Thursday, January 31, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video- Ric Ocasek "Something To Grab For"

In the early eighties, The Cars' frontman Ric Ocasek took a break from singing about lonliness, alienation and heartbreak with the Cars to sing about, well, um, lonliness, alienation and heartbreak on his solo album Beatitude. And of course, all the Cars played on the record. I love this song, which is as good as anything he did with the Cars.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It Wasn't Just My Imagination

One of great thing about the advent of the internet as a part of popular culture has been the ability to confirm that entire parts of my childhood weren't figments of my imagination. Case in point: the Gigantor cartoon show.

As a kid, I remembered that when I was four or five years old, in 1965-1966, a Chicago telelvision station, maybe WGN, featured the show Gigantor. The premise was that a young boy had control of an enormous radio-controlled robot who fought for the forces of good.

I have a very good memory for things that happened in my childhood; I have clear memories of a home my family lived in in Lagrange, Illinois when I was one year old. I've described details of the apartment to my parents and my parents agreed that my memories were correct. Therefore, it confused me when, as I grew up, in the course of talks with classmates about favorite childhood television programs, nobody remembered the Gigantor program.

I remember that the program was my favorite, until the Batman television show debuted in 1966. I have vivid memories of when my family lived in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, my brothers and I spending an afternoon constructing a "Gigantor" robot out of paper, crayons, thread and scotch tape.

Thanks to Wikipedia and Youtube, my childhood memories are proven not to have been hallucinations. The show had its origins as a Japanese manga called Tetsujin-28-go, which was purchased Fred Ladd and Al Singer, who hired Peter Fernandez to write the English scripts and participate in the English overdubbing. Fernandez later was involved in the same type of project with the seventies after-school staple Speed Racer.

At some point, after getting internet access around the time my son was born, I was able to find information on the show. I was struck by the whole premise of the show-- giving control of a powerful 100 foot tall rocket-powered robot to a 12-Year-Old boy. Could you imagine how a kid that age would use a robot like that?

"No, Mrs. Henderson, I don't think we'll be having any homework tonight-- not if you don't want your car to be crushed like a tin can..."

I was able to find an episode of Gigantor on Youtube, including the opening theme song, which I remembered, to my disbelief, word for word. I've included it below.

Primary Observations

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend Jim emailed me, asking about the specifics of starting a blog. Adam and I ran by his home a few days later to visit and give him a little primer on blogs. He'll be starting it soon, which is a good thing, because his observations on the primaries have been dead on. My favorite has been about Bill Clinton, who he and I both loved as President, and would have voted for as many times as he would have run (assuming an end to the two-term limit). As a President he was great. As the husband of a candidate, not so good-- Jim pointed out that he has taken the appearance of an overbearing Little League dad.

The New York Times online has called the Republican Primary election for McCain in Florida. Apparently Rudy Guliani's strategy to sit out primaries and wait for a big win in Florida hasn't panned out so well. He's duking it out with Mike Huckabee for third place, with about 15% of the votes.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tales Of The Goose

I saw recently that baseball reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I agree with this-- he was one of the great relievers to ever pitch in baseball-- except, of course, when he was with the Cubs in 1988. This is the basis of all three of these stories.

The first was not my story, actually, but my friend Karol's. Karol is one of the only people who is a bigger Cubs fan than I am, and possibly the only person as big a fan as my son Adam. In the summer of 1988, Karol attended many games. One of these games, Rich "Goose" Gossage, purported "hot shit" reliever with the Yankees, the White Sox and other teams, blew a save opportunity, one of many that season. The friend Karol was with wanted to wait until the Cubs came out after the game to catch a glimpse of a Cubs player she thought was hot. Suddenly, Karol spotted the hapless Goose only a couple of feet away and started to yell "Hey Goose-- you suck!" She got as far as "Hey Goose..." and realized that his kids were with him. Being the classy lady she is, she shifted gears, put her hand on his shoulder and continued, "...keep at it, man!"

He stopped, looked her in the eye and said "Thanks, ma'am!" She realized later that this guy had been taking a drubbing all season from the Chicago fans and appreciated an encouraging word.

He didn't get those words from me.

The summer of 1988 was the summer of the stupidest thing I've ever done. This was the summer I was rooming with two of the closest friends I've ever had and ever will, Dan and Mark, in a great apartment about a block and a half from Wrigley Field. This summer was unbelievably hot. We'd managed to acquire, despite out general post-college poverty, an air conditioner, which we'd installed in the dining room, which actually served as our living room. Our television, our duct tape-repaired couch, our Velvet Elvis, all the things we needed for life, except for the stereo, which was in the "front room" ("frunch-room" in "Chicagoese" or "living room" to the rest of America), were in the dining room. To concentrate the cool, we'd put blankets over the doorways of the dining room so that the cool air actually made a difference rather than being spread uselessly throughout the apartment. On a typical hot July, 1988 night, I was laying on a couch, watching television. I was laying on the couch in the only tolerable room in the house because my right leg, which was in a cast up to the knee as a result of the stupidest thing I've ever done, was throbbing.

I was watching the Cubs game. This was a funny experience in that apartment, because you could actually hear the crowd sounds in Wrigley Field over the sounds on the television. As I watched the Cubs cling to their slim lead, I switched to some other station and started watching something else. Suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of the 35,000 plus people in Wrigley Field booing. I turned back to WGN, and of course, the Cubs had put their expensive but useless reliever Goose Gossage in the game. I turned back to whatever else I was watching.

A few minutes later, I heard booing that made the previous booing sound like a cheer. I grabbed the remote and switched back to WGN. The Goose had just given up a three-run home run, which ended up being the game-winning hit. I was irate. Later, it occurred to me how funny it was that I was listening to the progress of the game from the crowd noise as I watched television.

A few weeks later, my good friend Dobie and I decided to go visit our old friend Kringle down in St. Louis. The timing was perfect. The Cubs were playing in St. Louis that weekend.

We had a grand weekend with Kringle. When we went, on a Saturday morning, to the ball game, we left early. I'd gotten the cast off from the stupidest thing I've ever done a few days before, but my right foot was still a black and blue potato-shaped mass of pain and swollenness, and I still had to walk on crutches.

We got to the now-razed old Busch Stadium in time to pick some very nice bleacher seats and to catch batting practice. As we sat, who should amble across the field to our general vicinity, but good ol' Goose Gossage.

I'd had a couple of brews at Kringle's apartment, and we'd gotten a round at Busch Stadium already, and that probably mixed just fine with the painkillers I was on, so that probably had something to do with the interaction that followed. When Goose came within earshot, I couldn't resist yelling "Hey, Goose-- you should stay in St. Louis!"

