Monday, January 20, 2020

Legal pot in Illinois: not a big deal


     My parents live in Boulder, Colorado.
     News that causes eyes to light up. How awesome, people exclaim. I smile and say nothing. To me, it’s as if I said I went fishing and got mauled by a bear and they replied, “Fishing! I love fishing! What did you catch?”
     Visiting Boulder regularly since 1973 gives me perspective on its changes. Growing mobs of fitness freaks, sprawling tracts of condos, more every year, crowding out the Rockies. I am never reluctant to come home to Chicago.
     I happened to be in Boulder on Jan. 1, 2014, when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana and was struck by the newspapers standing on chairs, cheering. Every part of every paper was tossing fistfuls of confetti.
     The Denver Post’s home section told readers how to cultivate pot gardens. How to bake pot brownies. Even the “fit!” section: “THC: The powerhouse behind your pot!” No aspect went unexplored: Your dog, could its parasites make your pot plants sick? Somehow the comics remained aloof.
     Yes, it’s news. But the media then goes overboard and starts ballyhooing certain minor vices. Take the lottery. Much celebration of enormous payouts. Occasional dutiful whispers about remote odds of winning. When Powerball rolls over, rapt reportage of the astronomical jackpot. Few observe the rollover also means you could have bought every single ticket sold and still lost.
     Now it’s marijuana’s turn. For the record, I’m glad Illinois legalized it. The federal government should, too.
     Being on medical leave, letting my new titanium hip settle in, I’ve had time to read the coverage welcoming legal pot since Jan. 1. Numerous reports of eager customers lining up in the pre-dawn chill. Of the Chicago City Council bickering over divvying up the pie.
     Every opinion expressed, except the one I formed after five years of legal pot in Colorado: It’s no big deal. People who already partake will pay more, get better product, and the state will get a tax bonanza that, being the state, it will mostly squander. A few folks will be emboldened to give it a try.

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Flashback 1999: Sunday attire raises several color issues


Nightlife, 1943, by Archibald Motley (Art Institute of Chicago)

     You can't write a column in Chicago and not deal frequently with race. At least I can't. I understand that I'm straying into fraught territory, perhaps better left to others. But I find myself curious about things, and want to follow that curiosity, such as in this column from 20 years ago. My view is, if you are sincere and respectful, you can ask questions, such as why African-American men wear bolder fashions.
     The key is to find the right people to share their knowledge. I have no idea how I ended up talking to Geoffrey Holder, who played Baron Samedi in the 1973 Bond movie "Live and Let Die" before becoming the laughing spokesman for 7-Up. Nor can I explain the column ending, which falls flat—a lost opportunity. I definitely remember, in researching the piece, getting the sense that part of the bright and meticulous fashion, particularly for steppers, was a way to manifest yourself in a society that dismisses your existence, your value. I'm not sure why I didn't emphasize that—maybe I lacked the confidence or nobody said it directly—instead of focusing on the "undercurrent of unease" that the topic drew. Perhaps this intro is my attempt at a do-over.


     My wife and I were strolling the boys down Armitage Avenue one bright Sunday morning when we passed Greater Little Rock The Lord Church, an African-American Baptist church, just as services were letting out.
    The men of the congregation were dressed vividly, in suits of purple or mustard yellow or maroon, and I appraised them with the usual blend of curiosity and envy which I regard better-dressed men, which, given my normal state of shabby rumpledom, is just about everybody.
     "Why don't white men have a sense of style?" my wife asked.
      Somewhat taken aback, I said, "I could buy an electric blue suit, too, if you like." But I knew what she meant. A range of fashion seems available to African-American men that is entirely off-limits for whites. The fact is I could never wear an electric blue suit. I would be a laughingstock.
     Frankly, the question seemed among those delicate matters that is not supposed to be addressed at all. One of the lesser ills of racism—though still a real one—is that the idiotic notion claiming certain races are superior is generally met with the palpable untruth that all races are the same. When, of course, we are not the same.
     Hispanics, for instance, often speak Spanish. Not always. Not exclusively. A Finn may speak Spanish, and a person born in Mexico may not. But, generally, groups tracing their origins to Spanish-speaking countries speak more Spanish than people, say, from France.
     I don't think this is the language of hate. In fact, I think we miss a chance to become more familiar with one another by shutting our eyes to our differences. For years, I was puzzled by what struck me as the oddness of certain names some African Americans gave their children: Jolinda, and such. After stewing on it for years, I finally gathered my courage and asked an African-American colleague, who explained that parents will often take their own names and combine them. Thus John and Linda yield Jolinda. It made sense to me, and I learned something by asking.
     The question remains: Is the popularity of colorful suits among African Americans and their absence among whites a real phenomenon?
     "I would have to say it is a phenomenon," said Willie Scott, a designer for R. Kelly, Isiah Thomas and other celebrities. "African Americans are bold, and boldness means bright colors. African Americans are really into fashion. I don't want to say other races aren't. But we are a little more apt to step out of the norm."
     Distinguished actor Geoffrey Holder finds nothing bold about wearing bright suits "if you can pull it off."
     "If a woman can wear red and a woman can wear emerald green and a woman can wear turquoise blue, why can't a man?" Holder said. "My wife does not dress me—so many men's wives dress them. They want to fit into society so they have to wear the uniform like the rest of society. Brooks Brothers is the uniform for a banker. But I am not a banker. I dress to suit my height and the color of my skin, I dress for the room I'm going to, the space I'm taking over. I dress for my moods, and I wear the colors that I'm lucky in."
     Scott said that dark skin is enhanced by bright color.
     "Certain colors look very nice on African-American men," he said.
     But even on them, he said, it's important to save flashiness for the proper occasion—a night out, or a concert.
     "You need to pick the right time and place," he said. "You don't want to walk into IBM to get a job with your red pinstripe suit."
     I detected an undercurrent of unease and realized, belatedly, that the colorful suits are looked down on by more conservative folks.
     "Absolutely," said Eunice Johnson, the matriarch of African-American fashion, who has been running the Ebony fashion show for 41 years. "A lot of young men just like to be seen rather than heard. Some people are more ostentatious than others. I certainly don't know any men who wear light blue suits and orange suits. Nobody in our fashion shows wears anything like that."
     An older gentleman I approached on Wabash Avenue was wearing pinstriped royal blue slacks, jacket and a matching homburg hat. He wouldn't give his name, but he spoke with a quiet dignity.
     "I'm a stepper," he said. "Stepping is a dance, and I'm part of that subculture. This is just the way steppers dress. . . . I just love colors."
     I ended my investigation genuinely uncertain. Are such matters better examined or left ignored? There's a phrase in Yiddish: shanda fer de goyim which basically means "An embarrassment in front of strangers." It's used to describe anything Jews do that reflects poorly on the religion. If a writer from Ebony called me with questions on Jewish religious art, as reflected by merchandise sold at temple gift shops, I could speak on the subject but would feel a creeping sense that this isn't going to end up a big splashy advertisement for the religion.
     Such discomfort is valuable. Hiding behind false politeness is too easy. I certainly learned something. This is what I learned, sitting in Willie Scott's office, realizing how fabulous he looks and how threadbare and ridiculous I look, dressed in my reporter's rags: I've got to get a better wardrobe.

     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, October 17, 1999

Saturday, January 18, 2020

In restaurants we find significance

Rustic duck terrine with Swiss chard at Cellar Door Provisions

     
    Well ... the boys are back at school.
     Sigh.
     Quite the winter break. A solid month. Fun was had. We went to a movie—the weirdly-hallucinogenic "Cats." We ate Lou Malnati's pizza. Twice. We played Settlers of Catan and Bananagrams. We had a big sprawling Hanukkah party, attended a bris. We rang in the New Year. In the middle, I had an new hip installed. They took over dog-walking duties, as per plan.

     We hit our favorite places: Francesco's Hole in the Wall, twice. TAVA in Morton Grove. Blufish and Fuji Yama, where we were sad to discover Irene, the stern overseer, has retired. Just when she had finally come to accept us....
     Fancier restaurants were occasionally involved. Some, the boys went to without the old folks. The younger met a friend at Booze Box ("Good name," I muttered) the self-described "Japanese small-dish and drinking establishment celebrating savory, Japanese Izakaya-style small plates and Japanese street food that is meant to be casual and intentionally full of texture, fat and salt" (maybe it's a translation issue) located under Sushi Dokku. 
     
     Speaking of translation, the older boy met a friend at Avec, leading to my inevitable remark:  "I remember when it was still called 'With'..."
     That isn't much, as far as jokes go. An eye-rolling, dad joke. But it's my joke, and I'm sticking with it. "With," of course, would be a puzzling name for a restaurant, and the idea that it would then go upscale, develop pretensions, and start calling itself "Avec"—"with" in French—maybe you have to be me to think that's funny.
     That crack pretty much sums up my approach toward pricy dining. I try to bring a little Midwestern clear-eyed skepticism to the process. Or at least as much as I can and still go, and have fun, or try to. Can't spend all our money on painful medical procedures....
     The truth is, I'd never go, left to my own devices. I never wake up thinking, "I'd really like to drop $500 on dinner tonight." Nor my wife. But the boys coming home is an increasing rarity; my strategy, rather than the typical parental lay-on-the-guilt-until-they-crack approach, is this: if they have fun while they're here, maybe they'll come home occasionally. 
     So their visits are a kind of permission, a fog of goodwill that gets puffed over chi-chi eateries we would otherwise view harshly were my wife and I to slide ourselves to chew the chow. Not that we would ever do that. Typically, when I see a list of new restaurants, I've never been to any, never heard of any, and don't plan to go. They could open a restaurant called "neil" featuring all the favorite dishes of my youth and I'd look at the food porn color photo, read about the Michelin stars and James Beard awards, muse "I should go there someday" and then forget all about it.
    The boys, however, both really like high-end restaurants. Restaurants are their marker of significance, and I told them to put their heads together and figure out a few places they wanted to try over Christmas break. Whatever they picked would be a whole lot cheaper than flying to Mexico and going out to eat at the Ixtapa Denny's.
     They came up with three: Elske, Omakase Yume and Cellar Door Provisions. Naturally, I had never heard of any of them.
     The first two I'm going to parse next Friday, in my column in the newspaper which (talk about burying the lede) resumes after medical hiatus on Monday. 
    Our final fancy dinner, which, perhaps to their relief, won't fit in the paper, was last Saturday night at Cellar Door, a tavern-like farm-to-table place on Diversey. Interesting little dishes —roasted beets, poached salmon.  A rustic duck terrine with chard. (It was weird. On Tuesday, I could feel the column-writing circuits start to hum, to glow red, as if something unplugged were now  plugged in. Suddenly, the systems booted up and we were back in business).
    Some Cellar Door offerings were a tad too rustic. My older boy tasted his Fable Farm Fermentory Emanation cider—made from "foraged apples," aka apples found rotting on the ground—and suggested my wife might like it.  
    "It tastes like fermented garbage," she said.
    "It tastes like how garbage smells," my younger son elaborated, handing the glass back, his face twisted in disgust. 
    "Exactly!" the older boy said, brightly. "But in a good way!"
     The server was a Gen Z type in a stocking hat and hoodie flat-aspecting  the food over. At least she swung by frequently, which was enough. I liked sitting in the window on a stormy Saturday night, watching the snow fall (I might be a cheap date, as in my post-surgery mode, I still like anything that involves getting out of the house).  When she asked how our dessert was, and we told her that our ice cream so salty we could not eat it, she barely registered the complaint—her expression said, "Unhappy? Tough, here's your bill." My philosophy is, don't ask if the answer isn't going to spark some kind of reaction. Then again, I have a drawer full of t-shirts older than she is, so I suppose the need for some latitude is to be expected. We all must learn our trades, and if this finds its way to the Cellar Door folks, well, let me spill the beans: friendliness can be hip, too. Maybe it was my fault; I skew old for the room's demographic by a good 20 years. Maybe the chill was intentional, the point being: we can't have all these old people eating here, driving away business. Message received.
    Looking back, I all-too-well grasp the scam aspect of expensive restaurants—both places that served bread charged extra for it. Omakase Yume appears presents itself as a prix fixe restaurant, as you'll discover next week, but that's more theoretical than real. The prix fixe meal is only the beginning. Not to complain. Dining out costs money, and you're paying both for food and to forge memories. Though this crop of new places makes me even more secure in my general strategy of returning again and again to those few restaurants I already know and love. Not that any of these places were dogs. But they weren't the oh-my-God-I-have-to-come-back-here-and-eat-MORE experience of first encountering, say, Green Street Smoked Meats. Which is why I always go to new restaurants, when asked. Because one of them might be Green Street Smoked Meats. Unless you're open to new experiences, you'll never discover anything. Bottom line: the boys were happy, which made my wife and me happy, and if they want to come back for spring break, well, the offer stands.   

Friday, January 17, 2020

Profiles in Cowardice

Chamber of Deputies, by Honore Daumier (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     Here's what I will never understand.
     Senators are smart. Even Republican senators. They see the ruin awaiting Trump toadies. The smoldering hulks that used to be Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, et al. Those in prison or heading there.  The inversion of Rudy Giuliani from the nation's mayor to a clown's consigliere. The contempt Trump holds for his staunchest allies, the without-a-second-thought with which he disposes them when convenient. The harsh judgment of history awaiting. They must know.
    And yet Sens. Mitch McConnell and Susan Collins. They grovel and scrape and cast off whatever principles they might have had. Just as Reps. Jim Jordan and Devon Nunes and Kevin McCarthy did during the trial in the House. Because ...
    They do it because ...
    Well, at this point they've been doing it for years. Sink or swim with Donald Trump. Chalk it up to habit. Is that it?
    They do it because ...
    Their jobs, right? They figure they'll be primaried by some more zealous Trump supporter, and their pro-Trump constituencies will give them the heave-ho.
     Granted, being senator is a good job. Salary: $174,000 a year. But not that good. It's less than what a new attorney gets at a top firm straight out of law school. There must be better jobs. Most of the senators are millionaires already. They aren't living off their salaries.
     So the power then. Power to ... what? Sink with Donald Trump? Is this the job they thought they signed up for? Is there nothing else? But what about their pride? Their sense of duty? Honor? Religion? Patriotism?
     Empty words.
     The Senate trial is an opportunity, or should be, or should have been. Spouting love for the Donald out of one side of their mouths, they could have given in to responsibility, to the Constitution, then to the overwhelming evidence of guilt. Aren't any of them sly? Apparently not. Not a sigh. Not a raised eyebrow. Nothing, but kowtowing, groveling, in-the-dirt-obeisance.
     You'd think somebody would. Just one. But no. Even Mitt Romney, who occasionally musters a limp, weak tea protest before drawing it back. Susan Collins used to give lip service to her morals before caving in. Now she doesn't even do that.
     A most disgusting show of cowardice.
     Who opposes Trump and wonders if they are doing the right thing? And worries how the future will look back on us? Anyone? I don't.
     Certainty doesn't mean much, I suppose. Tap any Trump supporter on the shoulder at a rally and they are 100 percent certain in their full and unconditional support. So I hesitate to present my certainty as significant. That's one of the many hall-of-mirrors nightmares of this era. There is no term that can be honestly applied to Trump that he hasn't already tossed off in all directions.
     But I am certain that opposing Donald Trump is a patriotic duty, almost sacred in its alignment with all concepts of democracy, freedom, morals, human decency. I have no doubt whatsoever that no matter what occurs in this country, it is something I will look back on with pride, or my children will look back on with pride, and if that is in conflict with the general consensus, it will mean that Trump has triumphed—as he might—and we are still in the dark age that follows. But that dark age will end because all dark ages do.  The story can't end with Trump winning. It can't it can't it can't. Enough people will stand up, vote, resist. It has to happen.
     I can't understand it. I love my job, but if my bosses told me I had to ballyhoo Trump, I would give it up. Go do something else. Greet people at Home Depot. At least I hope I would. You can't predict your own courage with absolute certainty. Nobody expects himself to be hiding in the pickle barrel when the bugle sounds. But I like to think I would stand tall. People do such things all the time, leap into rivers to save drowning people, walk the point on patrol in Afghanistan. Run into burning buildings, charge up dark staircases, guns drawn. Not that I'm comparing rhetoric to actual physical heroism. But putting yourself at risk for a cause. Why is heroism so common in some professions, and so rare in others? So scarce in the United States Senate? This could have been their moment to shine. Instead it is their moment of shame.
    I'll never understand it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The mayor puts her foot down


     Watched the presidential debate Tuesday night. Not much to add to the general roar. The whole thing seems beside-the-point right now. One of these candidates will have to defeat Donald Trump. Or lose to him.
      Or Michael Bloomberg will swoop in and do the job. Though that seems improbable, no matter how many commercials he runs.  Besides, is another self-absorbed billionaire really the answer to whatever our country's real problem is?
     The next day, discussing the outcome with my younger son, he mentioned that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is at a disadvantage compared to Joe Biden, since black Americans won't support him, because he's gay, and African-Americans have a particular animus toward gays.
     According to common wisdom. The idea is that, being devout church going folk, they hold the prejudices of the Christian faith a little tighter than most.
     The common wisdom. But is it actually true? I went looking for numbers. A Pew Research Center poll last year found that while 62 percent of white American adults support same-sex marriage, only 51 percent of black American adults do.
     A gap, though not a huge gap. Maybe the effect is magnified because it is more surprising to see blacks being homophobic—just as it is surprising to see them being anti-Semitic—because the of the charmed notion that, having been subject to such prolonged and systemic bigotry themselves, blacks might be more reluctant to inflict baseless hatred upon others.
     Pretty to think so. I don't see much evidence of that being true for any minority group. Racism is a kind of false power, and sometimes disadvantaged groups are even more quick to resort to it, having little else to boost themselves than to jeer at someone they can consider lower. Jews certainly have suffered tremendously at the hands of history, and while Jews, as a group, have certainly worked toward aiding the struggles of other minorities, they also, as individuals, are perfectly capable of expressing the vilest prejudices.
     There was an example of black anti-gay bias on display this week in the Chicago City Council. Mayor Lightfoot sponsored a resolution to look into whether LGBTQ businesses are discriminated against when doing business with the city. During committee debate Tuesday, several black aldermen took turns looking askance at it. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., questioned whether white gay men can be considered victims of prejudice at all. "I don't think they're discriminated against," he said, incredibly invoking “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” an Adam Sandler yuck-fest where two straight firemen pretend to be gay to gain benefits. He wondered: how can you even tell whether a person is gay or not? What if people are making it up?
     On Wednesday, at the general meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot stood up and was having none of it.
     "I don't normally speak during City Council debates," Lightfoot began, in an angry rebuttal. “As a leader, as a black gay woman proud on all fronts, I have to say I’m disturbed by the nature of the committee discussion and the nature of the discussion here today...I will be silent no more on any issue when people say and do things that are offensive and racist, I feel I have an obligation to speak and so I am.""
     I won't go into her whole remarks. They're brief; you can watch them here. But I have to say, I continue to be impressed with Lightfoot. Yes, she is only standing up for her own, and that is not exactly a profile in courage. It is the least anyone can do. Still, she is without a doubt standing up. Often, when a person from a minority group comes to power, they promptly ignore that group, figuring their support is secure. Barack Obama was an example of that—not exactly going out on a limb to help black Americans. But Lightfoot doesn't seem as if she's going to fall into that rut. Good for her.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The squirrels win a round

    Human beings have a genius for ignoring warning signs.  In matters big and matters small.
    An example of the former is found if you've been following the for-the-textbooks corporate meltdown at Boeing over the 737 Max, with mocking emails painting a corporate culture 180 degrees opposite to everything they purported to be. Negligence that will end up costing a thousand dollars in real losses for every buck saved through corner cutting and betrayal of their standards. You wonder why there wasn't one adult in the room, screaming bloody murder over this act of corporate sepukku. Who quit in protest? Nobody, apparently.
     Why? Because they're humans, and humans tend to shrug and overlook. Look at climate change. The whole world being destroyed before our eyes. Ho-hum, from some quarters.
     Nor does the issue have to be huge to spark willful blindness. We run the gamut, from leaking levees to fraying shoelaces. We see the trouble brewing. We think: "I should do something." Then do nothing. Even on tiny matters.
     As an example of small negligence, consider the bird feeder in my backyard. On Wednesday, I looked outside and noticed that my foolproof anti-squirrel system—a clear shower rod supporting a circular baffle—had collapsed, the thin plastic of the rod finally being degraded by the elements. It had done so a couple times before, and I had always managed to rig it back up. The thing to do would be to buy a new rod, but that would take a trip to the hardware store and $5 or $10.
     "I'll have to fix that before a squirrel gets in," I thought Wednesday, doing nothing.
     Then Thursday, this. A loathsome squirrel, face down my bird food. My birds' food. He must have shimmied up the pole (the shower rod keeps squirrels from grabbing the pole with their powerful, robber's hands) and pried off the cover. These squirrels are so devious, I wouldn't be surprised to find one picking a Yale lock.
     I should, I thought, stride outside and immediately fix it. But that would involve putting on boots. Which would require first putting a sock on my right foot. Which is still a task that requires concentration and not a little pain. I made a mental note to take care of that ASAP.
     Friday, the squirrel was back, bird feeder diving again. And I resolved, the very next time I'm outdoors, to be driven—I can't yet drive—to the hardware store and grab a new pole, get things back in shipshape order, so that the feeder can serve the valued members of the Steinberg yard community, aka birds, and not provide further energy to the loathed and already plenty hyperkinetic interlopers whose presence might be tolerated, but should never be encouraged, even through inaction.

