Monday, June 30, 2008

Tying Off The Loose Ends

In July of 1986, I was a busy guy. I was working as a law clerk during the week and as a waiter at a downtown Chicago restaurant on the weekends. I was not quite a year out of college, so I was paying back student loans and trying to get on my feet financially. After working seven days a week for nearly a year, I decided it was a time for a break.

I arranged for a weekend off from my restaurant job, and talked to my office mate at the law firm to cover me for playing hooky from work that Friday so that I'd have three whole days off.

That Friday, after calling in "sick," I had a nice breakfast and then went over to a local liquor store to arrange to buy a keg for the party that I was having Saturday night. After running some errands, I took the el downtown to see the movie Aliens. It was one of the best film-watching experiences I've ever had-- grist for another post.

Afterward, I went to the fabled Chicago punk bar The Exit, which was then still in Lincoln Park. All in all, it was an incredibly fun evening.

The next morning, I went to a large garage sale that some local old ladies in my new neighborhood were having. I scored, along with a bunch of household items, a set of the old big-bulb Christmas lights. A couple of the ladies were also trying to get me to date their granddaughters.

Afterward, I took the el downtown again, and treated myself to a late breakfast/lunch of a Reuben sandwich and a Budweiser at a long-gone diner and walked over to the Art Institute, where I spent a couple of hours.

I got back on the train to go home because my friend Bob Buehler was driving over so that he could help me get the keg over to my apartment-- I did not own a car at the time.

After we dropped the keg off and iced it down, we went out to hit the resale stores before the party started. We bought the two ugliest lamps in Chicago-- mine, decorated with fake plastic chandelier pieces, was legendary and graced various apartments I had for over a decade after.

The party was a wild success. Dozens of my friends from college showed up, despite it being about 120 degrees in my apartment. Among the guests were Steve (nicknamed "Chiffon") who is in the picture at the top, to the left, and the guy on the right, my friend Mark, whose nickname was "Atwood" after the downstate Illinois town he'd gone to high school in, had helped me move into the place a couple of months before-- another friend with a car.

When Mark was shot to death in a robbery in June of 2006, almost exactly 20 years after this picture, his large circle of friends scrambled to find pictures of him to share. It was as if we were struggling to find some part of him that was left for us to cling to.

Later, when the guy who killed him was arrested, I discovered that he'd been born in February of 1986. He was about five months old when I snapped this picture of Mark and Steve. I had no way of knowing that somewhere in this city, there was a baby whose life would collide fatally with my friend's two decades later.

Another guy who was at that party, my dear friend Tim, didn't end up in the pictures. But after a quarter century, Tim and I are still close friends.

On Saturday, Tim and I went to the branch bank that I opened up a "community" checking account two years ago to hold the money that was pouring in from the large and marvelous group of friends that Mark had accumulated over the years. The money was for a reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the person or persons who had murdered Mark. In the end, it was over $10,000. I would love to be able to tell the guy who killed him-- in a robbery that netted three dollars-- that a bunch of working stiffs were able to raise ten grand to catch him.

But in the end, we didn't need the money to catch him. Some very able detective work by the Chicago police caught him late last year.

We had discussed what was going to happen with the money in the event that either the killer was never captured or that he was captured without the reward. We talked of a scholarship in Mark's name at Eastern Illinois University, where he, Tim, me and a bunch of other lifelong friends had met in the early eighties.

Tim and I filled out the forms to send the money to the EIU Foundation, which set up the Mark "Atwood" Evans Memorial Scholarship Fund. Over the past few months, we'd hammered out the parameters of the scholarship. An art student from Central Illinois. Financial need was to be considered. And a C average. None of us were "A" students.

Yesterday morning, I got an email from the woman who was helping us set up the scholarship. The wire transfer had gone through. She needed a few more details-- specifically the mailing address of Dave, one of the other trustees, besides Tim, Matt, myself and a couple of others, of the fund.

As I left my Microbiology class yesterday, I called Dave, who was driving along I-80, along with his wife and kids, to drive from California, where he lives, to Chicago to visit his family. Dave gave me his address, which I forwarded to the lady setting up the scholarship, and the Mark Evans Memorial Fund officially became the Mark "Atwood" Evans Memorial Scholarship.

Before that, though, on the way home, I stopped at Jewel's, the local grocery store to take care of some banking and to pick up some green beans that I know my son likes. Before I went into the store, I called Tim to let him know that I had Dave's information. Tim thanked me for what I'd done in all this-- setting up the checking account and other things, and I shook my head and chuckled a little bit. Tim has done as much or more than I did. But most of all, he loved Mark as much as I did, and his friendship has been one of the things that has helped me get through this.

