It’s her moment now

corporate table woman

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As Hillary Clinton gets ready to accept her party’s nomination for the presidency tonight, I think back to the Spring of 1987 and a moment that opened my eyes to gender matters like nothing else ever has.

Freshmen students at Northwestern–I don’t remember now whether it was only the Arts and Sciences students or everyone in the class–had to take two Freshman seminars. In the spring, I registered for a course that had something to do with gender and science. Perhaps it fit into my schedule, or perhaps I thought there would be a lot of girls in the course. Either or both reasons sound legitimate to me.

On the first day of class, which was held in a conference room in the library, I walked in and grabbed a chair. The room filled up, and the hour for starting the class came and went.

One of the cherished rules at Northwestern was the “ten minute rule,” which stated that if a professor had not arrived within ten minutes of the class’s scheduled start time, everyone could leave. So we all started watching the clock, hoping that 2:10, or whatever the magic moment was, would arrive soon.

At eight or nine minutes past the hour, the teacher spoke up. She had been seated around the table with the rest of us, and we didn’t know she was in our midst. She pointed out, to the 15 or so students seated around the table, that the seats at the ends of the table were being occupied by the only two male students in the class, because we had been raised to assume that we were entitled to have them.

I shot a frantic look at the guy at the other end of the table, as if to say “What have we gotten ourselves into?” For the rest of the course, I was convinced that everything I turned in started at a “C” and became either a C+ or a C-, depending on whether it made any sense or not. It was a long course, and not a particularly enjoyable one, but I remember it more clearly than any other college course I ever took.

I remember it because it made me realize the effects of gender-specific language. For someone who grew up in a less-than-progressive time (the 1980s) and a less-than-progressive place (Springfield, Illinois), the idea that calling a doctor “he” and a nurse “she” helped to perpetuate gender norms was a revelation to me.

It’s now three decades later,  and I rarely see much of this anymore. Ironically enough, it happens a lot in education, where teachers are routinely referred to as “she.” As a male who taught in the classroom many years ago, this rankled me a bit. Even though teaching is, and probably always will be, a field with many more females than males in it, I realized that sending a message that an unnamed teacher would likely be a woman isn’t good. Men can be teachers too, and the language used to describe teachers should reflect this fact.

Scientists were once overwhelmingly thought of as “he,” but the course taught us of the contributions of Barbara McClintock.  We read a biography about her, and I remember coming away with the idea that telling young girls that scientists were supposed to be men was not helpful to them, or to science itself. Even though I found the class uniquely discomforting as a male, as a person I walked away with an understanding that I didn’t have before.

I say all this because the text of the U.S. Constitution, and specifically Article II, refers to the president as “he” on several occasions. For example, Article II, Section 1 states “He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years,” I’m sure that the Founders, as enlightened and as forward-thinking as they may have been at the time, were still a product of their 18th century upbringing, which wasn’t so dissimilar to my late 20th century upbringing. Boys got to sit at the head of the table, and girls didn’t.

I’m not thrilled with Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and I toyed with the idea of not voting for anyone in this presidential election. I would never vote for Trump, nor would I vote for a third-party candidate if it helped Trump to win. But even with these misgivings, I’m very glad that Hillary Clinton is being nominated for president tonight.

Girls should see themselves as entitled to those seats at the head of the table, just as much as boys already do. And if tonight’s events, and the election that is coming up in November, helps to move that needle then I’m all for it, in the name of my two daughters, my wife, my sister, my mother, and every female classmate and colleague I’ve ever had or ever will have. New possibilities have been opened up, and we’re all better for it.

I spent the 80s in purple

Prince died today, at the age of 57. Coming on the heels of the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey already this year, I didn’t think there would be any more meaningful musical deaths for some time. Apparently I was wrong in that belief. This one really left me stunned.

The high school I attended had purple and gold as its school colors, and when “Purple Rain” came out in 1984, not only was the music undeniably great but it also felt a bit like hitting the lottery. The title wasn’t “Auburn Rain” or “Sapphire Rain” or any of the other colors available on the visible spectrum, but it was “Purple Rain.” My high school, like a thousand others I’m sure, used “Purple Reign” as their homecoming theme that fall, because our purple-clad school was supposed to rule, you know? Totally. (It didn’t happen like everyone thought it would that year, but it was a kickass idea, all the same).

