Monday, December 31, 2007

Phone Pictures

Just thought I'd end the blogging year by sharing a few images taken with my phone camera in the last few weeks.

This is an actual ornament at Target that I saw around Christmas. Yes, nothing says "yuletide cheer" than two giant puppet monsters battling with bad English dubbed in. Maybe I'll stop by there to see if I can get it half off now that Christmas is past.

These two were taken of t-shirts in a shop on Lincoln Avenue, near Montrose, in Chicago. I approve of their disdain of both the Green Bay Packers and George W. Bush.

This place is on Addison Avenue, just a block or two east of Wrigley Field. It's been there for years, but I wonder if there are any living members. Don't call the number above, though-- it's for the insurance agency the Cremation Society of Illinois shares the building with.

And lastly, I love the combination of car fresheners this guy has.

Happy New Years to all my blogging buddies!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Big Helping of Seventies Friday Random Ten

Today's Friday Random Ten is heavy on the seventies!

It's snowing up a storm here in Chicago. I'm hoping it doesn't interfere with my get-together tonight with old friend Larry Smith at the Hopleaf. We've been friends since we were next-door neighbors in Taylor Hall at Eastern Illinois University. I attended the "Last Episode of MASH" party that he and his roommate held in 1983.

1. Smoke From a Distant Fire- Sanford-Townsend Band
2. Adult Books- X
3. No More, No More- Aerosmith
4. Bad Is Bad- Huey Lewis and the News
5. A Certain Girl- Warren Zevon
6. Whole Lotta Rosie- AC/DC
7. Fixing A Hole- The Beatles
8. It's Too Late To Turn Back Now- The Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
9. Man In Black- Johnny Cash
10. Let's Go- The Cars

1. Sweet little One-Hit Wonder from 1977 that's a tale of betrayal and heartbreak, like all good One-Hit Wonders are.
2. From X's first album that came out, believe it or not, in the seventies.
3. My favorite Aerosmith song.
4. A 1984 hit for the biggest man in the music business.
5. From Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School.
6. There's a great scene with this song in the movie Detroit Rock City, when one of the film's heroes rescues a woman from two thugs.
7. From Sgt. Pepper.
8. One of two hits these guys had-- the other was Treat Her Like a Lady.
9. Johnny Cash explaining his wardrobe.
10. This one was a hit the summer of '79, when I graduated high school. The Cars commissioned Edgar Vargas, who did paintings for Playboy to do the cover.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hala Kahiki Lounge, December 26, 2007

There was a gathering of the bloggers at the Hala Kahiki Lounge, in River Grove, Illinois. It was the suggestion of Bubs-- great call!

The turnout was great. When I got there, Bubs was already there, with MizBubs, as were TenS and Mr. TenS, Chris, Megan and a handful of other bloggers. We were soon joined by Spotchy, as well as Bubbles, Kristi and Vikki, along with their father.

Soon, Grant Miller showed up, and we started wondering when Lulu was going to show up; there were a couple of us who knew that she was bringing a couple of secret guest-- two, actually. She finally showed up with Coaster Punchman and his amor, Poor George.

I've commented before on some guys study a year or two ago claiming that bloggers were an anti-social, misanthropic bunch. There was no evidence of that last night, as the pictures will tell.

Vikki, Kristi and Bubs took a moment to honor Presidential Candidate/Blogger Dr. Monkerstein...

...and Bubs and Grant Miller became the most popular bloggers in the universe when they bought the table a round!

It was great seeing Bubs and MizBubs, who have become good friends of Kim and I, as well as Grant Miller, Chris, Megan, Lulu, TenS, Mr. TenS. It was also great meeting Kristi, Vikki, Bubbles and Splotchy. And the drinks at the Hala Kaliki were delicious-- all in all, a great night!

Occasional Forgotten Video- JoBoxers' "Just Got Lucky"

The JoBoxers were a mostly-British group (the singer, Dig Wayne, was American) who were popular in the early eighties. They had one minor hit, Boxerbeat, and one bigger hit, Just Got Lucky, which got some rotation on MTV in 1983. It was recently resurrected in the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin.

It was one of my favorite little pop tunes of the eighties. I dare you to listen to it without snapping your fingers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

If You Like Pina Coladas...

Okay, sorry for resurrecting that bad seventies memory, but tonight bloggers are gathering at the Hala-Kahiki Lounge in River Grove. It's at 2834 River Road. Bubs has a map you can use to navigate with on his blog. See you there!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

One Last Christmas Present

Back in June of 1990, I opened up a New York Times to see the obituary of a punk legend, Stiv Bators. That night, I went out to have a cocktail at the Gingerman Tavern, and when I announced the death of Stiv, the reaction was universal: "That junkie? What did he OD of?" My late friend Bobby Scarpelli, who was the doorman at the Gingerman and other establishments, recalled bouncing him from a punk club.

