Saturday, October 31, 2015

Wozzeck, again

From "Wozzeck," photo courtesy of the Lyric Opera

     Are you tired of the Saturday fun activity? I am, sort of. Okay, a lot. Plus I'm running out of halfway enigmatic photos, not that you guys ever are stumped. 
    So let's take a breather, at least for today. If this is a rend in the fabric of your universe, let me know, and I'll continue it next week. If you heave a sigh of relief, let me know that too, so I can be confident I judged correctly.
     For today, I've unearthed this chestnut, in honor of Wozzeck, the Berg opera that opens at the Lyric Sunday. This 1998 column is one of the first I wrote that mentions opera, and is significant for several reasons. 
    First, it mentions Wozzeck, which I had seen as an entry-level subscriber when the Lyric last presented it in 1992. My central memory is of screeching, and a woman on a swing, and wanting to get out of there with a passion that could not have been greater had the place been on fire.
     Second, while there are many criticisms that can be leveled at the atonal, jarring piece, I manage to malign it falsely in two ways, by alluding to its length—at 100 minutes long, it's one of the shortest operas—and an intermission, of which there are usually none because of the aforementioned brevity. 
     Third, after this column appeared, I received a scorching letter from Magda Krance, then and now the proud spokesperson for the opera. The letter ended up a crumpled ball hurled across the newsroom—just can't do that with email, alas. So I can't check what was in it, but I remember her saying that I had become Bob Greene, a low insult for any writer, but particularly barbed because Magda and I had collaborated on the takedown of Greene that had appeared in Spy magazine in the late 1980s.
    What I remember most about this episode was sitting at my typewriter, pounding out a reply, a number of replies, actually one after the other. I would write a letter in a hot fury, seal it up, stomp over to the mail basket, put it in, stomp back to my desk, fume, then leap up, stomp back, pluck the letter out, tear it up, return to my desk and write a new one.  I did this at least three times. 
    A luxury lost in our digital, send-it-and-regret-it age. 
    The letter I finally sent began, "Ignoring your letter..." and suggested that a publicist doing her job would have taken me up on my offer of donating some proper light plates for the lobby of the Lyric, which has grand marble and brass and these sad industrial electric outlets. 
    It is a tribute to the plasticity of the human condition, and our respective professionalism that Magda and I managed to get past that little speed bump in our relationship, and have worked together lo these many years and become bosom buddies as I went from being a subscriber, sitting in the uppermost balcony, to a frequent commentator with a better seat. 
     I'll be attending Wozzeck later this week, and am keen to discover if my tastes have changed in nearly a quarter century. 
    In the meantime, let us return to the years of Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a scandal whose annoyingness our young columnist tried to express by way of operatic metaphor. It's not a very good column, but then I was new to the job.

      If you've ever sat through a really terrible opera, one of those
four-hour jobbies, always modern — say "Wozzeck" by Berg — that the
Lyric Opera seems to feel compelled to inflict upon its audience,
periodically, perhaps as penance for the joys of Mozart and Verdi,
then you might have already struck upon my technique of escape
     It is the second act. Having spent the intermission begging my
wife to leave and salvage what remains of the evening (she refuses,
out of the charmed notion that the performers, 100 yards and two
balconies away, will feel badly if we do), I slump down in my red
plush seat. The opera unfolds, hideously.
     So I leave, not in reality, but in imagination. I narrow my eyes
and go through the process: getting up, murmuring apologies, sliding
down the row, trying not to grind my butt in the faces of seated
     Quick-step up the aisle. Pass through the door into the light.
The relief of the unmobbed coat check desk. The giddy reunion between
man and coat. The rush down the stairs. The careful noting of the
crooked beige plastic electric wall socket plates in the lobby, an
amazing lapse amid the glorious marble and brass (I'm going to dip my
toe into philanthropy some day and raise the money to buy the Lyric a
half dozen real brass socket covers for its lobby — the Neil
Steinberg Memorial Wall Plates). The final release into the
revivifying night air.
     I found myself engaging in a similar escape last week, when
struck by the tsunami of the Lewinsky; Tripp tapes, followed hard by
the typhoon of the impeachment hearings. (We never have thought of a
proper name for this nightmare, have we? Maybe we should take a cue
from Conrad, and just call it the Horror).
     How will this end? When will the face of the general public —
turned away in relief since the elections, now roughly grabbed and
shoved, like a naughty dog, back into the noisome mess — once again
be permitted to turn skyward and view the stars?
     My personal moment of squirming despair came Thursday. I was in
a cab, on Lake Shore Drive. Of course, the radio was turned to Ken
Starr (all radios and televisions were; you could keep up with the
farce by just walking down the street, like with the Cubs in a
playoff game).
     Cab radios only have two volumes, tantalizingly soft and
eardrum-piercing loud. Straining to hear Starr's pious palaver, I
asked the cabbie to turn the radio up. As punishment, I was forced to
endure Starr's voice sawing full volume through my head for the rest
of the trip.
     When will this be over and what will that be like? Can we
conjure up a scenario that, like a fantasy tiptoe out of the opera
house, can give us a bit of balm against the nightmare grinding out
before our eyes? Since relief tarries, might we not at least imagine
     My first impulse would be to say: No, it's not possible. Steven
Calabresi, a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern
University, floated a scenario in which the Senate would still be
arguing this issue in January, 2001. And that was his short version.
He also suggested the Senate could hold some sort of hearing hounding
Clinton after he leaves office (after? after!) to legally bar him
from holding future office.
     With all due respect to Calabresi, he's out of his mind, showing
the sort of oblivious wish-fulfillment that has led the Republican
Party to the precipice and is now inspiring them to leap over into
the abyss.
     If this nonsense is still being debated into 2001, there won't
be a Republican in Congress to vote on the matter. Bank on it.
     As with all moralists who periodically grab the reins of the
nation and drive us toward a cliff, they don't get the idea of a gray
region. The moderate mass of America doesn't think in absolutes —
we're trying to get through the day, which often requires compromise,
a concept lost on zealots. Abortion is bad, but banning it is worse,
so the rights of the fetus, such as they are, are trumped by the
rights of the mother. Smut on the Internet is a problem, but
appointing a committee of bluenoses to try to sweep it clean is
worse. Clinton lied under oath, but he lied under oath about his sex
life in a proceeding that grew out of a garbage lawsuit mounted by
his enemies who hated him prior to all his supposed crimes and only
hate him more now.
     But it will end, right? I bring you good news. It will. The
inquiry will grind on, the Republicans trying to expand it,
desperately. But society, which cares little now, will begin to care
less. The hearings will continue, but we won't notice them anymore.
New developments will get pushed to the back pages, to the last
segment before the weather. Newspapers will run a small box, back by
the astrology tables: "Today is the 147th day of the impeachment
hearings. Rep. Hyde said . . ."
      This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.
    —Originally published in the Sun-Times Nov. 22, 1998