He turned and smiled. I was befuddled as to why he should take my insult so well. Then it occurred to me that since we were in St. Louis, he probably thought I was a St. Louis fan complimenting him. I needed to fix that. I added, in a voice that I'm told by many an old friend and co-worker carries quite well, "I'm from Chicago!"

Goose responded with a gesture that used to puzzle my son when I gave it on occasion. When he was very little and we were in the car, once in a while, someone would aggravate me. I would respond with a gesture, and Adam would ask, "Daddy-- why you put your finger up wike dat?"

Congratulations, Goose! You're #1! Even Johnny Cash thinks so!

A Dubious Anniversary

My old friend Dan just called to remind me that today was the 22nd anniversary of a red-letter day in his life: the day, when he was in college, that he found a dead guy on his front lawn. This was one of my earlier and most popular posts.

The picture, by the way, is of Dan re-enacting the scene a few months later, in the Spring of 1986.

We found out later that our friend, "Rex the Scumbag," ("He's a scumbag, but he's our scumbag") stole the dead guy's hat! This was a low, even for Rex.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Last week, I was in line at Trader Joe's when I got a call from Kim telling me that the actor Heath Ledger had died. I knew the name, but I couldn't remember his face. When I got home and saw the New York Times online story about it, I recognized his face. I'd seen it in ads for A Knight's Tale, The Patriot and most recently Brokeback Mountain. Ledger was 28 years old. His death may have been self-inflicted, or may have been an acccidental drug overdose.

His death comes on the heels of the drug-related death of Brad Renfro, who was 25 years old.

Ten years ago, I Iost two friends within weeks of one another, both victims of substance abuse. My friend Mark (not the friend Mark who was murdered in a robbery a year and a half ago-- another friend Mark) was a bartender and manager at Neo's, a great Chicago punk bar. As he and I became good friends, I also became friends with his girlfriend. At one point, she asked me to spend more time with him-- that she liked him hanging out with me, rather than his "other friends." I was a little puzzled by the comment, but figured it out later. Mark's "other friends" were his drug friends. He had developed, unbeknowest to me, a heroin addiction.

A few months later, I found out, she confronted him about the addiction, telling him he had to choose between her and the drugs. She left their home, and he took his own life later that day. He was 28.

Around the same time, my friend Bobby became seriously ill. Bobby was a well-known figure on the north side of Chicago; he was a bouncer at a number of Chicago clubs and taverns, including the Gingerman. He was a former cop and ex-Marine, having served two tours of combat in Vietnam. When he was a cop, he was involved in a story that is a local legend, and has been depicted in a couple of movies. After his shift, he was hanging in a bar that was a well-known cop bar, on Cortland Avenue. In the heat of the summer, two guys walked in with with overcoats on. The dozens of policemen having a libation knew that the guys were about to try to hold up the bar. They were actually, Bobby told me, taking bets on which guy would draw first. When the guys drew their guns, oblivious to the fact that there were dozens of armed off-duty cops there, they were quickly disarmed. Bobby told me that when they called the police to pick the guys up, they had trouble getting the dispatcher to believe it had happened; these two schmucks must have been the only two guys in Chicago who didn't know that the bar was a police hangout.

In 1998, Bobby developed cirrhosis of the liver. We were all stunned; despite the fact that he worked in bars, we had not observed him drinking heavily on a regular basis. Within a few months, Bobby died of liver failure. He was 49 years old.

Both guys were near and dear to my heart for the support they gave during my custody fight with my son's mother. It was really strange to lose them both right after that fight had finished. With both guys, I kept looking back, wondering what I could have done to help them. I realized, though, that both guys had hidden their addictions from me. It's part of the disease, hiding it from people you know will intervene.

Though I never met either of the actors who died recently, I find it heartbreaking that two guys who were successful in their fields couldn't find happiness. I find it even more puzzling and sad that both guys were parents. Renfro had no relationship with his child; his son lived in Japan with the mother. Ledger, by all accounts was a doting dad.

Becoming a parent changed me. I have found being a parent to be the most satisfying thing I've done in my life. I find it profoundly sad that Renfro and Ledger couldn't find that joy in their own lives, and that at least in Renfro's case, his addiction was more important than his own kid. The awful cost of addiction is not just in the lives lost, but the heartbreak of those who are left to miss the victims.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Random Ten To Go

It's been a busy week, evidenced by the lack of posts. I'll try to get a couple of posts in this weekend, particularly my thoughts on the untimely death of a second young actor in as many weeks.

I had to do my Random Ten on the way to work this morning, forgoing my usual "Little Steven's Underground Garage" on Sirius Radio. We've all got to make our sacrifices.

1. Pink Houses- John Mellencamp
2. You're A Big Girl Now- Bob Dylan
3. Earn Enough For Us- XTC
4. Darling Be Home Soon- The Lovin' Spoonful
5. Phantom 309- Red Sovine
6. Do It Again- Steely Dan
7. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts- Santana
8. Good Vibrations- The Beach Boys
9. Emma- Hot Chocolate
10. Viva Las Vegas- Elvis Presley

1. Mellencamp is among this year's inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Leonard Cohen and the Dave Clark Five.
2. This is a demo of this song, which appeared on Blood On The Tracks. The demo is on the Biograph collection.
3. One of my favorite XTC songs.
4. John Sebastian composed this song, which is about as lovely a song as has ever been written. Slade did a cover of it in the seventies.
5. A great country song about a phantom truck driver who helps out a hitchhiker, that been redone and rewritten and number of times. Former Wall Of Voodoo singer Stan Ridgway redid it as "Camouflage," about a ghost Marine helping out another Marine in the Vietnam War.
6. A hit from Steely Dan's first album.
7. This one is an instrumental from the great Abraxas album.
8. A Beach Boys classic. Contrary to what most people believe, the electronic instrument played was not a theremin, but a tannerin-- a keyboard instrument that sounds a lot like a theremin but is not played by waving the hands around the antennae.
9. Hot Chocolate's big hit was "You Sexy Thing," but they also had a couple of more hits; "Everyone's A Winner," which was used in a great scene in one of my favorite movies, Detroit Rock City, and "Emma," a song I loved when I was a teenager.
10. How better to end my Random Ten with Elvis?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

If You're Gonna Steal...

If you're gonna steal, why not steal from the best?

Today, I was admiring the renovations over at the Sprawling Ramshackle Compound and immediately decided to swipe one of the changes-- the widget that allows you to put a few songs on your blog. I called it "The Soundtrack To My Life." I've noticed a very high tendency for music to be important to most of the bloggers I enjoy reading.

My intent is to have a few songs that are high on my mental playlist, and a little explanation of each of them. BTW, does anyone know how to make m4a's playable on that widget?

