Interview with Reduced Shakespeare Company

May 18, 2017 — I probably didn’t post this link last year, when the event happened. I was pretty out-to-lunch last year for a lot of reasons, and many simple things and deadlines fell through the cracks.

Anyway, below is the link to a very good conversation I had with my friend Austin Tichenor, one of the brains behind the Reduced Shakespeare Company. We touch on political correctness, of course, and comedy and codpieces and everything that makes life worthwhile. Enjoy!

Episode 499. On Political Correctness

Louder Than a Mom

May 9, 2017 — One of my favorite Chicago reading series is Louder Than a Mom. It’s hilarious, it hits my demographic sweet spot, it brings many of my old friends back together, and it takes place in a dark tavern that hosts rocknroll the rest of the week. The closest I will get to enjoying myself in a rock club at this stage of the game.

I’ve performed in the show 3-4 times, but in the March show, I finally had a performance I was proud of. The Link is below. If you are in or visiting Chicago, Louder Than a Mom happens every third Monday at Martyr’s, 3855 N. Lincoln. You should definitely check it out.

Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Inducts Ring Lardner

May 5, 2017 — It was quite an honor to be asked to participate in the induction ceremony for Ring Lardner last night. Lardner was born in Niles, Michigan, and spent a good deal of his professional life in NYC, but his formative years were spent as a sportswriter at various papers around town, including the Chicago Tribune.

I spoke on and read from Lardner’s short stories (if you haven’t read any of these yet, grab yourself a copy of “Alibi Ike” or “Liberty Hall” pronto). Other speakers included journalist Ron Rappaport (whose new book is “The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner”), author Don DeGrazia (“What Lardner Means to Me as a Writer”), ESPN’s and GLAAD’s Christina Kahrl (“How Lardner Changed Journalism”), Cubs historian Brian Bernardoni (“The Chicago Lardner Knew”) and Lardner’s grandson James Lardner, a fine writer himself, who accepted the award for the family.

There is something so satisfying about rereading favorite writers and discovering how much they speak to my life. I love Lardner almost as much as I love Damon Runyan.

The Lardner induction ceremony, with Brian Bernardoni, two Lardner relatives, James Lardner, and Ron Rappaport.

Acknowledging Historic Milestones

April 18, 2017 — Over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox manned an outfield with three players named Garcia. They aren’t related, nor even from the same country,  but they have broken through the invisible barrier that kept guys with the same name from filling a complete outfield. Our hats are off to them. From Bardball, of course:

Three Matching Sox

The game’s been built of 3s
Since, like, eternity.
3 outs, 3 strikes,
3 bases and the like

Now add to these trios
Garcias who with brio
Manned the grass for the Hose.
Unlike the real bros

Matty, Felipe and Jesus–
The splendid Alous–
These Garcias don’t own
Similar chromosomes

But never in history
Has an outfield had 3
Confused when they hear
“Hey! Garcia! Get over here!”

 

Bob Dylan and Bardball, Part 2

April 15, 2017 — Our favorite Nobel Laureate is back with another touching ode on Bardball.  Maybe he should hang out with the guys in the Baseball Project and get some recording done! (This one was written with my friend, Jim Siergey.)

Bob Dylan’s 2017 Forecast: “I Shall Be Released”

They say ev’ryone can be replaced
Yet every lefty is still here
So I try to play second base
Or third or short or anywhere

. I only bat .190
. So my chances do decrease
. Any day now, any day now
. I shall be released

They say ev’ry man needs protection
They say you keep your eyes on that ball
The marketing guys aren’t my rooting section
My agent won’t return my calls

. I’m in the B-game lineup
. Starting to feel it’s just a tease
. Any day now, any day now,
. I shall be released

Standing next to me around the cage
Is a stud too young to buy a beer
He wants to gain the wisdom that comes with age
But I just want to play another year

. I see the rookies rise up
. Big potential, play for cheap
. Any day now, any day now,
. I shall be released

 

Presidential Lox

March 27, 2017

It’s tradition on Opening Day:
The Prez puts the first ball in play,
But with his miniscule mitts,
The Donald just quits
And tweets, “Baseball’s for losers anyway.”

