Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And So It Ends

The guys lost last 5-4, ending their championship run. That's the short version.

Here's the longer version. They came back, after being trounced 9-0 in the first game to nearly defeat the Senior League Cubs, who are a great team with great coaches. This after losing one of their starting pitchers to a broken leg in the playoffs. They played hard and played well, but in the end, the Cubs played a little better.

Mark, one of the coaches on the Cubs, who had two sons playing on the team, deserved a championship. He's given the league-- and Adam-- a lot. Mark was Adam's coach a couple of his earlier seasons and did a lot to encourage Adam's love for the game. One year, he drafted Adam over kids who had a lot better stats because he knew that Adam worked hard and was open to advice in improving his game.

In retrospect, the season was awesome-- the most fun we've had in years. As I've mentioned, Adam's coach last year stuck him out in right field all season last year. This year, he got to play first base, third base and even pitch. Adam got to show his mentor, Coach Mark, how much he's improved in his game by playing against him in a championship. His hitting and speed have improved dramatically. He played-- and pitched-- in a league championship. I'd say that's a pretty nice way to end his six year stint in the Welles Park League.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

World Series Game One-- A Tough Break, But Some Fun

Tonight we played game one of the Senior League World Series. We entered it a player short: Mike, the head coach's son, and one of our pitchers, was hurt during Saturday's victory that got us here. The news was about as bad as it can be: he broke his leg on the play. He was coming into home plate and twisted his leg trying-- successfully, it turned out-- to avoid the catcher's tag. He will have surgery tomorrow, where they'll put a pin in.

We were happy that Mike was able to be there and participate (he kept the stats). He was one of the guys who got us there.

The game was rough from the start. Our starting pitcher was pulled in the first inning after inadvertently hitting two batters (it's a league rule). We usually depend on him to pitch three innings. We gave up nine runs in the first two innings.

One of the things I've loved about this team is how there is not one big star on the team. Each guy has had vital contributions at key moments. Tonight, it was Brandon, a little pip of a guy who is the youngest guy on the team. He came in to pitch and held the damage.

Our guys tried to rally back, loading up the bases at one point, but they were unable to score. It was tough-- the Senior League Cubs, the team they played, are a damned good team. One of their coaches, Mark M. was Adam's head coach for two years. He's a great coach who has always seen the potential and the love for the game that Adam had, and encouraged him, and when he was head coach picked him in the draft over guys who had better stats.

It was fitting, then, that in what is probably his last season playing ball in this league, he got to face his old coach in the championship. It was Mark's encouragement that made him keep trying. Even last year, when he was stuck out in right field for the whole season, he never gave up working on his game. In a beautiful little irony, it was that coach and that team, the team that had been annointed to win it all, that got knocked out by the last-place team, paving the way for Adam to be in the championship series. I'll leave it to you to make your own conclusions about those with little faith in people. But I know that Mark, despite Adam being on the other team in what is likely to be the only championship that Mark will win in all his years in the league, looks on Adam with pride in the part he had in where he was today.

Because you see, Adam didn't spend an inning this evening in right field, working on his tan. He played third base, the "hot corner" as they call it in baseball. And then he pitched the last inning, giving up not one run. As the sixth inning was ending, I heard my ex calling to me. The coach had told him to warm up to pitch the next inning.

I grabbed my camcorder and got ready for it. I'd missed a couple of great plays he had at third, where he'd tagged guys out trying to steal. I wasn't missing this one.

He had no idea he was going to pitch tonight. Like getting to the championship, unlikely chains of events had conspired to get him there. He ran out, warmed up and went out and pitched. He retired the side without a run scored. When the chips were down, he came through. I couldn't be prouder of him. I'm happy that Kim and Mel were there to see it, too.

No, Really, C'mon, Who Are They Really Prosecuting?

I heard on the radio that an appeals court has ruled that it is okay to prosecute Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was Osama bin Laden's driver for "conspiracy to commit war crimes, including terrorism." The Bush Administration considers this a huge victory.

So, nearly seven years after a well-financed and well-trained group of men flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the ground, slaughtering thousands of Americans, the best we can come up with is Osama bin Laden's driver? What's next? His barber? The guy who mows his lawn? His golf caddy?

We've shredded the constitution, become ensnared in a bloody, costly and unnecessary war (which is causing us to lose the necesssary war in Afghanistan). In the meantime, the Justice Department was busy slowing down the hiring process during critical times because they were trying to appoint lesser-qualified political hacks to the positions.

I swear to god, this administration must have people who stay up nights thinking of ways to screw up.