The songs:

1. Abraham, Martin and John, by Dion
Dion Dimuccio was one of the many Italian-American crooners to have a bunch of hits in the early sixties, including one of my favorite-ever songs, "Ruby Baby."

By the mid-sixties, he was fading fast. First, music was changing and his style was becoming outdated. Secondly, he had become a raging heroin addict.

A few weeks ago, Andrew Loog Oldham, one of the deejays on Little Steven's Underground Garage was talking about interviewing Dion. Dion recounted how he had a powerful religious experience in April of 1968; a month and a half before, he'd been on a heroin binge with Frankie Lymon. They parted ways and a couple of days later Dion discovered that Lymon had died of a heroin overdose. When Martin Luther King died on April 4 of that year, it really hit Dion. He went to a church and spent hours praying. At the end of it, he resolved to kick heroin, which he did. A few months later, he recorded "Abraham, Martin and John," which had been written by Dick Holler (who'd also written the novelty tune "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron"). It reached #4 on the US charts and revived Dion's career.

Some may consider the song overly-sentimental, but I love the song, which is about the loss we all feel about the deaths of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. This line always grabs me, every time I hear the song:

"Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good in you and me?
And we'll be free
Someday soon...."

2. Roll Me On The Water- Bonnie Koloc
Bonnie Koloc was a staple of the folk scene in Chicago for years. I never got to see her at the Earl of Olde Town of any of the other wonderful folk clubs in pre-gentrification Lincoln Park, but I did get to see her at Ravinia the summer of 1979, right after I graduated high school. She had a double bill with another great Chicago folkie, Steve Goodman. This song, about unabashed love and lust, is just sweet and lovely.

On Monday nights at my Evanston job, there's live music. The bluegrass/folk/country band that plays that night plays a version of this little gem, and every Monday it makes my night to hear it.

3. Alone Again Or...- Love
I was saddened in 2006 by the death of Arthur Lee. His group Love was innovative and influential.

I first heard this song in the late eighties when my old friend Mark played The Damned's version of it for me when he, Dan and I were rooming together. I liked the Damned's version of it, but was absolutely floored when I heard Love's original a few months later.

The song was co-produced by The Doors' producer Bruce Botnick, who brought in a mariachi band he'd used on a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album. The horn solo is one of my favorite parts of the song.

Alone Again Or... only charted at #99, but like many records that had low sales (e.g. the first Velvet Underground album), it was very influential. According to Wikipedia, Rolling Stone Magazine rated it #436 of the 500 best records ever.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Think He's Right

Today the New York Times online said:

Stocks plunged worldwide on fears of a recession in the United States.

Remember 1999? Remember when we weren't in a pointless, intractable war? Remember when we had such an enormous budget surplus that economists speculated that it might take 40 years to spend it? Remember when the economy was booming so much that former welfare mothers were able to get high-risk loans to buy a home, but that didn't matter because they had good-paying jobs and could afford it? And the economy could afford it because it was doing so damned well after Bill Clinton passed a balanced budget that made it so that we weren't deficit spending, and all that money that was being used to finance deficit spending since Reagan first pulled the stunt of cutting taxes to the rich, but increasing government spending anyway, all while running on a platform of "reducing government" was suddenly available for things like home loans and business loans, rocketing our economy into the stratosphere?

And do you remember the The Onion headline the week after W. got elected? "At Last The Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Ends."

On his blog, my son calls The Onion the only source of real news. He may just be right.

I Couldn't Say It Better

I thought about a post about Martin Luther King today, and realized that U2 said it all better than I could over 20 years ago.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video- Plimsouls "A Million Miles Away"

Yesterday was a rare occasion when I listened to our local "Prog Rock" station, WXRT; they were featuring one of my favorite years for music, 1982, on their Saturday morning flashback. 1982 was a big year for videos, and I got a lot of good ideas for future "Occasional Forgotten Videos," including today's.

The Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away" is one of those songs I wish I'd written. Everything about it-- the wicked opening riff, the anguished lyrics, the ripping Rickenbacker guitar, the driving drumbeat-- it's awesome. It was put to good use in the 1983 movie "Valley Girl." Another great Plimsouls song, "The Oldest Story In The World," was also in the movie.

The Plimsouls formed in Los Angeles in 1978. They reunited for an album a couple of years ago and occasionally do shows still. Singer Peter Case has had some success as a solo artist, has worked with a number of other artists and is a respected music teacher, giving frequent workshops.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Note To Barack Obama

Mr. Obama-- just a little FYI-- praising Reagan is not the way to win me over. In fact, I'm now for sure going to vote for Edwards in the Illinois primary next month.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Meme From Monkerstein

The good Dr. Monkerstein tagged me (and my lovely bride) with a meme:

List five things that I never pictured being in my future when I was 25

1. A father. I was absolutely certain that I was never going to be a parent. I frankly didn't think I'd be a good parent. I probably wouldn't have been at 25. I was really pissed off and pretty irrresponsible. Fortunately, that's changed. I'm a lot happier guy, and very happy to be a parent.

2. A husband. I was dead certain that I was never going to get married. I'd witnessed so many dysfunctional marriages, and I just didn't think I'd be very good at marriage.

I did manage to get married. My first two marriages failed, but the current one seems to be doing pretty well! ; )

3. Alive. I was certain that I wasn't going to make it to 30. It turns out that I very nearly didn't-- I'll post soon about "The stupidest thing I've ever done," a story I shared with a few bloggers at the get-together at the tiki bar last month.

4. Studying Pharmacy. I thought I'd go back to school and get a pHD, but I assumed it would be in my original field, Political Science.

When I was working my first job, as a cashier at the Walgreen's in Western Springs, Illinois, my boss offered to get me into a scholarship program that they had where they'd pay my tuition to become a pharmacist if I agreed to work for them for a certain amount of time. I had no interest back then. I'd feel like I missed an opportunity, but I would never have finished the program back then, and I would have missed a ton of great experiences.

5. Living my life without my close friend Mark Evans. His murder in June of 2006 was one of the things that drove me to start this blog. I'd always assumed that he'd be one of the handful of longtime close friends that I'd grow old with. Probably 5 or 10 times a day, I see or hear something and wish I could call or email him about it. I still miss him terribly, and suspect I always will.

Random Ten For A Frigid Friday

Finished my first week back in class. It should be an interesting semester. My Chemistry professor has a bad reputation around the school-- she's easily frustrated when people don't answer correctly. My Biology professor is the complete opposite-- a very pleasant guy from Nepal who's very enthusiastic about his subject.

Today was probably the coldest day of the year here in Chicago. Our winters are not for the weak.