 

Bob Dylan and Bardball

March 27, 2017–All through spring training, it’s a Dylan Festival at Bardball. If you didn’t know the Nobel Laureate is a baseball fan — and I have no idea myself — you can believe it now, because how else could he have written so many songs that can be turned into forecasts for the upcoming season?

Bob Dylan’s 2017 Forecast: “Sucking in the Wind”

How many innings must Verlander pitch
to have them destroyed by the pen?
How many times must Miggy get on
to be left on the base by Upton?
How many weeks before Ausmus is canned–
that’s not an “if”, that’s a “when”

The answer, my friend, is 2017
When the Tigers will be sucking in the wind

How many balls will Martinez misjudge
and watch as they roll to the wall?
How many years will poor V-Mart DH
as his trot slows down to a crawl?
How many years must fans grumble and wince
before this team wins in the fall?

The answer, my friend, is 2017
When the Tigers will be sucking in the wind

 

Spitballing Stage Concepts for Alice Cooper 2017 Tour

  • Video projections of Alice’s liver spots
  • Alice learns to use SnapChat onstage
  • A mean caddy (maybe a Cyclops!?) whistles while Alice lines up a putt
  • During “School’s Out”, a bunch of teenagers treat Alice rudely at the CVS
  • Alice realizes he should’ve kept all his vinyl
  • Dancing car keys taunt Alice while he searches for them
  • Eight-foot-tall “roughage monster”

March 6, 2017

Sammy Sosa, Chicago and Bardball

February 26, 2017–The reclusive, petulant, intermittently-English-speaking Sammy Sosa gave an interview recently, lamenting that his crappy attitude with fans and teammates has made him a pariah in the Cubs organization. In addition to comparing himself (of course!) to a suffering Jesus, he also bragged that he put Chicago “on the map”. Which was news to a lot of us.

So when I get a fat slow pitch like that, I have to pen a reaction to it for Bardball:

Sammy Sosa, the Founder of Chicago

Leave aside the famed DuSable
Who thought he wore this feather in his cap.
We’ll forgive you this historical bobble,
Twas Sammy Sosa put Chicago on the map.

Forget Jim Thompson and Hinky Dink Kenna
Who lay the town in corruption’s lap.
They came and went, but at the center,
Twas Sammy Sosa put Chicago on the map.

Dion O’Banion and Al Capone
Made sure the suds were e’er on tap.
Those slobs can’t call this town their own–
Twas Sammy Sosa put Chicago on the map.

Sure, Sandburg, Bellow, Studs could write,
Curtis Mayfield was a soulful chap,
Muddy Waters was a man, all right,
But Sammy Sosa put Chicago on the map.

I’ll admit MJ could play some hoops.
Hack, Ernie, Big Hurt and Pudge could slap
A few hits around, but no big whoops–
Twas Sammy Sosa put Chicago on the map.

 

An Oldie from Bardball

Feb. 17, 2017–  but updated for today’s realities:

Life is Good

Winter’s been raw as a campout in Banff.
Your new basement walls are moldy and damp.
Your drapes caught fire from a knocked over lamp—

.         Relax!
.         Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Your check-writing hand’s developed a cramp,
Your bills are all due and you ain’t got a stamp,
Creditors cling to your neck like a clamp—

.          Smile!
.          Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Your yard now faces a new freeway ramp.
Your son is engaged to a gold-digging tramp.
Your “guitar hero” neighbor’s just bought a new amp—

.         Life is good!
.         Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Breaking news makes you break out in a rant.
You want to stop watching; duty says you can’t.
I fear Lady Liberty’s being measured for implants–

.         With luck we’ll survive,
.         And pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

 

Now that baseball season is on the horizon, take a break and check out our doggerel, served fresh daily, and maybe even contribute if you have a mind to.  Consider it part of your “self-care” regimen.  We ALL need a short break now and again!

