You Said It, Blago

One sentence sticks out during Blago’s impassioned populist monologue today:

“I can’t believe I’m governor of Illinois.”


So now it’s Governor BlaGONEovich, as the Illinois Senate (a stalwart and respectable bunch of folks if ever one was assembled) has voted 59-0 to impeach him and bar him from ever holding office in the state again.

Rod, of course, was defiant, and said that he was only guilty of caring TOO MUCH, and that the Senate didn’t have the power to remove a governor who cared so much about the people, taking his human shields with him as he was downed on the floor of the arena. Or something like that.

I’m feeling sad that this is over–if a person is going to flame out in public, I prefer the long, drawn out kind of denouement– but I guess the state has to get back into the business of petitioning money from Washington in the next bailout. I’ll miss the sound of helicopters in the neighborhood, that’s for sure. It will seem like years by the time he’s hauled into court by the Feds, and by then, the grass will be green and baseball will be playing, and it just won’t have that certain je nais sai quoi that this whole proceeding did.

I was feeling a little queasy during his closing argument, I have to admit, when he started bringing up the fact that the people of Illinois voted him into office twice. I didn’t need the reminder, and it seemed like a backhanded accusation besides. “Why didn’t you impeach me during my first term?” he asked rhetorically. Well, we might have IF WE HAD KNOWN HOW COMPLETELY CROOKED YOU WERE AND HAD IT ALL ON TAPE BESIDES!

It’s pretty impressive that nobody in the state legislature did or said anything awkward, stupid, venal or vindictive through this whole thing, leaving Rod the stage all to himself. Let that be the measure of the man: he was so reviled among his fellow politicians that they quashed their natural urge to get in front of a camera and spout off, just so that nothing could interrupt his getting kicked to the curb. Of course, I guess they’ll be on their best behavior for a while, maybe until after the federal trial. He is certainly in one classic Biblical respect their scapegoat, but in the final analysis, you have to have been quite the prong to be so reviled among everyone who knows you.

(Maybe you can’t read the subhead of the pulp picture above, but one of the articles is called “Hot Rods–Cool Death.” Just change the punctuation and voila! Instant political commentary!)

Of Lice and Men

At my daughter’s new school, people aren’t putting their heads together to learn, because of a stubborn outbreak of head lice. It started before Christmas, and since the beginning of the year, the kids have had periodic spot-checks by moms armed with combs and popsicle sticks.

Hats and coats have been occasionally packed in garbage bags for the day, to stop the louses from jumping from coat to coat. And while everyone keeps insisting that this outbreak is not a question of anyone’s hygiene, conversations still don’t proceed very far without a disgusted shake of the shoulders and a vocalized “Ewwww!”

Why do I mention this, besides getting a little shudder out of you? It’s to point out one method of eradicating lice that I hadn’t thought of: Call a professional. Hair Fairies is a nationwide string of kid-friendly hair salons that specializes in inspecting kids’ scalps and getting rid of lice and nits. The first couple times I heard about the service, I had to laugh, but parents have been hiring them because sometimes the lice are hard to recognize. Also, after the first three or four times, the glamour of inspecting a kid’s scalp begins to wear off. We’ve all got better things to do than groom each other like baboons.

All I’m sayin’s, That is a specialty that I never would’ve thought of.

Momentous Inauguration, but Occasional-ly Lousy

That was quite some inaugural yesterday. Hope you had a chance to see it as it happened. The TV was on CNN almost all day around here, and I sat down to watch more than I should of parades and balls. I haven’t watched that much TV in a long time, and I was beginning to feel it by early evening. Bloated, unmotivated, a little down–this must be how couch potatoes always feel, but some of it was also due to the passing of the moment. The glitz and glamor will dissipate as our long time of rebuilding begins. Obama might be ready to roll up his sleeves, but I’m always a fan of the interim, the suspense, the what if. It’s safer than commitment.

But the event was a marvelous thing to see, even if W failed to fall down the steps or grab the microphone for a few “clairifcatures” like I hoped. At least Cheney had the sense of theatricality to show up in a wheelchair. I just couldn’t tell if he reminded me of old Mr. Potter, some Bond villain, or Joe Flaherty doing Guy Caballero. (“The wheelchair is for RESPECT!”)