1. Steve McQueen- Sheryl Crow
2. Down In The Park- Gary Numan
3. Another Man Done Gone- Johnny Cash and Anita Carter
4. Man In Black- Johnny Cash
5. Famous Blue Raincoat- Leonard Cohen
6. Across the River- Bruce Hornsby and the Range
7. Wazmo Nariz- Checking Out the Checkout Girl
8. Rotten Peaches- Elton John
9. New Kid In Town- The Eagles
10. Sunny- Bobby Hebb

1. Usually Sheryl Crow just annoys me, but I love this song, probably because of its subject matter. Bullitt is one of my favorite movies. I finally saw The Getaway recently-- Steve McQueen directed by Sam Peckinpah-- it just doesn't get any better.
2. A smaller hit that "Cars," but a good one.
3. The Man in Black #1....
4. ...and hot damn, a second time!
5. I saw that Leonard Cohen is among the inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, along with John Mellencamp!
6. I love this little beauty about a woman trying to break out of her circumstances.
7. Wazmo Nariz was a Chicago guy who got signed to Stiff Records and Miles Copeland's I.R.S. Records. He used to play my high school. This was his biggest hit, about having a crush on the checkout girl.
8. One of my favorite albums. I love the scene in Almost Famous where they sing "Tiny Dancer," another song from Madman Across The Water, on the tour bus.
9. "Even your old friends treat you like you're something new..."
10. Bobby Hebb wrote this song when in a two-day period, John Kennedy was assasinated, and his brother Harold was killed in a knifefight outside of a nightclub.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Hero's Obiturary

This morning, I looked at the New York Times online before I ran off to class and saw the obituary of someone I knew- Milt Wolff.

Around 1993 or I was working at the N.N. Smokehouse, a popular rib joint that my friend Larry Tucker had opened near Irving Park Road and Ashland in Chicago. It was early in the shift, and it wasn't busy, so I was reading Dennis Gilbert's book Sandinistas, a history of the Sandinistas, who overthrew a the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua in 1979 (yes, that's the kind of stuff I read). My only customer was a quiet, older (seventies) sometimes grouchy woman who came in once a week or so, ate quietly and left. This time, she wasn't quiet.

She asked me what I was reading, and I told her. To my surprise, she started talking about the Sandinista revolution and Nicaragua.

It turned out that she had been involved in leftist causes since her youth. Her name was Gladys Knoebel. From then on, whenever Gladys came in, until her death about a year later, I always waited on her, and we talked about politics and history. In the course of time, somehow we started talking about the Lincoln Brigade-- the American volunteers who joined the Spanish Republic's fight against a miilitary takeover in the late 1930's. I had, in fact, become quite interested in them, and had been trying to find information on them, going as far as contacting the New York-based "Veterans of the Lincoln Brigade" organization, and beginning an exchange of letters with some of the vets. Her late husband, she told me, had wanted to go but was considered too young. I mentioned some of the vets I'd either contacted or read about. When I mentioned Milt Wolff, she uncharacteristically blushed like a high school girl, got a coquettish look on her face and said "Oh, Miltie Wolff!" She'd clearly admired more than his political committment.

In 1996, a book was published on the Lincoln Brigade, The Odyssey of the Lincoln Brigade, by Peter Carroll. On May 11, 1997 (I remember the date because it was my birthday), I went down to Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago and saw Mr. Carroll speak. It was the beginning of my own odyssey.

I ended up chatting up Mr. Carroll and some of the veterans, and about a year later, ended up being asked to co-chair the Chicago Friends of the Lincoln Brigade.

Over the next couple of years, I was involved in a lot of activiites. I helped organize a lot of events, and usually emceed them. One of those events was in Oak Park in 1999. The town of Oak Park was honoring the centenniel of the birth of native son Ernest Hemingway. One of the events was co-sponsored by the Chicago Friends of the Lincoln Brigade-- bringing Milt Wolff in for a talk.

Milt was the last commander of the American battalion in Spain. By the summer of 1937, it was clear that Spain was going to lost the war. Desperate to get the thousands of German and Italian troops Hitler and Mussolini had sent to help Franco's fascists out of Spain, the Spanish government had agreed to send the tens of thousands of volunteers from 54 different countries if Germany and Italy would pull their troops out. Milt was sent home.

And Germany and Italy kept their troops there, leading to Franco's victory in Spain.

Milt had gone to Spain with the intention of driving an ambulance-- he considered himself a pacifist. He soon lost his pacifism and took charge of a machine-gun crew.

He'd lied to his mother, saying he was working in a factory in Spain. His cover was blown when famed photographer Bob Capa snapped his picture standing next to writer Ernest Hemingway (the picture at the top of this post), and the picture was on the front page of a magazine in the United States.

Milt continued with leftist causes. Here are links to his obit in the New York Times (you have to be registered with the New York Times online) and to an obit Peter Carroll posted on the VALB-ALBA site (he's also quoted in the New York Times obit).

New York Times obit

Peter Carroll-penned obit

I'd met Milt briefly in New York in 1998 when I visited the annual meeting the surviving Lincoln Brigade vets had back then. When we brought him to Oak Park in 1999, I hung out with him all day, and later we all had dinner and drinks with him. I could see why Gladys Knoebel had been smitten with him; he was handsome, gregarious, charming and very, very funny.

As I got ready to write this post, it occurred to me that we had a picture of Milt hanging in our home. In our dining room, we have a poster that my friend Andreas had given me a few years ago. It was a poster advertising a benefit for a striking labor union. The main attraction was the appearance of some Lincoln Brigade vets. When I met Milt, he had chuckled about how the Lincoln Brigade vets had become, when they returned from Spain, the rock stars of the left. Their commitment-- and blood that so many of them had shed-- had demonstrated without a doubt their commitment to the left and to a better world.

Milt's the guy on the far right in the photograph.

I read something back years ago-- that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who wait for something to come to them and those who go out and make it happen. Milt Wolff was, happily, one of the latter. I feel lucky to have known him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

For Those Of You Despairing, A Little Hope

Here's a couple of camera phone shots of stickers on cars in Chicago that I saw in the last couple of days. Remember-- this is the midwest...

I doubt you'll be surprised to hear that the second one was on a car parked outside the library when my stepdaughter and I went there late this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oh, Yeah, That's Okay Then

Earlier today, I glanced at a New York Times online headline:

Justice Department Asked to Investigate Tejada

I wondered what the hell problem they had with Tex-Mex music, which I happen to love. Then I realized it said Tejada, not Tejano. Miguel Tejada, the baseball player who's suspected of using steroids. Doh.

In the words of Miss Emily Litella, "Never mind."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fear of Algebra

Yesterday, I started my Chemistry 201 class, the next step in my long journey to eventually get a Pharmacy degree. I'd had to talk to a counselor to get out of the prerequisite-- either Chemistry 121 or a basic math course. I'd had both, nearly 30 years ago. In fact I'd sweated through ten semester hours of Calculus as a freshman at North Central College in 1979 and 1980.

