Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bloggers Are Introverts....Not!

A few days ago, Evil Genius passed the word that he would be in Chicago. After some back and forth about location, we decided on a restaurant near my home, Feed The Beast. This was good, because it meant that my son Adam, who turned out to be the night's chief photographer, was able to join us.

I had called in a reservation to get an outside table at Feed The Beast My son and I arrived at 7 PM, and we were joined about 15 minutes later by Evil Genius. He had, it turned out, ended up walking to the restaurant, unable to catch a cab. Fortunately his walk was through one of the nicest walking areas in Chicago.

Adam and I had a chance to get to know Evil Genius. Then we were joined by The Idea of Progress, who opened with the best line of the night. He was joining us after participating in a Critical Mass event. He rode up, took off his bike helmet, and as he locked up his bike asked "Are you guys a bunch of bloggers?"

"Why yes, in fact, we are."

He joined us, ordering the Macaroni and Cheese on my son's recommendation. The conversation and greetings continued, and we were soon joined by Bubs, who ordered the largest Guiness any of us had ever seen.

As we proceeded to converse and demolish the myth of bloggers as malcontent misanthropes, it occurred to us that Grant Miller had never arrived. We began to theorize that he was actually a myth, a created character-- we referred to him as Keyser Soze."

And then he had to ruin it all by showing up.

We had a marvelous time talking. And talking about other bloggers. If your ears were burning Friday night...

We determined that Dale is the apparent nexus of the blogosphere (and a really nice guy). We wished Lulu could have made it. We talked about connections various bloggers have-- that Lulu and Coaster Punchman are old friends; that Deadspot and I have been friends since college.

As we had libations and talked, we kept hearing cheers from Feed The Beast and from Gannon's, the bar across the street. The first round of cheers was because the Cubs were winning (and won) their game in Cincinnati. The second round of cheers was when the Milwaukee Brewers lost their game, meaning the Cubs won their division and were going to the playoffs. Even my son, the die-hard Cubs fan, is too jaded to get too excited about it; the Cubs have let him down one too many times. Still, we could hear the news helicopters that were hovering over Wrigley Field, about a mile and a half away. The assembled bloggers joked that these were the fabled government Black Helicopters spying on what was presumably a group of bloggers plotting to overthrow the world.

After the various bloggers bid adieu and went off into the night, Adam and I walked home and talked about what an interesting group this was. I don't know if you could come up with a more diverse group of people, yet they shared one thing-- they clearly all like other people. They're hardly the isolated angry people living in bathrobes that cetain pundits have described us as. Blogging is, for them, for us, a form of self-expression, and a way of finding other people who think a little out of the box like we do. Were it not for blogs, none of us would likely have ever met.

And that would have been a shame.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Blogger Pow-wow

A handful of bloggers, including me, Grant Miller, Evil Genius, The Idea of Progress and probably Bubs will be there. It's at Feed The Beast, at 4300 N. Lincoln (Lincoln and Cullom), in Chicago. Street parking is plentiful*, and it's about two blocks south of the Western el stop on the Brown Line. Be there or be talked about behind your back.

*if you are coming down Western, turn on Cullom-- it's one-way heading east. You can park on Cullom. There's metered parking on Lincoln. If all else fails, park in the Jewel's parking lot.

Million Dolllar Mix For a Sunny Friday

This morning, over breakfast, it dawned on me that summer had slipped away unnoticed about a week ago. Made me a little sad. Fortunately, my Friday Random Ten was awesome, and cheered me up.

1. Perfect Balance- Million Dollar Marxists
2. Honeymoon With B-Troop- 10CC
3. Amoreena- Elton John
4. Ramblin'- Marshall Tucker Band
5. The Breakup Song- Greg Kihn Band
6. Green Green Grass of Home- Tom Jones
7. Rainy Day, Dream Away- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
8. Hello Dad, I'm In Jail- Was (Not Was)
9. A Toast To Those Who Are Gone- Phil Ochs
10. (There'll Be) Peace In The Valley- Johnny Cash (with June Carter)

1. One of my favorite band names.
2. The big hit from this record was "The Things We Do For Love," which I hated, but I love the rest of the album, including "Feel the Benefit," one of my favorite-ever songs.
3. One of Elton John's lesser hits, but a little gem nonetheless.
4. From the vaults of country rock. The Marshall Tucker Band's big hit was "Can't You See."
5. When Greg Kihn wrote this song, the "uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh" chorus was there for filler while he wrote more lyrics, but when he demo'ed the song for his bandmates, they liked it just as it was and he left it in.
6. Hey, Bubs had Tom Jones on his Random Ten too! Way cool!
7. From the Electric Ladyland album.
8. My stepdaughter loves this song. Me too.
9. A great Phil Ochs song about those who have fallen helping others, including the Lincoln Brigade and civil rights workers. I guess we can include him on that list too.
10. One of my favorites-- from the "Live At San Quentin" album.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Two Bumper Stickers

Had to share a couple of great bumper stickers today while I was running around on errands:

Extra, Extra, Read All About It...

I had the pleasure of interviewing Splotchy and The Anonymous Blogger. They posted (or have begun posting) their answers, and of course they are quite interesting. An interview with Lulu is to follow soon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Whither Myanmar

This Saturday, I picked a shift up at Jury's. Besides making some extra money, I reconnected with an old acquaintance, Daniel W., who came into the restaurant with his wife and another couple.

