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!


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.

Tribute to the Late Tigers Broadcaster Paul Carey

downloadThe Detroit Tigers have had up and down years for the past few decades, but one area they’ve been blessed in is broadcasting. Ernie Harwell was on the radio when I was growing up, and his voice meant vacations, hot nights, Dad’s cigarette smoke, and driving with the windows down. Ask anyone in Michigan and northern Ohio about it.

But Ernie’s partner for many years was Paul Carey. His bass to Ernie’s southern tenor was the perfect match, and while he didn’t tell all kinds of baseball stories like Ernie, he was still a consummate broadcaster. And by all accounts, as fine a man as Ernie was, and his closest friend. Godspeed, Paul, and thanks for all your wonderful work through the years.

Today on Bardball:

The Voice of God
RIP Paul Carey (1928-2016), long-time Tigers radio announcer.
The roar of a Rouge Plant furnace
Birthing a Thunderbird
The muscle roll of Gitchee Gumee
Festooned in spray
The ancient trees deep-rooted
Strummed like a lyre
The tectonic rumble of two peninsulas
Alive in summer

Today on Bardball

Where the Prime Rib is only $11.99 before 5 o’clock:

Velour, Sideburns and Johnny Bench

Per ’70s star Johnny Bench:
Bryce Harper makes my fists clench.
Bat-flipping is naught but a stench.
Batters guilty best stand in a trench
Lest chin music make their necks wrench
And cause the game’s great fans to blench.
To be “old school”, he said, makes a mensch,
Then belched and goosed his serving wench.

Hear Me Babble on the Wireless Box

6a00d83452285d69e20111689fe0cb970c-piJustin Kaufman has risen from improv comedian to radio producer to full-time evening host on WGN-AM radio, and still carries that boyish charm with him. He was nice enough to let me on his show last night to promote Thursday’s reading at the Frunchroom, and also to talk about Rex Koko and “Clown noir.” Click on the link below, I should come in at around the 90 minute mark.


I fear that the only lame answer I gave in the interview is the one that will stick with me for months or years. (Some of us are cursed with a brain that will focus completely on tiny missteps.) Justin asked me point blank a question I thought I was prepared for: “Who is the ideal reader for the Rex Koko mysteries?”

I sputtered some generic answer, yet years ago, I had formulated the right response to this (hope I get to use it someday):

“Rex Koko is written for anyone who has been called out by their boss at a meeting, asked to explain him/herself, and knew the only acceptable answer to the question was to drop trou and honk.”

Thanks again to Justin for having me on.

RIP to the Best Dog Ever

There’s no one begging to be walked when I get home late at night.

There’s no one pushing himself into my lap whenever I dare to sit on the floor.

There’s no one who will bark at phantoms he hears in the Chicago night.

There’s no one who will leave a mess for us to step in when we wake up in the morning.

There’s no one who will sniff at every corner of every fence in the neighborhood, especially when it is windy and below zero.

There’s no one who will love us so strongly and unreservedly.

A couple of days ago, we had to put down Duffy, the wheaten terrier who had been part of our lives for 15 or more years. He was named Harley when we adopted him, but that macho name didn’t suit him at all, so we re-named him Duffy. I’ve never not liked a Duffy. And no one ever disliked him. If anything, he acted too much like a human in the family, getting underfoot, barking to be included in everything. He was pretty uninterested in food yet extremely well behaved. He might have had a dumb name when we got him, but his owner had trained him extremely well.

But his quality of life had gone downhill and wasn’t improving. He’d gone blind and deaf, and didn’t know where he was. Seizures would hit him when he went out for a walk in the sunshine. (I think the sunlight somehow triggered them, but was never sure.) His intestinal tract was irritated more often than not, and when he could find the back door to be let out, sometimes he needed to be carried down the stairs. So it was time to end his suffering. My wife did it while I was out of town on a college visit, because she’s a little tougher than me. (Okay, a lot tougher.)

We probably won’t get another dog soon, because we’d like to travel a little more. But also, because no other dog could really match him. He was one of a kind. He was the dog of dogs. So long, little buddy.

As the World Series Begins…

Today on Bardball, your only source for bad baseball poetry, a recap of a terrific post-season:

What a Season — And It Ain’t Over Yet

So now, my friends, it has come to this,
The World Series of 2015
The kids ablaze on the New York Amazin’s
Versus the Big Blue Royal Machine.
Let’s consider all that’s gone before
As we bid the warm weather goodbye
Some teams did roll as had been foretold
While others came through with surprise.
The new Cubbie kids swung some mean bats
The Blue Jays refused to show fear
Motown fell dead, now needs a retread
While the Giants await an even year.
The Dodgers in their close-ups again blinked
Staid St. Louis became hot and unglued
The Nationals sputtered, then throttled each other
The Lone Star State watched a marvelous feud
So when someone tells you baseball is boring,
Whether online, at work, in a bar,
Don’t chuckle or sigh. Look them straight in the eye
And say, “Baseball’s not boring — you are.”

If you happen to be in Chicago today…

gonefishing1As the Cubs play the Bucs for their chance at the playoffs, don’t expect any more of that Midwestern hospitality.  Today at Bardball:

Like Anything Will Get Done Wednesday

If you happen to be in Chicago today,
Don’t fret if nobody makes you pay
For your pumpkin muffin and soy latte,
Or drivers give you the right-of-way.
Don’t book something crucial, say,
Like surgery or a crown inlay.
No one has attention to pay
To anything but what may
Happen when the sky turns grey
And Jake and the Cubs begin to play.

Fun on the Bus with the Kansas City Monarchs

51QlN3YomPL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Today’s poem at Bardball was inspired by some of Buck O’Neill’s stories about the Negro Leagues in The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski.

Fun on the Bus with the Kansas City Monarchs

We rode the bus a lot back then
Murphy was our bus driver
No first name
“Murphy” might’ve been fake too
He was bad business
Gold teeth
Angry eye
A past we never asked about
But reliable
Murphy was reliable
You could always count on him
Hearing one of us on the team shout
(and we did it many times a night)
“Hey Murphy! I think I just saw a police car!”
And hitting the gas
And driving like the devil himself was after him