In order to check to see if we were really ready for the class, our teacher put six algebra problems on the board. Suddenly, after a 30 year absence, algebra reappeared in my life.

Surprisingly, it all came back to me. Thankfully, the kid sitting next to me was a math major, and with a few kind reminders from him, I was able to do all six problems.

We took a break and spent the rest of the first day of class choosing a lab station and checking in our drawerful of lab equipment. The professor also checked that we knew how to safely light a bunsen burner.

The class was fascinating. The ages, genders and ethnicities were mixed. I'm pretty sure that at 46 I'm the oldest guy there. But there was an enthusiasm and sense of the future that was fun to be part of. Sunday night, I'd had a lot of anxiety about the class. Yesterday, though, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Winston Smith, the Peter Principle and the Threat of Talent

Back in 1997, I got a call from my old friend Mark. He was going on an interview for a web design job. He told me he didn't think he'd take it, but he'd told them he had a friend who might be interested. That friend was me.

Mark had roped me into doing web design about a year before that. No matter that I had no training or knowledge of how to do it. He gave me a sheet of codes and taught me how to pull up "View Source" from the toolbar in Netscape, which allowed you to view the code of a web page (it still does). Before I knew it, he was paying me 25 bucks an hour to do work for him.

We went to the interview. Sure enough, he begged off on the job, but I took it. It was all the way in Oakbrook Terrace. That meant getting the clutch fixed on my 1987 Toyota Tercel. It was well worth it, though; the pay was $35 an hour. And I desperately needed the money. I was engaged in the biggest fight of my life. My son's mother had tried to cut off my relationship with him in order to "punish" me for leaving her. I had been taking out credit card advances in order to pay for a lawyer. Suddenly, I was making more money than I ever made in my life.

I worked at a workstation that belonged to the son of the president of the software company I was working for. The son was doing a college internship for college graduation. And when you're doing your internship for dad's company, guess what? You don't have to bother showing up for work. I actually met him only once, when he dropped by to get something out of his desk.

I did have an officemate. Jeff N. was a quiet kid who'd grown up in the suburbs. He was an interesting guy. His hobby was snow sculpturing-- making sculptures out of snow. He'd come in 2nd or 3rd in a state competion. He was very, very intelligent.

Our boss there was a lady named Kathy L. She was a case study in the Peter Principle; that people rise in organizations until they reach their level of incompetence. They can't move forward and won't be demoted, so slowly, positions fill with people who can't do their jobs. Kathy had been the editor of the company newsletter, until the company had discontinued it. The decision was made to have her run the company website-- never mind that she didn't know HTML from Shinola.

She loved to have meetings. Meeting after meeting after meeting. Often, I sat for an hour or two waiting, surfing the net, making a ridiculous amount of money while she had a meeting with the regular staff discussing things that had already been discussed or simply didn't need discussing. Often, she just held court, bragging about her 14 hour workdays-- workdays that were easily 50-75% wasted time.

Since I was a hired gun, I just kept my head low. I badly needed this money. Had it not been for that job, there's a good chance that I would have had to give in and settle for less than joint custody of my son. Yet another thing I'm forever indebted to my late friend Mark for. But Jeff was another story. He could barely conceal his contempt for Kathy and her rank incompetence.

One day, he asked my opinion on something. He explained to me that branding is important, and that it's especially important in a product that is invisible-- like computer software. He pointed out Microsoft makes sure to put a sticker saying "Powered by Microsoft" on every computer that carries its software. Intel also puts stickers on computers. He proposed a sticker for the software company to put on computers. He showed me three or four designs he'd come up with, and asked me which one I thought was best. He was going to go to Kathy with his idea.

While I was there, Jeff got a poor review. This was preposterous-- Jeff was great at his job. Clearly, Kathy was threatened by him. I kept in touch with Jeff for some time by email after my time as a hired gun was done. Within six months, Jeff was fired.

Remember in the book 1984-- Winston Smith's officemate is a guy who is working on Newspeak. The guy was intelligent, talented, and, Winston realized, doomed. He was too intelligent, despite his usefulness to the government. Sure enough, one day he is "disappeared."

Years later, it dawned on me, that the day Kathy decided she was going to get rid of Jeff was the day he went to her with the idea of the stickers. He was, she realized, intelligent, talented, and a total threat to a talentless hack like her.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Sign Of The Times

Yesterday, I picked up both the Chicago Reader and the New City Journal, another "free" newspaper here in Chicago. What I saw shocked me. It wasn't the content, though; it was the size of both papers.

Recently, the Reader went to a tabloid format. They'd already reduced the number of sections from four to three a few years ago, when they had their old format. Back in the day, the Reader was a thick paper, full of ads, personals, etc. This is not the case.

I pick up a Reader every couple of weeks. When I was a young single guy, picking up a Reader was a Thursday tradition. You'd check out where bands were playing, read music reviews, maybe even look through the "Matches." Even just a few years ago, Kim and I met through the Matches, though we did it online.

The newspaper business is in trouble. Recently, Cincinnati joined the many US cities that only have only one major newspaper. My friend Larry, who works for the Hartford Courant, told me that they keep attriting positions down without replacing people, meaning a bigger and bigger workload for him. The Chicago Tribune was recently sold, and a lot of people think that Sam Zell may have been foolish to buy it. And the Sun-Times laid off a bunch of people in the last week.

I have trouble believing that we're looking at the beginning of the end of newspapers. But there's a shift going on. People in advertising have trouble selling ads-- why, the potential customer asks, should they pay for an ad when they can advertise free on Craigslist?

Zell has talked about newspapers needing to develop new means of revenue. What this means remains to be seen. He's succeeded in all of his other endeavors; I hope he saves the Tribune.

For my part, as much as I read news online-- I probably spent an equal amount of time every day reading the paper and online versions of the New York Times (I subscribe to the New York Times)-- I can't imagine a day when I don't want to have the newspaper in front of me while I eat my breakfast. I hope that the people who run newspapers can figure something out.

A Weary Friday Random Ten

This week my kids went back to school. I got a break-- I don't go back until Monday. I've got Chemistry 201 and Biology 122 this semester. It'll be ten semester hours-- I'm creeping up to a full-time class load.

In the mean time, I've got a cold that's kicking my ass, and I'm looking forward to relaxing tonight with a glass of red wine and a movie with Kim.