We talked for a moment about planning for a trip down to Charleston, Illinois, where Eastern Illinois University is. The folks at Eastern are putting together an event. They want to tie the awarding of the first Mark Evans Scholarship to the reopening of the newly-renovated Doudna Fine Arts Center at the school. We talked about taking the awardee out for a beer afterward, and how we were going to tell him a little about the guy who the scholarship was named after. We talked about stopping to see his grave during the trip.

Later, I thought about Tim, Dave and I-- that the three of us are fathers, and how much the three of us, bad little bohemian boys in the old days, love being parents. Mark wasn't a parent and wasn't interested in being a parent. He already had a family-- us. And finding a guy like Mark in the world made us better people for it. There's a little bit of Mark in our kids.

I went into the store and stopped at the bank that is in the store to deposit money I'd made over the last few days at the restaurant. The bank manager happened to be the person taking care of me, and she asked, routinely, if there was anything else she could help me with. There was, in fact. The bank was also where the Mark Evans Memorial Fund was. I asked her to officially shut down that account. She proceeded to do this for me.

I thanked her and went off to do my shopping, not just to go get the green beans, but because I realized I was about to cry.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The No Rest For The Wicked Friday Random Ten

It's been an insanely busy week. Kim and I are sans children tonight, so we're actually going to go out tonight!

1. Whole Lotta Love- Led Zeppelin
2. Devil In Disguise- Elvis Presley
3. Wait Until Tomorrow- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
4. Electrical Storm- U2
5. I'll Be You- The Replacements
6. Nutbush City Limits- Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
7. The Times They Are A-Changin'- Bob Dylan
8. Dirty Boulevard- Lou Reed
9. Dear Mr. Fantasy- Traffic
10. 53rd and 3rd- The Ramones

1. The first record Rhino Records ever issued was the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra's cover of this song.
2. What would a Friday Random Ten be without Elvis?
3. This might be my favorite Jimi Hendrix song.
4. The last U2 song I really liked.
5. The biggest hit the Replacements had.
6. Seger and company covering a Tina Turner song. I'd argue that "Live Bullet" was the best live album ever.
7. From the soundtrack of the sixties.
8. From "New York," probably Lou's most political album. Dion sang on this one.
9. I don't know what's more unnerving-- that Steve Winwood just turned sixty or that I'm only 13 years younger than he is.
10. Dee Dee Ramone penned this autobiographical song about heroin addiction and hustling to feed that addiction.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Message From Miss Emily Litella

Chevy: And now an editorial from Ms. Emily Litella.

Miss Emily Litella: Thanks, Cheddar!

I'm here today to talk about KY Diving. I was walking near Johnny Yen's house the other day and saw a bumper sticker advertising KY Diving! What kind of sick, degenerate activity is this KY Diving! How low can morals go in this country? Why when Harry S. Truman was president...

Chevy: Miss Litella...

Miss Emily Litella: Do I even dare ask what KY Diving is? I'm sure some bohemian communist sicko pervert came up with it...

Chevy: Miss Litella, excuse me... I think it said "SKYDIVE" and the "S" wore off of the bumper sticker.

Miss Emily Litella: What?

Chevy: The "S"-- it said "SKYDIVE" and the "S" wore off of the bumper sticker.

Miss Emily Litella: Oh-- it said "SKYDIVE" and the "S" wore off? Oh, well then that's different. (Smiles) Never mind!

I Think I Can Do This, Part 3

I've been immersed in school and work the last couple of days, particularly school. Since it's summer session, we move fast. We had a test yesterday, one today and we'll have one next class, on Monday (our classes run Monday to Thursday at my school.)

It scared the shit out of me to go back to school. I wasn't a particularly good student back when I got my first degree, in Political Science. I was so interested in the subject, it came really easily to me. I rarely read the textbooks and still got A's and B's. With my current curriculum, lots of science courses required for entry into Pharmacy school, this is not the case. I've had to knuckle down and read the textbooks, and study a lot.

The course I'm taking this summer is one of the courses that weeds out the weaklings. I was really nervous going into it. This test, on antibiotics, scared me in particular. There was a lot of information to know. After taking the test yesterday, I had to go home and take a nap. I was wiped out.

We got our scores today. I had an 84-- out of 80. The instructor builds extra credit into the tests. This bumped my grade from a middle B to a low A. I'd celebrate, but I have to begin studying for Monday's test on microbial metabolism and the principals of disease and epidemiology.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mine Goes To 11...

I've got two tests in two days (and another on Monday) in my Microbiology class, so blogging will be limited, but I thought I'd share this great Motorhead bumper sticker I saw on a truck in the Aldi's parking lot today.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Motivational Posters

My friend Dovie, who was the social worker at a school I worked at, sent me a series of motivational posters. I'll be posting some of them occasionally. This one was my favorite.

One Last Thing...

Am I mean for posting this picture, after this weekends Crosstown Classic Series (Cubs vs. White Sox), which the Cubs won all three games?

