Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tagged With a Movie Meme

Bubs tagged me with a movie meme. Since most of our students are on a field trip to a Jail Boot Camp, I have time to answer it.

Popcorn or Candy?

Popcorn. Way too much salt, no butter, and a diet Coke.

Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever.

Night of the Hunter. I love Robert Mitchum, and the movie is a classic. Plus it inspired a line in one of the Clash’s greatest songs, “Death or Glory.” (“Love and hate tattooed across the knuckles of his hand….”) And worse yet, I OWN IT— a birthday gift from my co-best friend Andreas a few years ago. I know Mrs. Yen won’t watch it with me—she doesn’t like scary movies. It’s just one of those movies, I think, that I will have to be ready for.

Maybe I’ll watch it on Christmas, just to get in the mood. Right after the Grinch.

You are given the power to recall one Oscar: who loses it, and to whom?

Take away all Forrest Gump Oscars— am I the only one in the world who didn’t find that movie particularly good or interesting? And give it to Martin Scorsese, probably for Raging Bull (though my favorite of his is Casino—I’m in a distinct minority on that one)

Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe.

One of the suits worn by the guys in Reservoir Dogs, preferably before the shooting starts. And Tim Roth’s hair. And sunglasses, for that matter.

Second place: Robert Duvall's outfit in "Apocalypse Now."

Your favorite film franchise is:

I’m with Bubs on this one—the Sean Connery's James Bond films.

Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them?

Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Terry Gilliam, Penelope Spheeris and Dennis Hopper. They all seem like people I’d have an interesting conversation with, and frankly, I just like their work.

I’d get Rick Bayless, from the Frontera Grill, to cater. One of the few cooking shows you can get me to watch—I love the food he makes, I love his passion for the food, and it would give me an excuse to have him there—he seems like he’d be a good guy to have a drink with. Especially if he brings some great agave and makes margaritas. Just as long as someone has bail money ready.

Plus, his chipotle salsa kicks ass.

What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater?

To sit repeatedly through Godfather 3. Without their cellphones.

Choose a female bodyguard: Ripley from Aliens, Mystique from X-Men, Sarah Connor from Terminator 2, The Bride from Kill Bill, or Mace from Strange Days.

Of that list, I’ve only seen Aliens and Terminator 2. Ripley. She kicks ass in 8 different ways, and is as hot as they come. Much like Rick Bayless' chipotle salsa, but even sexier.

Better yet, Vasquez, from the same movie.

What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie?

When I was a kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I saw Ray Milland’s “The Man With X-Ray Eyes.” The end scene, when he stumbles into the church tent revival meeting, and the preacher yells “If the eye offends thee, pluck it out…” and you can guess what he does—the final scene gave me nightmares for years.

Non-movie things that did the same: the rolling eyes on Aladdin's Castle at the Riverview amusement park in Chicago, and one of those neon cowboy handwaving signs that I saw in Texas on a family trip.

Your favorite genre (excluding "comedy" and "drama") is...

Gangster movies. When I was a kid, WGN would show all the old Cagney, Bogart and Edward G. Robinson gangster movies. By far my favorite was Cagney (“Top of the world to ya, Ma!”) The Coen Brothers added to the genre with their splendid “Miller’s Crossing.” “Look inta ya heart….”

You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power?

Give Phil a big contract to be a leading man. And make John Carpenter start making good movies again.

Bonnie or Clyde?

Bonnie. If Faye Dunaway was good enough for Peter Wolf, she’s good enough for me.

I REALLY Hate My Job, Part 2

On Tuesdays, we dismiss the students about a half hour early so that we can have a staff meeting. This staff meeting was eagerly anticipated so that the staff could bring up it's myriad concerns, including the fact that the principal was in the school less and less.

We had the staff meeting, but couldn't tell the principal about our concerns-- because she wasn't there. It would have been comical if it hadn't sucked so much.

But it got even better. We expressed our concerns to the assistant principal, who told us of his various attempts to address our concerns that were nixed by the absent principal. I could see that we were getting nowhere, and I had to pick up my step-daughter, so I left the room at 3:00, our dismissal time, to get my coat and bag and leave.

As I got ready to walk out the door, I heard yelling, and walked toward the room we'd had the meeting in to see the sight of our counselor, whose incompetence has been the source of many of the problems in the school, screeching at the assistant principal, who'd gone to her office to ask her why she hadn't attended the meeting. She had followed him back to the room yelling at the top of her lungs about how the meeting wouldn't help her do her job, etc. It was one of the most unprofessional and uncomfortable things I'd ever witnessed in any job setting in my life.

So add this to a shortage of text-books, still not having the IEP's in a school in which easily half of the students have learning disabilities, an administration that looks at the teachers as the problem, and not the solution, a completely ineffective discipline plan and a generally bad morale. I'll be filling out job applications online today.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Grossest Things, Part 3-- Dan Finds a Dead Guy On His Lawn

I finished college (at least the first round of it) in 1985. In my last two years, a large group of lefties, artists and other rabble had gelled, and had begun socializing, drinking, dating, etc. on a regular basis. Right after I graduated, three of these guys rented an apartment in a big house in our college town and dubbed their home The Wave of Plague. It was an instant success-- it became the main party house amongst the crowd I'd run with. Since I had graduated and moved back to Chicago, I had to content myself with drunken phone calls during their parties telling me what a good time they were having.

One day, my friend Dan, one of the Wave's occupants, walked out his front door to see that the neighborhood drunk was lying face down on his front lawn. At first he assumed that the guy had passed out. He checked on him and realized that he had gone to that great tavern in the sky.

Dan apparently went into shock, because he remembers nothing about the next hour; his friends and roommates filled in the missing events for me.

Dan went into the apartment, informed his roommates that there was a dead guy on the lawn and proceeded to start making macaroni and cheese for dinner. They went outside and checked. Sure enough, there was a dead guy on the lawn. Someone went inside to phone the police.

In the meantime, someone in one of the other apartments had ordered a pizza from Dominoes. As they stood around him, the Domino's guy showed up.

"Who ordered a pizza"

Someone pointed to the dead guy. "He did."

The Domino's guy unwisely went and checked on the dead guy, assuming he was drunk. He pulled him over, looked at him and exclaimed-- "Hey, this dude ain't drunk-- he's DEAD!"

At this moment, the police pulled up, followed by an ambulance. Since he had touched the dead guy, the deliveryman was now a witness and was detained for an hour or so. He was not able to make several pizza deliveries.

Domino's was unforgiving; the Wave of Plague found itself unable to get Domino's to deliver for the rest of the year.

Eventually, the police questioned everybody, set down the body outline in white tape and the meat wagon hauled him away. Everybody went inside and cracked beers and cracked wise on finding the dead guy on the lawn.

Dan, in the meantime, had come out of his haze and began castigating them for making fun of the situation. Everybody went silent, ridden with guilt. That is, until Dan walked over to the stereo and dropped the needle on Jim Carroll's "People Who Died." He had to run for his life.

The next morning, the guys in the Wave of Plague awoke to find that someone had taped x's on the eyes of the tape outline.

