Monday, April 30, 2007

My Heroes

Yesterday, my best friend Jim came by and watched my son's practice baseball game with me and we had a chance to talk politics, one of our favorite things to do.

In the course of our discussion, I realized I had two heroes-- World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and former CIA director George Tenet.

Wolfowitz is currently embroiled in a controversy. I'll leave that alone for the moment.

Wolfowitz is the quintessential conservative chickenhawk-- he has long been hawkish in his foreign policy views, after having never served in the military-- he used student deferments to avoid service in Vietnam, like much of the Bush administration, including VP Dick Cheney.

Wolfowitz was, of course, one of the prime movers and shakers in getting the administration to rush into the current war under false pretenses.

This administration rewards loyalty, and Wolfowitz was appointed to the head the World Bank.

In 2001, his marriage collapsed, with rumors of an affair.

The current scandal arose over his acceptance of the World Bank position. It turns out that his girlfriend Shaha Riza worked there already. World Bank rules forbade them both being employed there, so she was placed on an outside assignment with a promotion and raise.

This did not look good, and a firestorm has erupted.

Most normal people would resign and quietly accept some other position to avoid bringing damage to the administration. Not Wolfy. He's going to dig his heels in and fight. Every day brings a new headline and new damage to the Bush Administration's already trashed image.

Hero #2 George Tenet just published his "modestly titled" memoirs, as NYT columnist Maureen Dowd put it, "At the Center of the Storm: My Years With the CIA." He claims, among other things, that there was never serious debate about the march to war. Okay, Mr. "Slam-dunk." I love how a guy who was a part of that process is claiming not to have been. Whatever sells books, I guess.

By the way, George, when you appeared on the front page of the New York Times on December 15, 2004, you appeared pretty happy to be recieving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from W. The caption said that you, as CIA director, built the case for war. I'm sure there was some kind of misunderstanding.

His book is fueling the fires of this administration's collapse. My hero.

One of the people who have immediately attacked Tenet is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She's on my short list to become a hero. She has promised to ignore a Congressional supoena. I wonder if she knows the penalty for ignoring a supoena. She will offically become my hero when I see her doing the perp walk to jail for ignoring the supoena.

The way that this administration is collapsing into a fury of backbiting and stupidity would be highly amusing if it weren't for the 3,351 US deaths to date, according to the Iraq Casualty Count Coalition-- not to mention the tens of thousands more physically and psychically wounded. Or the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead, or the millions of Iraqis living with an increasingly violent and chaotic situation.

As I've watched this unfold, this war that has now dragged on longer than World War II, something was nagging at me-- that I'd seen it before-- guys trying to do something they thought would be easy, then getting in over their heads. It occurred to me that I'd seen it in the Disney movie "Fantasia," specifically "The Magician's Apprentice" segment.

Problem is, there's no magician to return home and undo these idiots' mess. The only satisfaction I get is that their continued incompetence and arrogance are further damaging the political party that got them to power.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Proposal

Thanks to the wonder of wifi, I'm sitting by the firepit with my son as I write this post.

My son has been looking forward to the firepit since last year. My landlord bought it last summer, but through bad timing, my son was never able to enjoy the firepit last autumn-- every time he was here, it was either warm or raining-- never cool and dry, ideal firepit weather.

Tonight is that ideal night. We sat out here for a while with my landlord and his wife, and their guests. One of them was talking about discovering the Effigies, a punk band that's been around forever in Chicago. Another, a grad student in Math from L.A., sat and talked baseball with my son.

A little while ago, my son made a decision about a Cubs hat he had. It was time to burn it.

I've mentioned before that the very first words I ever said to my son were "Remember, son-- the Cubs are bums!" I'm not making this up.

He decided early on that he was a Cubs fan. He was probably 7 or so when he said those words-- he didn't know that they were classic Cub fan words-- "You know, Dad-- I think that we're going to have to wait 'til next year." I was heartbroken-- he was so young!

But hope springs eternal. He is the consummate fan. He told me a couple of years ago that he'd be a fan even if they lost every game.

Of course, last year, they tried to test him on that one, and see if he really meant it.

He had a hat that he always wore to the many games he and I attended. It's the one he's wearing in this picture, from a game he and I went to a couple of seasons ago.

You'll notice that he's holding a toy stuffed goat; it was his desperate attempt to break the Cubs' curse of the billy goat.

It did not work. Despite the fact that they had a great team, despite the fact that a future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was pitching (that's Maddux warming up a couple of hundred feet behind us in the background), the Cubs managed to lose that game, and in fact all three games we attended that year.

I'm pretty certain that it was at that game that Adam began to voice suspicion that it was in fact that hat that was cursed and causing the Cubs to lose. This is what the Cubs have driven my son to.

He said, as he put it in the firepit, "It's given me hope but never victory."

He then proceeded to spit eight times into the firepit. I was curious and asked him why he had done that. "1908" was his reply. He knew I'd know what he was talking about. 1908 was the last time that the Cubs won a World Series. Assuming the Cubs do not win one this year-- a pretty fair assumption-- it will have been a century.

There's a list out there of things that have happened since the last time the Cubs won the World Series. Among them:

Radio was invented.
Television was invented.
Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse was born and died.
Cubs announcer Harry Carey was born and died.
Two World Wars were fought.
Several states were added to the union.
Prohibition was enacted and repealed.
Three sets of flagpoles meant to hold World Series flags were built, rusted out and replaced.
Haley's Comet has passed by the earth. Twice.

When I was eight years old, my family lived on the North Side of Chicago. The Cubs looked to be a shoe-in to go to the World Series. In a now notorious game, a black cat ran across the field, and the Cubs, who were up 8 1/2 games in the middle of August, managed to fold and lose the pennant to the Mets, a team who just a few years before had set a record for losses in a season that still stands. I should have learned.

Chicagoan Mike Royko, one of my favorite writers, was also a North-sider and Cub fan, and became so disgusted with them that he officially switched his allegiance to the Chicago White Sox.

My son and I are not that disgusted yet, but he's taken to extreme measures- burning up that Cubs cap

His burning of the Cubs cap reminded me of the very public destruction of the "Bartman ball." It was blown to bits on nation-wide television. And did it help? The Cubs proceeded to have one of their worst seasons in years.