When I graduated from high school in 1986, my college choices came down to the orange and blue of the University of Illinois, or the purple and white of Northwestern. School colors played zero part in making my decision, but once I threw my lot in with the purple and white, I made sure to put a window sticker in the back of my old Dodge Dart. The purple looked great, and I still have a purple and white sweatshirt to announce to the world where I went to school once upon a time. And if people want to see purple and think of Prince, that’s fine. I do the same thing myself.

Musicians enter into our hearts in ways that actors and writers and other artists never do, particularly when we’re young. Prince kept on making music until the end of his life, but Purple Rain and a few other albums he released in the 80s have, and always will, cement his status as a cultural touchstone for me and millions of others who came of age decades ago.

The identification of Prince with the color purple will be seen over and over in the coming days and weeks. Simply put, purple is his color, but I’m happy to say that it’s mine, as well.

Win Win


It’s a beautiful fall day as I sit down to type out a few words on my smartphone. Blogging gives me a chance to spend a few minutes getting thoughts down, before the moment changes and the feelings are lost. and this is a moment that I want to preserve in some manner.

The arrival of fall brings football season, and my alma mater, the Northwestern Wildcats, are playing well. They’re ranked number 17 in the polls, which is a validation of their play by those people who have accorded themselves the right to judge such things. Where this season will end up is a mystery, but I’m looking forward to tonight’s game against Ball State in a way that I wouldn’t normally do. As the philosopher Pete Rose puts it, the burgers taste better when you win.

The Chicago Cubs, that other great sporting interest of mine, have clinched a wild card spot, and there will be playoff baseball here for the first time in a while. I hope they will finally get to the World Series and win it, but that remains to be seen, as well.

But what’s really great is that these two sports teams that rarely win are doing so at the same time. Rarely do I get to enjoy one team or the other winning on a regular basis, and never have both been successful at the same time. It’s a vortex of success, and I’m not complaining about it one little bit. Well, maybe a younger and more handsome dude than I could be sporting the teams’ gear in the picture above. But I’ll take what’s come along and enjoy it while it lasts.

Four years and a lifetime ago


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.

A trip through the past


Every few months, an issue of the Northwestern Alumni magazine arrives in my mailbox. Some issues I scrutinize more than others, but I always try to look through it at least a little bit. I appreciate all of the effort that goes into putting it together, after all.

Specifically, I check to see the notices about marriages, births (both of which are rare for my class anymore) and death notices. Typically it’s a professor that I had in one of my classes, but I always check for the general student listings, too. I’d hate to see anyone I knew very well listed there, and so far I haven’t. But today’s issue did have someone from my class listed, and this caught my attention.

This was someone who left her home at the same time I did, who walked the campus when I did, who got her degree the same day that I did, and now, as of last September 10, she is no longer with us on this earth. I didn’t recognize the name, but I felt compelled to find out more about her.

I went to the Freshman Facebook (and yes, we did call it that) that Northwestern compiled for all of its incoming freshmen. In these days of social media, I’m sure that it’s no longer necessary to do this, but I hope the school still makes an effort of some type. All of those scared and anxious 18 year-olds–who are going to have their lives changed over the course of  their years on campus–need something to get the ball rolling in the way of introductions.

I got out my old facebook, looked up my recently deceased classmate, and realized that I had never met her at all. Perhaps we were in a class together at some point, or our paths had crossed in some other way, but I had no idea who she was. I learned that she was from Vermont, though, and this intrigued me on some level.

Northwestern, like all the other top schools, prides itself on its diversity. And diversity is exactly what I–and a lot of the others in my class–desperately needed to have. Over the first 18 years of my life, I knew my little slice of Springfield, Illinois quite well, but I knew nothing beyond it. I had never met a New Yorker before, or a Texan, or anyone from Cleveland, or Minneapolis, or Chicago. And I got to meet all of these people and more in the time I was on campus.

