Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cats In The Cradle

Years ago, when my son was a baby, my father cautioned me make sure to remember that you get your kids for such a tiny portion of their lives, ultimately. Before you know it, they're in high school and college and they become more and more independent and you become a smaller and smaller part of their lives.

He also told me about how a song, Harry Chapin's "Cats In the Cradle," had had an effect on his life.

As my brothers and I approached college age, my father accepted a management position at the big computer company he worked most of his career at. The idea was that it would enable him to help us pay for college.

It was, in a word, horrendous. Because he was on salary, he went from working forty hours a week with either time and a half or comp time for overtime to a regular workweek that was sixty hours or more. He would regularly get phone calls in the middle of the night over some emergency or another. His health-- physical and mental-- was deteriorating fast. He was rarely around, and when he was, he was a mess.

Years later, he told me that he'd made the decision to leave management after hearing a song on the radio-- Harry Chapin's "Cats In the Cradle."

Most of you are probably familiar with the song. It's the tale of a father too busy with his career to take a meaningful part in raising his son.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw", I said "Not today
I got a lot to do", he said, "That's ok"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"

As the father misses one milestone after another in his son's life, the son grows up determined to be like him. As the father grows old and retires, he tries to make up for the time lost. But his son is busy with his life and doesn't have the time for him. At the end of the song, the narrator has the sad realization that his son has grown up to be just like him.

This was supposed to be a weekend with my son, but he had no fewer than three events for band at his high school. I managed to fit in a lunch-- our usual Chinese buffet-- on Saturday afternoon. Afterward, I realized that the time my father had told me about was here. From here on out, it'll be a struggle to get our time in together. It's the way of life.

After that lunch, I thought back to every time in his childhood I played with him-- Candyland, checkers, chess, Monopoly, basketball, baseball catch, Risk-- no matter how tired I was. I knew that my ex did none of these things with him.

From here on out, the other priorities are going to creep into his life-- school, band and eventually work and girls. As you might guess, I'm both happy and sad about it. I'm happy that after dealing with so much crap-- an ugly custody fight, particularly-- that he's an astoundingly normal and happy teenager. There are a million moments of his childhood that I remember, trying to connect them with the intelligent young man who talked about the "polytheistic religions that the Greeks and Romans had" in recent conversation we had. I'm sad to see my little boy fade away, but happy to see the young man who's ready to take on life's challenges. And I'm happy that I have no regrets. I'm glad I took my dad's-- and Harry Chapin's-- warnings to heart.

Here's a clip of Chapin doing "Cats In The Cradle" on Soundstage, here in Chicago, in the mid-seventies.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mother of the Year Award

One of the accomodations to my new life as a middle-aged college student was going to work full time as a waiter. It made sense-- the hours work out for childcare and school, and I generally like the job. It's a good job if you like people.

The downside of it is that you deal with whoever has the money to come into the restaurant. This is generally not a problem. I like most of our "regulars." In nearly thirty years of being a waiter on and off, the place I currently work at has by far the most nice (and generous) regulars.

There are a small handful of regulars that all of us dislike. And each of us has a few who really get on our nerves. Last night, one of the ones in that category came in. She comes in about once a month with her son, who is about 12 or 13. He's a nice kid-- polite and well-spoken. She's an attractive blonde who's probably in her late thirties. I'm pretty certain she's a single mother.

My beef? She's a shitty tipper. Her tips generally run between 8 to 12%. With her being a single mom, I might even be inclined to overlook that. Having done the single parent thing myself for a long stretch, I can certainly empathize. Here's the thing: she'll always have a couple of martinis made with "top shelf" vodka. She's got the dough for a couple of ten dollar martinis, but not to take care of the server.

Last night she won the Johnny Yen "Mother of the Year" award.

She was seated, as usual, on the patio, where I was working last night. She ordered her usual Grey Goose martini, "up" (chilled, but no ice in the drink) with blue cheese olives. Her son ordered hot tea.

I brought them their drinks and gave them a few minutes to peruse the menus.

When I went back to the table, her son ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. I asked him which side dish he wanted. He asked if he could get a salad with it rather than french fries. I was impressed that he was making such a good dietary choice. The salad was available, I told him. Just to make sure his mother knew, I mentioned that there was a $2.00 upcharge on it if you had a salad as a side dish.

"Oh, well then no, you can't have it," she informed her son.

Yeah, lady-- you've got two bucks to make your martini a "top shelf" one, but not two bucks so your kid can eat more healthily. Friggin' Mother of the Year, you are.

Oh, and her tip was about 12%.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's A Simple Game

All right, so far I've kept pretty quiet on the whole bank meltdown. I've been mulling this post in my head since reading my old friend Deadspot's excellent post on what he wants out of the bailout.

See the book at the top of this post? It's Adam Smith's classic "The Wealth of Nations," which was first published in 1776. It's sort of an owner's manual for capitalism. Unlike most people, including, presumably, most people working in on Wall Street and the banking industry, I've actually read it. I read it for an assignment in an Economics class in college and wrote a paper on it.

Remember in the movie Bull Durham where Trey Wilson's character, manager Joe Riggins, throws a tirade at the slumping Durham Bulls? He tosses an armload of bats across the locker room and yells at the players:

"This is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. You got that?!"

Adam Smith lays it out just like Joe Riggins. You get the materials. You hire some workers. You produce something. You sell it for more than the cost of labor and materials that you paid for. Your reward for your trouble is the difference between the costs of production and what you sell it for. It's called "profit."

