Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We hardly knew ...

There are more than a few people here today at the Cracker Factory. It makes it feel less lonely. But with so little to do, I find myself swiveling around in my chair toward the heavily marked 2008 calendar behind me.

It was a memorable year, in terms of events in the outside world. In the personal sphere, it was a bit of a blur, going by much more quickly, in my perception, than 2007. I got a new job at the beginning of last year, we bought our house at the end of it, so a great deal of change and newness permeated things, which I think slows down one's perception of time. I also finished my first full-length play and undertook my very first marketing campaign for it.

But looking at the 2008 calendar, it seems as if it never even started or that we are still stuck in January. I have to think back much harder on what happened. … The biggest event was/is Erika's pregnancy. I also finished my second full-length play. We went on a great, long road trip to New York. And I saw a couple of Cubs games in there. But mostly it was dominated by the unremarkable routines I so often swear by, and the downside of them is that they can make large blocks of time seem quick and featureless. I remember a few months ago crossing Hubbard at State for three consecutive mornings and each time the traffic light turning yellow at exactly the halfway point of my crossing. That might sum up 2008 best for me.

The year to come, like last year, will bring unexpected and unprecedented change, as our little daughter will join us in the outside world. I have no idea what my life will be like at this time 12 months from now. I only hope it continues to include the love of my wife, a good book, a ball game here or there and my writing. Add the baby, and that's all I'll ever really need. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

High note

Man, it's been a rough week for the arts. I just heard Freddie Hubbard passed away. I've been a Hubbard fan since college and own many of the records he played on. He definitely was one of the best hard/post-bop trumpeters. Serious jazzbos may not like his crossover jazz/funk work on CTI (great album covers) in the '70s, but they should never forget that he played on "Ascension" and "Free Jazz."

Tonight I'll put on my copy of Blue Note's Hubbard collection in Freddie's honor. And for those of you afterlife believers, you most definitely can be assured he will join a mind-boggling jam session in Jazz Heaven: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Lee Morgan and Clark Terry in the trumpet section, among others.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What's left

I knew there was something up yesterday during the ride to Green Bay when I heard that retrospective-sounding snippet about Harold Pinter. Sure enough ... But we knew he had cancer recently. Still, it makes me sad. Seeing a tiny film snippet of "The Birthday Party" more than seven years ago made me want to be a playwright. His work has been a part of my life since then and will continue to be. If I'm being brief here, it's only because I believe he now joins the ages, and his work stands as a kind of symbol of his immortality … and my appreciation of it is too personal for this space.

Today my mother showed me my baby book, which I've seen before but not in a long time. I was struck by how she so thoroughly filled it up to its designated limits (six years old) and how some of her personal feelings slipped into it. I thought a baby book would be more a piece of family propaganda, only focusing on positives. But my mother let her worry and sadness creep into it, and now that I notice that, I'm grateful. The fact that she chose to express herself in this mass-produced blank book using all the space that was alloted is some kind of testament to how we, of the common population, are only afforded so much time and room to do anything. This isn't a sociological, political or psychological exercise I'm admiring. I just admire her thoroughness in the face of time's passing and the world's indifference. If you can't take a minute to record what your child has done, what's really the point of anything you're going to do? I will follow her example.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A lull in the snow. I hope if holds up for the next 1.5 hours. I bought a frozen pizza to eat when I get home. I will then wrap more presents.

Pushin' too hard

It looks like another snowglobe in the Loop today. I think we're all getting a bit sick of the winter. If we can hang in there, the weather people are saying things will warm up above freezing Friday and get sunny beginning Sunday. Erika is out there driving on the streets. I really hope this eases up. We all could use a break.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Old grudges are the best grudges

The Vikings did in fact lose the game, so tomorrow night's Bears-Packers match takes on significance beyond the usual (somewhat faded) rivalry. I'll give you two reasons to remember why you hate the Packers and a bonus link to raise your anger level even further. Never forget any of this.




Siberian League dispatches

I think it probably was two years ago I was sitting somewhere, at home or maybe at a restaurant, sipping a 10% alcohol brew and lamenting a little that such cold weather warmers were wasted on Chicagoans because of the recent string of wimpy winters. I probably was wishing it were five below zero so I could get the "correct" experience. Well, folks, sometimes the universe listens. This cutting, brutal cold has me crying out for one of those 2006 45-degree Decembers, when people used to say "It was so much colder when I was a kid." Screw that noise.

