Complete, Utter Cruelty

My jaw dropped this morning when I read about the following news item. The event happened last Wednesday, and you may have heard about it already. The news has been flying around the internet, and CBS’ The Early Show had an interview this morning.

Mom says special needs child ‘voted’ out of classroom

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL — A Port St. Lucie mother says her five-year-old son with special needs was voted out of his classroom by his peers at the behest of the teacher, who has since been reassigned.


“(She) took him and stood him in front of his classmates this week, asked every single child to tell Alex why we don’t like him… in his words, tell Alex why we hate him,” she explains.

After having each child ridicule the boy, she says the teacher continued belittling him.

“Then they had a vote on if he deserved to stay in the class or not,” says Barton.

Like a twisted reality show, Barton says in a 14-2 vote, his classmates voted the five-year-old out of the classroom.

The boy, Alex, has recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. His classmates objected to Alex’s spinning, his eating crayons, and hiding under desks. And so the teacher’s solution to a handicapped child disrupting her classroom was to hold a public pillorying, then a vote. There’s plenty more to read online, including how the boy’s one and only friend in class was pressured by the teacher and the rest of the kids to change his initial vote and turn against Alex.

Words fail me. If this “teacher” has indeed been reassigned, I hope it’s to guard the supply closet, or any other job that keeps her away from children PERMANENTLY. I can’t fathom what could have gone on in her head, that she would think this would be a good idea. It’s beyond understanding. In the wake of her insanity, one little boy is crushed and is afraid of going back to school, his peers get some sick lesson in groupthink and revenge instead of tolerance, the boy’s friend is probably feeling awful (and to avoid that feeling, might not try to be friends with Alex again). What this teacher did was abhorrent, she ought to be beaten with a plank and neutered….

I could write 5,000 words right now and not scratch the surface of my anger and loathing at this action. I take this very personally. Our son has Asperger’s, and if I remember, in Kindergarten, he hid under the desk a lot because the chaos and energy of a social environment like a classroom confused and scared him. I’m thankful he had a teacher and principal who looked at the whole child and helped him along. What would a decent person’s reaction be to a scared, confused 5-year-old?

Since that year, he’s never had a classroom aide (he probably didn’t even need one that year), is now in 7th grade pulling straight A’s, and is a happy, confident teenager, worried about girls and obsessed with music. The other kids in class may find him annoying at times, but other times his strengths come through. He’s accepted for who he is. Which is every person’s right. (Even as I type those words, they seem to clink like Canadian nickels, failing to express the importance of the notion. They seem cliche in the face of what happened in that classroom. I get angry over the fact that I have to type them at all.)

You can read more about Alex’s situation at this site, which also contains a link to his principal and the school board. Please write them and lend support to Alex, who has the right laid out by federal law to have a proper education. Of course, a law can’t mandate that a teacher would act like a HUMAN BEING and see the consequences of her actions, but it shouldn’t have to. It’s up to the school board to see this woman is shitcanned so far that she won’t be able to get a job as a prison guard.

I have to stop typing now, before I hurt my fingers or damage the keyboard from pounding.

The Foodies Invade

Got back last night from a weekend of getting the cottage ready for the summer. Got the dock in without anyone drowning, which is always a good sign. The weather was too cold to go swimming or to eat outside, unless the sun was pounding directly on you. Nevertheless, I’m so very ready to chuck everything around here and relocate for a summer of reading, napping, fishing, and martini-drinking. We won’t really be up there until July 4, due to other commitments and a road trip we’re trying to take to the east coast. I won’t be able to take the wait. I need to catch me some fat bluegill NOW!

Our cottage is near the town of Fennville, which has two gas stations, one grocery store, a video store and a pharmacy. It also has a Mexican restaurant that’s hands-down the best in three counties. But the newest restaurants there have brought with them a strange phenomenon: Fennville is becoming a destination spot for foodies.