Yet, somehow capitalists can't seem to manage to get it right. It's a simple game. Produce something someone wants to buy and sell it for more than it cost you. Or loan out some money with the anticipation of being paid back with some interest. Or lease or rent something you own for more than it cost you. Simple, right?

But if you read the Wall Street Journal or the business pages of the New York Times, you enter an alternate universe of bizarre economics. Hedge funds. Futures. Derivatives. "Flipping" property.

Reading about these guys, 28-year-old hedge fund managers who live in mansions on Martha's Vineyard, you got the impression that actually producing something seemed to be looked on as a sucker's game. The really big money was in the high stakes gambling of buying and selling increasingly amounts of precarious debt, debt that in their perverse universe got more valuble the riskier it was.

These people apparently have the attention span of four-year-olds. Remember the internet bubble, less than ten years ago? Remember how internet stock values rose and rose, until they defied the ability of even the best-performing companies to deliver a profit even remotely commensurate with the inflated stock values?

And of course they brought the rest of the stock market down with them, especially after 9/11. My parents, who were getting ready to retire, watched in horror as their retirement portfolio lost over a third of its value.

We keep learning the same lessons-- or maybe not-- over and over again. Remember the collapse of the Savings and Loan industry in the eighties? That cost us $500 billion to bail out that one. They keep making the same mistake, for hundreds of years, it turns out. The first time this happened in Western society was the Tulip Bubble of the 1600's in the Netherlands.

The tulip was first imported to Europe from Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire, in the late 1500's. Since tulips were able to tolerate the rough weather of Northern Europe, they rapidly gained in popularity. They became sought-after status symbols. Rich people contracted out with growers, and the first futures contracts were born, for tulip bulbs.

Throughout 1636, the spectulative price of tulip bulbs skyrocketed. Then, in February of 1637, the prices collapsed, and tulip bulb speculators learned the hard way what so many businesses have had to learn as well-- that in the end, no matter what your computer program, derivative, "gut" or whatever other method you have of figuring, that in the end, someone has to buy a rail-car full of pork bellies, pay a mortgage, purchase electricity (hello Enron)-- or a tulip bulb-- for you to make some actual real money. It seems like every ten years or so, business people need to find that out the hard way. Too bad we taxpayers always seem to be the ones who end up footing the bill for their lack of understanding that it's a simple game.

Perfect Autumn Day Friday Random Ten

The weather here in Chicago is picture-perfect today. I'm remembering to enjoy it, thinking about the days in December I'll be riding my bike to school through snow.

A few days after dropping the Chemistry class, I'm realizing I did the right thing-- I'm feeling a huge sense of relief. And I'm really enjoying my English 101 class. It'll be good for some future posts.

1. England Swings- Roger Miller
2. Jim Dean of Indiana- Phil Ochs
3. (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures- The Rezillos
4. Don't Make Me Wait- Locksley
5. Teenage Depression- Eddie and the Hot Rods
6. 6'1"- Liz Phair
7. Long, Lonesome Highway- Michael Parks
8. Blame It On Cain- Elvis Costello
9. Bridge Over Troubled Water- Simon and Garfunkel
10. All This I've Done For You- Hüsker Du

1. I came across a Roger Miller "best of" collection at my local library and had to rip a few of my old favorites from that.
2. Phil Ochs usually sang politically-tinged songs, but this one is a straight-up beautiful homage to the actor James Dean.
3. This one is from Rhino Records' fabulous "No Thanks" collection of seventies punk.
4. Bought this one on Itunes after hearing it on The Underground Garage on Sirius satellite radio.
5. Also from the "No Thanks" collection. Great opening line: "Well I'm spending all my money and it's going up my nose..."
6. From "Exile In Guyville."
7. The great theme song from the television series "Then Came Bronson," sung by the show's star.
8, From "My Aim Is True," one of the best first albums ever.
9. Another one lifted from the library collection.
10. Candy Apple Grey is my favorite Hüsker Du album and one of my favorite album titles ever.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Breather

I spent the entire day Monday working on my Chemistry 203 class, trying to catch up. At the end of the day, I was still not caught up. I was two lab write-ups behind, and had tanked 2 of the 3 first quizzes. I came to the realization that it would be better to drop the class and retake it next semester when I was better prepared for it.

I ate the money I paid for the class-- since its a city college, it's not as much as a lot of other schools would be, but its not insignificant. Still, the class served as a great brush-up for the trigonometry, calculus, quadratic equations, etc. that I'll need for the next go-around of this class.

In the meantime, I still have my English 101 class, which I'm enjoying a lot. It'll also let me get ahead financially-- I'd had to take a lot of days off trying to get caught up with the class. It'll allow me to get caught up with some stuff around the house. And mostly it'll help me get caught up mentally and emotionally. It's been a busy, and sometimes emotional last few years. I need a breather.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gratuitous Kid Pictures

I'm brain dead from a day of trying to get caught up in my Chemistry 203 class, so I don't have the energy to write a real post. I thought I'd just share this great picture.

It was taken a couple of Saturdays ago. We were supposed to go out with two couples that are some of our best friends. I was had planned to have the night off of work, but that fell through. Kim and the kids went to Chinatown with our friends and their kids. I called in a favor and got off of work early, but not early enough to join them. When I called Kim, they were just finishing dinner. She talked to our friends and they all came back to our place and joined us for a drink.

Nice people have nice kids, it turns out. Our kids broke out the cards and chips and started playing poker, continuing the tradition they made up of wearing a hat and sunglasses while they play.

By the way, the goldfish is a wind-up one-- one of Kim's birthday gifts.