I once wondered a great deal about the world beyond my hometown, and four years as an undergraduate at Northwestern exposed me to people and ideas I had never encountered before. And it sounds trite, but it made me a better person. I’ll be forever grateful to have had the experiences I did while on the Evanston campus.

The Vermont thing made me curious as to how many of my classmates (there were over 1,000 in all) came from Vermont. So I started with the As, and began paging through, looking for anyone who came from Vermont. Along the way I encountered old roommates, and people who lived in my dorm, and girls I had crushes on and could never talk to, and people I would know from classes or activities on campus. It felt as though I had time-warped back to 1986 for an hour or so.

As I moved through the alphabet, page by page, I knew that I was going to get to my own entry, in about the middle of the book. I even gave some thought to giving up, rather than come face to face with the guy I used to be. But I was committed to seeing my research through, and I stopped long enough to consider what got me to the point that I was in the facebook to begin with.

At that moment, I realized that I never applied myself to studying as much as I should have, and yet I did fairly well, and I uncorked an admissions essay that must have made an impression on someone who read it. I like to think I wrote my way into a top-notch university, and then wrote well enough to hang around until I graduated four years later. And nobody can ever take that away from me, either.

I finished up with the book, after much contemplation and reflection about the fleeting nature of the college years. It was an important time when I transitioned to adulthood and went out to face the world, and all of my classmates did the same thing. And I felt exceedingly fortunate to be the one looking for a deceased classmate, instead of having someone else looking for me.

I hope that she (and I’m refraining from using her name, to respect her privacy) had a good life, filled with things that made her happy. I wished that for everyone I encountered in the book, whether I knew them or not. I’m sure there are some others who are no longer with us, and that our ranks will only get thinner as the years go by. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in “Slaughterhouse-Five,” and so it goes.

And to answer the question that drew me in to begin with, there were two of my classmates who hailed from Vermont. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m sure there were homerooms at New Trier that had more representation in my class than the state of Vermont did. But Northwestern could say, truthfully, that Vermont was indeed represented in its Freshman class that year. How well-represented is another story. But they had more Vermonters (if that’s the right term) than any other school I would have gone to, and that made the exercise seem worthwhile for me.

Purple Pride, win or lose

NU Deering

Image from

Last night I went to see my daughter in Romeo and Juliet. She’s an amazingly talented kid, and I marveled at her and the others in the cast. In just a few weeks, they’ve come together from all different places and brought this story to life. We give teenagers a bad rap sometimes, but knowing there are kids like this out there, who are willing to put their time and their energies into pulling this off–and without being paid to do it–leaves me very hopeful for the future.

As I was getting ready to attend opening night last night, I pulled on a purple Northwestern sweatshirt. I’ve always been proud of my alma mater, because it’s one of the best universities on the entire planet. Everybody says that about their own school, of course, but there’s evidence to support this, too. When people hear about colleges and universities, they usually associate the schools with their football team. Or maybe their basketball team. But the assumption–unless you’re MIT or an IVY League school–is that you’re only as good as your football team. Or maybe the school only exists to provide another college football team to the world. Neither of these is the truth, of course.

I didn’t put on my Northwestern sweatshirt to represent the football team, either. I’m genuinely proud of where I went to school, as everyone should be proud of the school they attended, wherever and whatever it is. Education is a sign of achievement, and if you’ve reached a level where a school grants you a degree or a diploma, go ahead and tell the world about it.

The football team was miserable when I was on campus in the late 1980s. When I was a senior, in the fall of 1989, they didn’t win a single game. So to see them resurrect the football program, under the masterful leadership of Pat Fitzgerald, has been gratifying to see. They’ve finally won a bowl game, even, and this fall should be one like I never thought I’d see.

I can’t wait to see what happens on October 5, when the B1G (or the Big Ten, for an old-timer like me) sees its game of the year played in Evanston when Ohio State comes calling. But win or lose, I’ll still wear the purple proudly. I’d much rather win, of course, but nobody wins all the time in life. Thank goodness nobody loses all the time, either.