A few years ago, this started happening in my Chicago neighborhood, when a few eateries got written up in the New York Times (I think all of them have closed in the meantime except one). The foodies were conspicuous by the expensive casual clothes they wore, and the sweaters tied around their shoulders (60-somethings trying to look like they just stepped off the green). The wives always walked in front, wearing eager expressions for their urban adventure, with the husbands four paces back, bemused and patient and thinking life is supremely good as long as the Viagra holds out. They’re not so much around anymore, maybe they’ve moved on to Logan Square or West Town or Joliet. Which is good. Sated with food and too much South African shiraz, they were clogging up the sidewalks with their meanderings.

But now the town near my cottage is getting them. Their destination is the Journeyman Cafe, which opened on Main Street two years ago. The restaurant features only locally grown food, part of that whole locavore idea, which I think is a fine and dandy one as long as I don’t have to eat too much squash or give up coffee and bananas. The foodies arrive there, clutching their purses and peering into the place like a cave–“So THIS is the place everyone’s talking about?”

I’m not knocking the food, which is good to excellent, nor the idea of eating local. The angle of it I find most interesting, from a global socioeconomic viewpoint, is that the locals can’t afford to eat local. Few if any of the year-round residents can afford a $17 plate of lamb chops, however well intentioned the food is. Will this always be the case, or will the practice of locavorism make the area economically viable to the point that the former factory hands and farmers around there will be able to afford it? What’s more than likely is that the spread between the haves and the havenots will continue to grow until we begin to resemble Mexican resort towns, where the locals get only a glimpse of the good life.

Of course, I’m a fine one to talk, being a summer resident visiting my second home in my Illinois license plates conspicuous on the Volvo wagon. And I like a good meal as much as anyone. But any trip to Michigan will give you a quick view of the economic disparities in the country, and I’ve only seen it get worse in my time up there. Let’s hope those $17 lamb chops will do some good in the long run, and not just be a tasty curio of an era of decline.

Reasons to Be Cheerful

This Sunday, the St. Paul Saints of the American Association will be running a promotion, giving away 2,500 Sen. Larry Craig Bobble-foot dolls. According to their press release:

During the Sunday, May 25 game the first 2,500 fans in attendance will receive a bobblefoot. The design is a bathroom stall, with a foot that peaks out of the bottom and “taps” up and down. The day coincides with National Tap Dance Day.

While many people tap their foot because they are impatient, others may do it because they are nervous. It doesn’t matter if your tapping style is done with a “wide stance” or is used as some sort of code, the Saints are asking all fans to tap to their heart’s content on May 25.

Sorry, Mrs. Obama, but there are times when I just LOVE this country.

Thanks for tip from It Is High, It Is Far, It Is…caught.

Movies Are Better than Ever (Whoopee..)

The summer movie season relies heavily on fights, crashes and explosions. And sometimes those on the screen are more interesting than the ones in the box office rankings. But only by a little. I think there should be a name for the summer schadenfreude I feel when a big budget movie, starring vegetable-brained celebrities, written by desperate masochistic scribblers, directed by bombastic tinpot dictators, and marketed and distributed by human leeches, goes up in flames at the cineplex. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and feel the script is the most important part of a movie, but when a $150 million project tanks, I feel as cozy warm as Winnie-the-Pooh.

“Sex and the City.” “Speed Racer.” “Get Smart.” “The Incredible Hulk.” Any of these will cost you money that could be better spent on three delicious beers, one expensive martini, or a pugwash from a crack ho. Where would you rather spend your hard earned $10?

Now, I’m not against whiz-bang flicks. I saw “Iron Man” a couple weeks ago and loved it. They got everything right in that flick.

Tonight the latest entry in the “Indiana Jones” series comes out, 17 years after the last. (Should there be a statute of limitations on a sequel, after which time there should be no implied connection with the originals?) Everyone’s getting all giggly about this one, but I could care less. There’s something repulsive about the idea of Harrison Ford doing this same old schtick again. With his graying, Alfalfa Schweitzer haircut, maybe a remake of “Deliverance” would be more appropriate. As he lunges across the hood of a speeding truck in the trailer (obligatory age joke), he looks like a pensioner at the early bird special diving across the buffet for the last piece of Jell-O.