Oh Boy, Is This Great!

To quote Flounder in Animal House: "Oh boy, is this great!

The New York Times is reporting that John "The Maverick" McCain's campaign manager was paid $30,000 a month for five years to work for an advocacy group set up by the recently-bailed-out mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations. That's not a typo. That's $30,000 a month.


McCain has been campaigning, as the article points out, as a critic of the two companies and the lobbying that kept them from greater oversight and regulation.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What? He's Black? When Did That Happen?

According to a Stanford study, negative stereotypes that some white voters have about African-Americans may keep Barack Obama from winning the election if it is close.


It's hard to believe that a voter would be stupid enough to apply stereotypes to a guy who is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Are people really that ignorant? We'll see in November.

And speaking of ignorant, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported in today's Times that 13% of registered voters believe, according to polls, that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. This is, of course, false. As Mr. Kristof points out, Mr. Obama is much more involved in his Christian church than John McCain is involved in his.

Even worse, reports Kristof, in conservative Christian circles and on some "Christian" radio stations, the rumor that Senator Obama is the anti-Christ.

Maybe they can burn a few witches or hold an exorcism or something. Oh, and stay home on election day, along with the white voters who apply their stereotypes to intelligent, repectable men.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video: The Motels, "Suddenly, Last Summer"

Today is the last day of summer. Looking back at the summer-- Microbiology class, my son going to the championship in baseball, lots of good times with both my kids, a great family reunion with my wife and her family, a financially great summer at work-- it's been one of the best and busiest summers of my life. I though I'd end it with one of my favorite summer songs, The Motels' "Suddenly, Last Summer," which was a hit in 1983, the year of one of my other favorite summers.

The roots of The Motels go back to Berkeley, California in 1971. The moved to Los Angeles in the mid-seventies, hoping for better exposure. In 1978, singer Martha Davis and former Tom Petty bandmate Jeff Jourard reformed the band. Their second single, "Total Control" was a top 20 hit in France and Australia (the song was used years later in Jonathan Demme's movie "Something Wild.")

They had a small hit with "Mission of Mercy," and another with "Take the L" ("Take the L out of lover and it's over"). They had a big MTV hit with "Only the Lonely." Their next album, "All Four One" was a breakthrough album for them and yielded the hit "Suddenly, Last Summer."

The Motels did some movie soundtrack songs, but by 1987, Martha Davis decided to break up the band and go solo. She had one top ten hit in Australia, but eventually she reformed the band as "The Motels featuring Martha Davis." They continue to record and perform as such.

Just A Reminder...

In case you've forgotten, it's September 19, International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Arrrrrrrr!

The "Catching Up" Friday Random Ten

The last week or so of my Chemistry 203 class was a little overwhelming. This class gets into some serious theoretical and conceptual stuff that I'm really struggling to grasp. And after a thirty year hiatus, advanced algebra, calculus and quadratic equations have re-entered my life. I don't know what's more scary-- that it's been thirty years, or that I'm actually remembering it all.

I gave serious consideration to dropping the class. I went to class yesterday and realized that there were people who just had classes in all of that math recently and were struggling more than I was. Yesterday's class went well: I'm catching up, rather than falling behind. I realized that I can tough it out. I may pass this class with a C, but I'm going to pass it.

1. Robbery, Assault and Battery- Genesis
2. Sacred Heart- Million Dollar Marxists
3. It's Hard To Be a Saint In the City- Bruce Springsteen
4. I Knew I'd Want You- The Byrds
5. September- Earth, Wind and Fire
6. The Last Trip To Tulsa- Neil Young
7. Dance This Mess Around- The B-52's
8. Long Time Gone- Crosby, Stills and Nash
9. Can't Let Go- Lucinda Williams
10. Ballad of a Teenaged Queen- Johnny Cash

1. Okay, it's art rock, but I love it. Good thing Phil Collins is better at producing music than he is at picking out wives.
2. These old-school punkers hail from Ottawa, Ontario.
3. From Springsteen's great first album. Love the opening line: "I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard luck of a cobra/I was born blue and weathered but I burst just like a supernova"
4. I've always loved the Byrds, but lately have been really getting into them.
5. Have you ever had a song you heard a thousand times and never paid much mind to, but the 1001th time you hear it you love it? That happened with this song a few years ago.
6. From Neil Young's first album.
7. Man, doesn't that first B-52's albums still sound great? Can you believe it's 30 years old?
8. This song is about the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
9. Lucinda Williams as a stalker. A pretty charming stalker, I'm certain.
10. Did Johnny Cash do even one bad song? I love this guy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bye-Bye Bounce

The good Dr. Monkerstein and other noted political pundits told us to be calm when the polls indicated a dead heat. They told us that the bounce that brought McCain and Palin to a dead heat with Obama and Biden was typical of what happens after a convention-- a five point bump.

They were, of course, right. The latest New York Times/CBS poll puts Obama back at the 48% to 43% lead he had going into the conventions.

What's more, people are realizing with the economy in a mess and the banking industry in a meltdown, it might be nice to have a guy who is pretty damned smart as president. You know-- someone who graduated from Harvard, was the first African-American to be the editor for the Harvard Law Review, etc.

Or maybe you thought a guy who graduated 894th in his class of 899 at West Point might have the smarts to do the job. Hell, he'll have the help of a woman who was governor for two years of a state of about a half million people.