The day the sale of the Tribune to a group headed by Sam Zell, the Tribune announced that they were selling the Cubs. It brought me back to the day in 1981 when the Tribune bought the Cubs. There was joy in Chicago. At last, the Wrigley family, who were clearly fielding losing teams so that the Cubs could be a tax write-off were selling to an organization that would put together winning teams and get us to a World Series. How funny is that?

What's sad is there's not even talk that whoever buys them might put together a winning team. They suck that bad.

I've waited since I was eight for the Cubs to stop sucking. I'll be 46 in a couple of weeks, and they show no signs of abating. They ruined my childhood, and they appear to be about to ruin my son's childhood. And so it is this reason that I propose that Super-prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald be called back to Illinois to prosecute the Chicago Cubs for nearly a century of child abuse.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Oh, and By the Way... are those Friday margaritas, people?

Hey-- what's going on? I see a couple of you without a margarita in your hand! What's going on here, people! It's after noon where I'm at! Let's get a margarita mixed, and make it snappy, sunshine!

Random Ten For Report Card Day

Today is report card pick-up day, so I didn't have to be at work until 11:30. The other teachers and I are trying to guess how many parents we'll have. Last time we had 10.

Don Ho is barely cold in his grave, and he's popped up for an appearance in my Friday Random 10. How cool is that?

1. The Ocean- Led Zeppelin
2. Tiny Bubbles- Don Ho
3. Crystal Liason- The Fugs
4. Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman, David Blue and Me- John Wesley Harding
5. King of Love- Dave Edmunds
6. Incident At Neshabur- Santana
7. Stop the Clock- The Blasters
8. Mama, Look a Boo Boo- Robert Mitchum
9. Candy- Iggy Pop
10. White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land- Phil Ochs

1. The best track from one of Led Zeppelin's weaker efforts, Houses of the Holy
2. Don Frickin' Ho!
3. Ed Sanders and the wonderfully irreverent sixties icons The Fugs
4. This one keeps popping up on my Random 10. Maybe it's trying to tell me something.
5. From the great Dave Edmunds box set.
6. From Abraxas, an album I finally got on cd.
7. The second-greatest group of the eighties, after the Clash.
8. From Robert Mitchum's great calypso album. Yeah, that Robert Mitchum.
9. The Ig sings this one with the B-52s' Kate Pierson. I think it was actually his biggest hit.
10. The late, great Phil Ochs, warning us about the folly of military adventures in Asia. We need to start listening.

An Important Decision

I've made an important decision. I am declaring, from now on, Fridays to be now known as "Margarita Fridays." You are allowed, in addition to dressing casually, to have Margaritas on Fridays.

Let's keep it reasonable-- none before, say, 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Be sure to share. And if the boss gives you a hard time, tell him or her it's okay-- Johnny Yen said it's all right.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Five Questions

Fellow Taurean Blogger Danielle was doing a thing where she was interviewing other bloggers. She posted five questions for me.

1. What is up with you and Ronald McDonald?

1. In May of 2002, I went to Shanghai, China with my friend Andreas and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Lynn. It was incredible. We saw the hall Mao used to hold Communist Party meetings in. We saw Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-Sen's home. And we met a lot of cool people.

We were walking down a long commercial strip-- picture a three mile long outdoor mall. In the middle of it, in a supposedly Communist country, there sat an old (fiberglass) friend on a bench. I couldn't resist the photo op.

When I did the singles ad that I ended up meeting my wife through, I used that picture; I wanted to make sure that whoever I met had a sense of humor. I think it worked.

She must have a sense of humor. She married me.

2. Your regular readers are well aware of the lengths you go to insure your son's happiness. If you could narrow down to one reason your son brings joy into your life what would it be?

A couple of years ago, I was watching Letterman and he had Johnny Depp on. Depp started talking about his kids, and he said something that stayed with me. I can't remember the exact quote, but it was something to the effect that we have all these anxieties when they're born, and they turn out to be these delightful little people. That captured my experience exactly. I was scared to death when my son was born; I really did not thing I'd make much of a parent. I was a pretty angry person when I was younger, for various reasons. I focused on not being angry when he was around, and making sure that no matter how tired I was, we did things that he found interesting and engaging. My father wasn't around a lot-- he was either working, or trying to unwind from work, so, for instance, I taught myself (and my brothers) how to ride a bike. My kids didn't have to do that. I taught my son-- and my stepdaughter-- how to ride a bike. You make the time for what's important.

My father's expressed regret over how little time he spent with us, and I took that to heart. I read a quote by the actor Kurt Russell, who said that he and Goldie Hawn didn't believe in "quality time;" they believed in lots and lots of time with their kids. I share that belief. They only get one childhood, and you only get one chance to get it right.

To answer your question, he brings me joy because for all the difficulty he's been through-- an ugly custody fight, poverty, his mother's choice to live in a dangerous neighborhood when he was younger-- he's come through beautifully. He's kind, got good values, he's brave (that'll be another post), he's got character, he's intelligent, funny, and he loves baseball and politics just as much as I do. He shows me every day that the sacrifices I made were worth it.

Okay, so that's a lot of reasons. I have trouble bringing it down to one.

3. Name one moment in history that has molded the world in a positive way.

The story of the village of Le Chambon, France.

It was a primarily Huguenot (Protestant) town that kept a collective cultural memory of the murder of thousands of Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572. Le Chambon was in Vichy France during World War II. The town's minister, Andre Trocme and his wife Magda, convinced the townspeople that if they truly believed in their faith, that they had a responsibility to help Jews who were passing through the town trying to get to the safety of Switzerland. The people of Le Chambon, under the guidance of the Trocmes, set up a system of housing, feeding Jewish refugees, and even schooling the children, then smuggling them to Switzerland-- all right under the nose of the Gestapo. Remarkably, a town of 5,000 people is estimated to have saved 5,000 people.

There were townspeople killed, including a popular young physician. However, historians think that the "Conspiracy of Good" may have reached beyond the town. They've uncovered evidence that one of the German commanders, not an SS guy, spent years serrepticiously helping the people of Chambon in their efforts, at great risk to himself.

