Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Normal Life

After nearly a month of feeling like a guest in my own home, things are nearly back to normal.

The contractor's guys finished grouting the new tile on the backsplash over the kitchen counter, put the handles on the kitchen cabinets and a few other little things. I spent the evening dragging stuff up from boxes in the basement and putting it away-- and cooking.

Some people find cooking a drag and a hassle. I love to cook. I find it relaxing, and I can cook healthy, tasty meals for a fraction of the cost that take-out or frozen meals would cost. I've missed it for the last month.

There are still a couple of things to do. There's a cabinet missing-- there should be one over the coffee-maker, to the left of the sink. The contractor mismeasured, and so it had to be remade. It'll be a couple of weeks. Also, Kim and I are going to buy some more shelves of our own to put over the extra counter we bought.

I know it must sound totally bourgeois, but while cooking and putting stuff away tonight, I was thrilled with a bunch of things.

First, it's nice to have a stove that heats quickly, and doesn't shoot flames out when the pilot light fails to light the gas in the stove. My best friend Jim lost his eyebrows one night to the old stove, when cooking a pizza while watching Adam for me a few years ago.

It's also great to have a lazy susan to store our big pots and pans.

Also, the new sink is much bigger than the old one-- my big roasting pan fits in it with ease, and my big Calphalon pan as well. Those were always a headache to wash in the old, small sink.

One other thing. When I bought Kim the new refrigerator in December, I spent a little extra money and got the automatic icemaker with it, although we didn't have a hook-up for it. By spending the extra money, it bumped the price up to where delivery was free and they hauled the old one away free as well. And in the renovation, they installed a hook-up for the icemaker.

And on top of it all, we have a pantry with shelves that don't sag at a 10 or 15 degree angle.

The bathroom also looks great.

Oh, one more thing. On the way back from IKEA to buy the countertop a couple of Sundays ago, we stopped at a couple of stores and managed to purchase what was probably the last patio set left in Chicago. It's a beautiful wrought-iron set with a granite table-top. The set was on clearance, so it set us back only $89.00 and tax.

I'm sitting at it now on this lovely July Chicago night with a glass of Malbec, writing this post.

Tomorrow, I'll tackle organizing the pantry and finish putting everything away there.

Next month, I'll be here in this place 9 years. It's funny-- when I looked at this place the first time, I found the 1950's kitchen charming. Now I'm thrilled to be done with it.

Also, the day after I moved in here nine years ago, I started my first "official" teaching job, at Spencer Elementary, and was excited and nervous about it. This week, I'm working my last day as a teacher, and am excited-- and nervous-- about that.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Albany Park

In April of 1968, my family moved from Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood to the Albany Park neighborhood, on Chicago's northwest side.

It was a step up for us. Those familiar with those neighborhoods now, nearly 40 years later, would laugh; Lincoln Park is now the yuppiest of yuppie neighborhoods, while Albany Park is a little rough around the edges these days. In 1968 Lincoln Park was a blue collar neighborhood, with lower-middle class whites, African-Americans and Puerto Ricans, with a handful of "urban pioneers," mainly hippies, artists and political progressives attracted by nearby Old Town's great night life. Albany Park was a solidly middle class blue collar neighborhood. It had been a primarily Jewish neighborhood until the mid-sixties. It was still probably about 20% Jewish in the late sixties, but already pretty diverse-- it had become the neighborhood to move to when you could afford to get out of Uptown, which was primarily Appalachian (i.e. hillbilly) then, and getting rough. Appalachians were moving into Albany Park, joining the Lebanese, Latino, Koreans, Polish, Italian, Irish and other ethnicities that mixed with the folks like my family-- blue collar folks.

Tonight I went out on a bike ride. The city has been installing bike lanes on many of the major streets, including Lawrence Avenue, which goes right through Albany Park, right by the end of the block I grew up on. On my way back, I took a little detour and took some pictures.