By the way, that's about the size of Obama's district was when was an Illinois State Senator. But hey, he's inexperienced, you know.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beware of Republicans Bearing Gifts

This morning I was listening to WNPR. They said that polls indicate that John McCain's choice of the inexperienced, anti-choice, religious nut Sarah Palin has been largely responsible for bringing McCain from behind to dead even with Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They said this has been mostly from "undecided" women who were "energized" by the choice of Palin.

I am dismayed by this. This reminds me of the early eighties when conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly was a big part in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment. You see, all of you ladies who would vote for McCain just because he's got a woman on his ticket, sometimes a gift is not what it appears. You may want to look up some information on the Trojan Horse.

Monday, September 15, 2008

He's The Expert, Isn't He?

Apparently Karl Rove has warned that John McCain's ads have recently descended a little too far into lies and sleaze.


Isn't that like Keith Richards telling you you're doing too many drugs?

Richard Wright, 1943-2008

I was saddened today to see news of the death of Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright.

Though my tastes turned to punk as I headed into my twenties, I always had a soft spot in my heart for Pink Floyd, particularly the Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here albums. Wright's glorious keyboard was always a key part of "Floyd's" sound. When I was a teenager, and was taking piano lessons, I got the sheet music for Dark Side so that I could learn the piano part in "Great Gig In The Sky." Thanks, Richard, for that and the other great music.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Johnny Yen's Chicago Stories: Deep Tunnel

One day, when I was in a high school chemistry class my senior year in 1979 at Lyons Township High School, in Lagrange, Illinois, my lab partner Mike Okkema and I were finishing up the write-up in a lab in our Qualitative Analysis class, when there was a loud "boom." The lab table I was seated at, which had a slate top that was nearly two inches thick and must have weighed several hundred pounds, jumped up about an inch and came back down.

Our first assumption was that the other chem lab, next door, had blown up. It turned out that that was the assumption the other chemistry teacher had about our lab. Both he and my teacher ran to the doorways of the office they shared, which connected the two classrooms.

Both classrooms were okay. The rattled students conjectured what might have caused the "boom." An "M-80" (a firecracker with the power of a quarter stick of dynamite) thrown down a toilet? Or perhaps it was an unusually large blast from the long-running Chicago Deep Tunnel project, something we'd occasionally hear and feel.

Weeks later we discovered that it was not an M-80 nor Deep Tunnel, but a minor earthquake, a rarity in Chicago.

Yesterday, though, in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, It was Deep Tunnel that everybody was thinking and talking about.

At about 7:30 yesterday morning, as I sat eating breakfast with my kids, I got a call from my ex. With the overnight torrential downpour we'd had (over six inches in 24 hours, it turned out), the backyard of the old house she'd bought earlier this year had turned into a pond. Her basement was wet-- she could see form watermarks on boxes on the floor that there had been a couple of inches of water there overnight, before it drained. She asked me to come over and look at it.

By the time my son and I got over there, there was water coming into the basement again-- there were about two inches of water in the basement already. As I walked around in my bare feet, the water continued to rise. I grabbed some old paint cans and got her washer and dryer up on them while she and our son got boxes off of the floor and on top of shelves and water-tight boxes. The water began coming up through the drain. I made a mental note to make sure to wash my feet off well when I got home. There was certainly sewage mixed in with this. The water was also coming up through cracks in the foundation.

Finally the rain eased up and I noticed that the water had stopped rising, peaking at the top of the bottom stair of her basement.

Through it all, she and I kept asking the rhetorical question: "Where the hell is Deep Tunnel?" Wasn't the multi-billion dollar, multi-decade project supposed to prevent just this thing?

Later in the day, my ex emailed me the link for a Sun-Times article in which they reported that the Deep Tunnel tunnels had become overwhelmed by 7:30 am- right around when my ex's basement began to flood. The Metropolitan Sanitary District, the Chicago-area special district for dealing with runoff water and sewage, began to pour the mix of runoff water and raw sewage into the Chicago River, and ultimately into Lake Michigan. By about 10:15, when we were just finishing rescuing the objects in her basement, they were opening the locks near downtown Chicago to allow this.


I did a little research and discovered why Deep Tunnel hadn't done what it was supposed to, prevent flooding of Chicago-area basements during unusually large rainfalls: it isn't done yet.

What, you are undoubtedly asking, is "Deep Tunnel?"

Let's start from the beginning. Chicago grew, like most cities, because of its location. Being near Lake Michigan and several rivers, it was great transportation center. Consequently it became a major trading post, and then an industrial center, never mind the fact that it was mostly marsh. A combined drainage and sewage system that drained into the Chicago River, and ultimately Lake Michigan, was built.

Like many simple solutions to complex problems (See "War in Iraq"), there were consequences that were worse than the original problem. Cholera, a disease spread by the consumption of water contaminated with human waste, rapidly became the number one cause of death in Chicago. To solve this problem, Chicago engineered the reversal of the Chicago River; it began to be filled by Lake Michigan, rather than empty into it. This happened in 1900.

Over the next few decades, there were major projects in order to deal with the consequences of this reveral-- after all, the water that had for millions of years drained into Lake Michigan now needed somewhere else to go. The Sanitary and Ship Canal, which was finished at the same time as the river reversal, was the first of these. It had the effect of dumping sewage that the Chicago River had formerly dumped into Lake Michigan into the Des Plaines River. Next was the North Shore Channel (for you Chicagoans, that's the one that runs along McCormack Ave and drains into the lake by the Bahai Temple) and construction of the locks at the mouth of the Chicago River in the 1930's.

