Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saying Goodbye

“Oh, these sweet, sweet creatures who love us and bring us so much joy and depend on us to make this difficult decision.” That’s what my friend Carmen wrote to my wife and me a year and a half ago when we had to make the painful decision to put Gloria’s beloved dog, Buddy, to sleep. He had a brain tumor covering fully one-third of his right lobe and there was nothing at all to be done.

Now, we find ourselves needing to make the same decision about Max, a dog who has been at my side for thirteen years. I haven’t had a relationship (outside of family) that has lasted thirteen years!

Two years ago, Max had surgery on his left rear leg to replace a tendon that had worn away somehow. The doctor opened his leg up, drilled through the bone and essentially tied in a new tendon to keep the bones operating properly. The recovery was long and painful. But it eventually worked. For a time Max was able to walk on both legs, run even, with little or no sign of pain or discomfort. Last summer, I noticed that he seemed to be having the same sort of trouble with his right rear leg that he’d had with his left rear leg that led us to approve the surgery of two years ago – something, by the way, that I would never have imagined I would do for a dog, but I’m glad I did… I fretted and worried and took him to the veterinarian. She put him on anti-inflammatory medication and gave us some pain medication as well, for when it was really acting up. He’s been on the anti-inflammatory meds ever since and we’ve generally given him a pain pill once a week or whenever it seems necessary.

Last week, he injured his right rear leg running in response to some neighborhood dog barking or something and it’s been downhill ever since. He can no longer put any weight on his right rear leg. He cannot ascend stairs on his own. I have a sling that I put under his mid-section to help carry the bulk of his weight as he lumbers up the stairs, hopping his front feet up a step and then hoisting his weak back legs up a step with the help of the sling.

Max is fourteen years old, nearly fifteen. He’s had a great life. He’s traveled to more places than many humans I know. He has been swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and Big Gull Lake in Ontario, Canada, and, of course, Lake Michigan. He explored deserts and mountains and dunes and woods.

Tomorrow we have to say goodbye. He’s suffering and it’s time. I’m sad, of course, but I’m also beyond words grateful for the years of joy that he’s given me, the years of companionship and love that he’s provided. I know he knows that I’ve always loved him. I know he knows that I’ve always thought that he was/is a “good dog.” That helps, a little.

In this holiday season many of us try to take a moment to count our blessings, our joys, things for which (or for whom) we should be (are) grateful. Max has been a blessing, a joy, a treasure. Tomorrow I will execute the final act of my responsibility for Max, even though it’s the last thing I want to do. I will say goodbye and Godspeed and thank you and I love you and always will.

When I adopted Max from the Animal Shelter on Grand Avenue in downtown Chicago, they told me he was called “Maru.” but I didn’t think that name fit at all. So as he lay curled up on the floorboard in the front of my Subaru Justy as I was driving him home I tried out different names. When I called “Max” he lifted his head up to me and raised his ears. That’s how I knew that was his name.

Tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to Max. I’ll remember him forever.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day in the USA

Many have made the point that one day is not nearly enough to honor America’s veterans, and I agree. Whether veterans of foreign wars or stateside support personnel, our veterans deserve our respect and deep gratitude, regardless of our personal thoughts regarding the politics behind a particular conflict (war), be it Vietnam or Iraq. It is not, after all, the veterans who are responsible for starting or continuing a war, those decisions are made by our civilian leadership, including our congressional representatives and, of course, our Commander-in-Chief.

My and my wife’s families have a long history of military service, even though neither of us has served ourselves. My birth father served in the Army, my adoptive father served in the Air Force, my mother served in the Navy Reserves, my brother served in the Army (I think I’m recalling that correctly) and as an MP, my sister served in the Air Force, and my uncle served in the Navy. Gloria’s brother served in the Navy and her father served in the Army, storming the beaches at Normandy in WWII.

The sacrifices that veterans make for each and every one of us Americans are hard to adequately catalogue. Whether it is being away from family for long stretches of time or being put directly into harm’s way, all veterans sacrifice in order to secure our freedom and to protect our way of life. For many years in this country, we have had an all-volunteer military, for which I am grateful, and also deeply humbled. Those folks who have enlisted, who have fought the fights and prevented other fights from having to be fought are to be honored – beyond one day a year.

So thank you, veterans. Thank you what you do each and every day. Thank you for standing guard over our country’s constitution and way of life. To those currently serving, I am especially grateful. I hope we can find a way to get you all home safely soon!


Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Mixed Bag

I am thrilled that President Obama is issuing an executive order to rescind the ban on HIV infected individuals from entering the United States. I’m pleased that he is working to close Guantanamo and trying to open up dialogue with Iran and other countries with whom we have strained relationships.

But, what the heck is it with this $250 check that he wants to send to Social Security recipients because the cost of living has decreased? The COLA (cost of living adjustment) would properly LOWER social security payments if reason prevailed. Obviously, that’s not going to happen, and that’s fine, but why add the extra dough? The cost of living (statistically, at least) has fallen, so why should Social Security recipients get more money? Bear in mind, my mother, father, uncle, aunt, and sister-in-law all will benefit from this government giveaway, so I’m happy for them, I suppose, but, really? We’re in the midst of a recession. A downturn. A contraction. A serious as shinola problem.

My wife and I got our property tax bill today. Our property taxes are nearly 20% higher than last year, even as our property has lost as much as 40% of its value. What’s up with that? Are our schools better? No. Are they more effectively educating the young people in our community? No. Are our streets safer or better maintained? No. Is crime down? No. So, why are we paying 20% more in property taxes when services are no better or diminished in comparison to a year ago? There is no good answer. Greed, corruption, graft, perhaps? Or perhaps it’s simply incompetence and foolishness. I honestly don’t know.

I don’t like to simply issue complaints on this blog, but I’m concerned. Worried. We need leadership, and I’m not seeing as much of it as I would like out of Washington, DC right about now.

All for now…


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Death is not proud…

It simply is. Death is arrogant, sometimes swift, and often wildly unexpected.

When Death takes a fifty-eight year old man in the middle of the afternoon while walking down the street, Death is alarming. The man was a good man. He left a wife, Miriam, and a daughter, Megan, behind. His name was Michael Philippi. He was a deeply gifted lighting designer and a kind and decent man.

Death visited him on Dearborn Street Tuesday afternoon October 27 and took him away from us. The suddenness of his passing made all who knew him gasp. Nothing could have possibly prepared any one of us for this.

It’s hard to know what to think in the wake of an event like this. It seems there have been so many unexpected, too-soon deaths of friends and colleagues in the past several years. I run across their email addresses in my contact list and can’t bring myself to delete them, as if to do so would be a final erasure or a turning away of some sort.

Years ago I worked on a new musical that (to the best of my knowledge) never did get a full production, but it had some great pieces in it, and some deeply moving sentiments. One of the lyrics read, in part, “The dead get tired of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the living to live and do something! Do do do something.” Perhaps that’s what we need to recall when we are forced to face Death, that we must live while we can and not waste our precious time here on earth, here with our loved ones, our family, our friends.

Death is the one thing we all share, the one fate that awaits each and every one of us and yet it remains so… difficult for us to accept, for us to cope with. Even if a death is not a huge surprise or not completely unexpected, we are still shattered by the loss. And yet… We also, at some level, in some place, know that it’s an inescapable part of life. All that lives shall die. Cold comfort, that. Or, no comfort, I suppose.

What do we do? We carry on. We persist. We persevere. And, perhaps most importantly, we remember and we celebrate the lives the departed lived, and the lessons they taught us through their living and their grace. We cherish those memories and keep them alive through our stories. We lift them up, and in so doing, lift ourselves up in the process and recommit to living each day to the fullest and being grateful for our lives and try to keep the dead from waiting for us to live.

Namaste. Rest in peace, Michael.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Health Care

Earlier today the Senate Finance Committee voted to send a health bill to the full Senate with one Republican vote, from Olympia Snowe, of Maine. Is the bill perfect? No. Will it be passed in the US Senate as is? No. Will it survive a conference committee as is? No.

But, it is still an accomplishment. This country has been working on passing comprehensive health care reform since FDR or earlier. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The bill passed out of the Finance Committee today ends pre-existing conditions and disallows insurance companies from dropping covered individuals when they need the coverage the most - when they are sick. This is a good start. It will not solve all of our health care problems and challenges, but it is a good start.

In the richest country in the world, is it acceptable that we have so many people without health care coverage? I think not. And, this pre-existing condition thing hits home with me... you see, about a year ago my wife, Gloria, got a great new job that provides us both with health care. That's wonderful. But, I had to stop getting my allergy shots, because that was/is a pre-existing condition. So, now I've spent a year or more with no shots and my hearing has worsened a little bit more, but soon I'll be able to start up the allergy shots again because we've waited a year. I should be grateful, right?

Grateful that I had to wait a year to continue treatment that is critically important to my health?