Daniel and I met in 1990 when we collaborated on a project for Amnesty International Local Group 570. Our group adopted a "prisoner of conscience--" a person who had been imprisoned for expressing his beliefs.

We took up the case of a young man named Lee Myunjae. He was a young South Korean man who was a political and labor organizer. He was 29 years old-- the exact same age as I was. He was one of many people who were radicalized by the Kwangju massacre. This was a 1980 student-led uprising against the military dictatorship that was then running South Korea.

Daniel and I met with a minister who'd lived in South Korea and had published a book about the political situation in South Korea. We learned about the corrupt chaebols that held economic and political power in South Korea. The chaebols are huge industrial conglomerates that produce brand names you probably know, like Hyundai and Samsung. We learned how young people like Mr. Lee (in Korean, you say the family name first), who'd been radicalized by the Kwangju uprising and massacre, had decided the way to fight for democracy in South Korea was to get jobs in the chaebols and organize unions. It quickly became clear to us that the reason that Myunjae had been imprisoned was not that he was an agent of communist North Korea as the government had charged him with, but that his crime had been trying to unionize the politically powerful chaebols.

One of the ways that Amnesty International works is by making governments know that, as students yelled during the 1968 Democratic Convention protests, that "the whole world is watching."

Lee was sentenced to 3-5 years. He was released in a little over a year. We don't know for sure, and probably never will know, whether our efforts contributed to his release, but it's a pretty good bet.

Since 1990, democracy has thrived in South Korea. The chaebols, which depended on corruption and government favors to survive, began to collapse-- from 1997-1999, 11 of the 30 biggest chaebols collapsed.

Around the same time, a military dictatorship seized power in Myanmar (formerly Burma). The military has controlled the ecomomy, relying on forced labor. Between 1988 and 1990, a student protest movement was crushed brutally, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Now, a movement, started by students and this time supported by Buddhist monks, is challenging the military dictatorship again.

To be honest, Bush's speech threatening more sanctions took me by surprise. Since Burma doesn't have a lot of oil, I didn't think the administration would bother with it.

We learned, from South Korea, that if dictators know that the world is watching them, they proceed with caution. Let your House Representative and Senators know that this is important. Go to these sites and find your reps-- email, call or write them. Let them know that the whole world is watching-- or at least you are.

House of Representatives Website

Senate Website

Friday, September 21, 2007

Monkerstein Asks The Questions Here

After reading Barbara's interview with Monkerstein, I requested and received an interview from Dr. Monkerstein.

1) You've been a teacher for quite some time and you recently gave it up. What three things would you make mandatory that all students must learn before graduating high school?

1. How to do math in your head. I know that sounds silly, but I'm astonished at how poor mental math skills are. A person should be be able to estimate amounts; I'm always shocked to see people unable to approximate their share of a check in a restaurant, for instance.

2. Basic science. The fact that basic tenets of science, such as evolution are even questioned is beyond me. I think that the basic understanding of science is lacking in this country.

3. Howard Zinn's A Peoples' History of the United States.

2) You and I are roughly the same age and we share many of the same musical tastes. What are the four albums from your youth that you still listen to today and why?

1. Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. A couple of months ago, my father told me that he was getting rid of his vinyl and asked what I wanted out of his stash. Number one on the list was his monaural copy of Highway 61 Revisited. I remember the day discovered that "Like a Rolling Stone" was on that record, which I remember my father having since the mid-sixties, when we lived in Chicago's then-bohemian Lincoln Park. I dropped the needle on the groove and listened to the song about five times. When I was 16 or 17, I got my own stereo copy of the album and fell in love with the rest of the album-- "From A Buick Six," "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Desolation Row--" the album still blows me away.

2. The Clash's London Calling. This one came out in 1979, the year I graduated high school and started college. I was beginning to read about politics, alternative energy, etc. and I was floored to find that there was someone out in the world who had also figured out that something was wrong in the world. The album goes beyond politics, though. Over the years, listening to the album has been like peeling the layers of an onion. I was initially attracted by the overly political songs like "The Guns of Brixton" and the title track. In between those tracks, there are other fascinating tracks. "The Right Profile" is about the tragic actor Montgomery Clift. "The Card Cheat" is a song that is the most mysterious song on the album-- it's about a gambler who is caught cheating, seized, forced to his knees and shot dead. I've always taken it to be a parable of life-- that we spend our lives struggling for for answers, and that even at the end, we're begging for just a little more time to figure it out. It's an album that I never grow tired of. I know that in my last days, hopefully a long time from now, I'll still be listening to and enjoying "London Calling."

3. Joni Mitchell's Hejira. I've posted about this album before. I fell in love with this album when it came out in 1976-- I first heard the song "Coyote" on the radio. It was one of the first albums I bought when I got my first job in 1977. It's an exploration of love, friendship and the meaning of life. I want the Hejira song "Refuge of the Road" played at my funeral.

4. The Doors' First Album. This album just turned 40 years old. It was one of the first albums I ever bought. It still sounds great to me-- "Soul Kitchen," "Crystal Ship," and of course the big hit song, "Light My Fire." The Oedipal epic "The End" is still a great song to me. I never get tired of this album.