Bators had, in fact, not OD'd-- he'd been hit by a taxi in Paris, where he lived, and after waiting several hours in an emergency room, went home and died in his sleep of the concussion he'd recieved as a result of the accident.

Stiv, born Steven John Bator, was from Youngstown, Ohio and was the singer for the Dead Boys, one of the bands along with the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Blondie and others who formed the early punk scene that centered around the late, great rock club CBGB's in the late '70's. He later formed the Lords of the New Church with Brian James of the Damned and Dave Tregunna of Sham 69, making this, improbably, sort of a punk supergroup. Their first album was great, but they're probably best known for their twisted cover of Madonna's Like A Virgin. The cover of that record had Stiv in a wedding dress that was quite revealing. It wasn't for the weak of stomach.

I heard the Dead Boys classic I Need Lunch a couple of days ago on Little Steven's Underground Garage on Sirius radio. After checking my music collection, I realized that I didn't have the song, so I went to Itunes and bought it as one last little Christmas present for myself. What can I say-- I'm just a sentimental guy, I guess.

I found a Youtube clip of Stiv and the Dead Boys playing I Need Lunch at CBGB's in 1977. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays, You Imperialist Stooges!

Ho, Ho, Ho! Seasons greetings!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Christmas came early this year at the Yen household. With the schedules of where are kids are during the holiday, we decided to do our family celebration yesterday, when both kids would be here.

We Adam got a metal detector, which should help him with his hobby of collecting coins. He also got a Ramones t-shirt from me, and my friend Andreas sent him a pair of cool little radio-controlled helicopters.

We got my stepdaughter a little Ibook laptop that I managed to snipe for a good deal on ebay. It was funny-- the other evening, she and I were talking and she was telling me how much she wanted a laptop-- she loves to write, and was the only Yen family member without a laptop. I had to stifle a chuckle-- she didn't know that there was a laptop just a few feet away under the Christmas tree. With a little help from our friend Sheb, who had the software we needed to update it, Mel's happily writing and net-surfing away.

I got Kim a sixties lighting fixture. I'd seen her admiring one of these in a store window, and found one at the greatest antique store in the world, the Ravenswood Antique Mart, at 4727 N. Damen, in Chicago. The bonus will be that to put it up, I had to take out the small chandelier that 1. Kim doesn't like and 2. was a gift to my ex-wife Cynthia.

A few weeks ago Kim asked what I wanted for Christmas. I truthfully couldn't think of anything. I finally thought of a couple of things, and she got those and a couple more fabulous gifts, all things that represent my life artistically.

First off, Kim got me the Beatles' self-titled album The Beatles, commonly known as the White Album. It's just an amazing album. When they recorded it, the Beatles were at their most combative-- Ringo actually left the band briefly while they recorded this one-- and most creative. I'd lost my vinyl copy of the record years ago. It was nice to pop the cds (with thirty songs, even on cd it's a double album) into my ibook and hear the whole album all the way through for the first time in years.

I also got the Criterion release of Akira Kurasawa's masterpiece Ran, a retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear that is set in 16th century Japan. It is one of the most visually arresting movies I've ever seen, but two previous DVD releases have been disappointing-- the color transfer was poor. For their release, Criterion remastered the colors and captured the stunning power and beauty of the film.

While I'd asked for the White Album and Ran, Kim thought of one other gift I hadn't thought of-- Mad For Decades, a sampling of fifty years of Mad Magazine, a favorite of mine when I was a kid. There were some old favorites-- Spy vs. Spy comics, "The Lighter Side of...", and movie satires (including their hilarious send-up of The Godfather). Mad Magazine was a refuge for guys like me, and along with Monty Python, it helped me stay sane when my family moved into a suburb I hated. Thumbing through it brought back a lot of great memories.

There was one more really cool, unexpected gift from Kim: an set of Elvis karaoke discs. It's got Suspicious Minds, Heartbreak Hotel and other favorites.

It's been quite a year. I left one career and started school beginning the path to a new one. I got some closure in the loss of my friend's life last year. And best of all, I got to finish the year spending time with my family. Life is good. In the words of the late, great Joey Ramone, what a wonderful world.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Until Next Year...

