Friday, February 29, 2008

Oh, That Explains It...

I'll bet all you out there in the blogosphere have been wondering how this administration has been able to afford both tax cuts for the rich and to fund a massively expensive unecessary war. These two recent articles from the New York Times:

Governors Oppose New Medicaid Rules

Sheriffs Protest Fed Drug - War Fund Cuts

(To read the articles, you have to register with the New York Times. It's free.)

So they're cutting funds for Medicaid and for local law enforcement officers to deal with the growing problem of meth. And to make matters worse, we're losing the war in Afghanistan because the resources to fight people who actually helped the terrorists who killed thousands of Americans are tied up in Iraq, a country that didn't do anything to us.

This last weekend, there was heartbreaking article in the New York Times Magazine about the struggle of an American Army unit in Afghanistan, Battle Company Is Out There.

Good god, I hate this administration..

Exhausted Friday Random Ten

This would have been a busy week to begin with-- we're getting ready for midterms at school. But add to that picking up an extra shift at Jury's Tueday and Kim's car troubles and things got even busier.

Kim is going to trade in her '99 Jetta Lemon for something that doesn't require repairs every couple of months. We're celebrating Adam's 14th birthday, which is actually next Saturday. I've got on online Biology quiz to take, which means reading three chapters. I've also got to write a paper. And of course I'm working two shifts this weekend. I foresee lots of caffeine in my weekend.

1. Lost In the Flood- Bruce Springsteen
2. Sugar Mountain- Buffalo Springfield
3. Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts VI-IX- Pink Floyd
4. Free Man In Paris- Joni Mitchell
5. My Back Pages- The Byrds
6. Plaster Caster- Kiss
7. Centerfold- J. Geils Band
8. Harden My Heart- Quarterflash
9. Kiss and Say Goodbye- The Manhattans
10. Little Wild One- Marshall Crenshaw

1. A great song from Bruce Springsteen's first album about a robbery gone awry.
2. Neil Young wrote and sang this song about getting older.
3. The last song on Wish You Were Here.
4. Joni Mitchell's song about her friend music mogul David Geffen.
5. The Byrds' cover of a Bob Dylan song that has one of my favorite-ever lines in a song: "I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now."
6. Kiss' tribute to the Plastercasters of Chicago, who, ironically, never "did" any of the members of Kiss.
7. In Dave Marsh' Rock Book of Lists, published in 1981, J. Geils Band was listed as one of the greatest bands never to have a number 1 hit. Of course, they later had one that year with "Centerfold." And then they broke up.
8. Okay, it's a big hunk of eighties cheese-- but I like it.
9. I love this little seventies R and B gem. As I listened to it today, I realized that it's almost the same song as Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones," but with a different ending.
10. One of the great underappreciated artists of our time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wild, Wild Life

Yesterday morning, I parked my car on Montrose Avenue and Racine as I always do and walked down Racine Avenue to class at Truman College. About halfway down the block, I saw a large bird out of the corner of my eye landing on a railing. By the large size, I assumed it was a crow, which are plentiful around here. As I turned to look closer, I realized that it was not a crow, but some kind of hawk. For once, I didn't have my camera with me, but I remembered, for a change, that my phone has a camera in it. I fished it out of my pocket, and as I was trying to get the zoom adjusted, the hawk flew away. I was struck by how big the hawk was; the wingspan had to be about five feet.

As luck would have it, I happened to be on my way to my Biology class, so I told Roberto, one of my classmates what the bird looked like. He told me that I was describing a Red-tail Hawk, but that it was unlikely I'd seen one; they rarely go into cities. Still, there are two large cemetaries with lots of trees just a few yards from where I saw the bird, and Illinois is well within the area the hawks range, so I thought it might have been possible.

I got called in to work last night for someone who was sick, and I told my boss Dan about what I'd seen. He told me that one of his neighbors who is an avid birdwatcher told him that a Red-tail Hawk took residence in the area about six months ago.

Back last fall, I spotted a coyote sitting in Lincoln Park as Kim and I drove down Lake Shore Drive. I spotted another one in the city a couple of weeks ago, after I picked up Adam at my ex's house. I was driving down Lawrence Avenue, between Cicero and Pulaski, when I saw a coyote ambling across a railroad bridge that spanned Lawrence Avenue.

I haven't seen a deer in the city in a while-- years ago, I saw one crossing a railroad bridge on Foster Avenue, near a forest preserve-- but deer are regularly spotted in the city, sometimes taking up residence on people's lawns. We used to have a bit fat possum that used to waddle down our block, and racoons and skunks are occasionally spotted-- we live about a block from the north branch of the Chicago River.

I've been intrigued by Alan Weisman's best-selling book After We Are Gone, a book about an imaginary abrupt departure of human beings from the earth. Weisman pictures a world in which our infrastructure quickly falls to entropy without our maintenance, and plants and animals quickly retake the land we clawed away from them. Lately, it seems like the animals are coming in ahead of our departure. Maybe they know something we don't.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Neighborhood's On The News And I'm On Sirius Radio

I got home from the library a little while ago with my stepdaughter, and discovered there were three news helicopters flying over my neighborhood. I got her into the house and walked around the corner to discover a half dozen fire trucks around the corner from my home, but no fire.

I walked back home, turned the news on and discovered what the hullabaloo was about; some workers in a building being renovated, put some kind of stripping chemical on a floor without venilating and were overcome by fumes. They're okay. When they showed the helicopter shot of our neighborhood, I called my stepdaughter in to see it. She commented that it looks different from above.

Must have been a slow news day.

Last night, on the way home from work, I was playing Little Steven's Underground Garage. The deejay, Handsome Dick Manitoba, played "Bend Me, Shape Me," 1970 hit by the American Breed, who hailed from Cicero, Illinois, where I was a teacher from 2002-2006. He mentioned that he thought Cicero had something to do with Al Capone, and asked for someone to email him if they knew any details. I did, and when I got home, I emailed him a short history of Al's stay in Cicero after he was run out of Chicago. The school I taught at was a block from where Capone's headquarters, the Hawthorne Hotel, once stood. Manitoba emailed me back, thanking me for the information and saying that he was going to talk about it on the air the next night (tonight). If you happen to be listening to Sirius Radio Channel 25 tonight, I may get a shoutout. You can listen to it online as a visitor for a few hours at

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dreams and Creativity

Last Wednesday, Sarah, a woman I work with, told me that she and her husband Matt were closing their cheese shop, "The Cheese Stands Alone," in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood.

It made sense for a lot of reasons for she and Matt to close the place, but it still made me-- and my kids-- sad. It was unique, interesting and the result of someone's dream, vision and sweat.

I currently work for two small businesses, and have worked for a number of them over the years. They've varied in success and other regards, but one of the things they all shared was that they were someone's vision and passion.

I'm fortunate to be and have been surrounded by a number of small businesses. A couple of blocks from my home is the home and studios of Delmark Records, the oldest independent record label in the United States. My last post was about my friend Joe Judd, who owns Myopic Books. My friend Mark came back from a 1990 trip to Europe to form his own graphic design company, The Art Mafia, and later formed Automedia, Inc., one of the first web design companies in Chicago. At the end of my block, a family is opening a Thai restaurant. My barber, who is from Serbia, owns her own place. The list is long.