I could not afford to continue those treatments without health insurance covering them, but I had to simply forego them for a year because I changed insurers. Do you not think our system needs fixing? Do you think that nothing is wrong with this picture? The bill that passed out of the Senate Finance committee today is far from perfect, but it's a good start. It will end pre-existing conditions. That, in and of itself, is reason enough to support it. We will - they will - make it better in sessions to come. But we simply MUST have health care reform soon.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

On November 27, 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, and in describing what he wanted as the criteria for the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, he wrote that it should be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

President Obama has eliminated torture on the part of United States military and intelligence personnel, he has pledged to close Guantanamo Bay and is making progress on that pledge, especially with the recent news that prisoners there will be allowed to be tried in U.S. courtrooms, he has pulled forces back in Iraq on the way to a complete withdrawal, and he has – successfully – begun talks with Iran about their nuclear program.

Are the two wars he inherited won or over? Of course not. Has he fixed the economic quagmire he inherited? Nope, hasn’t done that either, although the stock market did record its highest close of 2009 today. Has he brought peace to the Middle East? No, not yet, and he may not succeed at that, but nor has any other president since 1948.

What he has done is significantly opened up and fostered good will for international diplomacy. In the nearly nine months that he’s been president he’s traveled to thirty-one countries, more nations in the first (not quite) year of his presidency than any previous occupant of the office. He has told the world that America wants to listen and talk to the rest of the world, that we wish not to dictate how their countries should be organized, but that we wish to partner with them, and to be their friends.

The Taliban and Rush Limbaugh both agreed that Mr. Obama didn’t deserve the prize. He hadn’t earned it, they said. But Mr. Obama, in his speech this morning indicating that he would accept the prize, said, “I do not view it [receiving the prize] as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize.” He has said that he will donate the $1.4 million cash award to charity.

Mr. Obama understands that the award is meant to motivate, to catalyze actions towards peace in the months and years to come. He has been advocating for a nuclear weapon free world. He has been willing to talk to enemies as well as friends, something for which he was ridiculed during last year’s campaign, but something for which the majority of Americans voted.

Mr. Obama has not yet accomplished much of what he has set out to accomplish, but he is on his way, and the world is listening. The world’s view of the United States of America has undergone a major shift for the better because of Mr. Obama’s election, and it is likely that, as much as anything else, that explains why he was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize this morning. It is an honor that looks to the future, that embraces his message of hope and optimism, and that understands that things don’t change overnight, but that this sort of recognition might help move the rest of the world to be more eager to work with this young, vibrant president to forge a better future for all of us and for our children.

I salute and congratulate you, President Obama. God speed. Do us proud.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Okay, Chicago. Now’s your chance!

Now that we have lost the 2016 bid for the Olympic Games, perhaps we will focus upon some other – arguably far more important issues – such as, how do we keep our children safe? How do we provide them with a world-class education? How do we maintain, repair, and improve our crumbling roads, bridges, and train tracks?

Isn’t this just the opportunity we’ve been looking for?

All sort of forces mobilized to raise untold amounts of money and to put in untold numbers of hours in preparing the city for the Olympic Games. Well, we didn’t get the games, but there sure is a heck of a lot that needs work here in our city. Let us get to it, shall we?

When an honors student (and, frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not he was an honors student) can get beaten to death in broad daylight outside of a school and it is filmed and put up on the web for all to see and no one (apparently) called either the police or 911, doesn’t that tell you something is rather wrong here? What’s more upsetting is that this is no longer surprising. Children have been murdered at astonishing rates in this city for many, many years. Victims of stray bullets or gang beatings or downright gang-ordered assassinations. When will the madness stop? When will our elected leaders – and I’m talking to you, Mr. Daley, and you, Alderman Vi Daley (no relation to the Mayor) – when will you at long last take action?

How many people have to die before we get serious about these problems? How long will we allow folks in poverty to languish in inadequate housing with inadequate, or no, health care? What really matters to us? That’s the question, isn’t it? Is it more important that we get a big influx of visitors from across the world in 2016 or that we create a city that everyone from across the world will want to visit?

Mayor Daley, the time is now: pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and announce a bold, new initiative to quell gang violence and create safer, more effective schools once and for all. Enough is enough already. Let’s all harness the energy that was created behind this Olympics bid and put it to use making our community safer, stronger, and more healthy, which will, by the way, make it more attractive to tourists from all over the globe. The time for action has come. The only question is, will we take it?


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Congressman and the Crooner

I don’t often veer into the overtly political in this blog, despite my confirmed status as a political junkie. But two stories that I happened to catch this evening compel me to comment, briefly.

According to the Huffington Post, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Az.) asserted that president Obama “has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity.” Has no place in any station of government? – he was elected president by a healthy majority. Is an enemy of humanity? Excuse me???

In an article linked directly below the one quoting Rep. Franks, we learn that Andy Williams (remember him? Of Moon River crooning fame?) asserts that Obama “wants the country to fail.” Right. Of course he does. Why wouldn’t he?

What are these people drinking? (Clearly they are not thinking!)

Disagree with the man, fine! But, to suggest that he wants the country to fail or that he is an enemy of humanity is beyond the pale. When are we going to stop this nonsense once and for all?

No one on the left asserted that Bush wanted the country to fail. They asserted that he made some bad decisions, led us into a war of choice (in Iraq) rather than a war of necessity, but even then, none of them said it was because he wanted the country to fail or that he was an enemy of humanity.

Jimmy Carter was roundly vilified for suggesting that racism might have something to do with some of the harshest (read: stupidest) criticisms of Obama. I don’t know whether he was right or not, but, please – when is the last time you can remember such outlandish charges being leveled against a president? Enemy of humanity? Wants the country to fail?

Get a grip, folks. Fight for the policies in which you believe with respect and decency and decorum. Maybe you’ll win.


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Mutability of Memory

Earlier today I was writing about my experience taking piano lessons from one Edmond Gordinier, of Buffalo, NY, when I was eleven years old. I felt as if I was in the room again, smelling it, seeing it, experiencing all of the visual stimuli – a floor-to-ceiling bookcase on one wall, a bay window on the opposite wall, which framed a seven foot Steinway grand piano that was almost always covered with sheet music and assorted books. In this memory, the floor was adorned with overlapping Oriental carpets, and I think that they, in fact, were there.

But what if they weren’t? What if the floor was covered, rather, with a short pile dirty brown rug? Or what if they were oaken hardwood floors buffed to a high sheen? (I assure you they were NOT that!)

My memory is that there were Oriental rugs in that room, and I suppose I think that says something important about my memory of the feeling, the essence of that room. Whether there literally were or were not Oriental rugs is of less importance than that in my memory it seems to me that there were. Do you follow?

I spent ten or eleven months, once a week, in this room some thirty-five years ago. My precise memory of exactly what it looked like is, therefore, somewhat suspect, at least in my own mind. But I do not doubt or suspect my memory of what it felt like to be in that room or what it smelled like or what the overall experience of being in that room entailed.

The piano held a place of prominence. The bay windows in front looked out onto majestic American Elm trees, trees that are likely no longer there given the infestation of Dutch Elm disease that plagued Buffalo in the 1970s. The books were there, the sheet music piled high on every conceivable surface was there, and, most importantly, Edmond Gordinier was there. His discipline, his demeanor, his praise when warranted, his taking to task when necessary – all of those things were there.

And so I ask myself, late on a Thursday evening as I’m eager for sleep but dealing with a brain that is racing, what does it matter what the rug looked like? What matters is what I remember it looking like, for that memory captures the essence of the milieu, whether factually true or not. Perhaps his was such an outsized personality that he was able to make a short pile dirty brown rug appear (in my rearview memory) to have been Oriental carpets. Perhaps. I doubt it, though. And, more to the point, I don’t think it matters.

The passage of time causes each of us to highlight certain memories and diminish or even dismiss others. We recall what we wish to, what we need to, and what we can’t help but recall, even if we wish we could blot it out forever. Some memories go the way of the unmatched sock from the dryer, never to be seen or heard from again. Others tug on us with a constancy that can be maddening, and sometimes is. Either way, they are memories, and as such, they are to be both trusted and viewed with a degree of skepticism. I think what we trust about them is how they make us feel, or how they made us feel back then. What I think we need to be skeptical about is their veracity – memories are easily distorted, diminished or magnified, either way, it’s a distortion.

I say, fine. As long as we are open and honest about the whole affair. Remember what you do, what it felt like, why it mattered, and, if you get a detail wrong here or there, what’s the harm? At the same time, one must always (I think) take care to not let our memories get the best of us. Dickens famously wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Such it is with memory. We can inflate or conflate or bloviate about our memories such that we make a perfectly fine time horrific or the reverse.

Above all, if we are being honest with ourselves, I think we owe it to ourselves to respect and listen to our memories. They may be telling us something, at times, that may well open our eyes, provide a new look at things, and teach us something.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Will We?

Will we finally, in the richest country the world has ever known, pass meaningful health care reform?

Given what came out of the finance committee of the US Senate, I’m not feeling very confident about the prospects. The not-quite-yet-a-bill does not include any so-called public option. It contains mandates (unfunded) that might be very detrimental to many small businesses. It increases Medicare (which States pay at least half of the cost for) without adding additional funding for the States that would have to find a way to provide this increased care. And, it pleases pharmaceutical and insurance companies. What’s wrong with this picture?

