Friday, May 30, 2008

A Couple of Cool Guys I Knew

Recently, I've seen obits for two really cool guys, both of whom I was fortunate enough to meet.

A few weeks ago, I saw the obit for Abe Osheroff. Abe was a lifelong political activist, who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade-- the American volunteers who fought fascism in Spain in the 1930's.

For several years, I was co-chair of the Chicago Friends of the Lincoln Brigade. We brought Abe to Chicago to speak to several student groups.

If you've ever seen the documentary "The Good Fight," Abe is featured in it. He was one of the most impressive people I ever met in my life. He was an activist before and after going to Spain, where he was wounded several times. He was a carpenter by profession, and went to Nicaragua in the eighties, at the height of the U.S.-sponsored terrorism, the Contra war, to build hospitals.

I ended up spending a lot of time with Abe while he was in Chicago. He talked about Spain and about moral courage. He didn't consider himself a hero (though I do). He told that the lesson he carried away from Spain and his other life experiences was that in life-- in a war, in a relationship, whatever, you come to a point where you have a choice between doing what is right and what is easy. To take the right choice, even when it's more difficult, is what defines heroism.

One other thing I remember was when I was driving him to Midway Airport, we nearly did not make it in time; there was a traffic jam outside of the airport. We got past the car that I assumed had had an accident-- there was a car that had a crumpled hood and a distraught woman standing next to it, with the police and an ambulance. What I discovered the next day was that a wheel had fallen off of an airplane and landed on her hood. We missed it by a couple of minutes.

By the way, The Good Fight is finally coming out on DVD on July 29 of this year.

The other obit I saw was yesterday-- folksinger Utah Phillips.

Around the year 2000, I was working with my friend Stuart McCarrell on getting a proper burial site and headstone for Lincoln Brigade veteran Eddy Balchowsky. Jeff, a Chicago Friend of the Lincoln Brigade member who was related to Eddy, contacted Utah Phillips, who, it turned out, was going to perform at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Utah agreed to do a benefit concert. Cynthia, my wife at the time, offered the use of the Flamenco Arts Center, the dance studio that she and I owned. The Sun-Times had an article about the upcoming show and attendance was great. We did not charge for the show; we asked for donations, and got them. We raised most of the money needed for Eddy's headstone and cemetery plot (I posted last year about a visit to Eddy's grave).

Utah Phillips was amazing: raconteur, storyteller, singer, activist, he was also one of the most impressive people I ever met. That he played in our little studio was, to us, amazing and very, very cool.

When went back to look at the pictures from the event, I was struck by something very sad-- that in the group picture, which included, besides myself, Jeff, Lincoln Brigade vet Chuck Hall and his wife Yolanda, Peter Glazer (who was the son of the folksinger Tom Glazer and the nephew of Sidney Glazier, who was the producer of the original version of The Producers), who is now a theater professor at Berkeley, Utah and my friend Stuart. Of the people in the picture, three have passed away-- Chuck, Stuart and of course Utah Phillips. Tempus Fugit.

The "Girls Night Out/Kids Night In" Friday Random Ten

Kim and a couple of her girlfriends are going to see the "Sex and the City" movie tonight, so I'll be at home with my stepdaughter and three of her friends, cooking frozen pizzas for them and watching the original "Freaky Friday." Should be fun.

1. Chelsea Hotel- Leonard Cohen
2. That's the Way Love Is- Marvin Gaye
3. You're the Best Thing- The Style Council
4. Guess Things Happen That Way- Johnny Cash
5. Rock Me On the Water- Jackson Browne
6. Another Girl, Another Planet- The Only Ones
7. Vehicle- The Ides of March
8. We're An American Band- Grand Funk Railroad
9. Brand New Key- Melanie
10. Whiskey 'n Mama- ZZ Top

1. This sad lovely little song is about an encounter Cohen had with Janis Joplin. Lloyd Cole did a nice cover of this one on one of the two Cohen tribute albums that have come out.
2. The sad ending to Marvin Gaye's life gives an extra sadness to a lot of his songs. This one is one of my favorites.
3. Paul Weller's post-Jam project.
4. What would a Friday Random Ten be without a little Johnny Cash?
5. Jackson Browne getting spiritual. I love this song!
6. From the great seventies punk collection, "No Thanks."
7. One of the great singles ever, from Chicago's own "Ides of March." Their leader, Jim Peterik, went on to form survivor and had a few more hits.
8. "Sweet, sweet Connie was doing her act..."
9. "I got a brand new pair of roller skates/You got a brand new key." This song brings innuendo to new heights.
10. From the ZZ Motherf*ckin' Top Six Pack, man!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video: Bryan Adams, "Cuts Like A Knife"

Continuing the idea that I shamelessly ripped off from Beckeye my homage to the brilliant idea of Beckeye, here's another of my favorite vids, Bryan Adams' "Cuts Like A Knife."

