Friday, June 9, 2023

Do I have the right to write this?

Palazzo Zuccari in Rome, built 1592
     Not even a month since Chicago welcomed its new mayor. I applauded, more or less, then turned my attention elsewhere, figuring: it’s honeymoon time. Let the man settle in. Get used to his new chair. Start facing the demands of running ... checking the stats ... what is still the nation’s third-largest city, with Houston not expected to pass Chicago for another 10 years.
     Then Monday, when my back was turned, the mayor sticks the knife in. While kissing up to the latest crop of police officers, he announced:
     “And let me make this emphatically clear: If you don’t live in Chicago, you don’t have a right to talk about the city of Chicago.”
     Sez who? The brand-spanking-new, wet-from-the-womb mayor of America’s (for now) third-largest city? Bzzzzt. Oh, I’m sorry: Wrong. We do have the right. But no need to trust an auslander, with the shameful stain of suburbia upon him. Flip open my U.S. Constitution to the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”
     Yes, the mayor of Chicago is not Congress. He’s far less. A local official. Don’t we have enough local officials who feel entitled to score cheap political points by telling others what they have the right to say, read, think? Is Chicago’s new mayor really springing out of the blocks to join that race? Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, meet your new teammate, Mayor Brandon Johnson.
     The sad thing is, I know what Johnson was trying to say. He’s sick of Chicago getting kicked from all directions by those whose closest connection to the city is watching “The Bear.” But the answer isn’t covering your ears and shouting “Stop it!” It’s called, “not caring.” My inbox fills every day with rage-addicted Floridians trying to lord the weekend shooting stats over me.

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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Flashback 2002: Cabbie has a story, and you should listen

Library of Congress

     I heard from Jack Clark Monday. He's a writer and former cab driver whom I've known for ... gee ... decades, and I'd asked him to submit something for my periodic "Works in Progress" Saturday feature. 
     Reading his prose sparked a single memory — sitting in the Billy Goat together — and I realized I'd written a column about him, 21 years ago. I thought the column would be a good way to introduce him to you, and prime your for his Saturday piece.

     Jack Clark is a cabdriver. He lives in Lincoln Square, though finds it getting a little hoity-toit for his taste. "They took down the Laundromat and put up a Starbucks," he said, disgust flitting about his face.
     As with most cabbies, Jack is overflowing with stories. No sooner had we settled down at a red-and-white checked table than our setting — the Billy Goat Tavern — inspired a good one. I can't quote it, sadly, as it would be too cruel, even toward a competitor across the street. But take my word for it. The next story, happily, is sharable:
     "The only cab trip I ever took in reverse was to here," Jack said, reflectively, looking about the place. "A lady called from Riccardo's. She got in, and said she wanted to go to the Billy Goat. So I put the cab in reverse and backed around the corner. God, she was embarrassed."
     His mother, Mary Jo Clark, is also filled with stories. Most moms are, I suppose. Her stories were the mythologies of the family, tales both universal and highly particular. Both the classic immigrant arc from Ireland, and the individual eccentricities found in all families: Aunt Nell, who gave her children away; Aunt Maggie, who couldn't read.
     As Mary Jo Clark got older — she's 88 now — her son realized that if he didn't collect her stories, they would die with her. So he dutifully interviewed her and compiled a 160-page manuscript, intended to be passed around the family. A family history.
     But Jack has moxie — another trait common in cabdrivers. It dawned on him that there was more value to his mother's stories than a mere family heirloom.
     "These stories have a lot of history with this town," he said. "Almost all of them take place in the first half of this century. This is a great middle class city, and the book is like a history of the move from blue collar into the middle class."
     So he showed his mother's storybook to an editor at the Chicago Reader. The tales ended up published as a series there and, now, as a book, "On the Home Front," published by Plume.
     The book itself is a marvel of writerly restraint. Jack, for all his opinionated brio, fades into near-invisibility, as his mother narrates, in her own no-nonsense voice, brief episodes. Some are private moments — being 4 years old, getting shiny new shoes and remembering looking down at them as she toed circles in the sawdust on a butcher shop floor.
     Others brush against history— news of Pearl Harbor, or the Dorchester, a World War II troop ship sunk off the coast of Greenland. It was famous for the four chaplains who gave up their life vests to other sailors, but Bill, who was dating Mary Jo's younger sister, wasn't one of the lucky survivors.
     "She was a wreck after that," Clark writes. "She'd read every paper looking for articles. . . . They never found Bill. They found some of the men frozen on rafts. There were some that survived, I believe, but not too many. She watched the newspapers for months."
     The book's strength is that it doesn't stoop to Greatest Generation mythologizing. The Clarks are real people, and Mary Jo doesn't try to make them heroes.
     "All of our people were drafted," she admits. "Nobody joined. I don't know anybody who was a volunteer. Nobody I know. They all had a number. When their number came up, they went."
     The book captures the meekness and daring of being low on the economic pecking order. After Mary Jo's father blows half his pay on a spree, her mother is so angry she storms out and blows the other half on a fancy hat. Another time, teenage Mary Jo brings her birth certificate to the Sears at Homan and Arthington, looking for work. But the woman doing the hiring holds it to the light and sees it has been tampered with. The next day Mary Jo returns, in the same dress, and hands her older sister's birth certificate to the same woman, who hires her. The tough part was reminding all her high school friends working at Sears to call her by her sister's name.
     Like most authors, Jack is trying hard to push sales of his book.
     "It's frustrating not to get a review in a Chicago paper," he said. "It's a Chicago book. A real Chicago book."
     He does have the book in his cab, and is not shy about pressing it on passengers.
     "I had a romance writer in the cab the other day, and she said that publishers expect you to do your own publicity," he told me.
     Toward that end, Jack Clark has a plan. He would like his mother's memoirs to be picked as the next book for "One Book/One Chicago," like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or, recently, "Night."
     "What could be more perfect?" he said. "A Chicago book by a Chicagoan about Chicago. Only I don't know how you submit them. I don't think there's any place you send in nominations."
     He was wrong. I called the Chicago Public Library and not only found they take nominations on their Web site, but that the committee that picks the books is meeting today. So I nominated "On the Home Front," which really is a very moving book and, while I was at it, since I am not without moxie myself, I nominated my own new book, "Don't Give Up the Ship." It's a tough business, and a guy has to do all he can.
         — Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 31, 2002