Mark once made the comment that one of the reasons he opened his own business was because he wanted to be his own boss. He ruefully said that ironically, when you own your own business, you have dozens of bosses-- your clients. Still, people keep opening their own businesses.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working at the Evanston restaurant with my friend Christine. Some of you may remember how bloggers Lulu and TenS had sent me there when they found I needed another job. An old friend of theirs is a co-owner. The day I walked in to apply for the job, to my surprise, my friend Christine, whom I'd lost touch with, was working there.

I had become friends with Christine a few years back when I'd picked up an arts/politics magazine in a bookstore and had been impressed with it. I had published my own 'zine, and thought, rightfully, that I'd like to be friends with someone who would be creative and motivated enough to publish a magazine like that and tracked her down.

That day at work, Christine and I were sipping coffee, chatting, when she confided to me that she was having big doubts about her life. She felt like she should be doing more, she said. I was astonished at the statement and told her that I felt completely opposite; that she was one of the most creative, self-actualized people I've ever known. I think she appreciated hearing that.

In addition to publishing the magazine for a while, she writes poetry and short stories. She is also an excellent musician, writing and performing her own music. She's also a talented artist. I pointed all of these things out to her, and told her my belief that she and people like her brought beauty, grace and creativity into the world and made it worth inhabiting. As someone who has little to no skill in the arts or music, I appreciate people like her who bring those things to us.

For every Picasso, whose name will always be famous, there are thousands of other artists who labor in obscurity and often poverty. For every Joyce Carole Oates, there are a legion of other writers whose excellence goes unnoticed. For every Miles Davis, recognized and lionized for his accomplishments, there's an army of musicians who play for the love of the art form and never get to quit their day jobs.

I am in awe of these people, along with the people who have the faith, audacity and courage to open their little restaurants, boutiques, businesses and shops. The restaurant business, which has allowed me, and continues to allow me to feed my kids and pursue my own little dreams, has a staggering 98% failure rate. Yet people continue to open them.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I brought my kids to Sarah and Matt's store. I knew that they were thinking of closing the place, and wanted Adam and Mel to have one more memory of going there. They both love cheese, and it was fun to watch them as they excitedly tried the different cheeses and chose which ones they wanted me to buy them.

Truth be told, they are models of creativity themselves. A few years back, I told Adam about my old friend Dana's theory about the "Million Dollar Idea--" that every person, somewhere in their brain, has an idea that would make them rich, and that they just have to discover that idea. Adam's come up with some ideas, including a pillow with a speaker for playing your Ipod through. About a year later, he saw this product in a store, much to his chagrin. I'm certain that he'll come up with another idea. My stepdaughter started a company making coasters (the kind that you set your drink on) with a couple of her friends. She also wrote me a wonderful song as a Valentine's Day present.

As I'm easing into middle age, I think a lot about the future, the future that my kids and their kids will eventually inhabit. As a society, we've got a lot of problems to solve. Political problems. Economic problems. Cultural, religious, educational, energy, technology and a hundred other types of problems. We've got a boatload of problems to solve before we reach a sustainable future.

But I have faith that we've got that creativity and the energy to solve those problems. From a latino immigrant with his lunch truck and a dream, to Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes, to some software wonk writing code that allows a spaceship to explore planets, and everything in between, people with a handful of dreams and a pocketful of creativity make this world a place worth living and, I'm convinced, will someday not only come up with the solutions to our problems, but make this place an interesting and enriching place to live. Sarah and Matt may not have come up with the cure to AIDS or a solution to our energy problems, but they did contribute to making this a rich, interesting and wonderful world. Thanks guys.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Got Time For Friends?

One night, in early September of 2001, I got into a huge fight with my now-ex-wife Cynthia. I left the house that night and slept in my car. After that, for the next few days I stayed at my friend Mark's home, in a spare apartment he had next to his studio in the attic of the building he owned. I was one of a number of his friends with marital troubles who availed themselves over the years of this space, which he had dubbed "Mark's Home For Wayward Boys."

I've alluded in earlier posts to the reasons that marriage went down in flames. Cynthia is six years younger than I, and wanted kids and a house-- not unreasonable things for a woman in her early thirties to desire. My finances were in ruins over a custody fight with my ex-girlfriend a few years before over my son, and buying a house or having more kids was out of the question.

As i sat in my friend's home, pondering over what was going on in my life, I picked up a couple of magazines from one of the many stacks of magazines Mark had in his attic. One that jumped out at me was the most recent issue of the Utne Reader, pictured at the top of this post. The article that grabbed me was about the importance of friends in our lives.

In reading the article, I realized that I'd been neglecting friendships in trying to make my failing marriage work. After a couple of long phone conversations with Cynthia, in which we decided to try marriage counseling, I went home. I took the issue of the Utne Reader with me. I didn't think Mark would miss it among the enormous stacks of magazines in the attic.

I thought back to 1987, when I'd renewed my friendship with my friend Andreas. He and I had become great, great friends toward the end of college, in 1985. By 1987, we'd lost touch. Fortunately, during a trip to see some college friends that year, he also happened to have visited that weekend (his parents lived in the town), and we ran into one another in the Uptowner/Cellar, the bar we'd hung out at in college. In the course of the evening, I discovered that he'd survived cancer in the time we'd lost touch. I was stunned and a little angry at myself. I could have lost him, and would never had known what happened. I vowed never to let something like that happen again-- to make sure to work at and maintain my friendships.

Right after I got out of college, in 1985, I'd become friends with a guy named Joe Judd. He, like Andreas, Mark and I, had gone to Eastern Illinois University in the early and mid eighties. He'd hung with the same crowd I had. We knew, we discovered, all of the same people there. Yet, somehow, we'd never met in college. When we did meet, though, after college, we immediately hit it off. We'd end up with groups of college friends going out, or just run into one another all the time.

In the early nineties, I was in Myopic Books, a bookstore in the Earwax cafe in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, when I saw Joe behind the counter. I stopped to talk to him, assuming he worked there. Not only did he work there, he owned the place.

Over the next few years, Joe moved the store. He always maintained a little cafe in his stores. When Adam was little, we'd go to Myopic and hang out. Not surprisingly, Adam loves books to this day.

Over the years, I saw less of Joe. I started working two jobs, so I didn't get to his store often, though it was down the street from Adam's school for a while. When I did get to the store, Joe wasn't there.

When my friend Mark was murdered in June of 2006, we helped his family clear his home out. In addition to the huge trove of magazines and newspapers were thousands of books. It occurred to us that Joe might take some of the books, or at least give us an idea of where we could sell them, where we could use the money for a reward fund and a scholarship fund.

Joe remained mysteriously elusive. He'd was spending most of his time, we'd heard, on a farm in Arkansas.

We talked to Cat, the manager of Myopic Books, which had since moved back into its original location in Earwax. She told us that Joe had okayed us to bring in a lot of the books.

On Saturday morning, I was cleaning out the wicker basket in our dining room that I keep newspapers and magazines that I haven't had a chance to read in. I came to a Chicago Reader from last month that I hadn't had a chance to read. I looked at the cover to decide if I wanted to read the cover story. As I read the headline, I realized I most certainly did want to read it; it was about my friend Joe Judd.

Over lunch, I read the story; it explained why Joe was incommunicado for so long. It turned out that around the time my marriage to Cynthia was unraveling, Joe had been diagnosed with a disease called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a congenital disease that affected the veins in one of his legs. The doctors initially told him that he was probably going to lose the leg.