This was the British Columbia native's first top ten hit, in 1983, the greatest year for MTV and videos. I loved the opening riff, the melody of the song, and, well, the hot brunette in the video, let's be honest. Hey, I was 22, what can I say?

This was before Adams began doing only lame movie soundtrack and lamer ballads (though the dreadful "Straight From the Heart" was on the same album as "Cuts Like a Knife."), "This Time" was also a hit single from that album.

The video itself is classic cheapo video, filmed in a swimming pool. Sometimes I think the vids were better when they were low budget.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

RIP Earl Hagen

In September of 1981, I had just transferred to Eastern Illinois University. I had just become friends with my lifelong friend Crazy Horse, a friend I mentioned in a post yesterday (he's also the friend who served a year in Iraq). We had heard about a party and decided to go.

To get into the party, we heard, there were conditions. First, you had to be wearing a hat. Secondly, you had to be carrying a rock. Third, and most important, you had to whistle the theme to the Andy Griffith Show in order to get in.

We entered the party with no problem. To our amazement, the next guy to come to the door had no idea what the whistled theme song to the Andy Griffith Show was. We thought pretty much everybody in the United States knew it.

The composer of that song, Earl Hagen, passed away recently. His obit is in today's New York Times.

Most people would be content to have written one popular, let alone iconic television theme song. Mr. Hagen wrote many, including:

  • The Dick Van Dyke Show

  • I Spy

  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.

  • That Girl

  • Mod Squad

  • Make Room For Daddy

  • Eight Is Enough

  • The Dukes of Hazzard

In 1939, according to the New York Times Obit, while on the road with the Noble band, he penned "Harlem Nocturne," which has become a jazz standard. Decades later, that song was used in the "Mike Hammer" series that Stacy Keach starred in.

Hagen had a longtime association with television producer Sheldon Leonard, who many of you might remember as Nick the bartender in the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life. After decades of playing bit parts, he became an influential television producer, Leonard produced many hit television shows, but continued to take bit parts in movies and television shows nearly to the end of his long life.

Just in case you're one of the eight people in the United States who don't know it, here's a Youtube clip with the Andy Griffith theme song.

You'll have to get the hat and the rock yourself.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

Subway's no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

--Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Elton John

A few weeks ago, I had to get up early on a Thursday morning (I normally got to sleep in a little on Thursdays, since my Tuesday-Thursday class didn't start until 11:00 a.m.) in order to drop Kim off at the el. She was leaving that day from work to go on a business trip, and didn't want to leave her car in a downtown garage for a couple of days. After I dropped her off, I swung back through Wrigleyville to snap a picture of an apartment I lived in back in the late eighties.

In early 1988, my friend Mark and I decided to get an apartment together. We decided that we wanted the apartment to be near our favorite hangout, the Gingerman tavern, which was a couple of doors down from another of our favorite hangouts, the Caberet Metro, where we would regularly see favorite bands like the Ramones, Galaxie 500, Naked Raygun and a couple of dozen others.

We looked at a few apartments, and then found a three-bedroom place at 3728 N. Magnolia, in a beautiful old greystone. The price was right-- $825 a month. We had a third guy going in with us, so that would work out to $275 each a month-- even back then, that was really inexpensive. We signed a lease a couple of days later, in April, 1988, now a little over 20 years ago.

A couple of days after that, the guy who was supposed to go in on the apartment with us had to cancel. No problem; our friend Dan, "The Elk," who was just out of school (we'd all graduated from Eastern Illinois University) and was looking to move out of his parents' house.

The first thing Mark and I did after getting the keys and moving a few things into the apartment-- notably the stereo and our records-- was to play the Velvet Underground's classic "Heroin" nice and loud. We wanted to make sure the neighbors knew what they were in for.