A good furnace and plastic on the front windows can only do so much in this situation, and living in a hundred-year-old house doesn't help. At least I've got some quality NFL action to occupy me. Nice. Tarvaris Jackson just lost the snap and scrambled backwards 15 yards before three Falcons fell on him. The Bears might have a shot at the playoffs after all.

In other sports news … Well, really this is old news because I was eliminated from my fantasy playoffs two weeks ago. I thought the triple-barreled attack of Peterson, Jones and Cutler would carry me to glory. Ah, well. My brother, who is leading big in the title game today, warned me about fantasy first rounds. Sure enough, that's where I got bounced. Terry is en route to his second straight championship. His acumen frightens me. (He benched Peyton Manning this week in favor of Matt Cassel and was right.) He's a cold, calculating manager, kind of like the Bill Belichick to my, hmm, Jim Mora Jr.? … Yes, I think it's time to end this post. Stay warm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


At Thanksgiving my father confided that he wished he had my youngest brother's name. It was a bit of a shock. I never knew he was unhappy about this, and it left me feeling a little sorry for him. He actually goes by his middle name, which was used to differentiate him from my grandfather.

By contrast, aside from some teasing I got in the '80s for my last name — which thankfully faded with time like most bits of pop culture (and no, my name is not Erasmus Thighmaster) — I've been 100% happy with my own moniker. I have one of those names that, for some reason, people like to address me by in full. Perhaps it's a pleasing or striking group of tones — or maybe it just sounds funny or ponderous or businesslike. I don't mind. I feel like I've been given a winner, truth be told.

Soon Erika and I must give someone else a name, and I want to avoid creating any resentment like my father's. We have our list; we've even tried it out, week to week, with the baby. At this point, we're going to whittle it down to our three favorites, and then, well, I suppose it's that greatest test of any name: What does the baby "look" like when it's born? Does any baby ever really look like a name? Maybe they do. I only hope she'll like it. And we will do our best to not stack the deck against her with an esoteric choice.

Byzantia Thighmaster may have to wait.

The natives called it "Wind That Howls Through Glass Bus Stop Enclosures"

All the buildup over the coming super storm naturally has left me skeptical, like most two-bit blog writers. But though a similar warning went by without incident two weeks ago, there is no reason this one won't deliver. The best-case scenario would be that the storm would miss us. Second-best would be that it hits, but it's not so bad. Third-best would be that it hits hard, but we get to leave early and not come to work tomorrow. I'm crossing my fingers for this last one, though I don't know if Chicago could take two crippling rush-hour snowstorms in the same week. It's starting to feel a little like Buffalo, except with way more cars and angrier people. I think there's a potential chamber of commerce ad campaign here, but I'm not sure for which city.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Thank you, oh lord, for the sun today. And thank you, Cracker Factory, for the free pizza. Gino's East always puts me in a good mood, and frankly I needed the blood sugar boost. I'm ready to tackle the rest of my day (or at least chop block it). Erika brought our car to be fixed and is mopping up Xmas shopping. She took a well-deserved day off.

For me, the funk may be lifting. I don't know if I believe everything happens for a reason, but if I can borrow from our French friends, I try to put reason into the things that happen to me. Sometimes you need a kind word. (Really, you always need a kind word.) And sometimes you need time to put things in perspective. I think I'm getting there.

If I get upset from time to time, it's only because I care. Without caring, what is there? We all experience how that care intersects with the rest of the world, and it is not always congruous. My only promise to you, Woundup reader, is that I won't become cynical. I enjoy having a smile on my face, if it's only just in my head.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We can't win, no way

I don't want to rehash all the details, only because they would fill me with exhaustion and rage. Erika should be the one who's mad. She spent five hours between leaving work and getting to our front door after a flat tire and a bad spare tire followed. The streets were in horrible, horrible condition.

It's turned into one of those weeks for many reasons, but that's why god invented Black Flag. When you feel like the world and its many inhabitants are a load of shit, just turn those Greg Ginn solos all the way up.