Yeah, I thought so. I'm so ashamed. No, really.

A Loss: George Carlin

As I was winding down a long day, checking emails and headlines, I saw that the brilliant comedienne and social commentator George Carlin had died. I'm tired and will have to save it for a post later in the week, but suffice it to say that he was in the category I put Lenny Bruce, the Smothers Brothers and a handful of others who use humor to look at our society and hopefully make us look at ourselves and one another and strive to make ourselves and what surrounds us a little better. Goodbye George-- long may you run.

Occasional Forgotten Video: Scandal "Love's Got a Line On You"

Okay, another week of not posting enough. Despite taking a night off of work on Saturday to go to the Evil Dictator's baseball game-- a great game despite a loss (post to follow) and to get together with our friends Saturday night-- my week was incredibly busy. To make up for it-- okay, because it takes less time and thought than a real post-- I'm posting an "Occasional Forgotten Video," Scandal's "Love's Got a Line On You."

I just loved Scandal back in the eighties. First off, their music was great. And okay I was a little smitten with singer Patty Smyth. She was pretty cute, and I remember reading in interviews that she was the child of hippies who grew up in the cafe's of Greenwich Village. She's got great taste in husbands, too-- her first husband was early punk rocker Richard Hell and her current husband is tennis punk (and big music fan) John McEnroe.

Scandal's songs "Goodbye To You" (future "Occasional Forgotten Video") and "The Warrior" and even her song with Don Henley "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough" were probably better known, but I love this song. Here's the vid that got the airplay on MTV.

There is one other version of the video; I'm pretty sure I remember seeing it on MTV before the slicker version came out, but after 25 years, memories are hazy. According to Youtube, this one was a demo. It's a little more raw than the final the final version, but it highlights what a great song the song is and Smyth's great set of pipes.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Okay, McCain, You Can Start Worrying Now

I had to read this headline twice-- I wasn't sure I'd actually read it right. Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel has said that he'd consider an offer to be vice-president not for fellow Republican Senator/Vietnam War vet John McCain, but Democrat Barack Obama. Here's the story about it:

I hate to get mean so early, but I'll add that the New York Times is reporting that Obama has a double digit lead in polls over McCain, 51-36 percent.

Please, please-- I blew out all the candles on my birthday cake this year; can I get my wish that McCain picks Lieberman, Romney or Huckabee as his running mate, just to make absolutely certain that he'll lose?

A Beautiful Evening For A Ball Game

We've got a flurry of games this week, and then one more in the middle of July, and then the playoffs.

Tuesday's game was rough; a lot of sloppy play, resulting in six errors, including two on one play by the first baseman (one catching, one throwing). Our guys had come from behind, but lost the lead and the game.

Adam had meant to talk to the coach that he was tired of only playing right field, and had meant to mention it to the coach. However, probably because of the sloppy fielding on Tuesday, the coach started shuffling the positions around. He had Adam practice at third. He must have liked what he saw, because that was the position Adam played most of the game.

I smiled at this; third base was my favorite position to play. Probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was a big fan of the Chicago Cubs' third baseman Ron Santo.

He did a great job at third base. He caught a line drive down the baseline that would have been an rbi double if he hadn't fielded it.

In addition to his fielding, his batting added to the game. He hit a bouncer on his first at-bat that he almost beat out. They narrowly threw him out at first, but the runner at third came in and scored. He got a sacrifice rbi, which brought his team the lead, which they never lost. He got another rbi later in the game when he was walked with bases loaded and scored a run himself when he was batted in.

After the game, over dinner, we talked about how many of his old teammates were on the A's, the team they played tonight. There were seven of his old teammates! Toward the end of the game, his old teammate Hugo was pitching. Hugo is a little pip of a guy, but plays with enthusiasm and intensity. It must run in the family; his grandfather played professional ball in Mexico and his father loves the game.

At the beginning of the game, the sky was threatening. There was a little sprinkle of rain, and then the sky began to clear. It turned out to be a lovely evening for a ball game. It was even nicer when our boys ended up winning the game 11-5. I can't think of a better way to end a long, tiring day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Long But Good Friday Random Ten

Today felt like one of the longest days in my life. We were busy the last couple of nights at Jury's, and I we had a couple of busy days in my Microbiology class, with a lab and a long, detailed lecture on antibiotics. I was exhausted going into the day, and had to start work early, to boot. We were extremely busy, but it was lucrative.

I had to drive like a bat out of hell to pick up Adam and get him to his baseball game on time. It was a great game (post to follow). We grabbed dinner and I finished a lab that was due at midnight (we submit our labs online) while the kids and I watched "Nacho Libre." Now that I've got the lab turned in, I can post the Random Ten I did during breakfast about 15 hours ago.

