It’s no accident that “Baseball” is the biggest topic in the wordcloud associated with this blog. Nor is it an accident that the first thing I wrote on this site related to baseball in some. Without baseball, I might not even have a blog in the first place.
Today it’s Opening Day, and what I’ve been looking forward to since last October has finally arrived. And this year, 2016, is the year that the Cubs will finally get to the Promised Land of the World Series. I’m beyond happy about that.
Enjoy the baseball gallery, and more importantly, enjoy the season ahead. Go Cubs!
It’s been a quiet February on the blog front. The enthusiasm I once had for doing this has ebbed, and I like sleeping at night, too. But I recently had my annual Cubs preview posted on Cardsconclave.com (has it really been five years of doing that? Time flies!) and I had a piece that I reconstructed from a post in this space published on HistoryBuff.com It looks like the kind of website I’ve been wanting for a long time. May other stories make their way onto that site soon.
There’s a few things I want to say about life, and hopefully I’ll have time for it soon enough. But for now I just wanted to plug my writing a little bit, and remind myself that I still enjoy doing it.
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.
Today I dropped off my teenager at her Saturday class, and then took a detour through the local cemetery on the way home. It’s a gray, cold, and slightly rainy day here in Chicago, and it’s also Halloween, so I figured why not.
I parked the car in a random spot, got out and walked around for a bit, determining how old people were when they passed on. Some were older than I am now, and some were younger. Life is short, no matter how many years and months and days you actually end up getting here on earth.
A one point I stopped and scanned the horizon. It was 360 degrees of rain and cold and falling leaves and general reminders of death. It was so creepy that I actually enjoyed it. I’m definitely in the Halloween spirit now.
As I started walking back toward the car, a small gravestone caught my eye. It was grey with a rounded top and some jagged edges. Nothing fancy, but its isolation was what made me notice it. There was nothing within at least 20 feet in any direction, which is unusual for this cemetery. And along the top one word was carved: ROBERT. No dates, no description of who the person was or when they walked the earth. Just my given name, ROBERT. The creep factor went off the charts with that one. But I think I’ll enjoy this day, both for myself and that other Robert who can no longer do so.
My younger daughter’s school finds itself without a principal, at the beginning of a new school year. This is a recipe for disaster at any school, but when a school has thousands of students, the stakes are raised immeasurably. In such a situation, a leader is needed to provide a firm hand.
I know of no greater ally, in important matters like this, than Abraham Lincoln. The historian David Donald called this process “Getting Right with Lincoln,” and it’s something that every politician seeks to do. Nobody can say what Lincoln would have said or done in any given situation, of course, but getting him on your side anyway is an advantage worth seeking.
To that end, I sent the following email to the head of the Chicago Public Schools today:
It is quite unacceptable that one of the largest high schools in the state, and one of the most prominent schools in all of CPS, has not been able to identify a principal, due to a stalemated LSC selection process.
The Civil War would not have ended as it did without the firm, decisive leadership of Abraham Lincoln. Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! speaks to the ability a leader has to shape the events around him or her. Leaving my daughter’s school without a leader in command would be an irresponsible act, and I implore you to not let this happen.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
I have redacted the name of my daughter and the school, as well as the leader I am supporting in this process. I don’t think direct advocacy serves any purpose here. But the invocation of Lincoln, as filtered through the creative genius of Walt Whitman, is the most compelling reason I can think of for taking action at a time like this.
The education of children–mine, yours, and everyone’s–is too important to sit one one’s hands, or shut your eyes and hope for the best.
Here’s hoping for a resolution of this matter, and soon.
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.
150 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.
I spent much of February 2015 growing a beard. It originally grew out of the hockey-related idea of a playoff beard.
If you keep a routine that does not allow for shaving to intrude, the thinking goes, it will somehow create a benefit for one’s team. Or at least it allows you to share the experience with others who do the same silly thing.
I called this phenomenon the Grateful Beard, since it grew out of a waiting to see if I was going to get tickets to one of the reunion/farewell shows the Grateful Dead is playing this summer in Chicago.
I’ve been to four Dead shows over the years, with the last one being almost 22 years ago now. Four shows isn’t much by some standards, but most people haven’t even been to one show, so I’m happy to be as experienced as I am. For a rock lifer like me, hearing Jerry and his band play live confers some degree of street cred that few other bands can match.