The apartment and my roommates turned out to be great. Years later, when Dan, Mark and I would get together, we'd recount the year we spent living together, and all of had the same thought-- was that really only a year? We packed five years of friendship and fun into a year.

We probably averaged about a party a month. Since we were three guys just out of college, trying to get started in life, we worked a lot of hours and crazy hours. Dan worked two and often three jobs-- one of those jobs was as a bill collector, giving him lots of great stories. Mark worked as a graphic designer, a newspaper layout editor and at a record store. I worked as a waiter.

Dan worked the most and craziest hours of the three of us. Mark and I would have a running joke about "Dan sightings." We'd find a dirty plate in the sink or dishwasher, or an empty macaroni and cheese box in the garbage, or just the rent check laying on top of the huge console television in our living room (actually the dining room-- but we used the living room or "front room," as it's called in Chicago, for the stereo and our three huge record collections). One of us would actually see Dan at some point and report a "Dan sighting."

We tried to include Dan in the plans for our parties, but at least once, we did not have a "Dan sighting" in which we could plan it with him-- so we planned it ourselves, with the intention of telling him, or at least leaving a note for him that we were having one. Somehow, we didn't manage to inform him we were having the party. Dan discovered it as he was walking to the door as he arrived home from work late that night. That also happened to be the moment the Chicago police, who were inevitably called on our parties, happened to arrive.

(Dan walks up to the door)
CPD: "Sorry, buddy-- party's over! Go home."
Dan: "Um, I live here."
CPD: "Then you're the guy we want to talk to!"

Mark and I found it hilarious that Dan got in trouble with the police for a party at his own home that he hadn't even yet been to. Dan found it a little less amusing.

There are a thousand memories from that year.

One time, I found, to my horror, a glass eye on top of the dryer, in the basement. Mark later confessed that it was one of his father's old glass eyes (his father had lost an eye in an accident when he was younger). He'd put it there to disturb us. He was that kind of guy.

During one of our parties, a friend of ours, who didn't hold his liquor too well, fell over the ten inch high fence our upstairs neighbor had around her tiny garden in the backyard. He was unable to get back up, and started thrashing around, forever earning, in our circle of friends, the nickname "The Garden Weasel."

A couple of months later, at another party, I went into the backyard to schmooze with people back there and discovered a guy thrashing around in the garden again. I walked over to Mark, who was laughing his ass off and pointed this out. Mark informed me that it was the same guy.

The nickname became forever at that point.

One time, Mark would recall, when he, Dan and I got together, at another party, he heard fireworks going off in the backyard. Mark, who spent a lifetime collecting friends, thought that it was a couple of his "jock" friends back there, acting like assholes, and worried that his roommates would be pissed off at him about it. He ran back there to find those very same roommates were the assholes, shooting bottle rockets off at one another, using garbage can lids as shields.

The summer of 1988 was a very hot summer, even by Chicago standards. It was also the summer that they finished installing the lights in Wrigley Field-- it had been the only major league stadium without lights up until then-- and started playing night games. Many mornings, I was awoken by the sound of the huge helicopter that was lifting the lights up to the roof of the stadium.

We were so close to Wrigley that you were able to hear the crowd cheering at the Cubs games-- I remember turning on the television when I heard the crowd cheering to see what was happening with the game.

During that extraordinarily hot summer, we got ahold of a window unit air conditioner-- I think it was Dan who did this, bless his heart-- and so we put it in our living room, and put a blanket on the doorway between the living room and the front room. This was a godsend as the summer rolled on-- particularly after I was stuck in the house for six weeks with a cast up to my right knee after the stupidest thing I've ever done.

I could not work as a waiter on crutches and soon my money ran short. Mark lent me the rent money for the nearly-two-months I wasn't able to work. He was that kind of guy.

Years later, people still talk about our parties. At Mark's funeral, nearly two years ago now, people talked about our New Year's Eve party of 1988/89. Despite there being a lot of snow on the ground, the party was packed. We found out that our friend Kathy (aka "Maxell"-- there's a story in her nickname), who lived in Beverly, on the far south end of Chicago, was spending the night alone at her parents' house. We quickly took up a collection and got the money together for the 20 mile cab ride to our apartment.

Since the weather sucked, we encouraged people to stay. the next morning, I walked around and counted-- there were 22 people sleeping in our apartment.