This was taken at Lawrence and Central Park Avenues, at the end of the block I lived on as a kid. Over the years, the signs in the store windows have reflected the the groups that lived in the neighborhood. When I was a kid, many of the signs were in Hebrew. Beginning in the late seventies, they were increasingly in Korean. In the last last five or six years, more and more of them are in Spanish, as Mexicans move into the neighborhood. Albany Park was and still is a "port of entry" neighborhood-- a neighborhood new immigrant groups live in-- even as yuppies move in. The Mexican folks will certainly follow the pattern all the other groups have-- establish themselves in the neighborhood for a decade or two, then move to the suburbs, while a new group moves in.

One of my favorite childhood memories is my mother giving me some money, and me and one of my brothers would walk down to the bakery, which was in the second storefront from the left, and we would pick out a "baker's dozen" doughnuts to bring back for my family's breakfast on Saturday mornings. Back then, the writing in the window was Hebrew. As you can see, it's still a bakery-- a Mexican "Panaderia."

I hope some other kids in the neighborhood are developing great memories, running down the street to buy Mexican pastries for their family.

This is a view of the 4700 block of N. Central Park, the block my family lived on. It's hard to believe that it's the previous picture was taken at the other end of the same block.

We lived on the top floor of this three-flat at 4724 N. Central Park-- my mother, my father, my two brothers Dean and Kevin, who were one and two years younger than me, and our dog Partly, our cat Cleo and our hamster Freddy. It was a two-bedroom apartment, with hardwood floors and radiators.

The old coal chute was still in the basement, though the building had been converted to a gas boiler long before. One day, my brothers and I found the coal chute and spent a happy afternoon using it as a slide. Of course, we were covered in coal dust, which sent my mother through the roof.

I had by then developed my lifelong habit of always having two best friends. One of them was Richie Gustek. He lived two doors down from me. His parents, who were Polish, never learned English, and he or his brother and sister had to translate for them. My other best friend was Stephen McCarter, who hailed from Alabama originally. His dad had the coolest job ever, in our eyes-- manager of a "Toys 'R' Us." Steve lived in this building:

Richie and I stayed in touch for years. In December of 1979, I sent him a Christmas card. I received a card from his sister thanking me for thinking of him; one night in August of 1979, a week or two after the last letter I'd recieved from him, he'd been with a carload of guys, and the car had crashed. He died on the operating table. Steve and I lost touch over the years, but I tracked him down in 1986, right after I finished college. He was one of the smartest people I ever knew. He had never finished college, though-- he'd gotten involved with drugs for a while, and was then working as a delivery guy, running medical specimens to labs.

A couple of years ago, Adam asked if I'd ever heard of a game called "pinners." I had, indeed. We played it right here when I was a kid, in the alley that ran behind my house, down on the end of the block.

Pinners is a baseball-based game. In pinners, one player would throw the ball down near where the alley and wall met-- it had to bounce on both-- and the other player or players tried to catch the ball for an out. If the ball got past the other player or players and hit the opposite wall, they scored singles, doubles, etc. It was funny-- we would play the game all day, or sometimes we'd play baseball in this alley, further back. We'd use a real baseball bat, and an inflatable ball, partially deflated.

Back then, there were no "scooper" laws, so there were added obstacles to play...

The funny thing was that there was a perfectly good park about a block and a half away, Jensen Park. We'd end up playing in the alley because the younger kids on the block weren't allowed to leave the block, but could join us in a ball game in the alley.

In the winter, they would flood the field and we'd ice skate. They'd have track and field contests once a year. I'd sometimes go and play on the swings and teeter-totters (seesaws to the rest of the world), and would frequently end up playing with this guy whose name I never learned. He never learned mine either, and he always called me "kid" ("Hey kid...").

A couple of years ago, they tore down the old fieldhouse, and took up the north end of the park to put up a new middle school. They also tore down the handsome old synagogue across from Jensen Park that I used to go to my Cub Scout meetings in, to make a parking lot for the middle school.

I remember how funny Steve and I thought it was that there was a plaque commerating the fact that the synagogue was dedicated to the memory of "Fanny Finklestein." It amused us mightily that someone would be named "Fanny." Or "Finklestein," for that matter.

In the eighties the synagogue had become a Korean church, until the Koreans, like the Jewish people a generation before them, had moved to the suburbs for better schools and safer streets when they could afford it.