Jerry Garcia once said that the trick is not to do something better than everyone else does it, but to do something that no one else is doing. The band was singular in their time, and that shows in what will surely be a hyper-crazy demand to be a part of the three shows this summer. this is a one-time thing, and I want in.
But as I posted previously, the mail order didn’t work out, and my money order arrived in the mail a few days ago. I took one last picture of my Grateful Beard, complete with a legitimate touch of gray in it, and shaved it off yesterday morning.
Now that the Beard is no more, I understand that it–like the Dead shows this summer–was a unique and singular experience. Never again will my whiskers depend on the content of my mailbox. So even though my efforts did not lead to the miracles I had been seeking, I still had some way of marking the time along the way. It’s a small thing, but I am memorializing it here, all the same.
Here’s hoping that the telephone and Internet sale this morning leads to greater success than the mail order did. What I can say confidently is that no Beard will be grown during this process.
I’m a big Abraham Lincoln fan, and I’ve written about statues of him, and busts, and artworks, and really anything else I could find. But Lincoln Avenue has somehow escaped my attention, until now.
Last night I found myself driving down Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, and I realized a couple of things. There are two distinct parts to it, one that begins in a neighborhood appropriately called Lincoln Park, and another that begins in a different neighborhood called Lincoln Square. And in between, it disappears into Western Avenue for a few blocks. It’s not a street that you can stay on for as long as you want to. You need to know the way go if you want to stay on it. So it’s certainly a complicated road to follow.
But even more important is the direction that it takes. More than 90% of this city’s streets run north/south or east/west. In fact, the city’s grid system depends on streets like this. In the picture above, for example, Southport Avenue runs north and south. But Lincoln Avenue, like the man it is named for, doesn’t follow a tidy, straightforward path. It runs diagonally its entire length, turning many traditional intersections into six-way adventures. It’s as if the street takes on the character of the man who really has no parallel in the scope of American history.
I write about Lincoln statues and the like because they exist to commemorate the railsplitter who became president. But a road is a bit harder to conceptualize as a tribute. It serves a different purpose, that’s for sure. But thinking about this road, and how and where it cuts its route through the city I call home, I realize what a fitting tribute to him it really is.
Last night, on a soggy beach in Chicago, I saw Boston play live for the first time in my life. I’ve written about Boston many times in this space, and hearing their music in the company of thousands more who also appreciate their unique sound meant a lot to me.
I was once a dissatisfied teenager living in Springfield, Illinois, and Boston’s music spoke to me. It offered visions of going someplace else, about–as they called it–chasing a dream. I wanted that so much when I was in high school, and now I’ve accomplished it. I don’t live there anymore, and I’m more than happy to visit it on occasion, but Chicago’s my home now.
I initially had some reservations about hearing the band play without Brad Delp, the singer on their studio albums. But last night I realized that the songs were written by Boston’s guitarist, Tom Scholtz, and music that can bring so much joy to people–myself included–deserves to be heard, by whoever wants to sing it. The crowd always sings along, anyway, so whoever is onstage with the microphone already has all the help they need. Last night I finally realized that, and it made a great night even better. Those changes can open your eyes.
Sometimes things don’t go the way you expect. That’s what happened for a group of college alumni in Chicago in the year 1887. They had gathered at the Farragut boat club on Thanksgiving day, trying to find out the results of the annual football game between Harvard and Yale. I’m not sure how that worked in the days before electricity, but there had to be some method of learning the results.
After Yale was announced as the winner, a Yale alumnus threw a boxing glove in the direction of a Harvard alum, who swung at it with a broom. The assemblage then started to play an indoor version of baseball. Their legacy–the game we now know as softball–is proof that unexpected results can happen in everyday situations.
My daughter plays on a softball team, and earlier this week I took her to a practice in a Chicago park. She practiced her gymnastics moves and we played catch while waiting for the rest of her team to arrive.
After about 15 minutes, we began to wonder if anyone was coming. My daughter then began throwing softball pitches to me, which is something she had never done before. And as it turns out, she’s really good at it. We were both pleasantly surprised to learn this.
