The Cubs’ 2016 Graveyard

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Some people, in my neighborhood and in other places, turn their front lawns into faux graveyards at this time of year. So with Halloween upon us and the Cubs still playing meaningful baseball, here’s a look at some of the fake styrofoam tombstones that the Cubs could plant at Wrigley Field this year:

The Cardinals’ reign as NL Central champions: The St. Louis Cardinals have been the bullies of the division for some time, going all the way back to Albert Pujols’ days with the team. Wainwright, Molina, and all the rest have won and won and won again, and were trying to be the first team to ever win the Central division four years in a row. The Cubs laid waste to that, and controlled their division from Day 1 of the season.

The Giants’ beliEVEN thing: Winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 was a nice pattern to be in for Giants fans, and when their team won the Wild Card came this year they thought the pattern would repeat itself this year. The Cubs had other ideas, though.

The Billy Goat Curse: Oh, that curs’ed goat. The reason–some would have us believe–for the Cubs’ decades worth of World Series absence is the old story of a goat that was denied entry into the 1945 World Series. A man who brings a goat to a baseball game has no mystical powers of any sort, but people talked about it, anyway.

1969? Billy goat curse.

1984? Billy goat curse.

2003? Billy goat curse.

But the Cubs finally laid that one to rest and made the World Series. May we never hear about that goat again.

So the one thing left to do is scratch the 108-year itch and win the World Series. The Cubs have to beat Korey Feldman tonight, or find themselves in a Series of elimination games. They’ll come around tonight, I hope, and even the Series up with three games left to play. It’s been a great, cemetery-making run this year, and it’s not over yet.

Looking forward to some Mighty Cubs Blasts

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I recently happened upon Evangeline, a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I’m not very much of a poetry guy, but I found an old book at an estate sale with some poems inside, and decided to start paging through them. I even spent a quarter on the book, so I may as well see what is inside.

Evangeline, as Longfellow wrote it in the middle of the 19th century, tells the story of the expulsion of the Acadian people (who were largely French) from the village of Grand Pre, located in what is now the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The events happened in 1755, and nearly a hundred years later Longfellow decided to tell their story in poetic form.

In the initial lines of the poem, Longfellow writes:

Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.

Longfellow’s blasts had nothing to do with baseball, but instead with the cold wind gusts that can occur at this time of year. But there’s a different type of blast that will hopefully be on display tonight and through the weekend, as the World Series returns to Chicago’s north side for the first time in my lifetime.

The mighty blasts I’ll be looking for will come from Rizzo and Bryant, from Russell and Zobrist, and perhaps even from Contreras and–dare I say it?–new folk hero Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs won a game in Cleveland without the benefit of any longballs, but the October winds will be blowing this weekend, and the blasts should follow in short order. We’re just three wins away, after all, and things are looking great for the weekend ahead.

Go Cubs!

 

 

The left and the right of it all

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Being left-handed is no small thing in this right-handed world of ours. It’s not leprosy or anything, but it does consign those of us who live with it to a never-ending status of Otherhood.

I tell my right-handed friends that my mind literally works differently from theirs. It isn’t anything that we get to choose, but it’s felt much more acutely by southpaws like me than for righties like (I’m assuming here) you.

Why can I assume the person reading this is right-handed? A lifetime of looking around classrooms and meeting rooms–which is about the only time a person’s hand preference manifests itself–tells me this. Maybe there’s another lefty in a given room, but more than one would be a shocker.

Although I wouldn’t trade my unique perspective on the world for anything, sometimes I feel the urge to describe what it’s like, for the benefit of those who never have to think about such things.

And now back to my right-handed world. Thanks for reading.

MMM, Donuts

For International Donut Day, I wanted to see if it was possible to go five years of writing a blog and NOT mention donuts along the way. Turns out it isn’t, at least not for me.

The Dunkin’ Donuts ad pic was taken on a visit to Fenway Park shortly before I began this blog journey back in 2011, but I apparently never wrote anything about it. Until now, anyway.

The glazed donut pic was added to a piece that I wrote remembering Halloweens gone by, from my youth in Jerome, Illinois.

And as a bonus sweet treat, here’s the story of the 16 year-old who is credited with inventing the donut hole. Wherever you are today, Hanson Crockett Gregory, we are all in your debt.

 

A half-empty bottle

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The worst night of my life started with a half-empty bottle of beer.

It was not quite five years ago in New York City, and I was in the process of trying to give up drinking altogether.

The details aren’t really that important. The bottom line is I knew that alcohol was no friend of mine, after a quarter century of acting as though it was. Drinking made me feel like something other than what I was, and that was a good thing in my view.