Purple Reign

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern

In anticipation of this year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, Rolling Stone put together a list of the Top Halftime shows from years gone by. The top show, at least in my opinion, was Prince’s turn at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. In case you’ve blocked it out over what happened to the Bears on that day, here’s a quick recap:

Fireworks and pyrotechnics; two fine-looking dancing women; jaw-dropping guitar work; a marching band; some shadowy images of Prince’s, should we say, unique guitar; and a hypnotic, show-stopping finale; all against the backdrop of a healthy rainstorm.

In short, Purple Rain was performed in the purple rain. How does it get better than that?

Since watching this performance again online, Purple Rain has been stuck inside my head for nearly a week. And it was against this mental soundtrack that Northwestern University and the Chicago Cubs announced a partnership that will significantly raise the profile of both parties in the years ahead. It certainly points toward some very good things in the near future..

Northwestern could never build a 75,000 seat football stadium on Chicago’s North Shore. The neighbors wouldn’t stand for it, and the Wildcats’ fan base, as supportive as it is, sometimes struggles to fill up the 50,000 seats of Ryan Field. But who needs to do that, now that the Cats have access to iconic Wrigley Field?

And don’t think that this recruiting tool is going to go unused, either. What high school prospect–when faced with making the biggest decision of his young life–won’t jump at the chance to step onto the field at Clark and Addison? And who among us wouldn’t do the same thing, if we had that chance?

This arrangement, along with with the new sports facility being planned along the lakefront on Northwestern’s campus, is a sure sign that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere. That’s going to be another huge advantage Northwestern will have in recruiting during the years ahead.

When Notre Dame gets back to work next summer–seeking to quickly get to Manti Who?–they will be dogged by questions about Brian Kelly’s future. He’s already interviewed with an NFL team, after steadily rising through the coaching ranks in college. It’s naïve to think that he’ll be at Notre Dame long term. From watching how the annual Gary Barnett Soap Opera played out in the late 1990s, I can confidently say that one or two years of that will be more than enough for anyone in South Bend.

Bret Bielema, who seemed to be Wisconsin’s coach for the foreseeable future, has flown the coop in Madison for the greener pastures of the SEC. Urban Meyer, who will have National Championship pressures for however long he’ll be at Ohio State, is something of a coaching nomad, himself.

And then there’s Coach Fitz. You may recall how he first put Northwestern’s football program back on the map, as a player back in the 1990s. As an alumnus, and a tireless ambassador for the school and the program that he has built, he has the unwavering support of the University, the Athletic Department, and the student body. There’s no chance of him leaving anytime soon, and that stability means everything for teenagers who don’t want the rug pulled out from under them. That’s exactly what happens, whenever a head coach moves on to someplace else.

It’s taken several years, and many disappointments, but things are now falling into place very quickly for Northwestern football. With a bowl victory, a loaded team coming back in the Fall, a respected head coach, a new training facility on the drawing board, and an arrangement to play in Wrigley Field in the future, a golden age of Wildcat football seems to be just a few months away. It could even end up as a Purple reign.

Doing it the right way

September brings the return of football season. Baseball had the sporting world to itself in July and August (with the exception of the Olympics and a few sports that not too many people care about), but those days are gone now.

Yesterday was September 1, and football season began with college games. The NFL, which I stopped caring about in the late 1980s, starts play next weekend. But for now, there’s football in the air, for the first time since the end of the Super Bowl many months ago.

The only college team I can get worked up over is my alma mater, the Northwestern Wildcats. When I was at school there in the late 1980s, they were as terrible as a football team could be. The marshmallow fights that raged in the student section during the games were more interesting than anything on the field. Jangling your keys during a kickoff (and there were many of them during a typical game) was a chance to participate in the action in some small way. And I can’t remember which team’s fans started laughing at our team’s ineptitude after running a long touchdown play, but it really doesn’t matter which one it was. Hearing their laughter in the first place was bad enough.

In the four years that I was an undergraduate, the football team won eight games. Eight wins is a disappointing year for some football teams, but that’s all I got to see in four years. Two of those wins came against Illinois, so it’s not all bad, I suppose.