While Obama’s swearing in was thrilling, and his speech pretty darn good (I liked his victory speech in Grant Park a little better), I think everyone would agree that the occasional poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander was a waste of time. (I joked to my wife that it was a surefire way to get 1 million people off the mall quickly, and by gosh if Jon Stewart didn’t use the same joke last night. I still got it!) Of course, it’s no picnic following a speech by the new president, but her “Prasie song for the day” sounded like a laundry list of “Dumb Things I Gotta Do.” The delivery was flat, the words limp, the sentiment mundane. Other than that, it was great. (For more comments, check out the forum at the Poetry Foundation HERE.)

It’s a challenge to capture the spirit of a momentous occasion in a few lines of poetry. Few in history have ever done it well, and the pressure can be taxing. An article caught my eye last fall about the British Poet Laureate, who in his tenure has felt his spring of inspiration dry up. In sympathy for Andrew Motion and the difficulty of poetizing for state events and special occasions, I wrote the following sonnet:

On the Occasion of a New Shopping Center

From Cairo’s souks, the alleys of Tibet,
The saffron-flaked bazaars of Bangalore—
This HyperMart, tho’ newly opened, yet
Does put to shame all those that went before.
In all of England stands there not a shop
To match its offerings in magnitude:
Such produce fresh, such lean and meaty chops,
A deli counter of such plentitude.
In contrast does my soul constrict from want
Of any inspiration, hope or spark,
An empty cupboard, dusty, full of….ants
And metaphors that somehow miss their mark.

Such bargains here, a shopper can’t refuse,
Yet none can match how cheap I sold my muse.

Maybe some zoning commission needs a laureate?

Psychic Satire

I got an email last week from a fan of my “Politically Correct” books, asking me about my Washington Insider parody of “Puss ‘N Boots.” Julie S wrote:

Do you not see any similarities between President Elect Obama’s campaign and your retelling of Puss N’ Boots? So interesting since you wrote it before his Senate run and you are from Chicago. What do you think?

So I had to go back and check the story, since I wrote it so long ago. Wow! There on page 57 of Once Upon A More Enlightened Time was the sentence:

Their optimistically simple campaign slogan–“It’s Time for a Change”–seemed to strike a chord with the optimistically simple voters.

Should I send this to my buddy at the Center for Free Inquiry-Los Angeles, who conducts all sorts of tests for people who claim psychic talents? Hardly. This was written in 1994, when Obama had only just graduated law school and was a junior lawyer in Chicago. No, it just looks like simplistic slogans don’t change much through the years. (And with a natural talent for inspiring yet vague slogans, it looks like I neglected a career that would’ve been far more lucrative.)

Although I can’t tell from the writer’s email, I think she’s angling for me to say Obama is as shallow and opportunistic as the young cat owner in “Puss N Boots”, who just keeps his mouth shut and lets surrogates drop slanders about his opponent and allows the system elevate him at the other’s expense. If this isn’t the case, I apologize, but more than 3/4 of the fan mail I ever get comes from the Right or the Extreme Right, who think they have found a kindred spirit in me. My characterization of Puss ‘N Boots as the schemer and media manipulator behind the throne was an amalgam of many real politicos, including Lee Atwater, Dick Morris, and James Carville.

And the shallow, opportunistic young master? While there are no jokes about bed spelling or deer-in-the-headlights expressions, I modeled him after J. Danforth Quayle.

Taint Misbehavin’

The whole Illinois Senate seat saga has caught my attention only meagerly. Should I care who will be my senator for the next 10-11 months? Not enough to get incensed about it. All the procedurals and arguments about special elections are pretty bloodless. The only thing that really catches my eye through all this is the human element.

The self-righteous stupidity and the ability to bluff yourself into an inescapable corner: Harry Reid.

The ego’s need to attach one more title to your name, regardless of how doing so will completely ruin what little respect your name already carried in Illinois: Roland Burris.

