Land of 10,000 Chokes

Defeating the Twins isn’t easy
In that convention hall they call a dome,
But who could foresee the series would be
Like the Vandals’ destructions of Rome?

The White Sox wasted the season.
The grinders’ swings turned to hacks.
So thoroughly owned were the Sox, they’re showin’
Herm Schneider rug burns on their backs.

Now the players can mutter and grumble
While the Cubs are showered with cheers.
A subway series? Not this time, dearies.
Check back in another 100 years.

Day of Genius, Day of Boners

All but the hardest of baseball die-hards can be forgiven for forgetting that today is the 100th anniversary of “Merkle’s Boner,” one of the most infamous mistakes in the history of the sport. Today’s Tribune has a nice story by Ed Sherman about Fred Merkle, the 19-year-old rookie for the NY Giants who made a technical gaffe in baserunning during a game against the Chicago Cubs and was vilified throughout NY for years after. You know it’s bad when your name enters the lexicon as a joke (to “merkle” for a short time meant to fail to show up at an appointment). Sherman’s article says that all was forgiven when the Giants invited Merkle back to an old-timers’ game…in 1950. Yep, after 42 years, everyone was willing to forgive and forget. Way to go, New Yorkers! Who says you have no hearts?

And whether it’s a coincidence or not, the Macarthur Foundation has announced the recipients of their “Genius Awards” for 2008. If you didn’t get notification in the mail, don’t bother to call their HQ–you didn’t win, again. Among the luminaries of the fellowships this year are a geomorphologist, an optical physicist, a plant evolutionary geneticist….and a fiber artist.

Yep, that’s right, a fiber artist. According to the Macarthur website:

Mary Jackson is a fiber artist whose intricately coiled vessels preserve the centuries-old craft of sweetgrass basketry and push the tradition in stunning new directions.

So if you were in the market for some sweetgrass basketry, be warned, the price just shot up.

What Did You Have in Your Neighborhood This Weekend?

We had a circus. Nyah nyah.

The Midnight Circus is one of Chicago’s cultural gems, a gritty little troupe with sass and skill and a very light heart. And they practice less than two blocks from me. The leaders of the troupe live around the corner. I always find myself peeking in their window to see if they’re doing anything cool, like hanging off the chandelier, but they seem mostly to be watching TV when I’m out walking the dog. Odd, yet mysterious.

Here’s a few of the pics I clicked:

Grand Spec
Gotta hurt!
For some reason, they call themselves The Flash.
Nihilist acrobat from Latvia
Lovely Aerialist

It’s hard to see, but in the last picture, the contortionist has gotten himself stuck in a stringless tennis racket, but he eventually puts his whole body through it. You can see part of the racket, the red object by his crotch.

It doesn’t get any better than a circus in your neighborhood park.

Linguistic Tics

If today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, (and it BE, bucko), then I think Monday should be National Talk Like A Veep Candidate Day.

There is something very soothing about adopting a sort of Scandinavian, Minnesotan, Yooper, Alaskan accent. It’s really hard to think badly about your lot in life when sounding out those long OOOOs and sharp EYEs, and speaking in the little lilt that you might use in front of a Sunday School class (when you weren’t asking them to pray the gay away). It’s like a lullaby. There may be something hard-wired about it in our brain’s box, like a prosaic version of a meditative Om. Remember Steve Martin’s old bit about banjo playing, and how everyone should be issued a banjo because it just makes bad news sound good to hear it mixed with that twangy sound? This is the same thing.

Hey, maybe that’s what the Treasury Department ought to do. Instead of guaranteeing a bunch of crappy mortgages and banning short-selling on financial stocks–wow, how pointy headed is that?–they should just issue banjos to everyone, domestically AND internationally. That would stop the whining, eh? Make Wall Street into the biggest hoedown outside Branson, and the markets would just overdose on optimism.

Hockey Moms Against Sarah Palin

And this follow up, from a Minnesota mom who knows the breed:

Real Hockey moms are out of control maniacs. The kind who would poison your kid so hers could play. Would lie to you about the location of the 5:30 a.m. practice just so your kid wouldn’t get the ice time. They’d mortgage the house with a subprime lender to send the kid to hockey camp up in Bemidji. She’d instruct her kid how to best inflict lasting damage with the stick that wouldn’t be seen by the officials. Beat them senseless if they didn’t win. Bribe the officials. Trash talk the better players on the team.

Anyone who prides themselves on being a hockey mom is counting on the rest of the nation thinking like it’s a soccer mom on ice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think Texas raving lunatic cheerleader moms – you’ll then be getting the right idea.