This was my old grade school, Haugen Elementary. It was named after a Norwegian-American Chicago alderman, Helge Haugen. There's a bust of him in the hallway, near the office. In the auditorium, where I would sit and eat my lunch on days that were too cold to walk home and eat lunch, back before they finally added a lunch room to the school, is a portrait of the late Mr. Heftal, the assistant-Principal, who inspired fear back then.

When Adam was little, I went to visit an old colleague, who'd ended up at my old grade school, so she could meet Adam. I'd stopped and said hello to my old third grade teacher, who was shorter and nicer than I remembered. And I'd run by Heftal Hall; even Mr. Heftal's portrait inspired fear, though he was long-dead.

I remember a hundred games of tag in this playground, which is now a parking lot for the teachers. I also remember leaning on the wrought-iron fence, which they'd just painted green, and my mother having to clean the paint off my winter coat.

On the way to the school, I'd passed this house, which this post was about-- where I took a walk through the neighborhood in 1982, a little over a decade after my family had moved out of the neighborhood, and sadly discovered a "service star" still in the window.

In 1978, when I was a senior at Lyons Township High School, in Lagrange, Illinois, I took a Creative Writing class with Bill Lally, one of the best teachers I ever had. One of the requirements was to keep a journal. I'd actually started keeping a journal a couple of years before that-- in January of 1976. I just integrated my assigned journal into my regular journal.

One of the epiphanies I had in the assigned journal was that the best times of my life up to that point had been from April, 1968 to April 1971, when my family lived in Albany Park. It was funny-- a family of five living in a two-bedroom apartment in a crowded city neighborhood-- yet, it was idyllic to me. I loved my friends, the diversity of the people in the neighborhood, the architecture-- everything about it. My parents moved us to the suburbs-- better schools and affordable homes. Yet I found we lost something when we left Albany Park. The people were less interesting, the experience less fulfilling. Ironically, the quality of my schoolwork plummetted after we moved to the suburbs. I felt isolated. Kids were narrow and mean in our new home.

Looking back, I realized that I spent a lot of the time from age ten, when we moved out of Albany Park, to age fifteen or so, clinically depressed.

In 1989, I began studying education at Northeastern Illinois University, just a few blocks from Albany Park. One day, when researching a paper I'd been assigned in my "Kid Psych" (Child Psychology) class, I came upon a study about psychological survival among kids who'd live through the unspeakable-- things running from sexual and physical abuse, to genocide. The study had a surprising finding-- that kids were able to surivive those things and grow into happy and thriving adults if they had even one thing to hang on to during the bad times of their childhood. This thing might be a hobby or interest, a positive relationship with an adult-- a teacher, a neighbor, a shopkeeper-- or a friend.

I had another epiphany at that moment in the Northeastern Illinois University library-- that when we left Albany Park, that thing, that one thing I was able to hang onto, was taken away from me. My family life was not great. But since I had a wonderful, lively neighborhood, and wonderful friends at school, I was fine. When those things that my neighborhood offered were taken away from me, the quality of my life plummeted. Ironically, in trying to improve my life, my parents inadvertently derailed my life.

I realize now, though, that I still had one thing that carried me through those tough times-- the memory of living in Albany Park as a kid. Albany Park was that "one thing" that carried me through.

Over the years, I go through the old neighborhood once in a while, and always find it comforting. It's on the upswing right now. I saw at least a half dozen condo conversions going on when I passed through this evening. I also saw dozens of families hanging out in their front yards. Albany Park always defies definition-- for nearly fifty years, it's been a mix of ethnicities, incomes and expectations. I've lived there twice-- when I was a young kid, and nearly a decade ago, when Adam and I lived there right after I finished teacher school, in 1998, just a couple of blocks from where we live now. I may never actually physically live in Albany Park again, but in my heart and soul, spiritually, Albany Park will always be a reminder of how good life can be, no matter how difficult it actually is, and it will always be my home, no matter how far I roam.

