalized it, instead.

As far back as I can remember, I think of myself as “Harris” whenever I’m trying to get something across to myself. “We need to get this project done, Harris, before it’s due next week.” Things like that. As much as I didn’t like it when someone else called me Harris, I have routinely allowed myself to do it. It’s a coping mechanism, you might say.

Over the past few weeks, as I discovered that an actor named Harris Wittels had a recurring role on the show “Parks and Recreation,” I thought about how cool that was. Somebody was actually given Harris as their first name, and everyone who came into contact with him called him that, and not in an insulting manner. Even better, the character he played on the show was also named Harris. It’s annoying that Tony Danza always played characters named Tony on screen, but when Harris Wittels became Harris onscreen, it was nothing short of awesome, at least for me.

When I learned today that Harris died at the age of 30 from a drug overdose, I was shocked and a little bit saddened. I know that “Parks and Recreation” is finishing up its run soon, but Harris Wittels still had lots of time to do other things. Maybe he would have gone and been Harris again somewhere else, or perhaps written other books to go along with Humblebrag. The entertainment industry was his oyster, and now he’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Farley and Freddie Prinze. It’s a shame, really.

I’m now at an age where whenever somebody dies–whether I knew them or not–the first thing I want to know is how old they were. Somebody who dies at 52, like Jerome Kersey just did, reminds me that the end can come at a relatively young age. Although I have zero in common with Jerome Kersey, he got to walk the earth for 52 years, so hopefully I’ll get at least that much time myself.

But 30 is another story altogether. Harris Wittels found that drugs were to his liking, and his success afforded him both the money and the opportunity to indulge this habit. I never had either of these things when I was 30, and looking at what happened to him, I’m glad of it. Something is going to get me one day, but it won’t be drugs, I hope.

So from a Harris who lives a life of anonymity, to a Harris who appeared to have the world by the tail, thanks for wearing the name like a badge of honor. I wish you had allowed yourself more time to do it.

Thoughts at a fire

Yesterday morning I wrote a post in this space bemoaning the lack of good news stories this year. I had a realization later in the evening, though, as I was watching the fire in my fireplace burn. And it’s worth sharing it here, before it crawls back into the recesses of my mind. This is why I started this blog, after all.

If I start a fire in my fireplace and it burns all night and it goes out, there’s nothing “newsworthy” in that. But if my house were to somehow catch fire, then not only would the fire trucks come, but the news vans, as well. And the bigger the fire, the bigger the story would be.

So I realized, as my fire burned without incident in my fireplace, that “the news” wasn’t good for a reason. As Don Hendley once sang, it’s interesting when people die. And apparently, that’s the only time.

So I’m not waiting for the news to be good anymore. There’s good things all around us every day, and there’s nobody looking to tell us what it is. That’s apparently our job to determine what it is.

And my fire went out, and it was a happy time, indeed. I’m glad that nobody else got to hear anything about it.

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A tough way to begin the year

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My first post about 2015 comes five days into the new year, and it’s a sad tale. Stuart Scott passed away over the weekend, and I felt like I had to say a few words about his legacy, both on TV and in the way he battled cancer for as long as he did. The story appears on FiveWideSports, and I’m grateful to them, as always, for running with my ideas.

As the father of two daughters–like Stuart Scott–I love the way he professed his love for them so freely. I’ve done that myself, and I make no apologies for doing so. My girls will live on when I’m gone, just as his daughters will for him.

There’s no greater feeling than love, and when you have it for someone, there’s just one thing to do: hold it up for the world to see. His speech at the ESPYs last summer–his final bow, in some ways–did exactly that. And if I didn’t already love and respect him for the words he said on television–and I surely did that–I would give him all the credit in the world for saying the things he did.

Thanks for showing us how it’s done, Stuart, both on camera and off. We should all do our best to follow your example in the days and years to come.

Rethinking the Arts

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When I was a kid, only one thing qualified as “art.” Paintings, done by men who were already long dead, were art. My mom used to come to my school and teach “Art appreciation” to give the kids a break from the daily reading, math, and history grind. And thus, art was a painfully narrow term in my world.

