Friday, December 30, 2011

Growth 1, Resolutions 0

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions. 

I'm not much for New Year's anything besides football, movies, Chinese take out, busting out the karaoke player or a good game of cards.

Many years ago I got in the habit of taping the "Rockin' New Year" show with the ball at Times Square.  The kids and I would watch over breakfast, same result.

A creature of habit, that I am. 

But I have never been big on resolutions.

Not that I don't reflect or look to improve.  That I do quite a bit.

Since I hit my forties, perhaps coinciding with my metabolism's screeching halt, I took aim at three things I have always wanted to do, but not with a big pronouncement on January 1st.

I picked up a guitar several years ago. 

I thought it would be fun to play for the kids, though I picture them telling stories someday of the times Dad "held us against our will" to hear the opening riff of "Day Tripper" several hundred times.  Today I could probably earn half a sandwich on a subway platform.

I took a year's worth of improvisation classes at Second City, performing a few times with an ensemble which was great fun.  I would love to do more but one artist in the family is enough. 

And I started this blog. 

A couple of years ago my boss at the time handed out an evaluation with space for "personal goals."  I wrote that I wanted to start a blog. 


If you are a reader of Just...Getting...Started, loyally or occasionally, I thank you.  The response has been great. 

Lord knows I have opinions.  The idea of being "out there" with them and that people would enjoy reading them is both flattering and humbling. 

Changes are coming in the new year as I take Just...Getting...Started to a bigger stage.  Stay tuned. 

And Happy New Year to all. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tim Tebow Is Not My Shepherd, Or Jesus Calls An Audible

Did the clock run out on "Tebow time?"  Has "Tebowmania" run its course?

After leading the Denver Broncos to a series of dramatic, come from behind victories in recent weeks, quarterback Tim Tebow and company lost to the New England Patriots last Sunday.

“God’s Quarterback” has come back to earth (pun fully intended).  Or has he?

For some, the game is an afterthought. 

It is Tim Tebow's Christian faith, combined with his leadership, that has the football world caught up in "Tebowmania." 

Fans everywhere drop down on one knee with a fist to the forehead in prayer.  "Tebowing," it's called, the pose Tebow strikes during games. 

Tim Tebow may be the savior football fans are looking for.  Or he may just be a hard working, consistently average quarterback on a so-so team. 

Did I mention that Tim Tebow believes in God? 

Born in the Philippines and raised by Christian Baptist missionaries, Tim Tebow was an All-American, national championship winning quarterback at the University of Florida and a Heisman Trophy winner.

He had the credentials and leadership "intangibles," but most scouts questioned his ability to succeed in the NFL.

He appears to be a man of strong character, genuine and gracious, a leader by example not given to prothelizing. 

Tim Tebow is hardly the first athlete to give thanks when given the forum.  The "God Squad" is everywhere.  We see it in player interviews, after a big play, or in player prayer circles after games.  None of this bothers me unless it is somehow implied that God roots for one athlete or team over another (though it's hard to imagine God rooting for the New Jersey Devils). 

As an aside, I couldn’t help but laugh when my son, then 9, thumped his chest and pointed his index fingers toward the sky after grace one night.  I found it funny.  My wife?  Not so much. 

The difference between Tebow and other jocks is that his ardent faith makes him a polarizing figure.  He's gone on missions, says he's a virgin, and created controversy last year by doing a pro-life commercial during the Super Bowl with his mother, who went against her doctor's advice to terminate her pregnancy with Tim.   

There's a vulnerability around religion that sets Tebow apart.  He's "walking the walk," being specific, not simply pointing to the heavens.  That rankles some people but Tebow appears, character wise, to be the real deal. 

He also seems to take the constant attention in stride while pundits have a hard time controlling themselves.   Announcers and scribes are all a flutter for Tebowmania.  At some point I expect Tebow to get sacked, then have Fox announcer Joe Buck scream, “He is risen!!”

So no, we have yet to see Tim Tebow turn day old bagels into Lobster Newburg or  a jug of Gatorade into wine.  And there's no truth to the rumor that his image lingered on a gym towel or that Topps plans to create a Tim Tebow football card with scripture passages instead of stat lines.

All is well in Tebowland as long as he is winning. If the Broncos hit the skids and finger pointing begins, he’ll get thrown to the Lions.

And I'm not talking about the ones from Detroit.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Blago's A Bore, And Certainly No "Boss"

In the end, Rod Blagoevich was a lousy politician and a dumb, inept crook. 

"The harm is the erosion of public trust in government."

Those were Judge James Zagel's words to the former Illinois Governor as he handed down a sentence of 14 years, one of the stiffest ever for corruption by a public official. 

Zagel's words were a rebuke to the defense team's notion that even if "Blago" is guilty there was no harm since he never profited from his crimes.

Think about that.

Rod Blagoevich will be 67 years old when he gets out of the federal pen, convicted on 18 counts of corruption including failed attempts to shake down Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital and "sell"  Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for $1.5 million, a seat Blago infamously described on a Fed wire tap as "f*cking golden."

But Blago never profited from his schemes.  He couldn't get them off the ground any more than a turkey racing down a runway. 

You could say it was a fall from grace if the guy wasn't on the take from the day he took office.  One has the sense that Blago schemed to get more Doritos in grade school. 

But in the end, he couldn't seal the deal. 

Blago's saga reminds me of the Woody Allen film "Small Time Crooks," where Allen plays a bumbling burglar determined to burrow underneath a bank building in order to rob it. With the help of Tracey Ullman, he sets up a "cover" business where Ullman bakes cookies in order to distract from the jackhammers and digging.

Problem is the cookies are a huge hit with every cop in New York.

Think of Blago as a Slavic Woody Allen.

As a politician, he's no Tom Kane. 

Tom Kane is the fictitious Chicago mayor played by Kelsey Grammer in the new TV series "Boss." 

Grammer is great in the role of machine emperor, a suspendered, fire breathing dragon in a show often over the top.  In the first episode, Mayor Kane manages to drag an alderman around his office by his ear (literally) and have one of his henchman drug a doctor who may have leaked information about Hizzoner to the media. 

In future episodes I can see him throwing a union leader down the stairs and sucker punching a boy scout.

Blago is no Boss.  On tape, he's a foul mouthed brat, but hardly intimidating.  In person he dresses the part in fancy suits, hollow ones at that.  I picture those on the receiving end of his rants trying hard not to laugh.

I certainly can't picture him dragging a state legislator across the floor.

Or a fellow inmate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beaten With A Drumstick...My Thanksgiving With the Republican Wannabes

Thanksgiving 2011 was like no other, as the entire Republican presidential field came to our home for turkey and fixins. 

How were we so lucky?

Amazingly, we were chosen via robo call to host the live event for Donald Trump's new Internet channel, EGOTV.

Here's how the day went:

10:00 am - The candidates arrive in their custom made buses, creating quite a traffic jam in the driveway.  My wife and I greet them along with our children.  The kids love Rick Perry's bus, which includes a flat bed and gun rack, complete with a turkey hunted down with his bare hands a few hours earlier. 

10:30 am - "Turkey Bowl" football game.  The highlights: 

Newt Gingrich insists on being game historian, making rules such as "Go deep, go out," or "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi"  sound like a dissertation on molecular physics.

Mitt Romney plays quarterback for both teams, naturally.

The game is tied going into the final minute when Romney completes a pass to Herman Cain, who bowls over Jon Huntsman and Michelle Bachman, then races towards the goal line with Ron Paul latched onto his right leg. With ten yards to go, Perry (who found it hard to run in cowboy boots) manages to lasso Cain from the sideline, bringing him down head first with a thud.

As everyone rushes to Cain's aide, he sits up, dazed, and explains that there is, "All this stuff twirlin' around in my head."

12:00 noon - The candidates watch football and wait for dinner.  Perry cheers for his Cowboys, while Romney can't decide who to root for when he isn't nervously changing channels.   Cain, still dazed, tries to remember where he has seen Huntsman and Rick Santorum before. 

3:00 pm - Dinner. 

At the dining room table sits my wife and I, along with Romney, Gingrich, Perry and Cain.

In the next room, at the kids table, my children sit with Bachman, Paul, Huntsman and Santorum.

Gingrich leads a prayer which goes on for over an hour, after which he announces a new book on Thanksgiving (written while everyone else was watching football), available on Amazon for $24.95.

Discussion centers around who can be the most conservative, with several ideas bandied around including:

- Privatizing Social Security, with funds invested in a nationwide chain of drive thru gun shops (Perry)

- Putting God on the $20 bill in place of Andrew Jackson (Santorum)

- Converting Head Start into a vocational job training program (Gingrich)

Things get heated over taxes as Paul begins jumping on his table while Bachman shoots peas at the other candidates.