Friday, October 30, 2015

Gun Shop Rules: Part II

      This is the second part of my gun range visit, begun yesterday. I seem to have not written anything about the actual shooting session with the boys itself, probably because it was unexceptional, possibly because I considered it private. All I recall is the younger boy didn't like it much at all—guns are loud, even with ear protection—and neither asked to shoot again, leaving me slightly disappointed, as I half hoped it would become a family activity we'd do from time to time. I was fully prepared to buy a gun, for target practice purposes, should it become necessary. But it wasn't. So I didn't, a thread of logic that eludes many—our right NOT to own guns—and is the source of much tragedy.

     'How do you know he won't shoot you?"
     Spoken by my wife, standing in the kitchen as I grab the car keys.
     I am hurrying to meet a reader, one of many who offered to go shooting with me after I was turned away from Maxon Shooters Supplies in Des Plaines.
     The thought never crossed my mind; I'm not significant enough to shoot. It isn't as if I'm unearthing atrocities in Chechnya.
     The reader, Chuck is waiting at the gun range when I arrive: black leather jacket, about my age and height, apparently sane. An insurance adjuster.
     He has a small arsenal of weaponry in locked cases — a matte black Browning 9 mm, a Colt .45 automatic, a nickel-plated Smith & Wesson .357 magnum, a .22 Harrington & Richardson revolver and a .22 rifle.
     We sit at a table and go over the guns, only a portion of his collection, the size of which he doesn't specify beyond "quite a few."
     Why so many? I ask, explaining my theory that men assemble big armories as part of elaborate, if unspoken, end-of-the world fantasies.
     No, he says, it's a matter of collecting, of appreciation.
     "They're a work of art," Chuck says. "My wife is into Beanie Babies, and I do this."
     Fair enough. They are sleek.
     He hands me material on gun safety. It takes 30 seconds to read — treat all guns as if they're loaded, don't point them at something you don't want to shoot, etc. — but I shudder to think of how many people buy the ranch ignoring them.
      Then to the range,
      Shooting guns is fun. I could lard that thought with all kinds of caveats and expressions of regret about mass killings. But save politics for another day. I learned a lot — a .22 caliber bullet is tiny next to a .45 slug, a pencil eraser compared to a pinkie. The .357 magnum does not have a kick like in the movies.
      At least not in my hands. A lifetime of video games serves me well — I plant all 16 shots from the .22 in the innermost target ring, and do well even with the large caliber guns. The first shot from a new clip with the .45 is a dead-center bull's-eye.
     "Asshole," mutters Chuck, massaging the word into a compliment.
     I save a pair of human-shaped targets for the boys, figuring they can decorate their rooms with them. Boys love that kind of thing.
     —Published in the Sun-Times April 27, 2007

GOP debate the stuff of dreams

     The conclusion of yesterday's visit to a gun range flashback will be posted at 7 a.m., CST, Oct. 30, 2015.