Why are we being so timid? Why are we not insisting upon a public option? In my view, all Americans should have access to the same insurance coverage that our Representatives and Senators enjoy. Wasn’t the election last November a choice for fundamental change?

The dust-up over South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting “You lie” to Barack Obama at last week’s joint session of Congress address is a lot of sound and fury signifying little. He was a jerk to do it; he apologized, and Obama accepted the apology. The real issue is far more important. Are we going to cover folks? Are we going to make sure that people aren’t needlessly dying because of horrendous realities like insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or dropping individuals because they get sick?

It seems to me that the time has come for those of us who believe that health insurance is a right and a necessity for ALL Americans to start speaking up and acting up, if necessary. We have lots of these right-wing wackos staging “tea parties” and what-not, and they are getting all the attention. I think we might need to take to the street, my mild-mannered, liberal minded, equality-valuing friends. Let’s face it: If someone gets sick enough or injured seriously enough, they go to the Emergency Room where they are treated whether they have health insurance or not. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone were covered and could go to see a doctor earlier? Wouldn’t it be better if Emergency Rooms were not avenues of last resort for sick, uninsured folks and could rather focus – as they were designed to do – on real emergencies?

The United States of America spends more on health care than any other country on the planet and yet I’ve read numerous reports that indicate we are 37th on a scale of the healthiest countries in the world. Something is seriously wrong here! When are we going to wake up?

Maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll just spend more time, money, and energy shouting at one another and portraying our political enemies as the new Hitler or Stalin or Marx. That seems to be what the right-wing Republicans are most interested in these days. What ever happened to the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln? I’ve always wondered: If Lincoln had not been assassinated, might Reconstruction have worked? Had Lincoln lived, might the so-called “Redeemers” have been foiled in their successful efforts at rewriting history and creating Jim Crow, which amounted to a Second Slavery?

We must all be strong. We must all let our Representatives and Senators know what we want them to fashion in the arena of health insurance. It is our responsibility to make our voices heard. We may not get precisely what we want, but if we don’t express what we want, then we have no right to complain about what transpires.


Friday, September 11, 2009

RIP Apple Tree Theatre

It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. After 26 years of producing the very highest quality plays and musicals on the North Shore, Apple Tree Theatre’s Board of Directors will reportedly announce tomorrow that they are closing, shutting their doors forever.

Eileen Boevers, the founder of Apple Tree Theatre, passed away last year at the young age of 68, but she was the theater’s life blood.

I miss her and I will miss the theater.

I am blessed to have worked for many years with Apple Tree with some of the finest actors and designers and technicians and directors in the business. My first project there was music directing “The Spitfire Grill,” directed by Eileen and featuring the terrific Susie McMonagle and Marianne Thebus. (I’d directed Marianne previously, but this was her first musical and she was very nervous – she did great!)

Then I was the music supervisor (with music direction by the brilliant Doug Peck) for Susie’s star turn as Mae West in… the name is escaping me now. Something silver?

Following these shows were the great gifts of directing “My Old Lady,” “Three Tall Women,” “The Winning Streak,” and, “The Gin Game,” featuring such brilliant actors as Ann Whitney, Barbara Robertson, Gene Weygandt, Jenny McKnight, Matthew Brumlow, Tony Mockus, Bob Breuler, and others. These experiences were sublime. These productions were supported, and encouraged, and nurtured, and loved by the Apple Tree Theatre.

Times were hard, sometimes. Money was sometimes an issue, a challenge. But there was always a will to make the show as good as it possibly could be. There was always a commitment to what we were there to do: to tell a great story in a compelling way that might, just might, lead an audience member to have a new understanding, a new insight into what it means to be a human being.

I am honored to have been part of Apple Tree Theatre’s history and I wish it a fond, and very heartsick, farewell.

And Tim and Robby and Lynn and Kurt and Scott and Rita and Julia and Bill and Mark, thank you so much!


The Character of Our Country

What does it say about the character of our country that popular talk show radio hosts are comparing Barack Obama, the duly elected President of the United States, to Hitler and Stalin, who – leave us not forget – were mortal enemies and radically different, albeit both tyrannical, leaders? What does it say about the character of our country that high-profile politicians are saying that Mr. Obama will soon be “taking all of our guns away,” when there is no evidence whatsoever that he has any interest in doing so, and he has said he supports the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States? What does it say about that character of our country that some of these same folks are even suggesting that Mr. Obama is getting ready to set FEMA loose in order to lock up right-wing opposition figures in concentration camps?

This rhetoric is shocking and disturbing, to say the least.

When President Obama delivered his address to a joint session of Congress last night, a republican representative, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouted, “You lie!” when Mr. Obama said that his health insurance reform proposals would not cover illegal immigrants. This was an amazing and disappointing turn of events. To Wilson’s credit, he quickly issued an apology. To Obama’s credit, he accepted the apology without hesitation. But, please… what in Sam Hill is going on when we have stooped to this level of discourse???

Did anyone yell, “You lie” when President Bush talked about the yellow cake uranium that Iraq had supposedly acquired from Niger? (A charge that was, ironically, completely rebuffed by another man named Joseph Wilson.) No, they didn’t. Even though it was an absolute falsehood.

And what about when former Vice President Dick Cheney bent over backwards to connect Sadam Hussein to the 9-11 attacks?

Radical right-wingers are pulling conspiracy theories out of their posteriors that are dumbfounding in their inanity. “Obama is creating a Shadow Government through the appointment of Czars.” See above for the rest. It’s scary. And it’s just plain nuts.

So, what is this all about? Hard to say; hard to discern. Sore losers? Perhaps. Racism? Perhaps.

I am pained to imagine that I live in a country where there exists any percentage of the population who believe that President Obama could rightly be compared to Hitler or Stalin.

You don’t have to love President Obama or fully support his policy prescriptions, but for crying out loud, comparing him to Hitler and Stalin? This is not worthy of our country. This is not worthy of all that our founders fought for in securing our independence. Health care is a prickly and difficult issue, to be sure, but can we not discuss it with a modicum of decency and mutual respect?


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our Red President

Earlier today, our president had the unmitigated gall to address the school children of our great nation and suggest that they should work and study hard, pay attention to their teachers, and take some modicum of responsibility for their own lives and their own education.

What an outrage!

He said that those who have succeeded have done so (largely) because they had failed earlier, but not given up and kept on trying. He cited Michael Jordan, and J.K. Rowling, among others as examples of folks who had failed before achieving great success. Well, don’t be fooled. He might has well have cited Adolf Hitler and Albert Spear because he’s a Commie through and through. He was attempting to indoctrinate our poor, sweet, innocent children to the virtues of Socialism by discussing personal responsibility and setting goals and doing your homework even when you don’t particularly like it. Oh my. What are we to do?

That presidents Reagan and Bush 41 made very similar speeches to American children in their terms is conveniently forgotten. Reagan valued education so much that he slashed student loan funds in half and attempted to abolish the Department of Education. Bush tried to get rid of the department as well; thankfully, both of them failed in that particular endeavor.

Obama told the school children of our country today that they should: work hard, not look for shortcuts, respect your parents and teachers, and recognize that failure is a step on the road to success. Yeah, that sounds pretty communistic to me. Socialism through and through.

Newt Gingrich thought it was a great speech that all American children (and parents) should hear. Laura Bush thought it was a great speech that all should hear.

Take a moment. Listen to it. If you disagree with a word he said, please, get back to me!!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Life Well Lived

Six years ago the doctors told her she would be lucky to live for another year. Four years ago, she sent an email to her friends and family with the subject line: “Don’t Cry For Me.” In that email she told us that the doctors had told her that she would be alive for a matter of a couple of months, or perhaps only a few weeks. She died last night. Five years later – at least – than the doctors repeatedly predicted.

Judy Jaycox Wilmoth Payton passed from this earth on September 1, 2009 at approximately 10:45 p.m. She turned sixty-five on August 3rd this year. Her dear friend and sister-in-law Lainey Morrison (another Aunt of mine) had a birthday the following day. Judy’s wedding anniversary with her beloved husband, Bert, was August 20. She told Lainey many times over the last several weeks that she wouldn’t die in August, because she didn’t want to ruin the month. She waited until September first.

Judy was a pistol, as my brother Scott referred to her during an early morning conversation today. And it’s a good descriptor. She was a fighter and a lover and a tireless advocate for causes in which she believed. She would send out emails excoriating thin-skinned Americans who took “offense” at the least controversial issue or idea. She was also a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, an FDR democrat. What some might today call “socialist.” And she wouldn’t give a damn if you did call her that!

She thought that a just society should care for those less fortunate than us. She thought that equality should be equality and that it should be real – gay, straight, male, female, black, white, brown, yellow, red, abled, disabled – ALL should be afforded the same basic human rights. I couldn’t agree with her more.

On May 19, 2005, I received an email from Judy. It was late at night. The tone of the email was somewhat frantic. She was desperately trying to find the Brian Russell that was the son of Robert Jaycox, her brother who had died the night before. She found me. I called her that night and we talked for at least an hour. We spoke more the following day. She was the person who told me my natural father had died. She was the one who made sure that my brother Scott and I knew that our father had died.