At one point Cain says, "I am against government aid to pilgrims for the following reasons...LINE!!"

6:00 pm - Departure.

The candidates begin to leave.  Perry says to my wife, "Boy, there were three great things about today, the food, the company and......let me get back to you."

Plenty of pleasantries to go around. 

And who gets the leftovers?  We do, the voters.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Too Many Cooks in The Presidential Kitchen

It's official.  I have "debate fatigue" before primary season even starts. 

It seems there is a Republican presidential debate on every night, or at least as often as "Law and Order." 

I love a good debate, and God bless 'em for having so many of them.  They have provided plenty of good moments and, indeed, some comic relief. 

But every time I watch and scan the stage I can't help but think of the old Bill Murray routine on Saturday Night Live, the one where he would give his Academy Award picks for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, ignoring the Supporting Actor and Actress nominees because "who really cares about these anyway."

Here's the link:

At some point soon, if they don't drop out on their own, someone from the RNC needs to step in and prod "Supporting Actors" Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum et al. to exit for the good of the party. 

I suspect the number of candidates will dwindle anyway, drastically, after the New Hampshire primary.  Until then, voters are stuck with a diluted message delivered by candidates shouting into the wind.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Joe Paterno Must Go

Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State University football coach, the winningest coach in the history of college football, is all but gone for his role in an explosive abuse scandal involving one of his former coaches. 

Jerry Sandusky, who served as an assistant coach under Joe Paterno for over two decades, was indicted this week, charged with sexually assaulting over 40 young boys dating back to 1994.   Sandusky, who suddenly retired in 1999, continued to office at Penn State while running a not for profit called The Second Mile, which benefited at risk youth. 

And, prosecutors say, he continued to molest young boys. 

In 2002, Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant to Joe Paterno, allegedly witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the football locker room showers.  The assistant told his father about the incident immediately, then Paterno the next day. 

Paterno then reported the incident to his boss, Athletic Director Tim Curley, who resigned earlier this week.  

The consequence for Sandusky?  No legal action, no police intervention.  He lost his locker room keys. 

I am sickened on two levels.

First, how does McQueary witness a rape and not intervene?  How does he fail to call the police himself?

When McQueary tells his father, how does the father not call police? 

And when McQueary tells Paterno, how does Paterno not inform the police? 

Life in Happy Valley won't be the same for a long, long time.  Not for the victims, for Sandusky, for the administrators, for Paterno. 
If the allegations are true, then at a minimum Joe Paterno looked the other way while a predator on his staff raped children as young as ten. 

I am especially sickened, as a Catholic, with the parallels between the Penn State abuse story and the Catholic priest abuse stories.  

In both cases, given the opportunity to protect our children, those in charge looked the other way.

Maybe it's pure coincidence that Sandusky's arrest comes weeks after Paterno won his 409th game, making him the winningest coach in the history of college football. 

In the end, Joe Paterno will be remembered as a man who lacked courage, who failed to protect children from a monster.  A man who appeared to stand for so much, a "molder of men," in the end stands for nothing.  Except winning games. 

Legally, Paterno is in the clear.  Morally, he's on an island.

It's time to go, Joe.  Now please. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pre-Occupation With Wall Street

I have watched and read quite a bit about the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, which began in New York and has since spread to a number of other locales. 

While some demonstrations number in the thousands, other groups would be challenged to occupy an elevator. 

As much as I try, it's hard for me to grasp the message of the Occupy movement.  Rich people bad, everyone else good?  Wealth should be re-distributed?  Corporate "fat cats" need to be held accountable?  Basic cable and 4G for all?

I understand the frustration, even anger, which is real, and palpable. 

For the most part, Occupy protesters are upset that so much is in the hands of so few.  The so-called "1%" control most of our nation's wealth while the other 99% feel like they're looking in with lips pressed against a real life snow globe.

A CBS/New York Times poll shows that 42% of Americans majority agree with the views of the occupy movement.  But what are the views?

As much as I love a good poll, this one reminds me of when Congress sends out "constituent surveys" with loaded questions like, "Should your tax dollars be used to build nuclear bombs instead of providing food and shelter to innocent, defenseless puppies?"
The Occupy movement is real, but the agenda, and sustainability, are unclear.

Some have tried to equate Occupy with the Tea Party.  But the Tea Party, from the beginning, was a movement with a political agenda. 
Say what you like about Tea Partiers, but they came, they saw, they conquered.  They altered the  landscape in 2010 by setting an agenda and running candidates for Congress.  Loud ones. 

So far the Occupiers operate outside the political realm.  In fact, I saw Democratic Congressman Barney Frank pleading with protesters the other night to not cast aside the political process, even though most politicians have avoided Occupy like Donald Trump avoids the subway.

Perhaps the real "threat" or lasting impact of the Occupy movement is that the ranks of disenfranchised voters will grow, affecting future election turnout and leadership.  

I hope not.  Free speech is a precious right, and a responsibility. 

What's your take on the Occupy movement?  I would enjoy hearing from you.

Friday, October 21, 2011

He Had Me At Hello

I found myself watching David Letterman the other night, which is rare.  I can count on one foot the number of times I have watched Letterman through the years. 

Former President Bill Clinton was the guest and I was struck by two things:

1)  Clinton looks great.  In fact, sans the gray hair he looks better than he did twenty years ago.

2)  I love listening to a politician freed from politics, able to speak their mind without a the proverbial cup in hand. 

There weren't any great revelations but Clinton was in his element, relaxed and ever eloquent. 

I have read commentary lately about President Obama's disdain for "retail politics," the daily, one-on-one, behind the scenes aspect of public office. 

Obama, the theory goes, is more comfortable in front of large audiences than in smaller settings.  He's not particularly interested in working the phones and cashing in chits with members of Congress.  One writer speculated that Obama likes humanity, but not human beings.  

It's certainly debatable to what extent backslapping skills are necessary for a Commander in Chief.   And connecting with Congress today must feel like knocking on a steel door.  Once "inside," even infomercial king Billy Mays would probably wind up kicked in the teeth like Willy Loman.  

President Bill Clinton was a master glad hander, the most effective in my lifetime.  

Watching Clinton on Letterman, I felt the power of a man who simultaneously compelled two individuals (Letterman and I) along with an audience.  He had me hooked for days after.  Ask my wife, who is convinced I have a man crush.

Many years ago I had a client, a staunch conservative who had the opportunity to meet then candidate for president Clinton.  "I don't agree with Bill Clinton about anything," he said, "but believe me, when he shook my hand and looked me in the eye, I was the only person in the room."

That I believe.  I doubt Bill Clinton ever leaves a room without trying to connect with everyone.  His Rolodex could power a river boat. 

The most effective politicians master the public and personal; salesmanship and empathy.  Despite his personal failings, Bill Clinton was effective working a room and getting legislation passed. 

The man is persuasive.  Heck, he got me to sit through an hour of late night T.V.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Author Jeff Pearlman's new Walter Payton biography, "Sweetness," has some unflattering details about the Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back.  In the book, Pearlman alleges that Payton had affairs, battled depression and abused pain killers.

I have not read "Sweetness," though I did read the Sports Illustrated excerpt containing the allegations, which I found interesting but hardly surprising.  Most Chicagoans have heard rumors of Payton's infidelity through the years, while pain killers and depression were ooh so common for players active in the 1970's. 

In fact, the "broken down jock" narrative would make a good county music song:  Legendary player (insert name) struggles with life after (insert sport), finances and marriage fall apart while depression and addictions intensify. 

Jeff Pearlman insists his book is a balanced look at an enigmatic man, a "definitive" biography, in his words. 

We could debate what, if anything, is out of bounds when writing about a public figure, and to what extent they should be "outed" for their shortcomings.   A good biography paints a complete picture, which often isn't pretty. 

For the record, I am as objective here as a life insurance salesman in a maternity ward.  Walter Payton was my childhood hero and the greatest football player I have ever seen. 

I was in 4th grade in 1977 when Payton rushed for an NFL record 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings.  I remember the game, and I remember proudly wearing my Walter Payton "iron-on" from the local sports page a few days later.  And every day until the t-shirt fell off my back. 

Walter Payton was Zeus in shoulder pads.  So quick, so strong, so tough.  With legs churning like pistons, he never stopped moving, redefining the football term "forward progress."

I never saw Sweetness take an initial hit.  Payton rarely "got hit."  He always delivered the blow, with a stiff arm I'm sure felt like being struck by an AMC Pacer. 

Walter Payton played on some lousy teams, in a city of lousy teams.  He was our collective hope back when Chicago was home to more dog teams than the Yukon. 