I never considered writing or producing music as being “art.” Likewise, dancing was not art, nor was singing, writing, acting, designing, or any other form of creative expression. Television was the dominant artform of my youth, but if you told me that Sheriff Lobo was an actor and therefore an artist, I would not have believed it.

Last night, one of my daughters performed in her school play, while the other one skated in an ice show. Both of them are, and have alway been, artists in this sense. I love watching them perform, whether it’s onstage, on ice, or just singing songs around the house. They love the arts, and I’m enormously grateful for this. And I hope that–unlike me when I was their age–they appreciate what the full range of the arts are. Artists aren’t just dead guys who could paint.

It’s the thought that counts

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My next door neighbors are good people. I think of them every time I hear some people on TV railing about “illegal immigration.” It seem like a bigoted, racist term directed at people that the speaker doesn’t know the first thing about. “If they speak Spanish and have brown skin, get them outta here.” It’s antithetical to what America is, at least in my mind.

One day earlier this summer, as I was grilling up some dinner, my neighbor offered me a beer. I’ve drank more Corona in my life than I want to know about, but gave it up three years ago. But still, it was a thoughtful gesture, and one I didn’t refuse.

I took the cap off and made a pretend show of drinking the beer. I knew that taking a sip was a bad idea, because I’ve harmed my body in ways I’ll never realize by drinking so much through the years. But still, I wanted my neighbor to know I appreciated his offer. I wanted him to see that not every Anglo-speaking person wants him and his family to leave the country. And I wanted him to see that sharing a beer–as old of an American tradition as there is–is something that neighbors do with each other. In many ways, it was the best beer I never had.

Long may it wave

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I saw a clip online today that made me angry. On the eve of celebrating the birth of this great country, there was Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly, chattering on about illegal immigration. Terms like “anchor baby” were used, and the right wing fantasy that people can–and should–leave the country en masse reared its ugly and ignorant head.

America is predicated upon people coming here from all parts of the world. They think they can better their lives here, and usually they are correct. To turn our backs on this is to deny American history, and sell this great nation short. It’s nothing less than unAmerican to do that. You might just as well take down the flag and cut it into pretty ribbons, because it won’t be the same flag that once attracted our ancestors to these shores.

Let’s all honor our country–and our immigrant ancestors, wherever they may be–by remembering what this country is, and by slapping down those who would make it into anything less. Happy 4th of July to everyone.

Let it go, let it go

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve simplified my life in some ways. I gave up drinking in 2011, television in 2013, and McDonald’s in 2014. I’ve tried giving up coffee, too, but I’ve succeeded at keeping my consumption down. Baby steps, I suppose.

I’m not really on a self-deprivation kick, although it might seem that way. Giving up some of my favorite things–ones that had been a part of my life for decades–seems like a fool’s mission. But there’s not much I have that I can’t live without. People often say “I’d die without (insert item here)” but that’s really not so. The things that we need and the things that we think we need are two different groups.

I’m so much better off without the things I’ve given up. I now wonder how life would have been different without them. But that’s something I’ll never know for certain.

Last night I took this to drastic, and almost unthinkable degree: I renounced the Chicago Cubs. I’ve always been off the deep end, to varying degrees, when it comes to the Cubs. They were my window into Chicago, and thus the wider world, to me back in the 70s and 80s. They were my destination of choice in the dark days of the 1990s. They were a source of optimism and ultimate disappointment in the first decade of this century. But in this decade they’ve been…nothing. Nothing but frustration and anger and, ultimately, indifference. I wait around for months for the baseball season to return, and then I’m hopeful for a month to six weeks, and finally I’m wondering why I do this to myself, over and over again.

The Cubs have never won in my lifetime, but up until a couple of years ago, they were always worth a watch. But they aren’t anymore. I think of a campfire as an apt metaphor for this: The fire will burn hot and then die down, but it has to be tended occasionally or else it will go out. Throwing a small log or a few twigs onto the coals every so often is all that it takes. But if you don’t do it, the consequences speak for themselves.