The team never showed up, and we were there on the wrong day, but it was the best non-practice we’ve ever had. And wherever those Yale and Harvard alums are now, I’m sure they were pleased with the outcome.
Losing a bookstore is an odd paradox. On the one hand, the prices are slashed so that the store’s inventory can be moved quickly. But on the other hand, the store goes away once the sale is over. And the world needs more bookstores, not less.
Such was my dilemma today when I visited Powell’s bookstore on Chicago’s North side. It’s closing in June, citing an economic climate that isn’t too kind to booksellers. I had been to Powell’s a few times through the years, and its size alone seemed to augur for a long-term presence on Lincoln Avenue. But in the end, that’s one of the factors that did them in.
I felt a sense of sadness as I wandered through the store this afternoon. I picked up four books for a total of $10, and the titles all look like they will be interesting (a Shakespeare biography, two books about Abraham Lincoln, and Jonathan Eig’s Get Capone, if anyone’s interested). I always appreciate cheap reads, and today’s visit did not disappoint. But it also came with a steep price.
Had I been more inclined to pay full price for these books a few months ago, I doubt that alone would have made a difference in the store’s fortunes. But if thousands of others had taken this same approach, then perhaps the store’s sales would have been robust enough to avoid closure. And it’s too late now, unfortunately.
Bookstores like Powell’s have been disappearing for some time now. I love bookstores and what they represent, but I fear their dwindling numbers also says something about our society. Paying full price is less desirable to readers than paying a reduced price, which in turn is less desirable than free. For booksellers and artists of every stripe, free and reduced prices are difficult business models to sustain.
I saw a sign on the wall of the store today that made me stop for a moment. It was a letter written by schoolchildren, and it included the line “Thank you for the books.” And I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Thank you for the books, Powell’s.
I felt like I should have been in a zoo, as I watched three lovely, full grown swans grazing freely in a public park near the Chicago river.
As I got nearer to take their photograph, I expected them to fly away, as most birds would. But they remained calm, and began to chatter among themselves, probably about my intrusion into their feeding time.
Their pristine whiteness seemed almost impossible among the dirt and grime of the city. But there they were, unfazed by anything around them.
Earth Day was officially a couple of days ago, but this scene reminds me that we can dedicate ourselves to appreciating the life that’s all around us, every day of the year.
Today is the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who is best known for The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, but who also wrote the following couplet:
The love of learning, the sequestered nooks
And all the sweet serenity of books
There’s another cold day outside, here in Chicago. Keeping warm is essential this winter, more so than any other that I can remember. But Spring is on its way, and that makes today’s chill more tolerable.
I won’t have such a nice book collection available as the one shown above, but I wanted to share the image anyway. It’s the sort of image where you can imagine a comfortable chair, and a crackling fire, and a mug of hot chocolate. A dog is curled up in a chair, and the creative legacy of years and centuries gone by awaits.
February rages on outside, but inside it’s just as cozy as can be. And Spring is only getting nearer.
The dirty secret about the practice of dibs–which is saving a parking spot on the street by putting chairs in the space during the wintertime–is that once somebody saves a spot for themselves, they have no incentive to clear it out. Once it’s theirs, it’s theirs. Or so the thinking goes, anyway.
Today the sun was out, and the temperature rose above 32 degrees, so the snow started to melt. I then went outside with a shovel and cleared about 60 feet of parking space along my street. It was hard work, too, because there was a thick layer of ice at the bottom of the snow. But I felt like it had to be done, because two people had cordoned off this stretch of the public way as being theirs.
When the space had been cleared, I chucked the chairs and the garbage pail that had been used as placeholders aside. And I don’t know who will be parking in those spaces tonight, nor do I care very much. All I know is that the squatters have been evicted, and that feels pretty good.
Yesterday I was driving through Chicago on a snowy day. My teenager was exhausted from a day of singing and acting and dancing, so she was asleep in the front seat of the car. I rarely get to pick out the music when she’s in the car so I popped in a U2 CD, and forwarded through to track 5, “Running to Stand Still.” It was one of those random things that life provides, but it turned out to be a fortuitous choice, just the same.
The song’s slow, mournful air seemed to complement the falling snow, and I started to sing along. I was half expecting my teenager to come to life and demand that I stop, but since it didn’t happen like that, Bono and I had an interesting duet. The next two or three songs after that were pretty good, too, but “Running to Stand Still” stayed with me, as good art does sometimes.