David Letterman has a tradition of having Darlene Love, who found success as a singer for the Crystals and as a solo artist, to sing Baby, Please Come Home on his show on the Friday before Christmas. This year, because of the strike, they showed a rerun tonight instead of a new show. Instead of watching Letterman, Adam and I had our traditional Christmastime viewing of Bill Murray's Christmas classic Scrooged.

Scrooged has one of my favorite-ever lines in a movie, in a scene with Murray and Carol Kane as The Ghost Of Christmas Present: "The b*tch hit me with a toaster!"

Presumably the strike will be settled by Christmastime next year. So until then, here's a clip of Ms. Love's performance from last year.

A Childhood Remembered For $17.50

In 1999, when Adam was 5, he and I were shopping at Osco's, a Chicago drugstore chain, and we saw an album for collecting the state quarters, which were just starting to come out. He's always loved coins, so I purchased the album.

Over the years, we've enjoyed collecting the state quarters. It's interesting to see what the states choose to represent themselves. Indiana has the Indy 500 on their quarter. Florida chooses to focus on its prominent role in space exploration as home of Cape Canaveral. Both Ohio and North Carolina claim to be the birthplace of flight-- the Wright Brothers lived in Ohio and built their airplane there, but chose to test their airplane in North Carolina. And somehow, we're missing Vermont, which came out in 2001.

Tonight, on the way to our traditional Chinese buffet, I was telling Adam stories of funny things he said and did when he was little. It was funny-- he didn't remember most of them. Many of them took place when he was 3 or 4, around the time we got the quarter album.

Next year the last of the quarters will come out. The last will be Alaska and Hawaii, which became states in 1959, just two years before I was born. Collecting the quarters will have brought my son from being in Kindergarten to beginning high school. I think I spent five bucks for the album, and will spend, in the end, another $12.50 for the quarters. I consider it money well spent.

Anybody have a Vermont quarter?

The Hectic Friday Random Ten

This week has been crazy and work-filled, but lucrative. I've been playing financial catch-up lately, to make sure I can stay in school. I'm working a bunch this weekend, but I'm done Christmas shopping. With the authorities apprehending the guy who killed my friend and finally feeling like I'm on the verge of catching up financially, I'm breathing a sigh of relief. Here's my Friday Random Ten.

1. I Keep Forgetting- Michael McDonald
2. Cheap Sunglasses- ZZ Top
3. Keep Your Hands To Yourself- Georgia Satellites
4. Whole Lotta Love- Led Zeppelin
5. Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)- Bob Dylan
6. I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing- The New Christy Minstrels
7. Higher Ground- Red Hot Chili Peppers
8. Evolution Revolution- Indigenous
9. Claudette- Roy Orbison
10. Poison Arrow- ABC

1. Michael McDonald's first post-Doobies hit, from 1982.
2. I saw ZZ Top on the "Cheap Sunglasses" Tour, in 1980 at the Aragon Ballroom-- one of the top ten shows of my life.
3. This band was an offshoot of the great late seventies band The Brains, whose song "Money Changes Everything" was covered by Cyndi Lauper.
4. Rhino Records' first release was a kazoo cover of this song by the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra. I'm not making this up. Email me at if you want me to email the mp3 to you.
5. From Biograph, the great Dylan box set. Originally on the late seventies album Street Legal.
6. You ever have one of those mp3's that you have no idea how it got on your ipod? This is one of them. This is the song that was used in a Coke commercial in the late sixties.
7. Probably my favorite cover of a Stevie Wonder song.
8. Very cool group-- a family group of brothers and sisters, who are Native Americans. Their father was a musician who loved Santana and Hendrix and you can definitely hear the influence here.
9. Roy Orbison's song for his wife. I'm fond of the song because it also happens to be my mother's name.
10. I can finally stand to hear this song after 25 years. There was a guy on my dorm floor in 1982 who liked this album a lot. I mean a lot. Like "play the album all day real loud one Saturday" a lot.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lord Don't Slow Me Down

I should really hate the Gallagher Brothers from Oasis. They're the prototypical arrogant, petulant spoiled British rock stars, regularly comparing themselves to the Beatles. Somehow, then, it really bugs me that I like Oasis' new single, Lord, Don't Slow Me Down. But to paraphrase Group Captain Lionel Mandrake in Dr. Strangelove, "the trouble is they make such bloody good records."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No, Really, Who Is He Really Endorsing?

I keep hearing this really funny joke, that former Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate Joe Lieberman has endorsed John McCain for President. My son, my wife, friends, co-workers, even the media are in on pulling this joke on me. But I know that this is too surreal to be true.

