Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Back away from the horseradish


    Yes, that was me digging my thumbnail into a horseradish root at the supermarket Sunday, covertly bringing the nail to my lips, and tasting the crescent of white root material thereby excavated.  
    Which supermarket? Several. Trying to find the elusive Root of Extreme Hotness.
     Because, frankly, the entire Passover Seder, the Four Questions, the Story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Four Cups, Chad Gad Yad, everything, is shot to hell if the horseradish isn't hot enough. I always make the horseradish, the way I always make the stuffing, but this year my sister-in-law, well, something came over her, and while we were having coffee, she came up from behind and triumphantly shoved an open jar of HER homemade horseradish under my nose. She didn't have to say, "Smell how hot that is!" She didn't have to say, "Are your eyes watering from the incredible firepower of my horseradish or are you just weeping in defeat?" She didn't have to say, "So you can leave the family anytime you want because we really don't NEED you for anything anymore." 
     But the message was clear. 
    Okay, last year it was a mild crop of horseradish. Mine was not the throat-closing, eye-watering,howl-to-heaven that good horseradish should be. I'm sorry. 
    I guess another man would say, "Oh, you made horseradish? That's good. One less responsibility that I don't have to worry about."
     I am not that man. There are very few traditions in my life. Me and my buddies do not go to Las Vegas on my birthday to whoop it up. I don't greet the spring in my special fishing spot or return to Paris every two years to sit at cafes. I'm like Arnold Schwarzenegger pushing that grist mill in "Conan the Barbarian." I write stuff and that's about it. So making horseradish, I'm sorry, is my idea of fun. I'm not letting anyone take that away from me.
     Plus it's a tribute to my late father-in-law, Irv Goldberg, who taught me how to make horseradish. Maybe that's why my sister-in-law is so hot to grab the responsibility from me. It's a jealousy thing. Though if you read the following, you'll see that, well, as Horace said, "Sometimes even noble Homer nods." I'm planning to grind the stuff Thursday night, and if I have to add battery acid to give it the proper oomph, well, so be it. I'll let you know.
    This column from 1999 will explain how I was initiated into the sacred rites.

     Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle sounds lofty, but all it really means is that things are affected just by watching them. It's hard to understand when it comes to distant stars or flitting atoms -- how can they be influenced just by being looked at or measured? It doesn't make sense, at least not to me.
     The principle is easier to grasp if you think of taking a photograph. Your family can be sitting around, laughing, natural, casual as can be. Then you whip out a camera to record the moment and suddenly everybody stiffens up, awkward, smiling tightly, hands hanging limply at their sides.
     I don't know how stars or atomic particles mug for the camera, but apparently they do.
     Which is my roundabout way of saying that I'm afraid the horseradish won't be as hot this year at our Seder table because I watched it being made.
     For a number of years I had been dropping hints that I'd like to be inducted into the secrets of my father-in-law's horseradish, which each Passover is delivered to the Seder table amid gasps of pain and praise. Those hints had been ignored. Perhaps there was a grim implication in the request. Maybe I just wasn't deemed worthy.
     Anyway, last week, the message came: "Sunday morning. 10:30. He's making the horseradish." That was all. Nobody asked whether I could make it or not. The opportunity was presented. I wondered whether the odd hour was chosen for the same reason Professor Leopold used to hold his coveted international relations class at 8 a.m. -- to help weed out slackers.
     I should introduce my father-in-law, Irv Goldberg, at this point. I don't write about him much, out of pure cowardice on my part. He's a solidly built man in his early 70s who doesn't suffer fools gladly, but tolerates me because I'm married to his daughter and raising two-sevenths of his grandchildren. He drove a tank in World War II, painted a big peace sign on his roof in the 1960s to the horror of his neighbors in Bellwood, and owned a metal tube bending business. I assume he had machines to bend the metal tubes, but I'm not certain.
      I arrived five minutes early. The process was just about to begin. Two horseradish roots -- they looked like the top half of a leg bone of a very large man -- were laid out on newspapers on the table outside. Hint One: prepare the horseradish outside, to cut down on weeping.
     The horseradish was peeled and chopped into chunks. The chunks were fed into a food processor. (Food processors redeemed the Jewish people in a way not seen since Moses, considering the number of Jewish foods -- horseradish, potato latkes, chopped liver -- that require laborious grating).
     But not too much. I was struck by how briefly he ran the processor. I would have pulverized the chunks until they were puree. Hint Two: Don't. Just the barest shredding, then flip the blade around to cut up the shreds. You want texture to the horseradish, not gruel.
     Next, wine vinegar, plus salt and water. I can't tell you the proportions. Nothing was measured. Irv said it was 60 percent vinegar to 40 percent water, but I couldn't really tell. The salt was poured directly from the big blue container -- less salt than more, I figure.
     The result was not the explosive, grab your throat and die horseradish of years past. We were both a little shocked at this. I think it has to do mostly with the horseradish root itself, the growing conditions and such. But it might have been me. You see, my father-in-law usually washes the horseradish root with steel wool. But this year, in consideration of the presence of a journalist, he went out and bought a vegetable brush. Who can tell how the lack of microscopic steel wool remnants affects the taste? So from tiny atoms to distant stars to the horseradish you ladle on your gefilte fish, the Uncertainty Principle rules: You watch it, you change it.