I only met Judy once in person. It was in 1979 or 1980, in Maryland where my natural father Bob Jaycox then lived. She was lovely. She was vibrant. She was opinionated and, yes, sometimes loud. I loved her then, I loved her when she and I talked in 2005. And I love her now as she is settling into her rest.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Beluga Whales

Yesterday, Gloria and I spent about forty minutes in the water with three Beluga whales at Shedd Aquarium, here in Chicago. If you ever get the opportunity, you should do so.

To touch these magnificent creatures, to see them swimming at your feet, gliding their large bodies against your own, is humbling and joyful. I felt that I was in the presence of an intelligence that likely rivals our own. We were able to pet their heads, bump our own heads with theirs, touch their flukes, and – the whales’ favorite – tickle their tongues. The Shedd trainer, Jessica, taught us several simple commands that we were then able to execute. We each had the opportunity to ask a whale to vocalize, rise up and out of the water, turn around several times, and to spit toward us – both underwater and above water. To get one of these Beluga’s to spit underwater, you plunge your closed fist into the water in from of him and then open it wide. Once you do, you feel a steady stream of the Beluga spitting water at your hand, which is an extraordinary feeling. Want to whale to spit at you above water? Simply splash water at her face while she is looking at you – she will quickly gather water into her mouth and spit it towards you repeatedly. (I got soaked doing this, and loved every minute of it!)

Tickling a Beluga’s tongue is humbling and joyful as well. Humbling because putting your hand into the mouth of a sixteen hundred pound whale that could easily take you into the water and drown you on the bottom if she wanted to is, well, humbling. Joyful because she enjoys it so much. While stroking her tongue, the beautiful Beluga closes her eyes in joy, just like we might if someone is rubbing our shoulders in a particularly pleasurable way.

I’ve long had mixed feelings about any institutions that keep animals and other wildlife in captivity. However, if they succeed in raising public awareness regarding how important it is that we protect these species (many of which are threatened or endangered) then I suppose they are performing a critically important task. Whales – cetaceans - have populated the oceans of the world for fifty million years. They are warm blooded, they breathe air, and they feed their young milk from mammary glands. Sound familiar? How is it that they have managed to find a way to spend fifty million years on the planet without threatening their environment, when we humans have walked the earth a fraction of that time and find ourselves facing the threats of global warming and extreme climate change? Might we have something to learn?


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Taking Time to Look

For most of this blog’s relatively short lived life, I have signed off each post with the word, “Namaste.” There are several slightly differing definitions of this term that derives from the Sanskrit word, “Namaskaram,” including: I bow to the divinity inherent in you; I respect divinity in you that is also within me; and, my favorite: The light within me honors the light within you.

You see, everyone – from your closest friend to your worst enemy to that sibling that knows precisely how best to push your buttons and get under your skin – has a light within, a loving place, a place with which we can empathize – if we take time enough to look. It is so easy in our fast-paced, highly caffeinated, plugged in world to make snap judgments about people and their intentions. It’s so easy to assume what “sort” of person someone is by how they carry themselves at the office or how they order their half-caf triple mocha. We all too often instantly categorize folks into a folder or box of some sort, telling ourselves: “He’s aloof” or “She’s a whiner” or “She’s the quintessence of hipness” or “He’s just a jerk.” How often does it then happen that we encounter that person about whom we made a snap judgment in a different environment? Or, there arises an opportunity to see them in a new light, and – aha! – we were wrong! What seemed to be aloofness was, perhaps, concentration and passion for getting the job done right the first time. I know I’ve experienced these reversals of perceptions, and if you are honest with yourself, you’ve probably been there too.

Yesterday afternoon I was walking home from my local Starbucks and I was smoking a cigarette. (I know, I know, I should quit. Working on it. At least I’m only smoking out of doors these days.) At any rate, a man was walking toward me and he asked me for a cigarette. I said, as I always do when asked for a smoke from someone I don’t know, “I’m sorry, man, no.” As he passed me, he said, “No smoke for the black man, eh?”

I was stunned.

I turned around and said, “Listen man, it has nothing to do with your race, these things are expensive, you know? I wouldn’t give you a cigarette is you were white or Hispanic or whatever!”

“You’re just a racist, white boy, just like everyone else is, and you may as well admit it,” he shouted back.

I wish I could tell you that I found a way to see the light within this man at that moment. I didn’t. I told him where he could go and walked away.

But there is a light in him just as there is a light in me. And on further reflection it occurred to me that this must be a man who has felt the bitter pain of racism on numerous occasions. That doesn’t make it right for him to accuse me of being a racist, but it does allow me one small way to empathize with him, to begin to see how the light within him has been systematically diminished over time through the brutality of racism. I say “diminished,” not “extinguished,” for I’m certain it remains within.

I wish I’d had the quickness of thought to say to him, “If I were to give you a cigarette, would that mean that you would no longer see me as a racist? What if I gave you a whole pack of cigarettes? Or twenty dollars? Would I then just be a racist who had a small streak of kindness?”

If I ever see him again, I will try to ask these questions. I will try to allow him to see the light within me just as I will be taking the time to look, and to look hard, for the light within him.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Note to Restaurateurs

When you encounter a customer who tells you that he is deathly allergic to the plate that has just been put before him, it is best not to argue the fact.

True story: Earlier this evening, my wife and I went to a restaurant that we had previously patronized with good results. I thought (mistakenly) that I had previously had their red sauce and that it had been fine. You see, I am deathly allergic to the acid in fresh tomato, but a nice, long cooked tomato sauce on delicious pasta is just about my favorite dish on earth. (If it’s cooked long enough and doesn’t have big chunks of tomatoes, I have no problem with the allergy – the allergy is to one acid or another that is in fresh tomatoes.)

Well, thinking that I had previously successfully ordered a red sauce from this particular restaurant, I gamely ordered the linguine with meatballs in marinara sauce. Oops!

When the plate arrived, I saw some terrific looking meatballs, served over a bed of lovely looking linguine, surrounded by large chunks of tomato. Uh-oh.

I called the server over, apologized profusely, and said, “I’m so sorry, I thought I’d had the red sauce here before, but this has huge chunks of tomato, and I’m allergic to the acid in fresh tomato.” She assured me this was no problem and said she would bring me a menu so I could order an alternate dish.

Then, the trouble began.

A manager of some sort came by the table a few minutes later. She said, “This tomato has been cooked a long time, at least two hours here. And, we buy it chopped up in large chunks, because we don’t want to blend it or have paste or anything like that, but it’s been cooked for a long time and was likely cooked for a long time before it was canned.”

I shall not bore you with how much longer she went on with this. Suffice it to say that she was not listening to a word I was saying. I said, “The acid to which I’m allergic stays in large chunks of tomato. I’m scared to eat this. My throat closes up if I eat this and that acid is in there.”

I have never in my life – before tonight – encountered someone in a restaurant so seemingly uncaring, insensitive, about a customer’s potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to food. She was arguing with me, saying, essentially, “It’s fine, don’t be a wussy, eat it!!!!” She was trying to convince me to try the marinara sauce, even after I told her that my throat would close up if there were too much tomato acid within. I felt like asking her if she happened to have any Benadryl on hand in case the worst occurred.

Rather, I ordered a replacement dish of linguine carbonara, with prosciutto et al. It was overwhelmed with onions, but that’s not the point. The point is that if a customer presents him or herself as an individual who has serious food allergies (my wife carries Benadryl in her purse at all times, for me!) then you’d best take that seriously.

I will never frequent this restaurant again, because they demonstrated in no uncertain terms tonight that they just don’t really care. It’s too bad, too, because we’ve had some nice meals and experiences there before. But not tonight.

So, to you restaurateurs out there who might just possibly happen upon this blog? Take note. If you have a customer with a food allergy, don’t try to convince him or her that he or she will be all right. Attend to the issue. And for Pete’s sake, don’t argue with the customer!!! I was frightened, scared, petrified, to eat the food in front of me. Can you imagine what it feels like to have a restaurant manager tell you that “it’s all in your head? It’ll be fine, really. Just try it.”

Yeah, well, when you’ve had your throat close up such that you’ve had to OD on Benadryl, YOU try it!

Those of us who suffer from food allergies do not enjoy it. We hate it. But it’s real. We can’t wish our way out of it, as much as I think most of us wish we could. We despise being the “problem customer,” but we have to be, for the sake of our well being, indeed, our lives.

In general, I’ve noticed that restaurants have become much better about understanding the realities and consequences of food allergies in the past 10-15 years, but tonight was an appalling instance of the management seeming not to care a whit. I won’t be going back there.

Namaste. And, bon appetit!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

“The Air Around the Butterfly” – a gem of a poetry collection

Katerina Stoykova Klemer’s first book of poems, The Air Around the Butterfly, has recently been published by Fakel Express, a publishing house in Sofia, Bulgeria. While she originally wrote all of these poems in English, she has also translated each of them into her native Bulgarian language and they appear in the book side by side, English and Bulgarian.

Her poetry is elegant, concise, witty, inventive, and often very surprising. She has a knack for bringing inanimate objects (like a spare tire, or letters of the alphabet) to vividly engaging life. Her observations about the world around and within are keen and deeply insightful. Her work is among the most engaging poetry I’ve ever encountered.

