Saturday, March 31, 2007

Where the Hell Did the Time Go?

Thursday night, I was working my restaurant job and my son called me on my cell phone. He called to ask me to pick him up early when I picked him up the next day. I told him I would and I asked to borrow back my copy of Ramonesmania, the Ramones best-of cd I'd lent him. I needed to reload it onto my itunes.

I was able to get out of work a little early, and was consequently even earlier than I'd planned, which was good, because I had a surprise for him. Before we went to our traditional Chinese buffet, we stopped at Target so that I could get him a late birthday present, a new bicycle. Since there had been snow and ice on the ground on his birthday earlier this month, I thought I'd wait a couple of weeks and get it when he could actually use it.

He was pretty excited-- he hopped on the bike and rode it ahead of me to my truck, riding it around as I opened the back of my Blazer up.

We ran over to Devon and McCormack to the Hong Kong Buffet, his favorite. When we were done, we went over to the Border's on the other side of the mall so I could get him one more birthday present-- a book he'd wanted to buy with his birthday gift cards, but had deferred in order to get some books on architecture, his current big interest (along with aviation). The book was "Investing For Dummies."

As we awaited Letterman's show last night, he sat crunching numbers, after skimming the book, to see how much I need to put away in order to retire comfortably. As he laid out some of my options, pointing out that it would have been better to have started a retirement account when I was younger (tell me about it), he finished up with "That's all right, Dad. You'll be all right."

He's got his finances all figured out-- how much he's going to put away, what kind of account (a Roth IRA), and all that.

May I remind you that he's 13.

Since he was little, everybody's called him "The Little Man." He's the one who will corner someone at a party and discuss architecture, global warming, politics, airplanes, investment or the Chicago Cubs.

When I taught my step-daughter to ride a bike last spring, in the same alley behind our home I'd taught my son six or seven years ago, I commented to her that she was the fourth kid I'd taught to ride (five, if you include myself-- I'd had to teach myself on my childhood best friend Richie Gustek's bike). As she finally got up and rode her bike without help, I realized, with a little sadness, that she was going to be the last kid I taught to ride until I had grandchildren. I thought about that day as I listened to my son discuss his life plan for finances.

Tonight, Deadspot and his son Lex, who's also 13 and good friends with my son, are coming up from downstate to stay the night at the Yen household. Mrs. Yen will get to meet one of my oldest and best friends. We'll grill up some chow. The grown-ups will retire to the back porch for libations, and the boys will get lost in Playstation-Land. Later on, Deadspot and I will walk over to my current favorite tavern, Feed The Beast, a couple of blocks away, and have a couple of cocktails.

It's hard to believe that we met in college more than 20 years ago, a couple of screwballs hanging around, listening to punk rock music, putting out underground newspapers, hating Reagan.

We still listen to punk rock music. We don't put out underground newspapers, but we blog. We still hate Reagan, but Reagan's dead. We have a new idiot President to hate, a guy who, to our astonishment, is even worse than Reagan.

We've got teenaged children, and graying hair. His oldest will be starting college in a couple of years.

All I've got to say is they'd better have some Ramones playing at the bar, or they'll have a couple of cranky middle-aged punks on their hands.

Friday, March 30, 2007

On the Edge of Spring Break Random 10

It's Friday. It's payday. It's the last day before Spring Break. It's all good.

1. Isn't It a Pity- George Harrison
2. I Fought the Law- The Clash
3. Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You- Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons
4. I Love Livin' In the City- Fear
5. Who Knows Where the Time Goes- Fairport Convention
6. Come Girl- Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes
7. Up Around the Bend- Creedence Clearwater Revival
8. Let It Rock- Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
9. On a Night Like This- Bob Dylan
10. Air- Talking Heads

One More: Brilliant Mind- Furniture

1. My second-favorite George Harrison solo song, after "My Sweet Lord."
2. A great Clash cover of the Bobby Fuller 4 song.
3. I always think of the scene in "The Deer Hunter" when I hear this song.
4. From the "No Thanks!" collection of '70's punk.
5. Sandy Denny's achingly beautiful voice is the highlight of this gem. She sang on "Battle of Evermore" on Led Zeppelin's 4th album (the one with Stairway to Heaven).
6. Man, I wish Joe Strummer was still around lately.
7. I read somewhere that Creedence's records frequently outsold the Beatles' records.
8. From "Live Bullet," arguably the best live record (how's that for a contradiction in terms) ever.
9. Another one from the great "Biograph" box set. Originally on "Planet Waves."
10. From "Fear of Music," my favorite Talking Heads record.

One more-- I somehow missed this little pearl when it first came out-- heard it one day on the "New Wave" cable station.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Some Days It's The Little Things That Get You Through...

Every morning, I"m aggravated by the wait to turn left at Irving Park Road onto California Avenue. Sometimes there's 4 or 5 cars ahead of me, and it takes ten minutes just to get a half mile from my home. The city is installing left turn signals there. Bless their little hearts.

Tomorrow is my last day before Spring Break. Oo-Rah!

It almost makes me ready to forgive them for ruining my tree. They came by today and shredded the stump.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We Are the Champions...

