Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A good way to end the old year

It's still 2008, in this time zone anyway, and my daughters are still awake, trying to make it to midnight. So I invited them out to watch the ball drop in New York in case they didn't make it. And as they sat on my lap, I was reminded of a poem I wrote on New Year's Day 2000, when my eldest daughter was just three months old. So I dug it out and read it to them. I share it here:

Old Long Ago

She was in her father's arms
as December turned into the year
they said would end us all.
She looked at him up from her rest
with eyes that hadn't yet changed
from their native blue--
unblinking on his face as
he watched the face of his
grandfather's clock.
He remembered the story his father
told, of when he was a boy and his aunt
on New Year's Day said she couldn't
believe it was already 1950.
He remembered when he was a boy--
flashbacks, mostly, from random faceless
years--of dropping the old calendar (December face up)
into the trash, saying "goodbye nineteen seventy something"--
of standing on the street oustide his grandmother's house
and taking a ladle to her biggest pan--
of running in the snow around his cousin's house
in pyjamas and moon boots,
faces red from the cold, lungs scraping for breath
and hearts pounding.
And he wondered what she would remember
about so many New Year's Eves
from old long ago.

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

Dear 2008,

As we have been bombarded for the past couple weeks with end-of-year lists, summations, reviews, analyses, top tens, bottom tens, highlights, lowlights and prognostications for the upcoming year, I feel like as a blogger, I’m compelled—nay, required—to add my own two cents’ worth to the conversation. However, I’m a little reluctant, because you were, in many respects, one of, if not the worst years on record.

I’m not just talking about the mess the world, the economy, and our state are in. I’m talking strictly about my own personal life. You, to put it mildly, blew. So to come up with some sort of retrospective without either spilling all of my guts or sounding like I’m just playing the “poor me” routine will be tricky. But I also feel the need to say goodbye to you, to put you in my rear view mirror and hit the gas as quickly as possible—and that need outweighs my hesitation.

You threw the usual things at me—money problems, mostly. But I’m used to that. I know that every so often, I’m going to have to shell out cash I don’t have for things over which I have no control—like when I had to pay for—out of my own pocket—new flooring in one of the basement bedrooms because the people who built our house left a 6-inch hole in the foundation that left us with ripped up walls, soaked carpeting and an awful smell. Oh, did I mention that I had to pay for it myself because the builders went bankrupt and therefore didn’t have to honor the 25-year warranty on the foundation? It took until late summer before we could use that room again. So thanks for that start to the year.

And thanks for the health stuff, too. I know things like that happen to everyone, so it was no surprise when my little boy broke his arm, and was in a cast up to his shoulder for 6 weeks—then less than two weeks after he got that cast off, one of my girls broke her foot right before going on vacation to see her grandparents in Arizona for the first time. My wife is also enjoying her dental problems (again), which are not adequately covered by my insurance. And being in a shoulder immobilizer for the last month following my surgery has been a blast, let me tell you. But that’s okay—it’s an old war wound that was well worth it.

I don’t want to forget the transportation problems, either. I was selling my scooter this year, and twice had people in my front door with cash in hand to buy it when mechanical problems I’d never had before suddenly surfaced on their test rides, forcing me to sell for so much less that I couldn’t buy a new scooter. The best part, though, was finding out five days after Christmas (yep! yesterday!) that we’re going to have to come up with $350 to pay for new brake pads—and rotors—on our sole remaining mode of transport, which we’re constantly having to juggle and schedule around.

I also had the one-year anniversary of finishing my book, complete with a year’s worth of rejections from agents, despite the fact there are things out there getting sold (and made into movies) that barely appeal to the stupidest common denominator. But, hey, tits and ass and crashes always sell, so I can’t fault people for that. And my quest to publish was derailed for the year, for reasons which will soon be enumerated.

And I STILL don’t have a nice, hi-def flatscreen television.

But like I said, crap like that I’ve had to deal with before. What you threw at me and my family in the early spring, however, was completely uncalled for.

I mean, I know we weren’t trying to get pregnant with our fourth child (with me at age 35, and my wife at age 41), and I know we were initially shocked and having a hard time warming up to the idea. But to put the fear of a fatal birth defect into a blood test result wasn’t fair, especially when you consider the difficult pregnancy history we’ve had. At least, though, we found out on March 24 that everything was going to be all right and finally be able to tell the kids they were having a little brother was a relief, I’ll admit that. And for two whole days, everything was wonderful. Until the baby stopped moving on the 26th, that is. The doctor told us the next day there was no heartbeat. Everything after that was a blur, but I remember when my wife was induced to deliver a stillborn Christopher John (named for my brothers Chris and his great grandfather) on March 28 of your year, 2008. And I remember the funeral on Tuesday, April 1 of your year. I remember that the weather had been not so bad up until that day, and I remember thinking how stupidly appropriate it was that the wind was suddenly roaring out of the north and that my tears were freezing to my face at the cemetery. I remember kissing his little white casket before it was lowered into the ground. I remember not wanting to let go of the roses we were dropping into the grave. I remember my wife and me hugging our dear friend and Bishop who tried to comfort us. I remember feeling very alone. But you were there, 2008, weren’t you? You were there when I was walking through a nightmare, when I kept waiting for weeks and weeks to wake up, thinking all the time, this can’t possibly be real. This has to be a dream. It wasn’t. It was 2008. It was you.