3) I know you and your son are big baseball fans, Cubs fans to be more precise. What would your dream Cubs starting line up be? Feel free to mix and match players from different Cubs teams and decades.

I consulted with my son Adam on this one.

Pitching staff:
Ferguson Jenkins
Kenny Holtzman
Carlos Zambrano
Greg Maddux

Bruce Sutter
Lee Smith
Dennis Eckersley

First Base: Bill Buckner-- A lot of people only remember his error in the 1986 World Series. He was a great player for the Cubs (and later the Red Sox).
Second Base: Ryne Sandberg
Third Base: Ron Santo, of course. As a kid, he was my favorite player.
Shortstop: Ernie Banks. People remember him as a First baseman late in his career, but he spent most of his career as an excellent shortstop.
Catcher: Randy Hundley
Left Field: Billy Williams
Centerfield: Kenny Lofton. He only played a part of a year, 2003, but was a big part of the Cubs going to the playoffs that year.
Right Field: Johnny Callison

4) What are the five best things about Chicago and
the two worst?

1. Its diversity. When I was growing up in the Lincoln Park and Albany Park neighborhoods, my friends were of every conceivable ethnicity. Chicago has become even more diverse since then, which I think has made it richer.
2. That it's essentially midwestern. People are, for the most part, friendly and warm.
3. It's a working town. Half the people I know work two, and even three jobs.
4. It's (mostly) laid out in a numbered grid, making it virtually impossible to get lost in.
5. The weather. The are gorgeous summer days when people are out playing softball, soccer, basketball, baseball, riding bikes, running. There are beautiful autumn afternoons where city blocks have lovely oaks and maples with the leaves a kaleidoscope of colors. We have snowy winter days where the kids play outside, neighbors help one another dig cars out or when shoveling their own walks, keep going and shovel a neighbor's. There are spring days when the trees start budding, the grass suddenly turns green and there's a smell in the air that's not just the diesel garbage truck.

1. The weather. The summers are way too hot and way too humid. The winters are brutally cold, snowy and windy. Autumn and Spring are wet and cold.
2. The stupid ethnic and racial tensions. I love Chicago's diversity, but not everybody feels that way, unfortunately.

5) I'm a Midwest guy by birth and I remember all those horribly long depressing winters. Where would you love to go to escape the Midwest winter?

Seattle. I love Seattle, and co-best friend Andreas lives there. I wouldn't mind the San Francisco Bay area-- Oakland or San Francisco.

Okay, part of the deal is that I'll interview anybody who asks. Email me at if you want to be interviewed.

The "Strange Days" Friday Random Ten

I was talking to my co-workers at the restaurant (Jury's) last night and the general consensus was that it's been a strange week. It was for me for sure, and I'll leave it at that.

One of those strange things was when I got a call yesterday at about 4 PM from a co-worker from when I worked at the alternative high school. Apparently what started out as a fight between two girls escalated into a full-blown riot, spilling out into the street, involving over a hundred students and people in the neighborhood. The staff was unable to leave for an hour after dismissal. I'm glad I missed it. I'm glad I made the decision to leave.

1. Stone Junkie- Curtis Mayfield
2. Sister Moonshine- Supertramp
3. It's Different For Girls- Joe Jackson
4. Concrete Jungle- The Specials
5. The Ballad of Jerry Curlin- The Angry Samoans
6. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight- Bob Dylan
7. A Thing Called Love- Johnny Cash
8. A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request- Steve Goodman
9. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall- Bob Dylan
10. Don't Let It Break You Down- Graham Parker

1. From People Get Ready, the fantastic Curtis Mayfield box set.
2. A guilty pleasure-- I love earlier Supertramp. I've been hearing this one in a commercial lately.
3. One of my favorite Joe Jackson tunes.
4. "You're goin' home in a f*ckin' ambulance." I've mentioned before my friend Suzy asking a member of the Specials what that chant was at the beginning.
5. Great eighties post-punk. My college roommate Jim's punk band, DUI, did a version of this, substituting the name of Barry Shawgo, a hated, asskissing, hypocritical member of the student senate at our college. That's a story I'll have to tell soon.
6. Robert Palmer and UB40 collaborated to do a nice cover of this song in the early nineties (see below).
7. It's Johnny Cash-- what more do I need to say?
8. Goodman, a die-hard Cubs fan, wrote and recorded this one after he found out that his leukemia, which had been in remission for years, had returned. Ironically, he died a month before the Cubs made the playoffs in 1984. Of course, if he would have been glad he missed their pathetic performance in those playoffs.
9. I mentioned this song in a post earlier this week. One of my life goals is to memorize the lyrics to this song very visual song.
10. I kept hearing Graham Parker all day today. That's not a bad thing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Blast From My Past

Yesterday I was in an office supply store to buy some pens and have some copies made for my class when I walked by a guy in the store. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he'd turned back to look at me again, and that his jaw had dropped. I heard my name and realized that I recognized the voice.

It was John, my first roommate when I got out of colllege over twenty years ago.

When I finished school in 1985, I took up my aunt's longstanding offer to live with her, in the extra bedroom of her Beverly apartment, while I got on my feet in Chicago. I lived with her a few months, and in January of 1986, I answered a "roommate wanted" ad in the Chicago Reader for a couple of guys up in the Rogers Park neighborhood. With the help of my friend Tim, I moved literally from one end of Chicago to the other, south to north, one afternoon.