There was a book and a documentary:

Book: Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There, by Philip Hallie

Documentary: Weapons of the Spirit, Pierre Sauvage

The documentary was made by Pierre Sauvage, who as a child was taken in and saved by the people of Chambon. There's a remarkable scene in the documentary, in which he talks to an old French peasant couple who took in dozens of people during the war. When asked why they did it, they shrugged and said "What were we to do? They showed up needing our help. We did what anybody else would have done." In otherwords, they did it simply because it was the right thing to do. That is the kind of moral courage that gives me hope. I choose to believe what they did was a defining moment in history.

4. What is the first song you remember hearing other than lullabies?

We always had WLS going on in our house-- it was a rock station then. I remember hearing a song on the radio, and being puzzled by it, and going to ask my mother about it. I asked her how many days there were in a week. She replied "Seven." I told her "That's what I thought. This guy on the radio is singing about "Eight Days a Week." My mother really didn't know how to explain hyperbole to me. The song was, of course, the Beatles' "Eight Days a Week." It must have been around 1966.

5. Being a fellow Taurus would you describe yourself as stubborn or determined?

I'd describe myself as determined. I suspect that my wife, my friends and my family would describe me as stubborn.

I'm also an Ox in the Chinese horoscope-- the Ox shares most of the traits of a Taurus.

I'd love to continue this. Any of you extroverts care to be interviewed? Email me at

Students I Remember: "Nacho"

During my second year teaching sixth grade in Cicero, Illinois we had a teaching "in-service." That's teacher talk for "a day with no kids, just excruciatingly boring professional development."

In the seminar I was in, we were assigned to write down the names of two students: one of your best and one of your most difficult students. Then we were to pair off with another teacher and discuss them.

I ended up paired off with Ms. J., a fifth grade teacher. As we started discussing our students, we were startled to discover that my good student was her difficult student.

Ms. J. had had Ignacio "Nacho" Puentes the previous year. I had him that year. Ignacio was a bright little pip of a guy. I was curious why Ms. J. had found him difficult. She told me that they had gotten in a year-long battle royale over SSR-- Sustained Silent Reading.

I replied that Ignacio loved reading. She told me that when doing SSR, she required students to read "chapter" books. All Ignacio wanted to read was about birds.

She was correct in that. Ignacio was interested in little other than birds. He acquired the nickname "The Birdman." He spent much of his day reading up on birds. He would do the other assignments quickly and perfunctorily-- this could be a problem. He would rush through them, usually performing poorly, so that he could get back to reading up on birds.

One day, I checked my email while at work. My parents had moved to Tennessee a few months before, and my mother was spotting birds she hadn't seen in Illinois. She knew about my "birdman" and emailed a description of a bird she'd seen nesting near her and my father's home.

I read the brief description to "Nacho," and he immediately stated, without hesitation, that it was a Carolina Wren. I emailed this to my mother, who looked up a picture of a Carolina Wren on the internet. Sure enough, Ignacio was correct. I was floored.

As the year went on, it occurred to me that Ignacio might have Asperger's Syndrome, a fairly newly-discovered (1981) form of autism. People with Asperger's Syndrome are very high-functioning, have difficulty with social relationships and are obsessive about one subject.

Obviously Ignacio was obsessive about birds-- he basically refused to study anything else, no matter what the consequences. And he was prone to odd, random conflicts with the tight-knit group of friends who surrounded and protected him. Toward the end of the year, I began to realize that he probably did have Asperger's Syndrome.

I wondered what to do. I talked to the school counselor, who told me there really wasn't much they could do.

Ignacio finished sixth grade and was sent to the massive (5,000 student) junior high school that the district opened up that year. I saw him a couple of times the next year when he would pick up his younger brother who was still at my grade school.

The year after that, I didn't see him, but I ran into a kid who had been in that class. I asked about a few of the students. When we got to Ignacio, she said "Oh yeah, Nacho's still the Birdman."

I hope that his family has the good sense to steer him toward college, and hopefully, ornithology. I expect that some time in the next ten or fifteen years, I'll run a search on his name and find a book on birds written by Dr. Ignacio Puentes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reasons I Love My Son, #236

Actual quote from last weekend:

"Dad, can you imagine a world without "Smoke On the Water?"

As you might guess, he loves "classic rock."

You Were Warned...

Just a warning... May is National Mime Month.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day, 1972

I have only vague recollections of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. I do, however, remember that month very well for another reason.

I was in 3rd grade at Haugen Elementary, in the Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago. About a week earlier, I had awoken to the news that Apollo 13, which was supposed to be the third manned flight to the moon, had had an explosion. I was-- and still am-- fascinated by space flight. I'd remembered being allowed to stay up late to watch the grainy, upside down images of Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon the summer before.

Every day of that crisis, from April 13 to April 17, 1970, my little science nerd buddies and I excitedly discussed all the problems Mission Commander Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swieckert had in getting back: the fear that they'd get the trajectory wrong by a degree or two and either burn up or bounce into space forever; that their oxygen supply wouldn't last; whether the electronics in the LEM had been damaged in the explosion; for gods sake, even a typhoon approaching their landing site!

I remember when they announced over the intercom at school that the astronauts had landed safely, and how we cheered.

Later, Jim Lovell was to comment on how the mission and their near-fatal adventure had really driven in the point to him that earth is a warm, relatively hospitable island in a cold, unforgiving univerese.

Ironically, it had been Lovell's crew on Apollo 8 in December of 1968 that took this picture, one that has become very, very famous. It was also, largely, the inspiration for Earth Day, for really visualizing the point that Lovell had made about the earth's place in the universe.

The first Earth Day I remember really well was the one when I was in fifth grade at Parkwood Elementary in Hanover Park, Illinois. It was a school that was shared by two suburbs, Hanover Park, of course, and Streamwood, where my family lived.

Both suburbs were classic suburbs-- land that was formerly farmland, where they'd stripped the topsoil off, built the subdivision, put the topsoil back around the houses and planted a few trees. We moved there in April, 1971, not long before the second Earth Day.

I've read that 1971 was the height of suburbanization-- the height of movement from cities to the suburbs.