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Chicago has rolled with radio for 101 years

     Not many Chicagoans recognize the name George Frost. Typical for a city that shrugs off its technological pioneers. I also imagine most people here, even if they know the atom was first split by human agency on that repurposed squash court under the stands at Stagg Field on the University of Chicago campus in 1942, have no idea which human led the effort (sigh, Enrico Fermi, which will be better known when Columbus Drive is finally named after him, perhaps by the centennial in 2042).
     Frost is considered the first person to rig up a car radio, putting one in the door of his Ford Model T, in May 1922, in his capacity as president of the Radio Club at Lane High School.
     Somebody was going to do it — cars were all the rage and radio was all the rage, particularly in Chicago. (Ever wonder why the red wagons manufactured here for years were called Radio Flyers? What is “radio” about a kid’s wagon? The answer: Radio was wildly popular, and Antonio Pasin, the Italian immigrant who founded the company, wanted his wagons to be wildly popular, too. The “Flyer” part of the name was a nod to Charles Lindbergh.)
     That same year, 1930, that Liberty Coaster changed its name to Radio Flyer, another burgeoning Chicago company, destined also to build an empire based on mobility, Motorola, started selling radios specifically designed to go into cars. Founder Paul Galvin said he came up with the company name while shaving, a mashup of “motor” and “Victrola” (double sigh: a kind of early record player). The ST71 cost $110, and to put that in perspective, the average new car cost $600 in 1930, which means putting in that new Motorola gizmo would be like paying $5,000 for a car’s sound system today.
     Those expensive receivers were AM radios. The AM range of the electronic spectrum, from 535 to 1700 kHz, has been popular ever since, as it leads to a stronger signal because the waves don’t skip away out of the Earth’s atmosphere as easily as FM waves. AM reception has an improved signal-to-noise ratio, or less interference.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Art and the suburbs