One of my favorite (even more favorite now) bloggers Natalie (Almost Interesting Musings on Life), has bestowed me with an honor, the "Thinking Blogger Award." I'm quite flattered. My wife and I both read her blog and have commented on what a nice person she seems to be. She calls her posts at times "silly drivel," but they're always thoughtful, personal and very much her. I also really enjoy the recipes she puts up-- it gives me a lot of ideas for my own cooking!

Here's what she said:

"Here Comes Johnny Yen Again- Johnny Yen has mastered the art of hilarity in the face of rough conditions. He finds a way to relate the happenings of daily life to the broader human condition in a seamless way. His political posts are informative, entertaining, and never fail to make me chuckle. I always look forward to his posts."

As part of it, I'm supposed to choose my own five "thinking bloggers." That is tough. I don't know if I can hold it to five. I'd actually been thinking of a post about why I read some of the bloggers I read, so maybe I will do it that way. I think it'll run over five.

The first blog I usually turn to in the morning is Bubs' Sprawling Ramshackle Compound. Bubs, a pioneer in the field of Narcozoology-- in fact, as far as I know, the only serious scholar in the field-- has a wonderful mix of humor, political outrage and fun that makes me miss him the days he cannot post. He works a job that would harden most people, yet approaches life with zeal. He's a loving husband, doting father-- and still a punk rocker at heart.

I love his regular features-- among them are "Freak of the Week," tales of animal attacks, the drug-addled behavior of citizens, "Germany or Florida", and his newest one "The Future, The Way It Used to Be."

Blogger Vikki won Grant Miller's "Least Politically Influential" Award, (more on Grant Miller in a moment), which of course, was tongue in cheek. Vikki is my favorite political blogger. It's like being out at a bar with James Carville, Al Franken, Hunter S. Thompson and Molly Ivins. Her observations are as eloquent as they are caustic, and always spot-on. She also writes about life in LA, music and of course her beloved Spooney.

The aforementioned Grant Miller is another favorite. His political writing is as pithy, spot-on, and perhaps even more sarcastic than Vikki's (if that's possible). Like Bubs, Grant has regular features, all of which I look forward to: "The Best Things That Ever Happened to Me," "The Worst Things That Ever Happened to Me," a newer feature, "Lies People Have Told Me," and "Men My Mom Would Have Dated," along with assorted other posts, are unfailingly not funny, but hilarious, and frequently insightful.

Can't-miss blogger #4 is Erik over at Erik's Choice. Erik is as concise as I am verbose (yes, I realize it). He has a remarkable range of interests-- literature, music, politics, history-- and writes well about all of them. He, like me, seems to be committed to at least a post a day, so it gives me something to look forward to on the frequent bad days I have here at work.

I almost have to put Erik in as a companion blog to that of JR, of JR's Thumbprints. They are like ying and yang. Both are about my age (I'm 45), both are terrific writers, both live in the Detroit area-- but while Erik writes something fascinating every day about a different subject, JR writes something fascinating every day usually about the same subject-- his job as a prison high school teacher. Erik and JR share a clean writing style, wryness and intelligence, while covering very different subject matter. I really enjoy their blogs.

If I can get away with putting Erik and JR in as one entry, I can sneak in Blogger #5, Kristi, over at Two Minutes In the Box. She'd be high on my list just for the great double entendre in the title of her blog alone. Being a fellow hockey fan is a big plus, but her posts, which run from the very personal, to the political, and in between are consistenly interesting. I've enjoyed posts she has on her hobbies, on the environment, relationships, and memorably a marvelous and heartbreaking recent post.

She also happens to the sister of another of my favorite bloggers, Vikki

I'd have my wife on the list, but sorry, it states clearly in the rules "Employees and their families are ineligible."

If I could add five more, I'd add:

Deadspot-- Yeah, okay, he's one of my oldest and best friends, but he's a funny, smart and a great writer. I'm glad I talked him into blogging. And he makes a hell of a burger.

Dear Bastards...-- Another one who posts every day, bless his heart. A personal journal, with great insights on movies and media.

Land-o-Lulu-- A fellow teacher who I've actually known for years-- we wandered into one another on the blogsospher-- who is pithy, funny and passionate about the things that are important to her.

Bad Tempered Zombie-- I always enjoy Barbara's ruminations on life, children, music, work, and art.

Anonymous Blogger-- I enjoy reading the adventures of this single mom/child and pet medic/Macguyver as she builds her home in the desert and raises "Thing One, Thing Two and Thing Three," as she calls them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bill Maher, Saying It Way Better Than I Can

My old friend Eric just sent me a link to this Bill Maher clip. This is great.

"Bush has so many scandals, he could open a chain of 'Bush Scandal and Fuck-Up'-themed restaurants."

Oh, and have you heard the news: Bush's pimp Tony Snow has got cancer again. I'll be sure and send a card.

Whiz Tales, #3

Lucky you-- not one student showed up for my sixth period Physical Chemistry class. It's good to know that as much as they've failed in the school system, they still have the good sense to cut class on a gorgeous Chicago afternoon.

Okay, Warning: this is not a tale for the faint of heart. Don't worry-- nobody gets their eye put out-- but it's not for the queasy.