     When Carly Fiorina said "I'm Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare" at the end of the third Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, I couldn't help mutter, "Hers and everybody else's."
     A glib line and, as is common with glib lines, not actually true. Fiorina might be a bad dream, certainly, but the worst? Sadly no. Called upon to arrange the 10 Republican candidates on stage in Boulder by order of their nightmarishness, worst to least, anyone who cares for this country would have to go first to Ben Carson, the inexplicable front-runner, murmuring his inanities, smiling quietly to himself as they are mistaken for deep truths.
     There's almost no point in explaining how disastrous Carson would be — like Louis Armstrong said when asked to explain jazz, "If you have to ask, you'll never know." An economy-killing tax plan, to start. Morally wrong notions that jab a thumb into the eye of our cherished rights, hard for some to detect because they seem aimed at someone else. Carson's suggesting closing the mosques of anyone found supporting ISIS, translated, means he'd happily suspend the civil rights of any besieged minority (and if that isn't clear, imagine Carson suggesting closing the churches of those who commit crimes. You see? No, still don't get it? Well, as I said, if you have to ask.)
     In close second on the bad-dream scale is Sen. Ted Cruz. Tailgunner Ted, a frightening demagogue hewed from Joe McCarthy's stock of the high-pitched fanatic waving a sheaf of papers over his head. Then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the albatross of Fort Lee moldering around his neck (and if you spring up and say, "He didn't know about the lane closure!" remember, that's worse, because it means he's fully capable to hire a staff of trusted henchmen and then let them run riot while he's oblivious).
     The rest you can rank yourself, and I'd hate to have to decide if Rand Paul is worse than Marco Rubio. The least nightmarish, from Democratic standards, Gov. John Kasich and former Gov. Jeb Bush, also have the least chance of getting elected. The whole debate was, if not quite a nightmare, then a depressing circus — a David Mamet babble of people talking loudly over each other, shouting well-practiced glib lines that were both untrue and entirely at odds with what they were asked. CNBC seemed to have trouble with the logistics of hosting a debate. It started late, with a strange question, "What's your biggest fault?" that bordered on "What kind of tree would you be?" and most of the candidates rightly ignored it, and pretty much all the other questions the CNBC panel asked, preferring to tear into the media for insulting them by daring to question their impossible schemes. There was no illumination on any kind of policy, except that Donald Trump's thousand mile wall along the Mexican border now has a door in it — which I consider progress. Donald Trump wasn't the worst nightmare on stage, he's not even in the worse half, which is really saying something.
     Trump's brief denouncement of super PACs, plus his dialing back the personal attacks, a little, raised Trump in my estimation. Plus, he isn't Ben Carson — he's Solon the Lawgiver compared to Ben Carson.
     Living in a state where the Republican Party once offered up Alan Keyes as its candidate for Senate, Illinoisans are used to the idea of laughable incompetence passed off as worth by the Republicans. Carly Fiorina waved the threadbare rag of her corporate performance, at best dismantling a failing company (a skill that, alas, might have use in America's future) and at worst a litany of incompetence. For her to then use that to lash at Hillary Clinton, secretary of state in a dangerous world, former senator, wife of one of the more popular presidents in modern history, well, let's just say it showed a hypocrisy so solid you could build a chair out of it. These are the same people, remember, who hooted at Barack Obama for being inexperienced. Now you can select any three candidates off the stage, combine their resumes and find less government experience than Obama was ridiculed for possessing. You have to be a Republican to consider that a good thing. Why it is not in fact a good thing, why it is bad, well, if you have to ask, you'll never know.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gun shop rules: Part One

"Boy With Toy Soldiers" by Antonio Mancini, from the Barnes Foundation collection. 

     Last week I had an exchange with a supporter of unlimited gun access, whose hostile tone changed dramatically when I mentioned that I had fired guns. I guess that put me on the good guys' side. I posted a photo of myself shooting at the FBI range, and another commentator assumed that was the only time I've ever fired weapons—a way to nibble away at my gun cred, I suppose. It wasn't. I wrote a series of column items in 2007—the column filled a page then, and tended to be broken into smaller bits—about getting my FOID card and taking my boys shooting. Understand, it's madness, in my view. Ideas don't gain or lose legitimacy depending on how much ammo the person espousing them has fired. Still, I thought I'd post them here, the first part today, the second tomorrow, so I have something to calm gun zealots with next time the issue comes up, which it will.

READY, AIM . . .
     Applied this week for my FOID card — that's "Firearm Owner's Identification" for you who are not in the gun world.
     The form takes a minute to fill out — though I paused at question 10. Does "Optional Numbers" mean I have to put down my Social Security number or not? I figured "optional" is an out for the black helicopter crowd. So I wrote the number down.
     Cost me $5 and a recent photo—the form says it takes 30 days and I'll have my license and be all set.
     Regular readers of this column might find this an unexpected development. I have in the past written that guns are dangerous and that certain new gun laws are desirable, such as one banning .50-caliber rifles, which are good for shooting down planes and not much else, or laws that would keep individuals from buying two dozen handguns at a time, to cut down on sales to street gangs.
     That makes me a bed-wetting, liberal, gun-banning weenie in the mind of the National Rifle Association, whose members have "The right to bear arms shall not be infringed" part of the 2nd Amendment tattooed on their necks, but keep conveniently forgetting the "well-regulated" that comes right before it.
     To me, enjoying guns and a reasonable public gun policy are not mutually exclusive. Banning machine-guns is not a step toward a police state, and wanting to doesn't make me anti-gun. I've gone pheasant hunting, and skeet shooting, and fired a handgun a couple of times. Guns have an allure and shooting is safe and fun, done properly.
     So when my 11-year-old son announced Sunday that he wanted to shoot a gun, my response was to jump online and find out the quickest way to get him on a range.
     Gun shops ring the suburbs. They'll rent you a gun and sell you ammo, and a child can shoot if in the company of a parent, provided the adult has an FOID card.
     Hence the application.
     If nothing else, shooting will be something the boys—both want to go now—remember. My father was a government scientist who spent a lot of time in places like Geneva and Johannesburg and London. We didn't do much stuff together. But one day in 1974 we did stand around for an hour or so at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and blow clay pigeons out of the sky. It felt very adult to tuck a shotgun under my arm, to bring it up to my shoulder, and sight the target. I can hardly wait.
                                     — Published in the Sun-Times, March 9, 2007 

     The list of victims from Monday's Virginia Tech massacre is not complete. Other innocents will also be harmed by this.
     There will be, for instance, troubled youths on every college campus who reach out for help and instead get their fingers burned.
     Even before this, universities were overreacting and suspending students after they sought treatment for depression.
     Now, with the specter of slaughter haunting already timid college administrators, we can expect more kids will find themselves on the bus home after making the mistake of approaching a counselor.
     That isn't right. Combine the pressures of a new place, the stress of college coursework, the frequency of substance abuse, the pain of complex romantic lives, and a significant slice of any campus is on shaky mental ground.
     The last thing we need to do is make it harder to acknowledge this, to boost the stigma aimed at emotional troubles and the tendency to blithely pretend they do not exist.
     I remember sitting in the waiting room at Northwestern's mental health center when a girl I knew walked in.
     "How's everything?" she asked.
     "Great," I said. "And you?"
     "Oh great," she said. Our eyes met and we burst out laughing because, really, if everything was so great, what were we doing there?
     If we place the suspicion of being a potential spree killer upon everyone who stops by the nurse for a brochure, we will inevitably add to the roll of Cho Seung-Hui's victims.