I cannot recommend this volume highly enough. Full disclosure: Katerina is a friend and classmate in Spalding University’s brief residency MFA in Writing program, but my personal relationship with her has zero bearing on my deep admiration for her work.

Get this book and savor the poems within. You will not regret it. (It is available to order on Amazon now!)


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Walking Away

Who among us never had a moment as a child when we were tempted to – or when we did – simply grab up our toys and walk away, leaving the company of whomever had offended us? Most of us have lived that scenario in one form or another at one time or another, most likely when we were very young.

But have any of you experienced the adult variation of this childhood game? Or, more accurately, game-playing? I’m sad to report that I have. And, I recently was reminded of how childish and hurtful it can be.

The details are not important and if I go into them here there could me trouble, but suffice it to say that I struck up a friendship with a colleague many years ago, more than ten years ago. We worked well together, got along very well, began to socialize more regularly, and that sort of thing. Then, a few years into the friendship, something did not go the way he wished for it to go and he got upset. When I would not intervene (read: take his side) and use the authority that came along with my then-position to make things “right” for him, he gathered up his toys, left the organization we were both involved with, and severed the friendship with me.

Fast forward nearly eleven years. Last week, I went to meet another friend and colleague who was in town for a brief visit. The aforementioned fellow was also present at the gathering. We had what I thought was a rather cordial chat, I wished him well, congratulated him on an accomplishment I’d heard of in recent months – you know, that sort of thing. In due time, he left and I visited with my out-of-town friend.

The following day this gentleman’s name popped up on the “suggested friend” list on Facebook, presumably because we have so many friends in common. I thought, “Well, surely it’s been enough time and bygones must at long last be bygones, mustn’t they?” (I’m sure you know where this is going by now.)

I invited, he declined, with a reiteration of how hurt he was by my actions in that past life. “Seeing you last night confirmed it,” he added in the Facebook message with which he declined my offer of “friendship.” Okay. I’m sorry for him and for me. So many of us are as the walking wounded, at times, but I’ve been feeling, of late, that life is too short to walk away from anyone who ever mattered to us.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Our Political Discourse

I’m concerned about how we talk about things over which we disagree.

When I read a posting where someone refers to the president of the United States as the “Commander in Thief,” I worry that perhaps we are too far gone to have civil debates and conversations with one another about important public policy issues. I was no fan of the previous occupant, but I never referred to him as Commander in Thief, despite how he ascended to the presidency in the aftermath of the 2000 election debacle. When I referred to him, I referred to him as the president – plain and simple. I might have noted that I neither voted for nor supported him, but I never smeared him with epithets like “Commander in Thief,” nor did I ever hope that he would fail, as Rush Limbaugh and several other Republicans have opined about Mr. Obama, the current occupant (to borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor).

How can any American citizen want his or her president to fail? We can surely argue against policy initiatives with which we don’t agree without expressing the wish that we hope the president will fail, can we not? Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I’m overly optimistic.

I did not agree with the decision for this county to invade Iraq (a country that had not attacked us and that had no ready means to do so) but never once did I express that I hoped our president or our troops would fail. Especially the troops! They, after all, are simply following orders. I hoped that our troops would be as safe as possible and grieved over stories of hearing that they were not being provided with adequate body armor or adequately protected vehicles.

Elections matter. They are of consequence. The American people made a choice last November. And to my friends who did not vote for Mr. Obama I would simply say, please understand that we had an election – the people chose. Should you express your opinions? Should you share your concerns about the direction in which Mr. Obama is attempting to lead the country? Of course! Big-time of course. That is your right and your duty. But is it too much to ask that you do so without resorting to calling Mr. Obama and others in his administration or those he has nominated to high office names? Aren’t we a little more mature than that?

People call Sonia Sotomayor a racist for her ruling in the Ricci decision in the Second Circuit Court. Anyone saying that of the other judge who voted with her to uphold the actions of the City of New Haven? I think not. But look – here’s my point – I also think that that case was decided wrongly when it comes down to simple fairness, but Sotomayor was following precedent and the law. And, she and her colleagues vehemently expressed their sympathy for the plaintiffs' situation, but ruled on a matter of law as they saw it. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled differently there is new precedent, new law to be followed by the lower courts.

I think it’s far past time for us to grow up in this country, for us to give each other the respect we are all due, whatever our political beliefs and affiliations. To hear Rush Limbaugh say that Judge Sotomayor and Mr. Obama are “anti-constitutionalists” is an outrage! Mr. Obama was a constitutional law professor and Ms. Sotomayor has been a judge sworn to uphold the Constitution for seventeen years. Please. Let’s stop the grenade throwing and the headline grabbing nonsense like the term “Commander in Thief” with which I began this posting. I’m tired of it. I’m ready for us all to embrace Lincoln’s dream of a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” And, if we’re going to succeed at that dream, we need to turn the rhetorical temperature down a bit and give each other a little respect and the benefit of the doubt. And, let’s dispense with the name calling once and for all.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Wise Latina

Is anyone else as sick as I am of hearing these bloviating Senators ask what Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor really meant when she referred to a “wise Latina” possibly, perhaps, just maybe, approaching cases with a slightly – just a tiny, insignificant difference, really – different perspective than a white man? Is this statement not obvious on its face? And, as she has reminded us repeatedly over the course of the last three days, she was playing off of something that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (a Reagan appointment let us not forget!) said in a speech about the different sensibilities that women (of all races and ethnicities) bring to the Federal bench.

I don’t recall anyone making a stink when O’Connor made her remarks. What gives? Oh, it couldn’t possibly be racism or sexism or sour grapes that the results of elections actually have an impact on the civil life of our country – no, Sotomayor (and, WHY does she have to accent the last syllable, anyway? That’s downright un-American, wouldn’t you say?) is a young, learned, gifted, judge of Puerto Rican heritage. Perish the thought!

Obama didn’t ask her about abortion. The Senators have, however, and she’s made her view clear in very transparent language. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here: It is settled law that has been upheld by the Court on numerous occasions. Okay, so enough with the questions about it, all right? Dang.

I, for one, am very excited to finally see a person of Hispanic descent on the highest court in the land, and that she’s a woman as well is icing on the cake.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, we live in an increasingly diverse country and those who choose to ignore that or to dismiss that do so at their own peril. They marginalize themselves. I’m interested in being inclusive and that includes my friends who are more conservative that I am. We all need and merit a seat at the table and representation on the bench. So, I say, “Go, Sonia, go! Sí, se puede!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On Writing, July 8, 2009

In his terrific memoir, The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer writes, “Above all I suffered from a naïve view that writing should be easy. I thought words were supposed to come unbidden. The idea that errors were stepping-stones to truth never once occurred to me…” Ah yes, there is that.

Guess what? It’s hard!

I’ve had a difficult and productive and frustrating and joyful day of revising my extended critical essay on how yearning induces empathy and compels action in memoir. My brain is a little tired, a little “tweaky” as my wife Gloria might say. But, I have produced words – some of them good, I think!

What makes them good? They are clear, specific, and absolutely the right word to express the precise idea(s) I am trying to convey. It’s hard, that. Finding the right word. Le mot juste, as Flaubert famously put it. It is also exhilarating when you succeed.

It’s been a rather gloomy day here in Chicago, with the skies looking more like October or even November than the second week of July. But the light rain and cool winds matter not when the words are flowing. The dogs have been mostly well-behaved today with a bare minimum of barking inside the house, and I rewarded them with some extra walks, during which I turned word over word in my head – do I want “consistently” or “systematically” to modify the phrase “thwarted wanting?” Perhaps both? They are different, after all. Do I go so far as to employ the word “perniciously?” Maybe so. Setting aside the near-constant injunction many writers hear to “never use adverbs,” sometimes they are precisely what are required. And, the New American Oxford Dictionary defines “pernicious” as: having a harmful effect, esp. in a gradual or subtle way. That might just be right. I’ll think on it some more, I suppose, but at least I have choices.

I’ve put in a solid day’s work and will shortly meet up with a friend and colleague for an adult beverage before returning home to share dinner with my wife. Things could be much worse.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

As I listen to the neighborhood fireworks that make my dogs (canines: Max and Beau) go nuts in fear and anxiety, and to the drunken frat boys in my Lincoln Park neighborhood on the night before our official Independence Day celebration, I can’t help but wonder if those revelers really understand what it is, exactly, that we are celebrating.

Call me a curmudgeon, a stick-in-the-mud, an old man; call me what you will. That’s fine. But, really? Is celebrating our independence about getting drunk and shooting off illegal fireworks? Now, don’t get me wrong – I can enjoy getting a nice buzz on as much as the next guy (and any of you who know me know that that’s true). But, what I don’t do is go out and get drunk for the sake of it and set off dangerous firecrackers in a neighborhood with many young children, or anyone else, can easily be hurt. What I don’t do is get wasted beyond all measure and leave beer cans and bottles in the front of other people’s houses (read: mine) and puke on their lawns. I don’t do any of that.