"Factories at Clichy" by Vincent Van Gogh

       I have an amazing capacity to miss things: the big game, the hot concert, the hit TV series, the latest best-seller. General acclaim is off-putting to me — I avoided the Harry Potter books for years because I assumed anything that popular had to be crap.
      My Achilles heel is museums. If I go to a city, I want to visit the local museum, to see what they've got. There isn't much in Dallas after you've clapped eyes on Dealey Plaza, but if you slide by to convenient Fort Worth, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art does have Grant Wood’s wry masterpiece, "Parson Weems' Fable," and that's enough to make a trip to Dallas worthwhile, almost.
      Museum shows are even more compelling — unprecedented in-gatherings of great works from all over the world. You miss one, and it's never coming back. You can motivate yourself to go see a famous work that has taken up brief residence at the corner of Adams and Michigan. Or you can haul your ass to the Hermitage.
     Though I don't rush to be among the first. I've done that. I think it was opening day of the Monet show, years ago. The advertising had been particularly aggressive, and everybody else in Chicago had the same idea. I said to Edie, "This is like trying to look at art in a crowded 'L' car."
     And I don't come at the very end, because that too, is crowded with stragglers. (Though I do remember arriving 90 minutes before closing of a Georgia O'Keeffe show, flashing my press card and blowing in).

     So I wanted to see the Dali Show before it closed. Even though I don't particularly like Dali. Why? The paintings are small, distorted, dark, weird. His showman's aspect. His paintings are circuses in oils. His whole personality. The waxed mustache. The affectations. The way Dali let himself be taken advantage of at the end, signing stacks of blank paper. All art is fraud, but Dali overdoes it.
     But you never know. Sometimes the comprehensive museum show of a particular artist will win you over. I didn't think much of Andy Warhol, either, until he got the full Art Institute treatment. You had to be impressed with the skill, the creativity, he shifted from an ad illustrator drawing shoes to the darling of the creative world. This was Dali's first major exhibition at the Art Institute.
   Plus my wife really wanted to go. She had seen an early 1925 Dali portrait of a woman turned away from the viewer, when we were in Barcelona at the Reina Sofia, and it struck her.
     The optical illusions were not without charm, though his phallic tower seemed more juvenile than transgressive. Fame and art are generally at odds, and there he was, part of the 1939 New York World's Fair and on the cover of time. He's more in the realm of Peter Max of artists famous for being famous more than famous for being good. Though I invite readers who disagree to make their case.
     After dispensing with Dali, we headed to the "Van Gogh and the Avant-Garde: The Modern Landscape" show. Such are the riches of the Art Institute that I didn't even realize the Van Gogh show was there until we walked in. 
      I am not, as a rule, a big landscape fan — I like people in my art  — but this focused on the tortured Dutch painter and his circle of younger artist friends lighting out for the suburbs to find their muse — as a suburbanite myself, I enjoyed the narrative that Van Gogh had to escape the narrow confines of Paris and find his true artistic self in the suburbs an hour away.
"The Seine at Saint-Ouen, Morning," Charles Angrand
     It groups five artists — not just Van Gogh, but Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Emile Bernard, and Charles Angrand, who painted together, argued, inspired and disgusted each other between the years 1882 and 1890 during the three months he painted at Asnieres, Clichy and the Island of La Grande Jatte. One was Charles Angrand, and I admired a painting of the Seine that was mostly green and blue dappled water.
     Indeed, I found myself appreciating the words of the lesser-known artists even more than Van Gogh, who could include these stiff little figures in his landscapes, and had not yet entered into the blazing glory of his final phase.
     The show not only discusses the artists and their work, but the societal changes going on at that exact moment, as greenery gives way to train stations, bridge embankments, and the factories that Van Gogh captures so charmingly above.
     If the "Grand Jatte" above sparked an association, you've seen the Georges Seurat masterpiece "A Sunday on the Isle of Grande Jatte." He was among the group of painters working in the Paris suburbs — the first to fix on the bucolic retreat in the Seine between Neuilly-sur-Seine and Levallois.
     He did hundreds of sketches and preliminary studies for the enormous canvas, a number included in this show, and one of the takeaways for me was just how much trial and effort it took for him to get the composition right, arranging and rearranging the trees, playing with the angles of their limbs, experimenting with various groupings and individuals.
     Some of the quick studies were themselves engaging works of art, such as trying to get the exact angle of a woman turned away from the viewer in this Conte crayon sketch, and it's only now that I realize it's something of a mirror image of the Dali work at the top of this short summation that captivated my wife. Birds of a feather. 
      We spent a lot of time reading the commentary of the show. Van Gogh died at 37, but Seurat was even younger, 31, when he succumbed to an infection. If "Grande Jatte" weren't singular enough on its own, it's the only major painting he created, along with "Bathers at Asnieres." 
      On that note, it's probably best for me to start my day and let you go about yours. My apologies for this awkward veer into art criticism — a reader in the comments section yesterday asked for it, and I figured, it's as good a theme as any. 
      The Dali Show only runs until June 12, so you'll have to get a move on if you want to see it.  The landscapes exhibit — Van Gogh's name is in the title, but only 25 of the 75 works on display are his, opened mid-May, and will run all summer, until Sept. 4. Many of the works are from private or obscure collections, have never been publicly displayed before and might never been seen again. Now's your chance.

