Friday, August 28, 2009

Had To Share This

Got this one from the good Dr. Zaius. Had to share it right away.

The "Shit Hits The Fan" Friday Random Ten

I started nursing school this week. In between kids, work and a huge amount of studying, I'm trying to continue blogging. The shit has hit the fan.

1. Tombstone Blues- Bob Dylan
2. The World Turns Around Her- The Byrds
3. People Take Pictures of Each Other- The Kinks
4. Blue Hotel Room- Joni Mitchell
5. Work Out- The Fondas
6. Interstate Love Song- Stone Temple Pilots
7. It's Too Late- Amy Grant
8. Waiting For The Big One- Peter Gabriel
9. Fat Man In The Bathtub- Little Feat
10. Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll- Ian Dury and the Blockheads

1. The second track on the terrific "Highway 61" album.
2. I hear this one a lot on Little Steven's Underground Garage.
3. From "The Village Preservation Society" album, which has really grown on me in recent years.
4. Recently Netflixed a great dvd, "Refuge of the Roads," about the tour that supported "Hejira," the album this is from.
5. Love these Detroit rockers!
6. We bought this one on Rock Band recently. I love singing this one.
7. This was from a Carole King tribute album that came out in the nineties. It's one of those rare covers that does justice to the original. Found myself playing both the original and cover during my two divorces. The line "Still I'm glad for what we had and how I once loved you" is one of my favorites ever.
8. A wryly humorous song from Peter Gabriel's first post-Genesis solo album.
9. Little Feat was formed when Frank Zappa recognized how good Lowell George was and told him he needed to leave the Mothers of Invention and form his own band. Thankfully he followed Zappa's advice.
10. Loved hearing this song on the radio when I was in high school in the late seventies. Of the three things, I was getting only Rock and Roll.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Beginning

In January, I had what I thought was my annual bout of bronchitis. I started coughing constantly, all day and all night. It was so bad, I had to sleep in another room so that Kim could sleep-- I was even coughing in my sleep.

Years ago, I read a statistic that said that married men live longer than unmarried men. I think that there's a simple explanation for that: wives make you go to the doctor. After the third day of me coughing and constantly gasping for breath, and me saying that it wasn't a problem, that it would go away in a day or two, Kim made a doctor's appointment for me, and told me that if I didn't go, we'd be charged 50 dollars.

Earlier that day, I had taken a drive out to Lagrange, Illinois, where my high school was. It was well below zero that day, and despite my wheezing and coughing, I made it there, trudging through the snow for a couple of blocks and walked into my high school, something I hadn't done in nearly three decades.

A couple of days before, I had gone to turn in my application to Truman College's nursing program. I had discovered that they no longer had my high school transcript, which I'd given them when I signed up to take Spanish classes at the school in 1988. They only kept them on file for seven years. I'd called the records person at my old high school, and when I drove out there, she had my transcripts waiting for me. I turned my application in, along with the transcripts, that afternoon.

The next day, I kept my doctor's appointment. My doctor clipped on blood oxygen monitor onto my finger and had me breath into a device that I learned, this summer, is called a spirometer, which measures your lung capacity. She had me walk around the hallway of the medical suite while observing my behavior and the oxygen level. I could tell that she'd formed a conclusion-- a conclusion I'd come to at the same time-- but was surprised about some readings. Specifically, my lung capacity was really high, given what she had concluded I had.

I realized something that had become painfully obvious-- that I had asthma. I asked her if she thought this was the case-- she confirmed that she thought it was too.

My physician gave me a "nebulizer" treatment, which caused me a little amusement-- my mother-in-law has a home nebulizer she uses twice a day for treatment of her COPD-- and told me she wanted to run two blood tests to rule out two other possibilities-- there was an outside chance that it could be a blood clot in my lung, which could be fatal if the blood clot broke loose and went into my brain or heart. Her thoroughness is something I've come to appreciate. She told me that if I had a "positive" on one of the tests, she was going to ask me to go to the Emergency Room that night.

On the way home, I filled the prescription she'd given me for an inhaler-- something my son has been using since he was diagnosed with asthma when he was little. I went home, had a light dinner and went to work.

I'd been at work for about a half hour when I got a call from my doctor. A test called a "D-Dimer" test had come up positive; it's a test for a protein that's present when you have a blood clot. It had a pretty high rate of false positives, she told me, but as a precaution, she'd already set me up for a trip to the Emergency Room at Northwestern Hospital. She'd triaged me to get in immediately.

I was a little stunned. If I left, there would only be one waiter on, so I asked if it was okay if I waited a couple of hours to go in, until the dinner rush was over. She told me that she would prefer if I went immediately, but it would be okay if I went in a couple of hours.

I told my boss the situation, and he showed me once again, as he had in the past, what a good guy he is. He told me to go. Immediately. For him, people and family always come first, something he's demonstrated in the past.

I called Kim and told her what was going on. I asked if she'd drive me to the hospital. She pointed out that I might have to stay overnight, and that I should pack an overnight bag. I agreed. I told her I'd meet her at home.

When she got home, she was in a dither. I had to kiddingly remind her that it was probably okay, and that it was me that might have a blood clot in his lung. Staying calm in emergencies has always been one of my strong suits.

We parked the car and walked down to the Emergency Room. My doctor was true to her word-- I gave the intake nurse my name, sat for maybe three minutes, and was whisked past people who had obviously been there for a while. I got more than one dirty look from other patients in the ER lobby.