This morning I was on my computer, and I wanted to learn more about the song. The wikipedia entry was very informative, and I learned about the song’s origins in a rough area of Dublin called Ballymun. The song was written about the effects of heroin addiction, but it has since taken on larger meanings of any seemingly hopeless situation. Like other forms of art, the song means different things to different people, depending on what you bring to it.
But the kicker, and what inspired me to write this, is an extra bit of information I gleaned about the song. The only time I’ve seen U2 perform live was at the Rosemont Horizon back in the Spring of 1987, shortly after The Joshua Tree was released. Time magazine had pronounced U2 as “Rock’s Hottest Ticket” and that is the name of a bootleg recording of the show, which has apparently gained legendary status among U2 fans for the quality of the recording.
All these years later, I’m now able to revisit the show and imagine how different life is today from what it was back then. The music still sounds great, by the way.
Whenever a big snowfall happens in Chicago, the parking spaces along the curb get overrun with snow. If you walk down almost any block in the city when this happens, you’ll see parking spots being “saved” by an assortment of chairs, crates, traffic cones, children’s toys, and anything else that happens to be available.
The message this sends is that whoever put those things out has the right to move them and park in the space, but nobody else does. It’s childish and anti-social–for the record I wish it would go away–but it’s the unofficial law of the jungle around here.
I haven’t known a day in Chicago without a Dominick’s store. In some of the places I’ve lived, it was my go-to place to shop. And now, they are all either shut down or in the process of becoming something else.
It’s not like somebody has died, or that the world won’t keep spinning without a grocery chain. I won’t get carried away with this point, but I can’t let it go without a comment, either. This is something that everyone living in Chicago can identify with, whether they shop there or not.
As time goes by, people who remember Dominick’s stores will forget or die out, and one day–a long time away–nobody will remember them anymore. So I’m putting down a historical marker before that happens, in the hope that it will one day keep an old memory alive, or introduce someone to a place they can’t go to anymore. The internet is forever, even if a grocery chain is not.
I could never live in Albuquerque, or probably any other city like it. And the oversized pickup trucks that are so prevalent on the roads are as good an explanation as I can offer.
I have no doubt that many of these trucks are used for things like ranching or hauling. But some probably never get used for these purposes, either. It’s probably a social statement of some kind, a way of flaunting all of the American excesses. Some believe that bgger is better, whether it’s the house you live in or the vehicle you drive.
But owning a truck like this in Chicago would make no sense at all. May I never be at a place in my life–either in terms of geography or vanity–where having one of these things seems like a good idea.
I enjoyed the Sunday ritual that my wife and I used to have, particularly before we had children. We would go there and brave the thick blankets of smoke that always hung in the air. The idea that a place like that would ever do without smoking was almost inconceivable to us.
When we had our first daughter in the very late 1990s, we still continued to go there because we still lived in the neighborhood. It was the type of a place we never wanted to see change, even as the public’s tolerance for smoking indoors declined. There was a smoking section and a non-smoking section, and that was fine with us because we loved the omelets and the ambiance so much.
After we moved away from the neighborhood in 2000, our visits also stopped for quite a while. In the meantime, the law changed and indoor smoking was no longer allowed. So when we went to the Lincoln–since our younger daughter now goes to school not very far away–it was strange to see it entirely smoke-free. The food wasn’t the same as we remembered, either, but it was still the Lincoln, as we assumed it would always be.
It saddens me to think that I’ll never again have their food, or walk through the basement-styled back room where countless meetings and comedy shows have been held over the years. Life goes on, and the Lincoln is not exempted from the changes life brings. But I’ll surely regret that it happened this way.
After driving through freezing rain in Missouri and Oklahoma, and then crossing the Texas panhandle and the desert terrain in New Mexico, I get to spend the holiday in a moderately warm clime. It’s below zero back home in Chicago, so I’m grateful to be in a place that’s snowy but not bitterly cold.
The sun rising over the Sandia mountain gave me a chance to snap a Christmas view to share with the world, along with my good wishes to anyone and everyone, near and far. May Christmas remind us of all the good things in our lives.