Double Tagged

Between working Friday night, Adam's baseball game on Saturday and trying to get our newly renovated kitchen unpacked and put away yesterday, I didn't have much time; I was tagged with the "Five Questions" meme by both Bubs and Jess Wundrun a few days ago. Here are my responses.

From Bubs:

1. You're stuck in a flesh-eating zombie apocalypse. Would you rather deal with Romero shambling zombies who are learning to use tools and weapons, or insensible but crazy fast Dawn of the Dead remake zombies? Compare and contrast.

I haven't seen the remake yet, but I'd have to say I'd rather go with the stumbling zombies. I'm in pretty good shape for a guy my age (46) and am a pretty good shot.

2. Who's the first female cartoon or comic book character you had a crush on?

Lois, from "Hi and Lois." She was the original cartoon MILF.

3. What makes your wife/girlfriend/significant other a saint in regards to her relationship with you?

That she puts up with me. I've spent most of my adult life single (my other two marriages were brief). I'm used to doing things my way and in my time. She's been relatively patient while I adjust to married life.

4. Batman or James Bond?

Good lord, is there any question? James Bond. He's smart, sophisticated, well-dressed, devastatingly handsome, and kicks International Bad Guy ass 300 different ways. And unlike Batman, he doesn't wear a silly costume, and he always gets the girl-- even the bad ones.

5. If you could do anything in the world that you wanted to do (assuming you're not already doing it now) what would it be? For a living, for fun, whatever.

I'd be living on an organic farm with Kim and our kids, with our parents in cottages near our home. We'd have an organic vineyard and a sustainable agriculture study center, all fueled by renewable resources-- the sun and the wind. We wouldn't always stay there, though: we'd have an Airstream, with a biodiesel-fuelled truck to tow it, which we'd run around visiting friends in.

From Jess:

1. Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008. Our side won! How do you celebrate?

I'd call my son Adam-- he would be at my ex's house on a Wednesday. I would let him gush for a while-- he'd be very excited. He's a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. Then Kim and I would break out a bottle of Freixenet Cava (Spanish champagne) and celebrate. My father and her father would certainly call. Both would be quite happy. It would be a happy night all around.

2. Are you on a boat or are you a land lubber or do you soar?

I definitely soar. It's the only way to travel through life.

3. What was the last mistake you wished you could cover up?

If I wanted to cover it up, I wouldn't post it on my blog!

4. Are your omelettes fluffy?

Since I have a mild allergy to eggs, I don't make omelettes often. But when I do, I make them with egg-beaters (no cholesterol) and yes, they are fluffy.

5. When was the last time your paradigm shifted?

Last year, late May/early June, 2006. In a two week period: my father had a cancerous tumor the size of a softball taken from his abdomen; I was RIF'ed from a teaching job I loved, and had hoped to work until retirement in; and on the night of June 3/4, my close friend Mark Evans was murdered in a home invasion/robbery. I had to really, really evaluate my life-- it's meaning, what was important to me, and where I wanted to go from there. It resulted in my decision to leave teaching and go back to school.

Okay, I'm tagging the following: Monkerstein, Natalie, Skyler's Dad, Andi and Samurai Frog (who says you never get tagged, Samurai!) with the following questions.

1. If you could be there to change just one event in history, what would it be?
2. If you could be any actor or actress who ever lived, who would it be, and why?
3. What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon show?
4. Beatles or Rolling Stones?
5. If you could be any fictional literary figure ever, who would it be?

They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore

This weekend, two great baseball players, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

It's a little startling-- these are guys who are about my age-- I was born in 1961, they were both born in 1960. It's odd to see players you watched play, like them and Ryne Sandberg, retire and go to the Hall of Fame.

They were immensely talented players. Gwynn regularly led the major leagues in batting average, sometimes coming close to batting .400 (for you non-baseball fans, batting over .300 is very good, batting .330 or .340 is incredible). He wasn't a home run hitter-- he never hit more than 17 in a season-- but he never batted lower than .309. Ripken was known as "The Iron Man," breaking Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old consecutive game record of 2,130 games. Ripken ended up shattering that record, playing 2,632 straight games! A baseball season is about 160 games long. That means he played about 16 and a half straight seasons without missing a game. This was all the more remarkable in that he played most of his career at shortstop, one of the most physically demanding positions.