Johnny Yen's Chicago Stories: The Summerdale Scandal

A few weeks ago, I saw in a local paper that the former police station at 1940 W. Foster Avenue, here in Chicago, that was shuttered a couple of years ago when a larger, more modern facility was built about a mile away, was going to be taken over by the Griffin Theater company. I was happy to see that; it’s a handsome old Art Deco building that’s about a mile from my home and not far from the popular Hopleaf Bar and Restaurant. It also has a big role in Chicago’s history.

According to Richard Lindberg's book "Return To The Scene of the Crime: A Guide to Infamous Places in Chicago," (1999, Cumberland House Publishing), one night in 1958, Chicago police officer Frank Faluci ran into Richard Morrison. Faluci demanded a cut of Morrison’s take—Morrison was quite a successful burglar, hitting safes with payrolls in them. He was thought to have taken in about $100,000—quite a haul in the late fifties.

Officer Faluci specifically requested a nice set of golf clubs. This set the pattern in motion—police officers requesting specific loot from Morrison. It would go from police officers overlooking Morrison’s crimes, and veer into far worse territory—police officers actually participating in the burglaries.

Soon, Morrison tried to fill that order, heading up into one of his favorite places to pilfer, Evanston, a well-to-do suburb just north of Chicago. What he didn't know was that the Evanston police correctly suspected him of being behind a rash of burglaries there, and as luck would have it, had set up a stakeout with a bag of golf clubs prominently displayed in the back of a station wagon as bait. As Morrison attempted to take the bait, the police tried to nab him and a wild shoot-out broke out at Forest Avenue and Sheridan Road. Morrison managed to escape, ditching his car on the way back to Chicago.

Morrison was arrested by the Evanston police. A wiser man might have cut his losses and found another profession. But not Richie Morrison. He decided that he needed money and clout, and agreed to commit burglaries-to-order for a group of Chicago policemen, including Faraci and seven others.

The cops who were involved were in what was then known as the 40th, or Summerdale police district. They knew Morrison because he used to deliver them free pizzas from the pizza joint he worked at, at 1116 W. Bryn Mawr, right under the Red Line Bryn Mawr El stop. They were all assigned to the night shift, midnight to 8 am.

Their first hit was at Western Tire and Auto Store, which was at 5100 N. Broadway, in the Uptown neighborhood. Morrison and an accomplice, Robert Crilly, piled the items that had been ordered-- television sets, guns, tools, tires and radios-- near the loading dock of the store. The items were picked up in four squad cars. Morrison and Crilly were told that they could keep the cash they got in the burglary as their part of the haul.

There were ten more burlaries in the Uptown and Edgewater neighorhoods over the next nine months. Toward the end of it, the cops involved were actually helping the burglars carry the stuff out of the stores.

Fortunately, the corrupt cops were in the minority in the department. Dectectives Jim McGuire, Howard Rothgery, Pat Driscoll and James Heard entered Morrison’s home at 4332 N. Sacramento, which is just a few blocks from my own home, to arrest him. According to Lindberg, Morrison pulled a gun, but thought better of it. He threw it down and the detectives arrested him.

At first, Morrison kept his mouth shut. He appealed to his police accomplices to help him out. When this aid was not forthcoming, Morrison lost no time in ratting out the cops to save his ass. He came to be known in the press as "The Babbling Burglar."

In the wake of the scandal, which got nation-wide attention, Mayor Daley brought in O.T. Wilson, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking man who was the Dean of the University of California’s Criminology department to clean up the Chicago police department. One of the biggest changes was the end of "political" appointments of police officers. Advances were to be earned by merit and testing.

There were some expected-- and unexpected-- changes. Since the name had become notorious, the Summerdale district had its name changed—it became the Foster Avenue station. The eight cops were all convicted. Two paid modest fines and the other six spent prison time.

There was, however, one change that was unexpected. For decades, Chicago bars had made their money largely on "numbers" games. The booze was sold basically at cost or even a loss. Bars were the center of social life for Chicago neighborhoods. The bars paid a part of the take from the numbers games to local cops in order to have them overlook it. With Wilson's reforms, this ended, and so did the numbers, largely. This began a decline in the tavern as a social center in the neighborhood, and combined with the increase in car ownership, along with the pull of the suburbs, many would say that this was part of the decline of Chicago neighborhoods.

And what of Richard Morrison, the “Babbling Burglar?” According to Lindberg, he continued his ways, the way of the rat. He was testifying about mob-hired physicians who treated gunshot wounds without reporting them to the police, when he was shotgunned outside the Chicago Criminal Courts building on March 20, 1963. He lived, but one of his arms was shattered. After he healed, he was dropped at the Illinois-Indiana border and told to beat it. He made his way, according to Lindberg, to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where in a humorous bit of irony, he worked as a police photographer for a while, and then disappeared. Nobody has seen or heard from the “Babbling Burglar” for decades.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

That's Why They Play The Games

There's an old saying in sports-- "That's why they play the games." It refers to unexpected results; throughout the history of sports, teams that were heavily favored lost.