A few months later, I went down to visit my friends at the wave. For my benefit, Dan reenacted the discovery of the dead guy on his lawn.

There was one more hijink. My friend Darin, who lived nearby, had made a sculpture on his front lawn protesting the Stalinesque policies of Murray Choate, the mayor of our college town. The statue depicted Choate ascending a staircase, with the first step Charleston, Illinois and the top step the world. Since the sculpture was primarily made of junk, the neighbors, led by the dead guy's wife, brought the law in to get rid of the sculpture.

One night, years later, a bunch of fellow Eastern grads and one of my friends who worked at the town newspaper were discussing the whole thing. My friend who worked on the paper told us an unbelievable story about someone who had written a letter to the editor exorciating this woman, saying that she had a lot of nerve to complain about other people's garbage when she'd left her dead husband on someone else's lawn.

It had a familiar ring to it, and then it slowly occurred to me that my friend Tim, who'd graduated at the same time as I had, and I had typed it up one beer-sodden evening under a fictitious name and mailed it.

We're so ashamed.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What Can Save a Sucky Day?

This day started out pretty bad. Not only was it a Monday, not only was I tired, but we had issues at work. Big ones. A student who has long been a problem was even more problematic, physically threatening a teacher TWICE (this was after physically threatening me on Wednesday). This was made even worse by the fact that apparently a four day weekend was not enough for the Principal and Assistant Principal; the Principal worked a half day and the Assistant Principal took the whole day off. They have each easily taken 6 or 7 days off each. The teachers each get 3 paid days off. I have yet to take one, primarily because if I take a day off, it means that the other teachers have to spend their badly-needed prep period baby-sitting my classes.

So what is it that can fix a really shitty day?

The ZZ Friggin' Top Six Pack, that's what!

I ordered it last week from, one of the great websites in history. Used cd's as far as the eye can see, way cheaper than most anywhere else.

As I write this, "Waitin' For the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago" is playing. It brings me back back to one of the all-time great shows I ever saw. 1980 at the Aragon Brawlroom. Cindy, my best friend from high school, was back home from school in Utah, visiting her family, and I scored tickets for the show. I think I paid $7.50 a ticket. It was the Cheap Sunglasses tour, supporting their album Deguello.

We sat through one of the worst opening bands I've ever had to endure, The Rockets, an awful band from Detroit that had a minor hit with an amped-up cover of the old Fleetwood Mac tune "Oh Well." Finally, that "little ol' band from Texas" took the stage. They got their current single, a cover of the Isaac Hayes-penned "I Thank You" out of the way, and then launched into "Waitin' For the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago." The crowd erupted and never let up. It was truly one of the best and funnest shows I've ever been at-- up there with the Ramones at the Metro in '86 and Iggy at the Metro in '88.

The Six Pack has got nearly all of ZZ Top's great songs-- the aforementioned "Waitin'", and many more-- "Beer Drinker's and Hell Raisers." Fandango, their half-live/half-studio album that yielded "Tush", one of their first hits. Tejas, one of the first and greatest albums I ever bought. All for about 15 bucks on

I used to own the Six Pack. I gave it away as a birthday present a few years back. I realized that I needed it. The universe is right again now.

One odd thing about the set, though, is that they skipped the Deguello album and instead put the much weaker album "El Loco" album on it (though Tube Steak Boogie from that album is a great song). But that's all right.... Deguello arrived today too. I'm running it all to my itunes, then my ipod. The drive to Tennessee to see my parents next month will be even better now. I'm bad-- I'm nationwide.

I REALLY Hate My Job

I usually hate when people post about how much they hate their jobs, but I'm going to break my own rule here.

I work at an "alternative" high school on the West side of Chicago. It's a program, contracted out to the Chicago Public School system, to give young adults a chance to finish high school. It should be a good thing.

However, from Day 1, it's been a clusterf*ck. It took them two weeks to get classes together. This was not for the teachers readiness: our tiny staff of six teachers was ready. The school counselor was not able to put together a schedule for the 50 students we started the year out with. I have seen my wife tackle similar, but far bigger projects in 2 or 3 hours. This woman couldn't do it in two weeks. We had kids spinning their wheels, while we, the teachers, tried to figure out things for them to do. The kids picked up on the disorganization going on and exploited it.

This counselor has been amazing in her incompetence-- we've experienced it, and the kids have told us stories too. I don't know if I would hire her to do landscaping work-- she's that dumb.

We finally got the place up and running, and have done our best-- no thanks to the administrators.

To his credit, our assistant principal, who is in his first year as an administrator, is doing his best. But long-term problems are not being dealt with. 95% of our discipline problems come from 3 or 4 students. Time and time again, we are told that they are being put out of here. Time and time again we are told that they were given their "last chance." One of those "last chancers" was written up three times on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. She's here today.

Who's not here today? The Principal. The lunch lady is in the office calling out the class changes-- we don't have a bell system. It's becoming a source of amusement among the staff as the day goes on. We've proposed she get the Principal's salary, since she's doing the Principal's job. I've also seen her handling discipline and attendence.

When I arrived, shortly before 8 am, by the way, there were three other teachers, the custodian and the lunch lady. No administrators, no security guards.

But hey-- the Principal showed up for nearly an hour on Wednesday, so I can see why she'd be tired. The last school I worked at had 1100 students, and the principal was there 95% of the time. For a school of fewer than 100 students, our Principal has an amazing number of meetings that somehow last the entire day.

This is all a shame, because we do have kids here who sincerely need this place and are taking the opportunity to fix whatever broke in their lives and move on. There are kids here who will go on to college.

This morning, four of us on the staff held an impromptu meeting. One of them has another job lined up for January. The rest of us are looking. Whatever scam that the proprietors of this place are pulling will eventually fall apart, and we want to be out of here when that happens. There are a handful of students who need this place to get a diploma in January. We're all committed to helping them get out of here. And then we'll get the hell out too.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Tryptophan-Logged Friday Ten

Okay, I did two today.

Here's the one I just did while my son and I were on our computers (me on my laptop, he on the desktop-- after Christmas, he'll be on an ibook, too).

1. Complete Control- The Clash
2. Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman, David Blue and Me- John Wesley Harding
3. I Can’t Make You Love Me- Bonnie Raitt
4. Moon River- Henry Mancini
5. Home In My Hand- Foghat
6. Tu Que Brillas- Jamie O’Reilly and Michael Smith
7. So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star- The Byrds
8. Break My Stride- Matthew Wilder
9. Hawaiian Island World- World Party
10. Sunny Afternoon- The Kinks

I hear you all shouting "Moon River! WTF!" I did one of those "On the Day You Were Born" things years ago at the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago, and it said that that was the #1 hit song on the day I was born.

Plus, I'm the one straight guy in the world who loves Breakfast At Tiffany's.

Interesting fact: One-Hit Wonder Mathew Wilder went on to be a producer-- he produced the first No Doubt album.