Monday, June 5, 2023

‘Swiftian’ takes on a new meaning as Taylor Swift fans descend on Chicago

     My wife and I joined the legions of Taylor Swift fans heading downtown Friday afternoon, clad in white cowboy boots, little fringed dresses and pink sequined cowboy hats.
     The fans, that is. My wife and I wore regular clothes appropriate for a 60ish couple visiting the Art Institute (sigh, all right. Me: black jeans, sky blue button-down shirt and blue boat shoes; my wife: lovely in a deep red flowered skirt, black blouse and sandals).
     Our journey had nothing to do with the big concert at Soldier Field. But the timing certainly was fortunate. The ingathering for the first of the weekend’s three Swift shows cast a festive tone.
     Most people waiting on the platform in Northbrook for the 1:35 p.m. Metra were Swift fans, though not all dressed for the occasion. To our left, a 30ish couple in standard-issue suburban dishabille, the man carrying a backpack. Heading, he said, to check into a hotel before the concert.
     “Smart!” I replied, the “What’s a few hundred dollars more on top of the several grand you laid out for tickets,” being unvoiced.
     Not to pass judgment. You put your money where your passion lies, if you’re lucky enough to have both money and a passion. My wife and I blew ... ah ... a Taylor Swift ticket worth of greenery to plant this spring. Those bushes and flowers will no doubt be dried husks buried in landfill while memories of the concert are still glittering bright.
     To our right, five young women in two groups. A pair in the aforementioned white boots and fringes. A second group of three teens, a father flitting around them. As he left, he turned to us — like an actor breaking the fourth wall — and observed that sending them downtown is the easy part. The challenge will be driving to Soldier Field at midnight to retrieve them.

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Sunday, June 4, 2023

A man walks into a bar

Tyler, bartender at Schuba's, 3159 N. Southport.

