Big Architecture Laffs

Check out this morning’s Beachwood Reporter for a little idea I had regarding the proposed Chicago Spire, which if it is built is bound to attract more tourists on those “Rainbow” tours.

The Beachwood Reporter is run by my buddy Steve Rhodes, and is a great place to go if you want to peel back the veneer of the reporters and coverage of Chicago politics. Not for those who think that Mayor Daley can turn wrought iron into gold, or that Barack Obama can cure the sick and the lame with just a touch. Check it out often.

Movies that Make Men Cry

Just heard a hilarious segment on “Talk of the Nation” about the movies that make men cry. One of the interviewees was the Trib’s John Kass, who wrote an article about the topic earlier this month. Kass gave some broad categories of movies that make men cry. Sports films. Movies in which a dog dies. Patriotic movies. He also discussed the sounds men make to cover up the fact that they’re crying at a movie. That discussion alone is worth downloading for.

Kass also gave young women a warning: If your date insists on renting a movie like “Fried Green Tomatoes”, get out of the situation immediately. It is dangerous and unnatural.

I agreed with a lot of the movies discussed during the segment. Field of Dreams. Old Yeller. It’s a Wonderful Life. The Sound of Music. Saving Private Ryan.

But the strongest reaction I’ve ever had to a movie involved one that I had seen as a kid, but watched again with my own kids (probably 5 and 2 at the time). The movie was “Mary Poppins.” One big larf from beginning to end, right? A jolly ‘oliday, as the song goes. What could break a man’s heart in that movie, aside from Dick Van Dyke’s attempt at a Cockney accent?

There’s a series of scenes that likely go over every child’s head: When Michael won’t give his tuppence to his father to invest in the Bank of England, and his screaming causes a riot and a run on the bank. The children run away, are taken home by Bert, have their dances with the chimney sweeps, and have a grand old time.

Later, when Mr. Banks gets home, he gets a call from the bank for him to come in and be fired. He waxes philosophic with Bert about dreams dashed and life collapsing, all because of that Poppins women.

As Mr. Banks is sitting in the parlor, considering his life a wreck, the brave Michael comes down in his bathrobe, along with his sister. He walks slowly up to the father who’s treated him like a drill sergeant through the entire picture. He reaches into his pocket and brings out the tuppence. “Here, father, you can have the tuppence.”

His sister asks, “Will that make everything all right?”

And the father just stares at the money and says very quietly, “Thank you.”

Even typing this up, I get a little watery-eyed. I don’t know if it’s because my own father was never given to showing emotion and worked in finance, and was raised by an English father to boot. Maybe it’s the gulf between what the children understand and the reality of the situation. Maybe the old man’s heart is finally melting a little. But I love it that instead of a maudlin, inauthentic, “well, don’t worry yourself over it,” Mr Banks only manages to spit out, “Thank you.” It’s a perfect scene, and I cry like a perfect idiot during it.

Men, have you got any movies you cry watching? Let us know. Let us unite in our wussiness and rejoice. And then make loud huffing sounds.

A Poem for Lou Piniella

Quite a fella,
That Lou Piniella.
He ain’t yella,
You can tella.

He joined the Cubs
To lead those scrubs
And prove past flubs
Were yesterday’s stubs.

A Herculean task?
Don’t even ask.
In last year’s grotesque,
They finished dead last.

But with Al Soriano
And Carlos Zambrano,
The team may be on to
A World Series, pronto.

And if the Cubs win
A World Series, then
The fans will have gin
Drenching their chins.

If not, then old Lou
Will have some ‘splainin’ to do,
Which he’ll probably do
With a meltdown or two.

Another Death Notice

Don Ho, the world famous Hawaiian singer, died in Waikiki on Saturday. The 74-year-old entertainer, who had his big hit in the 1960’s with “Tiny Bubbles”, died of heart failure. He is survived by his brothers Westward, Tally and Yoho, and by his estranged sister, NaPea-Headed.

RIP, Kurt Vonnegut

So, who would’ve thought that Kurt Vonnegut would be taken from us by a brain injury instead of some respiratory ailment brought on by his decades-long habit of smoking Tarreytons?

After seeing Vonnegut talk to John Stewart on The Daily Show in 2005 (follow the link here–Crooks and Liars has the video), I bought his book A Man Without a Country. It was a bracing series of polemics that boiled down our current problems to pure Vonnegut. It was a great read, well worth checking out. In clear, disarming,seemingly naive words, he forces the reader to examine what we often shrug off–the power of corporations, the ineptitude of government, the indignities foisted on the weaker segments of society, the poisoning of the planet–and asks why we allow such things to be. It’s not that long a book–give the old guy a break–so I won’t summarize any of it. Go find a copy and read it yourself.

And read another book or two while you’re at it. His books certainly don’t take long. In fact, I picked up Cat’s Cradle tonight, which I haven’t read in 30 years.