Toward the end of the season, everybody assumed that the Senior League Yankees were going to be in the championship. They'd lost only two games-- they beat us twice. We assumed we'd be playing them today. We did not.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I stopped to check in on the Yankees vs. A's game. I saw a parent I knew (she happened to be the wife of the A's' coach) and asked her how things were going. It was the seventh inning-- the Yankees were coming up for their last at-bats, and the A's were winning 6-3!

The way the playoffs work is that the first place team plays the last place, the second plays the fourth, etc. It usually quickly weeds out the teams who finished lower in the standings. But yesterday, the A's brought their "A Game." I had to leave before the end to go to work, but a friend of mine happened to be walking by the restaurant; she was bringing her son to check on the results in his league playoffs. She told me she'd stop by and check on the Senior League finale.

The A's held on to their lead and won the game.

We were happy about this. It meant that today we were playing the A's, a team we'd beaten twice during the season, rather than the Yankees, who'd beaten us twice. Also, they're just a much nicer bunch of guys than the Yankees, were were arrogant and cocky. Doug, the coach of the A's, had been Adam's coach for a couple of past seasons, is the nicest guy in the world. It was funny to see he and Adam chatting as Adam played third for the Red Sox and Doug coached third for the A's.

Today's game was hard-fought. There were great defensive plays on both sides. There was not going to be an 18-6 blowout like we had on Friday.

We managed to score three runs on one play, but that play was costly; Mike, one of our pitchers and best players, and the coach's son, twisted his knee badly avoiding a tag at home plate. Not only was he taken out of the game, he had to go get his knee x-rayed. We're still waiting to hear how he is.

Adam smacked a solid hit into left-center, and then advanced to third on two balks. Unfortunately, the hitters after him weren't able to bring him in.

The A's managed to score two runs, and we headed into the seventh inning up 3-2 (in our league, regulation games are 7 innings. They got a guy on base with a walk, and then one of their guys cracked a hit and scored the runner, tying it up. We finally got the side out and headed into the bottom of the seventh with a tied score.

One of our guys got on base, and then stole second. Then John came up and smacked a liner into center field. I'd had a feeling he was due for a hit and was ready to with the camera when the runner scored. And then it sank in; we'd won the game. We are going to the championships!

The boys were, not surprisingly, euphoric. The coach gathered them around to congratulate them, and to remind them of the days of the World Series games-- Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I realized that I'd have to change all kinds of plans-- we have tickets for a minor league game on Tuesday and I had to call a friend of mine to cover my shift at the restaurant on Wednesday. And if the series goes to three games, I'll have to meet Kim and Mel up at her family's reunion-- we were supposed to go up Friday morning. I'd made all these plans weeks or even months ago, just assuming that we wouldn't reach the championship.

On the way to work later this afternoon, I'm going to stop and check on the National League championship game between the Cubs and the Reds. Everybody has assumed that the Cubs would have this one wrapped up, but then again, everybody assumed that the Yankees were going to the World Series. As i said, that's why they play the games.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

One For The Record Books

The Evil Dictator had his first playoff game yesterday. To make a long story short-- and I mean long, nearly three hours-- his team won 18-6, meaning that tomorrow they will play whoever wins the game between the A's and the Yankees today to determine if they go on to the Senior League World Series.

Not only was this the longest game I can remember in nearly six years of watching him play, but it was also one of the strangest. First off, were the jet fighters. The park that he plays baseball in, along with the rest of our neighborhood, sits beneath one of the main flight paths for jets landing at O'Hare Airport. Usually dozens of passenger jets fly over the game, largely unnoticed by us, since they are so frequent. During the game, however, we looked up because one-- or actually two-- of the jets were much louder than the jets that normally fly over. It turned out to be a couple of FA-18 jet fighters. We figured that they were arriving in town to be used in the Air and Water Show in a couple of weeks.

Then there was the second inning-- all 45 minutes of it. Our guys went on a tear, scoring eight runs. Adam had an 2 RBI single and scored a run a couple of batters later.

A couple of innings later, we heard a loud "thump" in the street behind us, and discovered that a bicyclist had been hit by a car. The collision caused him to bounce off of one parked car and run into another parked car. He had unwisely chosen not to wear a helmet, so he banged his head on the pavement. A number of us ran to help him. One of the other dads ran down the street to get the license plate of the car that hit him. Happily, there was a squad car in the next intersection, and they were able to apprehend the hit and run motorist. There was also a couple of "tactical squad" officers in an unmarked car less than a block away, and they stopped to help the stricken bicyclist. Paramedics arrived within a couple of minutes. The bicyclist was soon concious and talking-- a good sign. They put him in an ambulance and took him away.