Jamie O'Reilly and Michael Smith are the two people on that list I actually know. Jamie lives just a few blocks from me. I knew Michael for some time before I found out that he wrote one of my favorite-ever songs, The Dutchman-- I'd long loved Steve Goodman's version of it, and had assumed Goodman had written it. It was one of the first songs I figured out on my own on guitar.

I did my "Running Random Ten" this morning, but I thought it made me look like a dinosaur. These were the songs that came up on my ipod shuffle while I was out running this morning:

1. New Amsterdam- Elvis Costello
2. What a Fool Believes- Doobie Brothers
3. The Warmest Room- Billy Bragg
4. Stepping Out- Joe Jackson
5. Amsterdam- Guster
6. Move On Up- Curtis Mayfield
7. Foreplay/Long Time- Boston
8. Book of Rules- The Heptones
9. Creeque Alley- The Mamas and the Papas
10. You Won’t Be Happy- The Beat

The only song under 20 years old on the list was the Guster song. Funny what happens when you have to nail down your favorite 220 or so songs.

BTW, The Beat was an American group-- they were the reason the other Beat, which became far more successful, had to change its name to the English Beat.

Of course, my other list has an aggregate age of at least 20 years, too. Jeez.

Five Gross Things-- Part 2-- Meat on the Greyhound

My best friend in high school, Cindy (not to be confused with my ex-wife Cynthia) went to college at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the summer of 1981, I went out to visit her.

I decided to go the least expensive way-- by Greyhound bus.

I recommend that everybody take at least one long-distance trip on a Greyhound bus in their lifetime-- especially if you want to be a novelist or screenwriter. You meet every sad sack weirdo in the world. Beyond that, the trip itself is surreal, stopping at isolated stops in rural Nebraska or downtown Des Moines at weird hours.

During this trip, we stopped in the middle of the night at a tiny bus depot in the middle of Nebraska. Most of the people on the bus were sound asleep, but as we pulled up to the depot, nearly everyone was awakened by something-- an overpowering stench. It dawned on us that the smell was coming from a set of "Greyhound Express" shipping containers that were at least 300 feet from the bus. The driver explained that someone had tried to ship hundreds of pounds of raw meat by Greyhound Express shipping. They had had to pull it off of a previous bus, and left it sitting there in the July heat until someone could come to take care of it in the morning. Twenty-Five years later, I nearly gag remembering it.

Thanksgiving 2006

My wife blogged recently about a sadder, past post-divorce Thanksgiving. Happily, this one was nicer. Palette and her family joined my us. My son Adam was with his mother and her family. He'll be with us this evening.

We had, as Arlo Guthrie sang, a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat. This was the first Thanksgiving dinner I've had in my home in many years. I cooked up a 15 pound bird, and mashed and sweet potatoes, and Palette brought the stuffing and dessert, both wonderful. Big bonus: she, like me, has Celiac disease-- a genetic allergy to wheat. She used a grain called spelt to create delicious dressing. I hadn't had dressing with my turkey in years. Her meringue dessert was not only delicious, but had a beautiful presentation.

I'm excited to discover this spelt grain-- Palette says that you can make bread, pizza crust and other things I've been missing, with it.

We had coffee and a nice pinot noir that Palette, a trained sommelier, chose. We played a game of "Apples to Apples," and retired to the front room for karoake. I did "Me and Mrs. Jones" and "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)", but I think the height of the evening was a full-blown version of "Hey Jude" with everybody joining in.

One magical little moment was when we were eating dinner, I had my itunes random shuffling on the Mac Mini in our dining room; of the over 5000 songs I have on that computer, "Alice's Restaurant," the ultimate Thanksgiving song, played.

If you look in the background, in the window, you can see that Adam has not accepted the results of the 2004 election.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tagged-- My Young Crushes-- Part 1

I got tagged by Beth to reveal my first young crushes.

I must match Bubs' demographics, because my first crushes, at the age of 5, were the same as his-- Julie Newmar as Catwoman from Batman and Morticia from the Adams family. I'm suprised I didn't go for Goth girls later in life.

I also recall a crush on Penny Robinson from "Lost In Space," and later Maryanne from "Gilligan's Island". And I was interested in Rosalind, the African-American girlfriend of my family's white architect next-door-neighbor. She looked like a young Aretha Franklin-- very pretty and very charming. However, since she was taken, we kept it at a purely platonic level, chatting whenever we ran into one another.

Thanks to my mother, there's photographic evidence of a my first big real world crushes and loves. About 15 years ago, she came across all of my old grade school class pictures, thought to be long-lost, in a drawer and gave them to me

I went to Kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Lincoln Park has long since gentrified, but back then it was a mix of blue collar whites and Puerto Ricans, with a handful of "urban pioneer" artists and professionals (like our next-door-neighbor). It was a really exciting time in my life. My father worked as an electrician and my mother was a cashier at a National Tea grocery store. This left my brothers and I somewhat supervised by a succession of baby-sitters, mostly nursing students from nearby Augustana Hospital, which has long-since been torn down to make way for desperately-needed yuppie townhouses. We lived in this apartment during the single greatest event of my life, the Superstorm-- Chicago's Snowstorm of '67. More on that another time.

When I started Kindergarten, at first, I would walk to school with our landlord's older son and his friends, who were jerks. As the year wore on, I started walking with a girl down the street who was a couple of years older than me. Looking back, I'm pretty sure she had a crush on me-- she would wait for me every day, even when I was trying to avoid her and walk to school with my guy friends.

When I got to school, a regular Peyton Place awaited me. I have photograhic evidence. This picture greatly amuses my wife, for reasons soon to be understood.

Mrs. Stocking, my Kindergarten teacher, was in her second year of teaching. She had the perfect name and look to be a Kindergarten teacher. She was unflappable in the midst of a very energetic and sometimes challenging class.

Every picture, as that noted philosopher, thinker and scholar Rod Stewart sang, tells a story.

kindergarten 1967

My best friend at the time, Soumo, stands by my side in this picture. He was from South Korea, lived across the street from me, and spoke not a word of English. This did not keep us from happily playing together for hours every single day. He is in the middle row, fourth from the right. I am in the same row, third from the right. Billy, second from the right, was also a good friend. He was as cheerful and nice as he looks in this picture. At the far right end of the row, stood Roger, who was also a friend. He was as serious as he looks in the picture.

The guys third and fourth from the left, Timmy and Kenny, are likely in prison now. Timmy was a serious white trash thug, even then. Kenny was like that little dog in the cartoons, going "ya ya ya ya-- whatever you say Timmy." If there was trouble in the classroom, they likely had a hand in it. I knew even then that they were mean little pricks, and avoided them.

The real action going on in this picture, though, is an unrequited love triangle going on right before the camera.

You'll note that my eyes are looking down and to my right to the girl of my dreams, Rebecca, in the lower left hand corner of the picture.

You can see that she was playing her part, sitting coquettishly in a dreamy pose. This was, of course, to torment me. I was obsessed with Rebecca from the first time I laid eyes on her. I spent the entire year of Kindergarten finding excuses to be around her. On a dare, once, I even ran up and kissed her. She did not kiss back. She, of course, had no interest in me or my attention. She was mortified. Maybe even terrified. If there was a stalking law back then, she'd likely have invoked it. If she could have, she would have filed a restraining order keeping me at least 200 feet from her.