There were plenty of web tributes today. I especially liked this observation from RJ Eskow at Huffington Post:

I mean no slight to the depth or profundity of Vonnegut’s work when I say that I, like many others, was most struck by his novels between the ages of 13 and 15. That doesn’t mean he wrote young people’s books. It means he wrote books that dealt with issues that were big, deep, and profound. And for some reason, in our warped culture it’s mostly young people who choose to deal with those big issues. “Adults” (as they’re commonly known) seem to stop caring about them after a certain age.

Perhaps the finest way Vonnegut influenced me was by encouraging me to keep on thinking about those big issues as I moved through adulthood. And I mean the big ones: Why are we here? How will our race die? Can we be a good species?

That’s a pretty damn nice thing to say about a writer.

The Books Are In!

Frankly, I was beginning to doubt the whole enterprise. I haven’t received a book contract for Recut Madness, let alone get paid an advance. I’d only seen an electronic version of the cover. The page proofs were nice to look at, but that’s really only two steps removed from manuscript pages, in my mind. Was this book deal some kind of elaborate practical joke? Was someone going to call me up and tell me, “Sorry, we changed our minds–no book for you!” These are the thoughts that go through my mind at crunch times. That’s the kind of crazy optimist I am. It makes me a joy to live with.

But Friday afternoon, just before we were all piling into the station wagon for a few snow-drenched days in western Michigan, the UPS truck rumbles up. The driver brings us a heavy box about 12 inches on all sides. The return label says Virginia, which doesn’t tell me anything.

I sliced open the box, and inside were 25 shiny new copies of Recut Madness. Real, proper, find em on the shelf copies. Yahoooo! I didn’t really read them through (I think I know the pieces by heart now), but I flipped through, trying to imagine what the casual shopper of modern satire might be looking for in a title. Something to while away the doldrums, to add some spice to life, to keep the absinthe bottle in the cupboard for just a little time more. Baby, this book has got it. Getting the copies before the Easter holiday was extra nice, because I could hand-deliver a few copies to relatives.

The books are here. Now, one worry is gone. Time to wait for the other worries to come pounding on the door in the middle of the night.

Deep in the Bowels of the Field Museum

Last night we all went down to the special Member Night at the Field Museum of Natural History. It might be the fourth or fifth year in a row we’ve done this, and we look forward to it every time. For these events, the Field Museum brings in extra docents, plans some special exhibits and, most importantly, lets people visit the back rooms, storage areas and labs that usually closed to the public. This is the most fun, because we get to see the researchers in their element, in all their nerdy glory. The inside jokes, the Far Side cartoons on the wall, the wacky insect-printed ties they bring out for special occasions–it’s all there.

One downside of the night is that the Collections Resource Center has been moved to the new, underground wing of the museum. It doesn’t quite have the atmosphere of a museum yet, unlike the old offices, with the oak cabinets and smell of formaldehyde. Some people might say this ain’t a downside at all. Two years ago, we were shown how the scientists prepare specimens for display. It wasn’t for the faint hearted. Not only was one researcher stripping the skin off the carcass of a recently killed red fox (hit on Lake Shore Drive and 51st Street, a handy card informed us), but also we got to watch how insects are used to strip skeletons sparkling clean. The smell was intense, and I kept thinking, How do you keep all these bugs in this office so they don’t take over this entire building, eating little schoolchildren as they look at the mummy exhibits?

I admire these scientists in their dedication to what they love. I could never work in any field like this, that’s for sure. My attention span is too short and my work habits too erratic to produce reliable results. In college I dated a girl briefly who was an Anthropology major. Every summer she traveled to New Mexico to work in digs of 800-year-old Anasazi settlements. Which is all well and good. She went back year after year, married a professor of anthropology, and finally had enough data to start working on her thesis. After 15 years. And it took her five more to write it. Sorry, not for me. Not enough drinking involved.

The attendees at Members Night had a chance to look at the new dinosaur exhibit at the Field, called “Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries.” It was a brief but interesting look at new evidence and theories about what the ol’ thunder lizards were really like. (If you go, don’t bother with the audio tour–it added nothing to what you could learn from the signs.) It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re curious about the development of feathered dinosaurs, and how dinosaurs actually moved their bodies.

I don’t know about you, but ever since I learned that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, the little puffballs have been freaking me out. The raptor scenes in “Jurassic Park” burst to the forefront of memory when I see a heron or crow or even a bluejay giving me the evil eye. Vicious brutes. All except ducks. They’re still too cute, with their silly mouths and little butts in the air as they graze for seaweed. How can you be afraid of a dinosaur that eats with its butt in the air?