The reasons my folks moved from the city to the suburbs were perfectly logical. For about what they were spending on a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago, they could buy a three-bedroom house, with a yard and great schools. Yeah, believe it or not, there was a time when Streamwood and Hanover Park had great schools.

There was even a time when Chicago had great schools. A time when a bunch of blue-collar kids in third grade would discuss space flight, physics, elections, race relations, and a bunch of other things.

The reason I remember Earth Day, 1972 is that I won something. We had an Earth Day drawing, and I won a sapling. It was a poplar sapling that was about 3 feet tall. I planted it in our backyard a day or two later.

By the time we moved out of that house for the greener pastures of Western Springs in 1974, it had grown to be taller than me, or either of my parents.

About six years ago, I happened to be near that house to attend a wedding. I hadn't been out that way in years. My wife at the time, Cynthia, and I drove out there-- she wanted to see where I'd lived. To my surprise, the tree I'd planted was not only there, but was now about 40 feet high-- poplars grow fast, I'd read.

Right now, I'm reading Jared Diamond's book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." I'd wanted to read it since reading the reviews a couple of years ago, but I'd felt like I should read his book "Guns, Germs and Steel," which has become somewhat of a classic, first.

If you're inclined, read "Guns, Germs and Steel." It'll help contextualize "Collapse." But I feel like though "Guns, Germs and Steel" was his big hit breakthrough book, "Collapse" was the book that is his life's work.

"Collapse" is an examination of the explosive growth, and of course collapse, of various societies in the earth's past-- Easter Island, the Mayans, the Norse settlement on Greenland, New Guinea and others. He draws parallels to modern societies that have collapsed for various reasons. I'm most interested to see how he ties the 1994 Rwandan genocide to it all.

Back in the late seventies, during the so-called "Energy Crisis," there was an explosion of interest in sustainable agriculture, "alternative" energy sources, solar energy, wind power and such. President Jimmy Carter was excellent about supporting these initiatives, and there were serious gains made in these areas.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected, and all of these initatives were allowed to expire. The United States continued a policy of expansion of the use of fossil fuel that included building a huge military that was used, in part, to protect petroleum interests in the Middle East.

We are, of course, immersed in a disasterous war in Iraq relating to maintaining that supply of fossil fuel.

When I was a kid, one of the big mysteries was "What happened on Easter Island?"

Easter Island is an island in the Pacific that offered a mystery to the first European explorers who got there. Here was a sparsely inhabited island that had a tiny population of people, and a bunch of enormous-- ten tons or more-- carved stone heads that had been created and moved around. There were almost no trees and very few people on the island. How had this come to be?

Around the time I'd planted my tree in Streamwood, there were popular theories, promoted by Eric Van Danicken ("Chariots of the Gods") and others, that aliens had come to earth and had created and placed these statues. In the early nineties, better theories had been come about: that societies had developed on the island that had started competing to build the enormous statues. To move them to the desired spots, they'd cut the then-plentiful trees and used them.

In Collapse, Jared Diamond asks the question, wondering what the Easter Islanders were thinking when they cut down their last tree?

What the Easter Islanders didn't know was that the ecology of their little island was quite fragile, and the the trees they were cutting down were part of a web that made the island livable. In cutting down their trees for short-term goals, they were sealing their doom.

Jared Diamond's clear implication was that the Easter Islanders had the intelligence, energy, and vision to create a self-sustaining society, but chose not to do so.

In "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore uses another image of the earth from the Apollo 8 mission, appropriately.

I'll assume that most people reading this blog have seen the movie. I've only seen the first half of it-- I showed half of it to my students a few weeks ago, and haven't sent it back to Netflix yet, realizing that I need to watch it attentively, perhaps with my son, who raves about it.

On this Earth Day, 35 years after I planted that tree that's taking carbon out of the air still, I want to point out that while we're down, we're not out.

My best friend Jim, who's never shown an interest in the environment before, sent me an email with seven ways to reduce your "carbon footprint."

Texas, of all places, is the biggest producer of wind energy, I found out recently.

Spain's biggest utility just bought a bunch of huge wind energy farms. In fact, Europe in general is going green.

And of course, my son thinks that Al Gore should run for President again-- though he'd be fine with voting for Barack Obama if he were 18.

I think back to that tree I planted when I was ten, and think of Johnny Appleseed; what if I'd planted a tree a month since then? I'd love to know the math-- what would my overall "carbon footprint" be?

Unlike the peoples of Easter Island, we have the benefit of knowledge and technology. I'd like to think that some archeologist, perhaps with the same view Jim Lovell had of the earth in 1968, won't have to look at the remnants of our planet and say to him or herself, about the last car we built, the last energy-wasting suburban tract home-- or even the last tree we cut down-- "What were they thinking?"

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Johnny Cash Says It All" Friday Random 10

This morning, the art teacher and I were discussing the week and we came to the conclusion that it was "unsettling."

Wednesday morning, Corey, a student I hadn't seen in my Spanish class in a couple of weeks, showed up. He stayed only long enough to talk to each of his teachers, myself included, and give us each a hug. Then he left.

Later in the day, a Chicago policeman stopped by, looking for Corey.

Yesterday, we found out why. Apparently, Corey's girlfriend had been having a relationship with another guy. The police believe Corey killed this guy Wednesday morning, shortly before he came to school.

It was unsettling, particularly given what happened in Virginia this week.

Corey was unlike a lot of the young men in my school. He was friendly-- he always had a smile and a greeting. There didn't seem to be the coiled menace a lot of the guys here have acquired on the street (or in jail). He made a terrible decision, and now two lives are gone-- his and the other guy's.

I'd had a post ready for today about a kid bringing a gun to my son's school three years ago. I decided to wait a few more days to post it.

And besides, Johnny Cash said it all right away in my random shuffle.