I have my own sins, my own vices, Lord knows. But I’ve never really understood why or how the fourth of July has turned into an excuse to be an asshole, to be inconsiderate, to be an unadulterated jerk. The fourth of July represents something truly extraordinary – if you know your history.

At the time that those men signed the Declaration of Independence, thirty thousand British troops were disembarking at a port on Long Island, not very far at all from Philadelphia. The signers were putting their signatures on a document for which they would be hanged, if caught, as traitors to the Crown.

What they did was truly courageous and it set in motion the Revolutionary War through which we secured our independence as a country. That act has inspired countless others (Ghandi, Mandela, even Dr. Martin Luther King) throughout the past two centuries all over the globe. And we honor it with illegal fireworks and drunken bacchanals? I know I’m sounding like the aforementioned curmudgeon I assured you I was not, but there’s something about this that sticks in my craw.

At the same time, I also revel in the fact that we are free to behave like jerks – as long as we don’t hurt anybody else. We are free to act in an immature or even disrespectful manner – that is our right, under the greatest Constitution that has ever been written. (Despite its many flaws, like, oh, only white land-owning males being accorded the right to vote and blacks being considered “property” or, at best, 3/5 of a person, but that’s a blog for another day.)

I’m proud of our country. I love our country. I celebrate our Independence. And, I’d like to think it means a little more than waving a flag and setting off Chinese made fireworks and grilling some wieners on the trusty ole Weber.

And let us never forget that the moment we take our freedoms for granted we are sure to lose them. We must always and forever remain vigilant to Abraham Lincoln’s ideal of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” That demands engagement, involvement, and attention. Not just shooting off fireworks and going on a bender once a year in the name of “celebrating” the fourth of July.

Sermon over.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On Being Tested, or, “Fire and Rain”

It’s been an interesting several months. In January, while I was sitting at my desk in the renovated attic of our Victorian house that serves as both my office and my wife and my Master Bedroom I heard a loud, grumbling, rumbling sound followed by a crash. I immediately ran downstairs, out the front door, and into the alley that is directly south of our home. There I saw our fifty-six foot gutter crumpled and bent in the alley, along with the remnants of our DirectTV satellite dish, which the gutter took out. Apparently a large expanse of ice and snow started to melt off of the roof and slid down into the alley taking our gutter and the satellite dish along with it. That was a little more than six months ago.

Ten days ago Chicago “enjoyed” Noah-like Biblical rains. The gutter on the north side of our house was pouring water down onto our side porch in sheets. What was strange is that we’d just had the gutters cleaned not five weeks earlier and here this water was pouring down – water-fall like – onto our side porch, flooding it in the process. As the water worked its way downstairs it began to flood, and, when I say “flood,” I really mean “flood” our outdoor basement stairwell.

The water was rising against the basement door, foot after foot. Rising and rising. Two feet up the door. Three feet now. Imagine the progression.

My wife and I did not speak, we acted. We found buckets and brooms and any other water displacement device you can imagine. For nearly three hours we diverted water. That was our job. Our calling. Our reason for existing: to keep the water from entering our basement. We must have moved in excess of five hundred gallons of water from the back of our house to the front (where there is an incline that leads to the road) that day. How can I be sure of this huge number? I’ll tell you: at one point we brought out a 55-gallon rain barrel to help catch some of the water. It was full in less than ten minutes.

Tonight? Fire.

After having done some "old tenant leaving"/"new tenant about to move in" cleaning on our studio apartment downstairs, we decided we would settle for a bit on our lovely side porch. Have a drink, a bit of relaxation, you understand. We lit the Tiki Lamps. It was a windy night tonight, and at one point, Gloria asked, “Does that look a little strange to you?” referring to a Tiki Lamp behind me. It was smoking. A lot.

I said, “Um, yeah, something’s wrong.”

We went into overdrive scrambling for water, for anything that could put out the quickly growing conflagration. I poured water on it. No luck. I refilled my container and procured a towel. I wet the towel as I was filling my water container. Went to the fire and threw the water on it and then tried to tamp the fire down with the wet towel. Gloria was behind me yelling, “Careful, it might blow up.” She asked, “Where’s the fire extinguisher?”

We both thought it was in the front room, the guest room, so I ran there to look for it. I’ve never really known how to operate the light switch in that room (believe me, if you were here you would understand, it’s not just a toggle switch, it’s some sort of weird imbedded knob I don’t know what-the-hell-it-really-is) so I had no light there, but I was frantically searching for the fire extinguisher in the corner near the dresser when I realized, “I think the fire extinguisher is upstairs, in our bedroom.” At just about that moment, Gloria said, “I think the fire extinguisher is upstairs.” I said, “I’m on my way.”

I run upstairs, I get the fire extinguisher, and just after I’ve lifted it into my arms, I realize, I don’t really know how to use this thing. So as I’m running across the upstairs floor toward the staircase to go back down to where the fire is, I am reading and learning: 1) Pull pin and hold unit upright, 2) Free hose. Aim at base of fire. Stand back 8 feet. (my porch is only 6 feet wide, so I don’t have 8 feet), and, 3) Squeeze lever and sweep side to side.

So I learn all of this as I’m running across the floor and heading downstairs to extinguish the fire and save the day (night, really), only by the time I get downstairs, Gloria has already put the fire out with water. Which is good. Really!

So the fire is out. The house is safe. No one has been hurt. This is good. Gloria says, “You think we are being tested? We’ve had flooding, fire, ants (that’s a story for another day), etc?” I say: Maybe so. She says, “Well, I think we’re passing the test.”

And that’s why I’m writing this blog tonight. We’re passing the test(s). And that is a joyful thing.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father’s Day 2009

This time four years ago, my natural father Robert “Jay” Jaycox had been dead for nearly five weeks. He was sixty-six years old and his death was completely unexpected and a terrible shock. I was looking forward to seeing him at my June 25 wedding that year, but he departed this world on May 18, 2005.

For the past year or so I’ve been working on a memoir that is largely about his absence and what it meant to me as a boy, and as a maturing boy struggling to become a man. You see, he was absent when I was a boy – he left the family shortly before I turned three – and, he is (of course) absent now. Taken from us as we will all eventually be taken from our loved ones.

We were in touch to one degree or another for twenty-seven years, from the time I tracked him down in Puerto Rico at the age of fourteen to his untimely death when I was forty-one. I last saw him in 1998 when I took a wonderful cross-country trip to see him in Oklahoma City, a dear friend in Los Angeles, and to celebrate my grandfather’s eightieth birthday in San Jose. He’s gone now, too.

I spent far too many years of my life identifying myself as a “fatherless child.” I had been abandoned. Left. I searched for surrogates, replacements, men who could provide what I felt I got neither from my natural father nor from my adoptive father. You never really find it. It finds you. If you’re lucky. And, I was. I am.

Both of my fathers gave me more than I’ve ever given them credit for I suppose.

From my adoptive father, the Rev. John A. Russell, I learned much about theatricality and storytelling, even if it was never his intention to pass those lessons along. But watching him (and serving alongside him) conducting church services provided lessons in theater and storytelling. Listening to his sermons taught me the power of words, of ideas to move people and to inspire change.

As for Jay, he taught me about loving people. Jay was a “people person” big-time. When I first “met” him, he was a sales manager for the Icee drink franchise in Puerto Rico. One summer he took my brother Scott and me on his customer calls and I will never forget how people greeted him when he walked into a store. Jay knew everybody’s names, and the names of their spouses and children. He remembered if someone had been ill or if a kid had broken his arm a few weeks earlier and he would ask how the boy was doing.

So to Jay, to Dad, to Grandpa, and to Paul Donnelley, Richard Pearlman, Mike Degnan, Paul Hauser, John Wulp, Bob Moss, and all the other surrogates who have “fathered” me over the years, Happy Father’s Day, and many, many thanks.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mad Men: They’re mad all right, as in Insane!

So I know I might be committing heresy with this posting by suggesting this, but my wife and I watched the first three episodes of “Mad Men” last night and – despite all of the rave reviews I’ve heard about this series – I am not terribly impressed. Sure it’s moody and smart and the writers know how to construct a cliffhanger, but really! These people are miserable. They are lying, cheating, two-faced bastards. Almost all of them. It should be called “Miserable Men” or something like that.

And the smoking? Now, I am a smoker. At times I have been a heavy smoker. But on this series there is never a time that is inappropriate for a smoke – including a gynecologist lighting up as he’s commencing to examine his patient. Puullease! (I don’t know that the commonly accepted spelling is of the word “please” rendered so as to rhyme with “valise.”)

What happened to the idea that we should care about a main character? This guy is a scumbag. He’s a louse. He’s a jerk. How do I really feel, you might ask…

Anyway, I’m not spending any more time with these unlikable folks. After all, I’ll never get last night’s 2 ½ hours back.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


So as I find myself in the early stages of my third semester in Spalding University’s MFA in Writing program, it seems an appropriate time to take a cue from a fellow Spalding student and friend Colleen Harris and share with you readers my cumulative bibliography to date. It is copied below, and I ask you to feel free to make suggestions about things I have not yet read that perhaps I should – especially in the genre of creative nonfiction, which is what I’m finishing my degree in. This includes memoir, essays, and the like.