     No gun for you!
     I got my firearm owner's identification card simply to take the boys shooting. But with guns in the news, now also seemed an apt time to head to Maxon Shooting Supplies & Indoor Range in Des Plaines. I went alone, without the distraction of the boys, as a dry run, to blast away at paper targets.

      Maxon is at the end of a strip mall dominated by a bus firm. Inside, a small square shop, smelling of machine oil. Lots of guns, obviously, pistols in glass cases and rifles in racks along the walls. The trio of clerks seemed occupied, so I busied myself examining the cases. I was struck by the size of the guns -- enormous weapons, .46-caliber revolvers about two feet long. You'd have to be a giant to handle the things comfortably.
     Eventually a clerk glanced in my direction and I explained that I wanted to rent a gun and use the range. You could hear soft, percussive pops coming through the wall.
     He said that they require rental gun shooters to be accompanied by another person. I said I saw that on the Web site—"we ask that you shoot with someone when you rent"—but the gentle wording made me hope it was more of a request than a rule, and perhaps I could get around it.
     No, he said, you can't.
     He seemed to lose interest in the conversation at that point, but now I was curious, and pressed: Why was another person necessary?
     "We've had people kill themselves," he said.
     Oh, I said, and browsed around some more, mulling my next step. I examined a bottle opener crafted from a .50-caliber bullet. So they're not just for taking down airplanes.
     Normally I'd rush to apply the universal solvent of being a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, which tends to dissolve this kind of difficulty. But the media—which sometimes suggest that guns be regulated by law, and other heresies—are not exactly the darlings of the gun world. Perhaps it was my own discomfort, being in this unfamiliar, cramped armory, but the gun store employees radiated a certain frostiness, the and-who-sent-you low-grade hostility found in certain bars around Sox Park. Waving the newspaper might get me, not special dispensation, but rather the bum's rush.
     Yet I was there, in the wilds of Des Plaines. A shame to leave without shooting. I found myself standing in front of another clerk.
     "Couldn't I pay one of you guys to be my second?" I asked, sounding like a character out of a Russian novel.
     "We're busy," he snapped, flipping through a catalog. Looking ahead, I asked if a child would count as a second person, for rental purposes.
     "How old?"
     He said 11 would be fine, and I hurried out of there, uncertain if I could muster the fortitude to return, never mind with boys in tow.
     Driving home, something occurred to me. Faced with the risk of tragedy, the gun store had no problem imposing a rule—a gun control, if you like—constricting their customer's God-given, Second Amendment right to bear arms. A rule designed to prevent people from shooting themselves, or at least to prevent them from shooting themselves with a rented gun at Maxon.
     But if the government tried to do the same thing—some sort of policy where mentally ill people are constrained from arming themselves—well, that's the jackboot repression of a police state.
     Not that I'm advocating such a measure. The rights of citizens were too hard-earned to let the mental health profession decide who gets to exercise them. And yet. . . . The store had a problem — suicides renting guns instead of buying them, and killing themselves messily here rather than going somewhere else to do it. And they address the problem with a rule. Not a very good rule, mind you — it seems it would, if anything, encourage murder-suicides. Yet a rule nevertheless.
     We have a Virginia Tech worth of gun deaths every morning in this country, on average, and then again every afternoon. I don't think it makes one a tyrant to wonder if perhaps there isn't something that can be done about that. Maxon might be onto something with their idea of using certain restrictive rules in an attempt, even a vain one, to prevent these tragedies. It's worth a shot.
Today's chuckle
You have to wait 10 days to buy a gun in L.A. I can't stay mad that long.
                                                              --Emo Philips
                                                     — Published in the Sun-Times, April 7, 2007

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Chicago Shapes #3: Squares

    Third in a series of riffs on geometric Chicago. For circles and parabolas, see the two days previous. We'll take a breather after today—there's only so much geometry a body can stand—then come back next week refreshed for triangles, hexagons and ... believe it or not ... octagons. 

     Tiresome as the Chicagoans-don't-put-ketchup-on-hotdogs debate has become, it is not the only squabble regarding consumption of classic foodstuffs where local custom squares off, for want of a better word, against national habit.
     There is the matter of how to properly slice pizza.
     The debate pits the "pie slice" versus the — I kid you not — "Chicago square," which places like Home Run Inn Pizza endorse because that's the way they originally cut their pizza, handing squares out to bar patrons when the place first started in 1947,
     "It’s a Chicago thing: the flat, crunchy crust cut into squares," the web site Thrillist maintains, "for people who don’t want to be stuck eating a whole slice for five minutes when there’s important drinking to be done. No question that square is better."
     "Chicago has been a neighborhood based thin-crust-square-cut-pizza city since I can remember," Tom Schraeder wrote on HuffPost Taste in 2013.
     Neighborhoods and squares certainly go together. In pre-industrial times a center square of pasture was left so cows could graze, and it was natural for people to congregate in markets and fairs there. Cities kept that tradition, with communities built around park squares, and reflected today in places such as the Square Bar and Grill, which does indeed have a square bar, but was so named, I am told, because owner Nick Daud used to live in Logan Square, and the bar itself, 2849 W. Belmont, at one time would have been considered to be located in Logan, before that area morphed into Avondale.
     "More a neighborhood thing," said the employee who explained the derivation of the name to me.
     While town squares hold a mythic place in American lore, prairie Chicago was broken up in to rectangular lots, the better to eat up our endless plats of land.  The only truly square-shaped square I can think of is the park immediately south of the Newberry Library, aptly named Washington Square Park, also referred to as "Bughouse Square" for the radical speeches often given there. 
     Otherwise, Chicago city blocks are varieties of rectangles (a square, almost needless to say, is a specialized rectangle, with four equal sides and four 90 degree angles) and none of Chicago's 77 neighborhoods are actually square, including the three with "Square" in their names:  Armour Square, Lincoln Square and Logan Square.
     There was once a neighborhood in Chicago that wasn't itself square either, but covered a much-ballyhooed square mile on the South Side where the city's meatpacking took place.
"In the 'Square Mile' at its prime stood numerous packinghouses, ringed by railroad lines adjacent to the tens of thousands of animals pens of the Union Stock Yard," Dominic Pacyga writes in his stockyard history Slaughterhouse. Pacyga took liberties by casting it as an upper case name; more common was the treatment Upton Sinclair gave in The Jungle, where he called the stockyards "a square mile of abominations."