1. Don't Take Your Guns To Town- Johnny Cash
2. You Shook Me- Led Zeppelin
3. Wedding Bell Blues- Laura Nyro
4. I Will Survive- Gloria Gaynor
5. Searchin' For a Soldier's Grave- Bob Dylan
6. Baby I Love Your Way- Lisa Bonet (from High Fidelity)
7. 20th Century Man- The Kinks
8. Jersey Girl- Bruce Springsteen
9. Friction- Television
10. Pretty Persuasion- REM

1. Enough said.
2. From that great first album.
3.. The Fifth Dimension had a hit with this song, and another Laura Nyro song, "Stoned Soul Picnic." I like the cover, but Ms. Nyro's original is my favorite. BTW, Laura Nyro also wrote "Stoney End," a Barbara Streisand hit.
4. I didn't care for this song until I heard the Communards' cover (Jimmy Sommerville's band after The Bronski Beat). I've got a funny story involving an old boss and this song that I'll post about sometime.
5. I have no idea how this song got on my itunes-- probably d/l'ed it while looking for another song. It's live, from October of 2001, according to my ipod.
6. Another song that I appreciated more after hearing a cover-- Peter Frampton originally did it on his "Frampton Comes Alive" record, which was issued to every American teenager in 1976. This was from High Fidelity, one of my favorite movies. Lisa Bonet can't hold a tune in a bag, but she sured looked good singing it.
7. "You keep all your smart modern writers/Give me William Shakespeare."
8. Springsteen covering Tom Waits-- I mean, how cool is that?
9. Monty Python had the killer joke-- this song's got the killer riff.
10. "Goddamn your confusion/She's got pretty persuasion."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Boy, Does This Suck...

When I kicked my evil roommate out a few years ago, I was faced with suddenly paying to run a household entirely on my own. I had to batten down the hatches and tighten my belt.

I'd considered moving to a smaller place-- I had a three-bedroom apartment on the North side of Chicago, with a hook-up for the washer and dryer I'd kept in the divorce from my ex-wife Cynthia. But the fact of the matter was that my son's mother kept moving from one part of her bad neighborhood (Humboldt Park) to another, at least until I bribed her into moving to a better neighborhood, and I'd come to realize that this was the place that my son was going to consider home as he grew up. I decided to do what it took to keep the place. That meant taking every single extra shift I could get at my second job, as a waiter, and to figure out ways to save money.

I did (and still do) a lot of shopping at Aldi's. I started setting the thermostat lower to cut down on gas bills. I never had dinner out. My only indulgence was to keep cable and broadband. I justified it in that it kept me in the house, rather than going out. And I started using my cell phone as my only phone.

The last one turned out to be a pain in the ass. Cell phone reception has always been terrible in my house. It got annoying trying to carry on a long conversation.

I considered going back to having a land line. Then I recalled my bad experiences with Ameritech/SBC or whatever the hell they were this week, and the fact that I owed them money still, and that was out.

I found out about Vonage, a "VOIP" phone service-- a phone service that used your broadband line to provide phone service. It was unbelievably cheap-- less than 30 bucks a month. They included all the services like caller id, call forwarding and call waiting that the regular phone company charges extra for. Long distance within the North American continent was included, and overseas rates were dirt cheap-- I could call my friend in Singapore for 5 cents a minute!

I ran by Best Buy and got the kit; they had a rebate for the cost of the kit. I hooked it up without any problem, and have had excellent, problem-free, cheap service since then.

Of course it was too good to be true. The communications giant Verizon is suing them for an alleged patent infringement. It'll go around and around the courts until 2009. Hopefully by then, Vonage will have found alternate technologies. But this morning, Vonage released its annual report and it was blunt-- that things are not looking good. There's a likelihood that they'll go under.

With the possibility they're going under, it's going to be hard to convince more new customers to sign up, virtually assuring that they will.

With the horrible tragedy in Virginia this week, I keep it in perspective-- it's not much more than a nuisance, really, but it sucks seeing a little guy getting crushed by a giant.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another Music Tag

Since the students are playing "10 Little Indians" today, and slowly slipping out the doors into the nice April day, I have no kids this period, giving me a chance to do a musical meme that some of my favorite bloggers like Dale, Lulu, Chris, and Beth have done:

List seven songs you’re into right now ... no matter what they are. BUT they must be songs you’re presently enjoying.

Border Radio- The Blasters
This is from the Blasters' self-titled debut record. It's now on Testament: The Slash Recordings, a collection of their first four records. It's the story of a single mother, "thinking about a man who's gone--" the father of her infant son. She calls "toll-free" to request a song from one of the high-power "border radio" stations-- stations that broadcast from over the Mexican border to an American audience. It's got one of the the greatest opening riffs ever, and I love Gene Taylor's honky tonk piano playing.

Gardening At Night- REM
This song, from their first record, an EP (remember those?) brings me back to 1983, and being in college, learning political science and making the friends who would turn out to be my lifelong friends. It still sounds as fresh and wonderful as the first time I heard it.

1969- The Stooges
I keep hearing this song-- it keeps coming up on my shuffle, I keep hearing it on Sirius radio's "Underground Garage" on my satellite radio, and then Iggy and the Stooges played it when I saw them Sunday night. From the "wah-wah" opening on, I never, ever get tired of this song. I always have to turn it up when it comes on.

Ain't No Way- Aretha Franklin
Double negatives aside, this song is sad and beautiful. I grew up listening to it on my father's copy of "Aretha's Gold."

Who Knows Where the Time Goes- The Fairport Convention
Sandy Denny's beautiful voice complements Richard Thompson subdued guitar work in this little gem. I wish I'd written the opening line:

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

I think of my kids and how fast they're growing up whenever I hear this one.

I've mentioned before, when this song came up on my Friday Random Ten that Sandy Denny was the woman singing with Robert Plant on Battle of Evermore, on Led Zeppelin's fourth album.

Death is a Star- The Clash
One of the Clash's lesser-known songs, it's the last track on the Combat Rock album. As much as a punk band as the Clash was, their music could at times be slow, dark and contemplative.

The song is filled with the old movie imagery that the late Joe Strummer loved so much to put in his songs.

By chance or escaping from misery
By suddeness or in answer to pain
Smoking in the dark cinema
You could see the bad go down again

I've always taken this song to be about how love is, besides all the other things it is, a way of protesting our ultimate mortality. How eerie that Joe would write and sing of that.

Stubborn Kind of Fellow- Marvin Gaye
This song was on the jukebox of Danny's, a Wicker Park tavern I hung at in the eighties, so I associate it with good times. It's a fun song, but it's also about a guy who won't give up on love.