Justice At Last

About a week and a half ago, I had another dream about my friend Mark, who was killed in an attempted robbery last year. He's the guy in the middle in the photo in this post. In this dream, I knew Mark was a ghost-- I touched his shoulder and my hand went right through it. Yet, I was able to talk to him. I was struck by one thing about him in this dream-- he was smiliing.

Yesterday, right before leaving for work, I got a group email from Mark's father telling me and the rest of his longtime friends that the police had finally arrested his killer and charged him. A small group of us had known this guy's identity and the fact that the police had quietly been trying to build a case against him. We had all been sworn to secrecy about it-- I couldn't even mention it on this blog. I had actually given up hope that they'd be able to get him, truthfully. One of the reasons I'd started this blog was trying to deal with the grief and anger I was feeling.

Here is the Chicago Tribune story about the arrest: news/local/ chi-pena_ 18dec18,1, 6897305.story

There is one error in the story. Mark was actually 42 when he was murdered; he'd have been 44 if he were still alive.

Two facts really disturb me. I'd assumed that the killer was young, but just how young he was-- he was only 19 when he "allegedly" killed my friend. The same age Mark was when he and I became friends in 1983. The other is the amount of money. Three dollars. We'd known the amount of money was small, but just how small is pathetic. Mark ran a web design company out of his home; he did not keep stacks of cash around. All of his money was in his home and his business.

Mark had been out that night-- he and some friends had gone to the Sheffield Garden Walk, where the English Beat, a band that was a favorite of ours in college, was performing. If he had had any money that night, he'd have spent it on drinks. Talking to the friends gave us a little solace-- his last night on earth was joyous. The Beat were able to get him, the whitest of white guys, to do something he rarely did-- dance. Knowing that except for his last moments, the night had been filled with music he loved, friends and spirits was good.

Last summer WNPR ran a piece sympathetic to the killer's accomplice, who was a teenager and a Sudanese immigrant. It was infuriating; at the time it was already known that the kid, whose family had been Mark's tenants, was an accomplice in the robbery and murder of my friend. He and his fellow gang members had, in fact, burglarized Mark's apartment while his family still lived in Mark's building.

When I received the email yesterday, after I was finished crying, I began calling people. We talked about how we'd been feeling-- how much anger we'd been carrying that the animal who'd killed Mark had also killed at least one other person and was still roaming the streets. I think that this will help us let go of some of the anger and focus on the grief.

In one of the weird coincidences that happens all the time in my life, Mark's business partner came into the restaurant I work at last night. She had no idea I worked there. I hadn't seen her since right after Mark died. She had already heard the news. We talked about it all, and she said something about how I should be celebrating tonight. Later, as I thought about it, I couldn't find anything to celebrate, really. My friend is still dead. A teenaged immigrant lost his way and is dead now. And the life of a guy whose life had not even really even begun yet is over. He'll spend the rest of his life in prison. No, I didn't feel like celebrating. I just wanted to be home. My shift finished and I went home, had a glass of wine and worked on setting up a Yen family member Christmas gift that had arrived in the mail yesterday. And then I went to bed, and had the best night's sleep I've had in a year and a half.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lighting A Fire And Passing The Torch

The Good Dr. Monkerstein had a post recently in which he remembered a teacher he had in high school who made life a lot better for him. It reminded me of a post I'd been planning on a teacher I remember.

Recently, I watched the 1999 movie Titus. The movie is based on the Shakespeare play Titus Andronicus. It reminded me of the great 1995 version of Shakespeare's Richard III that starred Sir Ian McKellen. McKellen's version was set in an imagined fascist 1930's England, while Titus, though set in Roman times, included deliberate anachronisms, such as motorcycles, modern clothes and such. Both movies remind me of how great and relevent Shakespeare's work is still. And both movies reminded me of who turned me on to Shakespeare-- Holly Haberle, my high school senior year English Literature teacher.

Mrs. Haberle was probably in her forties when she was my teacher. She was a tall, attractive, passionate redhead who could do the impossible-- get a bunch of bored or preoccupied suburban high school seniors to get excited about the Canturbury Tales, Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Since the class was one of the higher-track classes, nearly every class member was college-bound. Senior year, then, counted for little, because our ACT and SAT scores and junior year GPA's were already in to the colleges we had applied to. "Senioritis" it was called. Holly had her work cut out for her.

Yet, she did it. Nearly 30 years later, I can remember the discussions. We read and discussed Hamlet. Was he a brooding, dark prince-- or just a big weenie who couldn't take action? We discussed Macbeth's schemes and discussed if he would have murdered the king himself, of if his ambitious wife had driven him to it. We discussed the world depicted in Huxley's Brave New World in which there was no pain, no heartache, no want-- but also no passion, no curiousity, no love. I felt like I knew each of the characters in The Canterbury Tales personally. I became so interested in Percy Bysshe Shelley I sought out and read a biography of him.