    While not common from a bird's eye level, if you walk around, Chicago architecture is studded with squares, particularly as windows and tiles. That said, squares here are more useful as concept than as geometry. The term is dated, now, but for a while, a true Chicagoan would recognize and steer clear of the squares.
     "On hot and magic afternoons," Nelson Algren wrote, in Chicago: City on the Make, "when only the press box, high overhead, divides the hustler and the square."
     "Square" as a term of condemnation was fairly new then; it was first used in 1944, as jazz slang, for a straight arrow who couldn't grasp the new music. By the 1950s, "square" was so overused, particularly by teenagers, that it led to "cube," which was a person who was really, really square, who might even live in "Cubesville."
     "Work was for the cubes," John D. MacDonald wrote in 1957. "The quintessence of a square." 
     While for the past half century a "square," according to Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang, has been "an old-fashioned person, esp. about dancing and music; later concerning customs and culture in general" that was just taking what had previously been a value and flipping it around. Before the 1940s squareness was something to be valued, a sign that you were on the up and up.  "Square" meant honest, as opposed to cross, which is why we have "fair and square" on one hand, and "double cross" on the other.
     "If elected," Theodore Roosevelt promised in 1904, "I will see to it that every man has a square deal, no less and no more."
     And how did "square" come to mean honest and true? Anyone who does carpentry knows that. You wanted your work, particularly your corners, to be square, though you can see this gravitating into general praise for behavior going back 400 years, such as in Act 2, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's "Anthony and Cleopatra."
ANTHONY: Read not my blemishes in the world's report.
                        I have not kept my square, but that to come
                       Shall all be done by the rule.
     Not that there wasn't wiggle room — a person could be square among thieves, for instance, such as the character running a warren of subterranean brothel rooms, also in The Jungle:  
    Here at 'Papa' Hanson's (so they called the old man who kept the dive) he might rest at ease, for "Papa" Hanson was "square" — would stand by him so long as he paid, and gave him an hour's notice if there were to be a police raid.
      Nowadays, "square" is mostly a shape. While in 1986 Huey Lewis could sing that it was "Hip to be Square," that was so true that the very concept of squareness, for a person, fell out of favor, consigned to the attic of the arcane along with stacks of 45s and poodle skirts. The only sort of person who would use the word sincerely would be ... all together now ... a square, though anyone aspiring not to be would just call that person "clueless."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chicago Shapes #2: The circle

Thompson Center floor
     After yesterday's riff on parabolic curves, I'd be a fool not to keep going. The circle seemed the obvious next candidate.

     Chicago is not a round city. Just the opposite. It is a linear city, a grid, starting at 0/0 at State and Madison and marching out in a series of orderly lines, all perpendicular, with the occasional diagonal slash of an Ogden or an Elston vectoring off at an angle to make things a little interesting.
Worse than Indianapolis
     But no circles. Not like Washington D.C., with its DuPont Circle, or New York, with Columbus Circle, or Paris with its Place Charles de Gaulle encircling the Arch de Triumph.  Circles and cities quickly go downhill from there, from Cleveland, with its Euclid Circle, to Indianapolis, known as "Circle City."
      No more need be said, though Indianapolis is not quite the bottom rung; Hell, remember, is a city too, and it has nine circles.
     Chicago does have a Circle Avenue, but it is a small, obscure, egg-shaped oval in Norwood Park. Other than that, nothing. There is another Circle Avenue in Forest Park, though that is mostly straight, north and south, but describes a quick quarter circle before turning east and dead-ending into Harlem Avenue.
     We used to have a Circle Interchange, the confluence of the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower Expressways. But that was renamed the Jane Byrne Interchange last year, a dubious honor for a dubious mayor. 
Covers are round so they don't fall in.
    The University of Illinois does have a Chicago Circle Campus, that opened in 1965. But it has no circles in it; it was named for the interchange, due east. The UIC Circle Campus is distinguished, or more accurately, marred, by its brutalist Walter Netsch-designed buildings, so ugly that a university study of prospective freshmen found that a significant number were discouraged from attending because of them.
     So circles of any sort are not big in Chicago. I imagine Chicagoans would be hard pressed to name a prominent circle-shaped object in their town. The floor of the much ridiculed Thompson Center, above, comes to mind. There was the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, now between wheels as its new one is constructed.  There was a circle prominent in the stained glass of the old Granada Theater; 900 N. Michigan has an impressive circle window. But that's gone.
We've got the hole, now we just need a spire to go in it
     Just as prominent are circles that never came to full fruition -- the hole where the Chicago Spire was supposed to go, near Navy Pier. The "Circle Line," an outer loop connecting the 'L' to the Metra, which petered out after its first phase was completed in 2005.
     Though a hole cannot technically be a circle; a circle only exists on a two-dimensional plane, as the collection of all points equidistant from a center point. 
     Forest Park's Circle Theater, though not located on the town's main drag, took its name from the street and, according to its web site, "from the concept of infinity," which might not be that alluring for time-strapped playgoers. 
     But the duality of shape and symbolism has to be kept in mind with the circle.  It represents unity, wholeness, both life and infinity, which isn't as contradictory as it might appear—life, not as in your or my definitely not infinite lives, but as in life in general, which does endure even as we individuals come and go. Hence the hopeful title of Studs Terkel's book on aging, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," a reference to the 1907 Christian hymn:

                       Will the circle be unbroken
                       By and by, by and by?
                       Is a better home awaiting
                       In the sky, in the sky?