I tag anyone who is reading this that hasn't done the meme already.

Johnny Yen's Fave Raves: The President's Analyst

Back in the old days, when vcr's were rare and expensive, and we had to get up and walk to the television to change the channel, there were certain movies that my brothers and I would look forward to on late-night television. One of these movies was The President's Analyst.

A couple of years ago, the movie came out on DVD. I was excited, and ordered it. Sometimes, movies like this can be a disappointment. What seemed really funny, cool or entertaining when you were 11 can be a little weak when you're in your forties. Happily, this was not the case for this movie.

The movie opens with Godfrey Cambridge, dressed in a ridiculous outfit, walking with a rack full of clothes through Manhattan's garment district. He suddenly stabs a guy and puts the body in a bin full of clothes. The plot unfolds from there.

It turns out that he's Don Masters, a "CEA" agent, who was on a mission. He returns to his home office-- body and all-- acting like a milk truck delivery man coming off of his shift. He's in a hurry because has an appointment that day with his analyst, Dr. Sidney Schaefer, played by the great James Coburn. He discusses what he'd done that day, and launches into one of the most brilliant on-screen examinations ever of the "n-word" and then outs himself as a CEA agent. But this is part of it all. Part of his mission was to go to therapy with Dr. Shaefer as part of a screening process.

It seems that the U.S. President, who's never shown in the movie, is under incredible pressure and stress in his job. It's been decided to provide him with an analyst to unload on.

It's one of those "Good on paper/bad in execution" ideas. It seems that in addition to unloading all his personal issues onto Dr. Shaefer, the President is telling the most sensitive national security secrets to him as well. This makes Dr. Schaefer the most popular man in the world among the world's intelligence agencies-- even Canada's-- and they are all hell-bent on capturing him. Hijinks ensue.

The movie has a stellar cast. Among them:
Will Geer- later, Grandpa Walton
Arte Johnson- Became a cast member of Laugh-In ("Very interesting-- but stupid!")
Severn Darden- an original member of Chicago's Second City troupe
Godfrey Cambridge
Pat Harrington- played the vain janitor on "One Day At A Time."
William Daniels- The pompous Dr. Craig on "St. Elsewhere."
Barry McGuire- Yes, the guy who sang "Eve of Destruction!"

The movie takes swipes at the cold war, power, hippies, straights, psychotherapy, conservatism, liberalism-- and the phone company. I'll leave it at that.

Severn Darden plays Soviet agent Kropotkin, who is CEA agent Don Masters' (Godfrey Cambridge) best friend. Being both cold war rivals and best friends, they get a lot of the best lines.

Though the cold war was an essential part of the plot, little has really changed since the Berlin Wall came down. Power still corrupts and makes people act stupidly, as our current administration seems bent on proving everyday. And this movie still stands up well after 40 years.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This Just Takes the Cheese

From today's New York Times: a cheesemaker in Westcomebe, England who has installed a webcam that allows you to watch a big hunk of cheddar age. He's dubbed it Cheddarvision. You can see his site at:

or watch the Youtube three month time-lapse of the cheese (considerably more exciting than the live feed).

Musical Superlatives Meme

I was going to post something relating to the seminar I had last Friday, but I thought I'd hold off a few days, given the incomprehensible awfulness of what happened in Virginia yesterday. You'll understand when I post it.

Instead, I thought I'd have a hand at a meme that I saw on Bubs' blog.

What was the first recorded music you bought?

I'd recieved records as gifts, but the first music I bought with my own money were three albums I bought in 1976 at The Swollen Head, a record store/head shop that used to be in Lagrange, Illinois. They had records 1 for $4.59 or 3 for $12, so I bought three. They were:

Hotel California- The Eagles
The Best of the Doobie Brothers- Doobie Brothers
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars- David Bowie.

I still have the Eagles record.

What was the last?
I was inspired by a post from Bubs to finally get the cd of "A Vision Shared," a fundraiser for Folkways, now owned by the Smithsonian. It's got covers of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly songs by a bunch of great artists-- Bob Dylan, Little Richard, John Mellencamp, Brian Wilson, Sweet Honey In the Rock, Pete Seeger, etc.

What was the first "professional" music show you ever went to?
The summer of 1977, I was 16 and went to the first installment of "The Superbowl of Rock," in Soldier's Field. The line-up was the Climax Blues Band, Foghat, J. Geils Band and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Foghat and Geils were incredible. My friend's father was afraid to be downtown after dark (it seemed a lot of people in Western Springs were that way) and we missed ELP, who were performing with a full orchestra.

Maybe that was an omen: that was the height of pompous, overblown "progressive rock," and within a year, I started getting into punk (see next question).

What was the last?
Sunday night, April 15, Iggy and the Stooges. They were godhead.

What's your "desert island" album?
I'd be hard-pressed to choose between The Clash's "London Calling" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited." I'd probably end up choosing the Clash.

What's your favorite album/song title? (the *title* which is your fav, not the actual album or song)
Favorite album title- "What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits" by the Doobie Brothers.
Favorite song title- (I'm Gonna Start) Living Again If It Kills Me- Dave Edmunds

What's your favorite album art (include an image of it if you can)?
A tie.

Sticky Fingers- The Rolling Stones. I found a copy with the zipper in a resale store some years back. I'm getting ready to dump most of my vinyl, but that'll be one I keep. It's by Andy Warhol.

BTW, a few years back, they released a limited run of the cd with working zippers.

The other is Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass' "Whipped Cream and other Favorites." I loved it the first time I saw it when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, but didn't understand why until I was about 14.

Ideal choice for a karaoke song?
My favorite to do is Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," but everyone else likes when I do "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by The Looking Glass.

Song you don't like that WILL NOT LEAVE YOUR HEAD if you hear it.
Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band.

Which is cooler? -- Vinyl? CD? Cassette? 8-track?
I loved vinyl, but have finally succumbed to cd's-- they take a lot less room and are so much easier to handle.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Wait, I've Heard This One Before...

I was reading about the Bush Administration Scandal du jour (Wolfowitz) and thinking about how much sillier Attorney General Alberto Gonazales and the rest of the administration sound every day as they come up with more and more excuses, each one lamer than the last-- missing emails is the latest (Holy Rosemary Woods, Batman!).