Then, in late 2010, I made the decision to stop drinking altogether, in the hope of finally embracing what I was, and to quit feeding myself something that was harming me. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. That’s exactly what I needed to do.

After a few months of giving it up altogether, I drank a couple of margaritas while watching the NCAA tournament one night, and got drunk on mojitos celebrating a friend’s birthday a few weeks later. But I still had quitting on my mind when I went to New York with my family in June of 2011.

My wife had ordered a bottle of Bud Light in a restaurant, and only drank half of it. Starting to drink and then stopping had always been a foreign concept to me, from the very first time that I had a drink. once I started, I did not–and could not–stop. And after decades of denying this about myself, I finally knew it to be true.

I stared long and hard at that bottle on the table, all those years ago. And in the end, I finished it myself. Lots of bad things followed after that, but in the aftermath of it I told myself that it couldn’t happen again. And nearly five years later, I’m very happy to report that it hasn’t. I don’t miss it, and I never really needed it in the first place. That’s a hard-earned realization on my part, but one that I’m very glad to have made.

On Easter Sunday today, my wife again left a half-finished bottle of beer, this time on the dining room table in our house. I remembered the night in New York where I answered the call to finish the beer, but today was a completely different story. When faced with the opportunity to revert to my old ways, I didn’t even think about doing it. And that’s the way I have to live from now on.

If the Cubs finally win the World Series, I may allow myself a celebratory glass of champagne. But no half-finished beer bottles are going to knock me off this stride.

 

An Open Letter to Sarah Palin

Bravo to Chris Mark. This is only the second time I’ve reblogged something on this site, but it’s well worth a read.

Global Security, Privacy, & Risk Management

Dear Mrs. Palin,

I am a former US Marine and US Navy Officer with a Combat Action Ribbon as well as service connected disabilities. I am also a Republican.  I have also served with, and am friends with, dozens of combat veterans who suffer daily from various injuries and wounds to include PTSD.  I recently read your comments related to PTSD in which you attempted to excuse your son’s arrest on domestic abuse charges and firearm charges by referencing his supposed PTSD.   Based upon your previous comments I am not surprised that you would choose to use this very serious condition as a political football and, once again, attempt to divert blame from your own family’s abhorrent, violent behavior.

In 2014 your entire family was involved in a late night ‘drunken brawl’ at a party in which Track Palin (the accused domestic abuser) was involved in a bloody fight. …

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Governor Snyder, you can’t fix this

When I think about what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, I get really angry. Whoever thought that giving poisoned water to the public–in order to save money over clean water taken from another source–needed to be reined in by the person who had the authority to do so, and in this case it was the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder.

But Snyder let the deed go down, and the people of Flint have paid the price. A legionnaire’s disease outbreak has already killed 10 people, and everyone who drank or used that water–which had been tested at elevated levels of carcinogens–did damage to themselves that we won’t see for a long time to come.

We need water to live, and as citizens we have a right to expect our water to be safe to use. If government is to have any purpose at all, that’s one of them. And when the water is unsafe, those who approved of giving it to the people cannot be trusted to clean up the mess themselves.

Rick Snyder and anyone else who knew that Flint was receiving poisoned water–but did nothing to warn the people about its dangers–needs to be removed from office and prosecuted for a criminal act. Terrorists would love to poison a city’s drinking water, so why do the people who actually succeeded at doing so get a chance to “fix” their mistake? It won’t bring back those who have died, nor will it remove the nasty chemicals inside the people who drank or bathed in this toxic stuff.

The solutions to this situation are very pricey, and for a city and a state (and a nation, if we’re being honest about it) that doesn’t have the money to spare, things can look pretty dire. But as long as the governor who allowed this to happen remains in charge, nothing will truly get solved. Step one is to remove the present governor, and let someone else try to fix the damage from there.

May we never see anything like this ever again in an American city.

He never had a chance

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This undated autopsy diagram provided by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office shows the location of wounds on the body of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald who was shot by a Chicago Police officer 16 times in 2014. A judge on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015 ordered the city to release squad car dashcam video of the shooting. The officer has been stripped of his police powers, but remains at work on desk duty. (Cook County Medical Examiner via AP)

Today I’m going to the football game between Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Soldier Field. I’m wondering if there will be any crowd control issues, given all that has happened in the wake of the Laquan McDonald video release. I certainly hope not, but my mind goes back to Camden yards in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray case. They played a game in an empty stadium, rather than serve as a target for what was going on in the streets at the time. That’s not going to happen today, so we’ll all have to wait and see what plays out.