    A circle is also a group of associates—Gmail encourages you to identify people in your circle. Free Burning, Nigerian-born Chicago writer Bayo Ojikutu's novel, describes people who go to 12-step support groups as "circle fiends."  
    No matter, she isn't tricking off these days, not now—the old girl hasn't been to an Uptown circle fiend meeting since I finished high school.
     That seems to be a new locution — I could not find "fiend circle," obviously a play on "friend circle," used similarly in the sweep of literature, so hats off to Bayo Ojikutu.
     Fittingly, circles are a subject that can go on and on. The more you look for circles, the more you'll find. They hide in plain sight. If I asked you to name the most famous circle in the greater Chicago area, you might guess at the Ferris Wheel. If I added that it is one of the largest machines ever constructed, perhaps the largest machine ever constructed, you might be tempted to hold wavering to your choice, even knowing that can't be. It isn't even the biggest Ferris Wheel around. A final clue— you know of it, it just isn't in mind right now— won't help at all. 
     The Tevatron Superconducting Super Collider, a pair of rings, the Main Ring, with a circumference of four miles, and the Injector Ring, at Fermilab in Batavia. Mothballed now after being rendered superfluous by CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.  Still, a very, very big circle, though not enough to change the inherent uncircularity of Chicago.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Chicago Shapes #1: The parabola

     Plunging into all things parabolic for today's column proved too much fun to let the matter drop, so I'm using it to kick off an occasional series I'm calling "Chicago Shapes" that will continue, now and then, until I run out of shapes to write about. Tomorrow: The Circle.

    "Cool parabola," I thought, when I first noticed this arch traced across the front of River Point, the new 52-story tower going up at 444 W. Lake.
     A very 1950s, Jet Age shape, the parabola, defining the curve of a rocket in flight, "Gravity's Rainbow," to use Thomas Pynchon's wonderful phrase, the title of his dense, 1973 masterpiece that uses the parabola as a metaphor for fate, for the arc of life's, the upward spring of youth, the downward pull of age:
     "But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola," Pynchon writes. "They must have guessed, once or twice — guessed and refused to believe — that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children...."
     "No surprise, no second chance" — that sounds about right, to a guy in his mid-50s, about 2/3 the way across his own life's parabola, in the descending part of the curve, hurtling toward the Big Splat.
Parabola formed on an x/y axis.
     Not that you need gravity to make a parabola. There are other ways. Math will do. A parabola also represents an algebraic equation, plotted out on an x/y axis.
For instance, here is a graph of the equation y=6x²+4x-8, a curve very much like the arch at 444 W. Lake, only flipped upside down: You can also slice a curved 3-dimensional geometric figure, such as a cylinder or a cone, like this:

     That's how they came up with the parabola at 444 W. Lake, as I discovered after I phoned the building's designer, Connecticut architectural firm Pickard Chitlon and spoke with Anthony Markese, one of the firm's principals, who was happy to hear from his hometown. "I'm actually a suburban Chicago boy," said Markese, who grew up in Schaumburg "pre-mall."
     How did you decide to stick that parabola there?
     "The parabola form at the base of the tower and the top of the tower come from the building's response to the site," he said. "If you look at the building through Google Earth, one of the really interesting things about the site is a major portion of the Metra tracks run right through the site. The piece left to build on is a funny wedge shape left between Lake, Canal and the tracks."

     Not only did the site pose a significant engineering challenge — the building had to be constructed over operating train tracks — but it also suggested the shape of the building.
     "What fit well in there in terms of the tower plan was the kind of curved cut football shape, the elliptical shape the body of the tower is," Markese said. "We started looking at how to make it more elegant, how to make it meet the ground plane. One way we came up with is to cut it, If you take an extended ellipse, and make a cut, you are left with that parabolic form."
     That seemed right, aesthetically.

     "The idea of this grand arch that looked out to the river seemed really compelling to us," he said. "Sort of a ceremonial archway one could look through the lobby plaza out onto the river."
     You can't see it yet, but the shape will be echoed at the summit.
     "The top of the building has a series of cuts as well, lower parabola, dips downward to create another ellipse shape at the top of the building." he said. "The whole language of the building comes from cutting the building's surface for a variety of parabolic forms."
     Markese said parabolic shapes will also run through the pathways in the green space, and elsewhere.
Illustration of River Point when finished.

     "Once you start with an idea you try to run that idea through the building, to knit it all together," Markese said. "It seemed to fit the flowing nature of the river as well, a confluence of the three branches, curves against curves, a nice open sunlit area of the city."
     In that sense, it sort of mirrors the iconic green curved 333 W. Wacker building cross the river.