1. Live- The Merry-Go-Round
2. Lust For Life- Iggy Pop
3. Rattlesnakes- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
4. Ghost Riders In the Sky- Johnny Cash
5. We Close Our Eyes- Go West
6. Sail Away- David Gray
7. You Got Your Head On Backwards- The Sonics
8. Yakety Sax- Boots Randolph
9. Razor Face- Elton John
10. Long Hot Summer- The Style Council

1. From the fabulous "Nuggets" collection.
2. My theme song (the line "Here comes Johnny Yen again...")
3. The title track from my favorite Lloyd Cole and the Commotions album.
4. I'm still mourning the loss of Johnny Cash.
5. I did this song as an "Occasional Forgotten Video" a while back.
6. Whatever happened to this guy?
7. Seattle legends.
8. This song, Randolph's biggest hit, was used as the theme song on the Benny Hill show. I actually saw Boots Randolph in concert when I was a kid.
9. From "Madman Across the Water," one of my favorite albums.
10. Paul Weller's project after the Jam.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Never Knew We Had Such a Kidnapping Problem

Apparently we have so many kidnappings here in Chicago, they have to use school buses to transport the victims.

Reasons To Vote Republican

My old friend Larry sent me this hilarious clip of reasons to vote Republican in November, from the I'm Voting Republican website.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Living the Wild Life In Evanston

Last year, when my friends Lulu and Ten-S discovered that I needed a waitering job so that I could continue my plan to leave teaching and go back to school, they really came through for me, directing to a friend of theirs who was a co-owner of a great restaurant in Evanston, a suburb north of Chicago.

They also told me to look out for the family of Peregrine Falcons that had taken up residence on the roof of Evanston's main library, across the street from the restaurant. I finally saw one of them a couple of weeks ago. I was able to get one grainy shot of one of them.

Today, however, I got a much closer camera shot of one of them. One of the offspring had flown out of the nest, but panicked and settled on a ledge on the building the restaurant is housed in.

Unfortunately, the bird's sibling had failed to fly and had fallen fatally earlier in the day.

It was fascinating to watch the mother falcon try to coax it's child to fly. It was perched on a column of the library, across the street, flapping its wings, perhaps demonstrating to her offspring what to do. People gathered to watch it told me that she had flown down earlier with food in her mouth to try to get it to fly back up to the nest. When I left work at about 9:30 tonight, the baby falcon was still on the ledge. I'm hoping it works up the courage to fly back up to the nest.

More Negativity For Splotchy

I've always got my eye peeled for negative sign space for Splotchy's Negative Signage Space side-blog. Tonight, as I was driving home from my second job, in Evanston, I passed a Chicago institution, the S & C Electric Company, at 6601 N. Ridge, in Chicago. In the many, many times I've driven by the plant, I'd never noticed that the sign near their front gate is a great example of Negative Signage. I pulled my truck over into a nearby parking lot, jumped out of the car and got a picture.

The S & C Electric Company is somewhat of an anomaly; a manufacturing plant that is left on Chicago's rapidly gentrifying North Side. They produce parts for all kinds of electrical things, including, as I ran a search on them, parts for windpower plants; tres cool! They also provide good-paying union jobs for lots of blue-collar folk. Even cooler.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lucky Friday the 13th Random Ten

I love Friday the 13th. Thirteen is my lucky number. My son's number on his baseball team this year is 13. And who doesn't love a baker's dozen-- 13-- when they get donuts?

1. Desolation Row- Bob Dylan
2. Keep It Tight- Single Bullet Theory
3. After Midnight- Eric Clapton
4. Masters of War- The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
5. Going Up The Country- Canned Heat
6. Mellow Down Easy- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
7. Wreck On the Highway- Townes Van Zandt
8. Bend Me, Shape Me- The American Breed
9. Willpower- The Replacements
10. Black Magic Woman- Santana

1. This long track closes the great Highway 61 Revisited album.
2. A new wave track from the eighties.
3. One of several J.J. Cale songs Clapton has covered over the years.
4. Some early angry Dylan.
5. Love this tune. They performed it at Woodstock.
6. From the Butterfield Blues Band's first and best album.
7. A co-worker turned me on to Townes Van Zandt a few years ago, bless his heart.
8. The only band from Cicero, Illinois to have a top ten hit.
9. The Replacements' "Hootenanny" is one of my favorite albums from the eighties.
10. Most people don't know that this was originally done by Fleetwood Mac, in their pre-Buckingham/Nicks days as British Blues rockers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Heroes

These guys are my heroes.

First, Ohio Congressman and former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has bucked the Democratic Party's leadership and called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush for misleading the nation into the disasterous war in Iraq, citing a "calculated and wide-ranging strategy" in deceiving Congress and U.S. citizens into believing that Iraq posed an imminent threat, with "Weapons of Mass Destruction."