Years later, I realized that I'd made a lifetime decision while in that class: to live life on a level of passion. It's gotten my metaphorical ass kicked in life here and there, but it's been overall worth it.

And looking back on 15 years of teaching, I think that part of it was to fulfill a debt to Holly Haberle, Bill Lally, Elmer Chessman, Barb Krog and a handful of other teachers who brought their passion for their academic subjects and for life to their classrooms and shared it with me.

A couple of months ago, I checked my account at and discovered that my favorite-ever student, Edward Gonzales, had signed my guestbook. I'll save him for "Students I Remember" post in the next few days. Let if suffice now to say that I discovered on that Edward, a sixth-grader who spoke English as a second language, and had severe learning disabilites when he was my student in 1992-1993, went on to attend and graduate from Columbia College here in Chicago-- he studied graphic design, and now works as a graphic designer. I'm glad that there were other teachers after me who must have encouraged him. I'm glad that I did my little part in it all. The fact that he remembers me fifteen years later says I must have done something right. I hope that there's a handful of others who I helped. Thanks Holly. I hope I've repaid my debt.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Random Ten

1. Summertime Thing- Chuck Prophet
2. Baby Let Me Follow You Down- The Band with Bob Dylan
3. Search and Destroy= Iggy Pop
4. Johnny Too Bad- UB40
5. Midnight Rider- The Allman Brothers Band
6. I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide- ZZ Top
7. You Won't Be Happy- The Beat
8. Shining Star- Earth Wind and Fire
9. It's In The Way That You Move It- Eric Clapton
10. South Australia- The Pogues

1. Chuck Prophet was in Green On Red, a great eighties band.
2. From "The Band's Last Waltz." I love how Robbie Robertson casually announces that they're being joined by "a very good friend of ours....Bob Dylan."
3. Look out honey, 'cause I'm using technology!
4. From Labor of Love, UB40's album of old reggae covers.
5. I love this haunting song.
6. They're bad. They're nationwide. They're that little ol' band from Texas.
7. A one-hit wonder. This Beat was from the United States, and the reason the other Beat had to call themselves the English Beat.
8. This is tied with September Song as my favorite Earth Wind and Fire song.
9. From The Color of Money.
10. Shane McGowan has rejoined the Pogues and they've been touring.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Occasional Forgotten Video-Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend"

This one is from 1992. Back in the day, WXRT's morning dj Lin Bremer used to introduce this one by saying "Whenever I'm having a rough day, I lean my face up against the speaker and turn this one up real loud."

I love this vid, with the animation cadged from some anime. The song itself is old school, proving that contrary to popular belief, the face-blistering guitar solo isn't dead. The album cover was pretty nice too, featuring a picture of a young Tuesday Weld.

In my wildest rock and roll fantasy, I'm playing drums on that cut. But since I have no idea how to play drums, I have to settle for air drums. Every single time I hear it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Does This Say About My Musical Taste?

Just a while ago, I finished taking an online quiz, completing the work for my Biology 121 class (I also took a final this morning). As I finished, I kept hearing what I thought was an ipod or radio playing. I looked around the house and realized what the sound was-- our neighbor Bob, who is doing some of the renovation work (he is not the one, by the way, who filled our home with gasoline exhaust fumes last week). He was sawing wood for the trellis he is building in the backyard.

I could have sworn it was the Ramones...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Great Moment At Wrigley Field Remembered By The Evil Dictator

The Chicago White Sox may have their Ozzie-- their manager Ozzie Guillen-- but the Cubs also have their Ozzy-- Ozzy Osbourne.

When Cubs announcer Harey Carey was still alive, he started a tradition of singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the Seventh Inning Stretch. When Carey died in 1998, the tradition was continued. The Cubs always have some celebrity guest to sing it.

Perhaps the most memorable one was Ozzy Osbourne. Yes, that Ozzy Osbourne, on August 17, 2003. Never mind that he's from England, a country where baseball is not played. Never mind that he didn't know the words. The Evil Dictator (the blogger also known as my son) has posted a Youtube clip of that infamous moment, which was obviously an important life event for him, to share with you all.

Friday, December 07, 2007

That's All There Is

A week ago, I was at Trader Joe's and saw one of those Gingerbread House kits for just $6.99. I had to get it. I knew my kids would love it.

I was glad I did. I found out that my stepdaughter had never made a Gingerbread house. Adam and I have made a couple in past holiday seasons. Mel pointed out that her best friend Alexandra, who is visiting us this evening, gets to make one every year with her dad. We definitely had to make one.