     "That building does a beautiful job bending around from one branch to another," he said. "We were very conscious of that, to have two curved buildings create this sort of flowing gateway to the south, quite beautiful and elegant. We very much had 333 on our minds when looking at this building."
     Making a large steel parabolic span like that and having it mesh seamlessly into the building took some computing power."Most of the parabolic shapes are framed with large curved bent steel beams, and we were pushing the envelope of a steel a bit," Markese said. "Marrying the steel, concrete and glass in a smooth way took a lot of computer time."
     That, he said, represented the most advanced aspect of the building.
     "The real change in technology was in computer software," he said. "We and the rest of the design team used to plot out those complex curves. All the surfaces come together in smooth, uninterrupted curves. All those surfaces have to have gutters to drain water, heat tracing to melt ice, and we had the ability to think about all that with advanced computer technology...10 years ago that would have been much more difficult."
     Do you worry, I wondered, that all these design nuances will fly past Chicagoans who will just see the parabola and think, "O00, 1950s retro."
     "I never thought of it as retro," Markese said. "Some people will look at the arch and not know any better. But it still looks fresh and modern. It's really more a geometric exercise."
     As is life. Geometry and math and physics. Writing about the design of the building as it goes up, I couldn't help but imagine some journalist in 22nd century Chicago digging the column up to celebrate the building as it goes down.
     "Because the given must be taken," the poet Philip Levine writes. "Because each small spark/must turn to darkness."
     Or, like the old saying relates, less poetically: What goes up must come down.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bus tragedy linked in time, memory

     October 25, 2015 is my older son's 20th birthday, and I had just decided to let that pass unmarked upon here — don't want to go to the Child Nostalgia Well too often — when I realized that today is also the 20th anniversary of something else: the Fox River Grove bus tragedy, which occurred the morning he was born. A school bus on its way to Cary-Grove High School stopped with three inches of its tail end hanging over the Metra tracks. The substitute bus driver didn't realize it, and Union Pacific Northwest Line express plowed into the bus. On the one-year anniversary of the disaster — and his 1st birthday — I wrote a column about the confluence of the two events, one joyous, one disastrous.

     Friday was the first anniversary of the Fox River Grove school bus tragedy, in which seven students were killed when their bus was struck by a train.
     In my house, we marked the day with a party. We blew up balloons, sang songs, ate cake.
     Lest this seem grotesque cruelty, let me quickly add that Friday was also our son's first birthday. He was born Oct. 25, 1995, about nine hours after the bus tragedy.
     The two events are forever intertwined in my mind. My wife was walking back and forth in the bedroom early that morning, and I was counting the minutes between contractions, when the phone rang. I thought it was her doctor, whom we had just called. But it was the newspaper, telling me to get over to Fox River Grove immediately. Something about a school bus. Something about a train.
     My first impulse was to go. But I looked over at my wife, big as a house and in pain.
     "I can't go," I said. "My wife's having a baby."
     So somebody else went -- many somebodies, actually, as the magnitude of the horror quickly became clear.
     Meanwhile, I walked my wife around the block, holding my wristwatch in my hand, urging her to breathe, trying to remember all that voodoo they taught us in Lamaze.
     But in that perverse way labor has, instead of getting closer and closer, the contractions faded. Two hours later they were gone.
     Nothing is worse in the newspaper business than refusing to accept an important story for no good reason. If this baby now decided to wait a week before being born, nobody at the newspaper would ever believe that I hadn't ducked out of a difficult assignment, shirking behind my pregnant wife.
     I dithered like Hamlet for a while, then my wife gave me a shove.
     "Honey," she said, "I'm not having this baby right now. Go to work."
      And off I went. It was too late to go to Fox River Grove, so I went to the office and took dictation from reporters in the field. While communities in the midst of tragedy view reporters as a plague of locusts, the insult added to the injury, the fact is that, the next day, everybody expects to pick up the newspaper and read all about it.

     I had been at the office about three hours when my wife called. Get back home now, she said. I did. The rush to the hospital was exactly like in the movies; me hitting the horn and cursing the traffic while my wife screamed that she was going to have the baby in the car.
     One hour and 45 minutes after we arrived at the hospital, Ross was born.
     The irony of his timing was never far from mind. This day of tragedy for so many was a day of joy for me. At first my only connection to the accident was that I was a reporter and it happened the day my son was born, but a third connection, strongest of all, grew over time.
     Over the many nights to come, warming bottles, changing diapers, walking the floor in the dead of night. I became a parent too, and the enormousness of what those parents in Fox River Grove lost slowly began to dawn on me, the unspeakable tragedy whose dimly perceived form was still enough to grab at the heart and twist.
     How to begin to understand a loss like that? To have all the years, all the love, and the hard work that parents put into their children just yanked away in an instant? I wanted to understand, but I couldn't.
     Day after day, I searched my baby's face, trying to divine the future.
     Would his moment come before his time? On a plane? In a car? On a bus? Through some carelessness, some random cruelty? Was the train accident an omen? I love him so much, I wanted to know.
     I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in the Fox River Grove parents' shoes. My first thought was that I just couldn't live with it. That I would have to go to the tracks and put my head down and wait for the next train.
     But obviously they kept going. They have other children, other responsibilities and the strength must come from somewhere. Maybe that's God's role.
      The media of course marked the grim anniversary. In my house, we had a party. But in doing so, we also remembered those families in Fox River Grove. Nothing extensive. A raised glass. A few words. Not offered as comfort, which would be cold and useless coming from someone untouched.
     But recognition of what all of us who enjoy unshattered lives, at the moment, owe to those who now mourn. We owe them to do what they would do if they only could; to hug our kids tighter and to savor the passing of each sweet hour.
     To do otherwise is to be blind to life's hard realities: Nothing is guaranteed. No one is immune. The claw awaits each of us, in turn, and we must cherish every moment it dallies on its way to the inevitable rendezvous.

     —Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 27, 1996

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?