It occurred to me I've heard this sad litany before. Unfortunately I couldn't find the appropriate clip among the Blues Brothers snippets on Youtube, so this'll have to do.

"I ran out of gas. I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! It wasn't my fault, I swear to god!"

In My Tribe

This weekend, I went to not just one, but two shows. The first was on Saturday night, Lucinda Williams, at the Vic.

When Kim and I met, in November of 2004, it was through our Reader "Match" ads. One of the canned questions they had was "What four people would you like to have dinner with." Among mine were former Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev, labor and political activist Lucy Parsons-- and Lucinda Williams.

I'd first become acquainted with Williams' music, like many people, through her breakthrough 1998 album Car Wheels On a Gravel Road, which got a lot of airplay. Her song Can't Let Go really grabbed me-- I refer to it as the "stalker" song. It's a song about someone who can't let go of a former romance. What I loved about it was the humor in it.

That album also had Right In Time, the prettiest ode to onanism that's ever been recorded.

I grew to really like other Lucinda Williams songs. I hadn't known she wrote "Change the Locks," which Tom Petty covered. A particular favorite is "Minneapolis." Minneapolis is my wife's hometown, and I think she knew she was going to marry me the night I played it on the guitar and sang it for her. It turned out, after we met, that she was a big Lucinda Williams fan too.

She and I finally got a chance to see Lucinda Williams on Saturday. Ms. Williams didn't disappoint. She covered a nice range of her material. Her band was great-- although I was a little amused how her guitarist changed songs every single song!

She played a nice mix of old and new. One of the things that struck me, that seems obvious in retrospect, is the spirituality running through her music.

Her opening act was Carrie Rodriguez. She alone was worth the price of the show. She's the daughter of Austin legend David Rodriguez (who now resides in Amsterdam). Her music runs through a few styles-- straight up country, bluegrass, roots, etc. If you get a chance to see her, do so.

In 1968, Iggy Pop (nee James Jewel Osterberg) teamed up with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander to form The Stooges. Their first album, simply called The Stooges, has become a stone classic. From the power chord opening of the first track, "1969" ("It's 1969/Another year with nothin' to do...") to the end, it never lets up. It ended up changing music forever.

The Stooges were never able to benefit from it. There were lots of drug and alcohol problems-- particularly Iggy's heroin addiction. They dissolved in 1974.

Over the years, Iggy and the others have cleaned up (except for Dave Alexander, who died in 1975). In 2003, the Stooges reformed. They were in rare form last night.

I've seen Iggy three times-- twice in 1988, and of course last night. He was great all three times, but seeing the reformed Stooges was a religious experience. Mike Watt, of the Minutemen and Firehose, very ably filled in for the late Dave Alexander. I wish they could bottle Scott Asheton's guitar playing. When he hit the "wah-wah" guitar solo in "1969" I lost it.

They played a mix of old and new. For some reason, I've heard, they aren't playing anything from the legendary "Raw Power" album. That was an album that passed through the hands of several producers (including Iggy's friend David Bowie). I've heard it described aptly as "an out-of-control classic." I definitely missed the material from that album last night.

The band was tight and Iggy was his bad ol' self. Early in the show, he invited audience members onstage. It was mostly 20-somethings up there-- showing how long-lasting the Stooges' influence is. The audience was the most age-diverse of any show I've ever seen. From people in their early twenties, to people in their fifties, and possibly sixties-- it was amazing.

Iggy himself turns sixty this Saturday.

I saw a couple of regulars from the restaurant, people I know are in their fifties. And right after we got there, we ran into Pat Miller, a sculptor friend of ours from when we went to Eastern Illinois University in the eighties. I hadn't seen him in about 20 years. I got his email address so that we can stay in touch. Earlier in the day, I'd run into another friend, a guy I'd worked with here in Chicago. I hadn't seen him in ten years. It turns out that we have both worked out at the same fieldhouse gym at Welles Park for years, and somehow never ran into each other.

One old friend was missing, of course, in body, at least. The last time Dan and I had seen Iggy, in the Cabaret Metro, which was right around the corner from our Wrigleyville apartment, our friend and roommate Mark was with us. We felt like he was there last night spiritually. The music of Iggy, the Clash, the Damned, Naked Raygun and many others are part of what bonded me, Dan, Mark and a bunch of others, who found one another because of our shared love of that music.

As I stood in the Congress Theater, rocking out to Iggy, it occurred to me how important punk rock has been in my life. From the political manifestoes of the Clash to the fun of the Stooges, and everything in between, it's helped define my life in a good way. As I stood there, looking around, at people of a forty year age range, men and women of every walk of life and ethnicity, it occurred to me last night, that I was with my tribe.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Two Great Shows, Two Old Friends

I just got home from seeing Iggy and the Stooges. I'm exhausted, and need to get to bed, so I'll post more tomorrow. I'll just say, it was a fucking great show.

Last night, Kim and I saw Lucinda Williams at the Vic theater. also a terrific show. Like I said, more later.

In addition to the incredible shows, today, in two separate situations, I ran into two old friends-- one whom I hadn't seen in 20 years. More tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Play Ball!

Given the icy temperature for the practice, it seemed funny to think of our young players as "the Boys of Summer," but there they were in their cleats and last year's uniforms taking fielding and baserunning practice.

Ever since he was a baby, Adam has been impervious to the cold. I was wearing two jackets, and was still a popscicle at the end of the practice. He was in a short-sleeved shirt, and seemed unaffected.

He wore his jersey from last year (Oakland A's), but his hat let his loyalties be known-- the Chicago Cubs.

Adam was born at Columbus Hospital, a now-shuttered hospital in Lincoln Park that was just a little over a mile from Wrigley Field.

As the day of his birth approached, I searched for the first words I'd say to my newborn child. I made my decision. The first time I ever saw him, in Columbus, the first time I ever picked him up, my hands shaking (I'd never even picked up a baby this young before) and whispered to him:

"Remember, son: the Cubs are bums!"