I’m taking my cellphone to the game. If anybody wants to sign up for periscope, a twitter app that allows for videos to be broadcast live, and follow me @Rlincolnharris, I’ll put anything interesting online. I hope I don’t get that chance, but I’ll probably show something at some point, regardless.

But my larger point, which I may come back and revisit after this is all over, is that a kid like Laquan McDonald never had any chance of making it onto campus at either school. None whatsoever. He likely attended a school in the Chicago Public Schools, or CPS. I taught in CPS myself, many moons ago, and I left as quickly as I could find something else to do. And after years of being under-educated or merely just looked after, Laquan McDonald probably did the same thing.

At 17 when he was killed, it’s possible that he was still in school when he was killed, but I think I would have heard something about that by now if he was. My guess is that his crappy school, whatever name it was known as, had nothing to offer him, and so he left. No diploma, no opportunity to get a job (because those were shipped overseas a long time ago, or they never existed to begin with), no chance at anything but a life on the streets. It is preferable to death on the streets, but in time he would have found that, too. The officer who is being charged with Laquan’s murder just got there first. And the murder charge is all a show, too. It won’t stick, and when the case is dismissed or the jury refuses to convict, we’ll be right back here all over again.

I hope they play the football game today. And I hope something somehow changes so that a kid like Laquan McDonald can aspire to go to either school someday. The first could happen, but the deck is very highly stacked–overwhelmingly so–against the second.

Fair Questions to Ask

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Did Subway know about Jared Fogle’s predilections for child pornography?

If they did, and did nothing to address it, was this the wrong thing to do?

Does Subway have any sort of responsibility to keep the face of their brand on the straight and narrow?

Does Jared Fogle have any ownership stake in the company at this time?

How much of a Subway purchase today will end up in Jared’s pockets?

The answers to these aren’t clear, and may never be.

But I’ll never spend any money at Subway again, I know that much. I’ve grown tired of the food, for one thing, and even the possibility that money spent at Subway will go to Jared, directly or indirectly, is more than I want to consider.

It’s been a fun ride, Subway, but this train will be off on a different track from now on.

Carry on

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A terrible storm blew through my neighborhood on Sunday, and its aftermath is still with us, in tree limbs and, in some cases, entire trees that sit along the curbs of my neighborhood. It’s rare to find a block that doesn’t have some natural debris in it still, five days after the storm.

The tree above caught my eye today, because it was damaged and the solution was to leave it in place, with its sweeping side branches in place, and its main trunk shorn off. I don’t know if the tree can survive like that long-term, but I suppose we’ll find out.

Like the storm that ravaged my neighborhood five days ago, unfavorable life events have recently visited my own world. nobody’s dead or wounded, fortunately, and I still have a life that many people wish they had. the knowledge of this helps to keep me going, and I’m grateful in many ways for the things that I still have.

but like the tree in the picture above, I’ll go on from here, probably in a different form than what I was before. But life does go on, in ways we sometimes don’t anticipate. And I’m grateful for that.

The fragile nature of trees

As I understand it, the Chicago neighborhood I call home was built in the 1920s, in response to general prosperity and a desire to move away from the race riot that happened on the South side in 1919. This means that there are many tall, mature trees where I live. And that’s usually a good thing. A tall, majestic tree can provide shade and pretty up a block like nothing else can.

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But mature trees don’t fare too well in high winds and storms. I learned that today, as a microburst swept in and cut a destructive swath in a matter of minutes. Some pictures of the damage are provided here, but they can’t really do it justice. I don’t literally live in a war zone, but it feels like great destruction has been brought to the streets and parks where I live.

Nature nourished these trees throughout my lifetime and beyond. And then, in a reminder of its great power, it called some of them home. May we always remember that this is Nature’s planet, and we are lucky enough to live here, for however long we are given.

American anticipation

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I took the picture above on July 3, on Central Steet in Evanston, Illinois. There’s an annual parade down Central on the 4th of July, and people set out chairs to reserve their spots along the parade route the day before.

Whoever sits in these chairs today, we can be sure that they love this country and want to celebrate its birth. Their ancestors, whoever they may be, once came to this country in the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their descendants.

I want to say something about how ugly Donald Trump’s comments about Mexicans coming to this country are. Such a man has a profound misunderstanding of what America has always been, and is in no way qualified to lead it.

America will endure as it always has, because it will be collectively wise enough to reject Trump and his foolish thought patterns.

Happy birthday, America. May your parades down Central Street never stop taking place, and may the chairs always be filled with people who love and understand you.