I was brought in to the ER and put in a cubicle. They quickly hooked up an EKG and a blood pressure cuff. They were going to have to give me a CT scan, so they needed to make sure my kidneys were functioning normally-- they would have to filter out the dye they would inject in my veins for the CT scan to work. They drew blood and left the IV in me in case I needed anything else.

The kidney test came back okay, and after about a half hour I was brought to the room the CT machine was in. It took about two minutes for the CT scan and I was brought back to the cubicle.

At some point a male nurse named Duane checked in on me. He was a chatty, gregarious guy, about sixty years old. I told him that I had just applied to nursing school. It turned out that he, like me, had left another profession in his forties to enter nursing. He talked about how he had left Northwestern a couple of times for other jobs, but had come back twice. It was very clear that he loved his job. He told me that he intended to do it for at least another ten years.

A while later, a doctor came in and told me that my lungs were clear; no clot. It was just asthma. A couple of weeks later, when I checked in with my physician to see how I was doing on the asthma meds, she told me that they had also spotted a kidney stone and an "inguinal hernia," which apparently runs in my family-- my father and brothers have had them as well.

In April, I found out I had been accepted into the nursing program at Truman. They had had 190 slots and 1,000 applicants. I realize now how lucky I was.

Later, I thought about the lessons of that night-- how I was going to have to deal with people as stubborn as I had been. I'm certain now that I've had asthma since I was a kid, but had been in total denial, no matter how much I suffered from the symptoms. And I realize now how encouraging it been to meet Nurse Duane. I think I knew, at that moment, that I'd made the right decision.

Since January, I finished the last non-nursing school coursework I needed for nursing school, Anatomy I and II. I've since learned enough to actually understand what asthma is-- a constriction of the bronchiole tubes, the tubes that bring air to the alveoli sacs where oxygen is sent to the blood and carbon dioxide is taken out. I learned just what an inguinal hernia is. And I learned, I think, why my doctor was surprised to see my lung capacity as I suffered from an asthma attack on that bitter cold afternoon.

This summer we learned to use a spirometer, the device for measuring lung capacity, in my Anatomy II class. When we did mine, my lab partner Paul thought that we'd made a mistake and redid it-- my lung capacity was twice was most people's were, and about 30% higher than the next highest in class. We redid it, but it came out the same. I realize now that even in the midst of an asthma attack, my lung capacity appeared almost normal because it had so much excess.

Today, I had another short doctor's appointment, for the nurse to check my second TB test (negative) and to pick up my medical paperwork for school. I noticed that under the heading Medical Conditions, my physician had noted "Asthma (well controlled). I found it funny that as I head into one last career, in the medical field, one of the biggest lessons I got was outside of the classroom.

This week was a flurry. I'll try to post again this weekend about my initial observations and experiences starting this next adventure in my life.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Sentence

A couple of Fridays ago, I went to the sentencing of the young gang member who murdered my friend Mark "Atwood" Evans three years ago. He was convicted a few weeks ago of murdering one of the accomplices in the robbery in which Mark got killed-- he was afraid the guy was going to "roll" on him.

Mark is the guy in the middle of the picture, in back. We'd been close friends since meeting as students at Eastern Illinois University in the early eighties.

On the night of June 3/4, 2006, a group of guys, one of whom was the son of former tenants of his, pounded on his door sometime late at night-- probably around 2:30 a.m. They intended to rob him. Since he did not have any money with him, they attempted to take him to an ATM machine. He tried to run away. The guy who had the gun-- the one sentenced-- shot him in the neck, and he collapsed after running a few yards. The shooter then stood over him and shot him three more times.

A month later, a fifteen-year-old Sudanese immigrant, whose family had been Mark's tenants, was murdered a few blocks away. It was, as it turned out, related.

In December, 2007, over a year after the two murders, a 20 year old gang member was arrested for both murders. Another accomplice, had been caught shortly after Mark's murder, and is serving a 12 year sentence for attempted armed robbery for what happened that night. He testified in the case.

He was found guilty a few weeks ago. We were told that the minimum sentence, by Illinois law, would be 45 years. This is "real time;" no time off for good behavior. No parole.

Before the sentencing, they gave the defendent a chance to speak. He continued to deny having killed anybody. His last words: "And one more thing-- whatever happened to reasonable doubt?" It was obvious his lawyer had coached him.

It was a strange moment, when the judge meted out the sentence. I was sitting with the victim's mother and with the author Alex Kotlowitz ("There Are No Children Here"). He is working on a story about the case. The judge explained his rationale for the sentence-- that the perpetrator had not only killed someone, but had threatened witnesses. It was clear to the judge that he'd killed Mark as well, and that the murder was planned and premediated to cover up Mark's murder. The judge gave him 45 years for the murder and another 25 for using a gun in the murder. 70 years. Again, "real time;" no parole. He is 23 years old now, so this is essentially a life sentence.

On that Friday night, old friend Eric, who was one of Mark's closest friends as well, dropped by with Simon, another friend of Mark's. We talked about it all; we recalled that the last time Eric and Simon were in the house was with Mark. We'd sat out on my back porch, where I'd dragged a television and dvd player, and we watched "Westway to the World," a documentary about the Clash. It was probably in 2003.

Three years later, Eric and Simon were both out with Mark the night he was killed.

In the course of our discussion, Eric blamed himself; he was certain that Mark thought it was him pounding on the door. We told him not to take that blame on. Yes, he frequently crashed at Mark's place when he was here in the city, had been out drinking and knew he shouldn't make the hour-long drive home. But he always called beforehand. I reminded him that I and half of his other friends had shown up at his place in an emergency-- he was the kind of guy you could count on. Nonetheless, we couldn't keep him from taking the blame.