One roommate was a "phantom" roommate-- a law student who was actually living with his girlfriend, but maintained a separate residence so that his parents didn't know about it. The roommate I ran into yesterday, John, on the other hand, was there all the time, since he was unemployed. His ever-present girlfriend Ellen supported him. She'd grown up in the neighborhood, and officially lived with her mother a few blocks away, but was usually at our place. At first the prospect of this seemed annoying, but she and I quickly became good friends. She was intelligent and witty. What she was doing with John was beyond me; he was overbearing, rude and narrow-minded. She was a "nice Jewish girl" from Rogers Park who'd graduated college and worked in social services; he was a classic Chicago palooka. They'd met at the University of Illinois, where she'd graduated and he'd dropped out, but just kept following her around.

I remember that John was trying to start a contracting business. He was putting together all his own ads--literally, cutting and pasting them all over our dining room. It was pretty annoying. He had some kind of form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-- he would tie up the bathroom for hours scrubbing himself. As I met his family, I discovered that they all had severe dysfunctions, and I discovered the source: their father. John's father was a violent, powerful guy. He was the head of one of the big municipal unions, and had gotten incredible agreements for a particular group of Chicago's municipal workers, but at home was horrible-- violent to his wife and kids and a womanizer. John and his whole family were a train-wreck of dysfunction. He wasn't an easy guy to be around.

In March of that 1986, the landlord sold the building and gave us three weeks to get out. We questioned the legality of it, but since we'd had nothing but trouble with him, we decided to just move out. And to tell the truth, I was fine with it. I'd gotten another job-- I was working as a law clerk during the week, and as a waiter on the weekends-- and wanted my own place. I stayed with a co-worker for a month while I found my own place, a one-bedroom at Berteau and Ashland, down the street from Lakeview High School.

I tried to stay friends with both John and Ellen, who'd begun a series of break-ups and make-ups. Finally, they ended things. John moved in with another woman, and in time I lost touch with both of them.

In early 1999, I was reading the Sun-Times, and was astonished when columnist Mary Mitchell mentioned John-- that he was in a vicious custody fight with his ex-wife. Having just been through a brutal custody fight myself, I empathized. I did a little internet search and was able to come up with his email. I emailed him, and we got in contact by phone. We caught up with what we were each doing (I was teaching seventh grade on the west side of Chicago, he was a firefighter) and talked a little about our kids. Then I asked him-- so you ended up marrying that girl you were living with?

"No. we split up. Ellen and I got back together. She tracked me down and said we were fated to be together. We got married in New Orleans on New Year's Eve one year."

I was literally speechless. This nightmare couple had gotten back together and had now gotten a child involved in their dysfunciontal relationship. I was furious with both of them. There'd been arrests and other ugliness. It was completely insane. It made my own custody fight, which involved the police at times to enforce my visitation rights, look genteel. John blamed it all on Ellen, but I know him too well. I know that at least half of it was his fault, if not more. He is prideful, has to get the last word in and always has to be right. And he can be physically intimidating.

When I stopped yesterday for a few minutes to talk to John, I discovered that he now runs an organization dedicated to fighting child abuse. He was apparently picking up a desk for his office. I asked about his daughter. He hadn't seen her in six years, he told me. We talked another moment and parted. As I walked away, I thought about the moment nearly ten years ago where I'd swallowed my pride and signed a custody agreement I wasn't completely happy with. It would have killed me to not see my son for six weeks, let alone six years. Sometimes there are things that are more important than being "right."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Well Shiver Me Timbers....

Just a reminder-- today, September 19, is International 'Talk Like a Pirate' Day.

Well, what are ye waitin' fer, ye scurvy dogs?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Maybe I'm Misunderstanding This All...

I've been very busy the last couple of days, and didn't get a chance to read the story about O.J. in depth-- the details are sketchy. I've heard that he thought he was just trying to get his gloves back. Is this wrong or right?

I Have A Feeling We'll Be Seeing These On Bubs' Blog Soon...

Headlines in the New York Times Online today:

Cops Stun Man With Live Chicken in Trunk

Man Dies After Head - Butt by Armless Man

These fall under some of Narcozoology pioneer Bubs' many areas of expertise-- among them, drug-addled criminals, animals and armless criminals. Sometimes you have to know when to defer to an expert.

So Young, So Strong, So Ready For the War...

My schedule has continued to be grinding, between my two jobs and school-- I'm missing time with my kids and with Kim. I'm working on fixing that.

Every day, while waiting for my el at the Western stop on the Brown Line, I see a great and powerful war protest that been up for several years now. In the Printmaker's Cooperative building near Western and Lawrence, here in Chicago, they've simply put up pictures of men and women who were killed in the war in the windows of the building. It's a more powerful statement than anything I could make.

Dylan said, of his anti-war classic A Hard Rain, that he wrote it during the Cuban Missle Crisis, and that each line of the song was the opening line of a song he wouldn't have time to write. I feel the same, in a way, looking at this memorial-- I want to go to each of these people, sit down with them, hear their life stories. But I won't get to do that.

Each photo captures a moment in time, many of them happy. Some are gradutation photos, or a snapshot of some happy moment. They're reminders of the brutal price we-- and mostly they-- paid for this war.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Insanely Busy Friday Random Ten

It was a long, but productive week.