Meanwhile, Rebecca had a rival. If you look at the top row, you'll notice that the second girl from the left, Renae, is looking over at me. She was my stalker. She spent the entire year trying to be wherever I was. This often irritated me, because it interfered with my attempts to be wherever Rebecca was.

Looking back, I should have gone with Renae. Her parents were some of the first professionals-- yuppies-- to move into the neighborhood. She was smart, sweet, cute and had parents with money. Rebecca was silent, sullen and had the personality of an overboiled turnip. Of course I went for Rebecca. It wasn't until third grade that my taste in women improved, and I had my year as a "playah." More on that later.

I guess the funniest part about it all was that the woman I'd eventually spend my life with, my wife Kim, was minus six months old in March of 1967, when this little drama was unfolding.

Five Gross Things-- Part One

Okay, I've got a couple of tags to work on. I'll start with the five grossest things-- today will be part one-- my son throwing up on me.

As the parents out there in blogosphere can attest, parenting is not for the squeamish. We deal with various effluvia from our children from day one.

One evening, my son Adam and I walked over to the dollar store near our home. This was right after I finished student-teaching-- we lived in an apartment that I hated and he loved. I hated it because it leaned like the bad guy's lair in the Batman show, I'd had to fight a campaign to rid it of mice and in order to get to it, I had to drive past an open drug market run by guys who carried guns. He loved it because it was big enough that he could ride his little firetruck around or take Henry Bunny, one of his favorite stuffed animals (the other was Nancy Bunny), out for a stroll.

As I finished shopping in the dollar store, getting ready to pay for my purchases, Adam told me that he wasn't feeling well. I stooped down to hug him and talk to him. Suddenly, he vomited all over the leather motorcycle jacket I was wearing. He had just eaten an hour or so before, so it was a voluminous, projectile vomit.

As I sat there, pondering the two block walk home carrying a sick kid, covered in throw-up, the store clerks came up to me with paper towels in hand. I will never talk badly about teenagers again- the two young hispanic guys helped me get cleaned up as I alternately apologized and thanked them. I wish I weren't so poor back then-- I would have brought by a pizza for their dinner some evening. It was one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me, in the middle of a pretty bad time of my life.

Again, those of you with kids share the experience, I'm sure, of your kids remembering weird moments of their very young childhood. This is one of Adam's. Once in a blue moon, he'll recall, out of nowhere-- "Dad, do you remember the time I threw up on you in the dollar store?"

First Pluto, Then Elvis, Now Santa-- How Much More Can I Take?

Okay, I don't know if I can stand any more bad news this year.

First, Pluto got kicked out of the Planet Club. This was ridiculous. This was like when Wisconsin had a drinking age of 18, then raised it to 21 not long after I got out of high school. I knew people who went to college there who were able to drink legally for six months, then were suddenly illegal. Pluto has been a planet for over eighty years. Shouldn't it get grandfathered in?

Then, Elvis' long reign at the top of the Top Earning Dead Celebrities list ended, toppled in a slow, long coup by Curt Cobain, who took a dozen years to attain his title. As much as I liked Curt's music, it hardly seems fair.

Now, comes the news that Santa Claus has been bumped from the top of the Richest Fictional Character list. Worse, it was by Daddy Warbucks, who as a fictional character was an accessory to one of the most heinous cultural crimes in the history of Western Civilization, the musical "Annie."

What next? OJ really was guilty? There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after all?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Still Whining After All These Years

When I was a teenager in the suburbs of Chicago, Jim Skafish, or Skafish, as he was known, was a hero of mine. He was homely, hurt, angst-ridden and angry-- I identified with him. He had a minor hit, one of my favorite-ever songs, considered an early punk/new wave song, "Disgracing the Family Name."

One night in the late eighties, I was talking to someone about the early punk/new wave scene in Chicago. Believe it or not, it was pretty lively. Bohemia, Poison Squirrel, Wazmo Nariz, and of course Skafish were all part of that. We talked about all those groups-- we were in the Artful Dodger, hanging out with guys with the Slammin' Watusis, who were remnants of Bohemia, as this conversation took place. In fact, Karla, formerly from Bohemia, was bartending. The conversation eventually turned to Skafish, and someone pointed out that Jim Skafish was a totally self-absorbed twit who believed that he alone had brought new wave to Chicago, but got no recognition for it.

Flash forward about a year later. It was 1989. I was living in Wrigleyville with my friends Mark and Dan. We chose our apartment largely for it's proximity to Caberet Metro, where about 80% of the good shows in Chicago in a given week took place. One night, we were coming home from a show at the Metro, and decided to stop at that Subway down the street. As I walked in, I saw a face I recognized, but had never actually seen in person (he'd actually played my high school in the seventies, but I was so busy working and saving for college, I saw few shows). It was Jim Skafish.

As we waited for our sandwiches (or rather my friends did-- I hate eating when I'm drinking), Jim Skafish droned-- no, whined, in a high-pitched voice, to the people at his table-- about how he had brought new wave to Chicago, but got no recognition for it. It was pathetic.

Flash forward 17 years. A week ago, I finally got a chance to sit down with a glass of wine and a Chicago Reader I'd grabbed because the cover story interested me. I came across a story about Jim Skafish-- what he's doing now, what he'd done-- and how he'd brought punk and new wave and alternative to Chicago, but got no recognition for it.

It was downright sad. It made me think about the recent reunion of Naked Raygun-- how sweet and dignified it was, and how it brought a bunch of people who are aging pretty gracefully-- both themselves and elements of their audience-- together with people who are literally young enough to be my kids, and unabashed fans-- out to see these guys. For some of the kids, it was the one and only time they got to see them.

Someone made the comment on their blog about Jeff Pezzati looking like a soccer dad. Yes, this is a good thing- it's normal life. It's not better to burn out. You change the world, and then you have a life.

One of my customers at the restaurant a couple of months ago told me about meeting Dylan in LA last summer-- they were at their grandson's little league game, and Dylan's grandson was on the other team. It made me love Dylan's music even more than I already did. He puts out albums I love, from "Another Side of Bob Dylan" to "Time Out of Mind," and then is just a doting grandfather, He's earned the right, in my book. And Jeff and the boys have earned their right to take pride in what they accomplished and then live normal lives.

The guys in Naked Raygun changed so many lives. They, like Jim Skafish, sent out the message that there were other people who weren't just laying down and conforming. They weren't from New York or from LA-- they were blue collar lunkheads from Chicago, just like me. They showed 'em all that we could do it too, here in Chicago. When it was time to quit, or move on to other things, they did it. I wish Skafish could have as much much good judgement.

A few years ago, my friend Andreas was at a rock festival in Northern California. It was wonderful-- X was playing-- with Billy Zoom and everybody. Reverend Horton Heat and a bunch of other great bands, including Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes, were playing.