                         —Originally published in the Sun-Times, March 25, 1999

Monday, March 30, 2015

We admire pilots; the mentally ill, less so


    
      "As I was at 5," Tolstoy wrote, "so I am today." Which I mention only to add a bit of literary heft to the following admission, which otherwise might seem humiliatingly juvenile.
     Airline pilots sometimes stay at the Holiday Inn in the Sun-Times Building (which sounds so much better than saying the Sun-Times is located under a Holiday Inn, though I suppose it's a matter of perspective).
     They're always getting out of town cars and buses, handsome in their sharp uniforms, toting their special pilot luggage. On my way into the office I see them and think, "Ooo, a pilot" with the same eagerness I did as a small boy flying Pan Am to New York City. I'd hurry up to one and ask for a pair of official pilot's wings, but he'd look at me strangely and, at 54, I've finally learned restraint.
     So I think well of pilots. Most people do We trust pilots, literally, with our lives.
      In a 2013 survey of the most trusted professions, pilots were No. 2, after firefighters, with 86 percent of the respondents expressing confidence in them (for comparison purposes, newspaper reporters scored 21 percent in a Gallup poll taken about the same time, but remember, when discussing journalism, experts insist there is a "multiple by 5" rule which means the public actually trusts reporters 105 percent).
     So in the wake of Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings pilot who crashed Flight 9525 into the Alps last week, killing himself and 149 other people, nobody is going to react, "Fuckin' pilots! Always killing folk."
     Yet we need to understand this, or try to, though I sometimes suspect by "understanding" we mean find a convenient label to slap over the tragedy so we can more easily forget it. So we grasp at stuff.
     Islamic fundamentalism is the Type O universal donor to explain such situations. Happens enough that we accept it as a cause. A copy of the Qu'ran, a name with a lot of fricatives and we'd be home free. But that doesn't seem the case here. The "German" aspect is a possibility—"those Germans, they do like their mass murder...." Nope, his being a pilot draws him into the realm of BMW engineers in white coats. It's not like he was some skinhead from Bavaria.
     Lubitz being 27 has potential: these kids nowadays.... no, plenty of responsible 27-year-olds who don't slaughter those in their care.
     Which leaves mental illness, and there are indications, which the press latched onto, politely with the mainstream media, not so much with the tabloids.
      "WHY ON EARTH WAS HE ALLOWED TO FLY?" the Daily Mail howled, under "Suicide pilot had a long history of depression."
     Which I noticed when the depressed started passing it around Twitter.
     "I have a long history of depression," Londoner Juliette Burton wrote. "Should I not be allowed to drive? Work? Contribute?"
     She has a point. Though it took me a while to grasp it. Twitter encourages immediate reply, not careful thought. Others chimed in: "Glad the Germanwings coverage isn't descending into harmful, misleading hysteria," wrote GlobalNews' Anna Mehler Paperny.
     My gut reaction was: is it? The guy flew his plane into a mountain. "Why on earth was he allowed to fly?" seems a question well worth positing. I tweeted back that this is just the media trying to explain why this happened. Maybe I was being a low-esteem journalist defending his kind. Even as I did, I knew instantly where she was coming from: if Depression=Murder then we'd all be dead, in the same way that if Muslim=Terrorist, we'd all be dead.
     "Blaming depression isn't 'explaining.' It's irrelevant," another Canadian chimed in. "Did he also have a dog and like Cheerios at breakfast?"
     The best path is probably somewhere between the media blaming depression and sufferers leaping to dismiss it. By Sunday the press was discussing Lubitz's eye problems, and as someone who has worn glasses since he was 6, it bothered me not at all. If you look to the news for self-validation, you're already in trouble, no matter what the headlines say.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Adam and Steve wont' be throwing MY rice!

     An editor asked me to weigh in on Indiana's new anti-gay bigot empowerment act, which they somehow think is acceptable because it's directed at gays and draped in someone's idea of religion. The lede echoes "Welcome Back to the Steinberg Bakery," written last year when Hobby Lobby decided to thrust its hands down the pants of its employees to check what they were doing down there. But I figured it would be a new concept to most of the newspaper readers. The following only lived online Friday, it wasn't intended to be published, but I thought you might like to see it. 

      Before I begin today's column, I have to ask any menstruating women to stop reading.
      No offense. But my faith believes you are unclean — it's written somewhere, I'm sure; I'm not going to bother digging out chapter and verse. So if you would set your device down, and go sit in the Hut of Shame for a few days and wait for it to pass, well, then I would feel better. You are welcome to read this column later, after you perform certain ablutionary rituals I will not describe here.
     There, now my religious scruples are honored, I can cluck over Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signing a law Thursday that allows Indianapolis photographers and Bloomington bakers, Evansville owners of Grange Halls and Fort Wayne barbershop quartets, to refuse to serve gay weddings because, well, God wants it that way, in their estimation.
     As far as why this should be limited to gays — why anybody of any faith should not use any religion as a reason to refuse any kind of service to just about anybody — has not been sufficiently explained. We have to take it on faith, I suppose.
     I could use this as an opportunity to sneer at Indiana. The state where, in the mid-1920s, half the members of the same General Assembly that passed this law, and its governor at the time, belonged to the Klu Klux Klan, along with 30 percent of the white Protestant men. I assume that's no longer the case, but I haven't hard evidence.


     To continue reading, click here. 

    

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?


    Before I select a picture for the Saturday contest, I see if the answer is readily available from Google, which is what nixed the photo of the flowery David atop the blog today—even though I was fairly certain few readers would wander there, a few keyword searches kicked out the Macy's Flower Show.
      Not so this curious wooden case, with its dozen ... well, what ARE those? Ice cubes? Crystals? I have to give credit to my cousin, Evie, for this one. We were ... umm ... in a place, and she suggested this thing would perhaps stump the Hive Intelligence. I had to agree.
     So, where is this? Bonus points for, what is this? The winner will receive one of my not-really-dwindling-as-fast-as-I'd-like store of 2015 blog posters. Place your guesses below. Good luck. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Meet my pal Joe


Ann and Joe Scheidler
     I've written about Joe Scheidler before  And while I know he represents something truly despicable, and has enough baggage to fill an airplane, I find it impossible to hold it against him. Perhaps because he's always so friendly—that counts for something in life. He pushes his beliefs, energetically, yet maintains a certain decorum, at least to me.

     “Hey, it’s my pal, Joe Scheidler!” I said, happily, seeing the white-bearded man on the corner of Madison and Wacker holding a 5-foot-tall sign showing a fetus at eight weeks. I pumped his hand. Good old Joe, known him for years.
     “Honey,” I said to my wife, who works downtown now and commutes with me. “This is the famous Joe Scheidler, national director of the Pro-Life Action League.”
     He stuck out his gloved hand. She looked at it.
     After nearly 25 years of marriage, you’d think I’d know the woman. But I forget. My wife’s a hardass. When I found myself in a booth at Gene & Georgetti, having coffee with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, I also forgot. We were getting on, bonding and, wanting to show off, I asked Blagojevich if he’d mind saying hello to my wife. I dialed the cellphone, handed it to him. “Hello!” he said in his fake butch voice. “This is Governor Rod Blagojevich!” The smile died on his face. He mechanically handed me back the phone.
     “What are you doing?” my wife spat. “I didn’t even vote for him. Come home.”
     But that was over the phone. Face to face with Joe, 87, father of seven, grandfather of 23, she melted — a little. After a moment that lasted an eternity, she took his hand with her left and gave it a single squeeze. We continued on our way, pushing east on Madison.
     “The left hand doesn’t count,” she said.