We got back to the already-long game. A few innings later, Adam got another hit, one that led to controversy and he and the other boys having to witness one of the most disgraceful displays we've seen in six years of playing in this league.

There was a runner on third base when Adam hit the ball. The boy forgot that there was no runner behind him, and that he didn't need to run. As you can see in the video, the pitcher threw the ball back to the catcher, who stood on the plate and easily tagged the runner out. Then, the other team's coach came out and started screaming at the umpire. He argued that the kid should have slid into home plate, and that he had raised up his arms like a football blocker. Our runner had actually put his hands up over his face because the catcher was holding his mitt at face-level. He'd put his hands up to avoid getting hit in the face.

From a point of view of good play, yes, our runner should have slid. However, as you can see from the video, there was no collision. Our runner slowed down as he approached the catcher. This didn't stop the other team's coach from making an ass out of himself, not just once, not even twice, but three times. The umpire, who is well-respected in the league as not only fair, but one who takes time to instruct kids on rules and technique, was incredibly patient; most of the other umps would have thrown the coach out after the first outburst. And of course, what was the point of his argument? Our guy had been tagged out.

The kids were already rattled by witnessing the accident. This idiot's spectacle didn't help matters any. But you might notice in the video that Adam kept his head in the game; after the ouburst, he stole second base, his second stolen base of the game. He ended up with two hits, two rbi's (his first hit drove in two runs) and two stolen bases. He played third base most of the game.

As the game ended at 8:15, street lights were coming on. The coach gathered the boys together to congratulate them and to remind them that their next game was on Sunday. And then a bunch of tired, hungry and happy boys went home.

The Friday Runs Into Saturday Friday Random Ten

My class ended Tuesday, but somehow my week was even busier after it finished. Work, the Evil Dictator's playoff game (post to follow) and some unexpected but welcome company conspired to keep me from posting yesterday.

1. Los Angeles- Frank Black
2. Open Your Eyes- The Doobie Brothers
3. Mannequin- Wire
4. We Will Fall- The Stooges
5. El Diablo- ZZ Top
6. Bitch- Meredith Brooks
7. Marriage Bureau Rendevous- 10CC
8. Long Time Gone- Crosby, Stills and Nash
9. From Now On- Supertramp
10. Don't Cha Stop- The Cars

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why Did I Ever Bother With Sinatra?

Tonight, I was fishing around Youtube for something else-- William Shatner performing Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" on the Mike Douglas show-- when I came across something I never thought I'd see again; Shatner performing "It Was A Very Good Year" on the Mike Douglas show in the seventies.

Here's the thing: I remember watching this when it was first broadcast! After my family moved to the suburbs in 1971, the television was pretty much constantly on. I'd watch Mike Douglas' show if there was a Gilligan's Island rerun I'd already seen a half-dozen times. I remember watching it and being vaguely impressed by it; he seemed really damned serious, and I'd never heard Sinatra's version.

During my search, I found more travesties. For instance, Shatner crucifying performing the Harry Chapin classic "Taxi."

Perhaps the worst was Shatner performing the Elton John/Bernie Taupin song "Rocket Man" at a science fiction film award ceremony, introduced by lyricist Taupin. How much do you think Taupin and Shatner needed that money? They probably paid Taupin in a couple of grams of you-know-what and Shatner got a couple of free passes to the buffet and a bottle of scotch.

The best, though, was Chris Elliot doing a straight-up rendition of that very same performance on Letterman's show. My guess is that it was in the late eighties or early nineties.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A New Song

Two years ago, when my friend Mark was murdered in a botched robbery, two of the things I promised him at his funeral were that as bad as I felt that day, I'd try to again find joy in my life, and secondly, to listen to more new music; a big part of our lifelong friendship had been a shared love of music, but with kids, and career, I'd fallen behind on music.

I think I've kept both promises.

A couple of years ago, my lovely bride got me Sirius Radio. It's got about a hundred channels, but I usually end up listening to only one channel: Little Steven's Underground Garage.

Little Steven is Steve Van Zandt, longtime guitarist for Bruce Sprinsteen's E Street Band. He's also the social conscience for the band, and perhaps America. Some time ago, he started the Underground Garage, channel 25 on Sirius Satellite Radio. My god, I love it. The basic format is rock and roll, but the format is pretty broad. Frank Sinatra's "Ring-A-Ding-Ding" and Elmore James' "Dust My Broom," for example, make the playlists on a regular basis. The dj's are awesome. They include legendary producers Andrew Loog Oldham and Kim Fowley, Dictators and sometime-MC5 frontman "Handsome" Dick Manitoba, lady rock pioneer Genya Raven and legendary Cleveland dj Kid Leo.