At another party, someone broke out cans of silly string. We discovered two things-- that silly string can be ground into linoleum and be impossible to get out. And that it's very difficult to get silly string out of chandeliers (like many apartments built in the twenties in Chicago, there was a small chandelier in the dining room/living room).

As I mentioned, the year the three of us lived together there seemed like five years. Whenever Dan and I get together, there are a half dozen stories that come up. One of them was the night I plugged a set of old Christmas lights I'd bought at a garage sale into the wall socket and blew the fuses for the whole apartment. Or the time Crazy Horse, a friend of ours from college, who was an officer in the US Army, showed up unexpectedly, and decided he wanted to talk to Dan-- who was, um, indisposed with the lady in his life. Dan still swears revenge for interrupting him.

There was also the night that Mark, Dan and I decided to have a contest-- who could play the worst song from their record collection. Dan probably remembers the song-- I can't remember if it was Vikki Lawrence's "The Night That The Lights Went Out In Georgia," Paper Lace's "The Night Chicago Died," Karl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," Blue Swede's "Hooked On a Feeling ("Ooga chugga, ooga chugga!") or the Defranco Family's "The Heartbeat Is the Lovebeat," but at some point, a couple of the girls who lived upstairs came down and asked us to please stop-- that they couldn't take it anymore.

There were also good records in our collections. One time, we were all home-- a rarity-- and ended up talking about music (surprise), and started comparing record collections. We recalled that at Eastern, where we went to school and became lifelong friends, there was a house a group of friends of ours lived in. Someone had, in the past, painted the basement in zebra stripes. The house became The Zebra Lounge, and was that basement was the site of some infamous and marvelous "afterbars parties."

One of the things we recalled was that inevitably there would be people who somehow found out about the parties who really didn't belong there-- frat boys, etc. The Zebra Lounge guys had a simple solution for this-- they'd put Johnny Cash records on the turntable. This would drive out the uncool, and guys like Mark, Dan and I would be like Br'er Rabbit in the briar patch, digging the Johnny Cash tunes.

That day, as the three of us talked about our various music collections, we realized that as diverse as our collections were, all three of us had records that most people did not have in their collections. We realized that we all had the first Velvet Underground album (the one with the classics "Heroin," "Waiting For My Man" and "Venus In Furs" on it.). We also all had Johnny Cash's "Live at San Quentin" album, and all three of us had the Clash' "Sandinista" triple album set. And we mused that it was probably the only place in the world outside of a record store that had three copies of those three albums.

The last couple of days, I've felt a little pensive. I thought about it a lot, and realized that it wasn't just the fact that I'm working a ton and a little apprehensive about taking Microbiology this summer. It was the fact that in a week, the second anniversary of Mark's death will come up.

At my birthday party a week and a half ago, Dan, and Tim, who was also a friend I shared with Mark, were there. I was incredibly happy that they-- and Bubs, who never got to meet Mark, but would have loved talking to him, and has become one of my best friends, and, happily, got to meet these guys-- were there. At some point, Tim and I talked about Mark, and Tim said something that I'd been thinking a lot-- that recently, it would hit him at random times that Mark really wasn't coming back.

Nearly two years later, I'm able to smile again at memories of the year I spent rooming with Mark and Dan. My life has moved forward. I've left one career and am nearly a year into the school necessary for the next one. My kids are doing well. My marriage to a lovely woman is doing well. Nearly two years after getting knocked on my ass by the death of one of my closest friends, I think I'm okay. And, to quote the Elton John song, I thank the lord for the people that I have found.

But I do have one question, one I thought about when driving past 3728 N. Magnolia that morning, and one that I discovered Dan also has: I wonder if the silly string is still in the chandelier?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mid-Break Friday Random Ten

I'm in the midst of a three week break from school-- summer school starts in a little over a week. I've been busier than ever, trying to get some long-term household projects-- particularly cleaning the basement-- done before that.

This morning I got on my college's website and checked my grades in my classes last semester. I got a B in my biology class-- and an A in chemistry, the class I thought I'd have a lot of trouble with. I'm a very happy guy.