To continue reading, click here. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Republicans seek to lead us ... back in time

 
"Looking into my Dreams, Awilda" located in Millennium Park, by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. 
     Quite a fuss this week over Ted Cruz, the conservative Texas senator who announced he is running for president. Even though his far right wing views—Nate Silver created a chart showing him to be not only the furthest right of all the presidential candidates vying for position now, but the furthest right ever, at least over the past 50 years, even more conservative than Barry Goldwater. 
      Who, if you recall, got shellacked in 1964 by the not-particularly-beloved Lyndon B. Johnson.
      The Onion of course nailed it, with the headline: "Ted Cruz Boldly Declares Nation Not Deserving of Better Candidate."
      The general consensus is there is no need to fret about Cruz—he's on the Sarah Palin track, run for office, pump your Q score, then enjoy a long, flush semi-retirement spoonfeeding Republicans the mendacious fantasies they crave. 
     The chances for his winning are given as nil, or close enough to it.
     But the Cruz candidacy, doomed though it be, prompts me to point out something you should keep in mind during the 2016 election, because whatever temporary success Cruz enjoys will tend to draw Republican candidates toward his extreme opinions. It's a basic truth, but those are the best kind. 
     Ready?
     Time goes forward.  It does not go back. Bells cannot be unrung, pool balls do not re-arrange themselves into their original triangular arrays after being struck by the cue ball, eggs do not uncrack. 
     This might not be news to you—I sure hope not, I hope you realize by now that grandma's not coming back—but the Republican Party just doesn't get it.
    Cruz's views are diverse, but they can all be categorized under a banner popular among his less extreme peers: he is a revanchist, i.e., he wants to lead us back, to a nation of his imaginings. 
    Climate change? Never happened. Cruz mocks the science proves it to be worsening year by year. A demographic shift that has made Hispanics—which Cruz claims to be—the largest minority, with 17 percent of the population, surging to 25 percent in the next 30 years? Ignore it, build a wall, keep their parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers already here in permanent serf-like limbo. 
    Cruz announced his candidacy at Liberty University, the self-styled largest Christian college in the world, and called for the nation to finally be run on Christian values. But the number of people who identify as Christians is steadily shrinking—down to 73 percent from 86 percent 25 years ago, and those who do profess to the faith go to church less, in keeping with a general global shift away from religious observance. The United States never was a Christian country; it will be less and less as the years go by.
     The list goes on. Gay marriage? Undo it. Abortion rights? Allow the states to roll them back even further. Obamacare? Scrub the country clean of it.
      But Obamacare is like that egg that can't be unbroken.  It occurred, and while they might overturn it, the way you can take a tweezers and glue and try to reassemble the shards of shell—you end up with a mess, the damage has been done, if you consider "damage" to be that tens of millions of Americans now have access to affordable health care.
     They can mask who they are. They can nominate Marco Rubio and hope people are too dense to realize that he's Cuban, an elite immigrant group given special status to poke a thumb into the eye of the Commies, and that he stands for all the policies that most Latinos are against. But it won't work. No matter how vigorously you stir the coffee, the tablespoon of cream you added stays mixed; it never reassembles back into the original spoonful. Even if you really, really want it to.
     Every day the country hurtles into the future. We become more diverse, the gap between rich and poor grows greater. And the band of people who are willing to gather under the Republican banner of Religion and Revanchism grows smaller. The past is gone. You can fool some people, you can even fool some people all of the time. But you can't fool enough people that they agree to try to return to the past. Because a) it's impossible and b) even if it weren't, the past of their imaginings was never really there in the first place, not the way they remember it. It's so strange to see people passionately urging the country toward a place that doesn't exist and we wouldn't want to go, most of us at least, even if it did. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Divvy Diary: Free bike!


     There is only one Thai dish, as far as I’m concerned: beef and broccoli.
     And only one Thai restaurant makes it properly, Star of Siam on Illinois.
     Which explains why last week I found myself biking past a dozen lesser restaurants, ramming my Divvy bike home, yet again, into a dock at State and Kinzie. Since sometimes the mechanism is broken, already closed, or the little green light doesn’t come on, I habitually give the handlebars a hard yank to be sure it’s securely locked in.
     As I do this, vibration caused the bike to my right to roll back on its own and clatter to the sidewalk.
     Obviously, whoever returned it is not a thorough person, such as myself, and did not ensure the bike was properly docked. I gaze at the fallen bike, sprawled on the sidewalk. I must have a larcenous soul. Because my first thought was “Free bike!” I could ride this Divvy anywhere, parking where I please. It was an off-grid Divvy. No need to lock it because it wasn’t mine in the first place.
     I contemplate this.
     A bike toppling out of its dock is something new. But otherwise, eight months into my second year as a Divvy rider, the system has become routine. I rode all winter, again. While Winter Year One had an “Ooh, it’s February and I’m riding a bike downtown” vibe, this winter it was ordinary, just what you do to get to the County Building, Millennium Park or the Clinton L station to grab the Pink Line west...