1. This Land Is Your Land- Woody Guthrie
2. (Get A) Grip On Yourself- The Stranglers
3. Marrakesh Express- Crosby, Stills and Nash
4. Machine Gun- Jimi Hendrix
5. Welcome To Paradise- Front 242
6. Big Balls- AC/DC
7. Treatment Bound- The Replacements
8. Just Another Nervous Wreck- Supertramp
9. Don't Fear The Reaper- Blue Oyster Cult
10. New York State Of Mind- Billy Joel

1. As I've gotten older, I'm struck by what a beautiful and patriotic song this is.
2. This is the one with the line "But the money's no good...." For years, I only heard this one in clubs or at parties and had no idea who did it. It's on the No Thanks! collection of '70's punk.
3. I played the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album nearly every day in high school. Still sounds great.
4. This is a long song, done with "The Band of Gypsies"-- Billy Cox and Buddy Miles.
5. This was another one I heard a million times in clubs and had no idea what the name of the song or group was until I heard it on Comcast Cable's New Wave station.
6. The social pages say I've got the greatest balls of all.
7. The Replacements are tied with REM as my favorite eighties band. I've mentioned before that I was at their last show on July 4, 1991 in Grant Park.
8. Okay, so Supertramp's a guilty pleasure. Sue me.
9. "I want you to explore the space of the room with the cowbell!"
10. I know/It's only Billy Joel/But I like it....

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What's That Sound?

It's the sound of me doing the Happy Dance.

Kim and I have CNN on right now, to catch the returns from the New Hampshire primaries.

What am I so happy about?

First, dirtbag Rudy Guliani is fighting with joke candidate Ron Paul for fourth place, with 8 or 9 percent. Remember a few months ago when pundits had annointed Guliani as the Republican candidate?

I guess having been mayor of New York City on 9/11 wasn't enough, was it? I guess, in the end, substance trumps imagery. At least sometimes.

But the icing on the cake is that Fred Thompson, whom pundits had also annointed as the Republican candidate, has fewer than a thousand votes. I think Elvis got more write-in votes than that today in New Hampshire.

Taking Care of the Tags, Part II

The newly-married (sorry ladies) Frank Simarco tagged me with the Seven Little Things About Myself tag recently.

1. I have owned two Ted Nugent albums in my life-- his first, self-titled album Ted Nugent ( the one with "Stranglehold" and "Just What The Doctor Ordered") and Free-For-All. Hey, we all have our dark secrets. It was the seventies and I was in high school. And besides, he lost me at Cat Scratch Fever. That album sucked.

2. After a summer spent starving due to bad financial circumstances (1982), I swore never to let anybody go hungry. To this day, when I get panhandled, I offer to buy a meal, and have never, ever turned down a request to buy food, and never will. And I never give money. Hey, I can barely afford to buy my own cheap wine.

3. I once paid a guy five bucks to help me and a group of my friends roll a huge boulder behind an SUV parked on Addison Avenue in Chicago. As you might predict, the hour was late and there was tippling involved.

It seemed really funny at the time.

4. I'm not a big sweet-eater, but I would trade one of my kidneys for chocolate-covered cherries. Fortunately, my son is aware of this and usually gets them for me for my birthday and Christmas every year, and still have both of my kidneys.

5. I nearly voted for a Republican once. In the 1990 election, Republican Illinois governor candidate Jim Edgar bucked his own party, which was in the process of trying to stack the Supreme Court with anti-choice candidates, and declared himself emphatically pro-choice. The Democratic candidate, Neil Hartigan, for whatever reason, waffled on the issue. Edgar was always a moderate within his party, and it didn't hurt that he'd gone to my college.

I never got a chance to make the decision; a construction job I was working at that day went overtime and I didn't get to the polling place in time to vote. It's one of the few times since 1984 that I didn't vote.

Edgar won that election, even without my vote. And I've never even been tempted to vote for a Republican since then.

6. One of my favorite movies is True Believer, which starred James Woods, Robert Downey, Jr. and Kurtwood Smith. Everything about it-- the story, the performances, the cinematography-- just grab me. I've never met anyone who even put it in their top ten. I've watched it easily twenty times.

7. I lived for the Monkees' television show when I was a kid. I wanted to be Mike Nesmith, hat and all.

Unfortunately, my dreams of rock and roll stardom are fading away as I slide into middle age. Unless, of course, Monica lets me do guest vocals on Heart and Soul on her upcoming R and B remake of Huey Lewis and the News' classic Sports album. I might have a chance then.

Taking Care of the Tags, Part I

The irreverent, irascable, inventive and always interesting Splotchy tagged me with the Seven Untrue Facts Meme recently. And I love good tag! Sorry to take so long with it, Splotchy!

1. I hate hot sauces; I prefer my food bland and pablum-like.

2. I hate baseball, which my son has inherited from me.

3. I hate music, especially oldies, folk and punk rock.

4. I am a hard-core conservative. The death of Ronald Reagan was a black-letter day in my life.

5. I am always serious, never irreverent or fun-loving. Kim is just like that too-- that's why I married her.

6. I dislike red wine. Kim does too.

7. I don't agree with Teri Garr in the movie Mr. Mom when she says that raising children into healthy, functional adults is important work. Your life's work, in fact.

Another Birthday

Bubs has a nice tribute today to birthday boy Elvis Presley here and here. Elvis would have been 72 years old today. Bubs also reminded me of one of the great rock and roll quotes ever: John Lennon's pronouncement "Before Elvis, there was nothing."

Let's not forget one other birthday today, though: David Bowie, the Thin White Duke, who is 61 years old today!

I remember the first time I went to buy records-- yes, vinyl records, with my own money. It was in 1976. One of the records I bought was Bowie's The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Backed by guitarist Mick Ronson, the album, a vaguely conceptual one, kicks ass from beginning to end. I finally bought the cd not long ago and still love listening to it.

Try something: run a search on images of Bowie. Other than identical pictures, see if you can find two pictures where he looks alike. "Changes" indeed. He's had more incarnations than Spinal Tap. One band, Bongwater, even kidded about this in their eighties song "David Bowie Needs Ideas."

Bowie's done great work not only as a musician, but as a producer-- he produced some of Iggy Pop's best work, on Lust For Life and other albums.

The Let's Dance album, in 1983, was a big comeback album for Bowie, and on everyone's turntable at my college. I've included the video for the title track, "Let's Dance," his big breakthrough hit for that album.

By the way, you'll notice that he's wearing white gloves and obviously not actually playing the guitar (in last year's song "Hero of Nineteen Eighty-Three," the singer alludes to the subject of the song "finally" taking off his "silly white gloves." I've always assumed he's referring to this vid). The person who actually played that snarling riff was a then-unknown session musican named Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Happy Birthday David!

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Sense of Loss

About a week ago, I finally had a chance to watch a documentary I hadn't ever gotten around to seeing, Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt, which won the Oscar for best documentary in 1989. The Sulzer Library, near my home, has added it to its DVD collection.

I also realized the reason I hadn't seen it-- for years, it just hit too close to home.