I worked a buttload of hours at my primary job, and a shift at my other. I brought my Blazer into the shop. Since I bought it four years ago, the blower on the heater/air conditioner would occasionally go out. If I gave the dashboard a slap next to the switch it would turn on. On the trip back from Minneapolis, even this fix stopped working. We had air conditioning, but no blower, so it was of limited utility. Since they were once again working on our street-- finally finishing the resurfacing-- I decided to bring it in, so I didn't have to worry about parking it. They replaced the blower, but it turned out there was another problem; it would go out, but if you gave a slap on the dashboard, near the switch, it would go back on. I had a chuckle and said that I knew how that worked. It turned out that there was a relay out too. They fixed that, and I picked up my truck after work and ran over to get Adam. We had dinner at the Wah Sun, a good Chinese restaurant near our home.

Tonight, I studied my Biology in anticipation of two online quizzes I have to take tomorrow, and then got my ass quickly kicked by Adam in chess.

I did manage to do my Friday Random Ten this morning while getting ready for work, while they finally finished resurfacing our street. I pondered the fact that this is the third time in the nine years I've lived here that they've resurfaced the street. There are streets in Chicago that haven't been repaired in decades.

1. Power and the Glory- Phil Ochs
2. The Last Ride- Jason and the Scorchers
3. Lady Godiva- Peter and Gordon
4. Oye Como Va- Santana
5. Going Up the Country- Canned Heat
6. Singing the Blues- Dave Edmunds
7. Angry Eyes- Loggins and Messina
8. The Horse- Cliff Noble and Co.
9. Little By Little- Robert Plant
10. (Don't Go Back To Rockville)- R.E.M.

1. An unabashedly patriotic song. Orange Juice peddler/homophobe Anita Bryant covered this one, much to Phil's amusement.
2. A great intstrumental from eighties country-punkers Jason and the Scorchers.
3. A very funny song. Peter Asher was, when his sister Jane was married to Paul McCartney, Paul's brother-in-law.
4. Santana's cover of a Tito Puente classic, from the great Abraxas album.
5. The first hit single to ever have a flute solo.
6. From the great Dave Edmunds box set.
7. The second hit single to have a flute solo.
8. One of the all-time great instrumentals.
9. Plant's post-Zeppelin stuff alternates between mediocre and great. This one is great-- I've always taken it as a rumination on recovering from loss.
10. This was both the best rock and country song of 1984, and one of the greatest songs ever written.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What's Goin' On

It's been a hectic, but productive last few weeks.

I'm finally getting into a groove with work. There was so much to learn-- for most of the customers, it's their first time there, so you have to know the menu in pretty minute detail. The place is still pretty new-- only five months-- so they're still ironing out some problems. But overall, it's been good, and sometimes great.

Tonight, Wilco played across the street, in Millenium Park, so the place was packed before and after the concert. I quipped to one of my fellow workers that it appeared that Wilco was no longer a cult favorite.

On the home front, our kitchen is finally done-- the workers finally installed the cabinet that they had originally measured incorrectly.

I hadn't had a chance to mention another addition to our kitchen, in the pantry-- a small freezer. It's been great to be able to buy food in bulk or on sale and have somewhere to put it.

I'm enjoying school a lot. The teacher is great, my classmates are nice, and the subject is interesting. This weekend, I have to take two quizzes online. I was laughing, thinking to the first classes I took at Truman College-- Spanish classes, in the late eighties. The internet was still the purview of a few scientists and military people, for the most part. Now it's just assumed that the students have internet access.

One last bit of happy news, before I conk out for the night: they finally replaced the tree in front of our house that was destroyed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years

In the Spring of 1998, I packed my bags and flew to New York City for an annual meeting of Lincoln Brigade volunteers. I was nervous and excited; I was going to meet guys who were heroes and legends to me, guys I'd read about in history books. And aside from driving through New York City on foggy night with my brother in late 1984, I'd never really been in New York City. To get to the conference, I was going to have to navigate my way on the subway system from the airport to the New York City College auditorium in Tribeca that the conference was being held in.

I got off the flight and following the instructions that someone had given me, made my way to the train stop for the train that would take me across Brooklyn and into Manhattan. I was amused, looking at a sign near the station, which was in Queens, that directed you to Rockaway Beach. I thought of the Ramones song "Rockaway Beach"-- I'd always thought that the Ramones had made the improbable name up.

I got on the train. At one point, I had to switch trains. I was surprised how many people were on the trains on a Sunday morning. I was also surprised at the friendliness of people. Growing up in the midwest, I'd been indoctrinated to believe that New York City residents were gruff and unfriendly. This couldn't be more untrue. A couple of strangers stopped and helped me navigate my change of trains.

I got off at the subway stop I had been told to get off at and was surprised to find myself near the World Trade Center. I knew virtually nothing about Manhattan geography, and hadn't realized I'd be near the towers. I took out my camera and took a quick picture. I was surprised at how big the buildings were-- bigger than they looked in pictures.

That picture, the one above, turned out to be the last on the roll, and the only picture I took on that trip.

I got to the conference a few minutes later. I had a great time, meeting Harry Fisher and other guys I'd read about. I spotted actors Richard Dreyfus, and Richard Masur in the crowd. There were speeches, and Pete Seeger performed. I hadn't seen him since a concert I'd seen at Ravinia in 1979, right after I graduated high school.