Did you know the Indiana Jones fedora, bull whip and leather jacket are on display in the Smithsonian? What is there that is groundbreaking or historically important about a big-budget remake of 1940s pulp movies? I read Harrison Ford in the paper saying at Cannes that with this movie, he’d like to help the audience enjoy pure escapist entertainment again. Thanks, Harr, but I don’t think we’ve lost that skill. What’s next, ConAgra reassuring us that it’s okay to like French fries again? America, rest easy–some things you never lose.

And really, must we care that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg want to revisit this hollow idea? Must their perpetual pre-adolescence be the subject of so much attention? They’re skilled filmmakers, certainly, and have nothing else to prove. So quit proving that money trumps everything. Spielberg’s movies, especially the popular ones, always make me feel dirty, like someone’s been pushing all my buttons with fingers covered in coconut oil movie theater “butter”. The earlier Indy movies were only okay in my book. What finally turned me off was the beating heart ripped out of the man in “Temple of Doom.” Part of the charm of the old serials was their fakery, their hamminess. Spielberg, of course, makes everything in a film look beautiful and realistic. So, a beautifully photographed beating heart, or dozens of beautifully massacred soldiers (I don’t care if they are Nazis), or child slavery, or the Nazi chopped up in the propeller, leave me numb and nauseous.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. People ten years younger than me go bananas over Indy and Star Wars because the movies blew their 12-year-old minds. When I was a young teen, the best movies were the complex, experimental kind, not the one that ran the fastest. “MASH”, “Chinatown”, “Taxi Driver”, were all engaging. For escapist fun, our choices were “Cannonball Run,” “Smoky and the Bandit”, et al–movies starring TV actors, directed by journeymen hacks. Which is as it should be. To have someone with Spielberg’s talent remaking Indiana Jones is like Emeril making a meatloaf, or Philip Roth redoing Mike Hammer.

Quit it, just quit it. You’re ruining pop culture for me.

Is There a Fund for Cretins Like This?

Received the following email last week, on the heels of news about the other James Garner having a stroke:


I want to get a message to James Garner the actor, who has recently had a stroke, he was amiss in getting an official web site so I thought that I would ask you to get in touch with him and give him my best wishes.

This may seem strange but if you knew Indian folk lore you would not hesitate but would seek to tell him, on my behalf, that all is well.

I hope you are able to do this, if not do not worry, as all is well.

Thank you


So, if I have a complaint about George Bush, and I quite can’t figure out how to reach him, I should send it to the PR department of Bush’s Baked Beans and have them send it along?

Or if I’m looking for ski tips, I should randomly email people with Polish surnames.

I’ll get that message out right away, Wendy, even though “all is well”, because, er, we all know what THAT can mean.

I Did NOT Have a Stroke

It was the OTHER James Garner who had a stroke over the weekend. We wish him a speedy recovery.

(Okay, that was in bad taste, and no one was really worried about my health.)

All my life, I’ve had a relationship with James Garner. Generally favorable, although he hasn’t put much work into it. I can remember ever since kindergarten the scene of someone reading my name off a roll, and making the obligatory joke about “Maverick” (and later “Rockford”). In Kindergarten, I had no clue what was going on. But at some point, when I was nine or 10, I saw “Support Your Local Sheriff” on TV and realized who this other James Garner was. And I was pretty impressed. Effortless cool, good acting, composure, humor. And when you read more about his life, you realize what a mensch he really is. War veteran, two purple hearts, civil rights marcher, auto racer, married to the same woman for 52 years. I often joke that I could do worse than sharing my name with him, and am glad I wasn’t named James Spader or James Woods. (I knew an unfortunate guy in high school whose name was Lorne Green. C’mon, the parents have NO excuse for doing something like that.)

I wasn’t named after the actor, thankfully. I was named after my Uncle Jim, who had a pretty interesting life. He died when I was about seven, but I remember enjoying my trips to his house in Chicago, where we got to drink “50/50” and bang on his piano while his wirehair terrier Skipper barked and chased after us. He always called me “Germs,” which is the only nickname I never bridled at.