A win for progress and love

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Whenever I discuss gay marriage with somebody, particularly a male, I say something along the lines of “I don’t want to marry you, but I should have the right to do it, anyway.” I’ve been married to the same woman for 23 years this summer, so the chances I’d ever carry through with that are very slim. But the Supreme Court gave me–and every other American–that right today. And it feels great.

The news is creating a buzz here in the public library in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where I find myself as I’m typing this out. A decade ago, Massachusetts set the trend that the rest of the country caught up to today.

The problem with being ahead of the curve, as I’ve discovered myself on occasion, is that the rest of society is generally unwilling to understand or embrace something new. John Kerry was branded a “Massachusetts Liberal” back in 2004, and that term didn’t apply to issues like independence from Britain or universal schooling for children or abolition of slavery, all of which Massachusetts led the way on once upon a time. No, a “Massachusetts liberal” was code for “he’s from that state where gay people can get married.” We had another four years of George W. Bush as president because that line of attack on John Kerry was so effective.

But that’s all over now. Today I can marry a man or a woman, in any state in this country, and that marriage must be recognized as valid. It doesn’t directly affect me, but it affects my children as they grow up, and it affects everyone in this country, whether they like the idea or not.

Progress and love won today. God Bless America always sounds good, but it sounds especially sweet today.

The wonders of a blog

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I wish everyone had a place to go with their thoughts and ideas, before they disappeared into the ocean of life. Some place where one moment or one sensation could be left behind for posterity.

I’m in such a moment right now, on a cold, wind-swept beach in Evanston, Illinois. Waves are crashing, birds are doing what they always have, and the smell of Lake Michigan is invigorating. It’s bad news for those wanting a summer’s day at the beach, but those days will come in time. For now, leaving an image and a few words behind to remember this moment seems fitting.

Life is filled with beauty, when we open our minds and our hearts to look for it.

Step right up and sweep the Mets

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A couple of weeks ago, I was checking into a hotel in Brooklyn. The woman working at the front desk was a Mets fan, and I congratulated her on her team’s recent ten-game winning streak.

Without missing a beat–and in true New York style–she said “Eleven.” I promptly stood corrected.

As I’m now waiting to take off on a flight for the other coast, I’m thinking of her and that exchange. The Cubs just finished off a series sweep of three games over her Mets. Four games, actually. I believe that’s pronounced touché.

I surely do love baseball and, as a Cubs fan, this year is shaping up to be a one like I haven’t seen before. Talking smack to the Mets fans out there is a new one for me, but I could get used to it in a hurry.

Stevie Ray and the Grammies

I have to admit that I wasn’t very excited about visiting the Grammy museum in Los Angeles. But since it was my daughter’s 16th birthday, off we went. As often happens in life, there was more to it than I expected.

I found an exhibit of Stevie Ray Vaughan items on the third floor, between exhibits for Tupac Shakur and Donna Summer. Seeing the guitars he played, and personal items like a handwritten note or a hat he wore onstage, was a fascinating experience.

The 25th anniversary of his death is coming up this summer, and I hope something is being planned to commemorate it. As the exhibit said, nobody’s been able to fill the void since he left us.

The best experience, though, was putting on a pair of headphones and listening to Texas Flood live. There were teenagers flittering about, and a few others stopped to look at the display, but there I was, a middle-aged man in full air guitar mode. The music was spectacular, and I was thrilled to be able to be immersed in it for a few moments.

It took a long time before I could appreciate the role of the blues in birthing rock and roll. Stevie Ray Vaughan put that linkage front and center in his music, and we’re all better off for it. I humbly offer my thanks to him, and those who inspired him, and the Grammy people for mounting the exhibit, and to my daughter–my Pride and Joy–for suggesting we go in the first place.

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There’s baseball in the air

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With less than two weeks left until Opening Night in Chicago, it’s time to start thinking about the return of baseball. There will be new story lines every day, for the next seven months. And winter will disappear at the same time. How can anybody not love that?

Here’s my 2015 Cubs preview on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and here’s my White Sox preview for the same website. Yes, I worked both sides of Madison Street this year.

And the NCAA tournament will help get us all through the last full weekend before the season starts. I can’t ask for much more than that.

Got a condo made a’ stona

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If comedy were like baseball–and perhaps it is, in some ways–its Babe Ruth is named Steve Martin. Watching him on the 40-year special for Saturday Night Live last night transported me back to the days of King Tut and the Festrunk Brothers and the “Wild and Crazy Guy” shtick.