And, as years before you can attest to, I don’t often handle reality well. I like to turn my brain off and escape from things, as most people do for a little bit here and there. But my escapism brought an unthinkable amount of further strife into my life and marriage in your year. To quote Sir Paul, “I took my brain out and stretched it on a rack / now I’m not so sure I’m ever gonna get it back.” As a result, I can handle reality and stress much more capably now; however, I’m not so sure the residual damage isn’t permanent and irreparable.

So don’t be offended, 2008, if I’m glad to see you go. Sure, there were some genuinely great moments during the year—backyard marshmallow roasts, Wall-E at the drive-in and Horton Hears a Who with my little dude, tubing with my homies at Bass Lake, the presidential election, finding ancient friends on Facebook, and, of course, starting this here blog. I also cherished my kids every second I was awake, each second more than the last. In that, I guess, is the only way I’m sad to see you turn to 2009. That means my children are getting older. That means they’re one day, one month, one year closer to growing up and away. I lie in bed at night with tears in my eyes thinking of them, every detail of their faces, what it feels like to kiss them, to hug them, to hear them laugh. I lie there practically shaking with terror wondering what it’s going to feel like during one of your colleagues down the road when they leave the nest, or when (not if, but when) something bad happens—an accident, a heartbreak, a disappointment, a failure of some sort. And God forbid, if the truly awful happens to one of them—at least I can say it didn’t happen during 2008. I can’t guarantee that ten years from now; I can’t guarantee it even in your immediate successor. So in that way, I wish today could stay December 31, 2008 forever. But it can’t.

And, ultimately, I’m really glad for that. Maybe it can stay January 1, 2009 forever, instead.

Good bye, 2008, and good riddance.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fire that [expletive]er. [expletive] 'em.

As I sit here and ponder the events of the past couple days regarding Rodney R. Blagojevich, soon-to-be-former-Governor of the State of Illinois, [henceforth to be known as “Blago” because a) ‘Blagojevich’ is too long and difficult of a letter combination to repeatedly type whilst on narcotics and b) I sure as hell ain’t calling him ‘Governor’ no more], a strange parallel keeps leaping to mind. Do you remember the scene in the movie “Animal House” when Otter stands up before the Interfraternity Council hearing to defend the Deltas against Niedermayer and Marmalard and Dean Wormer? (“I’m pre law.” “I thought you were pre med.” “What’s the difference?”)

Otter stands up and says something to the effect that you can’t blame a whole fraternity for a few bad apples, for if you do, isn’t it an indictment of the entire fraternity system, and if you indict the entire fraternity system, mustn’t you indict the university as a whole, and therefore the entire American way of life? (That’s when the Deltas walk out humming the Star Spangled Banner, in case your memory hasn’t been jogged yet.)

Here’s why I think of that silly scene, besides the fact that Blago’s defense during his upcoming impeachment hearings (he surely won’t resign--see below) will be only slightly more ridiculous than Otter’s: for as reprehensible as Blago is, he’s not the only one to blame. We need to blame the history of politics in Illinois (and Chicago specifically). We need to indict the historically acknowledged and approved pay-to-play system that put him there. We need to point the finger at the people who ultimately put him in the Governor’s mansion (if he actually lived there, that is).

We need to point the finger at you and me.

Even if you voted for Roland Burris, Jim Ryan, Judy Baar Topinka or Rich Whitney in 2002 or 2006, it’s just as much your fault as if you punched your pay stub, er, ballot, for Blago himself. You see, simply by casting a vote in an election for a statewide office in Illinois, you’re guilty.*

You’re guilty because by voting for one of those candidates, you weren’t working against all of them, even by choosing the lesser of two evils. Unless you ran for office yourself, you’re guilty. Unless you encouraged, financially backed, knocked on doors or handed out bumper stickers for somebody not affiliated with a political party in the State of Illinois, you’re guilty. Simply by allowing people the likes of Blago, Topinka, George Ryan, Dan Walker, Otto Kerner, Orville Hodge, William Lorimer, Len Small, Dan Rostenkowski, Ed Vrdolyak and scores of other Chicago aldermen to even get on a ballot, makes us all guilty by association.

I’m not talking about denying them their rights as Americans to run for office. I’m talking about our obligation as Americans to see through their self-serving bullshit.

My daddy taught me two things growing up: you never get something for nothing, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It seems that if the electorate in Illinois had a good dose of that common sense, we wouldn’t be in this mess today. Yet we still insist on voting for these people, whose egos are so bafflingly grand, whose lines of bullshit are so thick, I’m stumped as to how we were hornswaggled into not thinking this is too good to be true.