To be clear, these are only books I’ve read and absorbed since beginning the MFA program a little more than a year ago, so it is certainly conceivable that you might suggest something I’ve already read, but I welcome any suggestion anyone has. Really. I mean it.

Meanwhile, I’m hard at work at my extended critical essay, or ECE in Spalding parlance, and am actually enjoying composing it quite a bit. It’s about how yearning compels empathy and action in memoir. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

Here’s the list:

Buckley, Christopher. No Way to Treat a First Lady: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2003.
---. Supreme Courtship: A Novel. New York: Twelve, 2008.
Butler, Robert Olen. From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction. Ed. Janet Burroway. New York: Grove, 2005.
Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Cathedral: Stories. New York: Vintage-Random House, 1984. 209-228.
Conroy, Frank. Body & Soul: A Novel. New York: Delta-Random House, 1993.
---. Stop-Time: A Memoir. New York: Penguin, 1997.
DeLillo, Don. Falling Man: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2007.
Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking. New York: Knopf, 2005.
Driskell, Kathleen. Seed Across Snow: A Collection of Poems. Los Angeles: Red Hen, 2009.
Ellroy, James. My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir. New York: Vintage-Random House, 1997.
Emerson, Claudia. Late Wife: Poems. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2005.
Finch, Robert. The Iambics of Newfoundland: Notes from an Unknown Shore. New York: Counterpoint, 2007.
Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines. New York: Quill-HarperCollins, 2003.
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003.
Goodman, Richard. French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2002.
---. The Soul of Creative Writing. New Brunswick: Transaction, 2008.
Gorman, Jacquelin. The Seeing Glass: A Memoir. New York: Riverhead, 1998.
Herr, Michael. Dispatches. New York: Vintage International-Random House, 1991.
Holloway, Monica. Driving With Dead People: A Memoir. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007.
Iyer, Pico. Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign. New York: Vintage-Random House, 2004.
Jones, Edward P. Lost in the City: Stories. New York: Amistad-HarperCollins, 2003.
Katz, Jon. A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me. New York: Random House, 2003.
Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor, 1995.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland: Eight Mountain, 1998.
Lisberger, Jody. Remember Love: Stories. Louisville: Fleur-de-Lis, 2008.
McClure, Tori Murden. A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean. New York: Collins, 2009.
McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: ReganBooks-HarperCollins, 1997.
Moehringer, J.R. The Tender Bar: A Memoir. New York: Hyperion, 2005.
Moffett, James and Kenneth R. McElheny, eds. Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories. New York: Mentor, 1995.
Monsoon Wedding. Screenplay by Sabrina Dhawan. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 2001.
Oates, Joyce Carol, ed. The Best American Essays of the Century. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Rev. ed. New York: Three Rivers, 2004.
O’Brien, Tim. In the Lake of the Woods. New York: Penguin, 1995.
---. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.
Patchett, Ann. Bel Canto: A Novel. New York: Harper-Perennial, 2005.
---. The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel. New York: Harper-Perennial, 2007.
---. Run: A Novel. New York: Harper-Perennial, 2008.
---. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. New York: Harper-Perennial, 2005.
Tolle, Eckhart. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. New York: Plume-Penguin, 2006.
Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham, 2006.
Wolff, Tobias. This Boy’s Life: A Memoir. New York: Grove, 1989.
Wood, James. How Fiction Works. New York: Farrar, 2008.

I can't seem to figure out how to get things underlined in this blog, alas... please understand that all titles are underlined in my official cumulative biography. Same goes for the hanging indentation that doesn't translate when I copy here. LOL...


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reclaiming the House Part 2

So reclaiming the house turned out to be more difficult, or perhaps a better word is strenuous, than I initially thought it would be. We had to move furniture back in place, of course, and return art to walls – but there was also a good deal of painting and cleaning and rearranging that is pretty much de rigueur when one’s house has been upended.

Simultaneous to reclaiming our house from the renovations I have re-signed up on Facebook. A lot of old friends and some new have materialized. It’s cool. No one has yet tried to get me to engage in any vampire or bat or what-have-you games and for that I am grateful. But there are many folks from my MFA in Writing program at Spalding who are online and it’s great to “see” them. Also, many folks from my past life (sometimes current life) in theater and it’s wonderful to see them as well.

So… reclaiming the house? Reclaiming one’s identity? They aren’t too different if you think about it. We get comfortable with what we know, with what feels familiar. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It is at it is. But I guess I also think it’s valuable to understand that we are comfortable with the familiar, that we are comfortable with what is, with what we know. Sometimes we need to face the unknown. All of us. Regardless of our socio-economic status, our race, ethnicity, creed, religion, you name it – whether we are prepared or not, we will be forced to confront the unknown. And, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to get ready for it. We can’t quite “prepare” for it, because we don’t know what “it” will be, but we can be ready to expect the unexpected. We can be okay with the unknown, ready to face the unknown, the heretofore not known. Soon it might become more comfortable than we can imagine.

For now, I am working on reclaiming our house, reaching out to friends and loved ones and carrying on.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reclaiming the House

So yesterday was the last of the workmen… for a while. And what a day it was. Not only did we have four guys here replacing half of our windows but we also had two guys by in the middle of the day to install our custom glass shower door. Now the bathrooms are officially done. And we have replaced all of the windows in our home – half were done 2 years ago, the other half were done yesterday.

Gloria (my wife) put it very well yesterday evening: She said, “I feel like we’ve been given two big presents and we aren’t allowed to open them for two or three days.” The reason? The shower door has to sit there – don’t even look at it, let alone touch it – for 48 hours, and the new windows must remain locked and closed for 72 hours. Given the weather today here in Chicago it was no big thing not to open the windows. Brrrr… Are we going to get summer soon? I sure hope so!

But what’s important it this: We’ve had terrific contractors/workmen in our lives recently and we are deeply grateful. They’ve done their work beautifully and (for the most part) have also cleaned up behind themselves thoroughly. We are blessed people living in a beautiful land (to paraphrase my friend Aaron Freeman).

Went back on Facebook today; connected with a bunch of folks, which is good. But if any of you Facebook amigos are reading this, no pokes, no mob wars, no vampire bites please – I’m there to connect and network only. No Scrabulous or anything else. It’s too distracting.

Gloria and I are reclaiming the house. Moving furniture back, or in some cases, to new positions; doing some post-renovation painting and the like, getting it to the new Almada/Russell household, which is a good thing. I’m trying to write and making some slow progress. Home renovations do take a toll after all. But life is good. In a very real way.


Friday, June 5, 2009

A Diverse Community

Last night my wife Gloria and I got together with some friends and colleagues, most of whom I’ve known for ten years or more. Some I’d seen a number of times in recent months and some I hadn’t seen for years. It was a lively gathering with lots of laughter, vibrant conversation, and several bottles of wine. We talked about current events, past shared experiences, current passions that are driving us along in our professional and personal endeavors, the usual “cocktail party” fare.

But thinking about the gathering this morning a few notable things struck me. This group of ten people included two breast-cancer survivors. Six of the ten present will be spending all or most of this coming weekend performing a marathon walk to raise money for breast cancer research. Indeed, they were sporting custom-made hats celebrating the walk complete with the logo of the sponsoring company, my single biggest client for the past several years.

Another notable aspect to the group was their accomplishments: Among us were a CEO, two college professors, a retired creative director, and a two-time national Emmy Award winning video editor. I mention this not because we are defined by what we do or what level of “success” we have achieved – no, I mention it because our gathering was one of the most down-to-earth and least pretentious gatherings I’ve enjoyed in some time. There was no grandstanding or braggadocio or anything of that sort. We were just people enjoying community, fellowship, and a sense of our shared humanity. Among us there are several not insignificant differences, in religion, politics, socio-economic status, marital and familial status, race, and sexual orientation. And yet, none of those differences mattered a whit – if anything, these differences enriched our conversations and broadened our sense of community and fellowship.

It is easy, sometimes, for us to get cynical or dismissive when we hear a politician talking about how our nation’s diversity is a strength, not a weakness. We might roll our eyes at hearing the same old hackneyed phrase again and again. And yet. And yet! It’s true. When Christian and Jew and Agnostic and Atheist can sit around the same table and share hearty conversation and respectful humor, this is something to celebrate. When republicans and democrats and independents can discuss the historic nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States with no one engaging in useless and unfruitful hyperbole or ad hominum attacks, this is something to celebrate. (And, for the record, all gathered agreed that Rush Limbaugh has become absolutely certifiable lately – asserting that Sotomayor and Obama are anti-constitutionalists who want to shred the U.S. Constitution? Please, give me a break. But I digress.)

Our differences, when embraced, do strengthen us. They open us up to other perspectives, other ways of looking at the world, and that is a very good thing. We all can disagree without being disagreeable. We can disagree and continue to love and support and encourage one another. We can agree to disagree and then move forward to those things around which we find common ground. One of my friends at the gathering last night wisely noted that our entire system is built on the idea of compromise and yet too much of the rhetoric we hear shouted on the cable news programs – from the right and from the left – is black and white, night and day, extreme, extreme, extreme. It’s enough, already. As Tori Murden McClure notes in her magnificent new book, A Pearl in the Storm, “Good and evil are creations of mankind; in our image, we created them.”