Both players finished their careers over the 3,000 hit milestone: Gwynn had 3141 career hits and Ripken had 3184.

Both, incidentally, were part of teams that defeated Chicago teams in the playoffs; Ripken's Baltimore Orioles knocked the Chicago White Sox out of the playoffs and went to the 1983 World Series, and the San Diego Padres did the same to the Cubs in 1984.

There was something special about these two. First, they played for "small market" teams. One of the problems in major league baseball is that teams with "big markets" like New York and Los Angeles (and, supposedly, Chicago) have more money to work with and can buy talent away from smaller markets like Pittburgh, Toronto-- and San Diego and Baltimore. Gwynn and Ripken chose to stay with these teams, rather than vault off to the Yankees or Mets. And they stayed a long time-- they played their entire long careers (Gwynn, 1982-2001, and Ripken, 1981-2001) on the same team. You won't see much of that anymore.

They played with class and respect for the game-- and the fans.

In a few years, the Hall will have some choices to make. It's been assumed in the past that any player who hits five hundred home runs will eventually make the Baseball Hall of Fame. The steroids controversy in the last decade has challenged that assumption.

In the next week or so, Barry Bonds will tie and then break Hank Aaron's record for lifetime home runs. Aaron hit his 755 home runs over a 23 year career. He endured stupid racist threats as he approached Babe Ruth's record of 714 career home runs. Yet he played with grace and a respect for the game and its fans. Bonds, on the other hand, has shown contempt for the game, with his steroid use, and clearly disdains the fans. Blogger Phil wrote an excellent post on what he thinks are Bonds' motives for this, earlier this year on a sports blog he contributes to.

Whatever Bonds' motives, Hank Aaron still has class. When Bonds hits his 756th home run, Aaron will undoubtedly graciously and unironically congratulate Bonds. And at the end of this season, Bonds will probably retire, and in five years, the Baseball Hall of Fame will have a decision to make: whether or not Barry Bonds belongs in the same Hall as Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Catch Them While You Can

Last Saturday, Adam's baseball team unexpectedly defeated the Red Sox, advancing in the playoffs, and earning the right to play the dreaded A's.

The A's coach is the guy I referred to last week. He is widely reviled in the league. He's the only coach who has been thrown out of games for being belligerent with umpires. He yells at and swears at his players. Two years ago, when his team didn't have their usual first place finish, he had his players boo the first place team at the awards ceremony.

His crappy attitude rubs off on his players-- they are an unpleasant group of kids. When we advanced in the playoffs, other coaches and players told us one thing: beat the A's!

Our boys were nervous, but revved up for the game as Coach Rick gathered them for the pregame pep talk. He expressed confidence in them, and thanked them for putting in 110% effort all season.

The guys on the bench got up and made some noise as the game started!

We had a couple of good hits in the top of the first, but couldn't bring anybody home.

In the two games we played the A's this season, they got up by a bunch of runs and we never caught up. The guys were really on today, and kept the A's from scoring at all in the bottom of first! Coach Rick ran out to congratulate them.

Adam finally came up to bat a couple of scoreless innings later. He got ahold of the first pitch and bounced it to the shortstop, who threw him out at first.

Inning after inning the Yankees held the A's, allowing no runs. The excitement-- and tension-- mounted; our guys were also being held to a shutout.

Finally, in the sixth inning (the games are seven innings), the A's scored two runs. We were unable to answer those runs, and in the top of the seventh, the guy who was up before Adam struck out, and the season ended with Adam on deck.

To tell how proud we were of them-- scaring the shit out of the team that had beat up on the rest of the league-- it's hard to convey.

There was one other thing we were proud of. Jake, the kid who had struck out, was crying. One by one, they all went up to him and talked to him, reminding him that they won as a team, and lost as a team.

Coach Rick gathered the guys up for one last talk. He told them how proud he was of them. One of his favorite moments of the season, he told them, was seeing the A's bench, formerly cocky and arrogant, sitting sullenly and silently after their fifth scoreless innning. The Yankees had given it their best, and he'd enjoyed the season.