After seeing Strummer and his band playing, he and his girlfriend were walking around and came upon Joe Strummer sitting, having a beer, chatting with a couple of fans. He joined them, bought Joe a beer and chatted him up. He got him to sign a poster for me-- my Christmas gift from Andreas in 2002-- and talked to him. He told me later that Strummer was just a great guy. He loved where he was at-- a happy husband and dad, an elder statesmen of punk.

When Stummer died a year later, Andreas and I were devastated. For Christmas that year, I got him "Westway to the World", a wonderful documentary that Don Letts, who was a friend of theirs (he was later in Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones) did. I also got him a Blasters t-shirt signed by all of the original Blasters-- more on that in another post.

But we realized that Strummer lived a very fulfilling life. If you watch Westway to the World, it's clear he had regrets. He regretted that it wasn't until after the Clash split that he realized how influential they were, artistically, culturally, politically. But he'd reached a happy place-- proud of what he'd done, but not sitting on his laurels. It made his loss that much more painful.

Raygun made their mark, and have moved on. They're not sitting, whining about how underappreciated they were or are. Of course, it helps, I'm sure, that they were and are appreciated. But as I approach 50 (I'm 45 now), I am trying to balance the sparkplug I was at 28, when I would go out to see Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Billy Bragg, X and Naked Raygun, with the guy who's going to be the dad of a teenager on March 7 next year, and will have to pay for college for a couple of kids in a few years, and somehow through it all grow old with some kind of dignity. Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg (great show at the Double Door earlier this year!), Dylan and Naked Raygun have shown me a way. I hope Jim Skafish finds a path too.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Giving Thanks

This has truly been one of the most difficult years of my life. However, I still have plenty to be thankful for.

I am thankful for the health and happiness of Adam and Melody, my two children.

I am thankful for nearly a year of marriage to my wife Kim.

I am thankful for the health and happiness of my parents, particularly my father, who survived cancer this year.

I am thankful for the renewal of a lapsed friendship-- my old friend Dobie Holland, with whom I was able to repair a friendship after a falling out over a decade ago. I am particularly thankful that he survived the tsunami on December 26, 2004 (he was scuba diving off of Phukat, Thailand, one of the worst-hit areas when it happened), giving me the time to fix that friendship.

I am thankful that another old friend, Army Major Garrett Johnson, returned this summer after a year of service in Iraq alive and well.

I am thankful, despite my grief, for the 24 years of friendship I had with my friend Mark Evans, who was taken before his time this summer. What he gave me in his life will last me the rest of mine.

You'd Have Thought That They Would Have Given This Up After Foley...

Actual headline from the New York Times:

House Republicans Pick Boehner as Leader

If you don't get it, read it out loud.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Good News-- Bush Finally Makes It To Vietnam

To those of you who think George W. Bush is an undeserving, snotty-nosed punk who ducked out on his military service during the Vietnam War, I have here a picture of him in Vietnam just this week. He obviously had some other things to take care of in the last thirty-five years or so.

A Public Service

A few days ago, there was a murder in Park Ridge, a quiet, safe suburb just northwest of Chicago. This was, to say the least unusual--it's a very nice 'burb, and it borders very nice, safe neighborhoods in Chicago, including the one that my son lives in with my ex. Murders are rare in those parts.

My friend Paul Tobin at work lives in Park Ridge with his wife and four children. I was discussing it with him. Apparently it was some kind of "hit." The killer rang the doorbell and shot the poor victim at close range. Fortunately, the Park Ridge police have a good sketch of the suspect. As a public service, I've included the sketch with this post. If you see this person, please call the Park Ridge police immediately.

United States Marines Relent, Stop Hating God

I posted a couple of days ago about the raging controversy-- the United States Marine Reserves "Toys For Tots" program had declined a donation of 4000 scripture-quoting battery-operated Jesus dolls for fear that it would be inappropriate or offensive to a non-Christian who might recieve one. They have relented. More on that here:

Friday, November 17, 2006

I Swear to God I'm Not Making This Up

This is a headline from the New York Times, not The Onion:

In Visit to Vietnam, Bush Cites Lessons for Iraq

I just don't have the heart to tell him that we lost in Vietnam.

Friday Random 10

It's report card day today at the alternative high school. Turnout is light. I'm done with my lesson plans. Fortunately I brought my ibook along, and did my shuffle.

1. Can’t Live- Harry Nilsson
2. Tumbling Dice- Rolling Stones
3. The Ten Commandments- The Fugs
4. The Lonely Bull- The Ventures
5. Walt Whitman’s Niece—Billy Bragg & Wilco
6. Never Been in Love- Dave Edmunds
7. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag—James Brown
8. All I Really Wanna Do—Bob Dylan
9. Song Of The American Consul/Quartermaster Song—Jamie O’Reilly and Michael Smith
10. Tangled Up in Blue (from Real Live)—Bob Dylan

The Dave Edmunds is from the Dave Edmunds box set. An old friend and roomie, Dobie Holland, used to work at Jet Magazine and would get to take the promo copies of cd's and cd sets. The Dave Edmunds set was a present for my birthday-- 29th or 30th, maybe. Dobie kept the Black Market Clash for himself. And he had "The Best of War" in a specially produced Eight-Track. Way cool.

If you've never heard the Fugs, you must. Irreverent is not a strong enough adjective.

No, I'm the Knucklehead

When my son Adam was nearly two, his mother and I decided that it was time to put him in daycare. There were various reasons for this. First, we both needed to work, plus, I was in school trying to finish my teaching certification. Second, he needed to learn to be around other kids. This point was made when he walked up to my brother's daughter, who was about his age, shoved her down and laughed. He needed to start working on his people skills.

At first it was rough-- he did not like it at all-- if it wasn't his mom, I, or grandma, he wasn't going to have anything to do with it. He cried and cried.

After a couple of weeks, he began to enjoy it-- maybe too much. His latent social butterfly was loosed. He became popular. Or a ringleader, depending on your perspective.

Around the same time, 1996, I bought a car, the first one I'd owned in five years. Getting around by bus and el had become more and more difficult and time-consuming, particularly when I had Adam with me.

One of my habits, one that my wife makes fun of, is that of having a running commentary on the driving abilities of the drivers around me-- usually in some peppery language. When I finally got a car to run around in, it occurred to me that Adam, was beginning to talk up a blue streak, and was repeating everything he heard. With great effort, I began to clean up my language, substituting "bozo," "knucklehead" and other colorful non-expletives for my regular insults.

Adam loved the words I chose to use. When I got angry with other drivers, Adam got excited, and started coaching me on which words to use: "Call him a bozo, dad!" "Call him a dirtbag!" "Call him a knucklehead!" was his favorite. He'd laugh and repeat this word to himself over and over, declaring "I'm a knucklehead! Ha ha ha!"

Not long after this, I was going to pick Adam up at daycare. His daycare teacher took me aside to ask me about something. "Mr. Yen, there's a word...." I had a feeling I knew which word. With that, she opened the door to her classroom, and I beheld a Felliniesque sight. About 20 children, two and three year olds, were excitedly running around shouting: "You're a knucklehead!" and "I'm a knucklehead!" "Look at me-- I'm a knucklehead!"