As the conference ended, I made my way up to Washington Heights, where I stayed overnight on the couch of a friend of a friend. On the flight home, my friend Chuck Hall and his wife Bobbi were coincidentally on my flight. They told me that they were forming an organization of Chicago-area Lincoln Brigade vets, and asked if I'd help out. I said yes.

Flash forward three years.

On September 11, 2001, I was awoken by a phone call. My friend Dan, who works for an airline, told me that airliners had been flown into the World Trade Center; both towers were on the ground. Furthermore, a jet was down in Pennslvania, he told me. Rumor in the airline business was that the jet had been hijacked, and that the Air Force had shot it out of the sky in order to prevent it from hitting another target.

I had taken a day off of work at my job as a substitute teacher in Evanston, Illinois because my car was in the shop for repairs. I turned on the television, and immediately saw a shot of an airplane striking one tower of the World Trade Center, while another stood burning. Shortly after, there was a shot of one tower, then another collapsing. I was literally sickened, realizing that I was watching thousands of people being killed.

I was sickened again later in the day seeing news footage of Palestinian people cheering that same clip.

Over the next few months, the New York Times provided profiles of people who were killed that day. A lot of them were moving, but the one that really hit me was a young hispanic guy, in his mid-twenties, who worked in the lobby of one of the towers. He had stayed in the lobby after his building was hit, helping direct people out of the building. His organizing efforts that morning probably saved a hundred or more lives; he could have gotten out easily, but stayed to help. He was killed when the tower collapsed. He left behind a young son who was just a little younger than my own son. I thought about what he'd done, and if I'd have done it, knowing I had a kid to raise.

In the years since the attacks happened, I've been infuriated at what a tragicomedy it all was: how it turns out that the Bush Administration completely ignored FBI and CIA warnings that attacks were about to occur. And then there were the botched attempts to get the people who were behind it. And of course the completely unnecessary invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the attacks-- an invasion that has tied up the resources needed to get the evil bastards that slaughtered nearly 3,000 people. Six years later, I'm done being sad. I'm angry now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

This Was Right On the Mark

Got this from Skyler's Dad and Kristi

The Movie Of Your Life Is A Cult Classic

Quirky, offbeat, and even a little campy - your life appeals to a select few.
But if someone's obsessed with you, look out! Your fans are downright freaky.

Your best movie matches: Office Space, Showgirls, The Big Lebowski

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Like most kids in this country in the sixties and seventies, I spent lots of time watching television. Like old songs, they evoke memories. I've enjoyed having old favorites come out on DVD, like Kolchak the Night Stalker and The Outer Limits. There are still DVD's of television shows and movies that I'm still waiting for

1. Fate Is the Hunter
This was a late night favorite, based on a novel of the same name by former airline pilot Ernest Gann.

An airliner crashes, killing everyone on board except a flight attendent, played by Suzanne Pleshette. The airline is quick to blame the pilot, Jack Savage, played by Rod Taylor; he was a World War II vet who was a larger-than-life character with a reputation as a boozehound, a high-roller and a ladies man. Sam McBane, played by Glenn Ford, is his friend, and is assigned to investigate. McBane is up for a promotion, and has been encouraged to tie up the investigation quickly. However, McBane knows that his friend had been an outstanding pilot, and wants to clear his name. He begins to investigate his life, calling upon a gallery of great character actors: Nancy Kwan, who plays Savage's Marine Biologist live-in girlfriend; Wally Cox as Savage's war buddy; Nehemiah Persoff. McBane discovers there was more than meets the eye, and in a climactic scene renacts the flight that led up to the crash, with a nailbiter ending. One of my favorites.

2. Frank's Place
Tim Reid (the actor who played dj "Venus Flytrap" on the wonderful WKRP In Cincinnati) plays Frank Parish, a Boston attorney who is called down to New Orleans upon the death of his estranged father. He discovers that his father ran a popular New Orleans restaurant. He plans to sell the restaurant to the employees, but one of them, Miss Marie, feels that the restaurant is where he belongs, and places a curse on him to be invoked if he leaves. When several incidents happen while he prepares to leave, he decides to stay.

This was a marvelous show, featuring one of the underappreciated actors of our time. It was refreshing to see an African-American actor in a role where he wasn't a pimp, a criminal or a buffoon.

3. The Invaders
Roy Thinnes portrayed David Vincent, an architect who is returning home late at night, and is so tired he is afraid he'll fall asleep at the wheel. He pulls into an old ghost town to catch a little rest before moving on, and is woken by aliens landing near his car. Of course, no one believes what he witnesses, and thus the show's premise. An underground forms to fight the aliens, who are indistinguishable from humans except for a crooked finger.

I remember as a young kid watching this show-- I was spooked out how the aliens would dissolve, leaving a burned outline, when they were killed.

Ironically, Thinnes had a great recurring role as a benevolent alien on The X-Files television show.

4. Journey to the Far Side of the Sun aka Doppleganger
This was a movie starring Roy Thinnes as an astronaut sent to investigate a planet that scientists have detected on the other side of the sun. He crash-lands, and wakes to discover that the planet is a mirror opposite, but otherwise identical to earth. This one came out briefly on dvd, but is now out of print.

