A kick ass American weekend

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The first time that I ever felt any national pride over a sporting event was the Miracle on Ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. I was 11 years old, and giddy at the prospect of beating the big, bad Soviets at what appeared to be their own game.

Flash forward 35 years, to Sunday’s triumph of the U.S. National Women’s Team at the World Cup. Again, soccer doesn’t seem to really be America’s game, particularly since the rest of the world calls it “football” instead. But when America’s best matched up against the rest of the world, the Red, White, and Blue came out on top. A better way to cap off the 4th of July weekend cannot be imagined, at least in the sporting realm.

The proceedings in Soldier Field were also a pretty good capper, in the artistic realm. It was a great weekend for America, all the way around.

A Moron and his Flag

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This is such a raw and terrible moment in our nation. The scourge of racism is alive and well, unfortunately. Anyone who thought that the election of Barack Obama somehow made us “post-racial” has now been proven wrong.

I grieve for the Charleston victims and their families, and I also grieve for everyone who no longer feels safe in their house of worship. Some would like to carry their guns to church with them, but those people live in a twisted world that I would never want to share. If we need to be strapped to worship the almighty, we may as well cease to consider ourselves civilized.

And if the massacre inside a church in Charleston has any silver linings at all, it will be that everyone–except for the most dark-hearted and hard-headed among us–now understands that the Confederate flag is a stain on America’s past, and has no place whatsoever in America’s future. It won’t bring the victims of Dylann Storm back, but it will have an impact going forward.

Chicago’s Moonlight Graham

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I wrote this story some time ago, and it was published on the website ChicagoSideSports.com. An archived version of the site exists, but does not include this piece, so I’m adding it here. Happy Memorial Day to all.

Anyone who has seen the movie Field of Dreams knows the story of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. He played just one inning as a major leaguer, never came to bat, and retired from baseball to become a doctor in the small town of Chisholm, Minnesota. It’s all completely true, and writer W.P. Kinsella turned the story of Graham’s brief career into literary gold, and Hollywood followed suit by creating the character that Burt Lancaster so memorably played on the screen. We can all picture Lancaster as he walks off the field and asks “Win one for me one day, will you boys?” But there was a baseball career that eclipsed even Graham’s in terms of nothingness, and it belongs to Chicagoan Alexander Thomson Burr.

Burr was born in Chicago in 1893, and he attended prep school and college on the east coast. He was included on the roster of the New York Yankees at the beginning of the 1914 season. The Yankees were managed by Frank Chance, who had been a part of the famed “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” infield that the Cubs had fielded in the prior decade. Chance’s managerial moves in a game on April 21, 1914 left him with no choice but to put Burr into the outfield for the ninth inning. There was one small problem with this maneuver: Burr was actually a pitcher, not an outfielder. Like Moonlight Graham, Burr played a single half-inning in the outfield, where nothing was hit his way. And like Moonlight Graham, Burr never came up to bat, and never again played in another major league game. But unlike Moonlight Graham, Burr played a position that he was not supposed to be at. But better to play out of position than to never make it at all.

Alexander Burr’s life after baseball was also much different from Moonlight Graham’s. Burr initially returned to school, but signed up for the U.S. Air Service when fighting broke out in Europe. The Air Service was created in May of 1918, and the use of airplanes in combat was still a new idea at that time. The dangers of using airplanes came into full view on October 12, 1918 when Burr collided in mid-air with another pilot over a lake at Cazaux, France. Four and a half years after his half-inning in the big league sun, Burr died at the age of 24.

Thanks to all who sacrificed for this country.

A day to honor Lincoln

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image150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state in Chicago. For those who waited in long lines, there was a chance to move past the president’s body and make the tragedy seem real. I’m sure nobody who made this wait ever regretted doing it.

I hoped there would be some kind of acknowledgement of this fact today, but if there was, I completely missed it. Instead, everything was about the NFL draft, which brings tourism and attention to this city. I understand this, but feel as though a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was missed. Lincoln deserved better than to be ignored.

I’ll write up everything I did someday, but for now here’s a sample image. I call it “two Lincolns” and there are others where this came from. I even cobbled together a few readings and posted it to my Facebook page. My Lincoln tribute was something I’ll always remember, in part because it came from my own actions. Since nobody seemed to be interested in commemorating Lincoln, I stepped up and did it myself. We cannot do enough to honor his memory.

Taking John Brown from coast to coast

FullSizeRender (21) April of 2015 was the first time that I went to both coasts in the same month. The beginning of the month was Spring Break, and a week in Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, and points in between. We ended our trip in San Francisco, and that’s where this story picks up.

City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco is what a bookshop should be: independent, progressive, and enduring. Most other bookshops have one of those three, if they’re lucky. It was on my list of things that I wanted to do, and it didn’t disappoint.

I knew I would be flying back home shortly, and I wanted a book to help pass the time (no e-reader for me, thanks). I gravitated toward History, as I always do, and found Tony Horwitz’ Midnight Rising to be just what I was looking for. I’ve written of John Brown here before, and Confederates in the Attic was an unsettling but effective read, so the book practically sold itself to me.

I read what I could on my flight back to Chicago, and stuffed the book into my work bag as the plane touched down at O’Hare airport. Since I don’t commute into an office anymore–thankfully–the half-read book sat in my work bag until the end of the month, when I headed to New York for a few days on business. My traveling partner on the way was John Brown, as told through the lens of Tony Horwitz. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to pass the time.