Here's my Payton story:

My grade school was a block from Northwestern's Dyche Stadium, and in those days when the field was bad at Lake Forest College (yes kids, there was a time before practice domes and heated surfaces) the Bears bused to Evanston for practice on NU's artificial concrete, I mean turf.  My buds and I made the trip hoping for a sweatband, arm pad or autograph.  

One time I waited outside in the snow after practice, pen and paper in hand, when Walter Payton emerged from the locker room in his game uniform. 

A camera crew from Sports Illustrated was there to take Payton's picture for a cover story on the Bears.  I watched him approach the crew and insist that he wouldn't appear in any shot without his offensive line. 

As the crew and flunkies haggled over the photo spread, a line began to form as a Bears official herded us kids for autographs.  Inexplicably, I ended up in the back (should have thrown a stiff arm or two).  Payton walked up to the line, looked at the first kid and bellowed, "I'm starting at the back." 

I still have the runny, worn signature, and a glimpse into Walter Payton, the man. 

Sadly, we will never know whether Payton suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the progressive brain damage which strikes so many players, including his Super Bowl teammate Dave Duerson, who committed suicide earlier this year. 

Sweetness was gone too soon, but his legacy is timeless. 

Despite Jeff Pearlman's salacious morsels, Walter Payton will never be "semi-sweet."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Some Zzzs Please

Have you heard about "Go the Fu*k To Sleep?"  Described as a "children's book for adults," it's pure genius.  Check out Samuel L. Jackson on this youtube link:

C'mon, this is funny stuff.  It's O.K. to laugh.

I love "Go The F*ck to Sleep" because it's another chink in the "perfect parent" armor; A sippy cup in the eye of the parenting fantasy as nothing but smooches and ice cream.

Parenting is a full contact sport.  I would love for my kids to go to sleep on demand, just like I'd love walls without hand prints or a bedroom that doesn't double as a doll and toy minefield.  And while we're at it, I'd like to wear dry cleaning within a mile of my house. 

How can beings so small, so cute, be so utterly destructive and exhausting?

As far as kids and sleep goes, so far I'm 2-for-4.  My twins were easy on the sleep front once they passed age two, though early on it felt like Vietnam.

These days, my younger ones are creating their own legacy.

When Audra was two she went through a diva phase, constantly changing her clothes.  One night I awoke to the thump of little feet.  Over the next week or so I would open her bedroom door and find her in one of three states:

1.  Naked in front of a pile of clothes.
2.  Asleep on top of a pile of clothes, either naked or in a, ahem, creative ensemble.
3.  Running around the room in a creative ensemble.

We were forced to move all clothes to the top shelves of her closet. 

As parents, we continually move things higher, out of a kid's way, as if a flood has struck the living room.  Show me your refrigerator door and I can guess your kids age within two years. 

Then there's Drea, who somehow can't fall asleep unless strapped into a car seat, and appears ready to vault out of her crib a la Mary Lou Retton.

If I can stay awake long enough, look for my follow-up book, "I'm Too Old For This Sh*t."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Unknown Blogger

A friend of mine was recently lamenting the fact that a member of his family, an elected official, is often attacked on Internet message boards. 

He's not bothered by criticism per say but that the fact that most of it comes via anonymous "comments" on political and newsie websites.

In the old days a dissenter had a few choices. Either show up at a meeting or hearing, call or write letters.  And if your letter made it into the local rag, it was signed.  By you.  Name and city. 

I'm not a fan of message boards, which are kind of like shouting out the window at passing cars. 

But they're here to stay, along with our increasingly "anonymous" society. 
Ironically, we become more anonymous by embracing Facebook and Twitter,  "sharing" technologies that allow us to secretly view each others lives.

Does anonymity have limits?

The other day I came across this item in the Chicago Tribune in a story about President Obama's jobs plan. 

"In his remarks, the president will make clear he's not going to support any plan that asks something of some Americans and nothing of others."  This was according to a White House aide, speaking on condition of anonymity in a conference call with reporters. 

Something is amiss here, beyond my "well duh" reaction to Deep Throat's earth shattering revelation.

A conference call? 

First I've heard of that one.  When I hear "anonymous source" I think of trench coats, chapeaus and parking garages, not a conference line and bank of microphones.  I suppose the source used one of those voice altering machines you see on shows like 60 Minutes, or maybe as an extra precaution sat behind one of those kiddie "puppet stages" with the shade drawn. 

And how did this source get the word out for the conference call?  Maybe via email: "Please join me as I leak very special information about the Obama jobs plan."  Or perhaps, borrowing from Gordon Gekko, "Blue Horseshoe loves Obama's jobs plan."

The conference call had to be set up en masse, no phone calls, because any reporter worth a darn would beg for an exclusive. 

This is cheating, plain and simple.  The annonymous source meets message boards. 

If you are going to hurl tomatoes, or leak information, follow the rules. 


The Unknown Blogger

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nobody's Foil on 9/11

Aluminum foil.

My wife will tell you I have an aversion to it.  A big one.

I'm not afraid of it, but won't use it, unless I have no choice. 

Growing up, my father used aluminum foil.  And reused it.  There was a drawer in our kitchen full of crumpled, crinkly used pieces of foil. 

In fact, I don't recall seeing a fresh sheet of aluminum foil, coming from the box, until my mid-twenties.

We didn't grow up poor, and my parents aren't cheap. 

My father, my parents, were children of war. 

My Dad was 8 years old on December 7, 1941.  

He grew up outside of St. Louis in a home often shared with soldiers from a nearby military base.

He knew sacrifice.  As part of the war effort, aluminum was rationed along with food and other commodities.  

He never forgot. 

Growing up I remember hijackings and showdowns with the Soviets.  I remember sitting in the school hallway with my head under a book, hiding from nukes, or whatever was headed our way. 

I wondered how, when I heard about guerrilla warfare, they managed to escape the zoo and learn how to use a gun. 

I remember vividly "The Day After," a movie about life after a nuclear bomb hits Lawrence, Kansas. 

Have you seen any 9/11 specials, or read any articles?

So far I've seen little.  It's too raw, too soon, too real. 

They say 9/11 is our generations' Pearl Harbor.  

If 9/11 was our Pearl Harbor, the parallel ends there, as we engaged in two wars which involved no shared sacrifice.  No draft, war bonds or rationing.  A missed opportunity by our leaders to truly unite our country. 

My oldest children (twins) were 3 years old on 9/11.

My children, like my parents, are children of war, but they're growing up with little sense that life is different.  They need to be reminded of war, which is sad. 

So do we.  Other than a longer wait for an airplane, we have little tangible evidence of war, other than lives sacrificed and a $3 trillion Visa bill. 

Are we safer today than ten years ago?  It seems we are, but seems is the operative word. 

My twins, now in 8th grade, came home from school this week with a questionnaire for parents about 9/11.  I found myself defining terrorism.  "If we're scared or back down from our way of life, the terrorists win."

My daughter Nora asked, "What can we do to remember 9/11?" 

That's an easy one.  Cherish our freedom, and never forget.

My parents probably don't know Kid Rock from a pet rock, but they would appreciate his anthem "Born Free."  My kids do. 

And they don't use aluminum foil.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Remember When...

"Remember when' is the lowest form of conversation".

So says Tony Soprano during an episode of "The Sopranos" the other night. 

Some shows never get old.  I find myself watching reruns of shows like "The Sopranos," "King of Queens" or movies like "Caddyshack" over and over.  I've seen "Goodfellas" so many times that I am prepared to perform it live for birthdays, Bat Mitvahs and Shriner dinners. 

Guy thing. 

The quote struck me, but "remember when" requires context.  In Tony Soprano's case, he said it to a group over dinner as he left the table.  The group included one of his captains, Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri.  Paulie had been holding court, telling tales of life in the mob to a couple of buxom blondes.  As in, "Remember when our friend disappeared off Long Island?" 

So yes, Tony is right.  It's best not to reminisce about capital crimes in public. 

But is "remember when" the lowest form of conversation?  Lower than gossip? 

And isn't "remember when" important not only for linking ourselves to our past but also our family and friends?

Our family has had a challenging year.  Harassment, the death of my father-in-law, work stress. 

As they say, a crisis doesn't change people, it just exposes them. 

We have also had some wonderful moments. 

I got to watch my middle daughter perfect her latest dance moves. 

I watched my son grow like a weed.  I still beat him at arm wrestling, but it's getting close. 

I held my oldest daughter's hand as we merrily jumped off a raft while on vacation.

And I chased my youngest daughter, everywhere.  At 15 months, think of her as a top being pulled with a rip cord.

I had a chance to attend my 25th high school reunion, the ultimate "remember when." Those touchdown runs only get longer with time, especially for brutes like me who never carried the ball. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story? 