After a couple of years of grueling treatment-- lots of operations-- Joe left the hospital, leg intact. In deciding how he was going to spend the rest of his life, Joe decided that he wanted to live on a farm. In 2003, he bought a farm in Arkansas. He's found happiness-- and love-- down there. Reading the article, I was very, very happy for my friend. He only comes up to Chicago a couple of times a year, so I may or may not run into him again, but it made my heart happy to know that he's doing well.

I thought of my chance meeting with Andreas that weekend in 1987. I thought of last year, when I read about my policeman friend Hector Alfaro in the newspaper. I thought about how, when I started this blog, the fourth or fifth person to post on it was Lulu, a friend I'd long lost touch with.

I also thought about my friend Yomi Martin, who I'm still looking for. In the end, I seem always to connect back with, or at least hear about, old friends. I'm hoping my luck in that vein holds out with him.

In the meantime, I still have the issue of the Utne Reader that set me on the path of making sure that I maintain and nurture my friendships. Once in a while, I take it out and re-read the article on friendships, just to remind myself of the value and importance of friendships.

One day, last year, I happened to set the magazine out to reread the article. Kim was walking by, when she stopped, picked the magazine up, looked at amazement at the cover and asked me why I happened to have this old issue of the Utne Reader. I told her about what had happened, and how I kept the issue for the great article on friendship, and as a little talisman of my friendship with my late friend Mark. Why did she want to know, I asked?

The guy on the cover, she told me, was her good friend Keith Anderson, from her hometown, Minneapolis, where the Utne Reader is published.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Random Ten

One of my professors mentioned yesterday that midterms are approaching, in two weeks. This semester is flying by!

My main concern this week was my mother; she had a hip replacement surgery yesterday. I got a call from my father yesterday evening to tell me that everything went perfectly. She'll be in the hospital a few more days, where she'll start rehab.

1. Married Man Blues- 10CC
2. Motherless Child- The Blind Boys of Alabama
3. Can't Say Nothin'- Curtis Mayfield
4. Me and Bobby McGee- Janis Joplin
5. Almost Saturday Night- Dave Edmunds
6. Johnny And Mary- Robert Palmer
7. Hitch Hike- Marvin Gaye
8. The Bitterest Pill- The Jam
9. Penthouse and Pavement- Heaven 17
10. Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Grows)- The Edison Lighthouse

1. From 10CC's Deceptive Bends, one of my favorite albums of the seventes.
2. I always think of Richie Havens' great rendition of this at Woodstock whenever I hear someone's version of this. I heard it on the album, by the way. I was only eight when Woodstock took place. My parents wouldn't let me go.
3. From People Get Ready, the fantabulous Curtis Mayfield box set.
4. Janis Joplin continuing the great rock and roll tradition of having your greatest hit after you die (e.g.: Otis Redding's Dock of the Bay, ) Janis played the acoustic guitar that's at the beginning of the song.
5. Dave Edmunds covering John Fogerty.
6. From Robert Palmer's mercifully short New Wave phase.
7. My copy of Marvin Gaye's Super Hits was one of the most-borrowed records in my collection when I was in college.
8. Paul Weller and the boys at their finest.
9. This group got their name from a ficticious music group in Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange. My favorite song of theirs was Let Me Go.
10. Everybody loves this bit of pop tripe. Try not singing along. I dare you. Here-- I'll throw the 45 on the turntable.

Go ahead-- dance around your cubicle a little bit.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mystery Solved

Yesterday morning, I looked at my sitemeter and discovered that by late morning, I already had more hits on my blog than I normally get in a day. I wondered what was going on. I looked on Sitemeter and discovered that all the hits were coming from, a Green Day fan site. The Foxboro Hot Tubs are a side project by a couple of Green Day members. They recorded the song "Ruby Room," about a great punk bar in East Oakland that I've been known to frequent with my good friend Viktor Zeitgeist.

They had a link to a post about me and my friend Viktor Zeitgeist almost getting thrown out of the Ruby Room. Apparently they liked my description of the Ruby Room as "a great establishment, full of punk rockers, bikers and other assorted riff-raff."

We include ourselves, of course, in the "riff-raff" category.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Strategies For Teaching At-Risk Kids

I started this post in April of 2007, when I was still a teacher. As always happens, a weird coincidence happened in my life. I decided to put off posting it for reasons that will be obvious. And I decided to finally post it for reasons that will be obvious.

April, 2007
Last Friday, I was at the Sheraton Hotel in Hyde Park in Chicago for a teacher conference. The conference theme was "Strategies For Teaching At-Risk Kids."

Something that happened at the conference reminded me of an incident that happened a few years ago. I was going to post about it Monday or Tuesday, but decided to postpone it a few days for reasons that will be obvious.

The high school that I work at is a charter school that takes in kids that have dropped out or have been kicked out of other schools. Many have been incarcerated. Other school groups at the conference were from schools that take only previously-incarcerated kids.

The neighborhoods they come from are awash in guns. I would guess that nearly every one of them has a gun in their home. It really should have come as little surprise that at the seminar, when we broke up into groups, and were handed papers with "situations" for us to analyze and talk about how we would handle them, that ours was:

"Students in your class have been acting nervous and agitated all day. A student gives you a note that a specific student has a gun. How do you handle it?"

It turned out that I was, inadvertently, the "ringer" in the group. That exact situation had touched my life.

At 2:50 P.M. on February 10, 2004, I dimissed my 6th grade class. It was my second year teaching in Cicero, Illinois, a predominantly latino, blue collar suburb. I loved my kids and loved my job. I even had a couple of very able administrators I was working for (that would change the next year).

Gang violence was and is still increasing in Cicero. One time that year, we'd had to bring all the kids who were there in afterschool programs into the hallways, away from the windows, when there was a gang conflict at a home across the street from the school. Another time, we'd had to delay dismissal for a similar situation.

That day, however, the problem was not at the school I worked at. It was at my son's school, Pritzker Elementary, in Chicago.

A few minutes after I dismissed, my cell phone buzzed. It was my son's mother. She knew what time I dismissed, and if she was calling immediately afterward, I knew it was somthing important.

She said "I don't don't know if you've heard the news...."

My stomach knotted up.

"...and just to let you know, he's okay, but..."

My heart began to pound.

"...a kid brought a gun to his school today."

Did I just hear that, I thought to myself?

"A gun?"

"Yes. But he's okay. He was on a field trip, so he was out of the school when they found it. It was a fourth grader, in the other (fourth grade) class."

I began to realize that I was getting dizzy. I sat down.

She told me what she knew, and I thanked her for calling me right away. She put him on the phone, and he and I talked for a few minutes.

After I hung up, I just sat and tried to catch my breath.

My initial thought was to be thankful that she'd called right away-- that things were now relatively friendly between she and I-- they hadn't always been.

In October of 1998, sewer workers struck a high-pressure trunk natural gas line a few hundred feet from my son's pre-school at North and Clyborn and triggered an explosion that sent flames shooting over 100 feet into the air. I found out about it on the news when I got home from work. I recognized where it was immediately, and called my ex, who responded with irritation that he was fine. She begrudgingly put him on the phone, and he excitedly recounted the "BIG FIRE and they took us out of the school and put us on a CTA bus and we got SUBWAY SANDWICHES!"

A few months later, I saw the above photo taken by John H. White, a Sun-Times photographer, of people running from the fire, and was aghast. White won a Pullitzer Prize for the photo. I realized, from the picture, that he had to have been standing with his back to my son's preschool, at the New City YMCA. He definitely would have been able to feel the heat of the fire. It was chilling. It could have been an horrific situation. Workers for the gas company were later praised for quickly shutting down the pipeline before the highrise, full of elderly people (it was public housing for the elderly) that was just a few feet from it burned down. Or my son's preschool.