The Cubs have not been tending the fire, at least at the major league level. They’ve started playing a game with trading older players for younger prospects, and demanding complete control over a player’s career. Signing free agents to big-dollar contracts has been anathema to this club, and the talent level (or lack thereof) is painfully obvious. They are, and are apparently aiming to be, the worst team in the major leagues.

Tanking the season has benefits when it comes to high draft positions, and some Cubs fans have embraced this as the path to getting better in the long run. It worked for the Chicago Blackhawks, at least. But it’s a bridge too far, for me.

Last night I did as Hemingway once instructed; I sat in front of a keyboard and bled. I opened up about what’s wrong with this team, and how I can’t abide their losing ways anymore. So I quit. I dclared my independence. I walked away from something that has mattered to me for almost 40 years. It was hard, but today I feel free.

How did the Cubs do today? For the first time I can remember, I don’t care. They win and they’re still bad, or they lose and it just reinforces what I’ve been saying. If ever they win, I’ll see what happens then. But I’m no longer vested in this team, emotionally. To paraphrase Axl Rose, nothing last forever, even my interest in the Cubs.

Words of wisdom from Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Over the past year or so, I’ve been picking up a volume of Emerson’s writings when I can, looking for pearls of wisdom. And I think I found one today, when I came across the following words:

To the extent that a man thinks, he is free

I don’t see much independent thought in our society. People are often hired to spout out a company line about something–especially on television–and we are expected to nod our heads in approval, or at least keep quiet if we don’t agree.

It feels like those who speak their minds are not valued as much as they ought to be. A two-party political system will lead to binary thinking, I suppose. But suppressing other ideas and new ways of thinking isn’t healthy. It leads to tunnel vision, and an inability to change pre-conceived ideas, particularly when they weren’t organic to someone’s own thinking to begin with.

Thanks to you, Ralph Waldo, for pointing out that thinking equals freedom, and farming that job out to somebody else is a dangerous thing. He didn’t say it in quite that way, of course, but I brought my own freedom to his idea. See how easy that is?

Changing college sports as we know them

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern

Today–March 26, 2014– is the 35th anniversary of the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird title game in the NCAA tournament. I remember watching that game as a ten year-old kid in Springfield, Illinois. It was broadcast on NBC, instead of on CBS. There was no three point stripe, no shot clock, and no possession arrow. The NCAA logo was some silly interlocking letters arranged inside a circle. The game followed a third-place game, where the two teams that lost in the Final Four still had one last chance to salvage something. In short, there were still five men on a side and the team that scored the most points won the game, but otherwise the modern sports fan would hardly recognize it.

And on the anniversary of that game, which arguably changed basketball itself for the next decade, the NLRB handed down a ruling that Northwestern’s football players can vote to form a union. There are many writers and fans bemoaning the ruling, saying that it will “change college sports as we know them.” To which I reply, change happens all the time in life. The NCAA championship game from 1979 (which is within my living memory) is all the proof anyone needs that change is inevitable, in sports and in life itself.

To those who would bemoan the loss of something in college athletics, I would invite them to consider that the athletes on the floor in the basketball tournament, and on the field during the bowl games and in the regular season, are generating millions of dollars for their schools, yet they aren’t allowed to share in any of it. The schools do award scholarships and provide room and board, but they keep the money and in turn make their professional coaches into wealthy men. They give the chattering heads of CBS, ESPN, and a thousand other places something to talk about and write about and take pictures of. They allow the advertisers to reach a captive audience and sell more product. And what do these athletes get in return? Not what they should, if you ask me.

There will never come a time when the NCAA, in its benevolence, decides to share the wealth with the players who do the work and assume the risks. There will never come a time when a school pays for the long-term medical bills of a player who gets hurt playing a game, while wearing their school’s colors. And there will never come a time when a player who can’t keep up with his academics and his team responsibilities is told that academics are why they are in school. Football comes first, or basketball comes first, and everyone understands this. But it’s wrong and it needs to stop.