When I was a young guy, before I was a teacher, I worked for a while as a construction worker for a guy I knew through college friends. His name was Dan-- not to be confused, though, for the Dan in story #1. We'll call him by his old college nickname, Psycho.

Psycho owned a small construction business. He spent a lot of his day frantically running from place to place in his little Toyota van, from jobsite to jobsite, supervising, working and doing estimates for new business. I don't recall him eating much-- he seemed to be fueled by Marlboro Light cigarettes, and 7-11 Big Gulps of Mountain Dew.

Psycho was a really nice guy. He was also disorganized. Maybe the most disorganized person I've ever met, at least until I taught high school students. Since he was constantly rushing from late appointment to another, smoking his Marlboro Lights and chugging down Big Gulps, his Toyota Van usually looked as if a reconstruction project were going on in a 19 year old guy's dorm room.

One day, my friend Garrett and I were running with him to a job site, and for some reason Dan felt compelled to tell us the story of how he'd been stuck in traffic with a full bladder, and had used an empty Big Gulp cup to relieve himself.

I think you all see what is coming.

A few days after, he told us, he was racing to a job, in his usual haste, and of course grabbed the wrong cup and took a big chug, giving a new meaning to "big gulp."

From then on, whenever we were running into 7-11 to get something, we'd ask Psycho if he wanted anything-- maybe his special brand of cola.

Whiz Stories, #2

You know that Southwest Airlines commecial where the woman is having trouble with her contact lens, and ducks into the nearest public washroom, fixes her lens and discovers that she's in the men's room?

Last July, I went to visit my friend Andreas in Seattle, where he lives with his wife Lynn. It was not a good time in my life. I'd just been laid off from my teaching job and one of my closest friends had just died a few weeks before. I was, in a word, a wreck. On the flight out there, I had a few glasses of wine.

When I finally got off of the plane in Seattle, I went to the luggage carousel-- I had to go to the washroom, but wanted to get my luggage before I went. I waited for a while in vain; it turned out, as I was to find out, that my luggage had not made it on my plane, and was on the next plane from Chicago, an hour later. Finally, I could take it no more. I went in search of the washroom. I looked and looked, and finally saw the word "men" next to a door. I had not seen it before because of the idiot leaning against it, jawing away on his cell phone.

I ran into the washroom, and frantically searched for the urinals. There were none. What the hell kind of airport was this, with difficult-to-find men's rooms, and no urinals when you found them?

I ducked into a stall and took care of business.

When I left the stall, I turned to find a bevy of women, every one of them holding a little girl's hand, and wearing astonished, angry looks.

I quickly took my leave, and as I got out the door, rushing to get back into the crowded airport terminal before the angry mob of women called security. As I hurried off, I turned to look back and realized that the fucktard on the cell phone had been leaning against the "Wo" of the "Women" sign.

I'm going there again in a week. I promise to take the time to find the Men's room this time.

Whiz Stories, # 1

Back, 20 years ago this month, my old friend Dan and I decided to take a road trip to Toronto-- I'll be blogging a little more extensively on this trip, and our attempt to purloin a Canadian national treasure.

Being the young guys that we were, we spent a good deal of time in the taverns of Toronto, consuming Molson beer. The highlight of the trip came the last night when we saw a Black Sabbath cover band that had a singer that looked and sounded more like Ozzy Osbourne than Ozzy Osbourne himself.

We were, of course, concientious imbibers, and took Toronto public transportation every night to the taverns and back to our hotel in Etobicoke every night. One night, it was a particularly long walk to the trolley, and we realized that we had to, um, release some of the beer we'd drunken that night. It was then that we discovered a key difference between downtown Toronto and Chicago: we have alleys in Chicago.

We continued walking on toward the trolley station, increasingly desperate to find an alley to duck into and take a whiz. Suddenly, we spotted a little alcove in a building. We ducked in and took care of business.

As I finished up, I looked up at the sign on the building and started laughing. Dan looked up to see what I found so funny. He started laughing loudly too.

Our beer-generated streams of whiz were going onto the Women's Christian Temperance Union building.

I Have No Poop Stories. Okay, Maybe One, But Lots of Stories of #1

A number of bloggers-- bloggers I know and love, even, have felt compelled to tell "poop" stories lately.

For having raised a kid, I have no really good poop stories-- except, kinda, one.

When my family moved into the suburbs, we added a couple of pets to the family, now that we had a yard for them to run in. We'd had a cat and a small dog, Partly, a mutt who was partly black and partly white (my parents had gotten the name from a five-year-old neighbor. When we moved to the 'burbs, she got a companion, a female German Shepard we named Gretchen.

With the addition of a Shepard to the family, the #2 production in the backyard greatly increased. It was all my brothers and I could do to keep up with cleaning it up from the backyard.

And of course, my mother, smartass that she is, had to make sure to access our performance. Inevitably she told us that we had "done a crappy job."

She clearly missed her calling in comedy.

Okay, my whiz stories are much better. They shall follow today, depending on attendance in my later classes.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Johnny Yen vs. Axl Rose

Okay, I've been promising/threatening this-- the story about Axl Rose trying to pick a fight with me.

In 1988, the group Guns N' Roses broke out worldwide on the strength of their 1987 album "Appetite For Destruction." Their song "Welcome to the Jungle" appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie "The Dead Pool," which helped it along.