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Barging Back onto the Mississippi


     Last year, I marked my anniversary on the staff at the paper by re-printing a favorite column about kids watching Park District mucky-mucks inaugurate the Washington Park pool. I thought about letting the anniversary slide by unnoticed this year—just cough into my fist and march on. More than a dozen colleagues recently took a buy-out and set sail; staying, and having been here a long, long time, somehow feels like a lapse, something that the prudent man should not ballyhoo.
    Of course, I've never been Mr. Prudent, and it's a bit late to start now. Besides, it's still a fun job, most days. It always has been. Seldom more so than this hot summer day in 1993 when I not only go to ride a gravel barge for nine hours but, very briefly, got a chance to pilot it down the Mississippi, recently re-opened to commercial traffic (thinking about river regulations, and not wanting to get my new river rat pals in trouble, I decided to leave that part out).
     Maybe nine hours on a gravel barge doesn't sound fun to you; but it was, at least to me.
     There was also a memorable moment with our photographer, the great Robert A. Davis, who would later travel with me to Lithuania and Taiwan. He remarked that we really should have a photo of the entire barge on the river, and I said, that's going to be tough Bob, because we're ON the barge. A few minutes later, a speedboat zipped by with Bob aboard, training his lens on the barge, snapping away as they passed. He had convinced a family on a river outing to let him aboard. Exactly HOW he flagged down a family on a speedboat and convinced them to dock with a gravel barge and let on of the shifty characters aboard it to join them in their boat is a mystery I never fully figured out.
     Anyway, happy anniversary to me, 28 years on staff at the Sun-Times.  The hoofbeats thunder, closer and closer. But they ain't here yet.


     With its twin 250-horsepower Caterpillar engines roaring as if all the noise in the world were trapped inside, trying to get out, the James P. Pearson edges into the center of the Mississippi, bound for another appointment with 2,000 tons of sand and gravel.
     One of the numerous river workhorses idled for weeks by the flood, the Pearson, a towboat, is now pushing barges six days a week, trying to catch up.
     "We're only supposed to work five, but with the flood and everything, we're way behind," says Dave Williams, deckhand of the Pearson's two-man crew.
     A self-described "river rat" with five years on the Mississippi at the ripe age of 21, Williams introduces himself as the fifth generation of his family to work the river.
     At least a dozen relatives still do; one of them, his cousin, Shawn Olson, is pilot of the Pearson. He shows up for work with a bad cold, a briefcase filled with rock 'n' roll cassettes, "enough cigarettes to kill any man" and a supply of juice to combat the sweat-wringing 95-degree weather.
     Unlike larger boats making the trip "from Saint to Saint," (St. Paul to St. Louis), the Pearson is a small boat making a local run - four empty barges to drop off at the Moline Consumer's sand dredging operation in Cordova, Ill., swapped for four full barges of new sand to be brought back to Moline and Bettendorf, Iowa, where it is made into concrete mix. Round trip is about 50 miles.
     They are pleased as can be that navigation is still bottled up down river.
     "We wish it would stay like that until next year," Olson says, not wanting his run to be delayed at Lock and Dam No. 14, the only one of the Mississippi's 27 locks that the Pearson needs to go through.
     Going through the lock is fairly quick and simple: The boat and its barges enter the lock, the south gates swing shut, six feet of upriver water is allowed to flow in, the north gates swing open and the Pearson goes on her way on the higher portion of the river. It takes about 15 minutes.
     On a good day.
     But if there are any boats waiting in front of it, there is delay - sometimes for hours, even days, as the Pearson queues up behind larger boats maneuvering their big clusters of barges into the lock.
     Because of flooding conditions lingering downriver, there are practically no boats on this part of the Mississippi. There is no wait at the lock. In fact, the Pearson passes only one commercial boat in nine hours - the immense Conti-Arlie, pushing a dozen grain barges. "Fifty-six hundred horsepower," Williams says, reverently. "That's a real working boat."
     Mostly the Pearson has the river to itself. The only sound, outside of the clangorous engine room, is the splash of the river against the barges and the sawing of cicadas in the trees lining the shore.
     Olson steers casually between the wide channel markers, barely needing to touch the wooden and brass rudder controls.
     Williams does his real work when the boat drops off or picks up barges, or goes through the locks. He scampers nimbly over the wet steel barges, securing ropes, winching steel cable. It is hard work in the hot sun, and Williams doesn't seem to have enough fat on his body to make a good butter pat.
     "My job is hard to explain," he says. "People say, 'You're a deckhand? What do you do? My grandfather (Don Williams, captain of the Queen of Hearts casino boat) used to say he told people he was a trucker, so they won't ask any questions . . . the majority of people around here are just society. They don't know anything about the river at all."
     Although both Williams and Olson complain about working on the river - Olson pointed out that "nobody got rich as a pilot" and Williams says he would like to find a "white shirt" job - they both obviously love what they do.
     "Some of the nicest people you meet on the river," Williams says. "They'll take care of you, free of charge."
      At Cordova, four barges containing 1,950 tons of sand and gravel are waiting in a large cove carved out of the shoreline by years of sand-dredging. Olson angles the empty barges next to the company's dredging machine as casually as if he were tossing cards into a hat.
     "Look at that big old bird up there," he says, pointing to something flapping over the forest, just as the barges ease against the dock. "That must be an owl, I betcha."
     Williams unleashes the barges, then takes time for a quick dip in the river, executing a neat jackknife dive into the cool water. "Ah yes," he says, breaking the surface.
     The journey downstream is a lot quicker - about 90 minutes less than it took to fight the current. There is still plenty of time to sit on a timberhead and enjoy the warm, soft breeze (river life is filled with quaint, anachronistic terms. Timberheads are the capped pegs used to secure lines - once cut from logs, they are now steel. At the lock, the little tram used to tow barges, if necessary, is called "the mule," a nod to its animate predecessor).
     A long Soo line freight train pulling auto carriers draws alongside at the river's edge and gives a few friendly toots.
     "That's the competition," Williams says, and Olson says hello back with a few blasts of the air horn.
      The James P. Pearson is almost home now. The sun is setting, a huge orange ball peaking out from behind the trees. "Is that beautiful!" Williams says. Olson opens the front window of the pilot house and turns up the volume on some vintage Allman Brothers Band.
     "Lord, I'm southbound," sings an Allman. "Lord, I'm coming home to you."
      In its final minutes, the sun puts on a display rarely seen outside of English Romantic oil paintings - bands of orange, blue, pink, purple and even green, radiating from the horizon. The gold light shimmers off the ripples, swirls and eddies formed by the barges cutting through the river.
      Two barges are left at the Bettendorf dock, below the bucket crane which will empty them before the Pearson returns at noon the next day - gingerly empty them, because the sand is so heavy that, if not unloaded uniformly, they can easily flip over.
      The other two barges are left at the Moline dock. The Pearson ties up at 8:23 p.m., about as early as she has ever returned from a full day's work.
      "That'll do her, Dave," Olson says, and he gives the horn a few celebratory blasts.
      Williams goes down to the engine room and shuts down the twin Caterpillars, which sigh to silence after nine hours of work.
     The only sound now is the gentle lapping against the wharf of the mighty Mississippi, now tamed to a gentle purr.