Things have improved dramatically since then, starting in 1995. Pat Fitzgerald will be around as the coach for many years to come, and he’ll keep the football program moving in a direction that’s both competitive on the field and successful in the classroom. He’ll make sure that the “student” part of student-athlete comes first, as it should be.

So playing, and winning, a road game against Syracuse yesterday was the best start to a season that can be anticipated. It was apparently an exciting, even thrilling, game to watch, but I was out with my family and have to learn about it through second-hand accounts in the news. Win or lose, I’m proud to be affiliated with a school that does it the right way in college football. Now bring on Vanderbilt!

Go Cats!

As a Northwestern alum, sports are not always a happy topic of conversation. Yes, the football team is a long way from the days of marshmallow fights in the stands. That, and tailgating, used to be the only thing to look forward to on a Saturday afternoon when I went to school there. But they can’t quite get over the hump when it comes to winning a bowl game. It’s great to play in bowl games in the first place, but the annual losing of a game to start the new year off is tiresome.

And the basketball team, well, let’s say if you can’t get to the NCAA tournament after having two very good four-year starters (Michael “Juice” Thompson and John Shurna), it’s not looking good for the near future. Every year they win a game against a ranked opponent, and get the conversation going about whether this will finally be THE YEAR, and every year there’s a flameout in the Big Ten tournament, followed by an NIT berth, and sometimes not even that. That, too, is getting to be very old now.

But what’s not old is the success of the women’s lacrosse team. They’ve won six national championships in the last seven years, and are going for their seventh title in eight years tonight. (UPDATE: They won. It’s now seven titles in eight years). If winning is important, I suggest this is a better place to focus attention than football or basketball.

To be better than every other team in college athletics, in any sport, is a tremendous feat. There are many more schools playing the games than there are championships to be had. So why does Kentucky and their One-year-and-then-off-to-the-NBA basketball team deserve so much attention? Or the Whichever-school-from-the-SEC-wins-this-year football champions mean more than all the others? Colleges weren’t meant to be a developmental league for the NFL, the NBA, or any other sport. So why have they become that, over the years? It’s only because we have allowed it to be such.

I’m not a lacrosse fan, in the least. But I’m happy that, whenever someone wants to hold out athletic success as a gauge of a college’s worth, that I can point to a program that hasn’t just won over the past few years, but has dominated their sport to a degree that few others have ever done before.

So I wish the best to the Wildcats’ lacrosse team as they take on Syracuse for the national title this evening. Win or lose, they’ve already represented my alma mater quite well to the sporting world, or at least the part that cares to look in that direction.

Welcome to college

I remember the day I left home for college very well. After 18 years of living in my parents’ house, and seeing very little of the world outside of Springfield, Illinois, I was finally able to make my break. I wasn’t going that far away, geographically speaking. In truth, I wasn’t even leaving the state of Illinois. But I was leaving, and once I did that I realized that there wasn’t any going back. And that’s exactly as I wanted it to be.

All of my clothes were packed up, along with the typewriter I had received as a high school graduation gift. I may have been the last American teenager to get a present like this, but it was mine and I intended to use it. I really had nothing else to call my own. So my parents loaded us into our Chevy Impala for the drive northward toward Evanston, Illinois.


Bobb Hall was, and still is, a dorm populated mostly by Northwestern‘s freshman students. It’s also the biggest party dorm on the campus, but I didn’t know that yet. All I knew is that it was going to be my home from that day until next spring, and that was good enough for me.

I knew that my room number was 104, but beyond that I had no idea of what to expect. Would it be more quiet than noisy? Would there be people there that I couldn’t stand? And where did the girls live? When you’re 18 and about to be turned loose into the wider world, those were the questions that needed to be answered.

When I got to my room, I paused for a moment. On the door there was a piece of construction paper with my name, my room number, and a cut-out from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are“. Not some obscure philosopher, but a character from a children’s book. I immediately told myself that everything was going to be all right, and it was. I felt like I was at home.

Bobb Hall, and the neighboring McCulloch Hall, was indeed a wild place to spend my eighteenth year. There were many rumpuses there over the  course of the school year. My grades suffered as a result of this, and that might be the closest thing I have to a regret about my college years. But Maurice Sendak‘s characters effectively welcomed me, and my fellow dormmates, to college for the first time, and for that reason they will be with me always.