When that had happened, things were difficult between Adam's mother and I. She was frequently deliberately combative. We had just settled an ugly custody fight.

By February of 2004, things were calmer, even friendly. She'd come to appreciate that I'd stuck around to take care of my child. That was not the case for some of the people around her.

That year, she and I had been working together a lot on another situation-- my son's awful 4th Grade teacher. My son had recieved a bad first-quarter report card, after years of great grades. At first, we blamed him. His teacher told us he hadn't turned a bunch of work in.

Soon, though, we discovered that he had turned the work in-- she was handing that very same work back to us, graded by students, but had never entered the completed, graded assignments into her grade book. In fact, she'd had a pattern of this for years, along with a history of general disorganization and picking on kids. That's a post for another time.

The point was that we were working together to document this teacher's failings. We were able to contact other parents and document five years of this behavior. I began attending Local School Council (LSC) meetings to find out what could be done to remedy the situation. That day, there happened to be an LSC meeting that I'd intended to go to already.

When I got to the school, it was a circus. There were over a dozen police cars, and news vans and reporters from every media outlet in Chicago.

The meeting was uproarious. Usually there was only me and maybe 3 or 4 other parents there, along with the teacher and parent reps that had to be there. That day, the room was packed. A police representative was there. The Chicago Public School (CPS) headquarters had sent a media rep. The alderman showed up. I wouldn't have been surprised to see the mayor.

Afterward, my ex and I started working with the LSC members and others to figure out just what had happened. The more we discovered, the more horrified we were.

A fourth grader, in the "regular" fourth grade class (my son was in the other 4th grade class-- the gifted class) had had an altercation with a student. He and his brother, who was in 3rd grade, lived with their grandmother. The boys' uncle, who was, to put it charitably, a "derelict," lived with her on and off as well. He owned a few handguns, and of course kept them in the charcoal grill in the backyard. The 4th-grader decided that he was going to bring one of the guns to school and threaten his rival with it.

Fortunately, as it turned out, he showed the handgun, a semi-automatic, to some students in the morning, with the admonition that he'd use it on them if they "told." And again fortunately, one brave little girl, a first-grader, told her teacher, who contacted the administrators. The assistant principal went to the boy's room. Thank god, the weapon was in his backpack. She got it in her possession immediately, and the boy was taken away by security.

And that's were things began to go awry.

They had reason to believe that there might be a second weapon.

As we investigated the incident, we kept asking the principal the question:

"And this is when you locked down the school, right?"

Her answer was, again and again, after some evasion, "Um, no."

We discovered that while this incident was going on, the lunch periods were beginning-- beginning with the Kindergarten classes. They were moving in lines through the hall as this happened.

And the upper grades were changing classes.

They never, we discovered, ever, in the course of the incident, locked down the school. If the student had managed to hand the gun off to his brother or a friend, or if there had actually been a second weapon, it could have been a disaster.

It turned out that luck was entirely on their-- and our-- side that day. The weapon, while loaded, turned out to be inoperable. And there was no second weapon.

The LSC issued a report, under the Principal's protest. She claimed that they did not have the authority to issue such a report. Always by the book, she was. Well, not always. The report stated that standard, well-established procedure dictated that the school should have been locked down immediately upon hearing about the possibility of the presence of a weapon to prevent the movement of the weapon and the person bearing the weapon. This was not followed.

I thought of that Tuesday when I learned that Virginia Tech had not been locked down after the first shooting. It's part of why I decided to wait a few days to post about it.

As my group at the seminar had acted out the scenario with the gun last Friday and led the discussion about it, it was clear that the imperative in that situation was to keep the weapon and the person bearing it, and other students from moving until the police got there. And that entailed the school being locked down immediately until the weapon and person bearing it were found. I told them about what had happened at my son's school, and what should actually have happened.

I had no idea that how correct we were would be borne out so tragically so soon.

The administrators at Virginia Tech assumed that the first shooting was a domestic incident, and did not lock the school down.

As my friend Yomi used to say, quoting his father, an ex military guy, "Assumption is at the heart of most fuck-ups."

My situation was different from the Virginia Tech incident in that my situation had a happy ending.

This is a week of grieving. This week, the families will bury the dead, and then afterward start asking the hard questions. I won't say anything yet about the Second Amendment, our society, isolation, mental illness or anything else. I'll just speak as an educator, and as a parent who's had a brush with this situation.

I will say this: the situation was handled completely wrong, as was the incident at my son's former school. In the case of my son's school, it was pure, dumb luck that compensated for their incompetence and failure to follow procedure in preventing a tragedy. This was not the case Monday at Virginia Tech and there are dozens of families and thousands of other friends and relatives paying the price for it.

It could have been my kid or any other kid there.

By the way, in the course of the investigations over the gun incident and my son's fourth grade teacher, CPS higher-ups discovered that the Principal was embezzling money-- lots of money-- from the school. She was abruptly fired-- she was taken out of the school suddenly one day the next year and the locks to the school were changed on the spot. By the book, huh? More like "cook the books."

By then, my son had started attending another school; I'd bribed his mother into moving to another, better neighborhood. I paid the difference in rent (until she went back to work full time) between the ghetto apartment and the one in the safer neighborhood. It's a much better place. If anyone shows up to his school with a gun, it's one of the parents, coming off their shift. A lot of policemen and women live in the neighborhood.

The weekend after the gun incident, my son and I were talking about it all, and he expressed sorrow for the boys who'd brought the gun-- that their home life was so bad that they didn't even realize that what they did was dangerous or wrong. I nearly cried. Bless his heart. I'm a pretty damned lucky guy. I never forget it.

I was thinking, about a week ago, about finishing this post and putting it up, when the horror at Northern Illinois University, an hour from my home, happened. I remembered how this post started-- at a seminar for teaching at-risk kids. Both the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University killers came from good homes and backgrounds. I don't think that anybody would characterize them as "at-risk." The boys who brought the gun to my son's school were, classically, "at-risk." What about these other guys? And on top of it, Northern Illinois University followed correct procedure. As an former educator, a parent, as someone who's lost a close friend to senseless murder, as someone who's had a lot of experience in life, who's gotten out of some potentially dire situations-- I don't have a clue how to deal with this all. What do we do?

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Think I Can Do This

The night before I started this semester last month, I had a major anxiety attack.

I'd gotten through my first semester, last year, going back to college for the first time since getting my teaching certificate back in 1997, and studying science for the first time in nearly 30 years. But truth be told, I had major anxieties about it all, remembering the struggles I'd had with Math and Chemistry. There'll be a lot of it, especially after I start taking the actual classes in the Pharmacy program.

Today, we were doing some practice problems before our lab, getting ready for a test on Wednesday. I looked at the problem, the one at the top of the page in the photo, and realized I saw the route to solving it very clearly. I worked it out and noticed that the kid sitting next to me was looking at it puzzled. I turned to him and said "You're stumped on this one, aren't you?" "Yeah," he replied sheepishly. I outlined the way to solving it, explaining conversion factors and connecting it to some math that I figured he knew. I saw the light go off and he solved it.

I brought my solution to my professor, who checked it off. I started working on another problem and he went to get his work checked off. He returned, stating "You were right!"

Our lab this week required a partner, and we decided to be partners. As we did the lab, we had a chance to chat. He's only 20 or 21, but he, like me, is returning to school. He grew up in Iowa, the son of a physician from Canada.