1. Pressure Drop- The Clash
2. Five Brothers- Marty Robbins
3. Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat- Bob Dylan
4. Iris- The Breeders
5. Call It Democracy- Bruce Cockburn
6. Void Fill- Phil 'n' the Blanks
7. Love In Vain- The Rolling Stones
8. Just Another Sunday- The Blasters
9. Sedan Delivery- Neil Young and Crazy Horse
10. Morning Sky- Chris Hilllman

1. My old friend Deadspot posted a while back about the horror of hearing this Clash cover of a Jimmy Cliff tune in a car commercial. I share his feelings.
2. A great old Marty Robbins tune.
3. Kim and I watched the Dylan movie "I'm Not There," which she'd gotten me for my birthday. I'll post on it soon, but I'll say in a word, "Amazing."
4. This is from "No Alternative," a great album that was a benefit for AIDS causes.
5. Bruce Cockburn at his angriest since "If I Had a Rocket Launcher."
6. Don't look for this one on cd-- my friend Dan digitized this from vinyl. Phil 'n' the Blanks were Chicago legends.
7. Mick Jagger sounds so forlorn in this song, you can almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
8. I love this tale of broken love, which Dave Alvin co-wrote with John Doe of X. It was originally on the "Hard Line" album, and can now be found on the Testament collection.
9. From "Rust Never Sleeps."
10. Hillman was an original member of the Byrds. This is a straight-up bluegrass song, and one of my favorites.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Yeah, That's Easy For You To Say, You Have a Cool Sounding Name!"

Joe: "You're Mr. Pink."
Mr. Pink: "Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?"
Joe: "'Cause you're a f*ckin' f*ggot, that's why!"
Mr. Pink: "Why can't we pick our own colors?"
Joe: "No way, no way! Tried it once and it doesn't work. You get four guys, all fightin' over who's gonna be Mr. Black. They don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way-- I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow.
Mr. Brown: "Yeah, yeah, but "Mr. Brown"? That's little too close to "Mr. Shit".
Mr. Pink: Yeah, "Mr. Pink" sounds like "Mr. Pussy". Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple. That sounds good to me. I'm Mr. Purple.
Joe: You're *not* Mr. Purple. Somebody from another job's Mr. Purple. You're Mr. Pink!
Mr. White: "Who cares what your name is?"
Mr. Pink: "Yeah, that's easy for you to say, you're Mr. White, you have a cool sounding name. Alright look, if it's no big deal for you to be Mr. Pink, you wanna trade?"
Joe: "Hey, nobody's tradin' with anybody! This ain't a g*ddmaned f*ckin' city council meeting, you know! Now listen up Mr. Pink-- there's two ways you can go on this job: My way or the highway. Now what's it gonna be, Mr. Pink?
Mr. Pink: "Jesus Christ, Joe, f*ckin' forget about it. It's beneath me, you know, it's Mr. Pink. Let's move on."
Joe: "I'll move on when I feel like it. You all got the g*ddamned message?"

Reservoir Dogs, 1992
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Birthday Fiesta

My lovely wife threw me a birthday party this weekend. My birthday was actually last weekend, but we had the party this weekend so that my son could be there (I switch weekends with him off with my ex).

The party was, in a word, marvelous.

My best friend Jim was the first to arrive, clutching his burger and fries from nearby Jerry's Grill. Their cuisine has apparently improved-- they once served me the worst burger ever.

We were soon joined by another of my oldest friends, Dan, who resisted The Evil Dictator's challenge to a Risk game. He did, however, pay up on their annual $5 "Cubs vs. White Sox Final Record" bet.

We were eventually joined by many others, including Bubs and Mizbubs, Tim, his wife and kids, Phil and Robin, Wendy and Guido and their daughters and Jesse and Elefteria.

One of the things I love about parties is watching people who are friends from various spheres in your life mingling, meeting and getting to know one another. The night was filled with this. There were dozens of great conversations that night.

My stepdaughter hit it off with Tim's daughters and they had a great time talking and playing Life all evening.

I decided that we needed to use the lcd television I installed in the kitchen last week, and put the Elvis 1968 comeback special in.

Many people complimented our friends, neighbors and landlords Patrick and Jane on the lovely new backyard. The on and off rain limited use of it, but we were able to get out there early in the evening.

Somehow, everybody seemed to know that a nice bottle of red (or two) was the perfect gift for me. Of course, Dan and Jim, who have been my friends for 25 years, knew I'm always up for a good gag gift.

Dan and I have a long tradition of getting one another the worst imaginable records and movies. Following this tradition, Dan got me a couple of garage sale treasures-- the Liberace Christmas album...

...and a vhs of Zombies of the Stratosphere...