BARDBALL.COM

Good Things about the Trump Disaster

February 10, 2017 — I don’t want to waste much time writing about Trump — I waste too much time reading other people’s writing about Trump, and they are much more thorough researchers than yours truly. I have other projects to shepherd at the moment, balanced with actual activism work.

But really, can you believe he’s only been in office 3 weeks now? If by “change”, his voters envisioned a constitutional crisis, real Nazis in the Oval Office, Cabinet members who can’t get endorsed by anything but a party line vote, and weekends in which SNL skits cause more upset than a lethally botched Navy SEAL raid — then I guess we consulting different dictionaries.

But before getting bogged down in DAYS worth of kvetching and worrying, let’s consider the positive aspects of Cheetolini’s tenure (and never forget, it’s the GOP’s mess to deal with):

  • More people are getting involved in politics than ever before. (Let’s just make sure, all you snowflakes, that it ain’t just on the national level — pay attention to your state and local politics, EVEN IF you agree with them now. Also pay close attention to voting rights protections and redistricting efforts.)
  • People are showing up at meetings with their reps incensed by the idea that their insurance could be taken away or fouled up BEFORE any replacement plan is even discussed. (Geez, what kind of genius came up with THAT plan?)
  • Thousands of people who work in government and take pride in their contribution to the country and its citizens are fighting back, overtly and covertly, against this brainless disaster.
  • Democrats in DC are finally being forced to show some spine, which I hope continues on an exponential scale. (Miracles do happen)
  • Contributions to ProPublica, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood are going through the roof, which will allow them all to hire more lawyers and advocates to stand up for policies that protect our rights.
  • We all know now that progress is not a given, that it always has to be pushed forward.
  • Be glad that Trump and his troop of bozos are so ham-handed at their game. If someone slicker and more adept at Washington’s culture were to be trying this, the venality, cruelty and criminality wouldn’t be so obvious. It’s the dogshit laying in the middle of the sidewalk that is easiest for everyone to react to.

These are generalities, which unfortunately won’t give comfort to people being deported, communities watching their drinking water fill with sludge, etc. America and its winner-take-all mentality can be unimaginably cruel, and is no way to run a government.

But if the past three weeks are any indication, we won’t have to endure four years of this “corned beef dirigible” (as described in Deadspin). I was more depressed in November and December, when everyone imagined the worst but had no evidence to guide their anger and grief.

Then I saw people flooding the airports on a Saturday night to protest the immigration ban, along with volunteer lawyers squatting with their laptops on the floor of McDonald’s, ready to fight for the rights of complete strangers.

As the sign says, “First they came for the Muslims, and we said NOT THIS TIME, MOTHERFUCKER!”

Whoever came up with that deserves a Pulitzer.

Resist. Persist.

RIP Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey

People sometimes ask me, since I write about a noir circus underworld, whether my parents took me to the circus a lot. Actually, they didn’t. The main excuse was that all the hay and animals made my mother allergic, though it might also be that doing things with the kids never struck my father as a particularly good use of time.

I don’t remember ever going to the circus, though I might have. My appreciation of it only grew when I began to research circus lore and practices for the “Rex Koko, Private Clown” books. One of the top perks of this research was taking my own kids and nephews to see live circuses, like the Big Apple Circus (on its one and only tour of the Midwest), the UniverSoul Circus, Cirque de Soleil, and of course, the old reliable, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

Like the seasons, Ringling came to Chicago with regularity, always at the end of November, forcing the Bulls and the Blackhawks to play on the road for two weeks. Tickets were pretty affordable. The crowds were always nice, though the arena was never more than half full. Many big Mexican families would attend, probably because circus still has a big legacy south of the border. I liked smaller circuses better, but Ringling brought that particular American value of “make it big, make it splashy.” I liked how they always tried to squeeze another buck out of us, as tradition requires. I liked it in much the same way I like opera: It’s people at the top of their profession, doing something strange and thrilling.