It’s ironic that the very first Final Four, or the first time that NCAA schools competed on the same floor for a basketball championship, happened on Northwestern’s campus, all the way back in 1939. I know that that was basketball and today’s ruling applies to football, but that’s not the point I’m making here.

Northwestern–my alma mater–showed the NCAA the possibilities that a championship tournament offered. And 75 years later the Final Four, and the tournament leading up to it, is a money-making juggernaut. But what Northwestern giveth in basketball, it taketh away in football and–soon enough–in basketball, too.

If making money from the toil of players who don’t get to fully share in the pie they create seems fair, I will respectfully disagree with that premise. Million-dollar coaches don’t play the games; the players do. And the false hope of a professional payday–which the overwhelming majority of college athletes will never get to see–is shameful. It’s gone on for too long, and the sooner it comes to an end, the better.

Kudos to Kain Colter and the Northwestern football team, for sowing the seeds that will one day bring about some much-needed and long-overdue changes in college sports.

Republican hipster alert!

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I don’t know any hipster millennials personally, and that’s just fine with me. The little bit I’ve seen of them doesn’t leave a good impression, for reasons I can’t readily define. But they are the future, so whatever annoyances they may have are just going to be dealt with. The planet continues to rotate, as it always has before.

But the commercials I’ve seen online with “Scott Greenberg” make me laugh. It’s almost a parody of a hipster, but he somehow drives an Audi and spouts out words of sympathy for the “job creators” who might want to hire his friends one day. It’s clearly not the language of somebody in his 20s, but of somebody who watches Fox News (average age: 68) and thinks he knows how young people think. It’s sad and pathetic, but it’s also ripe for satire.

And that’s just what John Oliver has given us. I was sad that he left Jon Stewart’s show, but happy that he’s moving on to do his own show at HBO. And if the skewering that he gives to the Republican hipster is any indication, the show will be worth watching when it debuts later this year.

 

How about some Mitch Dogg?

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In response to the #mcconnelling challenge from Jon Stewart, I found one that really seems to work. Depending on where it starts, McConnell’s fist pump with the two older ladies is either at “Swisher sweets” or “ball out.” You can’t lose either way, really.

Thanks to Snoop Dogg, Ray J, Slim, and Nate Dogg, as well as Mitch McConnell and Jon Stewart. It all came together quite beautifully.

Fun with the internet

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It’s late and I need to sleep, but this is too funny. The recent campaign ad for Mitch McConnell was 2 minutes of scenes without any words, just a weird music soundtrack. But thanks to something called YouDubber, the soundtrack can be varied to suit your tastes. Try it for yourself by clicking on the link below:

http://www.youdubber.com/index.php?video=nrdTX8m5G98&video_start=0&audio=Gs069dndIYk&audio_start=35

When the screen comes up, leave the top link alone (That’s Mitch, and it’s his party) and paste in a youtube link on the bottom. The start time on the audio can be manipulated, if desired. Then it’s just a matter of hitting the combine button and enjoying the show!

Make sure to put the link on Twitter with the hashtag #mcconnelling. Or just follow the link and see what the online community has already come up with. It’s as much fun as can be had with Mitch McConnell’s visage, that’s for sure.

Jon Stewart nails it

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I admire Abraham Lincoln like no one else. I think he is the reason that slavery came to an end in this nation, and he took a stand that ultimately cost him his own life in order to see to it that slavery disappeared. And suggestions to the contrary never have–and never will–make any sense to me.

So when someone comes along to suggest that Lincoln did something wrong by fighting the Civil War to end slavery, that person needs to be called out. That person needs to understand things that they either didn’t learn or have chosen to deny, for whatever reason. And Jon Stewart, with some help from three History professors, did exactly that. It’s a joy to watch.

There’s nothing more American

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The Coca-Cola commercial that was aired during the Super Bowl this year had it exactly right. America is beautiful, because people from all over the world have always come here. They bring their languages and their customs and their foods and their traditions with them, and they hold onto them because it’s what they know best. But their children, and every generation after them, will be Americans, both in word and in deed.