They toured the summer of 1988, opening for a newly clean and rejuvenated Aerosmith. They became huge.

They'd been part of a typical sex and drugs and rock and roll scene in L.A. As success-- and money-- hit, they apparently felt the need to get away from it all. In order to prepare for their next tour, they spent the summer of 1989 in Chicago. They rented out the Caberet Metro, a great rock venue-- a place I've seen Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Naked Raygun, the Dead Milkmen, Fetchin' Bones, Smashing Pumpkins (before they were big-- they sucked!) and a bunch of other groups. They would play and rehearse during the day-- and as we would find out, hang out at the Smart Bar, the bar downstairs.

The reason for this was that they wanted to get away from the drug scene in L.A. Anyone who hung there knew how damned funny that was-- the Smart Bar was a maelstrom of substance sales and use. I never had any interest in that-- I liked the music and some of the people (and that they were open until 4 am and near my home-- I was in full-blown slacker mode in those days) but everyone knew that this was the place for particular substances.

One night I was out with my friend Diana, one of my friends from college, and her boyfriend, and I met their friend Dana. Dana and I hit it off as friends immediately-- she was, like me, an unabashed liberal.

Conversation among us all turned to the rumor (at that point) that Guns N' Roses were hanging out there. I'd seen Slash floating around there one night, two monsterous bodyguards in tow, but none of the other guys.

Dana then told me to look over a few feet away. There was Axl Rose staring at me like a panther about to spring on its prey. I brushed it off at first. But every time I looked up, he was staring at me. Where I come from, that's usually an invitation to a fight.

He had two enormous goons right behind him. I mean, the only guys I'd ever met that were this big were the professional football players who did their summer training at Eastern Illinois University (the old St. Louis Cardinals, now the Arizona Cardinals) when I was in college. They-- and the alchohol he was consuming-- seemed to greatly increase his courage and ferocity.

I was having a great time drinking and talking to my friends. Axl stared for the better part of an hour. I ignored him.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he just had a crush on me.

ABC, Easy As 123...

This meme's been floating around. Since most of my sixth period class released themselves on their own recognicance, I thought I'd do it.

A- Available or Single – Happily married.

B- Best Friends - Andreas and Jim

C- Cake or Pie – I can't have either since finding I have Celiac Disease (a genetic allergy to wheat) but when I could, I loved pecan pie. My mother used to make me those instead of birthday cakes.

My wife had two cakes made for our wedding-- one a flourless chocolate cake, with strawberries for me, bless her heart, and another without strawberries for my son.

D – Drink of Choice - Ice tea, unsweetened, with lemons, during the day, red wine at night.

E- Essential Item – Pen. And a wine key.

F- Favourite Colour – Red.

G- Gummi Bears or Worms – Gummi worms-- especially the sour ones.

H- Hometown – Chicago, Illinois

I- Indulgence – Naps.

J- January or February - February. Lots of teacher holidays.

K- Kids - 2, a son and a step-daughter.

L- Life is incomplete without - Hot Sauce.

M- Marriage Date – December 30, 2005. We chose it because it was the birthday of Patti Smith, who we both love.

N- Number of Siblings? – 2 Brothers, 44 and 43 years old. I'm 45.

O- Oranges or Apples? - Apples. I like oranges as juice.

P- Phobias/Fears – Needles. How I spent two hours voluntarily getting stuck with a needle to get my tatoo is beyond me.

Q- Favourite Quote - "I've got a tv. You've got a tv. Let's face it, we've all got tvs. Big fucking deal." Iggy Pop, TV Eye

R- Reasons to smile - my kids

S- Season – A spring day in Oakland or Seattle

T- Tag 3 People – Kim, Bubs, Deadspot

U- Unknown Fact About Me – I don't really like Steve Spielberg's movies.

V- Vegetable You Hate – Rutabaga

W- Worst Habit – Clutter

X- X-rays You've Had – Left arm, right foot, teeth, right hand, ribs. I've had a lot of broken bones. I was a little wild when I was younger.

Y- Your Favourite Foods – Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese, Thai

Z- Zodiac – Taurus

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Housecleaning, Ghosts and Dreams

I got up this morning feeling pretty good. I had done my lesson plans for the week yesterday, so I didn't have my usual "Sunday and I Still Haven't Done My Stupid Lesson Plans" irritabliity.

On top of that, I'd picked up a shift last night at the restaurant. It was a busy night, and I ended up making quite a bit of dough. I felt better since what I made paid for most of what I spent on my ticket to go to Seattle during my spring break to go see my friend Andreas.

And I got to work with Phil, the person who got me into blogging, and who I always enjoy getting a chance to talk to.

I got up and made breakfast for my wife and my stepdaughter (my son is with his mother this weekend). I was supposed to meet up with my best friend Jim for brunch, but he ended up having to cancel. He had to go in to work today, a Sunday-- he does that fairly frequently since he got promoted into management where he works.

It was okay; I was pretty tired and sore from working last night, and it gave me a chance to have a leisurely breakfast, read the New York Times and catch up with my bloggers.

I ate a hearty breakfast, responded to some posts on my and other blogs, and knew that the day had come-- I needed to tackle some housecleaning.