                     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Aug. 30, 1993

Monday, March 23, 2015

But "never happen again" sounds so bold!

     As a college student, I despised frats, everything they represented, and most of the people in them. As I got older, I met people who were actually decent human beings,
Today's column channels me circa 1982
despite membership in the Greek system, and I softened my attitude toward them, or tried to. But when the SAE incident of a racist chant caught on video came to light, my former self and my current self wrestled over how to view the situation. My former self won. 


     When I was a student at Northwestern University, I kept a fraternity paddle in my dorm window.

     Emblazoned upon it, rather than Greek letters, were the initials “GDI” — God Damn Independent — and a knight holding his thumb to his nose and blowing a raspberry.

     I displayed it because fraternities are such a big deal at NU and, being among the self-excluded, I felt a certain public pride was in order.

     It boggled me, I explained at the time, how anyone, finally freed from parental authority, would run directly into the arms of organizations set on constraining and abusing them. ”I didn’t come to NU to crawl across the Quad at midnight, my hands tied behind my back, rolling an egg with my nose,” I used to say.

     Agreed, the Greek system is large, and many, perhaps most, fraternities and sororities indeed focus on good works, fellowship and the joy of learning. But we all have biases and, to me, that’s a smokescreen, a fig leaf to cover their true purpose: extreme partying, sneering contempt for anybody outside of the charmed circle, and exactly the kind of insular bigotry that got Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s University of Oklahoma chapter in such trouble after a video surfaced of members singing a racist song, celebrating the unwelcome black students face at SAE.

      What’s surprising is they seem to think their problem is an exception that can be banished by apology and programs, and not a flaw intrinsic to elite, self-glorifying groups.


To continue reading, click here. 

Photo atop blog by Jackie Kalmes. The New Image Restaurant, May 1982. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lost tree found

     No Sunday Puzzler because, frankly, I couldn't think of a good one. With the book due tomorrow, I'm surprised I can think of ANYTHING. But the "every" part of the blog title must be respected, and there is one tidbit I want to share before the snow recedes completely into memory.


     Could bunnies eat a tree? The budding ... well, I wasn't sure what it was. I called it a "Scotch pine" because a Scotch pine had been nearby, once. But it died, so I was grateful to salvage what I considered its progeny, this seedling. It sprouted nearby, and looked Scotch pinish. After a few seasons it was a hale two feet and growing fast.
      Then gone. After a heavy snowfall. I kept searching for it, which was sad. The stick I had placed beside it, to keep me from stepping on the thing when it was tiny, was right there, a tip-off. Hungry rabbits, or maybe scavenging deer. We've had deer—they eat our lilies. Ravenous squirrels—I wouldn't put it past them. Hate those squirrels, they're capable of anything. Still ... a prickly tree. You'd have to be really hungry to eat it. I entertained theories. Malicious neighborhood children? Doubtful. Though they'd have to be psychic to go after that particular tree. I gave up hope. Besides, they'd have to go outside, and kids don't do that anymore.
     Whatever the cause, the tree was gone and never coming back. Trees don't get lost.
     Then the snow melted, and I noticed what I at first thought was the green stump of this tree. Hope! I ran into the garage and grabbed a spray bottle of Deer-Snu, or whatever the liquid fence is called—I figured, protect the pathetic remnant from further assault. Another few years of watching it slowly grow back. That's life. Sigh, start again.
    On my knees, pushing the wet slushy snow away, spray bottle in hand. I discovered, it wasn't a stump. The whole tree had simply been crushed under the snow. It was horizontal, pressed against the ground. I brushed the snow off, and it sproinged back up, good as new.
     I didn't know trees did that. 
     Nothing makes you appreciate something like fearing you lost it. Here's hoping that your early spring is a time of unexpected rebirth.  I don't know if finding a lost tree counts as rebirth, but I choose to count it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?


     Spring showed up, thank merciful God, last evening at 5:45 p.m. CST And while the first flowers are still pushing their green shoots up through the chill dirt, I thought I would share this bountiful crop of colorful beauties, that I spied Thursday during my wanderings around the city.
     "Spring" is an interesting word, occupying more than five densely-packed pages of my Oxford English Dictionary. It began in Old English describing water "rising or issuing from the ground, the source or head, of a well, stream, or river" a meaning it of course still retains. Then naturally it was applied to other things that also spring forth: vegetation, lions,  coiled metal contraptions, a usage more than 500 years old. 
    All that springing plant activity led, in the 14th century, to the season we have now gratefully entered being called "springing time" then, a century later, "spring-time" as well as "spring of the leaf" and finally, just "spring," which by Shakespeare's era was being used frequently to denote the season, plus anything, such a love or life, enjoying its first flowering. 
      Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary downplays the time of year, starting with"1. n. a leap; a bound; a jump; as of an animal" and gives nine other meanings, including "a fountain of water" before getting to "11. The season of the year when plants begin to vegetate and rise."
     There are of course more definitions; the slang usage of getting someone out of jail being among the most recent, dating back only to about 1935.
    But enough etymology—who has time to waste on that with the weather finally becoming a little nicer? Where is the above flowery mural? The winner receives one of my equally stunning, if not as colorful, 2015 blog posters. Please post your guesses below. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu has second thoughts...


     Well, we’ve sailed off into new territory here, haven’t we?
     Given that “cynicism” was the adjective of choice the media used to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute vow that there would never be an independent Palestinian state under his watch, just as his nation went to the polls Tuesday, what term should be used to describe his immediately reversing that promise once he was safely re-elected?
     “Super-cynicism?” “Double-dishonesty?”
     “I don’t want a one-state solution,” Netanyahu told MSNBC Thursday. “I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”
     We should introduce the man who said that to the man who, 48 hours earlier, when asked by an Israeli news blog if his being re-elected would mean that no Palestinian state would be established, answered “correct,” then elaborated: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the State of Israel. Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand.”
     That actually makes sense. I was nodding in a kind of grim attempt at understanding Netanyahu’s sudden promise to block the Palestinian state. Those who like to paint Israel as mere evil forget the nation didn’t tack hard right without a reason. All the squishy, lefty, let’s-make-peace overtures got them nothing but missiles. Maybe a hard-line stance would lure the Palestinians into demanding their new state, insisting they live in peace as neighbors.