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Post MFA Residency

All right, so I had an initial goal of blogging each day during my recent MFA residency at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. I made it to Day Two.

They keep you busy there and exhilarated and excited and challenged and inspired. It was a wonderful residency and terrific to reconnect with students and faculty I’ve known from earlier residencies and to meet some of the newbies – fresh-faced, with big plans, I’m delighted to welcome them into our fold.

Being among a community of writers is a wonderful thing if you are a writer. It makes you feel less alone. Less odd. Less solitary.

Upon returning home to Chicago last Sunday afternoon, I was hit with the reality that the contractors were still not done with our bathrooms – you know, the ones that were supposed to be completed before I left for my ten-day residency? On one hand, the work they’ve done is top notch and looks great (and, I’m very grateful for that) yet on the other hand, God supposedly made the world in six days and these guys have taken nearly thirty (more than twice what they thought it would take) to do two bathrooms!! It’s endlessly distracting to have people banging and pounding on walls and floors and whatever else they can decide to bang and pound on. Not the most conducive environment for writing.

But, I do not wish to complain.

Residency was great. It’s wonderful to be back home with my lovely wife Gloria and our two adorable dogs. And, the bathrooms are almost done.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

MFA Residency – Day 2

It is now Saturday night, May 23rd, nearly 9:00 pm and the end of the first full day of residency here at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing Program. The day was, well, in a word: long. And, this is not just according to me. I heard it time and again from students and faculty members alike. It was also: terrific, exciting, exhilarating, and inspirational.

That’s kind of what residency is all about. We are thrust into the company of a number of writers in all sorts of genres with varied interests, lives, talents, and ways of looking at the world. Today was the first day of workshop and the first full day of lectures and readings and sharing meals together. Some are down in the lobby of the Brown Hotel right this moment sharing a beer or a glass of wine or – given that we are in Kentucky, after all – a glass of fine bourbon. (I will join them there soon!)

The final event of this day was the first installment of Spalding’s Festival of Contemporary Writing, featuring six faculty members reading from new and/or recent work. Dianne Aprile, Greg Pape, Jody Lisberger, Ellie Bryant, Philip Deaver, and Mary Waters each read this evening and each was positively delightful in their own particular ways. What a pleasure (and inspiration) to hear such magnificent work from these faculty mentors (many of whom I’ve worked with and/or come to know over the past year).

Tomorrow we’re at it again and I, for one, can hardly wait.


Friday, May 22, 2009

MFA Residency – Early Day 1

I arrived in Louisville, Kentucky a little before 8:00 p.m. last night having left Chicago right around 12:30 yesterday afternoon. This morning I’ve been rereading and revising my comments regarding the writing of five of my fellow MFA students with whom I’ll be in workshop these next ten days.

This afternoon things begin with a meet and greet of sorts followed by dinner and then the Book-in-Common discussion led by Program Director Sena Jeter Naslund and Associate Program Director Kathleen Driskell. This residency’s Book-in-Common is Claudia Emerson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book of poetry, “Late Wife.” “Book-in-Common” means that all MFA students regardless of genre or term within the program read the book prior to residency for a full group (plenary) discussion. Later in the week, we’ll have the opportunity to meet and speak with Claudia Emerson, which is always a highlight of the residency here at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing Program.

Soon, I will meet up with one of my fellow students for lunch at the Bluegrass Brewing Company, a nifty bar and restaurant just across the street from the Brown Hotel. Fellowship with other writers is one of the most enjoyable and gratifying aspects to the 10-day residencies we have twice a year here. Writing is such a solitary vocation most of the time that being able to share notes and work and thoughts and victories and frustrations with other writers is very welcome, indeed.

Spalding is a highly supportive community of writers and I’m enjoying the anticipation of all getting under way, of seeing the many friends I’ve made within this community, and, most especially, of continuing on my journey to try to be a better writer.

More to come… Namaste.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Peace of Wild Things

Earlier today while taking a short break from preparing for my upcoming MFA residency in Louisville, I was cleaning up the kitchen – while listening to National Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith – and the announcer mentioned that a Wendell Berry poem would be featured in the next segment. Having been assigned some Wendell Berry prose to read in advance of this month’s residency, I turned up the volume and looked forward to hearing the poem. This is the poem Krista Tippett, the show’s host, read:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things" from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

Wow. Indeed. And all that.

This reminds me so much of what I’ve been reading lately, most especially the works of Eckhart Tolle. It also calls to mind the following well known Biblical verse: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matt. 6:28-29)

Berry writes of the “wild things/who do not tax their lives with forethought/of grief.” Isn’t it interesting that he writes “of” grief rather than the more expected (and, I suppose, more pedestrian) “or” grief? And the idea of “not taxing” one’s life is precisely what Tolle is talking about when he counsels that we should live in the present moment in a spirit of acceptance; for, what is is. And there’s really little we can do to change that. What we can control is what action(s) to we take or not take in response to what is.

The “day-blind stars/waiting with their light” that Berry writes about remind me of Tolle’s reminder that even on a cloudy day, the sun is still there. We simply are not able to see it.

Thank you Mr. Berry. Thank you Ms. Tippett for reading this on today’s program. And thank you wild things for demonstrating peace and living in the now and accepting things as they are each and every day.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Smoking Outside…

Lest the title make you think that this will be a rant of one sort or another regarding the burdens of having to light up outside rather than inside, worry not. Quite the contrary…

Yes, I’ll admit that I was not in favor of the laws spreading across the country that ban smoking in restaurants and bars (and, I suppose I’m still not in favor of them on a free-market sort of principle, but let’s not go there), but, honestly, that’s not what this posting is about.

Last week, last Wednesday to be precise, my wife and I decided that we were no longer going to smoke in our home. If we wanted a cigarette, we could go outside to have one. This may not sound like that big a deal, but believe me it’s a major shift – especially for me. Gloria has never smoked as much as I do and she also has a job nine months out of the year where she has to smoke outside, so she’s pretty used to it.

I, on the other hand, work at home almost all the time. I have become very accustomed to smoking at my desk while writing, talking on the phone, reading, you name it. Not anymore.

Here’s the great thing. There have been many moments in the past near week where I’ve had the impulse to light up while working at my desk and then I remember, “Oh, right, we don’t smoke inside anymore.” Sometimes, I’ll take a moment to walk downstairs to where our porch is (my office is in the refinished attic of our house) but more often I’ll just wait. The result has been that I have cut my cigarette consumption in half. I know that this isn’t precisely the same as quitting, which is an ultimate goal, but it is a step onto the glide path towards quitting. And that’s a good thing.

By deciding to ban smoking inside of our home, the decision to light up has been made significantly more conscious. And let’s face it, part of what makes smoking a “habit” is that it can become an unconscious or a barely conscious thing to do for the addicted smoker. The phone rings, you light up. You send some files to upload and see that they will take seven minutes, you light up. You get the picture. That’s unconscious smoking.

You might say, “Well, it’s spring in Chicago now, going outside to smoke is no big deal.” Sure, to a degree, but it also got down to forty degrees last night, spring or not. And, besides, I’m hoping that by the time autumn returns (and morphs into the cold winters for which Chicago is well known) I’ll be ready to kick the habit once and for all. If not, I’ll bundle up tightly.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Renovation Day 2

These guys are good! Amazing, really.

The work began yesterday and by the end of the day all the fixtures had been removed (including getting the bathtub upstairs), the walls were opened, and all of the tile was removed. Early this, the window came out and the new glass block window will be installed later today – that is, if the contractors come back. They left for more parts and tools nearly three hours ago. “We’ll be back in about an hour,” they said. Am I nervous? Just a wee little bit. As you can see in the top two pictures, there’s no window at the moment and it’s looking like rain…

They’ll be back I’m certain. They know their stuff and I have to say that this is really the first time that I’ve ever felt like contractors are performing the work as if they were working in their own house. There’s been a minimum of mess – but, let’s face it: when opening walls, there’s always going to be some dust.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

The 21st Century Shower #2

Okay, so perhaps we aren’t as old fashioned as I asserted in my last posting.

Yes, we are eschewing the thermostat that the lady at the store kept saying we simply MUST have. But, we are installing a pretty snazzy showerhead from Grohe called Freehander®. (Gloria and I have already started referring to it as the freeloader. We’re sometimes silly that way.) If I’ve been able to figure out the technology properly, you should be seeing an image of Freehander® directly to the right.

I have to say that I am very much looking forward to trying this. The two showerheads both pivot and rotate and arm can move up and down. As the promotional material on Grohe’s website exclaims: “Thanks to its ingenious design, GROHE Freehander® shower can simply be turned from an overhead shower to a side shower.” Sold!

Today the work on the bathrooms began. There is not a toilet and a sink sitting in front of the fireplace in our living room. A five-foot cast iron claw foot tub sits about ten feet away from my desk in my office. It’s awaiting its new home up here. The contractors tell us that the new shower might be done as early as next Tuesday and then they’ll move up here and start the demolition of this bathroom.

Fortunately we will never have to do this again.