      Sometimes a man needs to go to a bar.
      Okay, "needs" is the wrong word. In my world, if you need something, then you probably should avoid it. What I needed was a convenient spot for dinner. The bar happened to be that place.
     This was last Tuesday. Our theater tickets were for 7 p.m. My wife got off work at 5 p.m. The venue, Theatre Wit, sort of a freelance stage for hire, is at 1229 W. Belmont. There was the matter of dinner. Schuba's is a couple blocks west, at the corner of Southport. Why not meet there at 6 p.m.? But first wondered if Schuba's serves food. Isn't it a concert hall now? A bit of online checking. Yes, there seems to be food — not much of a menu. But enough.
     I can't express how lovely it felt to stride into Schuba's — particularly after a solid hour on the expressway — all dim and airy, cool and summery. Tyler asked me what I wanted — some bartenders botch that part — and I asked him if they have any NA beer. Some bars still don't, particularly neighborhood places.  
     Schubas has a list. The first on the list was "Visitor," a Chicago-made lager, so I ordered that. Visitor was great, truly excellent. I finished it and moved down the list to a Paradiso IPA. Not quite as superlative as Visitor, but not bad either. I tweeted photos of the beers — originally I planned on echoing all those "Undisclosed location" shots that certain Chicago peripatetics  tweet from bars. Then I realized the Schuba coaster would give away the game, if I pulled the can slightly off it, and I went with "Disclosed location." That struck me as clever. 
     Admittedly, I don't spend much time in bars anymore. It felt very refreshing to be back for a visit, particularly to Schuba's, which I had been to before ... a thought came to me. "Didn't you used to have a photo booth?" My older son, about 5, when we still were in the city. His pediatrician was nearby. We must have grabbed lunch beforehand. I remembered crowding into the photo booth together. "It's still there," Tyler said, pointing toward the back. Most things change; a few stay the same.
     The bartender and I chatted. People came and went. My wife showed up, and told me she had run into our old friends, Cate and Ron — they too were going to see the play, "Shaw vs. Tunney," by Doug Post, the world premiere of a three-person character study about the unlikely friendship between the great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, and boxer Gene Tunney. I wrote about it couple weeks ago. 
      We ordered, hummus and a salad with chicken, a draft cider for Edie. Cate and Ron showed up. More pints, and some brussels sprouts. Chairs were pulled up. The hummus was laden with grilled vegetables, the pita soft, the chicken on the salad was succulent, the butter lettuce fresh. Conversation ensued.
     Soon it was time to go. From what I had seen of bar life — a young woman my wife had noticed sprawled on the sidewalk with her friend; now threatening to tumble off her bar stool, drinking more — I can't say I wished I were one of the tattooed regulars, if that's what they were. But it was a nice place to visit. Schubas: the food and the service are great. And the atmosphere. And the location. And the exterior. It's actually quite a list. Yes, I know, the place is an icon — built in 1903, a "tied house" owned by a brewery, with the gorgeous Schlitz terra cotta work glorying the building. It hardly needs my endorsement. I'm not spilling the beans. ("When visiting Wrigley Field, look to the wall: there's ivy on it!") But I figure, maybe you could use a reminder — I know I did, in the form of a play luring me to the neighborhood. I'll be back.
     The play, by the way, "Tunney v. Shaw," is an engaging piece, well-acted and intimate. Richard Henzel stood out in the role of George Bernard Shaw, playing the Irish writer with captivating wit and sparkle. I was particularly impressed toward the end, how he transformed into an aged Shaw, not through make-up, but just by altering his mien. He just seemed much older. In an intimate space like Theater Wit, the play practically unfolds in your lap, and it takes a lot of artistry to make the thing work. "Shaw v. Tunney" works.
      I hadn't known much about Shaw before; I did know he was a famous atheist, but didn't realize that he ... spoiler alert ... struggled with his atheism. Watching the play, I felt at times it was Delivering a Message a tad heavy-handedly. Or maybe it just wasn't a message that I like to hear — faith conquering doubt after the most threadbare of miracles. At the after-party, I asked playwright Doug Post whether that narrative was fictional, and he assured me it wasn't, that the lines he put in Shaw's mouth about being a fallen atheist were direct quotes. 
     The play runs until July 8, and tickets are $38 and $40. It isn't "Medea." But it'll give you and your date something to talk about at Schuba's afterward. Edie and I and Cate and Ron certainly talked about what we had seen for quite a while, and that is the mark of a worthwhile theater experience.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Flashback 2007: "Take pride in slave past? At least this country admits shameful history"

     I don't like to repeat myself. Even across a span of years. So Friday, when I was beginning a column where I told a story about my older son and acid. Then I paused, and wondered: did I already write this?
     Sixteen years ago. And while I don't imagine many readers would rattle their papers and say, "Heyyyy, I read this already, in 2007!" I do have my pride. I'm glad I wrote it down then, because memory is fallible. Remembering it now, it was the boy, not myself, who found the chemical house selling the acid. Anyway, best let that column tell the story. 
     This was when the column filled a page, and I've left in the original subheadings, and the lame joke at the end. I hardly need to point out that the opening argument is now sadly untrue, as portions of the country have decided that failing to teach children our nation's tragic racial history will somehow make them feel better, when all it does is guarantee that their children will be as ignorant as themselves, a safe bet already, no action necessary.