     To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Google Play Music

    Morning. Coffee. Facebook. Not sure why. Facebook's for old people.
    Oh. Right. If the shoe fits...
    Why not? I've got nothing. See what the Hive Intelligence is up to. 
    A fuchsia square. Advertising.
    "Find the perfect station for your current mood."      
    My current mood? My current mood. Nah, you don't want to do that...
     What would that station be?
     WOLD? KRAB?
    "Find the perfect track for any mood. Google Play Music...."
     Something like "Volga Boatmen," maybe? 
      And "Google Play Music"? Is that what it's called? Really? It sounds like it was named by a chimp. "Tarzan Love Jane." "Baby Go Potty."
    Google Play Music. What IS that?
    "Google Play Music has expertly curated stations for when you need to chill out, wake up, or just dance."
     "Expertly curated." Who needs an "expert" to pick—whoops, to curate—their music? Okay, a DJ, sometimes. A hip guy in sunglasses, at parties. But an "expert"? How did these tin-ear imbeciles at Google ever get to run the world? I hope their coders are better at their jobs.
     "Chill out, wake up, or just dance." Those are my choices? It's too early to chill out. I actually don't think I've ever chilled out. I thought that chilling out is something arguing felons are urged to do when they're separated in a day room Cook County Jail. Coffee is for waking up. "Just dance." Happily. With whom?
   Enough. I'll bite.
   This Google Play Music, tell me more. I click on Google Play, and find myself, not at an infinity of music stations, expertly curated to match my increasingly shitty moods, but a "Product/Service" page, with 814,840 "likes." A photo of a fat-cheeked baby. Which catches my interest, as babies will. "Today, we open the time capsule featuring moments by you and amplified with 'Glory' by Jean-Michel Jarre & M83, an excerpt from Jean-Michel Jarre’s forthcoming studio album." This must be the beginning of my curated experience. A clap of thunder and blooping synthesizer that was dated in 1981. Spoken words. "What do you like about living on earth?" Certainly not the skill of online marketing morons. 
    Okay, try again. Interested customer here, trying to access the product dangled before my eyes. Plug "Google Play" into Google.  Up pops the Google Store. A series of games. "Hay Day." "Angry Birds Stella POP! "King of Thieves."
    Where's the music?  Ah, on the side. Click music. What about "Pandora"? Reminds me of the chef who named her restaurant "Scylla," not realizing it was "the yelping horror" to be avoided at all costs. The classics are faded, but we're supposed to open Pandora, right?  
     "Great music discovery is effortless and free with Pandora..." Well, at least it doesn't release evil into the world. 
    "Great music discovery is effortless and free..." That wasn't written by a native English speaker, was it?  Because a high school English teacher would have gone with "Discovering great music..." 
     "Create up to 100 personalized radio stations..." One will do, but okay, I'm game. 
     Clicketty-click.
     "You haven't accessed the Google Play Store app..."
    Oh, of course. My apologies. Right away.
    I access the store, but for some reason I end up looking at cell phones and "A Nest Learning Thermostat."
    "Fuck this," I think (I should create the "Fuck this!" app, sending a shriek of disapproval back at whatever nonsense is being dangled in front of you. It would be worth $100 million in a month).
    Go to Plan B.
    Fire up the Gramovox on my desk. Within seconds, it's pumping out Billy Corgan's "A-100," curated because it begins with "A" and thus is the first song on my song list. Live. An audience going nuts. Then that gorgeous fuzzy bass comes in.
       "Stay with me just a little," Billy sings, "lay with me, just a little...."
      Turns out that was what I needed to hear all along. Gets the blood going. And realizing how even Google, with its twee-yet-artful doodles and global domination, can on some days still seem to be run by the utterest idiots, well, that is life-affirming too, and a kind of happiness.



 
   

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Check your attic: any Rembrandts?

 
Rembrandt, "Christ in the Storm," stolen March 18, 1990


    Today is the 25th anniversary of the largest art theft in United States history, the looting of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston. I have a special interest in the crime, as I visited the museum five years before it was robbed, even though at the time I found it a "weird, debilitating collection of dark, gilt baroque pieces, artlessly assembled in dim corridors and mocked by bright flowers assembled in hideous inner courtyard like Sears Garden Center." I still like the place, and went back when I was touring the East Coast with the family, to gaze sadly at the empty frames the museum keeps hung in their places, waiting for their masterpieces back. The FBI marked the anniversary by saying it is closing in on the culprits, but we've heard that before. This is from 1997, when I met with Dr. Walter McCrone, "the Father of Modern Microscopy," to investigate some potential clues. Dr. McCrone died in 2002.