At the end of the class, I felt good. I realized that I'm enjoying being a student. And I realized that I still like being a teacher. And I realized that despite my initial doubts, I think I can do this.

Confessions of a Third Grade "Playah"

A long while back, Beth tagged me with a "childhood crush" tag. Thanks to my mother finding, some years back, a trove of my old grade school class pictures, I was able to document the romantic drama going on in my Kindergarten class in 1967.

I meant to add to that an account of my year as a "playah"-- third grade.

In April of 1968, after the King riots, my family moved from the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to Albany Park, up on the Northwest side of the city. Albany Park was, and still is, an amazingly diverse neighborhood. Remembering my best friends-- they were Polish, Appalachian, Jewish, Lebanese, Latino-- it spoiled me for life. I could never stand to be around homogenous groups of people. A few years later when my family white-flighted out to the suburbs, I hated it. When I got out of college, I moved within a mile of the old neighborhood, and have lived there ever since.

But back in third grade, I was living the good life. I played baseball in the alley nearly every day with my friends on the block, the 4700 North blocks of Central Park Ave. and Monticello Ave. Other days, I'd hang with my friends from Haugan Elementary School. But it wasn't always my guy friends I was walking home from school with.

At school, Linda, who was blonde, smart and funny, knew the way to my heart: pumpkin seeds. She'd always buy those pumpkin seeds in the red package with the Native American guy on them. We never really talked about our feelings for one another, but somehow our desks always seemed to end up next to one another's. When I was in class, I was always by her side. And she always made sure I had those pumpkin seeds. The way to a man's heart indeed.

But outside the school, it was another story. Linda always hung with her friends after school. That was okay, because that meant I could walk Marcia home. Marcia was a nice Jewish girl who lived in the good part of the neighborhood-- the part with one-family houses. My family-- my two brothers, my parents and I-- shared a two-bedroom apartment down in the part of the neighborhood that was all two- and three-flats. I would walk Marcia home sometimes, though it meant walking a couple of blocks out of my way. It never bothered me-- she was smart and sweet and always had something nice to say about everybody.

Closer to home, though, was my girl Cathy. She was pretty, smart and Appalachian-- her family was from Kentucky. Like many families, her family had moved to Chicago as the coal mines mechanized. Her house was on the way home, right next to Jensen Park, where I ice-skated in the winter. We shared a love of Johnny Cash, and would walk home singing the Shel Silverstein-penned "A Boy Named Sue," particularly our favorite line: "kickin' and a-gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer..."

I must have been getting ready, romantically, for my twenties, compartmentalizing my life. I carried this on for the whole year. On picture day that year, it almost all came apart, when the damned photographer almost destroyed my life; he placed me and two of my three amores together in the class picture.

I am in the third row, fifth from the left in the light blue shirt. Directly behind me, the brunette in the back row, was Cathy. Standing right next to her was Linda. I was horrified. I was thanking god that Marcia, second from the right in the top row in the plaid skirt, wasn't right behind me as well. I nearly had a heart attack as it was, afraid they'd start talking to one another.

I was such a cad.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Random Ten

1. Fountain of Sorrow- Jackson Browne
2. The Pogues- Fiesta
3. Sounds of Silence- Simon and Garfunkel
4. One Step Ahead- Split Enz
5. You're A Big Girl Now- Bob Dylan
6. If I Knew- Joan Baez
7. I Fought The Law And The Law Won- The Clash
8. Harper Valley PTA- Jeannie C. Reilly
9. Animal Boy- The Ramones
10. Open Your Eyes- Lords Of The New Church

1. Jackson Browne at his most self-pitying. Tonio K had a great answer song to Fountain of Sorrow on his fabulous 1978 album Life In the Foodchain. The song, called H-A-T-R-E-D, recounts a less self-pitying response to break-up, and has the line "Fountain of Sorrow my ass, motherf*cker!."
2. From If I Should Fall From Grace With God, my favorite Pogues album.
3. Anybody remember the bit early on in Saturday Night Live History when Paul Simon was singing, with Charles Grodin wearing an Art Garfunkel wig? Art Garfunkel came out, confiscated the wig and Simon and Garfunkel had a reunion.
4. Split Enz had a small hit with this one, a bigger one with I Got You. They mutated into Crowded House and had a couple more hits.
5. Bob Dylan singing about being dumped by his wife Sara.
6. A lovely anti-war song by Joan Baez, who Dylan dumped to date Sara, who he married.
7. The Clash's great cover of a great Bobby Fuller Four song.
8. I've loved this song since I was a kid.
9. What's a Friday Random Ten without the Ramones?
10. A punk supergroup fronted by the late, great Stiv Bators.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Get Ready For Radio To Really Suck. Even More.

The New York Times is reporting that the Justice Department Anti-trust division has okayed the sale of Clear Channel Communications, one of the big consortiums of radio stations. The sale should fetch $19 Billion.

When WXRT, our local little progressive rock station here in Chicago was bought up by CBS/Viacom/Westinghouse, their quality plummetted. A station a local guy had bought for something like $20,000 went for $20 Million. Suddenly they had to have a lot more in ad revenue. There was a 20% increase in ad time. Music became more commercial. They fired Johnny Mars, the best dj they had (he's since been rehired part-time).

More advertising. Less adventurous music. More talk radio. Should be grand.

Remember when you could hear music you liked on AM radio? Oh, yeah. None of you guys under 45.

Have I mentioned how much I love my Sirius Radio?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video: Go West, "We Close Our Eyes"

It's funny how in life, certain songs make you a little sad, but smile a little because they were used to signal closing time at favored tippling establishments. In my case, The Glenn Miller Orchestra's "In the Mood (Mom's in Charleston, Illinois)" somebody's version of "Mr. Sandman," (The Ten Cat in Chicago) and Go West's "We Close Our Eyes," (the Park West Playlot in Chicago)

In Lincoln Park in the mid to late eighties, there was a tavern in Lincoln Park called The Park West Playlot. It was a four o'clock bar, which meant it was open until five a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday mornings. They gave "street prices" to people in the business (i.e. very cheap drinks, with the knowledge that we tipped very well, being in the business ourselves), were friendly and not too yuppie, given the area. Every few Saturdays, I'd somehow end up there with Karl, a kid I worked with. We'd talk about the things guys in their early twenties talked about; women, dreams, the future.

At closing time The Playlot would play the the vid for Go West's "We Close Our Eyes." The song and the video have come to represent, to me, a time when I was young and dreams were infinite.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Have The Rest Of The Conservatives Figured This Out?

There's an interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine. I haven't had a chance to read the whole interview, but I'm encouraged by a quote near the beginning:

"Based on what I heard from every expert, then and now, I think there's a risk that an attack (on Iran) would strengthen (Iranian President) Ahmadinejad and solidify the Iranian's people's support for their regime."

Before and After

I had the day off of school since it was Lincoln's birthday, but I had a lot of running around to do. My free time is very limited these days, and I was rushing around. Something made me stop for a moment and smell the roses; as I turned the corner on my block, it occurred to me how pretty it is. I parked my truck, walked back and snapped a picture of it, and later I snapped another shot after a little snow had fallen.

When I was a kid, my family moved from Albany Park, a neighborhood not too far from where I live now, to Streamwood, a suburb that had been farm fields just months before. Up until then, I'd lived in apartments in Chicago with hardwood floors, in neighborhoods with tall trees and character. I lost all of those things when my family left the city. I enjoyed having them again when I moved back to the city when I graduated college in 1985, and am still enjoying them.