When I joined SAG/AFTRA after a couple commercials 20 years ago, I was faced with the decision of what my professional name should be. I couldn’t go by James Garner, obviously. I stuck the “Finn” in there from a family name. So my snooty literary name was actually my snooty acting name first. Thankfully for all involved, the acting didn’t go much further. About a decade ago, I received one of his royalty statements in the mail (through AFTRA maybe? I don’t remember) and sent it to him at the correct address on the letter. Didn’t get a response. Typical of our relationship. I’ve had to do all the work.

“Adventures of a Comic Book Artist”

The spring operetta at St. James School has come and gone, and if you missed it, you’re probably kicking yourself just like you did when Steppenwolf was practically begging you to come see “August: Osage County” when it first opened and you were too busy to bother. The operetta didn’t get nominated for a Tony, an Obie, a Jeff, an Off-Jeff, a Wedgie, or a Shmegege, but that’s fine because those are all about “who you know.” But this operetta will be remembered as the swansong for Liesel in her starring roles there, and for me in building the sets.

Liesel will be changing schools next year so that she’ll be able to count her classmates on more than one hand. She’s not too happy about it, since she’s been there since she was three, but she’s going into the fifth grade, and it’s a good time to make a change. One of the carrots we held out for her was that her new school does a student musical every spring, because such events are the highlight of her year. The competition for roles, of course, will be a little tougher, but she’s pretty good and is bound to get better. In “Adventures of a Comic Book Artist,” she played the hero Blossom, who has a magic flower that can put villains to sleep. Kind of a benevolent Poison Ivy. I took the picture below with the last little bit of charge on my camera. I’m very mad that I didn’t get one of her alone in front of my kinetic backdrop.

This year, I did for the sets what I do every year, mainly paint dropcloths from Home Depot to serve as backdrop curtains. One was a view of Times Square, the other was a smattering of comic book onomatopoeias, which I was pretty proud of. I also had to create the headquarters of Wonder Comics, whose slogan of course is “If it’s a GOOD comic, it’s a WONDER.” I don’t know if anyone got the joke, but that one was for the boys in the back room. I probably spent 30 hours or so on the sets, maybe more, but I just love doing them. The kids can get so excited when they show up for rehearsal and the stage has taken one more step toward the look of a real show. Last year I got to make a lot of oversized food for a “Jack and the Beanstalk” type story, which was even more fun. I kept the cheeseburger I made (picture here). It sits in our TV room, which is turning into a sort of Batcave displaying artifacts and mementos from the kids’ various stage productions from church and school.

It will be sad to leave a school into which we’ve poured so much time, energy and money, but many of the resources that first attracted us are no longer there, and we couldn’t bear the idea of Liesel staying with the same five kids all the way through eighth grade, then enrolling her in a school with 300 freshmen. Plus, overarching concerns like the lack of a school board, a domineering pastor and an ineffectual principal will not be changed anytime soon. (The place also had a recent exodus of 4 teachers, which will add to chaos next year.) This operetta will be our send-off, but it was a terrific show with lots of energy and talent. And all the best shows eventually come to an end.

On the White Sox’ Rubber Soul

You say your batters can’t swing it?
Their Whiffing gives you chills?
I got an old-school remedy for
Fixin’ all your ills.

Take all your Louisville sluggers,
Arrange them in a stack,
Then get ready for a mighty hoodoo
(There ain’t no turnin back).

Now get yourself some love dolls–
You know the kind I mean,
Those cute gals made of polymerized

Inflate them gals and set them round
Your mighty pile of sticks
And pray for their blow-up blessings
And soon you’ll get your licks.

You’ll feel your eyeballs quicken
And your pencil fill with lead,
And by August the White Sox will be
Twenty games ahead.

But don’t blaspheme the rubber gods
Or disrespect their medicine,
Or they’ll do to you just what they did to
Brian Anderson.