I told them my recollections of the trial. How the stenographer would pop onto Facebook on the latptop she had along with her steno machine. About the judge's refusal to have people in handcuffs or ankle bracelets in his courtroom; twice I witnessed him make baliffs take defendants back to have restraints removed. It was clear that the judge respected the defendants' dignity. I was struck by the judge's mix of humor and seriousness-- and how the judge brushed off the defendant's thanks for treating him with respect-- that his thanks would have no bearing on the sentence.

Eric and I talked about how we felt, and we both realized we felt the same: elated. I don't know if it's right to feel so good about this guy facing the rest of his life in a cage, but that's how we feel. We know that there's a good chance that they won't get a conviction in Mark's case. The only witness they have is the guy who served as a lookout in the robbery. They had 15 witnesses in the other guy's case. This is probably the only justice we'll get.

Some of the other people in the extended group of friends of Mark have said that it didn't make them feel any better. Eric and I didn't feel that way. A guy who killed a beloved friend, then murdered a child to cover up that killing was put away for what is almost certainly his natural life. We felt great. After 3 years of pain, the guy who caused this pain felt some himself. Some day, with a little luck-- okay, a lot of luck-- he'll eventually be 42 years old, the age Mark was when he murdered him, and maybe, god willing and the creek don't rise, he'll have some flash of insight at how violent and stupid he was that night, and maybe even feel some remorse for the two murders he committed, for the lives he took, for the lives of loved ones that were damaged and destroyed. Then, maybe I'll have some empathy for him. But for now, I can only feel glad that his life is gone, and that he'll spend the rest of his life living in fear of the predators like him that are all around him.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The End of the Summer Friday Random Ten

Holy shit-- I'm starting nursing school on Monday!

I went to the doctor this morning for a couple of more shots and took a whiz in a cup-- I'm about to spend a career around a bunch of drugs and they want to make sure I'm not addicted to them. Sounds reasonable.

And if you all behave, I won't post a picture of my awful uniform I have to wear at the hospital during my clinicals.

1. Time- Pink Floyd
2. Peace- The Cult
3. Please Come To Boston- Dave Loggins
4. I Wanna Be Your Dog- Iggy and the Stooges
5. Search and Destroy- Iggy and the Stooges
6. Friday On My Mind- The Easybeats
7. Mamunia- Paul McCartney and the Wings
8. You Never Can Tell- Chuck Berry
9. In Between Days- The Cure
10. Devine Intervention- Matthew Sweet

1. This album still sounds really good to me 36 years after its release.
2. These guys are best known for their eighties hit "She Sells Sanctuary."
3. Soft rock, I know, but I like it. I heard an interview on the radio years ago with Kenny Loggins, who had just gone solo (from Loggins and Messinah). He said people kept requesting "Please Come To Boston," and one night he actually tried to play it, to disastrous results.
4. From Iggy and the Stooge's first album.
5. What do you know-- an Iggy and the Stooges twofer-- this one's from their second, Raw Power.
6. The perfect Friday song.
7. A pretty little song from "Band On The Run."
8. This is the song John Travolta and Uma Thurman danced to in "Pulp Fiction."
9. The Cure got overplayed in the eighties, but I'm finally getting over that.
10. My old friend Lulu argues that Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" album may have been the best album of the nineties. It was surely one of the best..

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm Just Wondering...

Has anybody ever noticed how much a 1998 Toyota Camry looks like a Chevy Impala, especially when it's the same color? Neither did I until about the third time I walked up and tried to unlock my neighbor's Impala.

Monday, August 17, 2009

One Last Note About Woodstock

British singer Joe Cocker was little known in the United States when he performed at Woodstock in August of 1969. His arrangement of the Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends" launched him into legend. He did, of course, significantly change the lyrics. Click on the link below to see the fabled performance with a helpful transcript of the altered lyrics.

Thanks to Kristi and Skyler's Dad for this one!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflections On Woodstock

It's been interesting to read all the different takes on the 1969 Woodstock Festival. The festival launched many bands into superstardom and has been both lionized and reviled from both the right and the left.

One of the things that people have forgotten is that one of the reasons that attendance was so high at the concert is that it was widely rumored that Bob Dylan, who was living in Woodstock at the time-- though the festival, despite the name, actually took place in Bethel, New York, which is 43 miles from Woodstock-- was going to perform. In fact, Dylan was, like the Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, invited, and like them, declined.

Still, some big name bands did show up. The Band, who were living in Woodstock and recording with Bob Dylan (sessions that were for years only available as bootlegs called the Basement Tapes-- they were finally legitimately released some time ago), did show up. David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, having left their well-known respective groups, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies, performed one of their first gigs, prompting Stills' comment that they were "scared shitless." Crosby, Stills and Nash still record and perform today.

The Who, who were considered the headlining act, had just released Tommy, and played a 25 song set. Creedence Clearwater Revival, who were at the top of their hitmaking days, appeared as well. The Jefferson Airplane, two years out of the "Summer of Love," performed, opening with the incendiary call to revolution, "Volunteers." Hendrix' performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" has entered into rock lore (I saw the guitar he performed it with at the Experience Music Project, EMP, in Seattle a few years ago).

Other lesser-known acts became legend. Richie Havens, a fairly obscure folkie, was asked to extend his opener set because festival organizers were having trouble getting other acts to the stage because of the huge crowd-- and the fact that the roads were jammed for miles out. His performance, which stretched to three hours and was featured in the subsequent album and movie, made him a legend. The song he's best known for, his adaptation of the spiritual "Motherless Child" was played because he was running out of material to play.