     You want to feel good about this country? Talk about slavery.
     How, you may ask, can this shameful peak of human cruelty, whose lingering bad effects are felt to this day, be a source of pride to the nation that tolerated its existence for nearly a century?
     Because at least we recognize it. We are aware of it; we teach about slavery in schools. We can talk about it. And if we don't face facts as much as we should, then at least debating them isn't against the law.
     Compare that to Turkey. A nation of 72 million people, Turkey is the most westernized Muslim state in the world. And yet, a Turkish writer would commit a crime and risk prison just by writing this sentence: "in 1915, Turks oversaw the murder of 1.5 million Armenians, the largest European genocide before World War II."
     To Turkey, this is slander. So now, our alliance is endangered -- Turkey has recalled its ambassador, and is threatening to stop helping us wage our losing war in Iraq -- just because a House subcommittee voted to label the 1915 deaths a "genocide.''
     Why do they act this way? National pride, and inability to process difficult truths. A too common problem in this world. The United States might have its moments of shame, like any other land. But at least we can talk about them. We should be proud of that.


     I do think about this stuff, you know. I don't just toss some Boggle cubes and transcribe the result. When I wrote above that this nation tolerated slavery "for nearly a century," that is because the United States came into existence in 1776 and the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863. Before 1776, we were English colonies, and slavery was legal in England until 1807.
    Some try to stretch it to centuries, beginning with the moment that Columbus set a toe in America in 1492 up until yesterday. That seems disingenuous to me. The truth is bad enough; no need to stretch it.

1 DOWN, 127 TO GO . . ."

     There's that moment when a dad hears a phrase from his kid for the very first time and thinks: "Oh boy. I wonder how many more times I'm going to hear that?"
     A bit of background. A while back, when Son No. 1 started growing his hair long, I made a conscious decision not to make him cut it.
     "I'm not fighting about hair," I kept telling my wife, thinking back to all the pointless, get-a-haircut-hippie arguments that have been tearing up families for the past 40 years. I'm not going there. This isn't timidity -- not entirely -- I want him to listen to me because when I put my foot down about something, it's important. No, you can't drive the car. No, you can't play with hydrochloric acid unsupervised.
     How long a boy's hair is isn't important.
     Friday morning, he's hustling out the door to school. I say goodbye and try to plant a kiss on top of his head -- tougher to do lately, but sometimes I pull it off.
     "Don't touch my hair!" he says, twisting away.
     "He's got it just the way he likes it," my wife explains helpfully.
     "OK, then," I say, watching him as he hurries out the door.


     That line about hydrochloric acid, by the way, isn't some bit of comic fancy I pulled out of the air, but a real issue from daily life that actually occurred and merits mention.
     Normally I like to present a united front with the wife when it comes to child rearing. Even when I might have decided differently about a situation, I tend to back her up once she has laid down the law.
     Otherwise, the boys play us off each other and things get nuts.  
    Yet somehow, in this particular situation, inspiration struck me, and I felt compelled to break ranks.
     My wife was busily seeing how many ways she could say "No" when I butted in.
     "Sure, we can get some hydrochloric acid for you to experiment with," I told my 11-year-old son, who must have read about it in Stephen King. "I'll go online right now and find a place that'll sell it."
     His face lit up. "Really?" he said. My wife shot me a look that itself was rather acidic -- say a pH1 -- as I retired to the office to scout cyberspace.
     To be honest it took some doing -- most chemical shops want only to send acids to schools, but I finally located an industrial chemical outlet that asks only for assurances its products will be used for an educational purpose -- which is the plan.
     Four ounces of acid, by the time we paid for special delivery and hazardous materials handling, would cost about $50.
     "That's a lot of money," I said to him. "So if I'm going to shell that out, I want to make sure you know what you're doing."
     I handed him a sheet of guidelines for the handling of chemicals printed off the Ohio State University Chemistry Department website.
     "Familiarize yourself with these," I said. "And study this." I set down a piece of paper explaining acid, base and pH. "Then I want you to write out what acid is and exactly what experiments you intend to do with your acid. And as soon as you've done that, I'll place the order."
     Needless to say, he never mentioned hydrochloric acid again, to my mingled relief and disappointment. And I felt I had made a strategic parenting breakthrough. So if next time he comes and says, "Dad, can we get a grizzly bear?" instead of arguing about it, I'll say, "Sure, but a bear like that will need a big pen: you'd better start building. But first, research the law regarding keeping wild animals in suburban yards . . ."


     A joke from Robert Hawkins in honor of the Army hitting its recruiting goals by lowering its standards:
     I joined the Army because I was 18 and bored with the 10th grade.
              — Originally published in the Sun-Times, Oct. 14, 2007