...starring Leonard Nimoy!

Jim got me a refrigerator magnet with one of my favorite pop culture images on it:

Jim mentioned that it is the most-requested image from the national archives, which I'd heard before.

In the end, it was the perfect birthday, surrounded by my family and a bunch of my favorite people. It's hard to believe that I'm 47, and that there are people that have been my friends for 25 years, and that I have friends I've known only a couple of years, but have become lifetime friends.

Some Negativity For Splotchy

I ended up having to work late at the Evanston place tonight, but remembered to stop and take a picture for Splotchy's negative space signage collection, the Raven Theater in Chicago.

The Raven holds a lot of happy memories for me; before it moved to its current location, it was a few blocks away at Clark and Morse in a storefront. I used to take The Evil Dictator to the many children's shows the Raven produced. The building was one of a bunch razed to make room for the expansion of a nearby grade school. His love of theater has remained, and I take him to productions at another storefront theater that is near our home, the Cornservatory.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Better House and Garden Friday Random Ten

I've been an absentee blogger this week. I've been taking advantage of a break from school to clean the Yen household from top to bottom, clearing out the dust from the now-finished renovations.

I'm happy to report that this includes the backyard, which turned out beautifully, and just in time for the birthday party Kim is throwing me on Saturday.

And most importantly, my gargoyle is back in his place of glory in the garden.

1. Box #10- Jim Croce
2. Stargazer- Rainbow
3. The dB's- The Fight
4. The Little Black Egg- The Nightcrawlers
5. Atlantic City- Bruce Springsteen
6. Sampson and Delilah- The Washington Squares
7. Mighty Love- The Spinners
8. License To Kill- Bob Dylan
9. Mean Woman Blues- Roy Orbison
10. The Man In Black- Johnny Cash

1. A tale of a country boy struggling in the big city, from the late, great Jim Croce.
2. A big hunk o' seventies Dinosaur Rock.
3. The dB's were one of the great underappreciated bands of the eighties.
4. From the great "Nuggets" collection.
5. From "Nebraska," which is tied with "Born To Run" as my favorite Springsteen album.
6. The Washington Squares were punk musicians in New York City who formed a retro Village style folk trio and did political tunes. This is their take on a traditional folk song.
7. I love me some Spinners. I still have my vinyl copy of "The Best of the Spinners" that my friend T-Mo gave me in college, bless his heart. Or maybe I borrowed it and forgot to return it.
8. From "Infidels," one of my favorite albums of the eighties.
9. I think I wore out my friend Matt's copy of "The Very Best of Roy Orbison" in college. I finally got around to getting a Roy Orbison collection on cd last year.
10. Johnny Cash explaining his wardrobe.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Baseball Report, 2008

I've got a couple of weeks off before my summer school class, Microbiology, starts. I've jumped into some big household projects, and finally have time to report on baseball now that we're four games into the season.

This year, Adam is on the Senior League Red Sox. I was surprised to discover that there was not even one kid from previous teams on this year's team. A few games into the season, we were to discover where at least some of them were.

In his first game, his team played the Astros. They'd played them in their practice game a few weeks ago. During that game, I realized that an old teammate of his was on the Astros-- and that I had his trophy and team pictures in a box in my basement. His parents were notorious that year for not showing up. They had a ton of excuses-- Mom was in grad school, work, etc. We all felt bad for him.

I brought the trophy and team pictures with me to that game and gave it to him. Oh-- his parents weren't there. Big surprise.

The Evil Dictator had a good game in the opener. A hit and a stolen base. It'll cost me. More on that later.

Mark Twain once said that the coldest Winter he'd spent was Summer in San Francisco. He obviously hadn't spent a Spring in Chicago. It was cold. Damned cold. And the wind was fierce.

The boys didn't notice it. They were having too good a time.

I had to miss the second game because of work. I wasn't happy about that. More on that later.

The third game was against the A's. Here, we discovered, was where all his old teammates were. There were, no kidding, a half dozen of his old teammates, from various years, on the A's.

His old coach, from two different years, the best coach he's had, stopped to see him play. He commented on the thing that all of the coaches, parents and teammates from previous years have been agog at-- that this was the year he got speed. He can run. In previous years, as his old coach put it, "We clocked this kid with a calender."