After World War II, new suburbs began to spring up around Chicago, solving the massive post-war housing shortage. Most of these communities planned wisely-- they had separate systems for sewage and rainwater drainage. Again, with many simple solutions, came more problems. Many of these suburbs were built in areas that had formerly been areas that larger rainfalls had drained into-- "floodplains.". Consequently flooding became a perennial problem in many Chicago suburbs (as well as parts of the city). According to Wikipedia, there were major floods in the Chicago Metropolitan area in 1952, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1973, 1979, 1986, 1987, and 1996. And of course yesterday, as we got hit by the tail end of the hurricane that hit Texas.

In the mid 1970's, the Metropolitan Sanitary District began working on a long-term solution. It began working on a massive series of tunnels and underground retention ponds carved out of the bedrock that lies under a couple of hundred feet of clay in the Chicago area that would be designed to hold the runoff from the larger storms that hit the Chicago area every few years.

Most of the work on the tunnel system-- all 109.4 miles of it- was finished in October, 2005. It was the blasting for these tunnels that I would occasionally hear and feel when I was a teenager living in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. That was a 30 year project. To give you an idea of the generational timeframe, I was just finishing junior high school when they began it in 1975, and my son was starting junior high school when they finished it in 2005.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the project. The tunnels are for quickly moving huge amounts of runoff water to massive underground reservoirs that are still being carved out. The two under southwest suburban McCook, Illinois will become operational in 2013 and 2019. Another, under Thorton Township, will become operational in 2019. If this all works, the runoff/sewage mix from massive rainfalls will be held by these huge reservoirs while sewage treatment plants process it for dumping into the Calumet and Des Plaines Rivers.

So right now, the only reservoirs that Deep Tunnel has are the tunnels themselves. The actual reservoirs are years from completion.

The picture at the top of the post is the front of today's Chicago Sun Times. It was taken yesterday at Argyle and Monticello, about two blocks from the Albany Park apartment my family lived in when I was a kid. The guy in the picture is standing in water up to his knees outside of his home. His basement must be completely filled. I guess my ex got off easy.

When I got home yesterday, I checked our basement, which got about a foot of water after a microburst last June. There were a few small trickles coming in, but no damage. I was relieved. Apparently the big upgrade in drainage that my landlord, bless his heart, spent so much money on in the last year, was well worth it.

And the rest of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs? If history is a yardstick, we will have between one and three serious floods between now and the completion of Deep Tunnel. The prospect of the eventual completion of the project will be cold comfort to the people whose basements and homes flood between now and then.

And this assumes, of course, that the damned thing actually works like its supposed to. So far, in Chicago, every solution to our water problems have posed new problems.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Transitional Friday Random Ten

Usually I do my Friday Random Ten on my Ipod, which I have hooked up to the stereo. Over time, I've been transferring the songs on my ipod to my Ibook. I've still got a few to go, but I've got the majority of them transferred. Plus, this way, the tunes I've purchased on Itunes will start showing up in my shuffle. Today is the debut of using my laptop for my Friday Random Ten.

1. Sweet Black Angel- The Rolling Stones
2. Can't Say Nothin'- Curtis Mayfield
3. Summer Wind- Frank Sinatra
4. The Beautiful Ones- Prince
5. When The Lights Go Out In the City- Journey
6. Big River- Johnny Cash
7. I Walk the Line- Johnny Cash
8. Pipeline- The Chantays
9. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)- David Bowie
10. Needles and Pins- The Ramones

1. From "Exile On Main Street," the greatest rock record of all time.
2. Do yourself a favor and go get "People Get Ready," the Curtis Mayfield box set. Your life will be better for it.
3. This song was on the jukebox at Gaspar's, a long-gone Chicago bar (it's where Schuba's is these days). It played frequently, and I never, ever got tired of it.
4. From Purple Rain, one of the great albums of the eighties
5. Okay, yes, it's Journey. But it's the second-best song ever written about my favorite city in this world, San Francisco. The best, of course, is Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart In San Francisco."
6. I love the line in this song "I fell in love by accident in St. Paul."
7. What's better than one Johnny Cash song? Two Johnny Cash songs. This is the version from the "Live at San Quentin" album.
8. One of my many memories with my late friend Mark was when he and I were apartment hunting in 1988. We were in his car and he had a tape by the Chicago punk band The Defoliants playing. Their cover of Pipeline came on as we drove to the apartment we'd eventually live in with our friend Dan. Years later I'd discover that another friend of mine, Chuck Uchida, played guitar on that track.
9. From Scary Monsters, an overlooked but great Bowie album.
10. The Ramones' cover of the Searchers classic.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The First--and Last-- Time I Saw You

In the spring of 1998, I was involved with a group dedicated to maintaining the history and memory of the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who were from the Chicago area. There had long been groups on the East and West coasts, and once a year they had meetings either in New York or San Francisco. Our group was asked to send representatives to the annual meeting, which was in New York that year.

I was not originally going to go, but Cynthia, the woman I was dating at the time, who later became my second wife, bought me a ticket for my birthday.

I made plans to stay with a friend of a friend in Washington Heights for a night. Cynthia drove me at five in the morning to Midway Airport. I got off the plane at Laguardia and hurried to the shuttle that took me to the subway train. I had only about ten minutes to spare to get from the subway station to the City Colleges auditorium in Tribeca that the gathering was at.

With the help of some friendly New Yorkers, I managed to get on and off of the right train and get to the auditorium. As I walked out of the subway station and headed toward the auditorium, I looked up and realized that I was in the shadow of the World Trade Center. I had no conception of Manhattan geography, and had had no idea I'd be near them.