John Brown made it to New York with me, waited in the hotel for a couple of days, and then accompanied me to LaGuardia for the return flight. And then, somewhere over Michigan, the tale was finished. On the final day of the month, John Brown and I parted ways.

I had never traveled more than 3000 miles in the air with a book before, but John Brown and his story were the ideal companion. He shook things up with his ill-fated attack on Harpers Ferry Virginia, and nothing that followed after that was ever the same again.

Although John Brown was unsuccessful in freeing and arming a large band of former slaves in 1859, he did succeed in forcing the issue of slavery into everyone’s consciousness. And if that’s not worthy of being read from sea to shining sea, you’ll have to tell me what is.

Thinking for myself

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The stories about the tragic and needless deaths of African American men and boys have been coming at us for some time now: Trayvon Martin. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. And now, Freddie Gray. And I can almost certainly say that another name will be added to the list shortly.

The reactions in the media and online have been both predictable and lamentable. The dead black man is routinely and as a matter of course demonized and called a dangerous thug.  The word “thug” only seems to exist as racial shorthand for victims who somehow brought their demise on themselves.

The cops or law enforcement who caused the death of the supposed “thug” is routinely lionized, as well. Or at least, there were extenuating circumstances that make the death somehow rational. Never mind that the murdered African American men all had friends and loved ones who will mourn their passage. No, the world is now better off without the menace that the dead man or boy would have no doubt posed to society had they continued living. This is the narrative we’re fed on a regular basis by the media in this country.

In the name of being “informed” about events like this, people will willingly allow themselves to be told this narrative over and over again. So I would rather just skip all of this, because I know the conclusion I’m supposed to draw. And I won’t allow this to happen.

I visited Baltimore once, for a few hours on Spring Break three years ago. It won’t ever be the same again, not after the riots that brought about the imposition of martial law in the city. But give it another week or two, and the same story will play itself out all over again. The victim’s name and location will be different, but the end result will be all too familiar.

I’m taking the time that I otherwise might spend on hearing the media’s old story and doing something constructive, instead. I don’t regret broken windows or destroyed property, because that can be replaced if the will to do so exists. Rather, I mourn the loss of life because nobody can wake the dead.

Murder is an act of brutal finality, and it needs to be understood as such. What will that take for this to become an accepted societal narrative? I’m not sure, but there’s no way that CNN or the other news sources will ever provide it to me. That’s one thing I can confidently say.

No rain, No rainbows

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I don’t like rainy days, and I don’t think anybody does. I’m sure that some people prefer the rain, but like most people I’d rather have some sunshine, instead.

I was recently in California with my family on vacation. It’s a land of unspeakable beauty, and I envy the people who are lucky enough to live there. But they’re also in the midst of a drought that is threatening to change many things. Water is a precious resource, and if the rains aren’t falling, that’s not good.

There’s a saying in Hawaii that I added as the title for this post. It means that if you want good and beautiful things, you need to put up with the unpleasant things first. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. Something like that.

There was a tiny little bit of rain that fell when we were in Monterey, in the middle part of our trip. California needs more rain than what fell that day, but the end result was a tiny little sliver of a rainbow that emerged as my daughter was doing gymnastic flips on the beach near Cannery Row. And the wisdom of the Hawaiians hit me all over again. The rainbow was an added bonus that made an Incredibly lovely place even more so.

I wish many more rainbows for California in the days and months ahead. They will beautify the state, of course, but they desperately need what causes them, too.

Inside the landscape

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California is filled with beautiful places, and I’m pointing one out in this shot. Panoramics usually don’t render very well on a computer screen, but to know that I was in such a place–and wide awake at the time–is a pretty awesome feeling.

Playing a new game

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A few days before my family and I left for a vacation in California, my little one told me that she had been reading my blog, and it made her sad. It’s certainly not something that I wanted to hear, so I decided to ask her why.

“You tell stories about the run and jump and other things we don’t do anymore, and I miss them” she told me.

I told her that I wrote stories here so that she and I could have a record of them, and if we outgrew them one day–and we’re bound to do with most things–we can look back at them fondly. And if some stranger we’ve never met before wants to read the stories, that’s OK too. Better to have the stories than to rely on our memories, which are wonderful things but are not always as reliable as they could be.

My reply seemed to satisfy her, and I was reminded of our conversation a few days later, when we were on a beach near Pacific Grove, California. We were on the 17 Mile Drive, which I had never heard of before and now I’ll hardly ever forget it. But there’s a story to tell that I hope she finds some day.

The waves came crashing in, as they always have done before, and the two of us decided to turn this experience into a race. We would walk out toward the water as the wave was coming in, and after it crashed and the water came ashore, we’d begin to backpedal, all the while saying “back…back…back” as if this would keep the water away from us.

A successful round was going all the way back before the water reached your toes or–in my case–your shoes. It was fun because even if you misjudged the wave’s size or speed, the worst that would happen is some surprisingly cold water would touch your feet. With all of the hardships in the world, a few moments of trying to outrun an ocean wave felt like a rare treat.

We called our game “Back…Back…Back” and I’d be surprised if we ever had an occasion to play the game again. But it marked our time on the beach that day, and proved to me that while some games might be outgrown or cast aside, our love and our ingenuity never will.