5. Savages
This is based on Robb's book Deathwatch, one of my favorite books.

Andy Griffith was cast against type as a sadistic businessman who kills an old prospector while on a hunting trip in the desert. His guide, played by Sam Bottoms, wants to report the death, but Griffith's character doesn't want to. He sets Bottoms loose in the desert to die. Bottoms' character uses ingenuity and his knowledge of the desert to survive.

6. Sammy and Rosie Get Laid
This 1987 movie is set Thatcher's England, where hip modern couple Sammy and Rosie live. They are "urban pioneers," living in a slum, and have an open marriage. Their world is turned upside down by a visit from Sammy's father. He is a former leader in an unnamed third world country (presumably India, Pakistan or Bangladesh), where his life was endangered. He has brought his money with him, and wants to give most of it to Sammy and Rosie. Sammy and Rosie's liberalism is tested by the offer-- it is blood money. The movie examines love, sex, leftism, gender politics and a bunch of other things.

There are great performances all around, including the great Indian actor Shashi Kapoor, and Fine Young Cannibals singer Roland Gift as Rosie's love interest.

7. Batman
The Adam West/Bert Ward television show. This came out when I was five, in 1966. I, and every other five year old boy in the thought it was the greatest thing ever. They had a great cast of villians-- Otto Preminger, Vincent Price, Eartha Kitt, Michael Rennie, Shelly Winters and many others. The show offended comic book purists-- it was deliberately campy-- but it was loads of fun.

8. The Banana Splits
My brothers and I couldn't wait until Saturday morning to catch the antics of Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky.

9. Hearts of Darkness
While Francis Ford Coppola was filming Apocalypse Now, and having a meltdown, his wife was filming her own movie within a movie. The footage is revealing and not always very complimentary. It's been rumored to be coming out on DVD for a year or two.

10. The Decline of Western Civilization
A documentary on the Los Angeles hardcore scene in the eighties by Wayne's World director Penelope Spheeris. There were two follow-ups, II and III. Her website says that she is putting together a box set with commentary and extras.

11. Chamber of Horrors
A 19th century Baltimore detective suceeds in capturing Jason Cravatte (played by the great character actor Patrick O'Neal), stopping his murderous spree. Cravatte has a habit of wooing women, murdering and then marrying them, post-mortem. Cravatte escapes by chopping off his own hand, and proceeds to avenge the loss of his hand by killing everyone he deems responsible for it. Great roles for the tireless Casare Danova, Wayne Rogers (who played Trapper John on the early seasons of M*A*S*H), and the beautiful Suzy Parker.

12. The Magician
Bill Bixby potrayed a wealthy magician who hires himself out for investigations and rescues. He was held captive in a jail by a Latin american dictator-- occasionally you see the scars from manacles on his wrists-- so he has a pointed sense of justice.

13. The F.B.I.
I loved this show as a kid. It starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. I enjoyed teh "just desserts" portion at the end, where they told what happened to the bad guys. It was produced by Quinn-Martin, which also produced The Invaders.

14. Vega$
No, that's not a typo-- the dollar sign was at the end. The ubiquitious (and late) Robert Urich played Dana Tanna, a Las Vegas private eye. He is way-cool; he drives a sixties-vintage Mustang and lives in a cool house.

This series was done by Michael Mann, who's done lots and lots of great stuff-- Thief, ... and of course the terrific Crime Story television show, which was set in early sixties Chicago and Vegas. in fact, Miami Vice was just about the only thing of his I didn't care for.

15. The Starlost
The premise of this show was that Earth suffered a fatal catastrophe, so an emormous space colony is built, with representations of every earth culture and subculture living in it. A meteor shower damages the ship and kills the crew of the ship. Decades later, a group of people start exploring the ship, looking for clues to ship and trying to reach a back-up command center.

One of the creators, science fiction legend Harlan Ellison, hated the show to the point he had his name removed from it. Maybe it's youthful nostalgia, but I loved it when they showed it on tv when I was a kid. It starred Keir Dullea, the star of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Some of the above shows and movies may never come out on DVD, but then again, there are shows, like Kolchak, the Night Stalker, which I'd given up hope on came out.

Recently, super-cheese classic Food of the Gods, starring former child evangalist Marjoe Gortner, was released on DVD. Jim Jarmusch's 1991 movie Night On Earth is being released by the good folks at Criterion soon, and The Lost World, a staple on the Sunday afternoon Family Classics on WGN television when I was a kid, is being released on DVD on Monday. This gives me hope that at least some of my old favorites will be released eventually.

The Last Man Standing Random Friday Ten

I was glad to see Bubs did his Friday Random Ten today-- I was beginning to think I was the last blogger still doing it.