Later, when I got back home and looked at the pictures, One of the pictures really jumped out at me.

It took me back to my favorite picture of he and I together.

This picture was taken in September of 1996, when Adam was about 2 and a half years old, at my friend Larry Tucker's wedding. I didn't know it was being taken. Adam was holding his toy car, squirming around on my lap and I was explaining to him that we needed to be quiet for a few minutes.

The first time I saw this picture, I was struck by how he looked more like a little boy at that point than a baby. When I saw the picture I took today, I was struck by how he looks more like a young man than a little boy now.

Tempus Fugit.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Support a Blogathon!

One of my favorite (and most politically and socially aware) bloggers, Danielle at Modern Musings, is doing a blogathon for a good cause this weekend.

She's supporting Resist, an organization that funds small community-based projects. If you listen to her podcast, you can hear her talk about it. If you have a few extra bucks, you might pledge. If you're short of cash, maybe you can pull the above banner and put a link in your blog.

You go, girl!

A New Feature

I've decided to add a new regular feature to my blog: "The Wit and Wisdom of Sonny Boy."

Sonny Boy is a nickname my ex- and I have for our thirteen year old son Adam. He's always been good for a joke since he was little. Recently, he made a comment about the movie Jaws that amused me, and a bunch of bloggers. Since he is now a teenager, the supply of smartass sarcastic highly observent, amusing quotes seem to be plentiful.

Last weekend, Adam and I were talking about the impending doom of Berwyn, Illinois sculpture "The Spindle." Sonny Boy proposed a plan of action.

"Bring the sculpture to Chicago and put up a wall between Berwyn and Chicago to protect it. We'll call it The Berwyn Wall."

All The Cool Kids Were Doing It...

Saw this personality test on Samurai Frog and Bubs' blogs, and thought I'd try it.

To see what each color area represents, pass your cursor over it.

According to this test:

You are Benevolent

You are a great person to interact with—understanding, giving, and trusting—in a word, BENEVOLENT

You don't mind being in social situations, as you feel comfortable enough with people to be yourself.

Your caring nature goes beyond a basic concern: you take the time to understand the nuances of people's situations before passing any sort of judgment.

You're a good listener, and even better at offering advice.

You're concerned with others at both an individual and societal level—you sympathize with the plights of troubled groups, and you can care about people you've never met.

Considering many different perspectives is something at which you excel, and you appreciate that quality in others.

Other people's feelings are important to you, and you're good at mediating disputes.

Because of your understanding and patience, you tend to bring out the best in people.

If you want to be different:

You spend a lot of time taking care of others, but don't forget to take care of yourself!

Sometimes you can get overcommitted, and when you sacrifice spending time with those close to you, it can make them feel unimportant.

Breathless Friday Random Ten

What's better than a Friday? A Friday that's a payday, that's what.

It's my second-to-last Friday ever as a teacher. Yesterday, I discovered that on Wednesday night, I slept through a violent, very loud thunderstorm. It made me realize that I'm sleeping a lot better, and that I made the right decision about changing careers. And it sure doesn't hurt knowing I've got a job waiting for me when this one ends.

1. Exodus- The Uptown Rulers
2. Today- The Jefferson Airplane
3. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)- Jr. Walker and the All-Stars
4. Midnight Rambler- The Rolling Stones
5. Many Rivers To Cross- Jimmy Cliff
6. Pretty Ballerina- The Left Banke
7. Johnny Sunshine- Liz Phair
8. Rockaway Beach- The Ramones
9. Surfer Girl- The Beach Boys
10. Breathless- Stairwell