I was shocked how big they were. I've spent lots of time in and near the Sears Tower, the Hancock Building and the Amoco Building here in Chicago, so I was used to being around big buidings, but somehow the World Trade Center seemed very, very big. I remembered thinking at the time that the building, which I'd always considered bland, was more handsome than it looked in the pictures.

I'd brought my camera, and stopped to snap a picture. Ironically, that was the last picture in the roll and I hadn't brought a spare roll. It was the only picture I took on the trip.

A few months after the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001, seven years ago today, I came across this picture. I'd completely forgotten about it. It occurred to me how sad it was that this was the first and last time I ever saw the World Trade Center.

Seven years later, our political and economic system have been radically altered because of the destruction of the towers and the disasterous aftermath-- the invasion of Iraq, the assaults on our political rights, etc. And Osama bin Laden the guy behind it all, the guy who organized the murder of over 3,000 people, is still at large. Nearly eight years of incompetent Republican "leadership" have failed miserably. I hope everybody remembers that when they go into voting booth in November.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One More Time

Here are a couple of the clips of McCain acting, well, not real presidential. I posted them a couple of days ago, but Youtube removed them. Thanks to Mnmom for directing me to the new ones.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Wrong Palin

When I first saw the New York Times online headline that McCain had chosen Palin for his VP nominee, my thought was "Wait-- (ex-Monty Python guy) Michael Palin is British-- he can't be VP!"

Well, apparently I wasn't the only one who made the association. This is hilarious. Thanks to Samurai Frog for it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

John McCain's Little Tantrums

I've heard rumors of John McCain's little tantrums over the past couple of years. They are rumors no longer. Here's a couple of Youtube clips of McCain melting down.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Gratuitous Chicago River Photo

Yesterday, my stepdaughter and I were returning from a bike ride in nearby Horner Park (named after Illinois' first, and so far only, Jewish governor, Henry Horner). I stopped for a moment to snap a picture of the north branch of the river, which runs about a block from our home.

The picture was taken from the Montrose Avenue Bridge, looking southward.

The river, notoriously dirty in the past, is slowly being cleaned up. Neighborhood groups have been working over the years to clean the river and to restore native plant species to the river's edge.

Thanks to the river, we occasionally have wildlife in the area-- particularly possums. Other people have seen raccoons, and of course we frequently see ducks in the river.

For Dmarks (and others)

Dmarks had trouble running the Comedy Central video I posted a couple of days ago, and I thought others might have too. Here's the same clip from Jon Stewart's show, this time from the more-reliable Youtube.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

English 101

As I finished my teaching certification in 1997, I nearly didn't finish school as I completed my student teaching. Somehow, I had never had an English 101 class. Fortunately, an old employer who I had managed a restaurant for wrote a letter documenting that I had had to write nightly reports for the restaurant and the school granted me an exemption from the class.

A year ago, while looking over the requirements to transfer to the University of Illinois at Chicago's Pharmacy program at some point in the future, I saw that I need to have English 101 and 102.

This semester, I've got Chemistry 203, an advanced chemistry class involving trigonometry, advanced algebra and some calculus. It is not going to be easy. I was going to take Anatomy, but couldn't get into the only section that fit my schedule. It was just as well; Anatomy is going to be a tough one. I'd like to keep it to one tough one a semester. I thought I'd get English 101 out of the way.

My English 101 class is from 9 to 12:15 every Friday. Yesterday was the first day.

The teacher came in. She is a young hipster, with dreadlocks, tatoos and a pierced lip. She introduced herself. She lives with her husband in a town about fifty miles to the south of Chicago and teaches at two other community colleges. She made a decision a long time ago, she said, to teach in community colleges because it gives her the opportunity to work with students he wouldn't get to work with in a four year school.

She then had us introduce ourselves. The class is amazingly diverse, like all the other classes at this school, located in the heart of Uptown, the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago. They were diverse in ethnicity, nationality, gender and in their dreams. A couple were, like me, working on Pharmacy degrees, and a few nursing degrees. Others were working on Fine Arts degrees, Engineering degrees, teaching certification, an associate's degree in auto mechanics and one, an Evanston cop, was honing her writing skills in order to try to enhance her chance to make sergeant.

The one way the class wasn't diverse was age. I was, by far, the oldest person there. The cop, who I'm guessing was about 40, was the only person even near my age (I'm 47). Everybody else was between about 18 and 28 years old.

The teacher starting talking. She talked about the writing process, about revisions, about how the class wasn't about grammer, spelling, etc.-- that it was about developing as a writer, about voice, content, structure and purpose. I chuckled a bit-- it was, basically, the same things I talked about when I was a sixth grade teacher teaching writing. In the end, we teach the same thing, over and over again, at higher and higher levels.

At the end of class, she asked us to write a "diagnostic" essay, in order to get a sense of where each of us were in our writing abilities. The writing prompt was "Describe an experience in a high school English class."

I described an incident with one of my two favorite high school English teachers, Holly Haberle. But I prefaced it with a description of something that happened in my sophomore English class.

My freshman and part of my sophomore year of high school, I just slogged along. I was unhappy. My family life wasn't the best. I was still unhappy about our move to the suburbs a few years before.

In the winter of 1976, I decided to start dealing with my unhappiness. I started journaling and dealing with my unhappiness. I started working harder at school and with the realization that now that I was in a high school of 5000 students, I'd have an easier time finding my "tribe," so I started working harder at finding friends. As the year wore on, my disposition-- and my schoolwork-- improved.