Mao said that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Remember that line in Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" about how, since Alice and her husband Ray, who lived in an old church, had lots of room down in the church where the old pews used to be, so they figured they didn't have to take out the garbage for a long time? Well, my version of it is, if you have half a basement of a Chicago 2-flat, you don't have to make a decision on stuff-- whether to keep it or get rid of it-- for a long time.

It was time to start deciding today.

In a few weeks, my landlord is beginning a renovation of our kitchen and bathroom. We'll need to put a bunch of stuff downstairs. That means I need to get a bunch of stuff out of the downstairs.

I had moved a bunch of things when my wife Kim and her daughter moved in in the fall of 2005. Some was moved out-- to Goodwill and the garbage. But some of it just got moved downstairs. We bought ourselves some time by getting a storage unit, but the unit was eating into our budget. I moved more of my stuff-- out or around-- and we moved her things into the basement.

When I was a kid, we moved every 3 or 4 years. The reasons for the moves-- my father thinking that the next move would be the one that solved all of his problems-- is a whole other post. But every time we moved, I had to leave a lot behind-- mostly relationships-- friends. I think it's the reason I work so hard at maintaining friendships. But one of the consequences, I've come to realize, is that I hang on to things-- things that have sentimental value. And sometimes things that don't-- just something I think I might use someday.

Both of my kids are fascinated by ghosts. Both of them thought, at points, that there were ghosts in this old building (it's about 100 years old).

They were right-- there were ghosts. That's really why I had put off going through the stuff in the basement.

I quickly filled my truck up with stuff that is going to Goodwill tomorrow. Some of it was bathtub toys. My son has always loved water. I used to have to drag him out of the tub after a couple of hours. He had more bathtub toys than a lot of kids had toys. Since he no longer takes two hour baths, those were the first to go.

I realized today that since we were so poor when he was a baby, I had overcompensated. He had a lot of damned toys. I didn't throw money at him, but since he was such a nice child-- he was the kid everybody wanted their kid playing with-- despite the hellish times we had during my custody fight with his mother, that I had a tough time saying "no" when it came to getting things.

Loading up the boxes with old bath toys, I had a lot of smiles. And I realized that some other small child was going to have a good time with them, and some other parent-- probably one who was struggling financially like I'd been-- was going to have good memories of their kid playing with those toys.

As I plowed through the objects in the basement, one of the things, one of the objects that I realized that I was going to have to deal with was the old Epson scanner that I'd bought from my friend Mark back around the time my son was born.

Mark had been the person who'd gotten me to get on the internet. He got me jobs when I needed them. He helped me learn web design and how to use Photoshop and Quark; he'd given me lodging when I was finishing grad school, and when I'd had marital problems; and helped me get my 'zine out back in the '90's. He'd also just been a stand-up guy in my life. I don't think it's a secret to anyone who reads my blog, or anybody in my life, that his murder last June was devastating to me.

I'd bought the scanner from Mark for $500, in 1995-- believe it or not, a bargain back then. The thing weighs about twenty pounds and has an old SCSI connection. I've read that some graphic designers actually seek out the old scanners, which supposedly are better than the new ones. That may be the case. I put it on Craigslist as a freebie today. If someone wants to pick it up, it's free. If not, it'll go to Goodwill. I'm finally ready to let go of it.

Another ghost I came across was a box of photos of my ex-wife Cynthia and I that Cynthia had framed when we were married (1999-2003). I'd been meaning for ages to take the pictures out of the frames and put the pictures in the box of old photos I have. I dragged them upstairs and had them laying on the kitchen counter. My wife came home from her errands before I'd had a chance to finish that task. She commented on how pretty Cynthia was, and as I got around to pulling the pictures out of the frames, I realized that she was right. She was also a pretty damned nice, intelligent and funny person. I had been so wrapped up in all the other drama in my life, I hadn't had much of a chance to notice.

A few months back, I contacted her to update her about developments in Mark's case. She sent me pictures of her husband and her daughter, and I realized that I'd made the right decision to end the marriage, so that she could have the things she wanted in her life-- to own a house, to have a child of her own and have a husband who wasn't busy dealing with a bunch of crises outside of the marriage.

Cynthia and I had been friends before we were a couple and before we were married. When we divorced, I realized that we were not going to be friends afterward. I was giving up a lot.

I was ready to let go of that.

Tom Robbins, in his book "Still Life With Woodpecker," my favorite book, makes the point that objects have the magic that we give them.

When I had filled up my truck and had gotten a bunch of stuff together for the next load for Goodwill, I took advantage of the beautiful Chicago day to clean off the back porch-- and to give Elvis and his pedestal their Spring cleaning.

How Elvis came to be in my possession is for another blog post.

My last task for the day, before I retired to my back porch with a glass of red wine and my laptop was to put up the painting I'd bought my wife for Christmas. We'd had it sitting up away from possible cat damage in our bedroom. Another plus of where we were keeping it was that we'd come to love how it looked when the sun shone behind it. But it had to go up on the wall eventually, and this evening I grabbed my hammer and the hardware for hanging it, and put it up.

Looking at this picture of her and her painting, I was reminded of what a pretty, intelligent, nice and funny person she is. Good thing I married her, and good thing that this time I am able to notice those things in the person I'm married to.