We lost a few trees to Asian Long-Horned Beetles a few years ago, and we lost the big old maple in front of our home to the city water department, but our block still has most of it's big beautiful trees, which are handsome even in winter.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who's The Dog Now?

When Adam was a newborn, I was usually the one who fed him at night or sat up with him if he couldn't sleep, since I worked nights, and was up anyway.

One night while I sat up with him, I turned the television on. I got the notion to turn on Rush Limbaugh; I criticized and made fun of him so much, I figured I should actually watch him a little bit.

Within five minutes, I couldn't take it anymore. They flashed a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who was then about 13 years old and Limbaugh quipped something about "the White House dog." I was aghast. Was this what all the right-wing nuts thought was so clever? A guy making a joke that a mean junior high schooler might make?

I guess Ms. Clinton's got the last laugh, though. Years later, she's a beautiful young woman and Rush is a fat old jowly drug-addicted asshole.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just In Case You Were Wondering...

The other day in a post I mentioned that there was a place, back in the day, in my neighborhood that you could get live chickens. Just in case you were wondering, there's still a place you can get them in Chicago, on Western Avenue, just north of Devon. Or just check out their website,

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Spoon

It's hard to believe that my son is going to be 14 next month; I feel like me and my now-ex were bringing him home from the hospital just a few months ago. In fact, that cold, cold March afternoon was nearly a decade and a half ago.

One of the shocks to me was the realization that a baby needs care around the clock. They can do nothing for themselves. Feeding, cleaning, diapers-- all of those things were firsts for me.

I had been working as a substitute teacher and a waiter when he was born. I cut back to just waitering because it meant that I could spend days with him and his mother could care for him at night. That meant that I was there for a lot of firsts.

Dave at Bad Art Global had a post recently about his baby daughter sitting up on her own for the first time. It's hard for someone who's not a parent to understand how big a deal each milestone is. It's truly one of the joys of being a parent.

I remember the first time, for instance, Adam rolled over on his own. I had put him on our bed, confident that he was fine; he was far away from the edge of the bed, and at 6 or 7 weeks old, he'd never rolled over on his own. Until then. He rolled over-- and then again, and then right off the bed. Fortunately our bed was a futon that was only a few inches off the ground. When I heard him crying, I ran over and picked him up. He had weathered the drop just fine, just a little upset.

One of the things you do as a parent is get them ready for each great leap forward-- holding their own bottle, solid food, standing, walking, etc. One day, I was home with him, when I decided that I was going to teach him how to use a spoon so that he could feed himself.

I went through my morning ritual of making our breakfasts. I finished his and brought it to his high chair, the one in the picture, in the dining room, also the one in the picture, and set it down with the spoon that I was going to show him how to use. I turned around and walked to the kitchen to get my breakfast, which I was going to eat when I was done with my first lesson on how to use a spoon and then feeding him.

As I walked into the dining room with my breakfast, I realized that I was going to eat my breakfast sooner than I thought. He was sitting there eagerly and ably feeding himself with his spoon.

February Chicago Random Ten

February in Chicago is like a long, cold march. And of course this year, there's an extra day in Feburary.

Still, I'm enjoying school, though one of my teachers is a pain in the keister. It's funny to be studying Chemistry again after a nearly-thirty year break, and actually understand it this time. My stint as a construction worker when I was in my late twenties, believe or not, has helped in this regard-- I understood math a lot better after that. You never know where life's path is going to take you, or what (or who) can help you later in life.

1. Love Comes In Spurts- Richard Hell and the Voidoids
2. What Did You Do To My Life?- Neil Young
3. Walk On By- Dionne Warwick
4. The Irish Rover- The Pogues
5. Sooner Or Later One Of Us Must Know- Bob Dylan
6. Sabre Dance- Love Sculpture
7. Rock And Roll All Night- Kiss
8. Thunderbird- ZZ Top
9. These Things- Robert Cray
10. Burnin' Love- Elvis Presley

1. From the fabulous No Thanks! collecton of seventies punk. Richard Hell was married to Scandal's Patty Smythe for a while. She's married to former tennis star John McEnroe these days.
2. From Neil Young's self-titled first album.
3. One of the many fine Burt Bacharach/Hal David-penned songs.
4. The Pogues are touring again, Shane McGowan and all.
5. From the fantabulous Blonde On Blonde album.
6. Dave Edmunds' band in the late sixties, Love Sculpture had a hit with this song.
7. A guilty pleasure.
8. From the ZZ Muthaf*ckin' Top Six Pack, baby!
9. Next time you watch Animal House, during the toga party scene, check out the band, Otis Day and the Knights. The bass player was Robert Cray.
10. One of Elvis' last hits.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Election Day Memories

I went after class Tuesday and voted. My polling place in in the gym building for Queen of Angels, a parochial school near my home. I always chuckle when I vote, because it's also next door to a bar.

In Chicago, after you vote, you get a little ticket indicating that you voted. Back in the day, when the old hacks and ward heelers held more sway than they do today, you could take the ticket down to certain bars and get a drink with it.

I was reminded of an election day twenty years ago, and how the late Alderman Kathy Osterman became one of my favorite people.

Back in 1987, I was living in Chicago's Edgewater with Chris, a friend and former co-worker. I was working as a waiter at a northside Chicago restaurant. At some point I got some kind of notion of civic duty, and decided to try my hand at being an election judge. I went down to city hall to talk to someone about it and learned that they would pay me extra money to be a judge at a polling place that they had trouble placing people. In addition, they'd pay me an extra $25 if I would be the one who brought the ballots. I was in. I think my total pay was to be $140-- not a small amount of money for a single struggling guy not long out of college back in 1987.

I was given the address of my polling place, an address on North Sheridan Road, among the high-rises along that stretch. I was curious as to why they would have trouble getting judges in that area. While parts of that area were a little rough around the edges, it wasn't particularly dangerous.

I took the bus one day to the address to pick up the ballots. Back then, I didn't own a car, so I had to take three buses to and back from the place on the northwest side of Chicago that I picked the ballots up.

I had to work the night before the election. I ended up closing with Deb, a work friend of mine.

My friendship with Deb was funny. She was a very pretty lesbian whom nature had endowed with some assets that most men became quite agog at. She told me funny stories about walking up to take orders from couples on dates, and the men would become fixated at her "assets." She would, she told me, look down, ask if she'd spilled something there, and walk away as the man's face turned shades of crimson.

The night before Election Day, Deb and I ended up hanging out, tippling and talking until the wee hours. Since I had to be at the designated polling place by 5:30 A.M., I had the notion that it would just be better if I pulled an all-nighter and went there. These are the kinds of decisions people in their twenties make. One would think that I would have learned from my experiences using that strategy with college finals, but sometimes we learn slowly.

I parted with Deb and went home. I had a choice; to sleep 45 minute and go to the polling place or to stay awake and go. Since I feared that I wouldn't wake up in time if I took a nap, I chose to stay up.

The sun was just peeking over Lake Michigan, clutching the metal box with the ballots, I walked over to Sheridan Road, turned north and walked the few blocks up to the address I'd been assigned.

As I walked in, I found that the building was an assisted living facility. I was later to discover that this was why they had so much trouble getting election judges to return; a very high percentage of the people living there needed assistance in voting. While a voter could have anyone they wanted help him or her, it had to be under the supervision of both a Democratic and Republican election judge. It was about to become a very busy-- and long-- day.