This included my English class. I started revising papers before I turned them in, and so was shocked when my terminally perky, phony sophomore English teacher returned a paper stating that the paper was so improved over what I'd turned in before that she didn't believe I'd writtten it. She was accusing me of plagerism. I was furious. No good deed goes unpunished.

Fortunately, the next year I had Dr. Bill Lally, a truly terrific teacher. So terrific, in fact, that I took two classes of his the next year. Fortunately, I also decided to take English Lit with Holly Haberle, another of the extraordinary teachers I've had in my life.

In my "diagnostic essay" yesterday, I recounted an incident where Mrs. Haberle returned a paper I'd done and told me I had to revise one more time. I was annoyed. I was a high school senior with a class overload working nearly full time in order to put money away for college. This would entail a late-night rewrite.

The others, I argued, didn't have to do another rewrite. The others, she replied, weren't as good writers as I was.

I was stunned. Later, I realized, she ignited, that year, through prodding, cajoling and arguing, a lifelong love of writing in me.

So, for nearly thirty years of on and off higher education, I have managed to avoid taking an English 101 class. As my class started yesterday, I could tell where this teacher was. She was nervous. She was where I was first class of the year for many years-- nervous. What is this class like? Who is going to have a lot of trouble with it? Who will be the ones I remember, good or bad, years later?

I, on the other hand, was in the place my students were, year after year, wondering about their teacher. As I sat there, ready for this adventure, and a little nervous, I thought that it's not necessarily a bad place to be.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Now I Understand

I've read and heard that Jon Stewart, of Comedy Central, has the best news show on television. Today, my old friend Tasneem sent me a link to this clip and a couple of my favorite bloggers, Texas Oasis and Skyler's Dad have it linked on their blogs, and I have to share it as well.

The Right is going to fear-monger and bloviate, distort and out and out lie one more time to try to pick our pockets one more time. Viva Jon Stewart for pointing this out!

Friday Random Ten

Since I have a Friday morning class, I stopped my once a week lunch shift at the Evanston restaurant. Somehow, my schedule is still crazy. I managed to get my Friday Random Ten in though.

1. Too Many Martyrs- Phil Ochs
2. The Hurt- The Pretenders
3. Love Shack- The B-52's
4. Rock and Roll Junkie- Herman Brood and His Wild Romance
5. Soul Kiss- The dB's
6. She Loves My Automobile- ZZ Top
7. Here Comes Santa Claus- Elvis Presley
8. Ballad of Billy the Kid- Billy Joel
9. King of the World- The Old 97s
10. Four Strong Winds- Ian and Sylvia

1. This is Phil Ochs' song about the casualties of the sixties. It's sadly ironic that he ended up being one of the last of them, in a way.
2. I love early Pretenders.
3. Another one from the great Cosmic Thing album.
4. Remember this one in 1979?
5. From "Repercussion," the dBs' first album.
6. From Deguello, one of my favorite albums.
7. Hey, Christmas can be a little early for Elvis, can't it be?
8. Okay, I like me some Billy Joel. Is it a crime?
9. Love these guys. My friend Chuck Uchida produced one of their albums.
10. The first time I heard this one was Neil Young's nice cover of this on "Comes A Time." This is the original, and I love this one too.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video: Wall of Voodoo, "Mexican Radio."

This is one of my favorite songs from the eighties, and has one of my favorite lines ever in a song: "I wish I was in Tijuana/Eating barbecued iguana."

Stan Ridgeway left Wall of Voodoo not long after "Mexican Radio" was a hit on the strength of heavy MTV rotation. He's had a couple of minor hits like "Camoflage" and "Roadblock," but has not had the huge success that he feels, apparently, that he is entitled to; my old friend Viktor Zeitgeist saw him in concert a few years ago, and Ridgeway bitched, onstage, about the lack of critical and commercial accolades. Boo hoo hoo.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, Adam and I moved into this place. We moved in with my then-girlfriend Cynthia, who I married the next year. (we divorced three years later).

When we moved in, Adam was four years old. He hadn't even been to Kindergarten yet. My landlord (and upstairs neighbor) had not yet remarried, so it was just he and his daughter in the other apartment in the building. He'd just bought the building, a two-flat that was built in 1908, a couple of years before. Both kids are in the picture, taken in 1999, I'm pretty sure.

I almost never moved in. Ten years ago, when we were looking for places, Cynthia would check the Chicago Reader online; they placed the online ads a day before they appeared in the printed edition. She would check the ads, call me and I would race to the apartment, to find, time and again, that the apartment was rented already; the neighborhood, where I'd lived before, was becoming a "hot" neighborhood. When she called with the address to this building, I raced over to see the it. I almost didn't ring the doorbell. The house was rough looking. The porch was well-worn, the windows ancient and the building was covered with that horrible tar-paper fake brick that a lot of buildings were covered with after the War.

However, we were running out of time. The school year was starting soon. She would have to return to her job as a teacher in a suburban Chicago school district, and I was, after years of working as a sub, going to start my first real teaching job, as a Social Studies teacher in a Chicago Public School in a rough West side neighborhood. We needed to find a place soon. I bit the bullet and rang the doorbell.

Once I got inside, my opinion of the place quickly changed. The beautiful hardwood floors were in good shape. It was spacious and had a backyard and a basement. I got to the kitchen and knew I wanted the place. It had gorgeous hardwood cabinets-- and a dishwasher. I hadn't had a dishwasher since I'd roomed with my old friends Dan and Mark in the late eighties in Wrigleyville.

We took a look at the basement. I had use of one half of it. There was a washer and dryer hookup, and even better, a washer and dryer that an old tenant had left behind. We could have them, he said.