We also had a family member diagnosed with dementia.   So painful, watching a vibrant, successful woman slowly lose touch with her surroundings.  And yet there still is a twinkle in her eye, a glimpse of what once was. 

So no, Mr. Soprano, I think you have it wrong.

"Remember when" might seem mundane.  Until you can't. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Money Can't Buy Me Love, or Wins

Dateline Miami.

Nevin Shapiro, a University of Miami booster, came forward this week alleging he paid thousands, and thousands, of dollars to Miami Hurricane jocks for the past eight years.  72 athletes are named as recipients of Shapiro's alleged largess.

What's not "alleged" is that Shapiro is squealing from the federal pen, where he is serving a 20-year sentence for running a billion dollar ponzi scheme.  He's got an ax to grind since all of his newly bought friends bailed on him when he was sent away. 

Shapiro says he paid cash to jocks, took them on his yacht, gave them NBA tickets and threw wild parties with women who weren't brownie scouts.

Yada yada yada. 

One of the athletes named is former Cane and current Chicago Bear Devin Hester, who when initally asked about Shapiro said he never met him, then when shown pictures of him and Shapiro frollicking around town clammed up faster than a frog in a bee hive.

The NCAA can't touch Hester, or any other athletes no longer in school.  But it's serious stuff, especially if coaches were in the know. 

It's not the first time Miami has been in the penalty box.  In the 80s Miami Hurricanes footballers were brash, dominant and well paid. 

They won three national champinships. 

Which is what struck me most about the Shapiro story. 

Boosters waving cash is here to stay, but the money tossed around in this scandal went to bad teams. The Canes were mediocre in the years Shapiro alleges he paid players, which means either he continued with bad investments or other schools were paying more. 

It's not the worlds oldest profession, but using money to buy influence is nothing new.  The roll call of busted schools this year alone is extensive:  Ohio State, USC, LSU, Georgia Tech. 

And probably Miami. 

I'm proposing yet another bowl game.  The Probation Bowl will pair the two ineligible teams with the highest year end rankings.  Pay per view of course, with the money going directly towards sports cars for the winners. 

Tickets are available, but only on street corners from men in dark shades and rain coats.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Camp Getmeottahere

There are three "young child activities" every adult should witness at least once:

1.  Watching a child eat an ice cream cone
2.  Watching a child dance
3.  Watching a child head off to summer camp

I have experienced all three in the past month through the eyes of my 4 year old daughter. 

We signed her up for summer camp three days a week. 

Could have done five days, or seven, or ten.  The kid has not had a moment of separation anxiety since birth.  I am confident if we dropped her off in Paris for a week we would return to find her in a beret sipping cafe au lait, surrounded by her new native friends.

On the first day of camp it's hard to tell who is more excited, the kids or the newly sprung parents, who suddenly has time to sip coffee without dodging toys and vomit.

But you get used to it. 

It has been a few years since my older kids started summer camp.  Now it's as routine for them as waking up in time for lunch.  In fact, I'm planning to found "Camp Wanderteen" next year, where the sole activity will be aimlessly roaming parks while plugged in to an ipod. 

The camp experience has me thinking, what would happen if adults were loaded up on buses, with backpacks and baseball hats, for four weeks of summer fun?

Here are a few activities for "Camp Getmeottahere:"

"Sweet Dreams" - Campers sit in circle time and hear stories about strenuous exercise and evenings that end after 9pm.  Those who fall asleep the fastest get a special prize. 

"Organ recital" - Campers line up to discuss their various ailments, with points awarded based on degree of acceptance.  Bald spots and pouches get top billing.

"Connect me not" - Campers troll the mall with a blackberry connecting all day while ignoring those in their immediate presence.
"Remote duel" - Campers sit in front of flat screens and are timed to see how many shows they can fully recall over a single hour of channel hopping.  Sporting events excluded, and women are given a five show lead.   

How have your camp experiences been?  I invite you to comment and would enjoy hearing from you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Men are Weiners

I was sorry to see TNT's "Men of A Certain Age" canceled after two seasons. 

The show had a great cast and was smartly written, so naturally it drew a few more viewers than a public access zoning hearing.  I suppose without "very special episodes," DNA tests or brawling hillbillies it was doomed. 

"Men" focused on the lives of three middle aged guys played by Andre Braugher, Ray Romano and a third guy I had never heard of (Scott Bakula, who was good). 

One memorable episode had the boys heading off to Palm Springs for colonoscopies in celebration of Terry's (Bakula) 50th birthday. 

As an aside, if my wife is reading this, I would prefer a tie or golf balls. 

When the boys weren't playing candid camera they ate at a diner and hiked a mountain. 

Sound boring?  It wasn't.

Every time I watched I thought "these writers get it."  To paraphrase Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally, it "spoke to me."   

More importantly, it was television's most honest portrayal of middle aged men in recent memory. 
Let's face it, most guys can't honestly portray themselves.

I was also struck by the timing of "Men's" cancellation on the heels of the Anthony Weiner scandal. 

For those of us trying to forget, Weiner is a now former member of Congress forced to resign after taking pictures, not of his colon but just about everything else.   He sent the pictures to women he had never met throughout the country.  After 10 days or so of denial, he finally admitted the pictures were of him, by him. 

Then I came across an interesting article about men and the Weiner scandal:

My two takeaways:

1.  Women are upset with mopes like Weiner who can't seem to control themselves as they bathe in the raw sewage of power. 

2.  A psychologist (Michael Bader) suggests that we "look with curiosity and compassion and see these (powerful) men as complex human beings, full of feelings of longing, anxiety, and guilt." 

So because men are complex it excuses their behavior? 

I, for one, hope if Weiner's wife was given the explanation, "I'm complex, misunderstood, needy or some combination thereof," her initial reaction was "Boo hoo" and that there were no sharp objects in the room. 

Yes, men are complex.  So are women.  The difference is that most men aren't willing to examine their complexities, preferring to slog along through life holding the proverbial wooden club over their shoulder.  

They're out of touch.  With themselves. 

As a result, women do back flips for a man who is even remotely emotionally available.  I think women tuned in to "Men of A Certain Age" for a glimpse of men as they want to experience them. 

It's sad when a show like "Men of A Certain Age," with its honest examination of men's complexities, is bagged for a lack of viewers.

And men metaphorically canceled.

When men expose complexities it isn't very welcome, even in a fictional setting.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Oh (No) Starry Night

There was big "hoo ha" over this year's major league baseball All-Star game. 

And not because the National League won 5-1. 

It seems that nobody watched, with ratings hitting a record low.  Baseball meets C-Span. 

A few years ago Commissioner Bud Selig made the idiotic decision to give home field advantage in the World Series to the winner of the All-Star game, thinking it would make the game more competitive. 

Not so much.  Players barely care about the game.  They certainly don't identify with their league.  I doubt the Cubs Starlin Castro will gush with pride, knowing he contributed to NL home field advantage, as he watches the World Series from his couch.

"See Kids,"  I can picture Grandpa Castro saying one day to his little ones, "My league won a practice game, which is why the other 162 games mean bubkes."

One player is required from each team, another silly rule. Did Chicagoans tune in solely to watch the White Sox Ray Durham in 1998?  I can't tell you the first thing about Florida's Gabby Sanchez (this Marlins lone All-Star this year), and I suspect most of south Florida wouldn't recognize him if they shared a cab. 

I like the MLB All-Star game because it's mid season, players wear their real uniforms and it is fun to see guys like Josh Hamilton and  David Ortiz on the same team.  The home run derby is cool. 

As an aside, when did we start playing baseball in glorified water parks?  Watching a fan dive into the center field swimming pool during this year's home run contest reminded me of an inflatable gorilla on top of a car dealership.  Anything for attention, deficit. 

The All-Star game is getting out of hand.  This year over 82 players were "selected" for the game, a new record.  In 1980 only 60 players were named. 

Think about it. 82 players from 30 teams.   The American League had 19 pitchers.  Are you telling me with a straight face that nearly 40 pitchers are worthy of being an All-Star? 

Here's the rub - rosters have exploded because the reaction of many players to being selected is "non moi" (not me).

Players are voted in by fans or named by managers and opt out.  In the case of Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia, he declined faster than he could drop a dime to his agent.  So did Derek Jeter, fresh off becoming the newest member of the 3000 hit club.

Jeter claimed injury and exhaustion, while Sabathia pitched the Sunday prior. 

It's lame.  Growing up, at least players acted like they wanted to play.   And since when did "not playing" mean "gone fishing?"  Can't an injured player show up and tip his hat to the fans who fund his Robin Leach lifestyle?