Those who object to the Coke commercial need a lesson in what America really is. But Coke appears to understand it, and I’m proud to be a stockholder in this most American of businesses.

Links to my childhood lost

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I watched a lot of TV as a child. Too much, it now seems to me. But what’s done is done, and for better or for worse, it was the dominant medium of my youth.

Two of my very favorite shows in those days were Gilligan’s Island and The Partridge Family. And two of the main characters–one from each show–passed away today. It’s the most unusual death pairing I can think of since Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

First, the Professor. He was the straight man to the screwball antics of Gilligan and the Skipper, and I always thought of him as the calm within the storm on the Island. There’s only Ginger and Mary Ann left still with us now, and their times are coming too. But Russell Johnson added something to the show, and I’m glad that he was there. It would have been less of a show without him, somehow.

And then there’s Reuben Kincade. He was kinda sleazy before I even knew what that term meant, but he seemed right at home alongside Danny Bonaduce. They weren’t the prettiest ones on the show, but they were good for laughs, and that’s why I watched the show in the first place.

Time goes on, and more and more of the actors and singers and other artists that I watched and listened to and knew about in my youth will reach the end of the road. It’s worth taking a few moments to acknowledge their contributions when they do. Making people laugh is a great thing, and both of these actors did that for me. And I’m grateful to them for that.

A part of my youth

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I spent some time this morning playing an Atari game that I picked up at a second hand store. It was a way of connecting to the kid that I once was.

Video games were once a huge part of my life. I once spent hours upon hours playing Missile Command and Yars Revenge and a host of other games that cost me $30 and up. A good chunk of my paper route earnings went into Atari cartridges, at least until an even bigger chunk of it was shoveled into arcade games like Donkey Kong and Defender.

I once had shoeboxes filled with the games I had bought for myself over the years. And then one day, they were obsolete. The games had become a lot more sophisticated than my Atari could handle, and I was going to have to either buy a new game system (I think ColecoVision was the next big thing back then) or go without. So I opted out, instead. And I stayed out until I purchased a Wii for my family a number of years ago. I like the Wii, too, but I rarely play it anymore. Video games in the home are something that probably mean more to adolescent boys than anybody else. And that’s as it should be, I guess.

But a few moments of recaptured youth, in the form of the Atari games and its signature joystick, felt pretty good on a Sunday morning. The games themselves haven’t changed, and there’s something reassuring about that.

The early teenager that I was when Atari held its sway over me is long gone, but I was pleased to get some help from him in my living room today. That Yar can really be a handful sometimes.

Oh yeah, life goes on

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It was a typical Saturday of taking my daughters to their various meetings today, but it started, as it often does, at the ice skating rink. And the TV was tuned, as it so often is, to Sportscenter on ESPN. I’m sure that the skate moms aren’t much interested in the day’s sports headlines, but whoever makes the decisions about what to put on in the morning is probably in tune with me, on some level.

The ESPN highlights this morning included the sort of thing that made ESPN so exciting once: a backboard being shattered at what looked like a high school basketball game. When Darryl Dawkins broke two backboards back in 1979, ESPN (which had just gone on the air that September) showed the footage over and over again. These occurrences got more exposure than they would have received back in the dark days when the only way to get sports highlights was on the local news at night. I remember those days, and ESPN caught on, in part, because people want to see sports more than just a few minutes of an evening. People’s appetite for sports, in fact, is nearly limitless.

I say all of this because as thrilling as a backboard shattering dunk once was for me, seeing one as an adult hit me much differently than it did back in the late 1970s. For one thing, it occurred to me that the game in question probably came to an end when the backboard was shattered, or at least there would have been a terribly long delay in clearing the court and hanging a new backboard, assuming that it could be done in an hour or less.

And, on top of the existential threat to the game itself, the cost of a new backboard would have to be absorbed by somebody. Maybe there’s insurance to cover it, and maybe there isn’t. But either way, backboards aren’t free, and the money would have to come from somewhere.

