Archive for the ‘Musings’ category

My personal blog is languishing

December 13th, 2009

You are reading the first blog I had ever launched. This was an experiment for me to dive in and see what blogging is all about. I have never been a writer but like anyone, I have plenty to say.

Lessons Learned

Shortly after launching my personal blog I quickly realized a few things. One is the hosted WordPress platform graciously provided by my hosting company is far more limited than I like. After just a few weeks, I felt compelled to download, install, and customize WordPress to use for my Cubs fan site blog. I’ve since learned to tweak and customize WordPress to a great degree. I now have many WP installs that I maintain for sites I run or contribute to. The creative flexibility of a custom WP install makes it harder and harder to return to this blog with it’s rudimentary design and features.

Another lesson learned is there are only so many hours in a day. With the many websites I am involved in, frankly not much time remains for writing on this site. Seems odd that my own personal site suffers from the attention I pay to others.  If you know me, this might not be much of a surprise after all. But the fact remains my personal blog is languishing. So in 2010 I plan to change out this blog to a custom WP install and try to make more time for posting. A guy must have his dreams…

My Report on Local Economic Indicators

March 2nd, 2009

Following is another in a series of reports on the US economy. My Report on Local Economic Indicators (RLEI) is not scientific at all. Purely anecdotal, with really no fact at all to back it up. Culled from the personal powers of observation, deduction and reasoning of, well, me. This brand of shoddy reporting is a cornerstone of web blogging in 2009, isn’t it?  But I digress.

In our own way, my wife Kristin and I are trying to stimulate the local economy of suburban Chicago by pumping literally hundreds of dollars into local home improvement retailers such as Lowes, Home Depot, Menards, and a hardware store once known as Ace, now under the name of Bill’s. We are leveraging the current availability of short lines at the checkout, huge sales and discounting, and generally favorable market conditions to gut and remodel our kitchen.

We hired an under-employed neighbor who does excellent work (call me if you want a referral) for the heavy stuff of taking down two kitchen walls to half height, breaking up our tile floor, re-routing some plumbing and electric, drywall installation and shoring up the once load bearing walls that are now empty space. Kristin has done all of the skim coating, sanding, priming and painting with the exception of one ceiling which I bravely and confidently rolled out! Ok, before I am judged for the workload imbalance, consider I work full time and Kristin stays at home working full time as a mom but having more flexibility of schedule to do these kinds of things. Plus I am verrry deliberate in how I work so frankly her output is about twice my capacity anyway. Also, I get overwhelmed easily when it comes to “handy work”. Another digression.

Back to my Report on Local Economic Indicators (RLEI). The solid cherry-wood cabinets have been ordered (by Kristin, natch) so we went to Home Depot and Lowes over the weekend to zero in on counter tops. We are going with solid surface acrylic by LG called Hi-Macs.  Nice stuff.  What I observe though, is hundreds of thousands of square feet of no customers in either store. Seriously, at both Lowes and Home Depot, employees outnumbered shoppers!  To my mind, neither of these retailers are normally staffed very heavy; there always seems to be two or three lined up to question a clerk that may have been cornered by a in-need customer. Not this past weekend. It was kind of spooky to have the stores basically to ourselves at these large major retailers on a weekend. Not a good sign.

Yes, I saw the headline this morning that insurance behemoth AIG lost 61.7 billion last quarter.  I did the math – that is $685 MILLION per day for three months, an astonishing number, almost incomprehensible. But what I saw or in this case didn’t see at Home Depot and Lowes over the weekend is equally disturbing. C’mon people, spread some money around!  The government can’t spin this downward spiral around all by itself.

The Great Pumpkin

November 11th, 2008

I always looked forward to the Charlie Brown specials as a kid…

Apple iTunes

Nevermore

October 31st, 2008

I’ve always liked the Edgar Allan Poe classic The Raven.  One of my favorite grade school teachers, Mrs Harper, used to read it to us, thrilling the dickens out of our little ten-year old selves.  I ran across Garrison Keillor’s rendition of the poem a year or so ago and believe it among the finest I’ve heard.  Here it is…

The Raven – as told by Garrison Keillor



Gunning for guns

October 27th, 2008

With the tragic events surrounding the senseless killings of Oscar winning actress Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother, and now 7-year old nephew ringing through the airwaves, I am called to wonder once again why the hell does anyone need a gun?

True that in a desperate domestic situation, the perpetrator could use any number of weapons to carry out their crimes of passion.  Gun availability made that situation go from bad to worse, ending in a triple murder.  As the father of a 5yr old, it breaks my heart to hear of the violence that ended the life of Hudson’s nephew. Why on God’s green earth do any among us outside of law enforcement need to have guns? I will never understand that Second Amendment argument given the reality of today’s society.  Sure, in the 1700’s or even 1800’s one certainly needed to defend themselves, defend this country at a moments notice and in some cases hunt for their food each day.  But today we have an organized police department, a trained army, and Jewel Foods to serve those needs. 

Now I see this article and my head spins trying to imagine what people can possibly be thinking. This story is the result of a negligent parent, irresponsibly allowing an 8-yr old – eight year old– to fire an automatic weapon. This kind of stupidity is inconceivable to me. The article says the guy is a certified instructor.  Who certified him to allow an 8yr old fire a weapon, any weapon, let alone an Uzi submachine gun? 

Boy, 8, fatally shoots self in head while trying out Uzi submachine gun at Mass. gun club show

By Associated Press
1:55 PM CDT, October 27, 2008

WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ An 8-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself in the head while firing an Uzi submachine gun under adult supervision at a gun fair.

The boy lost control of the weapon while firing it Sunday at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman’s Club, police Lt. Lawrence Vallierpratte said.

Police said the boy, Christopher Bizilj (Bah-SEAL) of Ashford, Conn., was with a certified instructor and called the death a “self-inflicted accidental shooting.”

As the boy fired the Uzi, “the front end of the weapon went up with the backfire and he ended up receiving a round in his head,” police Lt. Hipolito Nunez said. The boy died at a hospital.

Firsts

September 5th, 2008

My son is nearly five and a half years old. Over the past couple weeks, I have enjoyed watching him with pride conquer a few firsts.

  • Last week he started kindergarten.
  • He rode the school bus for the first time.
  • He went bowling.
  • He played a video game (Wii bowling)
  • He visited an archaeological dig of a found mastodon
  • He saw jets take off and land at O’Hare
  • He saw his first Cubs game at Wrigley Field

These things are all rites of passage in their own right. Kindergarten is a biggie of course. The day he took the bus for the first time, I took off work to race to meet him when the bus delivered him back home at 3:15. I was there with the other parents, video camera ready, to meet the triumphant little warrior upon return to his kingdom. The bus pulled up, he got off and promptly asked to go play with his neighbor friend. No special day, no special reception, no stories, no ice cream, nothing. With a passing sigh I said that would be fine. In this moment I realized my boy is growing up.

A dad taking his son to his first ballgame was as meaningful to me as it was to him. I never did it much with my dad as he isn’t much of a baseball fan. It was my mother who lived and died with each pitch of Cubs baseball for much of the past half century. It was she who was my Cubbie buddy, going to maybe a dozen games a year or so from when I was about seven years of age. Back then the Cubs were a miserable team and the games were poorly attended. We would wake up on a summers day and go about our morning in the usual way. Then around 10am or so, she’d say “do you want to go to the ballgame today?”.  This was music to my young ears. “Yeah!” And we would grab a light jacket if the calendar didn’t say July or August because ‘it’s always 10 degrees colder at the ballpark’, she would tell me, and make it to Wrigley well in advance of the 1:05 first pitch.

We would walk a block from our home to the Loyola L station and hop a train South to Addison (always an A and B stop on game day) and arrive at Wrigley Field a few minutes later.  We would walk right up and by a General Admission Grandstand ticket only to immediately trade up to Reserved Grandstand upon entering the main concourse of the old ballpark. Our seats would always be part way up the third base line, several rows behind the Cubs dugout. There was never any problem getting in, and getting a great seat.  In the mid-1970’s they often didn’t even open the upper deck unless it was a weekend!

So taking my boy to his first game was really special for me, and I think he too thought it was significant. We had a great time even though the Cubs would get clobbered. (they went on to win their next 7 straight games) We saw two Cubs hit home runs which was quite thrilling to see. He had never been in a crowd that big before, nor had he ever experienced the crescendo of cheers that goes along with a home run by the home team.

It was a great day to be sure, even if my boy was more interested in the six – count ’em six! – cotton candy vendors that were roaming the seats in Wrigley Field that day!

Cotton Candy at Wrigley Field

We got buzzed

August 18th, 2008

The title of this entry has morphed in meaning for me over the years. These days, it refers to me & family spending Sunday in Wicker Park and getting buzzed by an F-22 Phantom fighter plane during the Chicago Air & Water show.  He tore through the skies sideways above us scaring the dogs and thrilling my kindergartner and me. We saw a few other planes overhead, but that initial flyover really got us going. 

Note to self: take the boy and get to the lakefront for the 2009 Air & Water show.  And bring the camera.

Here is a pic of Blue Angels buzzing Trump Tower (not my photo):

Blue Angels buzzing Trump Tower Chicago 2008

Tiny Tim

August 13th, 2008

Did I ever tell you about the time I, well, hung out with Tiny Tim for a weekend? Yes, the Tiny Tim from the Tonight Show marriage with Miss Vicky, “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and all that.

He was brought to town for a couple shows and a live recording, Tiny Tim Live in Chicago (with my pals the New Duncan Imperials) that I was involved with in the glorious 1990’s. Among my strongest memories of him and that weekend…

  • Picking him up from O’Hare at like 10am on a weekday, slinking along in the tail end of morning rush traffic, with none other than Tiny freakin’ Tim in the passenger seat, strumming his omnipresent ukulele for a personal serenade. Surreal is an understatement.  Out of body experience is a better description. 
  • His cologne/perfume. He stunk to high heaven with perfumed lotions and powders reminiscent of a crowded funeral home wake. Just an ugly, clashing mix of flowery, powdery air pollution. His main handler, my buddy Kenn, put him up in a Holiday Inn in Skokie and reported the guy going to the gift shop and buying only perfumes and scented powders. He reeked of old lady and the laundry soap aisle at Dominicks.
  • The guy, as seemingly pleasant and kitschy and all, was an unabashed, hard-lined bigot, racist and chauvinist. I mean the guy’s views on women and relationships was among the most oppressive imaginable.  Entitlement, deference, objectification… listening to him talk was both astonishing and sickening – in a watching a car wreck kind of way.
  • Bringing him to WGN Radio in Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue to be a guest on the Spike O’Dell show. It was my first time in that studio and I frankly had a private thrill being there in a place where so much radio history had been made. While sitting in studio one with Tim waiting to be the next featured segment, in walks legendary Farm Report and Noon Show anchor, Orion Samuelson. He is an older man, on the portly side, and today he is dressed impeccably with a striped shirt, tie and suspenders. He is on time as I presume he had always been for the previous 50 years of news updates. He walks in and sits down at what is presumably his usual mic and begins his report on queue. His deep, rich voice starts rumbling the market numbers in an in-person fidelity that took me back. It was like hearing stereo for the first time – he went from mono-AM radio fidelity to in person rumble. He owned that room when he walked in.  So here is Tiny freakin’ Tim sitting to the side of Orion, rustling the paper bag (an apparent trademark of his) that held his ukulele. Orion’s voice doesn’t miss a beat, but it was art to watch him pivot around, while keeping his lips exactly the same distance and relationship to the live mic, and shooting a look that sliced through Tiny Tim with no uncertain meaning: STOP RATTLING YOUR DAMN PAPER BAG WHILE I’M ON THE AIR.  I will never forget that moment.

Tiny freakin Tim!

8/8/88

August 8th, 2008

Twenty years ago today was the first scheduled night game at Wrigley Field. Knowing the managers at Cubby Bear and being a totally and completely broke aspiring rock music drummer, I took a one-night only job as a bar back at Cubby for that momentous and festive evening.

Wrigley Field at night

In the weeks leading up to 8/8/88, I saw various stages of the delivery on flat bed trucks of the lighting trusses. I watched as a helicopter hovered over Wrigley as the dangling lights were lowered into place. I watched the park glow for the first few times as they lit up the night sky to test and aim the lighting.  I spent a lot of time in Wrigleyville in those days.

Then the big game came around with much fanfare and bubbly excitement. The neighborhood was teeming more than usual with plenty of folks recognizing a special event was taking place and wanted to be a part of it.  There were blue City of Chicago tow trucks dragging improperly parked cars away. I recall there was an enormous showing from the Chicago Police. These days, there are non-police “Public Safety” people managing traffic control but back then it was all full fledged Chicago Police officers doing crowd control outside the park. Once the game started and the rains came, dozens of police were congregated in the then backstage area of the Cubby Bear, huddled in their rain gear around a dedicated keg of beer for the exclusive use of Chicago’s Finest. Now I’m not saying I saw any uniformed, on-duty Chicago Police officer drinking beer from this keg, but it certainly would not do to have them buying beer out in the club with the public. But I digress.

Yes the rains came, inspiring a few Cubs players to entertain the crowd by turning the field tarp into a slip n’ slide.  I think it was future hall of famer Greg Maddux, along with Steve Trout and a few others that ran the bases ending with a belly flop slide into a splashy home plate, delighting the masses.  I didn’t personally see this either, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

The game was called after a few innings, with all the stats washed out. But the memory stands and the 8/8/88 date will always be known as the first night game at Wrigley Field even though it was technically 8/9/88 according to official records.

I said 5 minutes flat; not 6, 10…90

June 3rd, 2008

My drivers license was due to expire tomorrow. I have been dreading a trip to the IL Secretary of State to take care of the renewal but with the deadline looming, had to bite the bullet.  I went to one of the “Express” facilities – essentially a small store front in Wheaton. I discovered this little gem when I moved to Lombard in 1999 and have tried to use them for Secretary of State (I refuse to call it DMV like in California) business ever since and here’s why:

I renewed my license, took a vision test, paid the fee (cash only, which in light of George Ryan’s demise is ironic), took my photo, and left the facility inside of 5 minutes start to finish!  I don’t mean 10 minutes or even 6 minutes – it was under 5 minutes flat.  There were more employees than customers as per usual for this facility, and it was bing-bam-boom and I’m on my way!  Gotta love it…

Jesse White