Some ideas to revive the Midsummer Classic:

Since players have contracts with bonuses for making the All-Star team (some up to $250,000), how about they only get the bonus for appearing at the game?

How about deducting $5 from the ticket price for each player who "opts out"? 

What happened to Old Timers Games?  New rule - when an All-Star declines to play, we will replace him with a player from the "Senior Tour."  No Derek Jeter?  Ernie Banks is ready.  If C.C. Sabathia won't pitch, let's give Nolan Ryan a chance to lay some chin music on Prince Fielder. 

If he misses, I'd pay to see the aftermath. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Social (Media) Reunion

Last weekend I attended my 25th high school reunion.

The Facebook reunion. 

Everything took place virtually, from the planning to the invites, until the event itself, which made it somewhat surreal.

Ever meet up with hundreds of your "friends" at once in a shotgun chat room?

Don't get me wrong.  I had a great time.  But there were two big differences from reunions of yore. 

First, I am guessing when my parents attend reunions people whip out photos of the kids, grand kids, or a Super 8 Motel with an AARP discount.

No pictures for us.   Not needed. 

Who needs pictures when you can whip out a smart phone and learn all about little Taylor's first trip to the dentist.  Better yet, you can pose for a reunion picture and post it to a Facebook page, so classmates who weren't able to travel (or locals who had more important things to do, like watch a Law and Order marathon) can instantly feel the love.

Events aren't "real" until they show up on Facebook, right?

The other big difference is the way a lot of us "knew" each other.

Let's face it.  Social media is an eavesdropping tool.  You drop in, anonymously, then drop out.  A cyber one night stand. 

Facebook is like a museum, sans the noisy field trippers and ludicrous parking fees.  You can tour the galleries at will without detection, or consequence. 

If relationships are ultimately about boundaries, then Facebook is the open border. 

One classmate said attending reunions requires "real confidence,"  which I suppose is true.  But what distinguishes a 25th reunion from a 10th reunion is the lack of posturing.  

By the time you hit middle age the pretenses are gone. We are who we are, whether fat, thin, bald, married, single or on work release. The women looked sharp, while a lot of guys dressed like they had just cleaned out the garage. 

Reunions, like high school,  are ultimately viewed from our own prism.  We sit in classes (most of them) for four years with rows of students who's experience might be completely different than our own.   Reminiscing is a contact sport, and it's not for everyone. 

Unless it's online. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

To Steve With Love

My father-in law passed away the other day after a brief illness.

Steve Richard was a man of faith, in a better place after minimal suffering. 

A native of Haiti, Steve was a retired surgeon. A warm, proud and intensely private man.

He was also a striking, stylish man.  Always impeccably dressed. Cuff links, pressed pants, not a hair out of place. If he owned a pair of jeans it must have been a gag.  And when Tania jokes about wearing patent leather shoes to the park, I believe her.

The first time we met he sat in the corner with a digital camera (he loved his gadgets) taking snapshots, which Tania promised was a good sign, not part of an elaborate background check. 

I kept thinking here I am, a divorced father of two, with my own paparazzi. 

A week later one of the pictures arrived in the mail in a makeshift paper frame. 

I was in. 

More importantly, my kids were in also.  He embraced them as his own.  In our family, the only "steps" lead to a different floor.

He started watching golf, a sport as foreign to him as skateboarding until he learned about my love of the game.   At family gatherings he would look my way and in his thick Haitian accent ask me about "Taaaguh Woooods" or what it meant to "score ze birdie" or if it was good to "score ze paaar." 

He always offered me a wide grin and a firm handshake, and would playfully walk up behind Tania and pinch the back of her neck. 

Tania and her Dad were close, and shared a love of film.  He was proud of her artistic success and loved seeing her perform. 

And the man could dance. 

I had heard the stories for some time.  As children Tania and her two older sisters would gather in the living room and her parents would dance for them before heading out on the town.  A beautiful, graceful couple. 

Leading up to our wedding, he was coy on the subject, acting like a "first dance" with Tania was not in the cards.

Fat chance.

As he approached the dance floor, I stood in awe.  The room stood still, in awe.  He took my bride in his arms and floated about to the theme from "To Sir with Love."   Sidney Poitier meets Fred Astaire.   He had a look of utter contentment, full of joy, at peace. 

A photo sequence of the moment, which I treasure, hangs in our home. 

I have a lot to live up to.  Godspeed my friend.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Facebook With My News? Unlike!

I caught the Republican debate last night on CNN.  Yeah, that's right, I'm the guy who watched.  Me  and the canidates' parents.

The debate was fine, rather pedestrian in terms of questions and answers.  Not unexpected this early, where the last thing anyone wants to do is implode before voters even have a chance to google you.

What struck me, however, was a news item about the debate and social media:

Seems CNN decided to set up a large screen and feed Facebook posts throughout the debate for the audience, moderator and candidates to see.

Am I alone on Twitter island, or is there something truly odd about this?

Why on earth is it necessary to have a rambling, one way conversation scrolling on a screen during a debate?    Isn't the point (at least tradition) of political debate that it takes place IN PERSON??

I found myself waiting for Ron Paul to scream "Higher taxes? LOL!" or Mitt Romney to blurt out "Don't ask don't tell? TMI!"  Or for any of them to beg voters to poke them (insert Anthony Weiner joke) or hit their "like" button. 

What's shorthand for, "Have we lost our collective minds?" HWLOCM?

And it's not just the debate.  Somehow I can't turn anywhere without references to Facebook pages. 

Everyone from T.V. news outlets to columnists are in the act, going to their "pages" to share comments about their stories during the stories.

That's the difference. Unlike the old days when people wrote letters to the editor or segments were devoted to viewer comment, now "comments" are woven in. 

Why is news now on a level with sports radio? Do we really need to tee up Barry from Bollingbrook for his view on the G-7 summit?

To me, Facebook comments are like writing on a bathroom wall.   Or listening to messages on random answering machines.  

Maybe I'm missing something, but I have always picked up a paper to read news, and trusted that those reporting the news are a wee bit more in the know than an anonymous computer hack. 

Can you picture Edward R. Morrow saying, "Good night and good tweeting" or Walter Cronkite closing with, "That's the way it is, isn't it Facebook peeps?"

I also see the irony, banging away on my laptop, part of the "new age" media.  But come on, at least people choose to read this (at least some do) and it is strictly my opinion.

And hopefully more compelling than my answering machine.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Memorials

This past weekend was a trying one as two family members dealt with illness.

Both are seasoned citizens and have had health issues for some time.

Perhaps it's fitting that things culminated over Memorial Day weekend, when we pause to remember heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice for America.

I read stories this year, as always, about soldiers determined to keep memories alive, remembering their comrades and hoping the rest of us never forget.

Unfortunately we are rapidly losing soldiers, and their stories.  Estimates are that over 1000 World War II veterans die each day. 

I remember hearing from Holocaust survivors in school as a child.  Most vividly, I remember their shared concern that when they die people would forget, or deny, their experiences.

Memorials take many forms. 

I have been blogging for about 16 months.  In my first post, I wrote about my inspiration, Aunt Jo:

Writing for me is great fun, and certainly a way to memorialize my thoughts.  I think about that a lot these days. 

My words will survive me, warts and all. 

There's no disputing your own words, as hard as some people try.  Who can forget Charles Barkley claiming he was misquoted in his autobiography?

How do you go about sharing memories?  I would love to hear from you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Can You Tax Stupidity?

A couple of stories caught my eye recently. 

First, a so-called "fat tax" was proposed by a (until now) obscure Illinois state representative named Shane Cultra, a state representative from Onarga, IL. 

In Cultra's world, the parents of fat kids are to be punished, and he proposed taking away the state income tax deduction for the parents of baby mu mu.    "I think you need to look at a bill to take the tax deduction away for their child if he's obese, Cultra said."

Cultra tried to distance himself from the comments by suggesting they were in jest, yet video of his comments suggests he was dead serious.

Here's the thing.  Few would dispute our country has an obesity problem, and certainly youngsters developing good habits is important.  But obesity has many causes, and how exactly would you enforce the law?   Would H&R Block have scales handy to weigh in kids before signing a tax return?  Would schools need to set up "chocolate detectors" in the entrances? 

I was overweight as a kid.  My Mom used to order me toughskins jeans from the Sears catalog.  Husky size, code language for big boned, or overweight, or fat.  

Or obese.  We are a bit more enlightened today.  I grew, so in my case I was just undertall, not overweight. 

Perhaps Representative Cultra should chair a committee to develop new punitive methods for dealing with bad parents.  How about losing your tax deduction if jumping Jimmy has a tantrum on an airplane, or if little Laura scores poorly on a standardized test? 