I shudder at the thought.

Sounds more like Dick Cheney everyday.

Three Items, Not Worth the Paper They’re Printed On

Today thee different stories are on my mind, one of personal importance, one of artistic, and one of global.

First, my back and glutes are absolutely killing me today after eight hours Sunday of bailing out our basement and hauling out wet carpet. The record rainfall of Saturday raised the water level all around Chicago, and in my house, it found the seam between the old and new foundations and dribbled in like the subtle wall fountain in a classy sushi joint. It wasn’t much compared with the flooding that other neighborhoods around here suffered, which was remarkable, but still a drag. (There are times when the news will show footage of volunteers helping to sandbag when the Mississippi runs to flood stage, and the little self-deluding part of my brain says, “Yeah, I should gather the brood up in the station wagon and go help those people.” And so, my capacity for empathy fills my heart. If the pain in my back is any indication, a trip like that is never going to happen. Sorry, riverbank dwellers.)

Second, I was shocked to read of the suicide of David Foster Wallace over the weekend. I was also shocked to read that he was younger than me. I’ve only read his shorter pieces, intimidated by Infinite Jest’s length and apparent position in the modern canon. And frankly, I was professionally jealous and fearful. What if it was as good as everyone always said? How insecure would it have made a glorified gag writer like me, who still aspires to write something with at least a little intellectual heft behind it? Can professional jealousy exist beyond the grave? We’ll find out, if I ever get around to reading DFW’s opus. At least now, I still have the chance to work to overtake him, an advantage he ceded when he hanged himself. (Just being honest here. The news was sad, but since I didn’t know the guy, it was only sad-puzzling, not sad-grievous.)

And finally, the implosion of the financial services sector this weekend makes me wonder why the hell the Obama campaign doesn’t just hammer McCain on economic policies. I know the average voter doesn’t care or much understand what Wall Street does, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel the uncertainty in the air. Saying “the fundamentals of our economy are strong,” as McCain did this morning, would look disingenuous when coming from someone already in office. To say it as the candidate for president is positively delusional. It makes him look like a shill for the White House, which his current position basically forces him to be. There’s no way to escape that he’s the continuation (at least in the short term) of current policies. He’s already said he doesn’t know anything about the economy, and as a Republican, he certainly isn’t going to push for more regulation in the financial markets. I don’t know how much about economics Obama knows either, frankly, but it’s time to knock McCain down hard. My free advice, BO.

Roger Ebert Hits it on the Head

I’m not going to spend much time ruminating on the Alaskan Pork Queen in the next few weeks. Every revelation about her bullying governing style and ability to lie to thousands of people several times a day are entertaining, but ultimately they’re water off a loon’s back. New items about her policies and actions (like today’s jaw-dropper that the town of Wasilla actually forced rape victims to pony up cash to have forensic tests done) will do nothing to dissuade her ardent fans. When confronted with tough questions, she’ll probably just call off all press conferences, wrap herself up in her mackinaw and go a-huntin’.

That’s fair warning to all the wildlife in the Northwest: when new scandals come to light about Palin’s record, HIDE!

Hey, she’s a liar and a self-promoting grandstander, just like the “reformer” governor here in Illinois (thankfully, no one except Blagojevich himself is desperate enough to suggest that he should run for higher office). There’s the exotic element of fjords, elk and oil money in the background, a picture postcard that is wrenched from the mind when she unleashes her most destructive weapon: Her metal-piercing voice.

What I find more interesting is WHY people would be interested in her at all. Anyone in America can be president, which we’ve proven time and again to our dismay. But why (other than venal self-interest that Republicans should rule forever and always) would any voter fall for this schtick of the frost-bitten, gun-totin’ maverick? In the face of the objective facts that she’s held state office for less than two years, will lie out of both sides of her mouth and managed to sink her little town into a $23 million debt, why would anyone with more than a room-temperature IQ think that she’s fit to be second in line for the most powerful office on earth?

Roger Ebert considered that in today’s Sun-Times, and as you’d expect, cuts to the heart of the matter with style:

She’s the “American Idol” candidate. Consider. What defines an “American Idol” finalist? They’re good-looking, work well on television, have a sunny personality, are fierce competitors, and so talented, why, they’re darned near the real thing. There’s a reason “American Idol” gets such high ratings. People identify with the contestants. They think, Hey, that could be me up there on that show!

Read the rest of his column here.