Forty years later, I have some thoughts on it all.

I think that the music absolutely has stood the test of time. I still love hearing Canned Heat, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Hendrix, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Who, the Jefferson Airplane, Creedence and many of the other bands and musicians who performed.

One of the experiences that seemed common to the festival-goers (and musicians), drugs, have had a less happy history. Drugs have become entrenched in our society. They've ruined countless lives and made parts of our major cities, and parts of Mexico into free-fire zones, as people involved in the drug trade-- even the seemingly innocuous marijuana-- kill one another by the thousands. And of course, within a couple of years, several of the greatest performers at the festival-- Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Al Wilson (singer for Canned Heat) were dead of drug-related causes. Over time, the toll would become higher-- Tim Hardin and Jerry Garcia would eventually join that group. David Crosby is only alive because of a liver transplant.

And what about the ideals of peace and love? My last post was about the couple who were captured in the now-iconic photo. They're still together. Bobby Ecoline, one half of that couple, started a food pantry in Pine Bush, New York, where they live. I think that many of the people in that generation, the ones who took those ideals seriously, and weren't in it just for the sex and drugs (and there were plenty who were), have continued to practice those ideals. One of them is Richie Havens. He founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, a children's oceanographic museum in the Bronx, which is dedicated to teaching environmental issues to inner city kids.

Not everybody who performed at Woodstock have kept the ideals. My friend Carlo, who is the leader of Las Guitarras de Espana, a flamenco-influenced group, opened for the reconstituted Jefferson Airplane at a suburban Chicago summer festival some years ago. One of the things he noticed is that the members of the group, which was the most overtly political of all the acts at Woodstock, all arrived separately, each in their own limo. "Got the Revolution," huh?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Woodstock Couple

If you don't think this story is sweet, you need a heart transplant.

There have been a lot of articles lately about the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock concert. One of the nicest things has been the story that the couple who are pictured in the now-iconic photo taken there, that was used as the cover of the Woodstock album, are still together, happily married. Nick and Bobby Ecoline, who had been dating only couple of months when they made a last-minute decision to go to the Woodstock concert. Forty years later, they are married, having raised two children who are now 29 and 30. Both are 60 years old. They still live in the area, where she works as a school nurse and he is a home inspector. They had no idea that the picture was taken until it showed up on the cover of the Woodstock album.

In The Summertime

It's actually warm today here in Chicago-- imagine that! In the middle of August, no less!

I'm doing something I rarely do-- listen to regular radio (though it is streamed over the internet). Our local "progressive rock" does a Saturday Morning Flashback. This year is 1970, and they just played one of my favorite summer songs, Mungo Jerry's 1970 hit "In The Summertime." Found the vid on Youtube. Enjoy it, and for god's sake get out and enjoy the day!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reason To Believe

In between my last preparations for starting nursing school in a couple of weeks-- I have to go in for a checkup and a bunch of blood tests today-- I've been trying to catch up with blogging. I've been neglecting it for a while. Indeed, I've noticed since Facebook took the world by storm, a lot of blogs have been slowing down or even falling by the wayside entirely. For me, Facebook has been a nice way to keep in daily touch with old friends who have scattered, geographically, to the four winds. But it'll never replace blogging, either reading or writing, for me.

Speaking of catching up, I was catching up with one of my long-time favorite bloggers, Barbara, and her preparations to send the soon-to-be-non-Resident Offspring off to college. When I started reading her blog three years ago, her daughter was my son's age, 15. I got a little preview of my future reading her post.

She also mentioned Tim Hardin, an artist who seems to have been forgotten over the years. He wrote some wonderful songs in his short life-- he had a long-time heroin problem that finally killed him in 1980 at the age of 39-- that were mostly known for their covers: both Bobby Darin and Johnny Cash covered "If I Were A Carpenter," Johnny Cash did a nice cover of "Lady Came From Baltimore" and Rod Stewart's cover of "Reason To Believe" was on Every Picture Tells A Story. As much as I like those covers, I loved the originals even more.

Searching Youtube, I could only find one clip of him, performing "If I Were A Carpenter" at Woodstock. I also found a lovely cover of my favorite Tim Hardin song, "Reason To Believe," performed by Billy Bragg and Lisa Miller on a television show. Enjoy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Stupidest Thing I Ever Did

The last week or so, I've been riding bikes with my stepdaughter, dropping her off at the camp she's been spending her days at. In doing so, I've been passing the Jewel's-- or what's left of it-- on Southport Avenue. It's being torn down, to be rebuilt. I was reminded of a little over 20 years ago, when I lived in the neighborhood, shopped there-- and had to walk there on crutches, thanks to the stupidest thing I ever did.

Back in 1988, Mark Evans, one of my closest friends, and I decided to get an apartment together. We were both single, young guys, so proximity to the Gingerman Tavern, our favorite watering hole, was a strong consideration. We got in his car, put on some good tunes and went cruising around the Wrigleyville neighborhood.

We were looking for a three-bedroom place; our college friend Jay was going to room with us. The first day we looked, we found a marvelous place, the first floor of a beautiful greystone, for only $825 a month. That would be only $275 each-- cheap, even in 1988.

Not wanting to miss out on the place, Mark and I signed the lease and paid the deposit without Jay. The next day, Jay told us that he couldn't move in with us. Mark and I scrambled to find another roommate. Luck was with us; our friend Dan, who had graduated recently from Eastern, the school we'd all met at, had decided he was ready to move out of his parents' house.