Seems to me the pork crisis is in government, not our children.  I wouldn't vote Cultra for dog catcher.

And, of course, we have Arnold "The Sperminator" Schwarzenegger, who revealed that he has a ten year old "love child" shortly after news that he and wife Maria Shriver had separated.

Then things went tawdry with word that Shriver gave birth to her and Schwantzenegger's third child a week after the "love child," giving new meaning to his film "True Lies."

All of this is sad, particularly for the children involved.  At the same time, Shriver grew up in a family of Lotharios, and Maria knew she wasn't marrying Robert Young. 

"Ahnult" never hid from his behavior, acknowledging during his initial run for California governor that he had "behaved badly." 

In political terms it's a cliche.  See man run.   See man win.  See man be pig. 

And in Arnold's case, see man reveal affair and child only after leaving office.  As Saturday Night Live's "church lady" says, "How conveeeeeeeeeeeeenient."

I'm skeptical that Maria didn't know, given that the woman worked in their home for 20 years.  Besides, wouldn't it be hard to miss a toddler with a spray-on tan, thong and an Austrian accent?

Come to think of it, why not take away their state tax deduction for stupidity? 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On Mothers Day

If the fire comes from Dad, the water comes from Mom.

I don't mean to sound cliched or sexist.  It's just how it is. 

To wit:  When I was ten years old I got upset one night and was ready to run away.  I went to my room and started packing my suitcase. Come to think of it I wasn't so much packing as chucking all of my belongings.

Dad probably would have walked in and said, "Knock it off and put your clothes away,"  or something to that effect.

Mom calmly sat down on the floor, looked me in the eye and said, "If you're going to go at least have dinner first."  So we went downstairs for dinner, and I stayed for another 12 years.

My mother always had a sense about people that I never had growing up, especially the opposite sex.  During my vulnerable teen years (yes its redundant) I connected most with Mom over girls.  She always knew who was diggin' me and who wasn't.  And why!  For a guy so clueless he would miss a woman with a post-it on her forehead saying "I want to date you" it was like having the secrets of the Manhattan Project.

Mom has her pet sayings, a couple of which are top of mind:

"Minimum expectations, maximum serenity."
"You're the one with dignity, you're the one with integrity."

And don't get me wrong, Mom has fire also. 

A couple of years ago my wife and I went to a play with Mom and Dad.  It was Shakespeare's Othello, and a group of college students were sitting in the row in front of us.  During the first act they gabbed away, giggling like 12 year olds and acting like they were on a field trip to see Porkys instead of pursuing an advanced degree.

By intermission I'd had enough.  I went to the box office and said in no uncertain terms that either ushers separate these ingrates or I wanted our money back.  Not to worry, they assured me, we will act quickly.

Not to worry, indeed.  I got back to my seat and sat next to Mom, who told me in a voice loud enough for all to hear, "Don't worry.  While you were away I told these kids, 'Listen, when that curtain goes up you are not to say a word.  Understand?  Not a word.'"

Not a word, indeed.

Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Putable (Barry) Bonds

All that for one guilty verdict?

That was my initial thought after reading about Barry Bonds, baseballs dope king , convicted on one count in his perjury trial, which ended last week.

Then again, Bonds was convicted of obstructing justice.  He's likely to get probation, or a few months in a country club prison.

And perhaps he will sign autographs with "Alcatraz '11" instead of HOF (Hall of Fame).

I'm guessing he doesn't much care either way.  Bonds is arrogance personified, captured beautifully on the cover of Sports Illustrated many years ago with the headline, "I'm Barry Bonds and You're Not."

Bonds was well on his way to best ever status in 1998 when he watched Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire steal his thunder by crushing baseballs like Marlon Brando crushes walnuts. 

So Bonds hit the chemistry lab, injecting himself with enough steroids to puff up like "Hans and Franz" of Saturday Night Live fame, minus the accent. 

The steroid era appears over.  And along with our collective cold shower, there remains a debate on whether roidrunners belong in baseball's Hall of Fame. 

But there's an easy solution.  In the same way the the Hall honors the negro leagues, women's professional teams and latin leagues, its time for a special steroids exhibit I call "From Canseco to Ramirez: The Shrunken Ball Era."  

Features include:

- An interactive water park for the kids, where they can climb aboard the giant syringe and frolic in front of the gushing water. 

- A life size bobble head maze featuring your favorite puffed up sluggers.

- A "little juicer" lab where kids get to don lab coats, play with beakers and test tubes, and inject inflatable dolls in the rear with their homemade concoctions. 

And for the adults, a gallery of honorees broken down (literally) into five categories (cue the Ken Burns music):

1)  The "deniers."  Led by Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, those who categorically denied using steroids until forced to admit it.  In Palmeiro's case, he famously wagged his finger before Congress in 2005, then promptly got suspended for a positive test. 

2) The "please make this go awayers." Ivan Rodriquez, David Ortiz and over 100 other players who names were leaked on a 2003 "doping list" consisting of players who took part in confidential testing at a time when there were no penalties for violations.  Most players exposed refused to comment. 

3) The "admiters."  Guys like Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi.  Each copped to using 'roids and expressed regret.  Granted, most admitted drug use only after their names were leaked from the doping list but why get bogged down in details? 

4) Manny Ramirez.  This guy deserves a wing to himself.  Manny tested positive, twice, with the second positive resulting in a 50 game suspension in 2009.  Then this spring, he abruptly retired when faced with another failed test and a likely 100 game suspension.  A player many argue is the greatest right handed hitter ever picks up his toys and goes home.  No press conference, no fanfare.  Special mention to Jose Canseco, whose book "Juiced" poked a pin into 'roider teammates.  Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

5) The "slippery ones."  Guys like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.  All three wouldn't admit using steroids but kinda came close.  Before Congress in 2005 Sosa said, "I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic," where steroids are not illegal.  McGwire hid behind the mic at the same congressional hearing by saying that he was, "not here to talk about the past."  And Bonds, who regulated everything related to his body, somehow thought the "cream and the clear" were not steroids.  Uh huh. 

The exhibit is certain to change with time.  Clemens goes on trial this summer but unlike Bonds, he doesn't have the luxury of a trainer willing to serve hard time rather than rat out his friend.  Greg Anderson has gone to prison twice to avoid testifying.  Brian McNamee, Clemens trainer, is the prosecution's star witness. 

So Bonds is done.  At least for now.  But who knows what Greg Anderson's price will be in the future.  Or the fans price.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pulling the Plug on Network News

If a news anchor falls in the forest, does she make a sound?  The news the other day that Katie Couric is either 1) Leaving  or 2) Being shown the door was hardly news.  The first solo woman anchor of a national newscast goes bye bye?  Ho hum. 

I think the bigger news (pun intended) is that this may in fact mark the end of network evening news. 

No, network newscasts and anchors aren't going away.  But times have changed.  With the advent of cable news and the Internet, the evening network news (at 5:30 here in Chicago) doesn't matter much anymore. 

Quickly, can you name ONE network news anchor? 

You're not alone.  According to the Pew Research Center, network news has lost 55% of its audience since 1980.

In other words, network news hasn't been "in" since the days of Elf and Arnold Horshack.  

The only saving grace is that network news is (mildly) profitable and the lowest rated network program has more viewers than the highest rated cable news offering.  The best of the worst; an NIT basketball tournament for newsies.

I gave up on newscasts about 15 years ago after a gradual realization that I trust what I read much more than what I watch. Truth is, by the end of my day the top news stories are old and I'm looking for analysis.  Political shows, websites and newspaper commentary fill the void. 

Some of this is generational.  I am firmly convinced that if a meteor struck my parent's home at 9:45 p.m., rescue workers would arrive and find my Dad in the rubble trying to tune in for the ten o'clock news. 

But the days of iconic anchors have passed.  Or have they?  I would enjoy hearing what you think.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reality Totality

I don't watch much reality TV.  Or at least I would never admit it.  

Some day scholars will credit Jerry Springer and Geraldo for springing an entire collection of unhinged, vapid, narcissistic "stars," some of whom appear on other reality shows merely because of their reality star status.  What a country!

I suppose some shows are more redeeming than others, in the same way you might compare Chaucer to a rap star. 

And like Springer and Geraldo, you can produce an entire season of reality for $5.95, a TV execs dream. 

Full disclosure:  My wife is an actress.  A real one.  Studied theater and everything.  So there have been a few (thus far unspoken) moments when we realize that clowns like "The Situation" and Paris Hilton are taking work from classically trained professionals.  Professionals who use silverware and can spell words like adverb.  Even use them.

I have a few reality show ideas, and would love to know what you think. 

Hormonal Island: Contestants are stranded with three "tweens"  in the throes of puberty.  Nuff said.