The best thing is that it's gotten me to buy or seek out new music. Well, not all new music... some of it is old, but new to me.

Besides the joy that my kids and my wife have brought me, and how much fun I'm having being in school, this music's brought me joy. I've kept my promises, Mark.

Here are some of the songs I've brought into my life, thanks to Little Steven's Underground Garage.

1. King of the Freaks- The Maggots
I think these guys are Swedish. This was one of the first songs I bought on Itunes. It's got the silliest chorus since Blue Swede's "Ooga-chuga" chorus on their cover of B.J. Thomas' "Hooked On A Feeling," but I like it.

2. Stranger In The House- The Paybacks
I love these guys. Okay-- these guys and a girl. I first heard this song on the Underground Garage on the way to work last year when I was still a teacher. I wrote the name and song down and had to wait for about six months for Itunes to finally have it. Bought it and discovered that the singer was not a guy with a high-pitched voices and a two-pack-a-day habit, but a woman.

3. World of Dreams- The Cake
Heard this one and "Baby That's Me" on the Underground Garage and fell in love with them. The Cake sound like the Crystals and the Shirelles, and I assumed that they were from the same genre. Discovered that they were not African-American and not from the early sixties, but white and from 1967. How cool was that to homage those groups in 1967? Couldn't purchase these songs on Itunes, but Samurai Frog, my favorite music and movie afficianado, had them both and shared them with me.

4. What's Happening?!?!- The Byrds
This song is unusual in that David Crosby sang the lead on it; Roger McGuinn usually sang for the Byrds. This is pretty funny given that Crosby is considered on of the finer vocalists in rock music, particulary with his friends Graham Nash and Stephen Stills.

5. Love Lies Dying- The Del Lords
I saw these guys once, opening for someone. I think it may have been Lou Reed, in 1990-- Mark and I went to that show.

6. I Don't Know- The Rolling Stones
Just when I think I've heard every Rolling Stones song there is, I hear one that I somehow missed. I heard this one while The Evil Dictator and I were driving back from Bubs' party a couple of weekends ago. Downloaded it a day or two later.

7. The Beginning- Bubble Puppy
After buying this song on Itunes, I looked this group up and discovered that they were a mid-sixties Texas psyechedelic group that only released one album. Sometimes you get it right the first-- and only-- time. This song will play in my head for days at a time.

8. Time Will Tell- Holly Golightly
First heard Holly Golightly when I watched Jim Jarmusch's great movie Broken Flowers; "There Is An End," a song she did with the Greenhornes, plays at the beginning and the end of the movie. A couple of weeks ago, I heard "Time Will Tell," loved it the first time I heard it, and bought it on Itunes the next day. I found myself listening to it two and three times back to back. I love her voice and her song-writing.

9. Take It Inside- Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes
Southside Johnny usually gets overshadowed by that other guy who came up in the clubs of Asbury Park, New Jersey, but once in a while he has a little gem, including this one, which is about helplessly watching a lover drown in substance abuse.

10. Hell's Coming Down- Primal Scream
I keep hearing songs that I like by these guys. Looked them up and discovered they were from Scotland, they've been around a while (1982) and the singer used to be Jesus and Mary Chain's drummer. This is from their most recent album, Riot City Blues.

I'm feeling pretty good these days-- joy and music are in abundance. I finished my summer school class today, so I'll have a little time for a couple of weeks. If I get ambitious, I'll post these songs in my Boxnet.

Congratulations, Kristi!

Congratulations to my favorite blogging hockey ho, Kristi! Not only are her hockey Ho's going to the Olympics, the first hockey team to ever play the summer Olympics, but they get their own entrance!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Beautiful Day For A Ball Game

Going into this baseball season, I wasn't sure what to expect. Last season was so-so. While The Evil Dictator loves baseball, he got stuck in right field all last season. His preferred position is second base-- but it was also the coach's son's favorite place to play. I'll let you guess who got to play second.

As this season started, he got stuck in right field again. I could tell he was getting bored (for you non-baseball players, most people are right-handed hitters; most balls hit go to left fielder, the short-stop or the third baseman. Right field is a good place to work on your tan). He didn't say anything to me, but he did mention it to my ex, who told me about it. She encouraged him to talk to his coach. He did this, and soon found himself occasionally playing first base as well as right. Then, about mid-season, it finally dawned on the coach that his regular third baseman couldn't play third base. Time after time through the first half of the season, we parents cringed as the kid missed easy plays. The coach started having Adam practice at third. Finally, one inning he finally put him at third. With a couple of guys on base and two outs, a batter that came up slapped a liner down the the third base line that was headed toward being a certain base hit and a run or two. Adam quickly reached out and snapped up the line drive, ending the inning.