I'd put off my housecleaning because I knew it was going to stir up some ghosts-- my friend who I've grieved so much for, a failed marriage, the teaching career I'm walking away from (I finally plowed through a bunch of old books and teaching aids) and the fact that my son is growing up. I'm glad I got the housecleaning-- the physical and metaphysical-- started today.

There are some other ghosts I'm actually looking for. I'm still trying to find my old friend Yomi Martin, a guy I worked with in the restaurant business who was one of the most talented, brightest and most driven people I've ever met. He and some friends published a comic book when they were all around 21 years old. I'm at my wit's end trying to track him down.

Thursday evening, another ghost appeared. My old friend and high school Chemistry lab partner, Lois Kaltenbach, came into the restaurant with her teenage daughters. I hadn't seen her in some time-- at least a year. We had a couple of good laughs. Her youngest daughter and my son are about the age we were-- 13 or 14-- when we met at McClure Junior High School in Western Springs back when the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon's presidency were ending.

Lois was one of the few people in Western Springs, a place I hated, to treat me decently. We were two fish out of water-- I was to find out later that we'd actually both grown up on the north side of Chicago before our parents moved us to that godawful suburb. And we'd both ended up moving back to the place we felt we belonged, the north side of Chicago. This is the place we chose to raise our children, not Western Springs, the affluent suburb we'd both hated.

It's weird how when seeing an old friend, you tend to see them as they were when you met them. Lois and I are looking around the corner at 50 these days. We're now at an age where if you haven't done the things in life you want to do, you've got to either do them, start making serious plans to do them or leave those dreams behind.

I've mentioned before a list I have about life goals. I got the idea from an article I read a couple of years ago in the New York Times. One of the goals I have is to spend more time playing guitar (despite the fact that I am a not-even-quite-mediocre guitarist). To that end, in addition to blogging when I went on my back porch tonight, I spent some time playing guitar. I finally looked up the chords for one of my old favorite songs, "Dreams," by the Allman Brothers Band.

It's a song about taking an ass-whipping in life, but going off to the mountain top-- a metaphorical or literal one-- and coming back determined to "get back in the race." It's a song that brought me comfort in the months after my friend's death. I was thrilled to finally play the song, one I'd loved since I was a teenager, finally.

After playing it, I had the urge to hear the song. I pulled it up on my itunes and listened to it while I blogged.

Of course, the Allman Brothers continued to speak to me. The next song was "Ain't Wasting Time No More," another old favorite.

It's almost a companion song to Dreams. It's about how it's okay to realize that you've run up some wrong roads, and that as long as your realize it, learn from your mistakes, embrace the good things that even a journey down a wrong road can bring you and start down the right roads, everything's okay.

I'll bet you guys never realized how smart the Allman Brothers Band was.

Ain't Wasting Time No More

Last Sunday morning
The sunshine felt like rain
Week before
They all seemed the same
With the help of God and true friends
I come to realize
I still had two strong legs
And even wings to fly
And oh I, ain't wastin time no more
'Cause time goes by like hurricanes
And faster things
Lord, lord Miss Sally
Why all your cryin'?
Been around here three long days
You're lookin' like you're dyin'
Just step yourself outside
And look up at the stars above
Go on downtown baby
Find somebody to love
Meanwhile I ain't wastin' time no more
'Cause time goes by like pouring rain
And much faster things
You don't need no gypsy to tell you why
You can't let one precious day slip by
Look inside yourself
And if you don't see what you want
Maybe sometimes then you don't
But leave your mind alone and just get high
Well by and by
Way after many years have gone
And all the war freaks die off
Leavin' us alone
We'll raise our children
In the peaceful way we can
It's up to you and me brother
To try and try again
Well, hear us now, we ain't wastin' time no more
'Cause time goes by like hurricanes
Runnin' after subway trains
Don't forget the pouring rain

This Is Your Fault, Kristi...

This morning, I got up and made french toast for my step-daughter and my wife. Since both my son and I are allergic to eggs, it was one of the rare occasions I used eggs in my cooking.

However, when took the eggs out, I was compelled to take them from the other side of the carton in order to keep the carton even.

Dammit, I'm blaming this on you, Kristi! (See February 13, 2007 post).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

This Is The End, Beautiful Friend

Last weekend, my son was telling me how much he likes living in our apartment. He likes having a backyard. He likes living near the park that he plays baseball at. He likes the wood floors.

When I moved into this place about 8 1/2 years ago, there were things I liked about it. I liked that it was a safe neighborhood that my son could play outside in-- this was not always the case at his mother's home. I liked the big kitchen, having a dishwasher, the back porch with a porch swing, a basement with a washer and dryer hook-up, and like my son, I liked the wooden floors-- I'd grown up, until my family moved to the suburbs, in Chicago apartments with beautiful hardwood floors.

And I liked the trees.

Ironically, when my family moved from the northwest side of Chicago to a cookie-cutter suburb when I was ten, I lost the trees. Chicago's streets had big, beautiful trees. In the late sixties and early seventies, we lost most of the elms to Dutch Elm Disease, but we still had maples, oaks and other trees. The suburb I lived in initially, Streamwood, had been a soybean farm before that. The trees were all glorified sticks at that point.