He didn't listen. After a brief flirtation with basketball as a toddler, he became obsessesed with baseball in general, and the Chicago Cubs in particular. When he was little, he'd play whiffleball in the backyard as long as I would let him. He'll still play catch until my arm hurts too much to continue.

When he was only 6 or 7 years, he first stated those infamous Cubs-related words:

"Dad-- I think we're going to have to wait until next year."

Assuming the Cubs do not win a World Series this year-- a pretty good bet-- next year's season, the 2008 season, will mark a century of World Series drought for the North-siders.

In any event, at the end of the practice, our new coach gathered all the parents up for a short meeting. I liked what I heard.

He told us that his main goal for the season was to create good memories for the boys. He pointed out that probably only 10% of the boys playing in the league would even play high school baseball. Of those, only a fraction would play college ball. And of all of those, it's unlikely that even one would play in pro ball. This isn't a farm team for the majors. It's his hope, he said, that some day, years down the line, the boys will think back on what a fun time they had that season. Nothing more.

This is our fifth season in the league. We've seen a lot. Coaches who cheat, coaches who yell at kids, coaches who yell at umpires... all kinds of things. But most of them don't. Most of them are men and women have kids in the league, and it gives them a chance to share something with their kids, like our coach.

Frequently, the offenders end up in the top of the standings. Truth be told, Adam's never been on a team that finished higher than 3rd place. But every February, he double-checks that I signed him up for baseball. He just loves playing.

This afternoon, I'll endure a frigid practice, remembering that in a couple of months I'll be complaining about the heat, instead. Adam will work on his field, hitting and running. While I sit there, he'll pretend I'm not there-- he's with his boys.

It's funny, realizing that if you are successful as a parent, if you're doing your job, you make sure that they'll be able to deal with life without you eventually.

In a little over an hour, I'll be sitting out in the cold and enjoying every minute of it, realizing that the clock on his childhood is ticking.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lucky Friday the 13th Random 10

Had a day of teaching seminars that were great-- one on teaching "at-risk" kids and another on ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). It was one of the best seminars I've ever been to. There'll be at least one post coming out of it.

We finished up early, so I've got enought time to post my Friday the 13th Random 10 and run off to my son's first baseball practice of the season.

1. Freeze-frame- J. Geils Band
2. Do You Wanna Touch Me?- Gary Glitter
3. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry- Johnny Cash
4. Life In the Fast Lane- The Eagles
5. Enter Sandman- Pat Boone
6. That Girl- Stevie Wonder
7. Standin'- Townes Van Zandt
8. Suspicious Minds- Elvis Presley
9. Typical Girls- The Slits
10. No Feelings- The Sex Pistols

1. In the first edition of Dave Marsh's "Rock Book of Lists," J. Geils Band, which had been around since the late '60's, was in the list of great bands that have never had a #1 hit. Of course, within a year of the book's publication, they had a #1 with "Centerfold," from the Freeze-frame album-- and then broke up. The title track was my favorite from that album.
2. Joan Jett later had a hit with this one in the early eighties. This song has grim irony now for Gary Glitter.
3. A great Cash cover of the Hank Williams classic.
4. Hotel California was one of the first records I ever bought with my own money (along with The Best of the Doobie Brothers and David Bowies' "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars."
5. From Boone's hilarious "In a Metal Mood" cd, where he does covers of various rock and metal classics.
6. This was one of the last songs before Stevie Wonder started sucking.
7. Townes Van Zandt has been around forever, and I just started listening to him. Wish I'd started sooner.
8. I've loved this song since I was a kid. The Fine Young Cannibals did a great cover on their first album.
9. From the "No Thanks!" box set of 1970's punk.
10. I realized recently that I didn't have "Never Mind the Bullocks" on cd (I actually only got it on vinyl just a few years ago). I spotted it in a used store in Seattle last week, and here they are on a Random 10 already.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

I was saddened last night to hear that author Kurt Vonnegut had died. His novel Slaughterhouse Five was based on his real experiences-- surviving and witnessing, as a prisoner-of-war, the aftermath of the February 13-15 Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany, a beautiful city of no military value. The stated intention of the bombing was to hamper the movement of German troops and hasten the fall of the Reich. The immediate effect was to kill 25,000-35,000 civilians and destroy a historic city known for its architecture and beautiful delicate china.

Vonnegut, unaware that he'd also survived another atrocity-- the execution of over a hundred American POW's by German SS troops in the Malmedy Massacre, was forced to help in the burying of the dead. When it became clear that there were too many dead to bury, the Germans began burning the bodies with flamethrowers.

This obviously had an impact on Vonnegut, a middle class guy from the midwest (Indiana). The fact that he, a soldier in the army that had committed the atrocity, was protected because of his POW status, while tens of thousands of German civilians were defenseless against the firebombing, must have given him a sense of the absurd that was profound.

My knowledge of Vonnegut's art is limited. I'm hoping Vikki, who has mentioned being a big Vonnegut fan (and like him, a native Hoosier) will do an overview of his work.

Like half the high school seniors in the United States, I read Cat's Cradle, a criticism of the blind advance of science outracing humanity's ability to deal with its moral and ethical ramifications (e.g. the atomic bomb). His masterwork, Slaughterhouse Five was almost a companion book to his friend Joseph Heller's Catch-22 in its examination of how even the Allies, in fighting a clearly evil power, began sliding down slippery moral slopes in fighting that power. The popularity of the books have to be understood in the context of the Vietnam War, in which many were questioning whether the United States had lost its moral compass entirely. The United States had emerged from World War II with a pretty legitimate sense of moral superiority in having helped defeat three fascist powers. Slaughterhouse Five questioned, to many readers, whether the ethical and moral slide had begun not with Vietnam, but much longer ago.

If I were to pick one word to describe Vonnegut, it would be "absurdity." He saw the aburdity of the human condition, of modern life and even the absurdity of his own life. One of my favorite pieces of his writing was an article he did in the Rolling Stone in 1981 in which he examined life and suicide. He mentioned being the child of a woman who'd committed suicide, and how that left the temptation to take that solution to life's difficulties. I think that Vonnegut would appreciate the absurdity that he, who'd missed being killed in the Battle of the Bulge, who'd avoided death in Dresden, would succumb to injuries suffered in a fall at home.