"Um, yeah, he, uh must have heard me use that in the car. I guess the other kids liked it too, huh?"

I'm the knucklehead.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I came home from work tonight, after picking up my stepdaughter from afterschool, ate dinner and fell asleep hard. I didn't know why I was so tired-- work wasn't particularly bad-- I was missing some "key players" due to suspensions and otherwise, and so my day was relatively easy. I thought maybe it was the change of seasons, with the lack of sunlight.

My wife came home, had dinner with my stepdaughter and woke me up to tell me that she was going out in search of a shirt for her class pictures tomorrrow. I woke up at a little after 7, and got up to run some errands.

On the way to Target to pick up dishwashing soap, Christmas wrapping paper and some other things, driving down Western Avenue, I passed the dance studio I opened up with my ex-wife Cynthia.

Cynthia and I had met on a Sunday afternoon in early 1992 at the Gingerman tavern, on Clark Street. I was working at the Smokehouse, a very popular northside rib joint. I was also working as a substitute teacher. Since I speak Spanish pretty well, a predominantly latino school had asked me to fill in a Special Ed position that they were having trouble filling. She and I were sitting next to one another drinking beers, grading papers, and it occurred to us that we were both teachers. We started chatting. It was the beginning of a long history.

We were friends for a long time before we dated. She turned me on to the band King Missle, who did one of my favorite-ever songs "Jesus Was Cool."

"He could have played guitar better than Hendrix
He could have told the future
He could have baked the most delicious cake in the world
He could have scored more goals than Wayne Gretzky"

On Easter Sunday, 1992, right before we started dating, she took me to see King Missle. We were hanging out, drinking a few beers, listening to King Missle when it dawned on me-- I was going to hear King Missle play "Jesus Was Cool" on Easter Sunday! That was so cool! I knew that night that we were going to be a couple.

We had dated for two long stretches. We dated and split; I lived with and had a child with someone else, dated her again, split with her, married someone else, split with her, and then one night she and I had run into each other at the Hopleaf. We started dating again. I had finished my teaching certification. She'd been teaching in Evanston for about five years.

I ended up getting a job on the West Side of Chicago teaching seventh grade social studies. She began to get cold feet about our relationship. I was afraid she'd leave, and in the frozen foods aisle of Jewel, I told her I'd marry her if it would keep her from leaving. Not the most romantic thing I've done, but funny in retrospect.

We moved in together, and on May 1, 1999, got married at the Live Bait Theater. My friend Dan deejayed. My friends Mark, Larry, Jim and Andreas from college stood up. Mark, to my shock, ended up meeting and dating Cynthia's best friend Julia, whom I hated, for a long time after that. It was an epic wedding; her family had a tradition of playing Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #'s 12 & 35" (the one where he bellows "everybody must get stoned") at family gatherings. This one was no exception-- a conga line formed, and went out onto Clark Street.

That summer, Cynthia and I were sitting out on the back porch one evening and she was lamenting the fact that all her friends-- Mira, Diane and others-- were off around the world taking flamenco lessons. She'd developed a serious passion for flamenco during our last period apart. Somehow we started talking about opening a dance studio. The next day, we started looking at spaces.

About a week later, we found our space. We were going to meet my in-laws for my father-in-law's birthday at Pete's Pizza. We were walking down Western Avenue and we saw a storefront for rent. We peeked in the window and the owner happened to be there doing some work. We talked to him, and went on to have dinner with my in-laws.

The next day we were talking about the place. I was trying to guess at some of the physical dimensions of the place, and we decided to take a walk down and peek in the window again. And once again, the owner was there working. We had a talk with him, and finally he quoted a price. It was within the price we'd discussed. In fact it was a lot lower. With a couple of handshakes we agreed to meet the next day to sign a lease.

The next few days were spent buying tools and ordering construction material. One afternoon, we were there waiting for the wood to build the dance floor. The truck pulled up; we ran the 2 x 4's and 3/4 inch oak plywood into the studio. The door closed and suddenly we were there with this enormous pile of lumber. Cynthia erupted into tears; "Nobody has ever supported me in anything this way," she explained.

When Cynthia was ten years old, her mother had walked away from the family, leaving her father, a truck driver, alone with two little girls. I got along well with with my father-in-law. He was the son of a Filipino father and a German-American mother; a lot of people assumed with his Spanish name and dark looks, that he was latino (as they did with Cynthia). His lifelong nickname was "Chico." I greatly admired how he'd raised two kids alone. When Cynthia was in high school, he'd met and married someone about my age. It was grist for a sitcom-- my mother-in-law was my age and had grown up about two blocks from me. They had one child-- my son, who was 5, had an "uncle" who was 9 years old.

I plugged away at the studio, hammering, sawing, drilling. I did some research and consulted with "flamencos" about what they looked for in a floor. I put down a frame of 2 x 4's and laid the oak plywood atop that, screwing it down to hold it into place. Flamenco dancers want a floor that is hard, but has some "give." They want it to boom. I also designed a website for it and got it up and running.

We finally got the studio done. The Flamenco Arts Center opened in early August, 1999. Cynthia's beloved grandmother had died a few months before. Cynthia had spent many a happy hour of her childhood gardening with her. We filled the front windows of the studio with her plants.

Opening night was one of the best nights of my life. My son Adam was there; he played all night with "Uncle Raymond." Cynthia and I became the Queen and King of Flamenco in Chicago. We had the only flamenco studio not only in Chicago, but the whole midwest. We brought in internationally-known flamenco people to give workshops. We held "Juergas"-- flamenco parties-- that were the place to be for flamenco people. People would come in from other states for workshops. I got a lot of compliments on the floor I'd consructed, and people loved us for putting together a place that people could practice this very difficult and esoteric art.

For our first anniversary, I secretly commissioned a stained-glass piece that incorporated the beautiful logo a friend had donated to us to use for the studio (the one at the top of this page). My friend Mark helped me hang it one night before we went out for a beer. I knew she was going to check on the studio the next morning. She called me from the studio that morning crying. It was a good husband moment.

And yet, with all that going on, the marriage was foundering. In order to keep shared custody of my son, I'd had to spend enormous amounts of money. The kind of money you can put a down-payment on a house with. Cynthia wanted children and a house. She'd grown up in a townhouse with a broken family. What she wanted was perfectly normal for a 31 year old woman to want. And I couldn't give it to her. My finances were irreparably shattered (I finally declared bankruptcy last year on the last day before they changed the bankruptcy law). And I saw things getting impossibly complicated with Adam if she and I also had kids.

It all finally came to a head one night. We got into a horrible fight, and I ended up sleeping in my car. I stayed with Mark for a week until she and I decided to try counseling.

The fact that 9/11 happened in the midst of the counseling did not seem like a good omen.

I asked for a separation. She moved out, buying a condo.

We signed divorce papers in early 2003, and the divorce became final in May of that year.