He got to play third base a lot after that.

Late Saturday, a notice went up on the league website that we were making up Saturday's rained out games the next day. We were dubious; it had rained a lot on Saturday, but when Sunday afternoon rolled around, the weather was perfect-- a beautiful day for a ballgame.

As we got ready for the ballgame, Kim was resting from a 5K that she ran/walked Sunday morning with Mel. I asked Mel if she wanted to come to watch the ballgame. She did. She grabbed the camcorder we'd gotten her a couple of Christmases ago. I'm glad she did.

As the game started, we quickly went up by a bunch of runs. I was alternating between watching the game, studying for the Microbiology test I had today and chatting with parents I knew. Suddenly, I heard my ex calling to me. I looked on the field, and to my surprise, I saw Adam getting ready to pitch!

He finished warming up and started pitching. Apparently, he'd been nagging the coach all season to let him try pitching. Since this game couldn't affect our standings (we're second in the division) and we were up by five runs, he decided to let Adam pitch.

And you know what? He was pitching strikes. And he was throwing heat.

He struck out a couple of guys in the two innnings he pitched. They tagged him for three runs, but two of those were on errors his teammates committed. He was calm and confident, particularly given that he (and we) had no idea that he was going to pitch that day.

The second inning he pitched, he gave up no runs, and was looking even more confident.

The last-- and up until now only-- time he'd pitched was three seasons ago, when his coach had asked him to go in and finish an inning when the regular pitcher had melted down (he was crying). Adam went in and finished the inning, giving up one run-- the least any pitcher gave up that day. Later, when I asked him how he'd felt going in unexpectedly, he told me "really nervous." He probably felt that way yesterday, but I think in six years of playing, he's learned one big lesson of baseball-- and indeed, even life-- never let them see you sweat.

I had meant to grab my camcorder to get some footage, but in my haste to grab my schoolwork and digital camera, I forgot to. Happily, Mel, as I mentioned, brought her camcorder with, so we'll have some footage of Adam pitching up soon.

After he finished pitching, he went to his now-familiar third base, where he forced a guy out and came close to turning it into a double play, a rarity at this level.

When he went back to the dugout after pitching, I saw his teammates congratulating him. He was chatting with his coach-- I could tell that he was looking for pointers for improvement. I could also tell that something in him had changed. He'd been handed an unexpected challenge, and had taken it as an opportunity. Ah, baseball as life.

This last month was hard. My class was hard, and I know that it's not been easy on my family. I've had to balance the quality and quantity of time with them with needing to do well at this class. On top of that, I've missed time with both of my kids because of scheduled time with the families of our respective ex's. It's been over a month since we were all together. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the Monopoly game the kids and I played Friday night.

I was happy that as my class and this season are ending, both have turned out so much better than I expected. I was happy that a rainout turned into my favorite game I've watched in 6 years of watching him play (they won 14-6, by the way), and happy that my other kid got to share it with Adam and I. I'm happy that in our blended family, two kids are happy to have one another as siblings. And I'm most happy that the two of them, after the disruption that break-ups of their families caused, have, I think, normal and happy lives.

Now, on to the playoffs!

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Today was supposed to be the last regular game of The Evil Dictator's baseball season. It has been raining hard on and off since last night. As of 11:30, we hadn't heard whether his game, scheduled for 1:00, was going to take place. I checked the website, and all the morning games had been cancelled, but not the afternoon games. My ex called, asking me if I'd heard from the coach. I hadn't, so I decided that since I we live only about a block from the park that his games are played at, I'd walk over there and look at the field. It was pouring rain as I walked out the door with my umbrella, the rain began to really pour. I had a feeling I already had my answer.

As you can see from the picture I took with my phone camera, the diamond was more suited to a swim meet than a baseball game. By the time I'd walked back home, the league had posted the cancellation of the 1:00 PM games on their website. Looking at the standings on the league website, I saw that none of the standings in the division could be changed by today's results. In all likelihood, the game will not be made up. The regular season is probably over unless we have make-up game tomrrow. On Monday, the playoffs will begin.

In his league, everybody makes the playoffs. The playoffs are single-game elimination, and the teams they play are based on their standings. The Red Sox, Adam's team, finished second in their division. They will play the Tigers, who they soundly beat when they played them in the season. If they beat the Tigers, they play the Yankees for the league championship, and go to the World Series. This would be a first for us.

The Yankees, who are coached by his coach from last year, have done well, with 11 wins and only 2 losses. They beat us twice this season, but just barely. Will the third time be the charm?