A memory of Sandberg (and Sundberg)

The first of my mini blue helmets goes to reader Chris, who indicated that he wanted to hear a story about Ryne Sandberg. He didn’t say that in so many words, actually. He just gave me Sandberg’s name, and I’m taking it from there.

You might think that there’s not a lot that can be written about Ryne Sandberg that hasn’t already been said–he’s a Hall of Famer, with his name and number on a flag hanging from a foul pole at Wrigley Field, and soon to be the Cubs’ new manager (I hope, I hope). I’ll let better writers than I am go on about those. But here’s a story that has never, ever been told about Ryne Sandberg, and will never be told again. So get comfortable as I take you back in time for a little bit.

It was the spring of 1988. Wrigley Field was still the only ballpark that didn’t have lights (but that would change in a couple of months). I was a sophomore at Northwestern, and my class schedule had been carefully chosen so that my afternoons were free and clear. I think the content of a class, or the professor who taught it, was secondary in those days to when the class actually met. If only we could always pick the schedule that we want.

The el that was a block or two from the campus, and was always ready to take me into the city of Chicago. It’s a large, vibrant, and diverse city, and one day it would become my home. But at that time in my life, the city for me consisted of the general vicinity of the corner of Sheffield and Waveland Avenues on the North side. And that’s where I was headed on a sunny Friday afternoon.

I usually sat in the bleachers, because the tickets cost less than 10 dollars, but on this day I was sitting on the first base side of the grandstand. I went with some people from my dorm who hadn’t been to Wrigley Field before, and I was showing them how easy it was to get there. I was being a tour guide, of sorts. Taking them to attend services at an urban cathedral! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

What I remember the most about this game was that it was the first time I ever noticed Wrigley Field doesn’t have a jumbotron. It didn’t have one then, and it doesn’t have one now. I’d like to see that change, but the matter isn’t really up to me, either.

At some point during the game, I went to get some hot dogs or whatever else there was at the concession stand (I wasn’t yet 21, and didn’t feel confident enough to try getting beers at the concession stand. They card hard, you know). As I was walking up the stairs to my seat, I heard a  loud roar. I came up the steps in time to see Ryne Sandberg crossing home plate.

I sat down in my seat, distributed whatever food I had acquired, and lamented the fact that there was no replay at the ballpark. If you miss something, well, that’s just too bad.  Pay closer attention next time. A lesson learned, I thought to myself.

The next inning, I was engaged in a conversation with somebody about something when I heard a loud crack of the bat. We all got to our feet and watched the ball disappear into the bleachers, and I had missed my second home run of the game. Again, no replay for me or anybody else who wasn’t watching. But at least the runs still counted.

The player who hit the second home run was a catcher named Jim Sundberg. I found it interesting that their last names were just one letter apart from each other. Sandberg and Sundberg. It sounded like a law firm or something. But they both hit homers for the Cubs, and that was enough to make me happy.

It wasn’t until I googled Jim Sundberg, in preparation for writing this, that I learned just how different these two players were:

  • Sandberg was a long-time Cub who got all but one of his career hits with the team, while Sundberg played just a handful of games over a season and a half with the Cubs.
  • Sandberg was a National Leaguer for his entire career, while Sundberg played all but 85 games (in a career that lasted nearly 2000 games) in the American League.
  • Sandberg won an MVP award in 1984, but not a World Series title, while Sundberg never won an MVP award but did win a World Series with Kansas City in 1985.
These players have also taken different paths since their playing days ended. Ryne Sandberg has positioned himself as a future major league manager (hopefully for the Cubs), while Jim Sundberg works in the front office of the Texas Rangers, where he spent most of his career.
Although the two players had similar last names, they didn’t have too much else in common with each other, save for the fact that they both homered in a game at Wrigley Field in 1988, and I managed to miss out on seeing both of them. But at least I got a story to tell out of it. And I would suggest that’s better than seeing two home runs, anyway.