I put the house together. I didn't read the instructions to the kit fully when I bought it (I probably didn't have my reading glasses with me when I bought it and couldn't), and it turned out that I needed confectioner's sugar to make the frosting. Fortunately, I did have it in the pantry (for sprinkling on french toast when I make it for the kids), so no problem. And what was most exciting was that I was finally able to use my pastry bag that I bought at Edward Don restaurant supplies five years ago. Why did I buy a pastry bag? Because every kitchen should have one, that's why. Even if you don't make pastries.

The frosting is the mortar that you hold the house together with, plus the candies are held on with it. Ironically, much of my father's side of the family were bakers. As you can see, it's a good thing that I did not choose that profession.

The kids didn't care. I brought it out to the dining room and they went to town decorating it. I hadn't realized that there were some candies already in the kit; the kit I'd purchased a couple of years ago had the confectioner's sugar, but not the candy. This one had the candy but not the confectioner's sugar. No problem. The kids loaded it up with both the candy that came with the kit and the candies I'd allowed them to pick out. Adam selected Sourpatch Kids, Mel chose Gummi Bears and Alexandra wanted the movie staple Dots.

The kids had a ball, and I had a blast watching them having fun. Over the years, I've learned to take pictures and and videotape when I think of it-- the pictures and images are priceless. I switched for a while to videotape. While videotaping, I had a chuckle when I realized that the shuffle on my ipod had called up Cracker's dysfunctional Christmas classic Merry Christmas, Emily. It'll be forever in the background of the happy Gingerbread House videotape.

After they finished, I let the kids eat some of the Gingerbread House and they retired to the living room to play video games. I'm always amused because they love playing old video games on the old Nintendo 64 that Kim and Mel brought with them when they moved in here.

In the wonderful miniseries From The Earth To The Moon, there's an episode entitled "That's All There Is." The title is, of course, a reference to the Peggy Lee classic Is That All There Is? The episode focuses on the Apollo 12 mission, the second mission to the moon and specifically Astronaut Alan Bean, played by Kid In the Hall alumnus Dave Foley. Bean, who missed out on space missions for various reasons, ended up being chosen to be one of the tiny group of people, 12 so far in human history, to walk on the surface of the moon.

Reporters had asked Bean how he felt that he didn't get to be the first person on the moon. He replied that he didn't care that if he'd been first, tenth or thousandth-- that he got to attain his dream of being one of the people to achieve this remarkable thing.

In the course of preparing for, and then accomplishing the mission, the other two astronauts, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon become his lifelong best friends. Bean realized that as amazing a life experience as his trip to the moon was, it was the fact that he had two friends to share the experience with that truly made it an experience of a lifetime.

One morning, a few years ago, before I met and married Kim, I woke up in a cold sweat. I didn't remember the dream I'd had, but it must have had something to do with my son and growing older. I woke up thinking that I had no business bringing a child into the world when there was going to be a day someday when I wouldn't be around; he'd have to spend his last twenty-five or thirty years without me.

When I decided a few years ago to start dating again after my divorce, I'd made the decision that I'd only date people who were parents. My rationale was that only someone who was already a parent could understand that kids always come first. I can't speak for anyone else, but I definitely married someone who gets that. And I think that for both of us, devoting enough energy and time to parenting has become easier, and when there isn't energy or time for one of us, the other's there to step in.

But for the kids, there have been benefits beyond that. Both of our kids were "only children" before this. We were nervous how they would deal with it all, blending our families. To our great relief, they've done marvelously. I guess we shouldn't have had any doubt-- both of our kids are the kind that go out of their way to be nice to other people, even when it's not the easy thing to do. Still, they were used to being the center of attention in their respective families up until that point. Now they have to share it. They have to compromise. But like Al Bean, they've seen that even the best experience is even better when you have someone to share and remember it with. I feel a huge sense of relief that when I check out some day, hopefully many, many years from now, they'll still have someone around, someone they've shared life's experiences with.

The Breath of Fresh Air Friday Random Ten

Adventures in renovation continue here. Both the basement and backyard are being worked on. On Wednesday, Kim and I both ended up being sick-- nauseous, flushed faces, dizzy. It turns out that the genius contractors, who are replacing both our water main and sewer pipe in the basement, were running a gasoline-powered concrete saw within the basement. When I arrived home from work Wednesday, the carbon monoxide detector was going off. I opened every window and door in the house and shut the furnace off-- it was bringing the fumes up from the basement. I was left stunned by the stupidity of these guys and thankful that our kids were with our respective ex's on the days these meatheads were poisoning us.