Our house became the party house. We had at least a party a month. When Dan and I get together with our college friends, we reminisce about that year-- and about our friend Mark, who was shot to death in a robbery three years ago.

It was a strange existence that year. We were three guys who were trying to get their start in the world. We worked a bunch of jobs and at crazy hours. We'd sometimes go a day or more without seeing another. None of us were working at anything resembling what we'd gone to school for. Mark worked as a sales clerk in a record store; Dan worked as a bill collector; I was working as a waiter. There were a million stories from that year, which seemed like five years. I've told some of them in this blog; some are waiting to be told.

That summer, I was pensive. I felt like my life was on hold. I'd ended a big relationship with someone I loved a lot-- someone I'd discovered was married. I was trying to figure out my next move. I was strongly considering grad school-- going to Georgetown and getting a PhD in Political Science.

In the meantime, I was working and palling around with my friend Dhyana. She was a lot of fun to be around-- a tall, beautiful , half-Colombian woman with a wild streak to match mine. We worked together, and frequently found ourself hanging out after work.

We got some kind of notion of buying motorcycles and going on road trips together. We started saving to buy our bikes. I was planning on buying a Triumph Bonneville. Later, I discovered that this was the very motorcycle Bob Dylan was riding when he had his near-fatal crash. Oddly, if you look closely at the cover of Highway 61 Revisited, he's wearing a Triumph motorcycle shirt. A premonition, perhaps.

One day, I got a call from Dhyana. She'd bought a motorcycle-- she'd gotten a good deal on a used Yamaha 750. We made plans to get together after work-- she was off that night, but we were to meet at the Oasis, a 4 O'Clock bar down the street from the place we worked at.

I went to the Oasis after work, and at 1 am or so, Dhyana pulled up on her motorcycle. One of the guys from work had spent an hour showing her how to ride it-- yes, a whole hour-- and she was now eager to show it off.

We were all hanging in front of the Oasis admiring the bike and talking, and Dhyana gave short rides to a couple of co-workers. She got back with one of them and insisted I get on the bike and take a ride. I hopped on and she roared off.

I noticed that she was still a little rough shifting gears, and a little wobbly handling the bike, but having had a couple of beers, I wasn't all that concerned. And of course, I was dressed appropriately for urban motorcycle riding-- cut-offs, sneakers, a t-shirt and not a thing on my head.

We roared north down Sheridan Road, curving past the sharp turn right at the cemetery and up into Evanston. We pulled into a parking lot, turned around and roared back toward Chicago.

She was getting more confident, so she really gunned it. As she approached the sharp turn-- you know, the one by the graveyard-- I wondered if she remembered that it was there. And it was at that moment I realized she didn't-- until it was too late. She saw the turn and locked up the brakes on the motorcycle. It spilled, falling to the right.

After it had stopped, I took stock of things. I had thunked my head pretty hard on the pavement, but could still feel and move my arms and legs. Dhyana had been protected by the side bars, and was almost uninjured. I wasn't.

I suddenly realized that I could not get up because my foot was stuck under the 500 pound bike. I also realized that a car could come flying around the blind corner at any second. She was freaking out, crying and apologizing. I calmly told her that we needed to get me out from under the bike, and get the bike off the road. She was able to lift the bike up enough for me to get out, and hopping on my left foot-- my right foot was numb-- we got the bike up and off the road.

We took a moment to assess things. I could not put any weight on my right foot. I was also cut up pretty good from my right shoulder down to my right foot.

A couple of months before, when my work had offered insurance, through an HMO with Illinois Masonic Hospital, for only 25 bucks a month, I'd taken them up on it. I was really glad, at that moment, I'd spent the money. Since I was able to move and wasn't bleeding too badly, we decided to hop in a cab and go to the hospital.

We got out of the cab and went into an emergency room, where I began talking to the intake people. I laughed a little, telling Dhyana that one of the two people who'd ever warned me to stay off of motorcycles, my ex-girlfriend Rita (the other one being my father, who'd had a motorcycle crash when he was a young guy) worked at that hospital, in the Intensive Care Unit.

Now, a couple of years ago, Bubs mentioned in a post about why he never trys to get away with anything-- because he always gets caught (it's #6). He and I must be brothers in this. And that night was no exception. A couple of minutes after I mentioned Rita to Dhyana, Rita walked into the room, clipboard in hand.

She'd been transferred, I discovered a moment later, to the Emergency Room the month before.

She had that look on her face like your parent when you you've come home late.

A motorcycle accident. A gorgeous brunette. Alcohol on my breath. An ex-girlfriend who had broken up with me when I was arrested on the way to a date, who thought I was a little too wild to begin with, now treating me after a motorcycle accident.

I didn't bother trying to explain that Dhyana and I were just friends. I was busy trying to figure out how I was going to explain a late-night motorcycle ride with my lady-friend to the woman I'd been dating.

As they wheeled me into a room, Rita smugly asked what had happened, though I knew that she already knew. I told her to feel free to say "I told you so."

As she cleaned the dirt and small rocks out of the wounds and prepped me to be X-Rayed, we caught up for a few minutes. As she finished up, she asked if I had learned my lesson.

I had. The lesson learned? I never, ever get away with anything.

It wasn't until about 5:30 am, the sun having risen, before my friend Dhyana could drive me home. As I walked up the steps unsteadily, learning to use my crutches, a mild hangover tempered with the codeine pills they'd given me in the Emergency Room, my roommate Dan was exiting the front door. Dan, who'd come to think of me as an out-of-control party animal lothario, looked at me, looked at my new cast and crutches, looked at Dhyana, and then after doubling over laughing, walked on out to his car and drove off to work.