1. Don't look for this one on Itunes: this was a great ska band from Central Illinois that my friends and I loved in college in the eighties. Me and The Elk digitized their two ep's from vinyl a few years ago.
2. A beautiful tune from Surrealistic Pillow, one of the great albums of all time.
3. I loved hearing this song a couple of times a night on the jukebox at The Oasis, a four o'clock bar down the street from a restaurant I worked at after college. Unfortunately, Michael Bolton's whitebread version of "Dock of the Bay" was also on that jukebox.
4. From Let It Bleed, another one of the great albums of all time.
5. I listed UB40's version of this song as one of the songs to be played at my funeral. I'd also be fine with Jimmy Cliff's original, which is as much gospel as it is reggae.
6. This was The Left Banke's follow-up hit to Walk Away Renee, and yet another reason that 1967, as Samurai Frog has pointed out recently, was maybe the greatest year ever for popular music.
7. When Exile In Guyville came out, I was still single and hanging out in Wicker Park a lot, as Liz Phair claimed to be. All of us guys in that scene wondered who the hell she was and who were all these guys she was pissed at were. None of us dated her. We were busying dating and pissing off other women.
8. My college friend Mary Nadolini loved my comment that the Ramones were "the Beach Boys of the eighties," and would quote me every time she played a Ramones record on her show on our college radio station. As punk as the Ramones were, in the end, they just wanted to go to the beach and meet some girls, like the Beach Boys. This song was evidence of this.

I've mentioned before that when I was in New York City in 1998, I was surprised and delighted to discover that there actually is a Rockaway Beach. With a name that cool, I'd always assumed that the Ramones just made the name up.
9. And of course what should follow the Beach Boys of the Eighties, but the Beach Boys of the Sixties. A shared love of the Beach Boys is a bonding point for my stepdaughter and I.
10. The first time I ever heard this one was while I was in the electronics department at Target-- the video was playing on one of the tv's. I liked the song so much I wrote it down and and downloaded it later. It's pop fluff, full of jangly guitars, and a guy singing in a fake English accent about "the radio is playing the song/That got us all to dance around..." What's there not to love about it?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"It's All Too Beautiful..."

Heard this little 1967 gem, Itchycoo Park, by the Small Faces, on the way in to work, on Andrew Loog Oldham's morning show show on Little Steven's Sirius Radio channel. Thought you needed to hear it too.

A Little Sad News, Lots Of Good News...

First the sad news.

I posted recently about the status of various Wayne's World icons, in response to Frank Simiraco's post about Berwyn removing The Spindle. I pointed out that one of my local Wayne's World icon, the auto dealership sign at 3939 N. Western Avenue was still there. As of Tuesday, it was no longer. I drove by there, and it's been removed. I'm hoping some fan of the movie purchased it and has it in his or her front yard.

Other than that, though, it's all good news.

First, Adam is having a ball this week at the ACE Aviation Camp. Monday, he learned how to read charts and maps. Tuesday, he visited the control tower at Midway Airport. Yesterday, most excitingly, he got to fly in and take the controls of and fly a Cessna airplane! He'll end the week by attending the annual Oshkosh Airshow, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Second big news: my parents sold their house. They have been living in rural Maynardville, Tennessee for the last five years. They decided to sell their home and move in closer to Knoxville. They purchased a townhouse, and were hoping to sell their home before they moved. They got a contract yesterday.

Third big news: we have a kitchen and bathroom, with running water and everything!

Woohoooooo! A hot shower and a hot breakfast this morning!

Good news #4:

On Tuesday, my old friend Dave Schmittgens gave me a call. Last summer, when my friend Mark was murdered, we collected a lot of money for a reward fund. In discussions about it, we decided that if the authorities caught the perpetrators without the reward fund being used, we would use the money to set up a scholarship fund in Mark's name.

Since last summer, two of the four guys were themselves murdered, probably by the guy who actually pulled the trigger; he was apparently afraid that if they got picked up on another charge, they "roll" on him in order to avoid prosecution. A third guy was picked up on a marijuana possession charge, and implicated himself in the murder. He pled out to attempted armed robbery, and got five years. The guy who actually killed Mark is still at large; the police know who he is, but don't feel they have enough evidence to get a conviction.

That left the reward fund. A group of us got together a couple of times and started working on how to put the scholarship fund together. We were afraid we would burn up a lot of the money in legal costs setting up a trust. Bless Dave-- he contacted a foundation at Eastern Illinois University that actually sets up trusts for scholarships for students, the EIU Foundation. They'll take the money and set up a scholarship fund in his name in perpetuity. They'll administer it, using investment income to fund the scholarship, never touching the capital. Dave, who is moving to California this summer, put me in touch with the liason for the EIU Foundation so I could work with him.