In ten years, so much has happened. Not long after I moved in, my landlord met a nice lady over the internet and she moved here after a while. They had a fun wedding in Vegas one weekend. As I mentioned, Cynthia's and my marriage unravelled. She wanted a child and a house, not unreasonable things for a woman in her early thirties to want. My finances were in a shambles thanks to my custody fight with my son's mother. There was no way that we could get a mortgage with my name on it. This came to a head one weekend when we celebrated my nephew's first birthday party. He had almost died at birth; he had a hole in his heart and his aorta was malformed. He had open-heart surgery at a month old. His first birthday was, then, a joyous occasion. For Cynthia it was not. She was the only woman there that had no children. My father told me later that she'd cried about this to him. He also told me something that I'd already figured out-- that if I had a kid with her, there would be a constant conflict over my son. I knew that I had to end the marriage so that she could find the person who could provide those things for her. And she has. She lives now with her husband and their baby daughter in a house in the same suburb that she teaches in.

In the meantime, I took in a roommate so that I could afford the place. He turned out to be a nightmare. I've blogged about that already.

Fortunately at around the same time he got kicked out, I got a new teaching job in Cicero, a blue-collar, mostly latino suburb of Chicago. I had kept my job at a local restaurant, and by pinching pennies and picking up every extra shift I could at the restaurant, I was able to stay here. For about three years, it was just Adam and I.

Somewhere in there, my landlord had replaced the dilapidated front porch, put new siding on and put new energy-efficient windows in. He also installed central air conditioning in both units. For the same amount of electricity I was using to run a couple of window units in my son's bedroom and mine, we could keep the whole place cool.

About four years ago, I decided it was time to start dating again. I went online, using the Chicago Reader, the same way I'd found this apartment. After a few disasterous dates, I met someone wonderful. Three years ago this month, she and her daughter moved in and we've had our own little version of the Brady Bunch since then.

Two years ago, there was a big bump on the road. One piece of bad news I knew was coming. When my old principal, who loved me, retired, they brought in a new principal. She proceeded to become one of the most hated people on the planet. She targeted me and any other teacher she thought didn't suck up to her enough. After several years of great reviews, I suddenly started to get mediocre ones. Then, my fourth year, the year I was up for tenure, she brought in a new assistant principal who was her flunky. We all got double-teamed by the incompetent bureaucratic twins. It came as no surprise to discover that I was not getting tenure. As that school year wound down, I was nervously eyed my options. I didn't relish the prospect of being a guy in his middle forties looking for another job and gambling another four years on getting tenured in a job that didn't pay all that well to begin with. The last week of the school year was an emotional one.

Then I got another piece of bad news. My father had a huge tumor in his abdomen. It might be in the pancreas. If it was in the pancreas, that was it.

Several days later, the grapefruit-sized tumor was removed successfully. It had not gone into the pancreas.

And then a couple of days later, my old friend Mark was shot to death in an attempted robbery in front of his own home.

It was the bad news trifecta.

Since I was on year-round pay, I had the summer to get myself together. As the summer ended, an old teaching colleague, who I'd worked with at the rough West Side school, called and asked if I'd be interested in working at the alternative high school she was working at. It was a school to get dropouts back in school and get them a high school diploma. It was, in retrospect, just what I needed. I worked with kids who were of the age and background as the guys who killed my friend. It was very therapeutic. As the school year ended and I watched the kids I'd struggled with cross that stage and get their diplomas, I knew I'd done the right thing. And that it was time to move on to the next part of my life.

I'd discussed with Kim and with friends and family the idea of going to Pharmacy school. To be honest, the primary consideration was money. Looking ahead, I have two kids to put through college, and then I need to start putting a lot of money away for retirement. This was really hammered home around then when my parents asked me to be the executor of their will. I sat down and went through their property and finances and realized that as much as they'd been able to put away, it could be wiped out quickly by a serious illness.

I also realized that I am probably going to be who takes care of my parents as they get older. My brothers will probably not be able to, for various reasons.

So, a year ago, I started the long journey to my next career. There were some missteps. A good friend of ours had gotten me an interview at the fashionable restaurant she worked at downtown. I got the job, but the general manager and I did not get along very well (I am not the only one, from what I'm told, who didn't). I left that job and fortunately shifts opened up at the local restaurant I worked at part-time when I was a teacher. Between that and a job that my friends Lulu and TenS told me about, I've been able to make ends meet.

Back to the home. Last summer, my landlord and his wife embarked on the last phase of the renovations. We got a new kitchen and bathroom. And this spring, our beautiful backyard was created.

On Friday night, as my son and I sat by the firepit, enjoying a cool end-of-the-summer evening, I thought about all the changes. I remembered that I'd almost passed this place by. I thought about how the kids in the picture at the top of the post, my son and my landlord's daughter, who were five and nine when the picture was taken, are now in high school and college, respectively. How there's now another kid living here now. I realized that at ten years, I've lived in this place far longer than any I'd lived in before, even when I was a kid. I realized that despite his mother having bought a house after years of moving every year or two, that this is the place Adam will think of as having grown up in.

In all likelihood, we'll move out of here someday. God knows, maybe Kim and I will be able to afford to buy something someday. But for now, it's not only home, but a pretty nice one.

But I know that there'll be a day, many years from now, that I'll travel from wherever we're living and I'll come by and be an old guy standing in front and looking at this place and letting the memories we're creating now pour out; more than a decade of memories of raising a couple of kids, of starting a marriage and a new career and of the friendships and hardships and a million other things.