It seemed that a shattered backboard was less of an exciting thing to me at this stage of my life than it would have been to me as a teenager. From the look of it, the fans in the stands were enjoying the sight of shattered glass in their gym. But it created headaches for some people as well, and I realize that now more than I ever would have in the days of Darryl Dawkins.

After my daughter took to the ice for her skating lesson, I went back to the car and turned on the radio. The first song that I heard was the guitar part of John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane,” and the lyrics “Oh yeah, life goes on…long after the thrill of living is gone.” It seemed funny that Mellencamp’s lyrics somehow applied to glass backboards being shattered. My thrill of seeing one–such as I had when Darryl Dawkins did it–has now been replaced by more grown-up concerns about what such an event means to the game and to somebody’s bottom line. Life sure has gone on, just as Mellencamp predicted it would

Consider this a little ditty about crackin’ backboards…..

Four years and a lifetime ago

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I remember it well, that New Year’s day in 2010, when Northwestern played the Auburn Tigers in the Outback Bowl. It was the first bowl game of the day, and I was ready for it with a mountain of alcohol. It was rare for me to start drinking before noon, but this was a big game and, well, football. That was all I needed, really.

By the time the game had ended, with Northwestern losing in overtime, I was already hammered, and the day was just getting started. By the time the last game ended late in the evening hours, I had watched a ton of football and consumed a ton of alcohol. The two had a symbiotic relationship with each other, to be honest about it.

I haven’t had a drink on New Year’s day since then. I’ve also just about cut television out of my life since then. New Year’s day this year consisted of two or three plays of the Wisconsin game (whichever bowl game it was) and–much more importantly–no alcohol whatsoever. It’s a decision that I’m comfortable with, because beer and television once had a long run in my life, and now I’m on to something else. Everything changes, after all.

Here’s to another year with little television, and even less liquor. And also to another year of wondering how I ever lived that way. I have no desire to go back to it, that’s for sure.

That’s Life, Brian

I don’t watch television anymore, and that goes for shows that I probably would enjoy, such as Family Guy. I’ve seen clips online, and it does appear to be a very funny show. But at the same time, television writ large is not a good thing, as I see it. The best–and really the only–way to make this point is to opt out of watching it.

So I wasn’t aware, until I saw stories about it on the internet, that Brian–the Griffin family’s dog–was suddenly and violently killed off last night. Viewers were shocked, and I understand that was the point. But some of the reactions that I’ve seen don’t just border on ridiculous, they give the term an entirely new level of meaning.

There is a group, for example, that is petitioning the show’s creator to bring Brian back. If only threats of viewer actions (such as a boycott, or perhaps…I’m drawing a blank about what else these disgruntled fans could possibly do) could shape the creative path that a TV series will follow.

The truth is that Seth MacFarlane created Brian, and all of the other characters on the show, and he can do whatever he wants to with them. The viewers don’t get a say, other than in deciding to watch the show, or not. But those who do watch the show are mistaken if they think that any of the characters belong to them.

But here’s another unfortunate nugget for those in disbelief: Real dogs die, too, and it’s every bit as final as the death of this cartoon dog appears to be. Yes, they do sometimes meet with violent and unexpected ends, but–for lack of a better term–c’est la vie. Every dog that’s ever been cherished as a pet will end up going someplace else one day. Why should an animated cartoon dog–even one that cracks wise–be any different?

So I hope that people who are upset about this will get a grip, and come to terms with the issues of creativity and life and death that seem to be so elusive for them right now.

This concludes whatever public service announcement I was trying to make.

Bozo and the Cubs

Bozo

I ruminated a little bit today about waiting lists: one that I was on, and one that I was not. The list I was not on was for Bozo’s Circus, back in the 1970s. I lived too far away from Chicago at the time, but I used to think about how cool it would be to see the show for myself.