     The saga of the biggest art heist in modern history made a pit stop in Chicago last week, in the form of a thimble's worth of paint flecks arriving under escort at the Michigan Avenue laboratory of Dr. Walter McCrone.
     The flecks may or may not be from a pair of Rembrandts that were slashed from their frames by two crooks who strolled into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum dressed as policemen seven years ago and strolled out with $ 300 million worth of art, including works by Degas, Manet and Vermeer.
     If you're not the sort who haunts art museums, then Isabella Stewart Gardner might sound like the name of just another rich benefactress. She was, but an especially charming and egocentric one. She handed over her mansion, built in the style of a 15th century Venetian palace, filled with hundreds of art treasures, with the stipulation that the artworks never be sold, never be loaned, and nothing change in the home she had enjoyed.
     And nothing did. I was lucky enough to visit before the thefts. The Gardner wasn't so much like a museum as like the mansion of some dotty rich aunt who had stepped out for a cup of elderberry tea. The place was dark, the guards antiques themselves. Black velvet clothes covered glass cases of medieval rarities -- visitors were expected to pull the velvet aside, get an eyeful, then push it back. The place was very low tech, very old and very lovely.
     The theft of the dozen artworks shattered this sealed-off little world and made it mournful. The spots where the paintings had been displayed were left empty, marked by placards reading "Stolen March 18, 1990."
     The police were stymied. The trail grew so cold that when the Gardner offered a cool $ 1 million reward, no questions asked, for the return of the paintings, it emphasized that the thieves were welcome to collect the money.
     The paintings had been insured for damage, but not for theft.
     The flecks of paint under McCrone's microscope were offered up by a pair of characters named Myles Connor Jr. and William Youngworth III, who say they know where the paintings are and will arrange their safe return in exchange for immunity from prosecution and the reward from the museum, now swelled to $ 5 million. And they want one other thing, too: Connor's release from prison. He's in for -- guess what? -- art theft.
     As evidence that they have the Rembrandts, they turned some chips of paint over to the Boston Herald. The delegation in McCrone's office was from the Herald, with a TV crew in tow, to see if the flecks were indeed the real McCoy.
     Authenticating a Rembrandt is tricky stuff even when you have an entire painting to work with. Approximately half of all the pictures that have been called Rembrandts and hung in museums later were determined to be the work of students or disciples or out-and-out forgers.
     Ever the cautious scientist, McCrone won't say the chips are from a Rembrandt, only that they aren't not from a Rembrandt. That was enough to cause a whoop of joy in Boston.
     "The Boston Herald came out with a headline saying I said it is a Rembrandt, but that isn't what I said in my report to them," McCrone said. "I can say I can't find any reason to think it is not by Rembrandt, and there are lots of positive indications it may well be."
     McCrone is one a handful of microscopy experts in the country who aid law enforcement and art curation by gazing at evidence, micron by micron. He debunked the Shroud of Turin -- among all but the most die-hard believers -- by amassing evidence that it is a 13th century creation.
      The key to his work is knowing the history of paints and looking for hues that came into being at a certain time. Prussian blue, for instance, was created in 1704, and since Rembrandt died in 1669, finding that particular blue in a purported Rembrandt is like finding a bar code on a Ming vase.
     The flecks were all smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. McCrone, using an optical microscope (he scorns those fancy electron jobbies), looked for colors of paint that would rule out a painting as Rembrandt's.
     "Those were all absent," he said. "And the ones there were very typical of the form and composition Rembrandt did use."
     McCrone's work is time-intensive, and while he employs a dozen associates at the lab, he still puts in long hours. On a typical day he arrives by 3:15 in the morning and stays until after 6 p.m.
     He walks every day, the two miles from his home in the Lake Meadows development by Michael Reese Hospital. "I don't own an overcoat or hat," he said with a certain pride. McCrone is 81 years old.
     "Work is my hobby -- I've got a lot of interesting things to work on," he concluded. "I've been lucky."
    Maybe a bit of McCrone's luck will rub off on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and —they'll get those paintings back.

—Published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 19, 1997



Why not ponies to go with those 1,000 extra police officers?

     Don't underestimate Chuy Garcia's strategy of not having any idea of what he'd do if elected.
     It worked for Bruce Rauner.
     Besides, the commissioner isn't really running on a platform of what he'd do
. Doing stuff is Rahm Emanuel's speciality, and look where it got him. If Emanuel hadn't done so much — closed schools, cut deals — he might have spent more time sitting at community meetings, being screamed at, and maybe he wouldn't be facing such a serious challenge now.
     Rather, Garcia is running on who he is: an earnest, neighborhood guy who has the benefit of not being rich. To fear he'd botch running the city underestimates the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-the-job-done ingenuity of the regular folk of this great country of ours. He'd do fine. At least he'd do his best.
     Not that Emanuel isn't also doing his best, within his limits as a human being, assuming he is one. A consigliere to two presidents, pin-balling around the halls of power, Emanuel is not a get-your-hands-dirty type of mayor. No pie-eating contests for him. Though he's had his moments among the herd.
     It was four years ago, during Ed Burke's hare-brained scheme to get Emanuel's candidacy spiked because he didn't actually live here, that the mayor-to-be spent a day in a windowless room listening to regular Chicago Joes' crazy conspiracy theories. Emanuel took it well, never losing his famous temper, and you could feel his prospects rise afterward.
     Too bad he didn't absorb the important lesson — you lead people, you have to 
sometimes set yourself among them, letting them ramble on, wasting your time, time that you could be using to raise more millions. Riding the L occasionally just isn't the same.
     From a newspaperman standpoint, Garcia winning would be more fun. We'd have a First Hispanic Mayor cup to put in the trophy room next to our First Woman Mayor and First Black Mayor. Not an actual tangible accomplishment, of course — not cash money we can put toward Chicago's unpayable pension burden — but there is real value in such a milestone. The axis of power would indeed shift. Harold Washington certainly got public works going in neighborhoods that Jane Byrne had never heard of — when people speak of his main accomplishment in office, they tend to mention sidewalks — though Harold also spiked Jane's elitist dream of a 1992 World's Fair (there was a 1992 World's Fair; any idea where? Any at all? Seville, Spain).          
     But wishing is not enough, as Garcia will discover. Facts butt in. For every African-American voter who supports Garcia for not being Emanuel, for instance, there might be two who don't want Hispanics "cutting in line" and receiving the benefits they still somehow expect. To me, the only question in this election is: Which candidate has the best chance of avoiding the pension time bomb about to blow the city up? Garcia or Emanuel? Which works better with figures?
     Emanuel has trouble with people, true, but Garcia has trouble with numbers. Take his castigating Emanuel for not fulfilling his 2011 promise to hire 1,000 police officers. Riveting campaign theater. The mayor reneged, Garcia shouts, but Chuy will do it! While offering no hint of how to pay for these officers, as if the sticking point were not the cost, but the concept. ("More police officers! Ah. Of course. Great idea. Why didn't we think of that? Thanks commissioner!") To be honest, I could get behind Garcia wholeheartedly, the way I yearned for Mayor Carol Moseley-Braun in 2011, if he promised, along with the thousand cops, to provide a pony for every child in Chicago. Kids love ponies, and taking care of a pony encourages responsibility. Ten thousand ponies cost far less than a thousand cops (the kids can share). Besides, campaigns are for dreaming big, aren't they? We can sweat the details after he's elected.