In the summer of 1989, I ran into a friend I'd previously worked with at a popular Northside Chicago restaurant. It seemed that Rhodes, a guy we'd worked with, had not shown up to work one day (my friend still worked at the restaruant). It was not like Rhodes to do this. He was very reliable and very hard-working-- he also sold real estate on the side. For him to not show up without so much as a phone call set off red flags. A couple of days later, they finally found out what had happened. He'd developed PCP, pneumocystis pneumonia, a pneumonia common in AIDS patients. It is virulent and swift. Rhodes, who was as healthy as a horse, was dead within a couple of days.

It shook me up. Until then, AIDS was something I read about. I hadn't yet known anyone who died of it. After that, I'd know many.

One of the stereotypes about the restaurant business is that there are a lot of gay waiters. There's a grain of truth in that stereotype. It was probably rooted in the fact that for gay men who had to leave their homes and hometowns because of a lack of acceptance of their sexuality, escaped to urban areas where they found men who shared their sexuality and found an industry that accepted them. Working as a waiter for years, I met and became friends with a lot of gay men. At one restaurant I worked one summer, I was the only straight waiter, something the other waiters there (and I) found utterly amusing. I "integrated" the restaurant.

It reminded me of another institution I helped integrate: the Gentleman's Lunch in my college town. The Gentleman's Lunch started as an all-gay institution. A small group of gay men-- professors, professionals and students-- would gather at 1:00 P.M. every Saturday at E.L. Krackers, on 4th Avenue, in Charleston, Illinois. "Kracker's," as we called it, played mulitple roles. It was a dance club-- a disco, essentially, but during the day was a restaurant-- one of the only decent ones in town at that point.

The men would gather to chat, gossip and have conversations both lofty and trivial. When a handful of straight guys who'd become friends with most of this group were invited-- my friends Larry, Kevin and I-- it was truly an honor. A couple of the older guys dragged their feet a little, but others championed us.

The Gentleman's Lunch was truly one of the great things in my life. In the course of a lunch, we might hear gay and straight gossip, have a conversation about movies, comic books, music, world affairs, politics, literature, Hollywood "who's gay" gossip, history-- just about any topic you could think of, we covered it. It was our version of the Algonquin Round Table.

Eventually, the first woman, Jennifer, who was a lesbian who was president of the campus gay advocacy group, was invited. Eventually, even-- gasp!-- straight women were invited!

Right before I got my graduate degree, my parents even joined the Gentleman's Lunch. I remember that day that there were 21 of us at Lunch.

It was at the Gentleman's Lunch that I first discussed AIDS with anyone. A couple of the guys discussed a disease that seemed to be killing gay men in San Francisco and New York. It still didn't have a name yet. Over the course of the year or so, 1984 and 1985, the disease took a name-- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. And the first case of AIDS was reported in Champaign, the big college town 50 miles north of us. They talked about what little was known about preventing it-- preventing the transmission of bodily fluids.

This weekend, Adam and I had brunch with Jim, one of my friends who first invited me to the Gentleman's Lunch. I realized that nobody from the Gentleman's Lunch had died of AIDS. I can't say the same for people I worked at here in Chicago. As I watched Common Threads, it brought back memories of the early nineties, when I began to dread running into former co-workers. Had I heard about Rhodes? Yes, I had. You heard about Reggie, didn't you? Yes, and Andre is "sick." The euphemism "sick was understood. It began to wear me down-- guys I'd worked with and enjoyed knowing were dying swiftly and helplessly in numbers that I couldn't cope with.

One death in particular was devastating. I'd become friends with a guy I worked with at the same restaurant I'd worked with Rhodes at. I'd also become friends with his boyfriend Tim; I remember one night the spring of 1988 when I sat on the beach the entire night, until sunrise, with Tim talking about opening a restaurant; Tim wanted to have a place his long-time boyfriend-- who ironically had the same first name as me-- could work at. He wanted me to run the "front of the house," while his partner would run the "back of the house," the kitchen.

Tim's boyfriend, who was a cook, not a waiter, was one of the funniest, nicest people I ever worked with in the business. I would have loved to have run a business with him. The fact that we have the same first name would have made it even funnier.

Tim and his boyfriend would go Alaska every year and work for several months catching salmon-- Tim's family's business. They'd make so much money doing that that they could do what they wanted the rest of the year. Tim would go to college and his partner would work at the restaurant.

Eventually, they opened a futon store in Rogers Park. They did quite well with it. Until Tim's partner got "sick."

Looking back, when he died in 1992, I shut down emotionally for a long time. It was just too much.

Watching Common Threads brought back a lot of memories-- of a time before drug "cocktails" and drugs effective against PCP and other oppurtunistic infections brought the toll of AIDS down to a fraction of what it had been; to a time where every couple of days there was the obituary in the New York Times of yet another notable artist who'd died of AIDS; of a time when running into an old co-worker brought a knot in my stomach. A time of unbearable loss. I'm thankful that all my old friends of nearly a quarter century ago at the Gentleman's Lunch, with the exception of Pat, a professor who died of liver cancer, not AIDS, a few years ago, are alive and healthy. I'm thankful for "drug cocktails," and awareness. And I'm hopeful that there'll be a cure within my lifetime for this disease that has cast a shadow over my generation.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video- Peter Murphy, "Cuts You Up."

Peter Murphy was the singer for the great goth group Bauhaus in the eighties. Bubs had the great Bauhaus song "Terror Couple Kill Colonel" on his Random Ten yesterday, and it reminded me to post this beautiful, haunting video that came out in the early nineties.

Friday, January 04, 2008

That Would Explain A Lot...

Is it just me, but doesn't this picture, taken at the December 26th blogger get-together at Hala Kahiki, look a lot like the picture at the end of The Shining, the one with the scary-looking Jack Nicholson front and center? I mean, I'm just sayin'...

Hazy Shade of Winter Friday Random Ten

Well, Christmas is done, and now begins the job of slogging through the rest of a tough Chicago winter.

The impossible happened-- not one, but two people left Jury's, so I picked up three lucrative night shifts there. I'm cutting back on shifts at the Evanston place, but will still work there a couple of shifts a week. My finances are finally recuperating from the fiasco at the downtown restaurant. It's a big relief.

I'm looking forward to a new semester of school. I've already signed up for Biology 122 online, and have to go in next week during open registration to talk to an advisor to get an okay on Chemistry 201. I'm going to be a busy guy for the next few months. That's ten credit hours worth of classes. It'll get me warmed up for later in the program, when I'll be taking a full fifteen hour class load. And working full time. With one kid in college and one kid in high school, by then. Yikes.