It's not expected to lead to an actual impeachment, but I'm glad someone's calling for it. Clinton got impeached for a little hanky panky in his office. Certainly Bush should face some consequence for leading this country into an unnecessary war that has resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers, the physical and psychological maiming of thousands more and the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqis.

My other hero is Vincent Bugliosi. He's best-known for "Helter Skelter," his account of his successful prosecution of the Manson family. More recently, he wrote a book refuting a vast conspiracy in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His most recent book is "The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder." The title is self-explanatory. Bugliosi has methodically put together the case for prosecuting George W. Bush for the deaths resulting in the unnecessary war in Iraq.

Sitting presidents are immune, constitutionally, from criminal prosecution in order to prevent them from being harassed by false "nuisance" charges. When they're out of office, they lose that immunity. I can't wait.

Hey, maybe he can share a cell with Manson.

I Guess We're Just Ahead of the Rest of the Country...

A few days ago, this headline greeted me in the New York Times:

US: Gas to peak at $4.15 a gallon but stay high

The article said that this was a summer peak, and-- guess what-- prices wouldn't drop a whole lot after the summer is over. Prices should stay around 4 bucks a gallon.

The price of gasoline has risen nationwide for various reasons-- short supplies, suspected speculation, and of course a plummet in the value of the American peso Dollar. Chicago, for various reasons, has the most expensive gasoline in the nation. The picture on this post was taken today, June 12, 2008 at the gas station at Montrose and Western in Chicago. We'd be thrilled to have gasoline as cheap as $4.15, the alleged "peak price."

Thanks Georgie and company. Can't wait until you're out of office and can be prosecuted for getting us into the Iraq war, one of the causes of this mess.

Good Advice

Saw this license plate a few weeks back. Usually I hate vanity plates, but this one gave good advice.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Two New Residents At the Yen Household

This weekend, Kim, the kids and I went to visit our friends Peter and Jody, who own The Old School Records in Forest Park, Illinois. They were participating in a sidewalk sale/street fair that Forest Park holds every year.

I rode the "Berry-Go-Round" with Adam and Mel (I am the "Designated Goes-On-Carnival-Rides-With-The-Kids" Parent) and bought the kids Italian Ices (okay, I had one too). This was not without its reward: Kim shelled out three bucks to get me this awesome Elvis candle.

The Candle King wasn't the only new resident who made his debut this weekend. Last fall, I helped my landlord unload our other new resident from his van. All 300+ pounds of him (he's made of cast concrete). We had to wait for the yard renovations to be finished-- we wanted to move him only once-- and so he's been stored in the garage since last fall. He ended up having to be moved twice, though; my landlord moved him to his final home, but "Uncle Ho," as he has been dubbed, got tanked up on sake and fell over into the garden the night after he was installed. Adam and I helped my landlord pick him up and put him in a more secure spot.

I'm looking forward to both new residents joining us for cocktails in our new backyard this summer.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Eighth Grade Graduation

My son graduated eighth grade today. As of today, he is now a high schooler.

I had a million thoughts going through my head. I remembered the day my ex and I brought him home from the hospital more than 14 years ago, and how scared I was. I thought of the day before his first day of first grade, when his mother, from whom I had by then split, called me and asked me to talk to him-- they'd gotten into a fight. He told me that he was not going to first grade. He had no choice, I told him.

I thought of my own eighth grade graduation in June of 1975. The Vietnam War had just ended. Gerald Ford was President. Cell phones, ipods, home computers, dvd's and cd's were all still in someone's imagination. As I held my camcorder, weighing a little over a pound, recording his graduation, I thought about the instamatic camera that my parents took my picture with that day, and how much things have changed. As I thought about the fact that we are now in another pointless, grinding war, I thought about how little had changed.

Mostly, though, I stood there amazed at how my little boy had turned into a young man.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Saturday Morning Baseball

The Evil Dictator had a baseball game this morning at 8:30. His Senior League Red Sox played the Senior League White Sox at Welles Park in Chicago. Here are a few pictures.

On Deck
It's funny to watch the various boys, and what they do on deck. Some guys go outside and swing a bat or two bats. Adam just goes up and calmly waits his turn.

It's interesting to me to watch how my son experiments with stance with each at-bat.

This at-bat, which was actually his last, he hit it with a solid connection. It was fielded and he was thrown out at first.

Right Field
While he loves to play second base, and has actually played first base a few times this season, Adam is generally put out in right field because he's got the best arm on the team-- as I've mentioned before, he can get the baseball in to the catcher on a fly to right without having to hit a cut-off man.

The Bench
The kids in the Senior League are all seventh and eighth graders, so there is probably the most variation in size in the guys of all the levels. This picture of the bench shows that.