I wonder if it would do any good to warn my kids to stay off of motorcycles.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The "Is It Really Friday" Friday Random Ten

Between work and trying to get ready for school, things have been hectic. I woke up today and said "Is this really Friday?" The week flew by. And Kim and I have been having a "who's more broke" contest this week. Can't wait for school to be done-- in two years.

1. Conquistador- Procul Harum
2. New Kid In Town- The Eagles
3. Trash- The New York Dolls
4. Monkey Man- The Rolling Stones
5. Easy To Slip- Little Feat
6. I Bought A Flat Guitar Tutor- 10CC
7. Jackson Cage- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
8. Then Came You- The Spinners with Dionne Warwicke
9. Cathy's Clown- The Everly Brothers
10. Lorelei- Styx

1. Procul Harum recorded this song with the Edmunton Symphony Orchestra
2. "Hotel California" was one of the first albums I ever bought.
3. Dolls singer David Johansen has one of my favorite-ever rock and roll quotes, about the Dolls: "We like to look sixteen and bored shitless."
4. I can never resist screaming "I'm a MOOOOOONNNNNNKAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY MAN" along with Mick Jagger whenever I hear this one. Fortunately, there are usually not people around when this happens.
5. My favorite Little Feat song. I remember hearing this in the commercials for Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," then was puzzled to discover that it's not in the movie.
6. From "Deceptive Bends," which came out in 1977. Lots of clever wordplay in this one.
7. A song about lonliness. I love the line "Like a scene in another man's play."
8. Love the Spinners, and particularly love this one, which they did with Dionne Warwick.
9. I wasn't crazy about the Everly Brothers when I was younger, but they've really grown on my over the years.
10. Loved Styx when they were a local band, but hated them as they got big. This was from when they weren't so big.

My John Hughes Moment

I was saddened to discover last night, when I got home from work and checked the New York Times online, that director John Hughes had died.

I was not a fan of all of his work-- I found a lot of it formulaic and overly saccharine. But I did have a soft spot in my heart for a couple of his movies, for various reasons.

Earlier this year, when my son and I visited my parents, who now live in Tennessee, my son and my father had a great time watching Ferris Buehler's Day Off, a movie they both love. I suspect a lot of the reason they love it is the Chicago landmarks in the movie. Both my dad and my son are Chicago guys through and through.

My favorite John Hughes movie is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The performances of the two co-stars are picture perfect; Steve Martin as the tightass executive trying to get home for Thanksgiving, and the late John Candy as the sometimes socially inept, but bighearted salesman.

The movie also provided me with a little moment of magic. About ten years ago, I was just out of teacher school and working as a sub in the Evanston school system, hoping to score a permanent job there. My wife at the time, Cynthia, worked as a first grade teacher in one of Evanston's schools, and had gotten her start there as a sub. Since my knowledge of Evanston's geography was limited, Cynthia would provide me with directions each time I was going to a school I hadn't been before.

One day, I got my morning call to go to Orrington School, which is in north Evanston, near the border of Winnetka. As I followed the directions my wife had given me, I came upon a "T" intersection. I turned left, and realized that though I had never been in this area in my life, I knew the house I had just passed. I puzzled about it for a few hours, then it dawned on me-- I had passed the house that Steve Martin's fictional character from "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" lived in, where the poignant ending occurred.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Occasional Forgotten Video: The Thompson Twins, "Hold Me Now."

This song will always be bound up in my memories of my senior year of college, in 1984.

The Thompson Twins started out as a trio in 1977, and had various line-ups until Tom Bailey met Alannah Currie, who lived in a "squat" (occupying an abandoned building) down the street from his. They brought in their former roadie Joe Leeway on as a percussionist and conga player, and this was the line-up that would record "Hold Me Now."

The Thompson Twins had UK top ten hits with "Lies" and "Love On Your Side," but did not crack the US charts. "Hold Me Now" was released in late 1983, and rose to #3 in the United States (and #4 in their native Britain).

The band never approached this success again, but played at Live-Aid in 1985, where they were joined onstage by a young singer who'd just had her first couple of hits-- Madonna. Bailey and Currie eventually married, had a couple of kids, moved to New Zealand, -- then divorced in 2003. They both eventually moved back to England. Leeway left the band in 1986, and did some solo work. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he works as a hypnotherapist.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Book Recommendation: "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave And The Birth of the FBI, 1933-34"

Since I read New York Times review for Bryan Burrough's "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave And The Birth of the FBI, 1933-34" in 2004, I've wanted to read the book.

A few weeks ago, my son Adam and I went to see the movie that was extremely loosely based on the book. As much as I like Michael Mann as a filmmaker, the movie can't hold a candle to the book.

The book is an account of the crime wave in the early years of the Great Depression that gave rise to the FBI as we know it. Because they had better guns and cars-- at least in the beginning-- than law officers, and the police had limited jurisdiction to pursue the criminals once they left the municipality they committed the crimes in, this new breed of criminal was very difficult to catch.

The criminals were mostly bank robbers, preying on the banks of the rural midwest. But the crime that precipitated the formation of the FBI as a national police force was the "Kansas City Massacre" on June 17, 1933. A group of criminals, who were unknown at first, attempted to retrieve bank robber Frank Nash, who had been arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and was being escorted by a group of law enforcement officers-- the chief of police of McAlester, Oklahoma, two Kansas City, Missouri policemen and some FBI agents-- to Kansas City, Missouri, where he would be driven to and remanded to Leavenworth Federal Prison.