So when a half dozen of his old teammates, now on an opposing team, saw him, they were ready to take it easy. When he slapped a hit, they were stunned to see him sprint for first faster than they'd ever seen him. His mother and I laughed-- and so did his old coach, who it turned out was watching-- as his old teammates scrambled to try to throw him out at first before he got there.

They didn't.

The Red Sox won that game 12-5, making them 3-0.

After missing game two, I made sure to get someone to cover my shift for tonight so that I could make the game. My father had given me some good advice a long time ago-- that you get them for such a short, short amount of time in their lives. I try never to forget that.

Tonight's game was rough. It was the Yankees, his team from last year, coached by his coach from last year. The Red Sox played hard, but lost 5-1.

It was a typically balmy Chicago night in May-- the bank thermometer near the park said it was 46 degrees. I used to work construction in pretty cold weather and am used to pretty cold weather. By the end of the game, my hands and feet were numb. Even my son, who used to kick his blankets off when he was a baby, was cold. He put his "Red Thing," as my ex calls it, (teenaged boys always seem to have some favorite piece of clothing they wear constantly) on.

I kidded with some people about how we should remember that in two weeks, we'll be complaining about the heat. Only in Chicago. This morning, I walked over to the grocery store in sandals. Tonight, I could see my breath at my kid's little league game. At the end of the game, I couldn't feel my hands or feet.

There was one save tonight, though. More on that in another post.

I've heard a couple of coaches tell kids, when they've had a loss, that you win, and lose, as a team. One of the things I'm seeing on this team is kids being supportive, whether a kid gets a hit or an out.

One last thing-- I'm trying to figure out how they got their sponsor. During their first game, I noticed their sponsor, on the back of their jerseys-- I just assumed that it was a company that happened to have the same name as the band.

A few nights later, I remembered to look up the website.

My son's baseball team is being sponsored by the band Wilco. They've got more Indy cred than any other team in the league, obviously.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

He Really Knows How To Hurt A Guy

Today is the day of lots of celebrations today at the Yen household. Not only is it Mother's Day, but it's also my 47th birthday. We'll open presents after brunch.

My dear old friend Larry emailed me a Happy Birthday, and made sure to let me know that I share a birthday with perky former MTV Veejay Martha Quinn-- who turned 49 today.

Good god, I feel old now.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Myanmar and the Lesson of Nicaragua

I've been watching the events in the last week in Myanamar (formerly known as Burma) with horror.

A week ago, a cyclone caused a surge of water to flood the lowlands. The death estimates, including disease, are reaching 100,000. The military government has not only done little to nothing, but they've actually kept international aid from reaching the stricken people. I was reminded of the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua.

On December 23, 1972, Nicaragua's capital city Managua was virtually levelled by an earthquake. Thousands were killed initially, and more died of thirst, starvation and disease as the kleptocrat Anastasio "Tacho" Somoza's government, propped by the Nicaraguan military, not only failed to bring relief, but actually stole relief supplies that were sent to Nicaragua.

Somoza had inherited the dictatorship from his father, Antonio Somoza Garcia* after a young poet, Rigoberto López Pérez, assasinated the elder Somoza in 1956. While Nicaragua had economic growth on paper as a result of industrialization, the vast majority of Nicaragua lived in squalor. Nicaragua was at the bottom of every quality of life index in the book. Literacy was almost non-existent; disease and murder rates were high, as was poverty. Somoza ran Nicaragua as a virtual fiefdom. He owned most of the industry and agriculture.

It came, then, as little surprise when Somoza looked at the relief supplies pouring in to Nicaragua as another opportunity for graft. The American baseball player Roberto Clemente, who was latino (Puerto Rican), decided to help out. He gathered tons of supplies-- food, medicine-- and decided to personally bring them to Nicaragua, to avoid Somoza seizing them. Unfortunately, the plane he had chartered crashed on take-off, killing him and everybody else on board.

The longterm consequences for Somoza were dire. The Nicaraguan people were outraged. The FSLN, or "Sandinistas" had been running a campaign of guerilla resistance since Tomas Borge and Carlos Fonseca had started it in 1961. The campaign had been largely futile-- until the earthquake. The outrage over the lack of response to the earthquake enraged and emboldened thousands of young people, who took to the mountains and joined the Sandinistas. In July of 1979, the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua. The final rebellion was sparked by the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, a respected editor of La Prensa, Nicaragua's most popular newspaper. When Nicarguan soldiers murdered Bill Stewart, an ABC reporter, an event that was videotaped and shown on US television, even the United States had to pull its support for Somoza.