Heavy Celebrity Hoarder Intervention: This spin-off of A&E shows features D list celebrities with the tag line "Because any attention is good, right?"  A "very special episode" features Kirstie Alley. 

Survivor Interstate:  Contestant couples are paired with random unrelated children and sent on a cross country car ride.  Challenges include an 8 hour stretch with only a cheese stick and Teletubbie marathon.  Points lost for bathroom stops. 

Gamer Wives: An in depth look at attractive, well educated women and their overgrown children, filmed entirely from the basement.  Special poker edition debuts in the fall.

Deadliest Political Catch - Ten members of Congress (3 Red, 3 Blue, 2 Tea, 2 Decaf) set out on Alaska's  Bering Sea in search of Opilio crab.  The winning team has majority rule until the 2012 elections. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jalen Rose Meets Dan Quayle

If you haven't had a chance to watch ESPN's new documentary "Fab Five" check it out. 

The film takes you back twenty years, when the University of Michigan landed five of the nation's top basketball recruits, then became the first team to start five freshman in a game. 

The Fab Five were brash.  They were bold.  Muhammad Ali in tank tops and baggy shorts.  In fact, Ali turns out to be a follower of the team. 

And like Ali, they backed it up. 

The Fab Five went to two consecutive Final Fours, losing both times in the national championship game.

The film was produced by Fab Five member Jalen Rose, who went on to a long NBA career and currently works as an analyst for ESPN. 

It's a captivating film, mainly for the raw, unedited emotion displayed by the participants.

Especially Jalen Rose. 

Rose and his teammates have been criticized for disparaging remarks about the Duke Blue Devils, particularly Grant Hill. 

No ambiguity here.  The Fab Five hates Duke and all that it stands for.  To them Michigan is "street," Duke "elite."

In Rose's eyes Duke would never touch guys like him because "they only wanted Uncle Tom's."

Rose went on to say that he was jealous of Grant Hill, who grew up privileged in a two parent household while he was raised by a single mother.

Some felt Rose should have explained his feelings today or edited them.  I disagree, as the film was about 1992, not 2011. 

Grant Hill then responded to Rose's comments:

As I read Hill's remarks, one thought came to mind:  He should have let it go.

When I watched "Fab Five" and listened to Jalen Rose,  I heard the voice of a wounded child.  I heard the voice of a man who, despite having both financial and personal success, would probably give it away.

A child who would give anything to have a Dad.

Rose's most poignant remarks were about the father who abandoned him.  Like Hill, Rose's father, Jimmy Walker, was a professional athlete.  Hill's father, Calvin Hill, played for the Dallas Cowboys.  Walker played for three NBA teams.

But while Hill grew up with his Dad, Walker never met his son.   In fact, Rose chose to wear number 42 in high school out of spite since it was the opposite of Walker's number 24.

Enter Dan Quayle, or more recently, Mike Huckabee. 

Then Vice President Dan Quayle famously criticized TV character Murphy Brown in 1992 for having a child out of wedlock and "ignoring the importance of fathers by birthing a child alone." 

Huckabee did the same, essentially, a few weeks ago when he criticized actress Natalie Portman, who is pregnant by her fiance.

I'll leave the moralizing to the talking heads.

Here's what I know:

Dad's matter.  Men matter.  And yes, our culture often diminishes their significance. 

But men do their part also.  Huckabee refers to a "Dad deficit" of $300 billion dollars.  In Chicago this past Valentine's Day "Operation Love" resulted in the arrests of six men who collectively owe over $200,000 in child support.  Chris Rock joked years ago, "If Osama Bin Laden owed child support they would have found him by now."

Being a father does not make you a man.  I often tell my kids, "Anyone can be a father, but only special people are Dad's."  Real men cook, they clean, they are emotionally available to their children.  They teach them right from wrong.

They are there for their children.

Not having one hurts.  Just ask Jalen Rose.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Death Penalty Gets a Death Sentence

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty the other day.  As a result, 15 death row inmates will now serve life without parole.

Hopefully other states will follow.

I have never understood why we execute criminals and always viewed it as a barbaric response to barbaric crimes.  An eye for an eye. 

Therein lies the problem.  Executions are like surfing on a subway car.  If you make a wrong move, you can't go back.  And when it comes to death row inmates there have been plenty of "wrong moves" through the years.

Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project began looking at death row cases in 1999.  Their investigations have led to 11 innocent men being freed, 5 of whom were on death row.  One of the exonerated, Anthony Porter, was said to be an inspiration behind former Governor George Ryan's moratorium on the death penalty several years ago.  

Ryan came to realize that there is no such thing as an "airtight" case.  If close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, I would hate to be the guy wrongly accused.  And you have to wonder, how many innocent people have we already executed?

We may never know. 

I have read the stories of horrible people committing heinous crimes.  I can't imagine life for the victim's families.   Attorneys fight for victims, but no amount of money or years served will bring back a loved one. 
And violence shouldn't beget violence. 

As a child I remember hearing the story of Gary Gilmore, who chose death by firing squad in 1977 as opposed to hanging, which were the two ways you could be executed in Utah at the time.   I guess it's an upgrade over stoning or being burned at the stake.

As a Catholic I believe life without parole is a far better deal for a killer than the hereafter.  Forgiveness? That's another story.

I have heard valid arguments that certain crimes should warrant the death penalty, or that it should be allowed for a defendant who confesses or wants to be executed. 

Both arguments support the belief that killing inmates is an acceptable form of justice.  Or retribution.

With Illinois news dominated by big haired lunatic governors and our state's financial sinkhole, it's nice to see leadership for a change.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lost and...Lost

I found a wallet the other day. 

While on the train, I rose to walk down the steps towards the door and there it was.  A brown, open, face down thick wallet. 

I picked it up and kept walking.  As I stood by the door I opened it, saw a drivers license and looked to see if anybody in my car looked like the man on the I.D. 

No luck.

I got to the office and quickly channeled Andy Sipowicz, trying to find the owner.  After rummaging through several business cards and doing an anywho search of the DL info (no match), I finally located a drug card with a woman's name on it. 

Wah lah! 

The next day a grateful owner had his pocket life back. 

I tell the story for two reasons:  1)  I can be equally forgetful and 2) You can't assume anything

I think back to a lovely November day during my junior year of college.  After a string of chilly times and pinching wind, I woke to a day worthy of t-shirts and shorts.  I hopped on my bike and headed off to class. 

April comes, and one morning I am looking for my bike.  A friend asks, "Do you mean the one parked outside J-school?  The one that's been there all winter?"

Oh oh. 

I snuck out late the next night to retrieve my rusted out, crooked bike with slashed tires.  The bike parked parallel to the rack.  The one with notes taped in several places with language unworthy of one of our nation's finest Journalism schools. 

And no, if one particular author happens to be reading this, my head is upright.  Has been for some time, and I can't contort myself.  

But I'm forgetful at times.  Runs in the family.  I have a Great Uncle who was an inventor and patent lawyer.  He was part of the Manhattan Project and a brilliant man. 

A man who had chemical books on his nightstand but couldn't remember what he had for breakfast.

George Carlin had a routine about what happens when we die.  First we pass meet St. Peter, then we are taken to a room which has everything we have ever lost.  Several sets of car keys, pens, cell phones, and wallets.

Which brings me to my other conclusion.  We can't assume anything. 

I have a professional colleague who's daughter recently had a baby with her partner.  The kids are "out" along with Dad, who's now a Grandpa.  We were talking one day about life and how different attitudes are today.  I broke it down simply. 

I spend a lot of time in parks, malls and libraries - the union halls of parenting. 

When I was a kid (and certainly when my elders were) you could spot a kid, see the adult and quickly conclude that yes, they are related.  No need for a DNA test.

Today?  Not so much. 

When I searched the lost wallet, the prescription card had a woman's name on it.  Same last name as the name on the driver's license. 
So I called the company on the front of the card.  When I reached her I said I had found her son's wallet.  "Thank you so much.  He's my husband," she replied. 

Sipowicz would know better.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

100 Yards of Risk

When I first heard about former NFL star Dave Duerson's passing my thoughts ranged from shock to sadness.  Now firmly in my 40s, I get a knot when I read about a father dying young, in this case at age 50, leaving four children.

Then came the details.  A suicide, and what looks to be martyrdom.  Duerson shot himself in the chest so that doctors could examine his brain for degenerative brain disease.

Dave Duerson was a big hitter.  He came of age with the 1985 Chicago Bears, a member of one of the most dominant defenses ever.  A safety from Notre Dame, Duerson became a starter in 1985 after Todd Bell and Al Harris sat out the entire season in a contract dispute.  Duerson and his teammates became legends, while Todd Bell and Al Harris entered the Shelley Long wing of the Museum of Bad Career Moves.  Coincidentally, Bell also died young, suffering a heart attack at age 46.