The Lead-Off
In his second at-bat, Adam got on first on a walk. He promptly stole second base. Here he takes a healthy lead-off.

Bolting For Third
With two outs, a batter after him hit a fly toward center, so he sprinted for third base. Unfortunately the ball was caught, ending the inning.

"Good Game!"
At the end of every game, the guys walk past one another, proclaiming to the members of the opposite team "Good game!" This practice of good sportsmanship is one of the things I like about the little league games.

Post-Game Meeting
Every game, win or lose, there's a meeting at the end of the game, where the coach hands out congratulations and/or suggestions for improvements. Today it was all congratulations; the Red Sox' good hitting and aggressive baserunning led them to a 9-3 victory today. Their record is now 6-3.

Summer School Friday Random Ten

Summer school started Wednesday. I'm taking Microbiology-- the serious classes have started. I even have a lab coat now-- post to follow.

1. Scarlett Begonias- The Grateful Dead
2. Strawman- Lou Reed
3. The Usual- John Hiatt
4. Understand Your Man- Johnny Cash
5. Lovers In A Dangerous Time- Bruce Cockburn
6. Mansion On The Hill- Bruce Springsteen
7. Two Little Hitlers- Elvis Costello
8. Kalasnjikov- Boris Bregovic
9. Trouble Man- Marvin Gaye
10. Love Rears It's Ugly Head- Living Color

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Installing a Zipper

In the last few months, I've been getting rid of most of my vinyl. I've been going through it and keeping a handful of old records. One of them is the Phil Ochs Best-of compilation, "Phil Ochs: Chords of Fame"

I have most of the songs on cd's, including a wonderful box set, "Farewells and Fantasies," that came out about ten years ago. The music is not the reason I kept "Chords of Fame"-- the beautiful liner notes are.

The liner notes are by musican/political activist Ed Sanders, one of the founding members of the legendary Fugs. Sanders, who was not given to flowery praise (the Fugs were known for their irreverence and outright crassness). His commentary on Ochs was beautiful and touching. There was one part that has always stayed with me:

"To encounter Phil unexpectedly at a party, or at a riot, or on the street-- what a twinge of happiness."

On Wednesday, it was the second anniversary of the loss of my friend Mark "Atwood" Evans. One of the reasons for starting this blog was dealing with the loss-- his horrific murder in a botched robbery. I had some thoughts on him and what he meant to me.

I met Mark sometime in 1982 or 1983. We would run into one another and end up talking to one another. Finally, one night in 1983, I ran into him at a party and talked to him most of the evening, and realized that we were now friends. Over the next two years, we hung out frequently, and ended up rooming together while I was finishing my graduate work.

Over the years, our friendship grew. Around the time he died, as I looked for photos and mementoes, I came across a letter he'd sent me right after I got out of school. I had also kept the envelope, which he'd drawn and painted in his inimitable and unique style. The letter, sent as he was getting ready to graduate, was all over the place-- complaining about the meterology class he was taken to fulfill a science requirement; mentioning that he'd gotten glasses; mentioning that he'd woken up to discover that his roommate had forgotten to pay the cable bill, and the cable was out; he mentioned that he was reading the book "Megatrends."

Years later, at his funeral, someone mentioned how well-read Mark was, citing "Megatrends." He mentioned that people talked about the book, but Mark was the only one he knew who'd actually read it.

When the group of friends who Mark's parents dubbed "The Chicago Angels" were clearing his house out, Mark's parents told us to take anything that had sentimental value to us. That book was one of the things I grabbed.

Over the years, Mark and I would make plans and get together frequently, but just as often, we'd just run into one another. I remember July 4, 1991 very well. I went down to Grant Park-- the Replacements were playing (it turned out to be their last-ever show). I ran into Mark and a few other friends down there. Over the years, Mark and I roomed together again, had hundreds of great conversations and a hundreds of great times together. Having a planned get-together with Mark was great, but like hearing your favorite song randomly on the radio, it was even more fun when you'd run into him unexpectedly. It was a guarantee of a great evening. He was one of the most unique, funny, intelligent, gentle and giving people I ever knew.

Late last year, the police finally arrested the guy who they pretty much knew had killed Mark. They had to wait until they felt they could get a conviction on the guy. He's being held without bail. That's given us-- his family and friends-- a little bit of healing, but I'm not sure it'll ever completely heal.

A few weeks ago, Alasdair had a brilliant quote that I felt captured how I felt. He was quoting Sherry Potter Walker, a woman who had lost her brother in Laos, during the Vietnam War. She said:

"When you lose somebody close to you, it doesn’t scab over and heal. A zipper is installed. And anytime you come across the memory, it opens up and all of your sadness falls out."