I live in a part of Chicago that has a large Orthodox Jewish population. This means that every Saturday (or shabbos), there are Orthodox families walking to or from their religious services. And the most distinctive element of their dress, as far as the men are concerned, is the hat that they wear on their heads. A hat can top off your look, and tell the world something about who you are.

I named my blog after a form of a hat, but I don’t actually wear it because it does funny things to my hair. Since I’m lucky enough to have all my hair still in place, a hat can provide cover on the days when it’s  just doing its own thing. I wear baseball hats a lot, either for the Cubs, or Northwestern, or Jack Daniel’s (which has taken on an ironic twist since I gave up drinking), and I find the backward look suits me just as well as the more traditional look.

But the hat I like best, and the reason I’m writing this post, is the Cubs floppy hat that I’m wearing right now. A floppy hat makes a statement, in its own way. People might see it and wonder if I’m heading off to a beach somewhere. Even though it’s a warm, sunny day here in Chicago, the beach is not on the agenda. But the beach mentality will be, and so the hat is still appropriate.

What is the beach mentality, you might ask? Well, if you’ve been to a beach before you know what it is, but for the purposes of this post I’ll try to put it into words. It’s the belief that:

  • Life is short, and the best way to find enjoyment is to go to a happy place. Get there physically, or get there emotionally, and you’ll be much better off for it.
  • You have to appreciate nature for the beauty and continuity it provides, but also understand that every wave is temporary and fleeting.
  • Every wave washes shells ashore, which are proof that life comes and goes and, if you’re lucky, you will leave a little something behind when you’re gone.
  • The day won’t last for very long, but as long as you’re at the beach you can either find a spot you like and set down roots, or keep moving around to see how the view changes.
  • Beach toys, like all material possessions, can add something to the enjoyment (if you have kids along), but they aren’t so important that leaving something behind would be a disaster.
  • Nothing that goes on at the beach is terribly important, since ten minutes from now our attentions will be focused on something else, anyway, and
  • Leaving the beach doesn’t make any of these statements less true.
So I often wear a hat that’s probably meant to be worn at the beach–even when I have no intention of going there–because it helps to keep me in the right frame of mind. If I have any religious convictions at all, they’re all laid out in the statements above. As stupid as it sounds, my hat honors these beliefs, just as the Orthodox wear a hat to honor their beliefs.

The game that matters most

This post isn’t about baseball, but college football, instead (impressive depth I’m showing, isn’t it?) I wanted to get these thoughts out before the Northwestern-Illinois game coming up this Saturday, which will have offenses moving in both directions for the first time in an NU-Illini game since 2009. I’ll probably turn last year’s Wrigley Field game into a post at some point, but it won’t be before Saturday, at least.

I spent my first 3 and a half years of high school thinking that I would go to college at the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. I cheered for their sports teams, and didn’t have the money to go to a private school or another state’s university, and that was just fine with me. The Orange Crush, Chief Illiniwek, the orange and blue colors, all of it was just what I wanted. If tatoos were the thing for high school kids back then, I’d still have a blocky orange I on me somewhere.

But fate changes things. I wasn’t meant to go to school at the U of I, even though it seemed like the place for me. My acceptance letter got held up for a week or two, and in the meantime I had to think about other places to go to college. I had gathered a stack of college applications from Career Days at my school, but was daunted by the fact that they all required essays and an application fee.

I decided to focus on one school, to save myself the trouble of composing multiple essays (there were no computers to save things on in those days, or if there were, I didn’t have one available to me). I also thought that convincing my parents to spend the money for one application fee would be hard enough, and any more than that wouldn’t be worth wasting any breath over. It just wouldn’t happen.

One of the applications, to Northwestern University in Evanston, also had a letter that had come to my house. They must have received my home address from my high school, or possibly from the ACT people. Nope, there were no emails in those days, either. It was a primitive time back then. I read this two page letter, basically selling the school and saying something to the effect of “don’t let the sticker price scare you away.”