This is Adam's first weekend here since his trip to China. I'm looking forward to seeing his pictures. We'll post some on this blog and on his.

1. She's Gone- Hall and Oates
2. You Burn Me Up And Down- We the People
3. Will To Love- Neil Young
4. Stray Cat Blues- Rolling Stones
5. Self Control- Raf
6. Terror Couple Kill Colonel- Bauhaus
7. Sister Moonshine- Supertramp
8. Homeward Bound- Simon and Garfunkle
9. I Loved and I Lost- Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions
10. Mr. Egyptian- Jon Wayne Texas Funeral

1. Remember how huge Hall and Oates were in the eighties? This song was from the seventies and one of my favorites.
2. From the fabulous Nuggets garage rock collection.
3. From American Stars and Bars, a little-known and IMHO underrated Neil Young album.
4. The Stones at their nastiest, on Beggar's Banquet.
5. This one popped up on my Random Ten a few weeks ago. Covered in the early eighties by Laura Brannigan, this is the darker, more atmospheric original.
6. My favorite Bauhaus song.
7. A sweet little ditty from Supertramp. Lots of seventies on today's Random Ten!
8. Does anyone else remember when, in one of the early seasons of Saturday Night Live, Charles Grodin sat with Paul Simon in an Art Garfunkel wig and sang along in falsetto with Paul-- until Art Garfunkel came out, confiscated the wig and joined Paul Simon?
9. From People Get Ready, the Curtis Mayfield box set that everyone should have.
10. From Jon Wayne Texas Funeral, the damned funniest record that came out in the eighties.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Didn't I Warn You?

I've warned my loyal readers recently-- whenever you hear of a Bush Administration screw-up, you must refrain from asking yourself "How can it get worse?" Because is can and always does. It's a talent these people have. Someone, though, was obviously not listening.

When US intelligence services revealed that despite the Bush Administration's best efforts to rationalize a war with Iran (because the war in Iraq just hasn't been disasterous enough), the Iranians ended their efforts to produce an atomic bomb in 2003. I just know someone said "Jeez, How could things get worse?"

The New York Times reported that for the first time since 1991, the rate of teenagers having children has risen rather than fallen.

I guess the federally-funded "abstinence-only" sex ed classes aren't working out so well, huh?

Occasional Forgotten Video- The Members' "Working Girl"

The Members, headed by Nicky Tesco, were stalwarts of the late seventies/early eighties punk scene in London. They had one pretty big hit, Working Girl. The video got airplay on MTV in 1982. Tesco works as a music journalist these days, but the Members had a reunion last year.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Why Bubs Is the First Blogger I Read Every Day...

This afternoon, while working on my presentation for my Biology class, I got a text message from Bubs, who, as those who faithfully read his blog know, was in Las Vegas today, running the Las Vegas Marathon in full gold lame Elvis regalia. He included this picture of, in his words, his "post race hillbilly breakfast." My god, that man is my hero.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Favorite View

A couple of weeks ago, I had to run downtown to the main branch of the Chicago Public Library, the Harold Washington Branch, to get a copy of a book for the project/presentation my lab partners in my Biology class and I were working on. While waiting for the Brown Line train at the Adams/Wabash station, I turned to see one of my favorite views of Chicago-- the view of the Art Institute from that particular train stop. I didn't have my Canon digital camera with me at that moment (though I do frequently carry it), but I did have my new cell phone, my first one with a camera. It's not high resolution, but it captured a nice moment in an otherwise hectic day quite nicely.

On Grief and Grieving

I always try to make sure to go with my stepdaughter to the library once a week or so-- I do whatever I can to encourage the love of books and reading that both of my children have. We have one of the best-equipped Chicago Public Library branches, the Sulzer Regional Library, a ten minute walk from our home. Being one of only two "regional" branches in Chicago, there are college library type resources there-- New York Times archives, lots of back issues of periodicals, an incredible collection of books in the stacks and a great kids section.

A couple of Saturdays ago, we went to the library so that I could help her find some additional resources on short term memory for her science fair project. While we were looking for another book, I spied On Grief and Grieving, the last book published by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the author of the classic On Death and Dying. I picked the book up out of interest, and with the knowledge that I was still grieving my friend Mark, who was murdered in an attempted robbery last year. As I thumbed through the book, I decided to check it out.

On Death and Dying focused on helping terminally ill patients and their loved ones deal with approaching death. Kübler-Ross identified stages that most people go through: denial, anger, negotiation, and sometimes acceptance. On Grief and Grieving, Dr. Kübler-Ross focused on the survivors. Particularly, how we handle it. I wish I'd picked the book up earlier.