Two years later, I still think of Mark twenty times a day-- a song I hear, a book I see, remembering a snippet of a conversation I had with him. I wish I had a videotape of him-- I wish that just one more time I could hear his high-pitched voice, his goofy laugh, hear him holding forth on some new thing he's interested in or talking about music.

Some time this summer, I'm going to write a check. His family and friends had gathered a sizeable amount of money for a reward for the capture and conviction of the killer. We had agreed early on that if the police either were unable to catch the killer, or captured the killer without the reward being needed, we would use the money to set up a scholarship at Eastern Illinois University, where Mark and most of the rest of us had met, and had some of the best years of our lives. An organization at our old school will administer the scholarship, which will be, at our request, for an art student, like Mark was. The organization, the EIU Foundation, invests the money and uses the interest to fund the scholarship in perpetuity. The money we put together will be enough to fund a $1000 a year scholarship. It's nice knowing that twenty years from now, some struggling art student might be able to stay in school because of the Mark Evans scholarship.

This will be the one and only check ever written from the account I set up two years ago to hold the money we'd collected. After I write it, I'll close the account. And some time this fall, I'm going to go down to the cemetery that his cremated remains are buried at and finally say goodbye.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

One Last Look At The Old Uptown

Lately I've been spending a lot of time in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood-- my school is there. I've had some thoughts about it.

Chicago's north side Uptown neighborhood was, at one time, as its name suggests, the night spot in Chicago. The beautiful old Uptown theater, one of the historic Balaban and Katz Theaters, sits physically and symbolically in the center of the neighborhood, handsome, dilapidated and currently vacant. I saw Peter Gabriel there in 1980, just before it was closed. It was owned by the notorious slumlord and convicted arsonist Lou Wolf, who had a habit of sitting on beautiful old dilapidated properties-- and doing nothing with them for years. Wolf finally died a few years back, and a lot of the properties he was sitting on, including the Uptown, are slated for renovation.

Right next to the Uptown is my friend Ric Addy's book and used record store. The store has been in Ric's family for decades, and Ric has run it for over 25 years. It's a very cool place to kill an afternoon, and Ric is a cool guy to kill an evening with over a few drinks.

Ric was involved in a documentary about the MC5 that finally got produced a few years ago. It took years to get done-- Ric would occasionally talk about it, calling it the "MC5 movie." He owned some of the videotapes that it was based on.

I remember a pleasant evening maybe 15 or 16 years ago, going to Ric's store and running into my friend (and Ric's) Bobby Scarpelli, who was a legendary bouncer and bodyguard here in Chicago. He was also my son's godfather. Ric, Bobby and I went to the Green Mill, a few doors down from Ric's store, and had an enjoyable evening having a few beers and chatting.

A few months ago, Ric came into the restaurant and we talked a little bit about that evening-- and how much we miss Bobby, who died just a little over ten years ago at the age of 49. Bobby will be another post.

The Green Mill used to be owned by Al Capone, though it has a history that goes back before that. When Charlie Chaplin owned nearby Essanay Studios, the Green Mill was a favorite watering hole for actors and crew. It has continued to be a movie magnet, with scenes in Michael Mann's Thief and Stephan Frears' High Fidelity being filmed in there.

If you go into the Green Mill, you'll notice that one, and only one booth faces not the stage, where jazz bands still play like in Capone's day, but the door. It was that way so that Capone could face the door in case rival gangsters or the police came through the door.

In the case the police came in, Capone could be ushered out of the Green Mill through the network of tunnels that the Green Mill's basement was connected to (the History Channel has a feature about this).

Uptown's decline began after World War II as families moved to the suburbs. Beginning in the sixties, Appalachians started moving in. The neighborhood I grew up in, Albany Park, was the neighborhood people moved to when they could afford to get out of Uptown. Over time, various ethnicities moved to Uptown. At one time, Uptown had 70% of the shelter beds in the entire city. As a result, it's streets have been filled with the homeless, alcoholics, drug addicts and mentally ill people. And criminals. Uptown has long been a very easy place to get mugged in.

But Uptown has also been a "port of entry" neighborhood-- a neighborhood where people who have just migrated to the United States lived until they could move on. Uptown is also filled with immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia and Africa, mixed in with yuppies, white blue collar people and young bohemians.

For decades now, Uptown has resisted the gentrification of the neighborhoods that surround it-- Lakeview, Andersonville, Ravenswood. Changes may be afoot. A Borders opened there a few years ago. A Target is one of the stores that is going in a big central space vacated when a big CTA repair barn went up in flames a few years ago. And new restaurants and bars are opening there.

Uptown's gentrification seems inevitable. Even with the economic downturn, it will happen-- the affluence of the neighborhoods around it have pretty much cast the die. But before that happens, I'm looking one more time over my shoulder.