The rest of the judges were a motley crew. A cranky old guy, the kindly older Jewish lady, a friendly middle aged African-American guy. I was, at 26, by far the youngest of them. And the only one who spoke any Spanish, learned mostly from working in restaurants and from the woman I was dating at the time, who was Latina.

As the day wore on, I learned a lot, as I went along, about Illinois election law. And I began to regret having not gotten any sleep the night before. Because so many of the people in that building and precinct were elderly or infirm, we were pretty much constantly helping people vote.

I also began to regret not having eaten breakfast. I had assumed that there would be a place nearby that I could get a sandwich and some pop, a typical breakfast for me those days. There was not. As the morning wore on, I began to become more tired, more hungry, more caffeine-deprived and more irritable.

At one point, we had a voter who spoke almost no English. One of the judges jumped up and started speaking to her in what he must have thought was his version of Spanish. I politely waved him off and started helping the lady until another voter who spoke Spanish fluently offered to help. It was going to be, I realized, a long, long day.

A while later, there was a flurry of activity. I turned to see what the commotion was. It turned out that the Alderman had arrived for a visit.

The Alderman, or Alderwoman, to be exact, of that ward was a newly elected flamboyant woman named Kathy Osterman. She was very much the Chicago politician. Gregarious, connected, dishing out favors and help to her constituents, she presided over an area of Chicago that was in a strange period. It was not quite a slum, but not quite fancy. Edgewater was just beginning to come out of a long period of decline and you could see the first glimmers of gentrification.

That day, though, Kathy Osterman became one of my favorite-ever Chicago politicians. As she blustered into the room wearing one of her famous hats, a couple of her flunkies followed her schlepping a gift from the gods for the election judges and others: trays laden with sandwiches and other food, and a tub of soda pop. To my eternal gratitude, among the cans of pop in the tub were cans of Jolt Cola-- remember, "all the sugar, TWICE THE CAFFEINE."

The day ended up being a gruelingly long one. We had trouble with the vote-counting machine and didn't get out of there until nearly 8 PM. It ended up being a 14 1/2 hour day for me. With no sleep.

Later, I thought about how cocky and arrogant I'd been. I hadn't really taken it very seriously going into it. That day, I'd had to make help make decisions as to whether individiuals got to exercise a fundamental right in democracy-- to vote. A woman I'd sneered at as a hack had shown kindness when I'd needed it. She was, I realized later, one of the people who didn't bolt the city for the green pastures of suburbia-- she stayed there to try to make the city work again. When she passed away in 1992 of cancer, it saddened me. She was a remarkable lady.

I'll probably work as an election judge again someday-- it was a fascinating experience, and I'd like to do it again. Next time, though, I'll take it more seriously. And probably get a good night's sleep beforehand.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Wait-- Weren't These The Guys Bush Said Were Bad Allies?

From the New York Times:

As Afghanistan Flounders, U.S. Asks Europe for More

Wait a minute; wasn't it most of Europe that intially strongly supported the United States in invading Afghanistan, which had been taken over by the Taliban (with our help), and was harboring the Al Queda and Osama bin Laden, who were, without argument, responsible for 9/11?

But we questioned the Europeans' allegiance because they questioned whether Iraq was responsible for 9/11. And in fact now everybody but New York Times editorialist William Kristol, right-wing talk show hosts and a handful of other die-hards agree that, in fact, it was a bad idea to invade Iraq because Iraq had nothing to do with the events of 9/11/01. And invading Iraq actually pulled resources from fighting the groups and people who had.

And now, the Taliban, the group that was actually largely responsible for 9/11 due to their support of Al Queda may come back to power in Afghanistan due to the flagrant stupidity of the Bush administration.

And now, after raking their asses over the coals for not following their astoundingly bad ideas and policies, the Bush administration is begging the Europeans for help in preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan again?

Does the word chutzpah ring any bells?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Is It So Wrong?

Am I bad for laughing so hard at this one, that my mother sent me earlier today?

For you youngsters who don't get it, run a search on "Chappaquiddick."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Johnny Yen and Viktor Zeitgeist At The Ruby Room

Today, I had had Little Steven's Underground Garage on in the car on the way to school and heard a song by the a group called the "Foxboro Hot Tubs" called "Ruby Room." I was curious; the Ruby Room happens to be the name of one of my favorite taverns in Oakland. I used to go there a lot when my good friend Viktor Zeitgeist lived in Oakland.

I came home and ran a search and sure enough, the song is about that Ruby Room. The Foxboro Hot Tubs are a side project for members of Green Day, who hail from Berkeley, right nest door to Oakland. It made me think of good times in the Ruby Room, the night Viktor Zeitgeist and I almost got thrown out of the Ruby Room.

In May of 2002, he, his then-girlfriend (now wife) and I went to Shanghai, China. It was a welcome trip. Cynthia and I had separated a couple months earlier and I was frustrated looking for a teaching job after working as a sub for a year and a half in a good suburban school district (In August, I got a job as a sixth grade teacher in Cicero).

We had a great time in China. The picture on me and the fiberglass Ronald McDonald at the top of this blog was taken on that trip. We spent seven days there and then I stayed one night in Oakland, and flew home to Chicago. We decided to go out to the Ruby Room.

The Ruby Room is a great establishment, full of punk rockers, bikers and other assorted riff-raff-- our kind of people. We were hanging out with two Eritrean cabdrivers, having a great conversation, when a bartender offered watermelon shots for a buck. Viktor said "If you make it Jim Beam* shots, I'm in." I thought that was pretty easy to understand-- if she was offering Jim Beam shots for the same price, he'd take it.

Twenty some minutes later, out of the blue, she came by with four Jim Beam shots. Viktor pulled some money out to pay and the lady said "That'll be eighteen dollars." Viktor looked a little confused, but handed her a twenty. She brought the two dollars in change back and he handed it back to her.

She started yelling at him about the tip. Finally, he'd had enough. First, he told her, tips are generally for prompt service. Twenty plus minutes to get four shots is hardly prompt service, but he was tipping her anyway. Secondly, he'd made it clear that he only wanted the shots if he could get it at the same price. And thirdly, she was being, well, kind of a bitch about it.

She yelled "You are OUT OF HERE! You are CUT OFF!" She stomped off to get the bouncer.

Now, Lulu has pointed out that I apparently know everybody in the universe. Not quite-- but the ones I don't know, Viktor does. The bartender dragged the bouncer over to throw us out and when he saw Viktor, he stopped and asked her why she wanted to throw him out.

It turned out that this guy was a member of the East Bay Rats, a "motorcycle club" in Oakland. And it turned out that Viktor, an attorney, had helped this guy and a couple of other members of the Rats with some free legal advice. The bartender, seeing that she wasn't going to get her way, told the bouncer that he could "f*cking serve them yourself"

Several other Rats came over, asked what happened and the bouncer told them her version of what happened and walked away. Viktor told them what really happened. It turned out that nearly everybody had had a bad experience with this bartender, who was very self-centered. The bouncer not only served us the rest of the night, but refused to let us pay for our drinks.

As we left later, we reflected on the trip, and about people. We shook our heads, laughing at this woman, who thought she was some kind of bartending superstar. Her vision and her universe, it turns out, were tiny. Within a couple of months, she was no longer employed there.

Here's a Youtube clip of the Foxboro Hot Tubs' "Ruby Room."