Carlin and Pryor and many others have made me laugh, even when I didn’t fully understand the things they were talking about, but for me Steve Martin did it first, did it best, and left a standard that all others will be measured against. And his guest hosting spots on Saturday Night Live were the perfect vehicle for it.

 

2015 and the vortex of Death

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Any way you look at it, 2015 has been a rough year so far. The recent deaths of Bob Simon of 60 Minutes and David Carr of the New York Times have come on the heels (no pun intended) of the death of Dean Smith–a renown basketball coach–Ernie Banks, Stuart Scott, and others. The last piece I wrote in this space, a few days ago, was about the passing of Anne Moody, an important figure in the Civil Rights movement. So I’m aware of the toll this year has already taken.

I wanted to write this post in response to a tweet sent out by Jake Tapper in response to David Carr’s death. He asked “What the hell are we going to do now?” and the answer to that is very clear. It’s what we always do, as a society. It’s what we will always do, in the face of loss and adversity. We will carry on, inspired by the contributions made by the departed. But we can’t stop, ever, no matter who it is that has fallen.

David Carr, like every person who has gone before him, left a legacy behind. Thanks to the internet, anyone who wants to read his legacy can do exactly that. The stories he told, and the engrossing way he told them, are quite remarkable. Anyone who doubts the power of the written word needs to check out some of his stories. His “Me and My Girls” should be required reading for all parents, everywhere.

But the point of this piece, which is being written at a time when I should be getting some sleep instead, is to say that we the living need to keep on going. Carr, and the others who have passed, left their mark on us, and we would do well to remember this always. But we must carry on, and strive to create whatever legacy we can for those who will follow in our wake. Not all of us will leave 1,776 pieces for The New York Times behind. But each of us can leave something. What that looks like is up to each of us. So let’s do it.

Thank you, Anne Moody

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Nothing motivates me to write in this space like the death of someone consequential. Many times it’s musicians or athletes who get my creative juices going, but today it’s someone who probably won’t get nearly the attention she deserves. I hope everyone knows what Anne Moody did back in 1963, but since it was so long ago, I’m afraid this is not the case. So meet Anne Moody, who helped us to get to a better place in our society.

I cannot imagine what segregation looked like, and this photo helps to fill in those gaps. In 1963, the lunch counters at the Woolworth’s store–like thousands more all across the South–were off limits to African Americans. No matter how good the food smelled, and no matter how hungry a person was, they could not sit down at a lunch counter and request service if their skin was black or brown. It had been that way for generations, and both white and black people thought that’s how it would always be. It’s great if you’re white, but not so great if you aren’t.

So when Anne Moody, who is the African American woman with salt in her hair in the photo above, sat down at a lunch counter in 1963, she was directly challenging the long-standing social order of the South. And when the mobs who were the beneficiaries of that social order got wind of what she was doing, they began to harass Anne Moody and her compatriots.

Was anyone going to come to her aid that day? Not at all. Law enforcement was not there to protect her that day, and anyone sympathetic to her cause risked the same treatment if they spoke up. So she sat there and took it; the language hurled her way, I imagine, was far more threatening than the condiments. But the look on her face in this photo tells me that she was going to have to be killed to get out of her seat that day. And from what I’ve read about the segregated South, that was a distinct possibility.

The heroism that Anne Moody showed that day is staggering. The angry white mob of teenagers and grown men were defending, as they saw it, their Southern heritage. If they had their way, people like Anne Moody would fold up and run away, and beg the mob to forgive their indiscretion for believing that they, too, were worthy of service at the lunch counter. But she stood tall by remaining where she was.

I first encountered the picture above in a history book, and if a better image of what segregation meant exists, I haven’t yet seen it. We’ll look at that picture today and think “Damn, that was some messed up stuff back in those days.” But some of those white teenagers are undoubtedly still alive. Their names aren’t worth knowing, but what’s important is to realize that they lost. They’re on the proverbial wrong side of history. Whether they can accept this or not is both besides the point, and entirely the point.

When Anne Moody passed away recently, I only just learned her name, but I’m happy that I did. This white man–who might have had the cowardice to join in the mob in the Woolworth’s back in 1963–is grateful to have never witnessed such a sight as a segregated lunch counter. And her courage helped to make that happen.

Even though I never met Anne Moody–or even knew her name until this morning–I owe her a great deal. All of us who realize how dehumanizing segregation was, on both sides of the racial divide, are in her debt. A few words in her honor here aren’t very much, but I’m happy to write them, just the same.

Thank you, Anne Moody. Your actions in 1963 were consequential and heroic. May we all have the same courage and determination that you showed at that lunch counter. The America I live in today is a better place for it.