The Quality of Mercy

I read the other day that Susan Atkins, one of the idiots who followed Charles Manson and killed at his behest, is dying of brain cancer and has asked to be released to spend her last days in freedom as an "act of mercy." I am astonished at her chutzpah

This is the woman who entered the home of director Roman Polanski (who was not home at the time) and actress Sharon Tate and helped murder Tate and four other people. Tate, who was eight and a half months pregnant, begged for her life, asking Atkins to spare her life so that she could have her baby. Atkins told Tate she had no mercy for her and then stabbed Tate to death, tasted Tate's blood and used Tate's blood to write "PIG" on the front door of the house. In her trial she showed no remorse for killing Tate or for killing Gary Hinman, a young musician, two weeks before.

I have long opposed the death penalty, and am still opposed to it-- even for Ms. Atkins or even for the sociopath who murdered one of my closest friends two years ago. By not executing Ms. Atkins, we as a society have shown the unrepentant Atkins more mercy than she showed her victims. Atkins was sentenced originally to death, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison. Whether she died at 90 of a heart attack or at her current age, 59, of brain cancer doesn't matter-- she was sentenced to be in prison to the end of her life. She forfeited any claim to mercy when she murdered those people. She can spend her final days pondering, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the quality of mercy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Nearly Home Friday Random Ten

Turned in my Standard Plate Count lab online late last night after work, and now all that's left before Tuesday is my test on 75 pathogens, my lab practical, in which I have to do a gram stain of a bacteria and a couple of other procedures and turn in my lab report on my unknown, now known as E. coli. That's all.

And looking at my list of songs-- none of them younger than 20 years old-- it reminds me that I've got a bunch of recently acquired newer music I've got to load onto my ipod.

1. Beyond the Sea- Bobby Darin
2. Amos Moses- Jerry Reed
3. Breakdown- The Alan Parsons Project
4. Don't Look Back- The Remains
5. You Can't Get What You Want ('Til You Know What You Want)- Joe Jackson
6. Mission of Mercy- The Motels
7. Bad Company- Bad Company
8. Midnight Rambler- The Rolling Stones
9. How Many More Times?- Led Zeppelin
10. The Forgotten Years- Midnight Oil

1. Love this one. They used it in a particularly creepy X-Files episode, and I now think of that when I hear it.
2. From sometime actor Jerry Reed.
3. Alan Parsons was a studio engineer with some big albums to his credit-- most notably Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album-- and formed a band in the late seventies. The singer on this song was the Hollies' Alan Clarke.
4. From the fabulous "Nuggets" collection of garage rock.
5. I associate this song with the summer of 1984.
6. A lesser-known but great song by the Motels, who had a few hits in the mid-eighties.
7. The eponymous song for this group.
8. One of the great albums and album covers from this group.
9. I posted last week about the other kind of Zeppelin. This group got its name from the Who's Keith Moon quipping that the newly formed group would go over "like a lead balloon."
10. Peter Garrett, who was the singer for Midnight Oil, is now a member of the Australian House of Representatives, for the Labor Party.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Happy Ending

Good news, everybody-- the "butt" of my TSI slant turned yellow overnight in the incubator! It's an E. coli!

Oh, and my lab partners and I won the "Microbiology Jeopardy" game today.

Everybody can just relax and take a breath now...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Good News, Mr. Yen-- It's An E. Coli!

Last week, my lab partners and I ran various tests on both gram negative and gram positive bacteria and recorded the results. Last week we were each issued an unknown bacteria sample and we had to first figure out whether the bacteria was gram negative or positive, and then run the appropriate tests.

After determining last week, through gram staining, that I had a bacillus-shaped (rice-shaped) gram negative bacteria, I ran the gram negative tests on it.

As I ran the tests, I expressed the hope that my unknown was E. Coli, mainly because E. Coli has a unique result in the Easion Methylene Blue (EMB) test; the culture turns a really cool metallic green.

As you can see from the picture, I got my wish. When I took my cultures out of the incubator this morning, my EMB test was metallic green, indicating the likelihood that my unknown bacteria, whose current name is "Unknown #24," is E. Coli. This conclusion was bolstered by the fact that it also turned the McConkey agar dark pink, indicating a lowering of pH caused by the fermentation of lactose.

My Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) "stab and streak" test, which is a differential test-- it tests for multiple things-- mostly backed up my E. coli conclusion. The slant was yellow, indicating that the bacteria metabolized lactose and/or sucrose, which is consistent with E. Coli. The "butt" was not black, indicating no hydrogen sulfide production, again consistent with E. coli. and there were bubbles in the "stab" portion, indicating carbon dioxide production, again a sign that Unknown #24 is E. coli.