1. Hazy Shade of Winter- Simon and Garfunkel
2. Creeper Is a Lowrider- Manic Hispanic
3. Blues Is King- Marshall Crenshaw
4. Outsider- The Ramones
5. Gas Station Women- Phil Ochs
6. Coming Up Close- 'Til Tuesday
7. Roadhouse Blues- The Doors
8. 1968- Dave Alvin
9. Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad- The Clash
10. The Fight- The dB's

1. Love this original, but also liked the Bangles' version, done for the movie Less Than Zero.
2. A cover of the Ramones' "Sheena Is A Punkrocker," by the latino punk group Manic Hispanic.
3. This guy should have had way more success than he did.
4. What's a Friday Random Ten without the Ramones?
5. Phil Ochs loved country music, and it shows on this song.
6. This lovely song defines "bittersweet." I've always assumed this song, their second hit after "Voices Carry," was an epitaph for her relationship with singer-songerwriter Jules Shear. I especially love the line about sitting in a car listening to a Dylan tape. She's happily married these days to singer-songwriter Michael Penn (brother of Sean and the late Christopher Penn).
7. Love this racuous song.
8. Former Blaster Dave Alvin singing about a Vietnam War vet.
9. The Clash sing a song about betrayal.
10. From "Like This," one of my favorite records of the eighties, finally available again on cd.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

First Dates

Tonight was a funny night at work. I was working at my primary job, Jury's. Toward the end of the night, there was a couple who I figured out was on a first date.

I'm good at figuring out some ages-- kids, for instance. I can tell by subject of conversation, demeanor, etc. what age kids are, especially if they're around the same ages of my kids. It gets murkier as people get into their twenties and thirties. My guess was that this couple were late twenties/early thirties.

It was funny to watch. She talked more than he did. She'd never been there, but I'm pretty sure he had. She took my recommendation on food and wine (the Reuben and Big House Red). She talked a lot more than he did. Sometimes that indicates nervousness. In this case, I don't think it did-- I though it indicated confidence.

They stayed and talked for some time. I was complimented on my recommendations. Sometimes this indicates what we servers call "the verbal tip." This means that they compliment you on your service and your ability to read them and their preferences, and that makes it okay to leave a tip that is under ten percent. I could tell that she and her date, who was paying and tipping, would not do that.

And what I could also tell was that the date was not, in the end, the right one. I felt a little bad for them.

It did, though, make me think of another first date, back in 2004. I was in the middle of a bunch of first (and usually last) dates. Two years after splitting from my wife Cynthia, I had decided it was time to start dating again. I'd decided it was also time to be a little more systematic about it; rather than the luck of the draw of whoever landed in my life, I thought I'd try the Matches section of the Chicago Reader. I discovered that it was now mostly electronic.

After a few horrendous dates, I found myself in an Argentinian restaurant a couple of blocks from where I'd lived with two of the closest friends I've ever made made in my life, Dan and Mark, in the late eighties. I could tell from the moment I laid eyes on her that she was trouble-- good trouble.

I was the one who talked too much; if you know both she and I, you know that this is not an easy feat.

About a half hour into the date, I stole (or actually paraphrased) a line from Alvy Singer, Woody Allen's character in Annie Hall. There's a scene where they're on their first date. He stops her at some random point and says "Kiss me." And he explains; otherwise, all night, we'll both be worried about "when do we have that first kiss." If they just do it, get that first kiss out of the way, they can actually enjoy the rest of the evening.

I didn't say that (though we did have our first kiss that night, while we sat having a beer at the Hopleaf). I stopped and said "Hey-- we're going to have a second date, aren't we?"

We did have a second date. And a third, and fourth.

A few weeks later, at a party at our friends Greg and Christina's home, I knew that I was going to marry her. And we ended up getting married there, in that place, on December 30, 2005. It was our second anniversary a few days ago. We have never had dinner or a drink even together for our anniversary. The reason for this is that we've never been together on our anniversary. The reason for this is that we always take our kids to visit their grandparents right after Christmas. Our kids are the most important thing in our lives.

Kim took Mel up to Minnesota. I didn't take Adam to Tennessee-- we didn't have the money. He understood, but it was not easy. I hope he understands that it was so that I could stay in school and finish what I'm doing, and allow him to go wherever he wants in college and do whatever he wants in life. My goal since he was born has been to make sure that he can go to college wherever he wants. It's first on the list of life goals that I have and that I've referred to on this blog. And he also knows that we can go visit them in March. I think he also, like me, wishes that we could go see my mother before her hip replacement surgery next month.

I think that both of our kids had trepidations about our marriage, for various reasons. In the end, though, I think that both our kids are okay with our marriage. They're mature enough to want their parents to be happy. They actually appreciate one another as siblings. And they are, I think, appreciating their step-parents.

I've had it easy. I love being a parent-- especially after being a badass for much of my adult life. I'm also, usually, the Good Cop. I'm the one who plays baseball, catch or Frisbee with my son until it hurts. I'm the one who picks my stepdaughter up early at afterschool and goes to Trader Joes and lets her get the free samples and talks to her about music or whatever else she wants to talk about. I also take them both for bike rides, no matter the fact that I am always exhausted and that I'm much older than any of the parents or step-parents involved (I'm much closer to fifty than any of them).

But a little over two years ago, in a beautiful apartment owned by our beautiful friends Gregg and Christina, with a beautiful view of Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan, with our other beautiful friends (two of my closest friends, Larry and Jim, and Kim's friends Elefteria and Jesse and Sheb and Zach, who are now my friends, were there), with our two beautiful children, Adam and Mel, got married on the date we chose, December 30, the birthday of one of the most beautiful people who ever walked this planet, punk poetess Patti Smith. Two years later, we're still married. I guess all that beauty worked, didn't it, my beautiful wife?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day

Making New Year's resolutions is a risky venture-- I always think of the quote, attributed to many, "Do you want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans." Still, I think it's a good idea to have some goals, even if you can't attain all of them.

First, I vow not to be discouraged politically-- I have faith that enough of the middle people in the United States have seen through the charade of the right in this country, realizing they represent not the values of fiscal conservatism, public safety and a rational foreign policy, but a wholesale looting of this country, a lack of regard for the well-being of anybody who is not a rich Republican and a wreckless, counter-productive foreign policy.

I vow to make sure to spend enough time with my wife and kids, despite a schedule that is going to be busy.

I vow to keep at my goal of changing careers-- to keep working toward the goal of a degree in Pharmacy, that will lead to a career that will allow me to make sure my kids can do what I was not able to do-- go wherever they want for college and study whatever they want-- and to make sure that Kim and I can eventually retire comfortably.

To read more.

To get back to posting on this blog at least once a day.

To make sure to spend time with long-time friends like Larry, Dan, Jim, Andreas, Ron and others.

To make sure to keep enjoying the bloggers I read every day.