The news that Ringling Brothers would no longer tour hit me like a gut-punch last Saturday night. “Big Bertha” couldn’t end, could it? It had been going since 1870, since before Germany and Italy were nations. Since before professional baseball. Since before the Great Chicago Fire. For 146 years. And now, nothing.

I like circuses for the same reason I like parades: To reflect on how people are entertained. Beneath the high tech gimcracks of video and lights, the circus still exists because people want to see something extraordinary. A girl who can twist her body into shapes. Daredevils who like to walk on wires. Human cannonballs (how great is a human cannonball! Also something that premiered after Barnum & Bailey, in 1871).

And the animal acts. Protests against animal acts were what forced Ringling to shut down. When they “retired” their elephants from performing, their shrinking audience lost even more interest in attending. PETA can crow about it, and has been, of course. They’re zealots, in my mind, as unbending as abortion opponents. No middle ground, no grey areas. In much of the world, an elephant is a working animal, and only an idiot would harm a valuable animal that helps them make a living. Not denying there are lots of idiots in the world, of course.

I think the circus loses its appeal as its audience gets further away from the land, and further away from working with their hands. Only someone who climbs to fix a roof can grasp what it’s like to walk on a high wire. Only someone who knows horses can appreciate a really fine equestrian act. This is another part of the circus that tickles my imagination: What it must have been liked when it arrived in small, isolated towns. When locals saw an elephant for the first time, or a pretty acrobat in spandex. (Many young men also found other ways to enjoy women at the circus, though Ringling never had anything like that.) It was a venue of amazement, the Greatest Show on Earth. As someone said of Ringling, not admiringly, “The Biggest. The Grandest. The Goddamnedest.”

Now it’s gone. And no 3-D movie or virtual reality headset will ever replace the thrill.

Harry Lichtenbaum is an 86-year-old survivor of the Ringling Bros. Great Hartford Circus Fire of 1944. You can read an interview with him here.

Baseball Poetry, Rhyming Dictionary Style

Today, over at Bardball:

Moon, Swoon, Baseball in June

On this beautiful summer day in June
The Royals rise and the White Sox swoon
The Astros still dream of their trip to the moon
The Red Sox hope they aren’t peaking too soon
While the Yanks obsess over things picayune
The Rangers and Jays field their share of goons
Tampa ponders a move to Saskatoon. . .

And Epstein’s still the smartest guy in the room.

Nice Amazon Review of “Honk Honk, My Darling”

honk-frontWas just putzing around on Amazon last night and came across the following recent review of Rex Koko’s first caper. As you might imagine, it made my night. This is one of the cool things about being a writer, that someone actually “gets” what I’m striving for, that there’s a kindred spirit out there somewhere who wants desperately to visit Top Town someday. (Of course, my lonely black-hole of an ego will certainly pay too much attention to these kind of reviews.)

“The writing is detailed and the dialogue is witty, and the setting itself is really fun and original. I’ve been recommending the book to everyone I know, so I figured a review encouraging others to check it out was in order. The author definitely deserves a pat on the back, for coming up with such an entertaining concept and carrying out the delivery so well.”

So take her point. Make sure to review the books you enjoy online at places like Amazon and Goodreads, or write tweets and blogs about them. It’s how we can continue to entertain you mooks.

 

 

Today at Bardball

Your only source for timely baseball doggerel:

White Sox Thanks for Danks

Dear Lord, we now give thanks
That your boy, our John Danks,
Is feeling stronger every outing
And confident about an
Improvement in delivery
That’ll sure make batters quivery.
We’re grateful that he never quits
And seemed unfazed by all those hits
He serves with regularity
(Another branch of White Sox Charities?)
And his positivity with the team–
He remembers just what “Grinder” means
And loves this game more than anyone–
But it’d be great if he ever won.