This was important for me to know, because the first time I became aware of Northwestern was through a little throwaway listing of the “most expensive colleges” that appeared in Parade Magazine one weekend. A place called “Northwestern” was at the bottom of the list, and I don’t remember what the other schools were, but I could probably guess them if I had to. But Northwestern’s yearly tuition back then was five digits, and to a kid who thought $50 was a lot of money, any five digits you could throw at me seemed like too much.

So I filled out the application, convinced my mom to write a check for the application fee, and applied for an early admission decision. It was sometime in December, so I figured this would get it over with sooner rather than later. And I needed a deadline to get just about anything done, then and now.

In a matter of days, the acceptance letter from U of I arrived, and I remember how relieved I felt. I frankly even forgot about the Northwestern application, and reverted to my senioritis-filled final days at the high school I was now officially killing time at.

At some point in the spring, perhaps in late January, a letter arrived at my house from Northwestern. By that time, a housing deposit check had been sent to Champaign-Urbana, which–as soon as money started changing hands–meant that I was an official member of the Illinois class of whatever it was (the year doesn’t really matter, does it?) I opened the letter, and remember an involuntary jump in the air when I read the word “Congratulations!” I truly wasn’t expecting it, and haven’t been that surprised by too many things since.

To make a long story short–if it’s not already too late for that–the decision to go to Northwestern meant that I had to completely and thoroughly repudiate the orange and blue. The Chief and I? Splitsville, baby. Otherwise, it would have been second guess city there in Champaign-Urbana. I would have changed the name to Champaign-Urbana-ShouldaGoneThereWhenIHadTheChance. But that’s no way to live, is it?

So the other schools in the Big Ten (and strangely enough, there are eleven of them now) are fine, but only one school gets my interest for football and basketball games. The NU football team was awful when I went to school there, winning just eight games in four years. But two of those games were against Illinois, and I could live with that.

The game coming up this week, which usually ended the regular season for both teams, will now be the start of Big Ten play instead. Illinois is unbeaten, ranked, and playing at home. And they won convincingly last year, too. Northwestern has lost a game, isn’t even in the “also receiving votes” category of the polls, and hasn’t played a down with Dan Persa at quarterback since last November. With all that said, it’s still the biggest game of the year, and I like our chances. I have no other choice. Go ‘Cats!

Hopefully he’ll sit today

At the start of this college football season, Northwestern put up billboards touting Dan Persa as a Heisman trophy candidate. The problem was that he was still rehabbing from an Achilles injury that ended his season–and Northwestern’s as well–against Iowa last year.

I was literally hanging on every play listening to that game in the car, and the joy that I felt when they came all the way back in the 4th quarter didn’t even last a minute, since Persa went down when the play was over. And the final games of the season, when he couldn’t play, were just an embarrassment. But that was last year.

For this season, Northwestern’s athletic department coined the word PersaStrong, and sent out packages to media figures with dumbells bearing Northwestern’s colors and Persa’s #7. Everything looked to be a go for his longshot candidacy to challenge Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who everyone has all but given the trophy to at this point.

But Persa’s rehab hadn’t gone as well as everyone would like, and he was scratched from both the Boston College and Eastern Illinois games in the first two weeks of the season. Kickoff for today’s game against Army is still at least an hour away, and I don’t know if Persa will be in the lineup today. I actually hope he isn’t, for two reasons:

First off, the team has seen Kain Coulter emerge as the kind of a credible backup QB that Northwestern did not have last year. His time will come next year after Persa’s time is up, but it certainly can’t hurt to let Persa continue to heal for one more week, with a bye week coming up next Saturday. This would give Persa two full weeks to heal before  the Big Ten season begins two weeks from today.

The second reason is that non-conference games just don’t mean the same as conference games do. Army doesn’t have a conference, so they have to get up for every game the best that they can. But Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, and others are the opponents I really care about, not Army. The Wildcats can win today’s game or lose it, but the season really begins with the Illinois game on October 1.

The Heisman isn’t going to Dan Persa this year, but I hope he didn’t choose Northwestern to boost his Heisman chances. He would be the first one to ever do this, if that’s the case. A week off is actually two weeks to continue healing, and I’m more than willing to wait that long to see him in the huddle. My hope is that coach Pat Fitzgerald feels the same way.

Go Cats!