I read the book on and off as I rode the train some days to work. I was stunned to discover that many people felt the way I did. Anger-- even at the person who died. I was furious at him for leaving, and, ridiculously, for not doing whatever it took to survive that night, whether it was guile, lying, bribing, accepting humilation-- though I knew that they probably had intended to kill him whatever he did in order to prevent him from identifying them. Negotiation-- I remember having this idea, wishing that each of us, each of his large group of friends could give up one year of their own lives to bring him back. Blaming yourself-- I remember blaming myself for not being there, though this was ridiculous. Blaming myself for not being at his house on a random night at 2 or 3 in the morning was ridiculous, but that's how I felt. Denial-- I had trouble for a year afterward thinking of him as dead. As I thumbed through the book, I was astonished to see Kübler-Ross' documentation of people feeling the exact way I felt through it all when they lost a loved one, particularly when they lost them suddenly, without time for transition and without the chance to go through the stages of loss.

About a week and a half ago, I had a dream in which I was gathered with the group of college friends that he was part of. It was one of the celebrations of his life that we'd decided last year to have every year around his birthday-- one set in the near-future. Later, thinking about the dream, I realized it was the first dream I'd had in which I'd accepted that he was dead.

Last night, I had a dream in which me and some of the same group of friends were out to see a band in a punk club. We'd decided that since music had always been so important in our lives, that we needed to get out and see new music. We were in a club on the north side of Chicago, a club that had been a German restaurant or pub some time ago (a lot of old buildings on the north side of Chicago were exactly this at one time). The band members were young-- teenagers-- and were playing toy musical instruments. We knew that they played some punk classics, plus their own material. As they prepared to play, they made some jokes that indicated that they were politically aware and I kidded them, asking if they went to Salvador Allende Junior High School.

As they began to play, and my friends-- Matt, Dan, Kauchek and others crowded the stage, I suddenly realized that my late friend Mark was standing to my right. At first I wondered if I was dreaming. I looked at the others, wondering if they saw him too-- it was, it was obvious to me, that it was a ghost. I called to him and tugged at his sleeve. He looked at me as I asked if it was him, and then went back to watching the band.

I awoke both startled and amused. Knowing Mark, if there is such a thing as ghosts, and he could come back as a ghost, I have no doubt that I'd see him at a music show. He loved music. The night he died, he'd been to a concert by the English Beat, a band that we'd all listened to and loved and danced to in college.

As I thought about the meaning of the dream, I realized that I'd finally had two dreams in which I'd accepted that he was dead and that he wasn't coming back. I was a little troubled, though, about the ghost dream. Then I realized what it meant.

The week Mark died, my father also almost died. I think that if my father had not survived the operation to remove the large tumor from his abdomen, or if his cancer had turned out to be ultimately untreatable, I think I would have handled it better than I was able to handle Mark's death. My father and I had made our peace long ago. And my father has had a long, productive life. Mark, on the other hand, was cut down way too young. And truthfully, he and I had hit a slow patch in our friendship, though I think that it would have passed. Mark and I had too many good times, too many good talks, and had, in the end, too much in common for the lull in the friendship to have lasted. But his death cut off the chance for that to happen.

I'm not a perfect person, as my wife, family and friends can tell you. But the better parts of me-- a love of knowledge, learning, history, asking questions, a love of music-- he was a big part of. When he and I met, when we were young-- he was 19, I was 21. We were a couple of wounded guys who'd grown up smart sensitive non-jocks in places where dumb mean jocks ruled. When we met, we formed our own little community, a community that was joined at our college by other people, and then more and more afterward as the years went on. If, in this time of political, economic and historical stupidity, I can keep faith in people, it's because I know that I could meet a guy as smart and gentle as Mark, who grew up in the corn and soybean fields of Central Illinois, can end up gentle, strong and smart, just the same as a guy like Ron did. Or a guy like Dan can grow up in the 'burbs of Chicago and still be intelligent and rebellious. Or that a guy like Larry can grow up on the south side of Chicago and be urbane, sensitive and intelligent. Or that I could end up meeting and becoming lifelong friends with them all.

What the ghost dream meant was that yes, I realize that Mark is dead and isn't coming back. But a lot of the best of me, he had a hand in helping me save in the face of a world not too friendly to those values. I was afraid that if I moved on, I'd be leaving him behind. That's not going to happen though. To enjoy music, like I was in my dream, and to laugh and create, to nurture my children and other loved ones, to read, think and question with the tools Mark helped me find and protect, keeps him alive. He's still by my side.