My opinion of the new exhibit is slightly colored by the other Field archeology exhibit, “Evolving Planet.” And it’s certainly not because they aren’t both terrific. Rather, “Evolving Planet” goes out of its way many times to explain to visitors “How do we know this?” Like, how do we know that the earth is this old, how do we know these bones are related, how can we construct an entire dinosaur from an incomplete skeleton, etc. It doesn’t take long before you realize that the exhibit is trying to explain to fundamentalist nutjobs that evolution really happened, and that the Earth isn’t 6,000 years old. This makes me happy and sad at the same time. I’m glad to see the museum fulfilling its role as an educator and a repository of accumulated knowledge. I’m sad, of course, that it’s necessary to explain to people that the Bible isn’t a science book, and that a selfish, snooty cabal of scientists haven’t been lying to true believers for years so they can keep their cushy jobs and roll around in all that grant money like Sharon Stone in “Casino”. What was the statistic I’ve heard thrown around lately, that 100 million Americans don’t believe in evolution? That’s a helluva lot of people in the remedial class. But, the only way to fight ignorance is through education, at least as the laws stand in most states.

For Field Museum fans, you should go and check out the (relatively) new exhibit on ancient America, the Mayas, the Aztecs and the Incas. That’s finally all new and spiffy, and very informative. I hope soon they can do the same for the North American Indian exhibit, which follows almost directly after. That is obviously from another era, with lots of mannequins in beaded costumes and dusty dioramas. It’s not bad at all, but it looks a little low rent compared with many of the other exhibits down there.

“Recut Madness” Info Now on Website

It’s been a while since I’ve updated anything on my main website, but that’s because there was nothing new to talk about. Well, time brings on changes, thank god. Now I’m able to post some material about my new book on the web page. If you check it out, you’ll be able to read an excerpt and check out the cover art. You’ll also be able to see my new head shot, which will make you wonder how much hair a guy can lose in 10 years without trying.

Anyway, go here and feel your anticipation for the new book build. Only four weeks away, so they tell me.

“And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land….”

Spring is a time for impetuousness, so I took off in the dark yesterday morning, drove the five hours to Detroit, and met up with some friends for the Opening Day at Comerica Park. Of course, “impetuousness” also implies “last minute”, so I had to rely on the redoubtable Gary Gillette, through my buddy and fellow Hungerdunger Stu Shea, to get me a ticket. Gary didn’t disappoint, and neither did the weather, but the Tigers did, but who cares? It was Opening Day!

The area around Grand Circus Park was crowded and jumping by the time I got down there and tried to find parking. With the bead necklaces, plastic beer cups and drunken slags, it was a lot like Mardi Gras if they made you wear something/anything with an old English “D” on it. The morning was 60 degrees and sunny–not your average Opening Day. I finally met up with Stu’s pals in front of the stadium as they were giving away schedule magnets advertising the new book, Tigers Corner, which was edited by Gary and published by Maple Street Press. Maple Street’s owner, Tim Walsh, flew in from Boston to commemorate the season. Throughout the day, the baseball trivia these guys were spewing was mind-blowing. I felt like an idiot most of the time, since I didn’t have an opinion about some sportswriters I’d never heard of and I couldn’t identify a player who’d had a total of 8 at-bats for the Tigers during the 1968 campaign. Then again, these guys are all involved (or work for) SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, so I didn’t feel too bad. They were the true believers. Here’s what the copy of Tigers Corner looks like. Go buy a copy and make Tim feel like the trip was worth it.

Maple Street Press also published Wrigley Season Ticket, edited by–who else?–Stu Shea. Go out and buy a copy so Stu will by everyone more drinks this summer.

Every time I go back, Detroit never seems to have changed. Sporting events are one of the few times that large groups of white people will ever venture into the city. During the opening ceremony, amidst all the goodwill generated by the Tigers’ World Series appearance (well, some of them showed up, anyway), the fans mustered a rousing chorus of boos for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. I know nothing about the local politics and whether or not Kilpatrick is doing any kind of good job, but it was pretty pathetic for all the fans from suburbs 20, 30 and 50 miles away to heckle a guy they never voted for. Hey, they’re die-hard Detroiters! Except that they never set foot in the city unless they can park their car in a secure lot and be sure the police presence is heavy. The only black faces I saw in the park, save two, were selling hot dogs or working security. Like I said, most things never change there. Thank God that WRIF keeps up with all the latest music!! Rawk on baby!!

But when you buy a sports ticket, you have to put up with the meatheads. It was a gorgeous day, the view from the upper deck was grand, and both teams played well until Fernando Rodney lost it for the Tigers in the 10th. After the game, the SABR posse headed up to a dive bar in Hamtramck called Whiskey in a Jar and tipped a few, then walked around the corner to the Polish Village Inn for galubkis and dill pickle soup. Ah, memories. Hamtramck was a great hangout back in the day when I was young and reckless. Most places never asked for ID, and old men would buy me and my friends beer and tell us filthy jokes. I remember eating pizza on my 21st birthday at Savina’s, then getting mighty polluted at some place called The Senate, as we partied with members of the Warren Polka Boosters Club. It gladdens my heart to know that there’s someplace in that bombed-out city where a person can go for a little fun.

Then, just to stay in the impetuous mood, I drove back to Chicago that night. Pulled in about 1 a.m., after spending the previous hour singing disco songs at the top of my lungs to stay awake as I drove. I’ll never do that again, at least until the mood strikes me.