1. Deeper and Deeper- The Fixx
2. Do You Remember When- J. Geils Band
3. I Walk the Line- Johnny Cash
4. Bohemian Like You- The Dandy Warhols
5. 6060-84- The B-52's
6. Los Marineros- Jamie O'Reilly and Michael Smith
7. Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)- Melanie
8. I Only Want To Be With You- Hootie and the Blowfish
9. Somebody's Baby- Jackson Browne
10. Darlin' Companion- Johnny Cash and June Carter

1. Maybe the only good thing that came from the otherwise forgettable 80's movie Streets of Fire. Well, okay, that and Diane Lane.
2. From Freeze Frame.
3. Johnny Cash's signature song.
4. One of the great band names ever. Great song, too.
5. From the B-52's great first album.
6. From Pasiones: Songs From the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, a show about the Lincoln Brigade.
When I was involved in a Lincoln Brigade organization, I got to get to know Jamie O'Reilly and Michael Smith. I discovered that Smith had penned one of my favorite songs, The Dutchman, which Steve Goodman covered beautifully. It was one of the first songs I ever sat down and taught myself on guitar years ago, something I told Michael. How cool was that, being able to tell the guy how much I loved his song?
7. Melanie's song about Woodstock
8. Okay, so it's Hootie and the frickin' Blowfish-- sue me.
9. A song from the Fast Times At Ridgemont High soundtrack
10. A gorgeous song, written by John Sebastian. From the Live At San Quentin album.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Final Days, Redux

I didn't get a chance to comment on the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Well, not so much that I didn't get a chance to as much as it took me by surprise. The timing was bizarre. Why, after months of being an albatross, did Gonzalez suddenly decide to resign? Did he see something in his horoscope that day? Read his tea leaves? Consult with Nancy Reagan's astrologer?

In a previous post, I'd commented on how it amazed and in a way delighted me that people like Paul Wolfowitz and Alberto Gonzalez, people who'd become huge liabilities for an already damaged administration hung in there, inflicting maximum damage before they finally resigned.

Truth be told, I'm not sure that I have a lot to say that hasn't already been said. It's clear that Gonazalez was involved in the firing of the Federal Attorneys. My son Adam had a joke he was telling everybody this weekend: Why did Alberto Gonzalez cross the road? Answer: "He doesn't remember." It's preposterous that a guy who could have the intelligence to get a law degree and serve as Attorney General would not remember something as important as the firing of a handful of the top prosecutors in the nation.

But I think that in the coming years, as the memoirs are written, stories too bizarre to believe will come to the fore. There is a pathology and dysfunction that goes beyond even wealth, class and privelege.

When I was a kid, watching the first couple of seasons of Saturday Night Live, there was a great bit depicting actual events in the White House as the Watergate dogs bayed outside of the doors of Nixon's White House. Nixon, in the midst of a meltdown, talked to the paintings of former presidents and had Henry Kissinger in his office kneeling and praying with him. The skit was not even an exaggeration of real events.

As the Iran-Contra scandal broke, there were equally bizarre scenes in the Reagan White House as people scattered to avoid blame and possible indictment.

There seems to be a very similar disconnect between perception and reality in the current White House. I guess that's appropriate, though-- there's a disconnect between the perception and reality with the people who elected this pack of rats. These people fucked up exactly as we all predicted they would-- maybe even worse. The fact of the matter is that I, and probably anybody reading this are not surprised one little bit by what's happened. But just because we're not surprised doesn't mean we're not distressed. Let's hope at least a portion of the rest of the electorate has wised up.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On The Wings of Dreams

A couple of days ago, I saw that Paul MacCready died recently. My guess is that of the people on my blogroll, only Skyler's Dad and Samurai Frog knew who he was.

In 1977, when I was 16, I read, with fascination, that a team headed by Maccready, had won the Kremer Prize for human-powered flight. The prize stipulated that the winner must fly a human-powered vehicle in a figure eight course around two markers that were a half mile apart, and begin and end at least ten feet in the air. Public television had a very cool documentary on the project.

The 50,000 British pound Kremer prize, administered by the Royal Aeronautical Society, had gone uncollected since 1959. The pedal-powered aircraft that won the first prize, the Gossamer Condor, was piloted and pedalled by a young guy named Bryan Allen.

The Royal Aeronautical Society upped the ante for a second Kremer prize: 100,000 British pounds for a trip across the English Channel.

With the help of a then-new type of material, carbon composite fiber, Maccready and Bryan Allen once again teamed up to collect a second Kremer prize on June 12, 1979 with the Gossamer Albatross.

Maybe it was the fact that I'd just finished high school days before, and was soon to start college, but their accomplishment filled me with a sense of the possibilities of life.

In late 1980, when I was living in Salt Lake City for a few months, Maccready came and spoke at the University of Utah, just a couple of blocks from where I lived. My friend Cindy and I walked over there and listened to his talk. It was, of course, fascinating, and we chatted with him for a few minutes afterward. It was very cool meeting someone I admired.

After that I always took note of him when I saw him in the news. He later developed a solar-powered airplane, the Gossamer Penguin, and was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute to create a flying model of a pterodactyl, which he did successfully in 1986. He also worked on a solar-powered car, and on unmanned surveillance aircraft.

I remember talking to a college classmate, when I was a freshman in college in 1979 or 1980, about Maccready's airplanes. At the time, they had little practical use-- we just thought they were the coolest thing. There is talk now of using his solar-powered flying wings to provide high-speed internet access over large areas. But I'm not sure that this is the most important thing Maccready did.

There is a place for pure beauty in the world. I look at the things that bring that beauty into my life: a Joan Miro painting; Joni Mitchell's Heijira album; Jacob Lawrence's paintings, Louis Sullivan's buildings; Frida Kahlo works; the Beatles' Abbey Road album. Maccready's creations had grace, beauty, elegance, and of course, ingenuity. But the thing I loved was that he brought the dream of Icarus, to "break the bonds of earth," to fruition. To fly, literally, on Gossamer wings, must have been lovely. Thanks for that, Paul Maccready.