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More than just green beer and cabbage


     Happy St. Patrick's Day, though the actual Tuesday holiday seems an anticlimax and afterthought following the weekend of heavy pre-Paddy partying. I walked from the Sun-Times to the Four Seasons Saturday night, through a city of drunk people, one vast beery queue of guys and gals draped in green beads and wearing green t-shirts and green deely boppers, waited to get into the next bar.  Not a good look. 
     My sympathies to the actual Irish.  Being Jewish has its downsides, true,  but at least we don't have to put up with a lot of crude expropriation of our religion (by people other than ourselves, I mean). I wouldn't want to walk to synagogue for Yom Kippur through a crowd of rowdies swilling Manischewitz from blue and white plastic cups, wearing fake beards and rubber noses and big black foam Borsalino hats, chanting, "Re-pent! Re-pent!" 
     I don't know how the Irish do it. How year in and year out they watch their proud and long and tragic history get put through the meat grinder of American culture. "Kiss me I'm Irish!" It breaks the heart. But I guess the Irish experience is a machine designed to break the heart, so why should this be any different? Still, resistance is both futile and necessary. Nearly 20 years ago, the Sun-Times published this guide, the idea being that the St. Patrick's Day revelers packed into Irish pubs and faux-Irish pubs might glimpse these portraits on the wall, through the crush, and be puzzled as to who those old guys might be, and it wouldn't detract from their celebrations, and might even help, if they were informed, and equipped with a bit of verse to recite once they are really in their cups, around noon. 

     One mark of a real Irish bar is the inevitable shrine of portraits of Ireland's greatest writers. Some are easy to identify -- George Bernard Shaw with his big beard, Eugene O'Neill with his cadaverous cheeks (he started writing plays in a tuberculosis asylum). But some are a puzzlement to the average Chicago bar crawler of today. Here is a quick guide:

William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939                          

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
W.B. Yeats

And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

     "Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry," W. H. Auden said of Yeats, the towering figure of Irish literature. Yeats seems to bring together all the threads: 19th century dreams of romance, 20th century slaughter, mysticism and fascism, Greek history and the "mere anarchy" of the new. Unlike every other poet who ever lived, Yeats blazed brighter and brighter as he aged, dictating brilliant poetry even hours before his death.


James Joyce, 1882-1941

. . . and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

     Joyce left Dublin when he was 22 and, like so many expatriates, spent the rest of his life looking homeward. To the narrow-minded censors of his day, Joyce was a pornographer whose writing stank of sweat and dirt and sex. His masterpiece, Ulysses, was banned from the United States until 11 years after its publication, which only drove the curious to read it.  E. M. Forster, a Brit, called the book "a dogged attempt to cover the universe with mud."


Samuel Beckett, 1906-1989

Pozzo: . . . One day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (calmer) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instance, then it's night once more!
Samuel Beckett


     Beckett was a 51-year-old obscure poet and novelist who had only recently stopped working as a shop clerk when, in 1953, his play "Waiting for Godot" took Paris by storm. The haunting words and dark wit of his masterpiece immediately hurled him into the company of Kafka as a bard of disjointed and menacing modernity. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1969.


Brendan Behan, 1923-1964

I am a cowardly man by nature, and to go there I had to take a couple of drinks and when I saw her so small and lonely in that stark, ether-smelling ward of the hospital, I knew that I loved her very deeply.

Brendan Behan
     Behan was 16 years old when he was sent to a British prison for his activities in the Irish Republican Army, and, like Oscar Wilde, he used his time in prison to feed his muse. His play "The Quare Fellow" rocketed him to fame in 1956, and he divided his few remaining years writing amusing memoirs and drinking everything within reach.

         —Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, March 15, 1996


              



Monday, March 16, 2015

Sweet (not) home Chicago


     On the afternoon of Jan. 20, 1961, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower slipped away from the Inauguration Day festivities, piled into their 1955 Chrysler Imperial and famously drove to their farm at Gettsyburg, Pa. Contrary to myth, they were not alone — two servants and a chauffeur, Leonard Dry, were with them, but even then, the ex-president felt "an eerie loneliness about the absence of motorcycle escorts and caravans of Secret Service and press cars" according to Ike's grandson, David.
     It was about to get lonelier.
     "When the Eisenhowers approached the entrance to their Gettysburg farm," David Eisenhower wrote, "the Secret Service honked the horn and made a U-turn, heading back to Washington."
     Ex-presidents didn't get security. His predecessor, Harry Truman, didn't even receive retirement pay — he had to live, at least initially, on his $112.56 Army pension, and took out a bank loan in his last week in office to tide himself over.
     Not issues that will face Barack Obama, who will leave office Jan. 20, 2017, a rich man, the way politicians tend to. He'll head, not back to Chicago, but to New York City, to join the claque of rootless wealth.
     That has to raise some tangled emotions here.
     If I had to categorize it, I'd say a disappointment but not a surprise.
     Reading Mike Sneed's column Friday on how the Obamas are set on living in New York, which means their library will probably be set there too, has to sting.
     Though Chicago was never really Obama's home, despite his house in Kenwood. That notion was just another spoonful of a politician's honey, and shame on those who swallowed it. Born in Hawaii — really, get over it, join us in the fact-based world — gone to school in Boston, Obama didn't set eyes on Chicago until his late 20s. Chicago was a way station and not really, as it turns out, his home. A means, not an end.
     At least not to Michelle Obama, and a husband goes where his wife wants to go, if he knows what's good for him. When people were aghast that I would move to Northbrook, I told them, "If I didn't follow my wife's lead, I'd still be a single guy living in a one bedroom apartment in Oak Park..."


To continue reading, click here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Puzzler No. 3


                                          Last week was elegant but not hard.
                                          This is less elegant but, I hope, harder.
                                          Though doable.
                                          I think. 
                                          Good luck.
                                          Have fun.
                                          The winner gets a 2015 EGDD blog poster.
                                          Post your guesses below.

                                          Two thousand fifteen years ago
                                          Using our system 
                                          Not that they would then
                                          But only two digits
                                          Plus the Latin, abbreviated
                                          And          
                                          John Candy and Judy Holiday
                                          Had this in common
                                          All together now, a kind of code
                                          Plus
                                          He preferred being an unhappy fellow
                                          To being a porker smiling in shit
                                          Not that he was given the choice.

                                          Where is this?