The evil genius supervillain’s skill at creating an insidious gas that will make the supposed good guys fight each other instead of him: Bleepin’ Blagojevich.

Unfortunately, nothing I’ve seen has been a surprise. It’s like telling me that another high draft choice for the Bears will crap out. Why bother to get to know the names? I agree with the Trib’s Eric Zorn that the choice of Burris is legal, and while people had a chance to change the law, they didn’t, so tough noogies. You can scream all you want about special elections or the corruption of the system or whatever. It’s moot as moot gets. Our new junior senator will be treated in Washington like he’s got head lice and will more than likely do as he’s told and choose not to run in 2010. Time to start thinking about that, and watching how that slate is chosen.

I’ve been waiting for the real comedy nugget in all this, and it looks like it came yesterday at the Chicago City Council (a comedic institution that outpaces even The Second City). In a stroke session that would tire and embarrass all but the most veteran porn stars, the City Council spent an hour praising Burris for his long record of public service, and making sure he knows who his friends really are. (For a radio report on this with excerpts, check out this link from WBEZ’s Ben Calhoun.) Ald. Dick Mell praised Burris: “You stood up against an onslaught that, a lot of our knees would have buckled. And you did it with dignity.”

Truer words were never spoken, except maybe when he toasted Blago and his daughter at their wedding reception.

My favorite quote from the stroke session came from Ald. Anthony Beale:

“We all know we got issues with the person [who] appointed him and that the process had been tainted, but when he chose Roland Burris, he untainted the process.”

I chose this because of my juvenile enjoyment of hearing the word “taint”. Taint taint taint taint. It’s a useful word, a friendly and flexible word, with at least three meanings that apply very clearly to Burris’ situation:

The colloquial: Taint as a contraction for “it ain’t”, as exemplified in the title “T’aint Necessarily So.” A passerby might see a full-fledged senator and statesman in Burris, but time will show t’aint the case.

The physical: that part of the male anatomy that “taint yer balls and taint yer ass.” With all the crotch-punching and ass-kissing that’s been going on through this, it’s fitting that we refer to the seat, the process and just about everyone involved as “tainted”.

The linguistic: If Ald. Beale had had his dictionary near him when he wrote his mash note to Burris, he would’ve discovered that “untainted” actually means “untarnished, free from blemishes.” That hasn’t been the case for a long long time.

Warm Cuddlies and Inescapable Afterthoughts

It’s a little bit hectic around here this morning. Carpeting guys are in to take care of the mess that happened Dec. 27, when our record snow cover was hit by near-record heat and pounding rain, creating a nice flood in the basement. The same basement that flooded in Sept with our “once in a century” rainfall. My wife isn’t sure she can take many more of these “rare” events. (I’m sure the flooding was a lot worse downstate that week, so we don’t feel much more than inconvenienced, relatively. There’s always someone worse off than you, til you’re dead, and even then, who knows?)

Our Christmas trip to Michigan between our families was fine and uneventful. Would’ve wished for more snow, so we could’ve gone X-country skiing like we did so many times last year. It was rather frazzle-making, though, as every single day was spent in the car on the way to somewhere. I expected to hear a lot more stories about the sinking economy from Michiganders, but since that’s what we’ve heard on visits there for the past 15 years, the current mess didn’t particularly stand out. If the country has enjoyed any kind of economic boom in this century, the Great Lakes region didn’t see it. It’s still a place where people are working two or three jobs to keep their head above water, and barring any big changes in the way the world works (like the Federal government protecting pensions or offering health care) I think it’s going to stay that way.

Among other events, we visited The Henry Ford Museum (now known as “The Henry Ford”, b/c some marketeer told them “People won’t come visit you if you call yourself a museum.” Next up for renaming: proctologists, prisons, and possibly Detroit itself). It’s a great place, as anyone can tell you. Though it’s changed a lot since I worked there during college, it’s still a remarkable collection of artifacts from America’s industrial heyday. The museum also contains the limo that Kennedy rode in Dallas, the Rosa Parks “Sorry, Lady, I ain’t doin’ it” bus, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, so you can’t fault them for variety.