I've since remarried, We'll celebrate our first anniversary on Patti Smith's birthday, December 30 (we chose that date for that reason). Cynthia got remarried last year, and she and her husband had a baby girl in September.

I'd contacted Cynthia over the summer to let her know about my friend Mark's murder. She and he had always liked one another a lot. I'd always wondered if I weren't with her, and he wouldn't have been with her best friend, if the two of them had been happy together.

Last month I emailed her to let her know that Mark's killers had been caught. She sent me a picture of her new family. Her husband looks like a nice guy-- the "crunchy granola" type that she'd usually dated (except for me). Her daughter is beautiful, like she is.

A couple of weeks ago, they closed on a house. She now has the things she most wanted.

The studio that we opened is still there. Her friend Kathi took over management of it. Tonight, as I drove past it, I saw that the stained glass piece that Mark and I had hung that night was still right there where we'd put it. There was a group of women in there taking flamenco instruction.

I had the satellite radio playing. There was a Springsteen song playing that I'd never heard. I looked down to the satellite player to see the name of the song playing. To my surprise, it was called "Cynthia." It was a little eerie.

I realized that it was deeply satisfying to me to see people still enjoying the studio 7 years later-- it outlasted the marriage that spawned it. Her vision, along with my carpentry skills, had made something that people are still enjoying many years later.

As I took care of my errands, I was trying to figure it all out. I realized that I was relieved. I had some closure in this year of a terrible, terrible loss that I'd been trying to sleep off earlier this evening.

I'd always worried that I'd wasted Cynthia's time. When she sent me the pictures, there was one with her husband and newborn baby daughter. I could tell that beneath the exhaustion, she was happy. Four years after we split, she had the things she wanted. And I'm in a much happier marriage. My son and my step-daughter are happy and healthy.

And the studio is still alive and kicking. I can finally relax.

Ska and the Soundtrack to My Life

Recently, Beth and Bubs had nice posts about the ska bands English Beat and the Specials. When I was a teenager, in the late seventies, ska was in its second wave. Ska came in on the same wave as punk and new wave. Ska did the impossible-- got white guys of my generation to dance. Ska was political, infectious, friendly and danceable. And the fashions were a lot of fun.

There was the Selecter and others. In central Illinois, there was a terrific group called the Uptown Rulers. Some of the best nights of my life were spent drinking and dancing at Ted's Warehouse, in Charleston, Illinois, to the Rulers. Their version of the Clash's "Charlie Don't Surf" is etched in my memory. Me and my friend Dan digitized the vinyl they had come out on, and we've been sending them out to our college friends as fast as we can.

Here's my favorite-ever ska song-- the Specials' "Concrete Jungle."
The Specials

"Glad I got my mates with me..."

For years, my friends and I tried to figure out the chant at the beginning of the song (on the record version). A few years ago, my friend Suzy from college saw the Specials and got a chance to chat them up after the show. They told her the chant was "You're goin' home in a f*ckin' ambulance/You're goin' home in a f*ckin' ambulance"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Those God-Hating Marines

Toys for Tots rejects Jesus doll

A talking Jesus doll has been turned down by the Marine Reserves' Toys for Tots program.

A suburban Los Angeles company offered to donate 4,000 of the foot-tall dolls, which quote Bible verses, for distribution to needy children this holiday season. The battery-powered Jesus is one of several dolls manufactured by one2believe, a division of the Valencia-based Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co., based on Biblical figures.

But the charity balked because of the dolls' religious nature.

Toys are donated to kids based on financial need and "we don't know anything about their background, their religious affiliations," said Bill Grein, vice president of Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, in Quantico, Va.

As a government entity, Marines "don't profess one religion over another," Grein said Tuesday. "We can't take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family."

Michael La Roe, director of business development for both companies, said the charity's decision left him "surprised and disappointed."

"The idea was for them to be three-dimensional teaching tools for kids," La Roe said. "I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible."

According to the company's Web site, the button-activated, bearded Jesus, dressed in hand-sewn cloth outfits and sandals, recites Scripture such as "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." It has a $20 retail value.

Grein also questioned whether children would welcome a gift designed for religious instruction. "Kids want a gift for the holiday season that is fun," he said.

The program distributed 18 million stuffed animals, games, toy trucks and other gifts to children in 2005.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Four Things You Should Know About

1. The Mustard Museum. I love mustard. I've loved mustard since I was a kid. Finding out that tumeric and vinegar, two of the main ingredients of mustard, are really good for you has only increased my love of mustard. But it's like Star Trek-- I love it, but not enough to go to a convention. I love mustard, but it disturbs me a little that someone has a museum for it.

2. Amy's Diary. This is the funniest thing ever on the internet. It's the diary of a third grade girl. The entries are, as the website points out, "painstakingly colored by crayons and narrated by experts to preserve the essense of third grade gestalt."

3. The Prison Bitch Name Generator. The name explains it all. Mine is "The One-Eyed Ogre."

4. The Ramones Name Generator. Go ahead-- I'll bet you can guess yours.


I work at an "alternative" high school on the West Side of Chicago. The "kids" are actually young adults, 17-21 years of age. Many of them are here as an alternative to prison time. The tiny staff (6 teachers, a secretary, two administrators, a counselor, two security guards, a custodian and a lunch lady) deal with a variety of tough things-- tough kids, tough situations. Many of the kids who walked in the door at the beginning of the year were prepared for this place to be their next failure.

I've come to greatly repect all of the teaching staff, and most of the rest of the staff. I usually think we've got pretty good administrators-- I've definitely had worse. Today, we had a memo in our mailboxes about lesson plans-- that they are to be in by Friday, or else we faced an administrative write-up.

Beyond the fact that this is a charter school, and a write-up basically means nothing....

We frequently have classes cancelled by events that were not announced, and have to somehow keep with the curriculum. We deal with kids who have attendence rates usually around 60%. We have kids who are learning disabled whom we still, two months into the school year have not recieved IEP's-- Individualized Education Plans-- it tells what their disabilities and limitations are, and give us guidelines for dealing with them. We've got kids with extreme emotional issues and mental health issues.

We come in every day and act professionally in the face of some horrendous classroom situations. Three of the six teachers are first-year teachers. I've seen two of them reduced to tears. And yet, we keep showing up with enthusiasm and hope. To recieve this petty memo is a real slap in our faces.

I've dealt with administrators in many fields-- government administrators , private sector administrators and education administrators. By far, the worst were education administrators. More than any other, they spend their time trying to justify their own existence. Almost all education administrators were classroom teachers at one time. As a friend said, is there a drug they take that makes them forget that?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Friday Shuffle

Ahhhhh-- Friday night. A glass of Barefoot Zinfandel. My son Adam's here-- I gave up a weekend so he could go to my ex's mother's birthday party last weekend, so I've been missing him a lot this week. We had a great talk during our interminable ride across the North Side to get from his mother's house to our favorite Chinese Buffet (the China Palace, at the Ashland-Wellington Plaza). We talked about the election, about school, and about things he remembered from when he was little (see left).

At the moment, he's busy using the cheat codes he just got off the net to play Playstation Star Wars Lego. For my part, I can't get past seeing the bar scene from the first Star Wars movie not only erupt into an all-out light saber and light pistol battle, but all with little Lego versions of all the Star Wars characters.

Here's my Friday random ten.

Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnette—People’s Limosine
Department S—Is Vic There?
Tom Petty—Night Watchman
Moody Blues—Tuesday Afternoon
Billy Preston—Nothing From Nothing
Bob Dylan with Mick Taylor—It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (live)
They Might Be Giants—Istanbul
Beastie Boys-- Fight For Your Right
Million Dollar Marxists—Do the Emotion
The dB’s—Spitting Into the Wind

The last one is from great eighties album the dB's, Like This, which was finally reissued a few months ago-- it was out of print for years. One of the albums from around 1984 like The Blasters' Hard Line, Prince's Purple Rain, Los Lobos' Will the Wolf Survive and REM's Reckoning that really bring me back to a time and place in my life.

Bonus Friday track: She Came to Me, from Mermaid Avenue, the album Billy Bragg and Wilco did of a bunch of song lyrics Woody Guthrie wrote, but never recorded. It's got the line "and maybe we'll have all the fascists out of the way by then." Seems appropriate at the moment.

Hold the Presses!

Here's news important enough to interrupt my writing of next week's lesson plans.

David Lee Roth may be coming back to Van Halen. This is good, because they have sucked ass since he left.

I saw that he has been working as a paramedic. If I were injured, and David Lee Roth showed up as a paramedic, I would definitely be looking for Allan Funt and a camera.

Eddie Van Halen's teenage son joins the band
POSTED: 9:28 a.m. EST, November 10, 2006

NEW YORK (Billboard) -- Eddie Van Halen has brought his 15-year-old son, Wolfgang, into Van Halen as the veteran rock band's new bass player, a spokesperson told

Father and son, along with Eddie's drummer brother Alex, have been rehearsing for a 2007 tour, but it is unknown who will serve as the band's vocalist. (Wolfgang's substitution for original bass player Michael Anthony was first reported by news Web site a week ago.)

Rumors continue to swirl that original singer David Lee Roth, who was replaced by Sammy Hagar in the mid-1980s, will return to the fold, despite years of enmity. Roth, who has recently worked as a radio DJ and a paramedic, told in May that he saw it "absolutely as an inevitability."

No details have been provided about the departure of Anthony, a fan favorite who generally kept out of the internecine warfare in the band.

As for the musical acumen of Wolfgang, Eddie Van Halen enthused to Howard Stern in September, "If I excel at the speed of sound, he excels at the speed of light. This kid is just a natural."

Van Halen is one of nine acts on the ballot for the 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Satan Comes to York High School

Back in the late eighties, I was rooming in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood with two of my good college friends, Mark and Dan.

Our house was the party house among the close-knit group we'd gone to college with. Dan, Mark and I were all in our mid or late twenties. None of us had kids, wives, or, frankly, jobs that had anything to do with an eventual career. We were at the heights of our slacker glory.

Mark was working at a one of the neighborhood Lerner papers and at a record store. Dan was working two or three jobs, including one as a bill collector. He had some entertaining stories from that one. I was working as the breakfast waiter at Minnie's, a restaurant near Depaul University. Since I was the early guy (I started at 5:30 am), I also got to leave early, often around 1:45 or 2:00, after the lunch rush was over.

Since Dan was working absurd numbers of hours, we rarely saw him. We'd see signs of him-- a dirty dish in the sink or dishwasher, some empty beer bottles in the garbage can. Once in a rare while, one of us would actually see him-- it was a running joke with Mark and I-- "Dan Sightings" we called them.

One afternoon I got home and Dan was actually at home for the day. Since this was a rare thing, we celebrated by cracking some beers open and turning on some game show. We were just talking, catching up, not really watching the television when Chicago pseudo-journalist/celebretard Jay Levine cut in with an important news flash. There had been a stabbing at York High School. Dan, being an alumnus of York (class of '82), immdediately took note.

As the story developed, it turned out that the stabbing had been committed by some kid who had been bullied regularly by jocks and finally showed up with a penknife, which he stuck in some offending dickhead's leg. Somehow they had gotten ahold of this kid's notebook, and they were showing it on the tv. Jay trumpeted that the symbols were satanic symbols, and then began speculating that York High School might be a hotbed of satanism.

Dan and I, in the meantime, were doubled over in laughter, because being huge fans of the Dead Kennedys, we immediately recognized their symbol on this kid's notebook. If we weren't already sympathetic to some poor kid getting bullied by jocks in the suburbs, we were cheering for him because he was a fellow punk-rocker. We didn't necessarily approve of the violent part of what he'd done, but we understood his feeling of fear and lonliness, and heartily approved, at least, of the artistic side of his disapproval of stupid suburban life.

I don't know if it was divine inspiration or the beer, but Dan and I decided to call Joe O'Meara, a guy he'd gone to York with and we'd both gone to Eastern Illinois University with. I helped Dan with our little prank by cueing up Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells"-- the music from The Exorcist. As Tubular Bells played in the background, Dan left a message on Joe's answering machine:

"Hello, Joe-- this is Satan, and I'm recruiting down at York High School. Buhahahahahahaha!"

Usually when we pulled one of our dumb pranks, we'd get a call within a day or two from the prankee laughing about it. Oddly, we didn't get a call right away from Joe, who has a great sense of humor.

Finally, a couple of weeks later, Dan talked to Joe. Joe informed Dan that he had not, in fact, been the one to check the answering machine first that day; it had been the nun that Joe's parents had boarding with them.

If we weren't already, we are going to hell for sure now.

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Okay, I may have to review my non-belief in a kind and just god. There are reports now that Katherine Harris, the villianess of the 2000 election Florida fiasco, may have lost the election due to errors in the machines she pushed for.

Ain't irony a bitch?

Martyr's, 11/5/06-- Earl Carter Benefit


This past Sunday, there was a benefit for my friend Earl Carter, who I met my sophmore year of high school, in 1976. Earl is the bass player for the Riptones, a popular Chicago rockabilly band. In 1986, he was in a really bad automobile accident. He recovered, but lingering injuries led to problems recently. He was hospitalized and of course, like many musicians, had no medical insurance. The Chicago rockabilly community turned out in droves for him, including a reunion of his first band, the Deke Rivers Band.

The turnout was great, particularly given that another marvelous musical event was taking place that night, Riotfest.

It was nice to see other old friends, including Earl's best friend since childhood, Steve Knoebber. Since Earl was not well enough to be there, Steve videotaped a lot of the night's activities. I still can't get used to seeing Steve with no hair-- in my head, I still picture him at 5th period lunch in our senior year of high school.

Kudos to Don and Jen Olsen, who put this thing together. In one of those strange connections that happen all the time in my life, they are regulars at the restaurant who happened to be friends of Earl and fans of the Riptones (the Riptones played their wedding).

Anyone interested in helping Earl out can donate at Paypal ( at