After football, Duerson went on to business success and was active in the NFL players union, eventually serving on a panel that considered player disability claims. 

In what may become the ultimate irony, Duerson likely was dealing with his own encephalopathy ("punch drunk") after spending many years openly skeptical of similar player claims. 

And his death may prove to be a turning point. 

I love football, having played from 4th grade through high school.

My high school coach liked to say, "Basketball is a contact sport.  Football is a collision sport." 

Amen.  I had plenty of them.  Had my "bell rung" a number of times, shook it off and got back in the huddle. 
I only suffered one concussion.  One that I was aware of. 

As much as I love football, I think we will see a dwindling of youth programs in the next decade.  There is simply too much evidence coming out about the dangers of head trauma.  And too much at stake for park districts and schools to risk liability. 

My son, now 12, has wanted to play football for some time, but I have resisted, probably until high school. 

He's gravitated towards other sports.  Baseball, wrestling, basketball.  Sports that require a specific skill. 

Football is about physics more than skill, and you can't teach height, weight or brute force.  

I heard a commentator theorize that football may go the way of boxing, where participation is limited mainly to the poor as an avenue to financial success.  In other words, Middle and upper-class parents don't take the risk. 

In the New York Times article (see above link), Duerson's son Tregg is quoted as saying, "I wish he had played baseball." 

Lots of sons, and their parents, may soon feel that way.

Do your children play football?  Please feel free to post a comment.  I would enjoy hearing from you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Paper Lion

Chicago had some snow a couple of weeks ago.  Lots of it.  I'm sure you heard.  Snow, wind, yada, yada, yada.

It was bad.  People who ventured out must have felt like they were sucking nuclear fallout.   Me and the fam hunkered down for the night.  Movies, cards and a good book.

We woke up under two feet of snow.  I wandered downstairs to put the coffee on.

And naturally my first thought, as I opened the front door and peeked over a four foot drift, was "WHERE ARE MY NEWSPAPERS??????????!!!!!!!!!

I'm a news junkie.  Paper please - two dailies and the Wall Street Journal. 

I hate to leave the house uninformed.  For me, a day without papers is like showing up at NASA with a 3rd grade education. 

Need my papers, especially when we're trapped like olives in an air tight bottle. 

I grew up surrounded by news.  Among my earliest memories are waking up to the sound of radio, transistor style, emanating from the bathroom.  I knew the time and temperature before my dream was done. 

Then it was off to the kitchen table, where another radio sat on the end as my parents dove into their coffee and papers.  Mike Royko, Wally Phillips, Bill Gleason, Roy Leonard.  Voices of Chicago.  My voices. 

I'm a dying breed. For proof, step on to a train or bus these days. Everyone is glued to their pods, berries and pads. The "commuter fold" is going the way of drive-ins and mimeographs.

I go online, but its not the same.  Online news is like indoor baseball or TV hockey.  Nice, but I want a real experience.  You can't shake a website or doze off covered by the sports page, though my son would probably say, "Isn't there an app for that?"

Which brings me back to our snow day.  The benevolent folks at my dailies gave me access, for a day, to the electronic version of their rags.  Not the website, mind you, but the actual paper online, pages and all.  This.  Was.  Cool. 

Memo to your marketing folks:  Figure out a way to bundle your home delivery and electronic versions.  Having both at a competitive price would be delightful.

In the meantime,  see you at the webstand.

Monday, January 31, 2011


Before reading this post you must accept the following disclaimer. Please read the disclaimer, close your eyes and nod to confirm and acknowledge:

I acknowledge whereby reading said blog entry I hereby indemnify said author from any and all thoughts, accusations or premonitions of being anything less than a man’s man.

I certify said author loves to wrestle farm animals, brush his teeth with Johnnie Walker Red, roll his own cigarettes and watch MMA marathons. In fact, said author would rather sit through a symposium on global affairs with “The Situation” and Paris Hilton than watch one minute of Lifetime or the Oprah network.

Thank you.

I hate my clothes.

Not all of my clothes, not all of the time, but I hate my clothes.

I go into the closet each morning and try to fill out the lineup card.  Suits, ties, shirts.  In my next life I'm coming up with garanimals menswear.

A couple of suits are designated strictly for “spot start and long relief.” Don't like 'em, and I'm not sure how they got there.  Most times when I wear them I go ahead and pile on with an "emergency call up tie" and "designated for assignment" shirt.

I don't part with clothes.  Some are icons.  And if it was good enough for the Carter administration it's bound to come back. 

I once owned a suit for nearly 20 years that despite my best efforts always looked presentable, on the outside.  My Rasputin suit.  On the inside it looked like an episode of “Seamstress Gone Wild.”

I don't part with clothes.  Rock bottom was when my daughter, then nine, turned to me at a hockey game and asked “How long have you had that shirt?”  Think break dancing, then add a few years. 

I hate to shop (guy + no shop = redundant).  I'd rather run from a tornado in high heels. 

I've been shopping with the wife.  Twice.  Each time, the salesperson initially turned bug eyed with a joyful, "I just broke the bank" look,  picturing Taina as Gunther Gebel-Williams and me as the hapless lion. 

We all nodded in agreement for a few minutes until things quickly deteriorated.  My problem is that I am the most amenable shopper on earth until I am left to make a decision, at which point I breathe fire and we're forced to add the store to our list of "places we can never return."  

So I learned.

I’ve evolved, and as they say, the only normal people are the ones we don't know very well. 

I use a frames for my posters instead of tape.  I drink from a glass instead of swigging from the bottle.  

And I use duct tape and nod at department stores.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blaze Orange of Glory

Only in Chicago.

Only in Chicago could a visit by Chinese President Hu (Hu's on first?) Jinato be upstaged by Mike Ditka.

Front page news on this frigid Friday is Da Bears, not Da Prez.

We interrupt the earth's rotation for an important announcement.  Ditka speaks, and he (still) hates Green Bay. Spits green and gold, he hates them so much. 

It's personal.  The cheese fiends are coming.  Win or go home. 

I never saw it coming.  In August I thought the Bears would be lucky to win 6 games, their offensive line exactly that, offensive. 

Who knew.  Luck, as they say, is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.  Or better yet, when you play in the inferior conference and have Superman returning kicks.  Devin Hester is indeed ridiculous.  Having a 20 yard head start (if Hester hasn't already scored) makes up for a lot D-league talent. 

It's personal.  Don't like the Packers.  Growing up they were mediocre, just like the Bears.  But they were our team, our Bears.  We gathered on the playground with our Walter Payton iron-ons and orange wristbands.  A 7-7 season was cause for a parade. 

John Brockington?  Chester Marcol?  The Packers were harmless, the Bears more like puppies.

It didn't get nasty until the 80s, when Ditka and Forrest Gregg came along. 

Chuck Cecil.  Mark Lee.  And Charles Martin, who body slammed Jim McMahon like an empty beer bottle.

Bears-Packers is the NFL's oldest rivalry, dating back to 1921.  Over 90 years, but never a game with so much at stake.  The Halas trophy, then the Lombardi trophy.

Win or lose, we'll head back to work in one of the world's great cities, worthy of foreign dignitaries. 

Packer fans? They'll still have stock car races and fish boils. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Vulnerable Place

I found myself with a heavy heart over the past few days. 

My heart goes out to the victims of the Arizona shooting and their families.

My thoughts keep coming back to mental health.   The health of our families and friends. 

Most of us have experienced at some level the pain of mental illness, and the helplessness that often comes with it. 

We are learning more about the shooter, clearly a sick individual. 

And a son.  And neighbor.  And classmate, co-worker and friend.

Estimates are that 10% of our population is on anti-depressants.  And how many of the remaining 90% should be?  How many people on the subway could use meds to "take the edge off" but go untreated?

Our country has changed, and few (hopefully) would want us to go back to institutionalizing across the board.  We're certainly more open about mental health.

But mental health is hardly a political priority.  As budgets bleed, facilities close or lose staff.  

So many of us are teetering. 

We don't know much, if anything, about the shooter's parents or how he was raised. 

I keep coming back to shows like "Intervention" or "Celebrity Rehab."  Shows so predictable in many ways. 

An idyllic childhood.  Smiling pictures in a football uniform or princess dress.

Then a dark secret, and addiction gradually sets in.

Family and friends try for years to intercede.  Glimmers of hope.  Fleeting glimmers.  Helplessness.

If you haven't read Beautiful Boy by David Sheff I highly recommend it.  As a parent I found it both inspirational and terrifying. 

Godspeed to us all.