I guess I'd better go to bed. They teased us at work, implying we might get the day off tomorrow if the snow continues to accumulate. I'm not getting my hopes up. This all makes me want to live in a cabin next to the lake. Not Lake Michigan, either.


Forgive me if I forsake my Northern and Eastern European ancestry, but this is a definite work-from-home day. Of course, I had to go to the office, and now the flurries are swirling between our building and Trump's tower like pieces of white lucite in a snowglobe. At least the management company provided a free breakfast this morning. That takes the edge off. And there's a rumor we might get out a little early to beat the snow that all meteorologists are predicting will hit the city after noon. December has already been a bitch, and it's technically not even winter yet. I fear if this cold, dark weather stretches over the next two months, we'll be reenacting the birth sequence from "Eskimo" at the hospital in February.

This weather really makes me want to drink, and I think I had a touch too much red wine last night, which Erika permitted me after I started whining. Well, tonight it's going to be NA beer and probably a shovel session at some point. Man, sometimes I wish it were 2004 again, if just for the global warming.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday grab-bag

My desktop thermometer says 6 degrees outside this morning. The wind-chill made it feel a lot colder an hour ago as I made my way west down Armitage toward Kimball. There was a cutting breeze, and my eyes started to water as I neared the Mexican bakery. I felt like I didn't want to go on. But I went on. Metaphors r Us.

We're approaching the holidays, as well as the baby-advice-giving days. The reality of the situation is sinking in for everyone, and the old mothers and grandmothers are starting to polish their admonishments and out-dated advice. The Internet has done wonders for parental nagging. I'm going to keep a smile on my face. I promise.

I'm proud that the Iraqi shoe-throwing journalist is of my generation. That might be the most significant public thing our generation has done so far. (We've got a lot of years to go.) It's certainly one of the ballsiest moves of all time, as our president commands the strongest, most technologically advanced army in human history, as well as a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. I wondered aloud to Erika a few weeks ago whether or not we'll all start to feel nostalgia for ol' Bush as the years go on, as we might associate him with a certain time in our lives, and our view of him will soften. But this incident reminds me that thousands of people on both sides have needlessly died because of the events he set in motion. I must never forget that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Coming and going

Oh, baby. I own all of this stuff in individual editions, but man does it look good all in one place. Who would buy this? Me. I'm sure there are others out there. Erika, please don't get me this for Xmas. I just want to ogle it a little. It's also fucking expensive. Where does that money go — gravestone polish? I have a picture of the gravestone. He's in the same cemetery as JP Sartre and Baudelaire. I should post it some day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Kinda Town continuum

Well, the new president today said he and his aides did not discuss his empty Senate seat with our governor, though the NYT story mentioned that his campaign manager said in late November that he had done just that. The Trib also noted that new chief of staff and long-time Dem apparatchik Rahm Emanuel was not at the "We didn't do anything" press conference today. He's had past ties to Rod Blagojevich.

If I'm being snide, forgive me, but it would be a huge disappointment if this went any deeper with the new administration. My guess is Barack Obama will pull away with maybe just a few specks of mud and perhaps light a couple of aides, who would be forced to resign for shenanigans in a worst-case scenario. I don't think they'll touch the man himself.

It's just a shame that the local merry-go-round of corruption pseud-news (does the excessive coverage ever really solve the problem?) has now become what the rest of the country is following. The NYT and Trib main sites are nearly identical at the moment. Obama and his campaign did a good job of tamping down his connections to the Chicago political machine (Blago is just a machine creation in Springfield) — though that's also due to the McCain campaign. Perhaps they thought the Rezko link was too weak or too small potatoes ("Chicago Corruption" is kind of like a carnival ride now, which no one takes seriously) or perhaps they just didn't take the time to understand it. But a situation like this begs the question of just how deep and complex the ties are.