We later moved to Western Springs, which had big, old trees, but the people, with a few notable exceptions, sucked.

When I graduated college in 1985, I moved back to the north side of Chicago, with its trees and its apartments with hardwood floors.

A few weeks back I posted about everything in my life being broken-- my laptop, my car and even a water main in front of my home.

During a stretch of very cold weather, water mains broke all over the city. We (and our neighbors) called the city, who told us that this rash of breaks was a "mini-Katrina." Since we still had water-- some people had gone over a week without water-- our situation was not a priority.

The ice spread as the leak continued. It spread up to our doorstep, fortunately not spilling into the basement. It spread into the front yards and onto the sidewalks of the houses two doors to the east and west of us. It spread into the street, freezing several cars in. The ice was probably 6 or 7 inches thick in parts.

When my wife and stepdaughter fell down one morning, and my wife called our alderman, suddenly my wife had a direct line with the head of the city waterworks, who had some of the ice cleared, and salt poured onto the sidewalks.

Finally, the all the utility companies started coming by and marking off their lines-- a sure sign that the city was going to come by and dig.

Finally, they came by with a backhoe and repaired the water main. Unfortunately, in the process, they tore up the street....

...and our tree.

We feared the worst. A few mornings ago, our fears were realized. City workers came and cut down our tree, which the other idiots had killed while repairing our water main.

Everyone around here was upset. That tree had to be at least 60 or 70 years old.

My landlord is working with the city to choose a replacement. But it won't grow much in the five years before my son goes off to college.

At least he's still got the wooden floors and the backyard.

He's been looking forward to sitting around the firepit that my landlord bought last year.

In the spirit of making lemonade from lemons, we're now well-stocked with firewood. My landlord and I dragged it to the backyard before the city took it away.

I know we'll be creating some nice memories on the cool nights this spring, summer and fall that we sit around the firepit, but there'll be a tinge of sadness every time we burn part of that tree.

Friday, March 23, 2007


I just saw on the New York Times online that the House of Represenatives voted, 218-212, for a withdrawl from Iraq by September of next year.

This is more a symbolic thing than anything. To be enacted into law, the Senate would have to pass a similar law, then the House and Senate would hammer out a compromise that both Houses would then have to approve. Presumably, however, W. would veto it. A 2/3's majority would be required to override the veto-- an unlikely scenario.

Yet, Republicans had something to say about this all. They said the measure amounted to "micromanaging the war."

Damn, I hadn't seen it that way. I stand corrected.

And what's more, I'm going to apply their logic to other parts of my life.

  • Next time I am stopped by a police officer for speeding, or some other infraction, I am going to object to his ticket on the grounds that he is trying to micromanage traffic.

  • I'm going to start overdrawing my checking account, and when the bank charges me, I'm going to demand a refund of my overdraft charges on grounds that they are trying to micromanage my bank account.

  • I'm going to stop paying my bills; when the utility companies and my landlord object, I'm going to tell them they are trying to micromanage my finances.

  • I'm going to start coming in to work whenever I please. When my boss objects to this, I am going to tell him that he is trying to micromanage my job.

What are you going to do in your part of the Republican War on Micromanagement?

The Hard Part Was Dancing Around the Car Like Mick Jagger...

From the Singalong Random 10

1. True- Spandau Ballet
2. Monkey Man- The Rolling Stones
3. What's New Pussycat- Tom Jones
4. Tuesday's Gone- Lynard Skynard
5. Mother's Son- Curtis Mayfield
6. Keats' Song- Pete Shelley
7. If the Kids Are United- Sham 69
8. We Ought To Be Ashamed- Johnny Cash and Elvis Costello
9. Do Right Woman- Do Right Man- Aretha Franklin
10. She'd Rather Be With Me- The Turtles

Tom Jones has been showing up a lot in my Random 10's lately. I think Bubs somehow arranged this. I'll have to be sure to thank him.

And regarding #1-- what's with all the songs from The Wedding Singer lately?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wait a Minute-- I Know These Guys...

Back in the early nineties, my mother came across a trove of old school pictures of my two brothers and I. A handful of pictures I thought to be long-gone suddenly popped back into my life to spur memories. One of these was my Kindergarten picture.

For you curious bastards, I'm in the middle row, third from the right. I'm looking over to my right at Rebecca, up to that point the love of my life, at the lower left corner of the picture. I blogged about this a few months ago.

But this isn't about Rebecca. This is about Timmy and Kenny.

Remember that book that was published in the eighties, "Everything I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?" I loved that book, because it was true!

I learned about romance, friendship, loyalty, betrayal-- all of it-- in Kindergarten. I learned that I could be friends with someone who spoke not a word of English-- Sumo, the Korean kid to the left of me in the class picture-- and that Roger, to the right of the class picture (and who did speak English), was the most loyal best friend a guy could have.

And I learned that there is stupid evil, and evil evil. And to stay away from Timmy and Kenny.