A couple of weeks ago, Francis Oduro, a 22-year-old student from Ghana who attended Truman College, where I take my pre-pharmacy classes, was shot to death on the 4500 block of Broadway, a block from my school and down the street from the places in these pictures, which are on the 4800 block of Broadway. He was walking down to the el stop I get on when I sometimes take the el to one of my jobs. He was unfortunate enough to be walking next to a gang member who was being shot at. The gang member lived. He did not.

As Uptown turns a corner, I hope it becomes a place where it's safe for the future Francis Oduros to attend college, or even walk down the street. I hope that Uptown can find a way to become prosperous, but stay as diverse and interesting as it is.

Monday, June 02, 2008

You Heard It Here First...

My son and I talked a lot about the election last weekend, including who the presumed candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, would choose as their running mates.

Distributorcap had an excellent post a few days ago, where he analyzed vice-presidential choices and came to the conclusion that in the end, the running mate doesn't end up being the big a factor. I'm inclined to agree, but the candidates will probably try to "balance out" their tickets anyway, as in the past. Therefore I'm making the following predictions.

I think it's no secret that Virginia Senator Jim Webb is the strongest contender to presumed Democratic nominee Barack Obama's running mate. He strongly covers Obama's right flank-- Webb, who comes from long line of military men, served in Vietnam and served as the Secretary of the Navy under Reagan.

One weakness is that Webb is a first-term Senator-- he's not even served a full term yet. On the other hand, he's had a huge amount of public service experience. He also showed that he could hang in there during a bruising election battle.

And who will McCain choose? Well, he fancies himself a "maverick," though blogger Vikki has very ably pointed out that this is a myth. Still, reality never gets in the way of a good story in politics. I think that McCain will try to cover his left flank and install another mythical "maverick" in the veep spot. I think he's going to pick Joe "Quisling" Lieberman.

This would be very interesting; Lieberman was, of course, Democrat Al Gore's running mate in 2000. Lieberman would provide a "East" balance to McCain's "West." He's stronger in knowledge about foreign affairs, and probably the economy, two areas where McCain is woefully weak.

By running as an "independent" in the 2006 Connecticut Senate race after losing the Dem primary, and defeating the Democratic candidate, depriving the Dems of a desperately-needed Senate seat, Lieberman has irreprably broken his relationship with the Dems and their voters. He sees this as the only path available to him.

Of course the whacko-right fringe of the Republican party, which is in control of the party right now, will melt down. It'll end up fragmenting the party even more than it has become already.

I can't wait!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sports Update

It was a weekend of sports for my kids. The Evil Dictator had two baseball games this weekend and my stepdaughter had lacrosse practice.

I had to work last night, but managed to catch my son's first at-bat. Unfortunately I missed his best one. The game went into extra innings, and the other team got ahead by a run. He got up and hit into a fielder's choice that drove in the tying run. Another run was scored and the Red Sox won 6-5.

Adam called me to tell me about his great game, and asked if I was going to be at today's game. I was scheduled to work. I gave it some thought and realized that I've got my whole life to make money. My kid won't be a kid forever. I got someone to cover the shift.

And what a game it was. When I got there, my ex mentioned that during the pre-game practice, she'd noticed that the other team was weak in fielding. Our guys, on the other hand, were great-- their fielding, hitting, everything was great. They won the game 11-1. Toward the end, following baseball etiquette, the coach told our guys to take it easy so as not to run up the score.

One bonus of taking the day off was that I was also able to do something I'd been promising I'd do-- see one of my stepdaughter's lacross practices.

It was great watching my stepdaughter enjoying the sport and spending time with her best friend, and kibbutzing with the other parents.

There was one little surprise in store for me during the practice. A woman who was there at the practice with her daughter walked up to me and started talking to me-- she told me she thought she'd recognized me, but realized it was me when she heard my voice. When I heard her voice I realized I knew her too. It was Anne, a woman I'd dated 17 years ago.

I have to admit, I was in shock at first. The first thing was that I was looking at the face of a middle-aged woman. Of course. We'd both been about thirty when we dated. We are both now approaching fifty. It took me a moment to regain my composure, and then I nearly lost it again when I discovered that she knew all my wife's friends and had been the head of the LSC (Local School Council) of my stepdaughter's school. She's got two kids now, and is still a lawyer. She's married to a teacher who took a couple of years off of teaching to stay home with the kids. I had to chuckle at that-- I'd done the same thing. Now here we were, watching our kids play lacrosse.

We caught up on our lives and then were done. I remembered that she'd ended the relationship. I'd been pretty smitten with her. I realized, though, that I was glad that things had happened the way they did-- as nice a person as she was, I was a lot happier with my life now than I would have been with her. I wouldn't have had Adam. I wouldn't have had Kim and Mel in my life. As I left the lacrosse practice to go to Adam's baseball game, I felt like things had happened just the way they should have.

And how about those Senior League Red Sox?!