Psalm for the Cubs

If you missed last night’s Loveable Losers Literary Revue, well, you missed it. Missed out on a lot of fun and Cub commiseration and wonderful singing and terrific artwork. I got to see some old writer friends and meet Tim Souers of the daily sketch-blog Cubby-Blue, whom I’d only met over the internet. I also got to listen to Rick Kogan in person reading from his tavern book, an experience that’s very close to an aural 30-year single malt.

Donald Evans, empressario of said salon, is planning an anthology of some of the pieces read through the summer, plus a few by ringers like Sara Paretsky. It will be published within 6 weeks, we hope, and a portion of it will go to Cubs Care Charities. My two pieces from last night, “Three Fates and Yer Out” and “The Wrigleyville Monkey Paw,” will be included in the collection, which as a result rises from “Curiosity” to “Must Have.” I also closed out the show last night with a prayer, something with which all Cubs fans of every religious pinstripe are very familiar.

Psalm for the Cubs

Sweet Lou is my shepherd, I shall not want to root for the Sox, or tune in to the Bears, just yet.

He maketh my team lie down in front of the Reds, he leadeth me along the still bats, but that’s OK.
He restoreth the franchise, yet in the meantime leadeth me down paths of anxiety, paranoia, dispepsia, agita and dread, all for the team’s sake. For this am I ever grateful, because by this point I’m certainly used to it.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of 100 years of suckitude, I will fear no team, for Lou is with me, as long as he doesn’t try and drive me all the way to Cincinnati. The rods of his batters, they comfort me, his pitching staff—ehhh, not so much.

Lou prepares a postseason banquet in the presence of mine enemies, laden with Wisconsin bratwurst and fried brain sandwiches and Philly cheesesteaks and Arizona Iced Tea. He will anoint the heads of my team with champagne, may their cups runneth over (but please let them not over-runneth second base).

Surely titles and pennants and World Series rings will follow me all the days of my life, and my team will no longer dwell in the basement of the National League forever. Right.

Feel free to pass this along to any Die-hard in the coming weeks of ups and downs, after all their nails are chewed off and before they start on the bottle.

Come Out For a Reading Tonight

Well, THAT was a fun couple of weeks! Scraping the hard drive, reinstalling backups, getting the same errors, stumping the guy at the repair shop, scraping the hard drive again, backup, backup, backup…..

I just get the sinking feeling that payback will eventually come for all the productivity computers have given us. The amount of time saved now will be wasted either in reboots and tech support stasis, or in life spans shortened by aggravation and high blood pressure. On the plus side, I filed all my utility bills and finished the Sunday crossword. Seven times over.

So here in the Mezzanine Level (my fancy word for basement office), after weeks of hanging out on the lake in Michigan, we’re trying to get back on track with the whole big city thing. This year has been tougher than others, for some reason, prompting images of retreating to the wilds, starting a winery (and selling honey by the roadside!!) and giving the Windy City a flip of the finger. One contributing factor to this mood might have been the fact that some crackhead kicked in our back door a few weeks ago and rummaged around the place a little bit. That’s always a nice homecoming, even though my brother-in-law actually discovered the break-in. (Here’s a hint for homeowners: hide your valuables in your teenage son’s room. Most crooks won’t have the stomach to venture in.)

This mood will probably pass. These transitions happen every year, getting used to the noise and the crowds and the inches that often pass between your body and a moving SUV on the sidewalk. We’ll tough it out, I suppose, and soon I’ll get all excited about nice dinners at little out-of-the-way places and all that stuff. Or have I squeezed all the enjoyment out of this city that I can? Time will tell.

So, one thing that Chicago provides that smaller towns don’t is good reading series, in bars that serve good food. Monday night’s event might be the thing to get me in the Chicago groove again. That and beer. Lovely, lovely beer.

The Loveable Losers Literary Revue has been meeting monthly since April in this, the 100th anniversary of the Cubs’ last World Series triumph. Held in the side room of El Jardin (at Clark and Buckingham) and hosted by Donald Evans, this series has hosted many great writers expounding on the Cubs’ wretched existence in these ten decades.

On Monday, May 8, the evening’s theme will be “Curses.” I’ll be reading a new story and poem, and will be joined onstage by the Tribune’s Rick Kogan, WXRT’s Lyn Brehmer, whiz kid Stu Shea, poet Sid Yiddish, and many others. There will be songs, trivia contests, giveaways, and Ouija board readings. So saddle up the goat and head on down. It’ll be a lot of fun. For more information about the series, check out their website: