Friday, October 21, 2016

Trump brand now shining like a lead balloon

     There are many ways to vote against Donald Trump.
     Vote early now or at the ballot box Nov. 8.
     Either way works. But that still isn’t enough for some to register their disdain for the talking yam who would shrug off our cherished democracy.
     Walking through a Barnes & Noble this week, Michele Kurlander turned books by Donald Trump around, so their covers faced the wall.
     “Childish,” she said. “But it made me feel better.”
     In May, when the Los Angeles Dodgers were at Chicago and staying at the Trump International Hotel and Towers, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez refused to join his teammates at the hotel.
     “I didn’t stay there,” Gonzalez said. “I had my reasons.”
     And Elonide Semmes, president of Right Hat, a boutique branding agency headquartered in Chicago, instructed her staff not to stay in Trump hotels as they crisscross the country helping companies forge corporate identities. The epiphany came on the Chicago River during an architectural boat tour.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

A sort of genius really

    Donald Trump exists in that surreal zone of stupidity that is so extreme, you'd almost feel sorry for him, that is, if he weren't trying to lead the country over a cliff. 
    The day after his third scowling, shrugging, blathering performance at a presidential debate, he raised what has become one of his trademark baseless charges: that Hillary Clinton was "inappropriately given the debate questions."
     Which leads us to the subjects raised at the debate: the Supreme Court. Immigration. The economy. Couldn't of seen these coming, eh? These were surprises to Trump? No wonder he was so badly beaten by Clinton and her secret information. No wonder, even as the debagte was transpiring, Trump was aware enough that he was blowing it, again, badly enough that only cheating on Clinton's part would explain it. He lashed out at her, poised despite his constant interruptions, insults, one of which, "nasty woman," instantly became a badge of honor, the way that the ((())) denotation used by Trump's anti-Semitic supporters to tag Jewish names was seized and used by Jewish writers on Twitter.
      While I have been slow in surrendering my pessimism, my nagging fear that he will win, the polls are such that I'm beginning to yield that up to actual hope that he won't. 
    Still, it's grim that he's even running, that he's in contention, that anyone supports him. He'd be embarrassing as a fringe candidate that got a whopping 10 percent of the vote. 
    Let's touch upon the undeniable qualities: a bigot and a bully, a fraud and a liar. Rolling like a puppy at the feet not only of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, but too dumb to be ashamed of it. Lauding Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad, calling him smarter than both President Obama and Hillary Clinton in Wednesday's debate, when he hobbyhorsed on his dozen or so familiar concepts, ignoring the substance of the questions he was asked. 
    Hillary Clinton didn't get the questions ahead of time. Any idiot would have known what policy questions Chris Wallace would raise. But Donald Trump is not just any idiot.  He's special. Idiocy is the one area where he truly excels. 

"Soul clap its hands and sing'

                              That is no country for old men. The young 
                               In one another's arms, birds in the trees

     Ever since Google maps started listing 'L' stations, I take the train everywhere. Why bother with a cab? Trains are convenient, usually faster, and cost a lot less.  
     Plus the 'L' pulses with life, energy. The middle aged suburbanites on the Metra gaze at their phones in dull silence, like cows in a pen. The city kids tumble on and off the trains, shouting, laughing, practically dancing in place.
      Or such is my romantic view of it.
     So I took the Brown line from the Merchandise Mart to Sedgwick Tuesday to meet a friend for lunch at Kanela's Breakfast Club on Wells Street. Try the barbecue chicken salad. Mmm.
     While I was in the neighborhood, I stopped at the Up Down Cigar Shop to pick up a couple Rocky Patels as a treat. And now I'm taking the train back to the paper. 
    Most people stand by the door, but that gets crowded, makes it hard for others to get in and out. So I step into the center of the train. Considerate. The train is full, there isn't a seat, but that's okay. I can stand for two stops, or 20. I'm a man in motion, moving through the city, on the 'L,' healthy, happy, or as close to happy as I come. 
    A young woman is sitting next to me. I don't notice her until she speaks.
    "Would you like my seat?" she says. I look around, to see who she's talking to. She's talking to me. I look down at her face. About 20. I'd almost guess Navajo, by her cheekbones and her gleaming black hair, but that can't be. Probably Hispanic. A college student maybe.

                                —Those dying generations—at their song,
                                   The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
                                   Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
                                   Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

    "No thank you," I say, automatically then, unable to resist, jut out my lower lip and add petulantly, "Nobody has ever offered me a seat before." But she has already looked away, and I do the same. 
     Fifty-six. A bit grey in the beard, yes, but I thought in a dashing, Richard Branson sort of way. Not in a geriatric, young-people-offering-me-a-seat way. I keep my gaze level, watching the apartments roll past. 
    "A person is always startled when he hears himself seriously called an old man for the first time," Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. wrote in 1858, when he was ...ulp... 49. 
     Then again, Holmes lived to be 85, old enough to see his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the future Supreme Court Justice, rise to the high court of Massachusetts. Still plenty of time to get used to my role in the universe. 
    Besides, the offer is a good thing, to see the young offering their elders a seat. And kids, really, they aren't able to judge how old people are. Everybody over 30 is ancient. You can't feel bad about that. Though of course I do, a little. No one wants to grow old, though we all do. Most of us, that is. Nothing to do but accept it. Growing old, remember, beats the alternative.  Yeats, as always, points the way out in his "Sailing to Bzyantium."
                                          An aged man is but a paltry thing,
                                          A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 
                                          Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
                                      For every tatter in its mortal dress

     That's a plan. The doors slid open at the Mart stop and, not looking again at my would-be benefactress, I put on my bravest face, not quite clapping and singing, but striding out of the train with all the purpose and dignity and vigor I can muster.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Now is the time to salaam before Steve Bartman

     Life is not fair.
     I hope I’m not the guy spilling the beans to you. But the best competitor and the one who wins are not always the same person.
     Baseball teaches us that. It isn’t just any player who whiffs to sink the Mudville Nine. It is the Mighty Casey.
     The team whose pitcher racked up the most number of perfect innings in a game — 12, by Pirate Harvey Haddix — also lost that game, in the 13th.
     And the Cubs … well, they’re in the playoffs now, still, in the second half of October. Acclaimed the best team in baseball, for all the good that does. Fans strode into the post-season confident in our champions who just needed to execute a few preliminaries, to sign some paperwork, the bill of lading for our long-delayed and much re-routed delivery of glory.
     Then we felt a chill.
     An apt moment to give reverence to Steve Bartman, to salaam before him, like a minor household deity. You remember Bartman. He was just another fan at Wrigley Field on Oct. 14, 2003, at Game 6 of another National League Championship Series, this one against the Florida Marlins. One out, eighth inning. Luis Castillo drives one down the left field line. Moises Alou goes after it....

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Such a storm of vulgar force"— Books on the nightstand


   It's been a long time since I updated my Books on the Nightstand section. 

      We beat up ourselves for whipping out phones and text messaging each other, posting Facebook updates and sending Snapchats. But in truth, the desire to keep in touch with our friends and loved ones, as much as possible, is neither regrettable or new.  
    On Thursday, Oct. 7, 1773, Scottish lawyer James Boswell  watched a dreadful storm lash rain against the windows of the house he was staying at on a remote island in Western Scotland and felt cut off.
     "We were in a strange state of abstraction from the world," he wrote.  "We could neither hear from our friends, nor write to them. It gave me much uneasiness to think of the anxiety my dear wife must suffer."
     And Boswell was with the man he most admired in life, Samuel Johnson, the great English author and dictionary compiler, taking a long-anticipated trip to Boswell's home nation, visiting its western islands, the Hebrides.
    While they were warmly received wherever they went—Johnson at the time was among the most famous men of letters in the English-speaking world—It felt like both the outer rung of the civilization, and at times its lowest rung as well. At one point they peer into a poor hut, smoky and filthy, where the simple family sleeps all in one bed.
    "Et hoc secundum sententiam philosopherum est esse beatus,"  Johnson murmurs to Boswell. "And that, according to the opinion of philosophers, is happiness," no doubt a dig at Boswell's idol, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and his lauding of simple country virtues.
    Boswell would meet Rousseau. And Voltaire. And David Hume. And King George III. He thrilled to be in the presence of greatness, so much his adoration was almost charming. And Johnson, who once said "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," is the avatar of pithiness and reason. They're great guys to hang around with.
    Johnson remarks on the value of being attacked in print, as opposed to being ignored.
     "A man who tells me my play is very bad, is less my enemy than he who lets it die in silence," he tells Boswell. "A man whose business it is to be talked of, is much helped by being attacked."
     Words to remember.     
     Having read Boswell's Life of Johnson and found it perhaps the best biography I've ever read, I long anticipated Hebrides as a kind of looser encore, and it is exactly that, although Johnson does sometimes fade away, nearly lost amidst the lairds and lochs and crumbling castles that are being reported upon by Boswell. It nearly shocked me when Boswell paused to address it, as if he had read my mind.
     "He asked me today how we were so little together," Boswell notes, on Sept. 19, 1773. "I told him my Journal took up so much time. But at the same time, it is curious that although I will run from one end of London to another to have an hour with him, I should omit to seize any spare time to be in his company when I am in the house with him. But my Journal is really a task of much time and labor, and Mr. Johnson forbids me to contract it."
   The book is still a box of candy for any Johnson fan, and I've been reading it with much joy and happiness.  I happened upon a 1936 Viking Press imprint (in Evanston's delightful Amaranth Books on Davis Street) that reproduces the original manuscript, whole, and includes much tart personal observations that are cut out of the book as published at the time, his arguments with Johnson, his nightmares about his child's face, eaten by worms, and his tendency to start each morning with a dram of Scottish whiskey, until Johnson, a teetotaler, berates him. "For shame!" 
     They have an exchange that would be current this week, with the conservative Boswell taking up the popular Republican cry, and Johnson providing the draft of common sense.
    "But is there not reason to fear the common people may be oppressed?" Boswell asks. 
    "No sir," Johnson answers. "Our great fear is from want of power in government. Such a storm of vulgar force has broken in."
    "It has only roared," parries Boswell.
    "Sir, it has roared till the judges in Westminster Hall have been afraid to pronounce sentence in opposition to the popular cry.  You are frightened by what is no longer dangerous, like Presbyterians by Popery." There are many people nowadays, Johnson observes, quoting a popular work, who "would cry "Fire! Fire!' in Noah's Flood." 
    Such people are still with us, unfortunately, though the likes of Boswell and Johnson are not. But they can still be found alive and well and talking lustily in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. Plus a lot about Scotland. They even observe a game of golf, circa 1773.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Saying goodbye to Ed McElroy

Sept. 8, 2016, Poetry Foundation

     The third to the last time I saw Ed McElroy alive was in early September, when he showed up at the Poetry Foundation for my book launch. That's what Ed did: he showed up. Old-school, no excuses. While typical friends are always there when they need you, Ed was always there, in a suit and tie, driving a black Cadillac. Though he wasn't always happy about it. "I thought there would be food at this," he said after the reading, his subtle hint that maybe I should invite him to the foundation's private dinner, so I did. He parked in a crosswalk on Clark Street, which puzzled my New York publishing pals — why was the car still there 90 minutes later? I pointed out the ceremonial police baton with its red tassel placed conspicuously on the dashboard. Welcome to Chicago.
     Ed was famous, once, in the 1950s and 1960s, on WJJD. He announced wrestling, boxing, bicycle races. He hung out with Ted Williams. When married Rita in 1955, Richard J. Daley attended the wedding. Daley once sent Ed to the airport to pick up a young senator from Massachusetts. John F. Kennedy and Ed had dinner on Rush Street.
     "Ed knew Martin Luther King," I told our table mates. "King was very good to me," agreed Ed.
     The second to the last time I saw Ed alive was at the end of September. He invited me to dinner at Gene & Georgetti with Marc Schulman, owner of Eli's Cheesecake. The occasion was pure Ed, in that I had no idea why we were there -- for Marc's benefit, or my benefit, or his. After radio, Ed became a publicist, for the Water Reclamation District and the Fraternal Order of Police and countless judges. He worked so smoothly you forgot he was working. We talked about Marc's dad, Eli, and the last time Ed and I ate at his namesake steakhouse on Chicago Avenue. Colleague Ray Coffey had grown weary in retirement, and we were cheering him up. That was also the sort of thing Ed did. He kept tabs. If you were Catholic and homebound, he'd slide by an give you communion, removing the wafer from a gold box he kept in his pocket. If you needed cheering, he'd take you to a steak house.
     In that light, maybe dinner was for me.

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Rita and Ed McElroy ins his home office. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Oddness and telephone service

     The phone stopped working.
     So my wife called AT&T, to see what the problem was. 
     During the 45 minutes she was on hold, she asked, "Should I just cancel our line?" Lots of people are doing that now. No need for land lines. Cell phones are sufficient. 
     "Go for it," I said. The only people who call are surveys and charity come-ons, inevitably while I'm trying to nap. And my mother, though she can call my cell. 
      But when my wife finally got a representative, she found it would cost $10 a month more to not have a phone, under our plan. It seemed odd to pay for a service we'd no longer be getting. Might as well keep it. 
     She continued on hold.  A thought came to me. 
     "Why get the line fixed?" I asked. We didn't want a phone. We could pay the extra ten bucks a month to have the line discontinued. Or we could just leave it dysfunctional and get the same result: no phone. Heck, we could throw our phones away — except of course for the rotary dial classic that I bought for $5 on eBay just because I wanted one. 
    My wife's face fell.
     "We're paying for it," she said. "We might as well get the service."
     A service, I hasten to add, we no longer want.
     That's psychology for you. 
     So we'll have to wait until our contract is up, in January, when we can discontinue home phone service without paying the penalty. It'll seem odd, without it. Then again, lots of stuff feels odd lately. Oddness seems a condition of 21st century existence.