The other waiting list was for Chicago Cubs season tickets. How or when I got on this list I don’t know, but I received a call about it this weekend. Rather than being happy about it–as I surely would have been, once upon a time–I just laughed it off and described the feeling for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, instead.

I’m always happy to get a Cubs-related nugget to write about, and this one surely fit the bill.

The birth of a column

Addison-St-Blues

I started writing for ThroughTheFenceBaseball (or TTFB) about a year and a half ago. I liked the idea that my random baseball musings could reach more people there than they could on this blog. I still dabble in baseball writing from time to time here, but by and large my baseball writings go to TTFB first. Then I write a post here with a link to that piece, and everything is good.

But starting with the piece that I wrote today, I have a featured column on TTFB. The title–Addison Street Blues–was my idea. It combines a Cubs theme (since Wrigley Field sits along Addison Street in Chicago) with one of my favorite TV shows growing up, Hill Street Blues.

I realize that the show was never specifically set in Chicago, but the “Metro Police” cars used in the show were pretty clearly patterned after Chicago’s police cars. And the theme song is one of those that can transport me back to the early 1980s at any given moment. So it’s not a bad way of combining two things I like into one place.

I’ll be writing more pieces for the column as the season winds down. There’s only five weeks of the season, and 32 games left to play. But there’s always some new angle to explore, and there’s lots of history and personal remembrances and things like that, too. So it will be fun, definitely. Feel free to check it out sometime.

And so it goes

Homer

There’s always death going on in the world, but a recent string of them has caught my attention. Consider that

It sometimes feels like sudden, unexpected deaths should be customized for each person receiving the news. Something like “Elvis Presley died today. He was younger than you are.” I realize this is not practical, but I understand why the person’s age is always given with the death notice.

We all measure our own age against the person who just passed on. Three of the four deaths above were younger than me, and the other one was only a few months older than I am now. If that won’t jolt me into appreciating life more while I still have it, then perhaps nothing will.

Life is indeed short. So let’s enjoy it for as long as we can.

The day my life changed

8888

Twenty five years ago today, my life changed forever. The Cubs had announced that they would play the first night game ever in Wrigley Field on Monday, August 8, 1988. It was going to be an event, and I wanted to be a part of it.

I had put myself in position by spending the summer of 1988 on the Northwestern campus. It was the first time I had spent any significant time away from my parents’ house (the first two years of college didn’t count, in my mind, because I was supposed to be on campus then). In hindsight, it was the start of moving away from living in their house, and toward living on my own. It was a transitional summer, for me and for the Cubs.

Since there wasn’t an internet back then, the tickets for the first night game were sold by phone. I remember calling and calling and calling, over the course of two hours, to no avail. The high call volume crashed the ticket servers, but somehow all of the tickets were sold, and I didn’t have any.

No problem, though, since there were watch parties set up in Chicago. I was planning to go to one with a friend of mine from the dorms. But, as always in those days, libations had to be procured first. There was a liquor store in Chicago that delivered to campus, and an order was placed with them. As my friend and I awaited the arrival of our dear uncle (as we referred to him back then), she indicated that a sorority sister of hers would be joining us for the evening. That’s fine, I said, the more the merrier.

The liquor delivery never arrived, and the game started but was eventually rained out, and the girl that was my friend’s sorority sister became my girlfriend and then, four years later, my wife. We’ve now been married for 21 years, and have known each other for 25. I tell my two daughters that it was the all-important day that set their existences into motion.

Night games at Wrigley aren’t uncommon anymore, and those who remember otherwise will one day become a vanishing breed. But that first night game will stay with me the rest of my days, and I’m so very glad that I wasn’t able to get any tickets for it.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

Farina

Last night I sat down to reflect on the passing of Dennis Farina. I liked his work in the movies and on television, of course, but the fact that he was a life-long Cubs fan is what hit me the most. So I tied his passing to the recent sing-along with Eddie Vedder and Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field. I’m actually quite proud of how it turned out.

Someday we’ll go all the way is a pretty good earworm to have, too. There’s a lot of hope in that message. When that’s all you have, you’d better hold onto it as tight as you can.