The current special museum exhibit displayed costumes from sci-fi and adventure movies. The tourists were in complete awe of seeing the nippled Batsuit, the Star Trek Gorn, and Darth Vader’s togs. I’ve never been able to understand this. Have you ever seen a movie prop or costume that didn’t look like a cheap trinket up close? This very day, in shop classes around the country, kids are welding together Star Wars blasters that look more feasible, durable and just plain cool than the cheap tire iron on display there (probably more deadly, too). It must be a unique skill for prop and costume designers to put together things that look so good on screen out of such cheap material (granted, most items have been heavily used during filming). Conversely, anytime I’ve visited an art museum and seen a familiar painting or sculpture in its original form and scale, it’s almost never failed to blow me away. It’s one of the paradoxes of living, solved only by copious amounts of drinking.

A visit to one’s childhood stomping grounds elicits an endless litany of “Oh, such-and-such used to be there” or “That’s where we used to ride bikes before it was a mall.” It’s a tediously surefire path to geezerhood. But driving through Dearborn we passed by the redoubtable Dearborn Music, and I did a quick swerve into the parking lot. The place is still hanging on (it’s even bigger than it was when I was young). It used to be an old style store that sold guitars, pitch pipes, harmonicas, small percussion instruments, sheet music, and LPs. I bought my first few 45s there–Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, and the Cowsills singing the theme from “Hair”. Now in the era of digital downloads, they’re still there selling new and used CDs, DVDs, and LPs for the purists, plus shirts, posters, 3 Stooges pint glasses, etc., and the guys behind the counter told me, “We plan on being here a long time.” Huzzah for you, noble and tenacious retailer! I salute you!

Years ago, I sped out of Dearborn and Detroit lickety-splitly when I had the chance. Now when I visit, my brain is tickled by ridiculous notions of what my life would’ve been like had I stayed. Maybe my subconscious is just playfully creating an alternate reality, a “What If?” universe to keep itself entertained. Driving through Dearborn and seeing its brick bungalows and Dutch colonials decorated for Christmas, I feel the warm cuddlies pulling at me, and I try and imagine relocating my family there.

I think of the simple satisfaction of eating in an old pizzeria, a place in which we never ate when I was a kid. Enamored with the idea of parents and grandparents living nearby, I think of the generational framework of families I knew, which in reality have scattered to the four winds over the past 30 years. I wonder how happy I’d have been if I went to high school there, and didn’t get a taste of the wider world. And all these thoughts are based on nothing, since I was a very solitary youngster and only came out of my shell in high school. I may have been so grateful to gain a couple of friends in my teenage years that I would misplace my affection to the area and hang onto its dwindling possibilities too long. Just because a place is familiar doesn’t mean it’s suitable. While writers are ignored just about everywhere in the country except New York, they are an extreme oddity in an industrial city like Detroit. I was able to reinvent myself in Chicago just enough to retain my sanity.

I love my life now–city streets, restaurants, theaters and opera, two baseball teams to choose from, interesting yet down-to-earth friends, and a cottage to retreat to when necessary. What would’ve happened if I’d stayed in town and married Suzie Schmaltzkopf (my dad’s invariable name for an unknown girlfriend)? Thankfully, it’s just a daydream.

But oh, memories of Belle Isle, Bookie’s Club 870, Buddy’s Pizza in Hamtramck, Stroh’s Beer, and the soundtrack of the Four Tops, the MC5 and Iggy Pop (RIP Ron Asheton)……

Many a fine life could be built with such a foundation.

Now THIS is Corruption with STYLE

How can you beat a lead graf like this?

As an urban planning adviser in the sun- drenched Spanish resort town of Marbella, Juan Antonio Roca had after- tax income of less than 150,000 euros a year.

When he was arrested for corruption in March 2006, police seized assets worth 2.4 billion euros ($3.4 billion), including a century-old palace in Madrid, a country estate equipped with a helipad overlooking the Rock of Gibraltar and a stud farm guarded by a tiger.

I’m sure the horses really enjoyed the security situation. What else are tigers good for, anyway?

From Bloomberg News