Blago is the X-factor: what he knows and what he will reveal. If he's gone mad, as some people are suggesting, he might spill the beans as an act of revenge. Wouldn't he have done it by now? Maybe. Would he take down others with him? Who knows. Would it hurt Obama greatly if there was in fact some kind of back-room deal between the two camps? Well, Bill Clinton survived a lot worse.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Nutso Town

This has been one of the craziest years I've lived through, between the economy, politics, culture and sports. And it seems Chicago more and more is taking the crown as the capital of insanity as 2008 closes. First the Trib goes bankrupt (perhaps using the recession as a cover to come clean about older debts) and now our governor gets arrested for essentially trying to sell Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat and wheeling and dealing for the Chicago Cubs (a Trib property). Despite existing intense scrutiny from the U.S. Attorney's office, Gov. Blagojevich thought it would be a good idea to continue acting illegally. (I honestly don't know how he could even walk straight with Patrick Fitzgerald so far up his ass.)

Does this mean Pat Quinn will be our governor tomorrow? Pat Quinn of the signature Pat Quinn Photo Op (c)? That would be the icing on the cake this year for our city and state.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Goodbye to all that 2.0

Tomorrow one of the last baseball links to my boyhood will move on. Greg Maddux is going to retire after 22 years in the game. I was 10 years old when he began his career with my team, the Chicago Cubs, and I will always associate him with the improbable playoff run of '89. It was perhaps the team's most boneheaded move (even more so than the Lou Brock trade) to let him go after the '92 season when he won his first Cy Young award. He would go on to win three more and serve as a pillar of the Atlanta Braves powerhouse of the '90s, which reached its peak with a World Series victory in '95. Following Maddux's departure, the Cubs floundered through the decade, with only a flash-in-the-pan boost from Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood in '98.

I don't agonize over what could have been had my team kept one of the greatest control pitchers of all time, but rather I only feel the sweet sting of time's passing, as the oldest of the old guard resign themselves to their final places in the big tome of baseball's history. Yes, they are now gone, and perhaps with it the living remnants of my youngest days, but at least I'll be able to remember what they did for the game and its fans. (I'm am comforted by the fact that another old Cub, Jamie Moyer, is still playing and just helped the Phillies win a title.)

As the Cubs were losing Game 1 of this year's National League Divisional Series against the Dodgers, Joe Torre called Greg Maddux, a 355-game winner, out of the bullpen to face his old team. Great irony, certainly, but also a wonderfully strange and poetic returning that I would hope everyone in their own lives could enjoy. I don't know what Maddux will do next, but in my mind he already has joined the eternals — a Cub, always our guy.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The insider

I didn't lose my job yesterday, thankfully, but I do seem to have picked up some kind of bug — my other fear from two days ago. I'm not sure if it's flu or a cold, but I'm feeling crappy. Rats. Well, I'm not missing much outside. Right now it looks like a textbook example of winter. Instead, I'm sitting in comfort in my house shoes, with central heat and the Alabama/Florida game. I'm thankful for all of these things.

I think Erika's sleeping right now. She had to do some grueling extracurricular work that involved carting kids yesterday from the South Side to Evanston, coming home around 1 this morning, getting up at 7 and doing it all over again today.

Does it get much more interesting than this? Wait, I almost forgot to say that I'm going to reorganize our filing cabinet system. This is why I don't usually write weekend dispatches. … Well, pleasant evening to you.

Friday, December 05, 2008


I don't mean to get melodramatic, but the boss is in the office after being out all week. Friday is the day you're most likely to get fired/laid off, perhaps because then you just go home for the weekend, and, well, at least you have the weekend to collect yourself (and not come back to the office). I would think our boss would give us some warning about upcoming cuts. One person was laid off about two months ago, and the higher-ups stressed it was a redundant position long for the chopping block. They then said they foresaw no more cuts ahead.

Today's grim unemployment news makes me wonder how much cuts on the part of companies are the result of real financial needs and how much have been because of hysteria — and whether it will affect our company/group. I recently read a columnist I trust who believes the 24/7 news cycle is overcooking the financial crisis, creating more fear and paranoia. But this job news is hard to ignore, and with a baby on the way in about two months, I'm feeling a bit nervous. Thankfully, my wife has a recession-proof job that pays her more than me and provides health insurance. (She's kept hers as an emergency backup.) I would like to think my skills and training are very marketable, but I worry what the actual market will be for them. Are there electronic tumbleweeds currently blowing through the editing/writing section of Craigslist?