The only inconsistent finding was that the "butt" portion, the bottom of the test tube, was red, rather than yellow. If it is E. coli, it should ferment the glucose in that portion of the test tube and turn the agar yellow due to a change in pH. My professor said not to worry-- give it an extra day; it sometimes takes an extra day for that to turn.

Man, I love this stuff!

Occasional Forgotten Video: Scandal Deee-Lite's "Groove Is In the Heart"

Summer school is racing through its last week-- I've got two labs, a final test where I'll have to identify the pathogens of 75 different diseases (what causes Impetigo? Hah-- I know it!) and a lab practical. So time is limited-- I've actually been working on a couple of posts during breaks from work, studying, etc. But for now, here's an Occasional Forgotten Video.

Not all the great vids came out in the eighties. This one was from 1990. It was alternately wonderful and ridiculous. The song was a mix of a throwback to straight-up old school funk and the club mix/sampling that was all the rage back then. Appropriately, the bass was played by P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins (he's in the video too).

Singer Lady Miss Kier was also joined by Super DJ Dmitri (Dmitri Brill), Towa Tei (Chung Dong Wha), Rapper Q-Tip, and Maceo Parker. They sampled from several songs, including Herbie Hancock's "Bring Down the Birds." The song was a lot of things, but mostly it was a lot of fun.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Wait Was Worth It

Those of you who read this blog regularly know about the renovations we've lived through. Starting about 9 years ago, my landlord, bless his heart, has been giving this two-flat, which was built in 1908, the once-over. Starting about nine years ago, with a new porch, there's been steady improvement in our home. The old tar-paper fake brick covering was itself covered with thermal insulation and much better looking vinyl siding. The old wooden windows, which leaked heat like sieves, were replaced with handsome, energy-tight windows. Central air was installed; now, for the same amount of electricity I was using just to cool my and my son's two bedrooms, we can cool the whole apartment.

Then came the real stuff. Last summer, the kitchen and bathroom were completely redone. The plumbing and electricity were upgraded (we can now turn the microwave and coffee maker on at the same time without tripping a circuit breaker!), new appliances and fixtures installed, which I posted about last summer. After a microburst flooded our (and many of our neighbors') basement, my landlord installed a new furnace and had his almost-new one hooked up to our unit.

The final stretch was the backyard. It was torn up in anticipation of being finished last autumn, but various delays kept that from happening. Finally, a couple of months ago, it was finished.

As I sat this morning eating breakfast with Kim in our beautiful backyard, I contentedly thought, my god, it was worth the wait.

I love so many little things about the backyard. Yes, those are Concord grapes growing across the trellis. By next year, they should be growing all the way across the trellis, providing us shade. I love the way the statues of Buddha and "Uncle Ho," the three hundred-plus pound statue buried in the vines next to our neighbor's garage evoke the way the temples and statues of Angkor Wat were engulfed by the jungles of Cambodia. They've installed solar-powered lights which shine on the statues after the sun goes down. I particularly love the head of Apollo, which has become the spot our escape-artist black cat Helga hangs out when she's snuck past us to get outside.

The best part is that its given us a great excuse to have friends over. Bubs and Mizbubs have joined us back in the garden, as well as STPTT, his wife and kids (the gnome planter on our back porch was a gift from them).

This morning, I was talking to my landlady, who did the lion's share of the gardening work that made the backyard so nice, about the fact that next month is will be ten years since my son and I moved into this home. It'll also be, in September, three years since Kim and my stepdaughter joined us here.

I remembered that when my then-girlfriend (and now ex-wife) Cynthia and I were looking for an apartment, I nearly skipped this one. From the outside, the place looked ragged. It had, as I've mentioned, that awful tarpaper fake brick that so many of Chicago's old buildings were covered in back in the old days. The porch was sagging. But when I went inside, I saw a diamond in the rough-- beautiful old wood floors, handsome old fixtures.

Cynthia came and went. These days, she's got the husband, house and baby she wanted. After she left, I took in a roommate, who turned into a nightmare. After I kicked him out, I thought about downsizing-- moving to a place that was smaller and cheaper. As I looked around, I discovered that I was paying for a three-bedroom place what a lot of people in the area were paying for a one-bedroom. After a lot of consideration, the deal-breaker in moving was the fact that this was my son's home. His mother kept moving from one place to another in the same bad neighborhood. This was the place where my son had grown up, where a lot of his childhood memories are stored. I stayed.

My landlady mentioned that she remembered how much I worked in order to keep Adam here-- I was working full time as a teacher and working another 10-30 hours a week as a waiter. I felt like I was treading water.

Nearly three years ago, as I mentioned, Kim and Mel moved in. Things in my life got better at every level. They got to join Adam and I in living through the last and most disruptive renovations. But I think they all agree that it was so worth it. Just look at the pictures.