 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Strange interlude 2008: The house without bling

     This post-surgery recuperation is taking longer than I expected. Two full weeks now. Apologies. It's frustrating for me too. But I have to kinda take my body's lead on this thing, and the body says, "chill." Some stretching exercises, some physical therapy, and I'm done for the day. Even posting this seems almost a bridge too far, but I think I can manage. It's hard to read much, never mind write anything. Maybe next week.
     Thank goodness there is royal scandal, although honestly, it quickly morphed, in my eyes, from some nutty British crown-watching kerfuffle, to Something Significant About Race, influenced by this revealing Afua Hirsh piece in the Sunday New York Times, and BuzzFeed's jaw-dropping comparison of press coverage of Kate Middleton v. Meghan Markle. 
     I'm tempted to just leave it at that. But this is my blog, and I should join the party. So I wondered what, if anything, I wrote about Prince Harry over the years, and found this, when the Drudge Report outed him during his military service. Frankly, the fact he served in a combat zone should buy him significant goodwill, and my prediction is that Harry & Meghan's recent pushback against the racist British press will someday be seen as among their finest hours. I left in the breakfast table conversation about bling because, well, I had to. For the record, the younger boy is the least ostentatious 22-year-old I ever met. So I guess my anti-bling pushback worked.

OPENING SHOT . . .

     See? Journalists aren't quite the scum you think we are. For 10 weeks, Britain's Prince Harry had been fighting with his unit in Afghanistan, and the normally rapacious and cut-throat British media kept the whole thing in a cone of silence, until his cover was blown by the Drudge Report (is Matt Drudge having a good week, or what? First the American media swallows his Obama-in-a-turban photo, hook, line and sinker, then he eats the British press' lunch and leaves them muttering about bad form).
     In return for not turning a blaze of publicity that might get the 23-year-old royal killed, the British media was granted access to take photos and conduct interviews with him. It seemed a win-win situation all around. Perhaps their role in hounding Harry's mother -- Princess Diana -- to her grave gave the Brits a rare sense of duty.
     Is it bad that Drudge blew his cover? Well, somebody had to feed the news to him, so if Drudge knew, it was hours away from hitting other Web sites anyway. Still, the whole episode shows that restraint is possible, even in this day and age.

STUDS TERKEL IS NOT BLING

     "Dad, can we get Bling Water?" asks the 12-year-old, the Sun-Times spread on the kitchen counter before him, open to news that the Trump Hotel is selling water for $25 in crystal-encrusted bottles.
     "No," I say. "We are not a household that embraces bling."
     He keeps talking, but I am lost in reverie. My boy, 15 years hence, 350 pounds, wearing a sequin baseball cap turned sideways. Bedecked in gold pendants and chains, he sits on a folding chair in a circle of large, similarly-appointed men.
     "Sure we had love, a roof over our head, food on the table," I say, out-loud to the kitchen, approximating his voice, channeling the future scene, where he brushes away a tear as sympathetic, bejeweled hands are placed on his shoulder. "But we had no bling. My father never valued bling. I hated him for that."
     My wife, the cheerleader of the status quo, jumps in.
     "We went to the opera last night," she says. True—'The Barber of Seville.' Lovely. "The opera is bling."
     "The opera is not bling," I insist.
     "We sat in Studs Terkel's seats," she continues—the guy next to us told us that Studs once sat where we were sitting. "That's bling."
     "Studs Terkel is not bling!" I spit, fiercely. "He's a literary icon but not bling. He's 95. He has red socks."
     "Studs is a fan of the Red Sox?" says my wife, puzzled.
     "No he WEARS red socks!" I retort. "Red socks are not bling."
     "I think red socks are kinda bling," she says, deflating.
     "Why can't we get the water?" my son persists. I expect the Marx Brothers to burst in at this point. Somebody has to lay down the law.
     "I am de faddah," I say, in my best Laurence Olivier in "The Jazz Singer" voice, "and I say, we hef no bling in zis household."
     I glance from boy to boy.
     "You kids . . ." I begin, my voice dripping contempt. "With your bling, and your hip, and your hop. I forbid it! I will not hef der hip und der hop."
     And I storm off to work.
                                        —Originally published in the Sun-Times, March 2, 2008