Scenes from QofA Comedy Night

My five regular readers (hey, let’s do poker soon!) may have noticed the lack of posts for the past couple weeks. Or not. Be honest, I can take it. This time of year always gets busy with end-of-school-year events and activities. It’s easy to volunteer my time to projects when asked in January, when it’s freezing outside and the four walls are closing in, but another thing to balance writing, work and play in early May. That being said, I’ll also say that I really enjoy doing the projects I’ve volunteered for, regardless of me bitching about my schedule.

Last Friday night was the sixth annual Queen of Angels Comedy Night, a benefit to help the Technology Committee buy new computer equipment so my son can try not to look at inappropriate websites when he’s in the lab. Last year I helped out with a comedy sketch, which showed how Harry Caray would’ve called a baseball game if all performance enhancers were legalized (poorly, it turns out). It was fun, but the evening went on almost four hours, as the directors (there’s your first mistake, plural “directors”) tried to cram every type of act–parishioner talent, five pro stand-ups, and the house band–into the show. This year we streamlined things, kept a tight rein on the length of acts, and had the band play at the opening and closing instead of between every act. This elementary lesson in show pacing paid off well. Everyone has said it was the best show ever.

Our host was Leo Ford, an affable man about town, actor, and former improviser (Blue Velveeta, anyone?), who delivered a monologue about growing up Catholic in Janesville, WI, and described a nun who reminded him of Harry Dean Stanton. In the first half, Will Casey and his wife Catherine performed a droll little skit I wrote called “Robo-Nun 3000,” and to pad things out, I read one of my PC Bedtime Stories.

The professional talent we scouted and booked were nothing short of sensational. Nick Paul is a very funny man who mixes magic with a deadpan that was just killer. He also showed himself to be a big professional when we asked him to do a second act after intermission when one of our standups called to say “Friday??? I thought it was Monday!” Check out his website Magic of Nick for clips and other information.

Our standup for the evening was Sean Flannery, who absolutely killed in his 20-plus minutes. He could’ve lost the room because of some of the drunks in the back who think that any performance is a free-for-all, or that standups are really looking for a conversation when they say, “Anybody here from out of town?” He had the crowd up and down with him the whole time, and had hilarious material. We found him emceeing at Chicago Underground Comedy, and booked him immediately. Check out his stuff at

But the biggest hit was probably $$The Money Kids$$, two young ladies who will do basically anything to make themselves laugh. These two are definitely going places. Their skits included a slumber party where the girls are making out with their stuffed animals, a couple of power-walking yuppies trying to work through bouts of narcolepsy, dancing to the “Doogie Howser MD” theme song, and a “Sex in the City” blackout that broke the “dildo right up inside you” barrier in the parish. (Thankfully, they were so funny, and the line went by so fast, that the people who might’ve been upset probably missed it.) Check out their stash at

The shining moment for the in-house parish talent was our video. I had wanted to do a “Check, Please” take-off for our currently trendy neighborhood, highlighting some of the grungier places that generally should be avoided. The first draft of the script came out so well that 95% made it into the final product. But the script is just one step in the process. The video came out so much better than we had any right for it to, because of Dominic D’Ambrosia, who shot it and edited everything. Judge for yourself by checking out the YouTube link for “Beyond the Sausage in Lincoln Square.” (The embed was disabled by request. Apparently Dom is shy. Or is afraid of getting fired.)

Seriously, go check out the video. Then realize we did maybe two takes for every shot. The ghost of Ernie Kovacs was smiling on us that day.

After the show, we had to break everything down, fix the lock on the parish center so no one could walk in, and then close out over beers at the Sunnyside Tap (a fleeting shot of the tap is in the video). I haven’t been so exhausted over a weekend in a long time. Part of it was the beer at 2 AM, but only a small part. I think I just forgot how damn exhausting it is to put on a show. If I didn’t have my buddies to help get it up, I’d’ve been even more wiped out. And the show would’ve sucked. As it was, I was glad for the chance to perform and write some fun stuff with fun people.