There's a beautiful irony in all this: when me, Mark, Matt, Tim Dave-- and The Elk were at Eastern, we got involved in the "Divestment" movement; at campuses across the country in the eighties, students seized upon Divestment as a way of fighting the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. The strategy was to publicly protest and get the universities to remove the investments their endowments had in countries that did business with South Africa to put economic pressure on South Africa to change their policies. I later read that this was a devastatingly effective strategy, and one of the main reasons South Africa ended Apartheid, and became a democracy.

While we were at Eastern, The Elk got in a public pissing match, in editorials in our college newspaper, with Jim Roberts, the head of the EIU Foundation, over divesting the Foundation's investments in South Africa. Roberts responded to The Elk's letter to the editor with another letter, famously beginning, "Who is this (his name here)?" The Elk responded to his letter, and a shitstorm broke out on campus over the issue. Students set up symbolic "shantytowns" in protest.

The EIU Foundation divested eventually. Elk 1, Jim Roberts 0.

It's great, then, that this organization will administer a scholarship honoring our friend. It'll be a $500-$600 scholarship to be granted once a year to a needy and promising art student. It's not enough for a year's tuition or anything, but so many artists I've talked to about the idea have told me that smaller scholarships saved their asses a lot of times, allowing them to stay in school a semester or purchase art supplies. We love the idea that some kid from a small town in Central Illinois, like Mark was, or a young man or woman from a rough neighborhood in Chicago will benefit from Mark's memory every year.

The last piece of good news (this is the one I was referring to, Cheer34-- sorry to keep you waiting!)...

I've mentioned before that I have decided to leave teaching and go back to school-- to try to get into the University of Illinois' Pharmacy School. After a lot of discussions with Kim, I decided that going back to being a waiter full time is an ideal solution to a lot of problems: juggling care of two kids; spending time with Kim; juggling work with a school schedule; and most importantly, having a good income while in school.

My wife's best friend is the sommelier at The G., a high-end restaurant across the street from Chicago's downtown Millenium Park. Waiters there do quite well.

The restaurant opened a few months ago with a very young staff. The management has quickly figured out that this young generation has a strong sense of entitlement; I'd heard a piece on NPR recently about how employers are having trouble getting work out of a generation that's been rewarded for every little thing they've done (Remember the scene in "Meet the Parents" where Deniro ribs Ben Stiller about the 12th place trophy?) Well, apparently they're looking to shore up their high-maintence young staff with some older, more experienced servers-- who appreciate having a good job.

I took a day off work yesterday to interview at The G.. I went downtown early-- Chicago's mass transit system is being worked on right now, and it's a crapshoot getting somewhere on on time on it. I got downtown early, with time to stop by Kim's work and say hello to her.

As I walked down Michigan Avenue, I passed by the restaurant I got my first college job at-- an awful job. It was at a Bennigan's. Back then, it was one of the only restaurants down there. Chicago's downtown was a ghost town at night in 1985. Now, with the development in and around the Loop, it's booming all of the time.

I had to wait a few minutes to interview with John, the owner. He mentioned that he needed some people who could work hard and not bring "drama" and whining into the place. I chuckled silently inside, and told him that if I could teach on Chicago's rough west side, I think I can work at his place. I chatted him up a little to let him know I knew what the hell I was doing, which was really what it was all about. I dropped a couple of little serving buzzwords and phrases like "A server's job is to insure that the guest's experience is excellent." And he mentioned that my wife's friend's recommendation was highly regarded.

I was a little nervous. This whole plan-- school, changing careers, having enough money for my kids to go to college-- is contingent on getting a good server job. I reflected on all the places I've worked, how hard I've worked, and how, as I finish my career in the industry over the next few years, it would be really nice if I could work in a place where my income would be commensurate with my skill and experience.

Oh, yeah-- I got the job. He hired me on the spot. I start a week from Sunday.