Unkbeknown to the law officers on the train, word had leaked out that they were escorting Nash, including the plan to take him on a night train to Kansas City; there were news stories about it. Several criminals, headed by bank robber and occasional sydnicate hit man Verne Miller, plotted to meet the train.

In a twist of fate, as they got off of the train, the law officers put Nash in the front seat of the car, rather than the back. The car was surrounded, and a shot was fired. The car and the lawmen in and around it-- and Frank Nash-- were riddled with gunfire. When it was over, Kansas City police officers Red Grooms and Frank Hermanson were dead, as was McAlester, Oklahoma chief of police Otto Reed. FBI agent Ray Caffrey was dead-- as was the criminal Frank Nash, who was killed in the opening salvo. Miraculously, two FBI agents survived-- Joe Lackey, though badly wounded, would survive and participate in the ensuing "War On Crime." Reed Vetterli, who had been in the car, had, incredibly, been barely scratched.

Thus began the "War On Crime." The FBI, an obscure federal agency, with officers who did not even carry guns, catapulted, in less than two years, to a national police force with a mandate to wipe out the epidemic of bank robberies plaguing the country.

The book is fascinating and extremely well written. Burroughs weaves the tales of a disparate, but sometimes overlapping group of "yeggs"-- bank robbers. It's a story of alternating bungling and brilliant police work and crooks who were sometimes incredibly incompetent. As a Chicagoan, it was particularly enjoyable, because so much of it took place here. There was one account of the police nearly catching John Dillinger as he sought medical treatment at a physician's office at Irving Park Road and Keeler (near where the Kennedy Expressway passes over Irving these days). Sensing the trap, Dillinger backed blindly onto Irving Park Road-- a very risky proposition, as someone familiar with the area would know-- and gunned his car eastward on Irving, turning onto Elston and escaping. This is just a few blocks from my home; I pass through this intersection all the time.

The cops and the crooks were fascinating. Dillinger was very concerned about his public image, trying not to harm anyone-- though he did kill one law officer. His sometimes-partner Lester Gillis, aka "Baby Face Nelson," was not at all concerned about harming law enforcement officers; in fact he went out of his way to try to kill them. He was, in fact, responsible for the death of the highest-ranking FBI official ever killed on duty. Yet, this sociopath was a doting father and loving husband.

Because of J. Edgar Hoover's preference for young, college-educated men to fill the FBI ranks, the FBI was initially at a disadvantage in pursuing criminals; even after they were allowed to carry guns. They lacked basic law enforcement skills, such as setting up raids-- this was painfully evident with their failure to arrest Verne Miller here in Chicago; more on that in a moment-- gathering evidence, setting up stake-outs, following leads, etc. Fortunately, Hoover brought in experienced law enforcement officers, mostly Southerners, who quickly remedied this. Their help was crucial.

Burroughs' biggest indictment in the book is of Melvin Purvis. Purvis had no law enforcement experience before the FBI, and was a poor choice to lead the War On Crime. Burroughs insinuates that it was Hoover's (unrequited) attraction to Purvis that made Hoover choose him. Eventually, Purvis' incompetence became painfully apparent even to Hoover, and an FBI administrator, Sam Cowley was brought in to supercede Purvis. Cowley was outstanding, but was to pay the ultimate price for his service.

One of the parts of the movie that was roughly historically accurate was the attempt to capture Verne Miller in a Chicago hotel, the Sherone Hotel, which still stands, at Sheridan and Montrose. The FBI was in a race to capture Miller, who was the prime suspect in the Kansas City Massacre, with the mob, which now considered him a liability.

On November 1, 1933, Miller was staying at the Sherone with his girlfriend Bobbie Moore, when an informant tipped off the FBI. Agents checked into a room on the same floor that they suspected Miller was staying. In an odd twist, Doris Rogers, who was the secretary for the Chicago FBI office, was brought in to identify Miller; she'd met him when he was a deputy sheriff in Huron, South Dakota, where she'd grown up.

Miller was identified, and an agent made a sign to move in on Miller. The agent who was supposed to be watching for the signal missed it, and Miller sensed that he was in trouble. He bolted, running out a side entrance-- right past two FBI agents. The agent who was supposed to signal them had forgotten to do so. Miller and Moore got into his Moore's car and took off. A state trooper fired a machine-gun burst into the car-- the first time a law-enforcement ever fired a machine gun in anger within Chicago city limits-- but Moore, who was driving, kept her cool. They got away, and abandoned the car a few blocks away.

Witnesses saw them get out of the car and hop a fence into the backyard of a building on Clarendon Avenue. It would turn out, in a bizarre coincidence, that this was the building that John Dillinger was then living in.

Miller's luck ran out on him a few weeks later; he was murdered, presumably by the sydnicate.

"Public Enemies" is full of these odd crossings of criminals and the law enforcement officers who pursued them. It's meticulously researched and particularly well written. I highly recommend it.

The Verdict

A few weeks ago, I posted a little bit about the trial of the guy who murdered my friend Mark "Atwood" Evans. He was tried first for the murder of one of his accomplices in the robbery in which Mark was killed. He had killed his accomplice because he was afraid he would talk if picked up by the police.

I was able to go to one of the days of the trial, but because of school was not able to be there on the day the jury's verdict came in.

My friends Tim and Matt, who were also two of Mark's closest friends, were able to be there. Since my school has wifi, I was able to have my laptop with me, with Facebook on. Tim fed updates with his Iphone.