In many ways, the Burmese junta is like Somoza-- corrupt, arrogant and out of touch. Two years ago, video of the lavish wedding of Thander Shwe, daughter of junta leader General Than Shwe, caused outrage in impoverished Burma. The bride was decked in millions of dollars worth of diamonds.

There were widespread protests last year in Myanmar, led by Buddhist monks. Those protests were brutally suppressed. This time, though, the outrage is even more widespread, the anger palpable. Like Nicaragua's people, millions feel they have nothing to lose and everything to gain against the junta.

Brutal corrupt dictators are not known for being savvy to history, so Shwe and the others may want to be hep to Somoza's eventual fate. He was flown out of Nicaragua just before the Sandinista victory. A little over a year after the revolution, Enrique Gorriarán Merlo, an Argentinian guerilla, shot Tacho's car with a bazooka in Asuncion, Paraguay, blowing the former dictator to bits. Even after they leave, thugs are not safe. History has a way of catching up to them.

*It is supposedly the elder Somoza who FDR declared his famous statement "He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The "Tying Up The Loose Ends" Friday Random Ten

Yesterday, as I drove to class for the last day of the semester, I passed the place on Montrose Avenue where they were putting the finishing touches, finally, on a huge sinkhole that made the national news and made my commute to school a pain in the ass a couple of months ago.

As I passed it, it occurred to me that a bunch of loose ends are being tied up. First and foremost was the end of a semester that was a lot of work, but also really enjoyable. I've gotten nearly my first year back in school under my belt. I was really nervous about it all, but have realized that I can handle it.

There are some things around the house that are finally being finished up. My landlord embarked upon a huge renovation a year ago. A couple of parts of it dragged on. He had Bosch tankless water heaters installed. The idea was great-- it would save us money on our gas bill, which is huge. Unfortunately, the water heaters never worked right, particularly when running the shower. We were only able to get about five minutes of hot water when running the shower. After running around and around with the Bosch company (after seeing what he went through with their lack of customer support, I'll never buy one of their products), he had them removed and had regular water heaters installed. After months of short or cold showers, it's been a delight to take a normal shower.

Another project that turned into a nightmare was the backyard. The backyard was supposed to be redone last fall, but the contractor fell through. After a winter and spring of dealing with muck and mire, and more contractor problems, they're finally finishing up tomorrow. We look forward to sitting around the firepit in the backyard with the kids soon.

Kim and I had been planning to put some shelves up in our kitchen for a while. She finally got a chance to go get the shelves and I finally got a chance to put them up. They've been a big help in organizing things. They also helped fill a wall that was empty. This evening, I was working on the last thing that'll be added to that wall-- an lcd television. I miss having the History Channel on in the background while I'm cooking. I ran around to a few stores to compare prices, and came home and checked some prices online.

In the next couple of weeks, before summer school starts, I've also got to tackle the basement.

Here's the "Tying Up the Loose Ends" Friday Random Ten.

1. My Life Is Good- Randy Newman
2. No More- The Blind Boys of Alabama
3. Coconut Water- Robert Mitchum
4. Angry Words- Willy Porter
5. Feeling That Way/Anyway That You Want Me- Journey
6. Positively 4th Street- Lucinda Williams
7. Pretty Vacant- Sex Pistols
8. Darkness Darkness- Youngbloods
9. Tobacco Road- The Nashville Teens
10. On The Road Again- Bob Dylan

1. Randy Newman's ruminations on wealth, the wealthy and Bruce Springsteen.
2. A work friend of mine lent me this album and said I'd like it. He was right.
3. Yes, that Robert Mitchum. The album is great.
4. The best "getting over an old lover" song ever. I love the part about the coffee maker she'd given him finally breaking down.
5. Okay, so I like some Journey songs. Sue me.
6. A great cover of a really angry Dylan song.
7. Heard the Sex Pistols on Sirius today as well ("Holiday in the Sun"). I realized one, how political they were, and secondly, how good they sound thirty years later.
8. Ironically, the other great song from this album is "Sunlight."
9. They weren't from Nashville (from England) nor teens (in their twenties), singing about a place they'd never been, but it's one of the greatest singles ever.
10. A lot of people forget how damned funny Dylan is. This is one of the funniest.