Well, all I can do right now is sit tight and count off the rest of these 6.5 hours till I can go home (hopefully still employed). Then I won't have to worry again — till next Friday.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Whirling hall of knives

Seems I'm now surrounded by sick people at the Cracker Factory. Not sure what I should do — perhaps close my door. Let me do that. Okay. I need to formulate a plan: how to get out. Feeling a little off. Christ, I'm getting sick, too. I have to get out of here. I don't think these floors are very thick. I have a spoon in my bottom drawer — maybe I'll dig down to 22. Yes, I'm definitely getting sick. If I stay here another hour, I'm done for. Wait … I have a 2009 plastic, erasable wall calendar still in the box. I can wrap this around myself to fend of the germs and make a run for the door. … But I can't touch the handle because everyone's touched the handle today, including the infected people. I'm going to have to cover my hands in 20 sheets of kleenex each — that way I can open the front office doors and press the — Fuck. The down elevator button. The worst disease-harborer of them all. What am I … I know. I'm going to tape these five pencils together, so I can stand as far away as possible from the down elevator button and safely press it without using any part of my body. Then, I'll step into the elevator … But what if I breathe in germs through the air? I'll have to wrap my head in toilet paper. Yes. Then I can run through the office, my head wrapped in toilet paper, covered in a 2009 plastic wall calendar, holding five taped-together pencils, press the down elevator button, jump inside and go down to the lobby.

You'll see someone fitting this description running across the Wabash Ave. bridge in about five minutes. I'm heading straight to Maxim's Oxygen Bar on Hubbard. He has a mitochondrial reabsorbtion chamber there that you can pay for by the hour. God knows I'm going to need it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The taped dollar

Sunday night while coming back from the hair place, I stopped at Foodsmart on Armitage, between California and Sacramento. Rain mixed with sleet had been falling all day, so I hoped to get a bag of sidewalk salt before it turned to snow (which it did later in the evening). Sure enough there was a stack of heavy, yellow salt bags right next to the newspapers up front. Lacking cash, I took $40 out of the ATM. I then brought the bag to the counter and set it down.

There was a middle-aged woman behind the register, and she was very slowly and methodically taping together a one-dollar bill down the middle with clear scotch tape. She did not look up and did not hurry herself to finish this job. If we had been in a small town, the woman most likely would've apologized, put the dollar down and rung me up. Not so in the City of Big Shoulders. I really took no offense; I was in no hurry. I paid for my bag of salt (five dollars and change) with one of the twenties from the ATM. She broke it and gave me back the difference.

This morning I looked in my wallet for a dollar to feed into the Coke machine, and I found the scotch-taped bill. Apparently I was in more of a hurry on Sunday night than I thought because I failed to notice that the woman gave it to me as part of my change. I don't know if any Coke machine will accept this dollar, and I'm even wary a convenient store like Foodsmart would refuse it. I guess you could say I got screwed twice: having to wait and getting back damaged currency. For a retail transaction, that's a impressive feat.

I console myself by saying that it's all a big give and take. … Though maybe there is no system. Or maybe you're always on the receiving end. Or maybe it's just Chicago. … Or maybe I should just forget it. … Yes, that's probably the way to go.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Living memory

I, perhaps like many readers of Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column today, was saddened by news that legendary Sports Illustrated football writer Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman was recuperating from two strokes suffered two weeks ago. King did a great job in his column of letting us younger readers know about Dr. Z's long-form print writing. Most of us under 35 only know him as the man who does SI's preseason picks of playoff and Super Bowl teams, as well as power rankings and other smaller stories on the magazine's Web site.

Dr. Z, who has covered the game since the '60s and has experiences of it from well before then, is a link to pro football's gutsier, less glamorous, less commodified past, when the game was really just a game, not an entertainment experience — and to those of us who started watching the NFL in the '80s, that past always seems like it was a lot more fun and heroic. I hope we can continue to read Dr. Z's wranglings over the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame nominees. He has strong opinions about players most of us never heard of or have forgotten. And I don't know what I'll do if he doesn't issue his annual grades of TV football announcers at season's end. Late winter will certainly be grayer and colder if it goes missing.

I, somewhat selfishly and like many others, hope Dr. Z can return to writing for SI as soon as possible. But more importantly, I just hope he can recover. I'd hate for that powerful link to the past to be extinguished.