My lab partner and friend Paul, a friendly guy from Cameroon, knew what was going on, and could tell I was having trouble concentrating on the class, which was a class which required a lot of concentration. He and I were in the habit of helping one another with making sure our class notes were complete, one showing the other his notes if we missed something. That day, it was all Paul showing me his notes. I appreciated it.

About an hour after I got the Facebook notice that the jury had adjourned, I got a new note from Tim: the jury had returned a verdict. From having worked as a law clerk, I had a good notion of what the verdict was going to be after such a short time.

A few minutes later, I got the next message from Tim: Guilty.

I felt a little dizzy and weak. We had known that there was not a good chance that they're going to get a guilty verdict in Mark's case. Knowing that this guy was going to be put away for a long, long time felt like justice.

Later, I was a little amused, thinking about it all. Years ago, Mark had been one of the first ones of my old college gang that knew about the internet. He'd been the apostle of the internet, telling everybody how much it was going to change things. He'd described, many years ago, what we would now call social networking. The irony of the fact that I first learned about his murder via an email, and got the news of the verdict by a social networking application was not lost on me.

I also recently got more information through the news group we set up after his death. The guy who killed him will be sentenced for the other killing tomorrow. I plan to be there. Tomorrow they will also start the trial for Mark's killing.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Johnny Yen's Chicago Stories: Not One, But TWO!

As a typical midwestern American kid growing up watching television, one of the stereotypes I saw frequently was the combative in-laws. Happily, I grew up not to have that relationship; my in-laws are delightful people. I get along wonderfully with them. I suspect that with my father-in-law, it helps that I'm a huge baseball fan (and a native Chicagoan) like he is.

My father-in-law was born and raised in Chicago, and after serving in the military, ended up in Long Island, then finally the Minneapolis area. Over the years, he transferred his loyalties from the Cubs to the Minnesota Twins. Given that the Twins have won two World Series in my lifetime (1987 and 1991), this was proabably a wise move.

A couple of years ago, I was on the phone chatting with him, and of course, talking baseball. Somehow we began talking about the Cubs player who was shot by a deranged female fan, a story that was the inspiration for the book and the movie "The Natural."

In talking about the specifics of the incident, we remembered vastly different things. My father-in-law is 81 years old, but is still sharp as a tack. I actually questioned if I was remembering things wrong. I ran and grabbed my copy of Richard Lindberg's great book "Return To The Scene of the Crime: A Guide to Infamous Places In Chicago" to check if I was remembering my facts straight. And it was then I discovered that we were both correct. We were talking about two different guys. Not one, but two Cubs players were shot in hotel rooms by deranged female fans. I was talking about Billy Jurges and my father-in-law was talking about Eddie Waitkus.

Billy Jurges was shot in the Hotel Carlos, now the Sheffield House, at 3834 N. Sheffield Avenue, about two blocks north of Wrigley Field by a young showgirl named Violet Popovich on July 6, 1932. She had become increasingly obsessed with him, even renting a room at the Hotel Carlos, where Jurges lived. Jurges ignored warnings from people around him who saw how obsessed she was getting with him, and remained friendly with her. After three frantic calls from Ms. Popovich, Jurges allowed her into his room. After threatening to kill herself, Ms. Popovich fired three shots at Jurges, hitting him once in his hand and once in his side. Jurges lunged at her and disarmed her before she was able to fire again.

After Popovich was subdued by the police, Jurges was taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital (coindicentally, this is the hospital that I will be doing my clinicals for next semester's nursing school classes). Jurges wounds were treated, and he missed the remainder of the 1932 season. The Cubs brought in former Yankee Mark Koenig to replace him. That year, the Cubs went to the World Series, playing the Yankees. It was during that Series that Babe Ruth had his famous "called shot" in Wrigley Field.

Oddly, Jurges declined to press charges, and Violet Popovich was released. Jurges continued to play for the Cubs until 1948, and afterward worked as a manager and a scout.

Eddie Waitkus was a World War II hero whose career, oddly, briefly crossed paths with Billy Jurges'; he played on the Cubs from 1946 to 1948. While he played in Chicago, a female fan, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, had become obsessed with him. Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1949, but this did not diminish Ms. Steinhagen's obsession, but increased it.

On June 14, 1949, Waitkus was in town with the Phillies to play the Cubs. He was staying in the Edgewater Beach Hotel, on Bryn Mawr Avenue. Checking into the hotel under the name of a high school classmate of Waitkus', Ms. Steinhagen sent him a note that she needed to see him on an urgent matter. When he entered her room, Steinhagen shot him with a rifle.

Mr. Waitkus' wounds were much more serious than Jurges' had been; he nearly died in the operating room. Fortunately he lived, but was never the same. He probably suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident, and it affected his career. Ms. Steinhagen never stood trial for the shooting; she was confined to a mental institution.

As always, there were two odd little coincidences in this story for me. The first was that the only time I have ever been in the Edgewater Hotel, which now is an apartment building, it was to meet the guy who was to perform the marriage ceremony for my now-ex-wife Cynthia and I. He lived in the building. The other involves my current wife, Kim. When I met her, in 2004, she was living on the 3600 block of Sheffield Avenue, a few doors north of Wrigley Field-- and a block and a half south of the Sheffield House-- formerly the Carlos Hotel-- on the same side of the street. If you stand on the steps of her old apartment building, you can see the old Carlos Hotel.

Guess it's a good thing for me that both current and ex-wives hate guns.