Timmy and Kenny were inseparable. I remember them from the day I walked into Kindergarten. They stood out. They were, I realized later in life, stone white trash. If there'd been trailers in Lincoln Park, they'd have lived in them. If they could have drunk Schlitz, beat their wives, gotten tattoos and sat in a bar telling racist jokes, talking about burning a cross on someone's lawn, but lacking the energy and ambition to, they would have. But they had to content themselves to be the little sociopath thugs of Mrs. Stocking's 1966-67 Kindergarten.

Kenny, to the right, was as sharp as a bowling ball. Timmy was intelligent, but an evil little prick. You can see the meanness in his eyes, even in his Kindergarten picture.

Any teacher will tell you that "water seeks its own level" in a classroom-- the two ubernerds will find one another within two days; the two divas will find one another; the two little punk-rockers will find one another; and the two sociopaths will find one another. Timmy and Kenny found one another immediately.

Timmy was the brains of the outfit. He was the Himmler to Kenny's Hess-- an evil genius who got an evil moron to do his bidding.

I remember, it must have been like the third day of Kindergarten-- Timmy wanted a toy I was playing with. He got Kenny to come up and take it from me. I told Mrs. Stocking, and Kenny got in trouble.

Though it had been Kenny who actually took the toy, and had, consequently, gotten in trouble, I had seen the whole thing, the dynamic of it all, and realized I should avoid the two of them.

Through the whole year, Kenny got in trouble time and time again, doing Timmy's bidding. Often, that involved hurting someone and/or taking something from someone. And Kenny never mustered the candlepower to figure out what was happening.

The funny thing was that Timmy really wasn't really nearly as smart as he thought he was. I realized later that Mrs. Stocking, though she was only in her second year of teaching, had also figured out the dynamic of it all almost immediately. She had seen that the real problem was Timmy and kept an eagle eye on him (and, of course, Kenny) through the whole year. In the end, Timmy and Kenny got away with very little because she was on top of it.

Timmy and Kenny have been in the news lately.

Time and time again, W. has done Karl Rove's bidding. And time and time again, it's gotten him in trouble. He doesn't seem to have figured it out. He managed to get Karl to lay low for a while, but Rove still seems to be pulling the strings.

These people have been bullies. They've been manipulative. They've been sociopaths.

The dictionary defines a sociopath as such:

a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

In my estimation, Kenny has been President, and Timmy has been his chief advisor.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Stocking retired a few years ago, and has not been available to handle the situation.

But all is not lost. Senator Patrick Leahy, who's shown his willingness to take an asswhipping here and there for the cause, is now the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's issued subpoenas to Rove and five others. There's U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who so clean and decent and competent and focused on his job, actually meting out justice, whatever the politics of the situation, he's been considered a threat by this pack of sociopaths. And there's decent, long-suffering people like you and me, who've felt powerless. Until now.

This is going to be fun, kids. The White House is going to try to avoid the subpoenas. This will be straight out of Nixon and Watergate. What will he invoke? Executive Privilege? National Security? The War on Terror? Maybe I should have a contest here, and give some award-- perhaps a copy of the movie "All the President's Men" to the one who guesses right. Or maybe Hunter S. Thompson's book Generation of Swine.

When I was a kid, there was always a bully around. And eventually, some quiet kid would turn out to be the one not to be trifled with. The bully would mess with him, and in the end, get the living shit kicked out of him by this quiet guy, as his little little flunkeys walked away and the rest of the school stood around and cheered on the quiet guy.

Who'll be that quiet guy this time?

You've sat there through the last seven years watching these bastards-- stealing elections, lying their asses off, taking from the poor to give to the rich, and generally running this country into the ground. And now, the bullies are going to get theirs.

So, my friends, do not sit and piss and moan. To quote that noted philospher, "Bluto" Blutarski:
This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you're gonna let it be the worst! "Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble...Well, just kiss my ass from now on!"

Yes, it's been shitty for the last seven years, watching these guys get away with it all. But we are on the verge of seeing it all come down.

Tonight, my old friend Dan and I caught up with one another, making plans to meet at the Iggy and the Stooges show in a few weeks. We were talking about this whole sorry, and, to us, gleeful spectacle, and how we wish that two people were around to see it all: our late friend and roommate Mark, and the late, great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

We were talking about a conversation he and I had back in November of 2000, when W got elected. Dan was in despair. I told him that history has shown that people this sociopathic, people who believed that they had a right to abuse power, eventually fell prey to their own weaknesses-- that they surrounded themselves with people who told them what they want to hear, and that was their eventual downfall-- they played kill the messenger enough times that messages they needed to hear never got there. He recounted that conversation, and told me he realized that I had been right that day.

The same pack of assholes keep turning up time and time again-- Rumsfeld, Cheney-- some of these guys go back to the Nixon White House.

They keep repackaging crap and selling it as snake oil. A good portion of middle America keeps buying. But this time they seem to be spitting it out.

These bastards depend on people like us to keep rolling over and playing dead-- on us thinking that politics will do nothing. And if we keep that attitude, yes, politics will do nothing. We can stand outside the fray, not getting our hands dirty-- we're too busy wringing them-- and letting it all happen again.

Mrs. Stocking's not around to take care of Timmy and Kenny. It's up to us, and maybe the Leahys and Fitzgeralds of our great nation. The schoolyard bullies are down. Let's gather round and cheer.

Nobody would blame us if we we enjoyed it.