I’m not saying there aren’t good, qualified people in statewide elected office right now. There are probably a couple. But there is no one I trust, that’s for damn sure. I don’t think there’s a one of them that wouldn’t sell out a colleague or piss on a campaign promise if it wouldn’t get them more power or money from whatever the source, however ethically icky it might be. Maybe all politicians are like that. I hope not, but I’ve lived in Illinois all my life, grew up watching Fahey Flynn talk about the Council Wars in Chicago. My parents grew up in Fast Eddie’s famed 10th Ward on the Southeast Side of Chicago, for heaven’s sake. So, in my world, words like "honorable” and “decent” and “trust” don’t often appear anywhere close to the word “politician” in the same document.

My worry is that there’s no solution. I mean, we can hope this sudden light that been shone on Illinois’s kitchen and exposed all the Blagockroaches that have been scurrying about unabated for a hundred years now so that we can spray them with a giant can of Honest and figuratively kill them all. But how likely is that? Do we really trust other perhaps-not-quite-so-crooked-yet-still-crooked politicians to fix the mess that Blago, Ryan, et al. have gotten us into? (See above paragraph about trust.)

The quickest and simplest solution from where I’m sitting is to just break up the state. Split it in two. Chicago and the collar counties should be its own state (“Bladolyakowski”) and the rest of us could retain the name of Illinois. If you’re in that area and are offended by that, I’m sorry, but that’s where the bulk of the money, power and influence (and therefore corruption) resides. Border it off and let them grift it out to the death. If you live there and don't want to watch it implode from the front row, feel free to move to Illinois. But let the other 95 counties start over. Or, anything above I-80 could be its own state. You could keep the name Illinois, and we could be Southern Illinois, because, after all, everybody north of I-80 thinks anything south of that distinguished road is hick country anyway.

I think we should secede and establish the true Land of Lincoln and name it after him. After all, U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald rightly said that what Blago has done would make Lincoln roll over in his grave. But I’ll go him one further: had Lincoln known what was going to happen in this place he once made hallow, he would have handed Booth the pistol himself.

The worst part of all of this is symbolized in a couple lines from this Associated Press report from December 10: “Ensconced in his downtown office, Blagojevich gave no sign he was contemplating resigning, and dispatched his spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn, to say it was ‘business as usual’ in his 16th-floor suite, situated a few blocks from Obama's transition headquarters.”

Business as usual. I don't know about you, but that scares the shit out of me. And nothing says more than that about Blago or the citizens of the State of Illinois who haven't yet stormed his office demanding his resignation.

*For the record, I didn’t vote for Blago in 2006. I voted for Green Party candidate Rich Whitney over him and Judy Baar Topinka, whom, I’m convinced would have been just as, if not more, corrupt than Blago-—not that that excuses him--I’m just sayin’. But I did vote for him the first time in 2002 when he ran against Jim Ryan. Sorry Abdul.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Re: Blago

I've been in my semi-drug induced state the past two days watching all this nonsense with Blago. (I refuse to call him by his title anymore, by the way). I was mortified that in the midst of the biggest story of the year (yes, bigger than the election and the bailouts) that because of my operation, I'd only be able to type one-handed, and therefore not be able to do the subject justice.

Good news: I can type with two hands. I hope to post later tonight, in case anyone was eagerly anticipating my thoughts.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hello friends!

Things have been busy lately, getting ready and traveling for Thanksgiving, work, and doing various outdoor things before the first dumpage of snow for this year. That's why I haven't posted in a bit. Plus, most of my relevant thoughts have been about more of the same things I've addressed previously; namely, the automakers' bailout, the holidays, and stupid people. So I didn't think I'd bother rehashing more of the same.

And now, I might not post for a little while longer, due to the fact I'm not excited about typing anything of any length with only one hand. (insert comment here...)

The reason I'm going to be down to one hand is that in about 7 hours, I'll be undergoing surgery on my left shoulder, and I'll be in a sling anywhere from--get this--five days to five weeks. It depends on the damage the specialist in Chicago finds. Best case scenario, it's a little cleanup and I'm slung for five days. Worst case scenario, everything's shredded and it's five weeks. The MRI showed one tear already (on the tendon that attaches the biceps to the humerus, which isn't very), and based on my symptoms, there's likely a tear in the top of the labrum (the tissue that makes up the shoulder socket). Now, if those tears are too close to each other, they'll have to remove the biceps tendon entirely and re-anchor it somewhere else so that it doesn't pull on where the labrum is healing. I had surgery in 2003 on my elbow to repair a torn tendon that involved detaching it from the bone and reattaching it, and that involved drilling three tiny holes in my elbow and laying the repaired tendon over it, and letting the bone ooze reform a new tendon. So you see why, in my shoulder, that could turn out to be an extended time in a sling.

So please don't think I've given up on blogging. Although, my new addiction to Facebook hasn't helped me much! ;-)

If I'm not able to type for an extended period of time, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas (fuck, I just quoted "Feliz Navidad"! Aaaargh!) and a happy and prosperous new year.

I will be checking in for comments, certainly I'll be on Facebook a lot, so I won't be completely incommunicado.

Peace and love.