Ruby Room

Fourteenth street, booze and swallow
I'm gonna drown my sorrow.
Dirty floors and sticky tables.
For the willing and the able.

All the zombies on a hot Friday night.
Going down to the Ruby Room.
I'm gonna meet my doom.
By the name of Rosie May.
She's the night pick of the day, yeah.

Lucky Strike and I will travel.
As a Pabst Blue Ribbon unravels.
Gonna drink my hard earned pay.
'Cause it doesn't matter anyway, yeah.
Seeing double on a one last one night stand.

Goin' down to the Ruby Room.
I'm gonna meet my doom.
By the name of Rosie May.
She's the midnight pick of the day, yeah!

Going down to the Ruby Room.

Going down to the Ruby Room.
I'm gonna meet my doom.
By the name of Rosie May.
She's the midnight pick of the day, yeah, yeah!

Going down to the Ruby Room.
Going down to the Ruby Room.

*We have a tradition of drinking Jim Beam. It's gotten us into trouble on occasion. Grist for a future post.

No Kidding-- Fox News You Say?

Saw on the New York Times online that Karl Rove has been hired by Fox News. Gee, what a surprise. Here's the article:

Ex - Bush Aide Rove to Join Fox News Channel

Not coincidentally, here's Wikipedia's link to Niccolo Machiavelli:

Niccolo Machiavelli

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis.


As has happened for about eight years running, the restaurant was dead on Super Bowl Sunday. That was okay-- we sat and watched the game, which to our surprise turned out not to be the coronation of Tom Brady that everyone predicted, but actually a game worth watching, particularly that last quarter.

We were joined by my current favorite artist, Dave, from Bad Art Global, who had the quote of the night, a moment before the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots. Pretending to be one of the New England Patriots, gathered with his former teammates at a bar some time in the future, he said "Hey-- remember that season we lost only one game?"

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Groundhog's Day

Yesterday, I grabbed my camera as I walked out the door on the way to work. It occurred to me that it was Groundhog's Day, and so I snapped a picture of Feed The Beast, a restaurant I pass on my walk to work. In 1992, it was still a German restaurant and the location that they shot all the restaurant scenes in the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day in. In September, that was the restaurant that my son and I met up with bloggers Bubs, Evil Genius, Grant Miller and The Idea of Progress.

I snapped a couple of more shots on the way there, and thought about how the neighborhood has changed since I first moved there. A few days ago, I took this shot of the building that my first apartment on my own after college was, at Berteau and Ashland. I moved in there in April or May of 1986 and lived there for about a year. It's about a block and a half from Lakeview High School, where scenes from the 1980 movie My Bodyguard were filmed. Back then, the North Center neigbhorhood, which both that and my current apartment are in, was rough. Drug addicts and gangbangers were everywhere. In nearby Welles Park, gangs members shot at one another at night, and drunks abounded during the daytime. These days, the Park is full of families; Adam plays baseball there in their summer league and I take he and Mel bike-riding there. The drunks, junkies and gang members are long gone.

Gone too is the place that sold live chickens, near Lincoln and Irving. On a hot summer day, you had no trouble locating that place. A few years ago they tore down the Lincoln Center Bowl, also on that corner, which was upstairs from a stereo store. The pool room of the Lincoln Center Bowl was where they shot the scene in The Color Of Money with Forrest Whittaker and Paul Newman.

In the eight years that I've worked at Jury's (I worked there part-time even when I was a teacher to supplement my income), I've made that walk down Cullom Avenue, around the corner of Lincoln, past whatever restaurant was in the location of the old "Groundhog Day" shoot and over to Jury's maybe a thousand times now. I've seen the neighborhood changing slowly. There have been about a dozen "teardowns" on my own block and a couple dozen more east of here, including this one that's being built. They tore down a lovely little wooden house that had something that's a rarity in Chicago-- a wraparound porch. There was another place, a little further down that they also did a "teardown" on it. The old house was owned by a Filipino family who maintained a beautiful, thick flower garden in the front yard. I miss that garden and the friendly family that owned it.

My neighborhood, North Center, is in a weird place right now. It's become, after years of being overlooked, a popular place to build and buy homes. The crime is low, the neighborhood diverse and, except for some notable exceptions, inexpensive. We've got lots of shopping-- there is an Aldi's and a Jewel's just a few minutes walk away and two el stops nearby. There was a moment when we looked like we might be headed for being priced out of the neighborhood, especially when a $1.6 million teardown went up next door to us. The downturn in the housing market seems to have slowed that down; the developer had to move in to the place next door after it failed to sell after a year on the market. They stopped construction for several months on three more down the street.

My landlord told me last year that he and his wife have no intention of ever selling this place. With that, I breathed a sigh of relief. They have done an enormous amount of renovations on this place in the last year. I was afraid that it was with the intention of selling it. I love having a home that's in a neighborhood that's quiet and clean and that my kids can play outside safely in.

Yesterday, Adam and I were talking about our home. We moved into this apartment in August of 1998, when he was four years old and in pre-school. This August, we will have been here ten years, far longer than I've ever lived at any place in my life. We'll be living here in September, when he starts high school. There's a pretty good chance that we'll still be living here when he starts college in four and a half years. This will be the place he thinks of as where he grew up as he gets older. So will my stepdaughter; she and Kim have been here nearly 2 and a half years.

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray was condemned to live the same day over and over again until he gets it right. It makes me think of my walk to work. It's the same route usually. That walk may remain the same, but I think about the changes in both the neighborhood and myself since the first time I made that walk from my home to Jury's: a new marriage; my son going from being a baby to being a young man; a new child in my life; and going back to school in order to eventually enter a new career. I've buried one old friend and made some wonderful new friends. I'm hoping I get a few more good years out of this neighborhood and this old house while I finish raising my kids and move on, with Kim, to the next part of my life, whatever that may be.

Friday, February 01, 2008


Today, at work (at the Evanston place), I overheard the conversation of two customers at the bar. One of them was saying that she didn't feel that the country was ready for a woman President or a black President. If not now, when?

Random Ten For a Snowy Friday

I was up early today digging the cars out; we got about ten inches of snow last night. After an hour and a half, when I went off to work, my car was covered again. Welcome to Chicago.

1. Honey I'm a Big Boy Now- Billy Bragg
2. American Garage- Pat Metheny Group
3. Black Balloon- Goo Goo Dolls
4. Down The Highway- Bob Dylan
5. Planet Claire- B-52's
6. Have You Heard?- ZZ Top
7. Friction- Television
8. North Bronx French Marie- Stew
9. Ferry Across The Mersey- Gerry and the Pacemakers
10. Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six

1. From Talking To The Taxman About Poetry
2. The only jazz album I own. Love the Airstream on the cover.
3. What happened to the Goo Goo Dolls?
4. Dylan when he was a folkie.
5. From the B-52's great debut album. One night one of my friends in college fell asleep with this album on, with the tone-arm up, so it kept playing. We realized this when we heard "Planet Claire" for the 4th or 5th time.
6. From Tres Hombres, one of ZZ Top's earlier albums.
7. I took a Punk Rock class at the Old Town School of Folk Music in 1999, and we learned this one.
8. I love this song, and the album it's on, The Naked Dutch Painter.
9. Got a funny story involving this song involving my friend Dan and Rex the Scumbag that I'll blog about soon.
10. This song was banned in England; it's about the case that the movie In The Name of The Father is about. Got a call from Dan today-- the Pogues are in town in March, and we're going.