     Not every column idea comes together. Sometimes you do the legwork, poke and prod, ask and analyze, and the story for some reason just doesn't gel. I went to this place hoping to find whatever ineffable thing makes for a good story, and came up short. The fault was
entirely my own. My host was honest and pleasant, her story interesting, and I returned a second time, hoping to make it work. But it just didn't. Happens. Though this place is off the beaten track, and I thought: At least it might stump the hive, for a while. 

     Where are these intriguing comestibles being made? After it's guessed — and it always is —I'll fill you in a bit on the place, and how you go there and partake of the wonderful products manufactured within. The winner receives one of my endless supply of 2015 blog posters. Place your guesses below. Good luck. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lose one blob, gain another

Thompson Center 

     Maybe there's some obscure Chicago ordinance requiring at least one curvy, hideous public building to exist in the city at all times.
     That would explain why Gov. Rauner's announcement last week that the bulbous salmon-and-blue monstrosity of the Thompson Center would be disposed of and, please God, torn down, will be followed so closely by Rahm Emanuel's pet City Council approving — next week, take it to the bank, after the Bears's last few qualms are mollified — the eye-scalding white hillock of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which some are calling Jabba the Hutt's Palace, but I think of as "Space Mountain."
Proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

     One step forward, one step back.
     While I'm no knee-jerk preservationist, I do think the Thompson Center should be preserved, for a while, because it's a crime scene. It should be kept vacant, as evidence, until Helmut Jahn's show trial for crimes against architecture can be held in its vast cavernous belly. Only then, upon the inevitable conviction, can it be imploded upon him, a fitting punishment for him and an apt end to his 30-year blot on the city.
     But I am not here to criticize. Too much of that. Too much negativity. I'm here to offer a ray of hope regarding our newest civic asset, on two fronts.
     First, regarding the utter aesthetic failure of the Lucas Museum's design, a thought: How many now-beloved world icons were despised initially? France's great minds jostled each other like piglets at a sow to condemn the Eiffel Tower while it was being built in 1887. "This belfry skeleton" Paul Verlaine sniffed. "This high-and-skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant, ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous, thin shape like a factory chimney" wrote Guy de Maupassant.
     Time soothes. While I sincerely believe Ma Yansong's design resembles nothing so much as an enormous glob of pigeon poop, maybe we'll get used to it. Other, heretofore, reviled structures won't seem so bad. "The Bears should support the Lucas Museum," quipped an editor on the city desk, "because it makes Soldier Field look good by comparison." That's true. The lopsided spaceship that landed in Soldier Field's colonnaded glory looks like the Parthenon compared to the Lucas Museum.
     There is the inside to consider. Yes, last May I suggested it was the "Buck Rodgers" museum, hinting that Star Wars will someday (again, please God) be as forgotten as the once popular Saturday afternoon movie serial.
     But Lucas insists it won't just be a shrine to Luke Skywalker. It's the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, remember. He has a trove of Norman Rockwell paintings. When I was in Boston earlier this month, I made the drive out to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum.
     The art world dismissed Rockwell, but I've loved him since I was a child, savored his deeply human, richly detailed paintings. A visit to the museum confirmed his genius. You put your eye 3 inches from a pencil sketch of his and swear the man was Michelangelo. Any accusations of sentimentality are deflated by his powerful paintings for Look magazine on the civic rights struggle of the early 1960s.
     The was a special exhibit hall showing the excellent New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, and her book on her parents' decline into dementia, a reminder that "narrative art" can be a very big tent.
     I learned much during my visit. The museum highlights Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings, based on FDR's famous speech. You're familiar with "Freedom from Want," a much-copied image of a family around a Thanksgiving table being presented with an enormous turkey.
Norman Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech"
     But it was "Freedom of Speech" that taught me something, or rather the docent lecturing nearby. The painting shows a workman at one of New England's town meetings, standing up, having his say.
     "Notice the ears of the listeners," the docent said. "Rockwell made them slightly bigger."
     He certainly did. And I realized, looking at those ears, something important about the trouble in America today. Nowadays, everyone's talking, but nobody's listening. And if nobody's listening, freedom of speech loses its value.
     A lesson worth driving to Stockbridge to learn. I hope Lucas makes a museum that isn't just a tourist trap for Star Wars fans, but somewhere that visitors can go to discover similar truths hidden in art. And if he doesn't, the 99 years will pass, and the mistake will be corrected.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The first step with guns is education

    Clarity can be a long time coming. I've been writing columns on gun violence for nearly 20 years, lately slipping into a kind of exhausted hopelessness, just like our politicians and public.
      But writing yesterday's column, it came to me, and since I only approach it in the column, I thought I should say it clearly. The answer isn't law, at least not now. The answer is education. Americans have a right to bear arms, but they also have a right not to to bear arms, and they need to understand where their safety lies. Smoking was banned in restaurants because people learned enough about second hand smoke that they realized how dangerous it was to employees who work in smokey environments. Americans need to be told just how threatening guns are, to the gun owners and to everyone else. How baseless the "get the drop on the bad guy" fantasy really is. How the idea that we should have guns everywhere isn't the solution to the problem, it's the cause of more problems. 
    Not that it'll be easy. We're up against impassioned believers such as the gentleman in the exchange below. But education doesn't need Congressional approval. It doesn't require laws to be changed. The truth is out there.  It'll take a long time, but it's a way to start. 
     In the meantime, this is just one thread in the mass of response I got yesterday. The emails are quite long, but they'll give you a sense of things, and if you lose patience, skip to the end as the last one is a welcome surprise. There is hope. It'll take a long time. But in the end, Americans solve their problems.
      Not really sure if you'll even read this email, but I am writing to briefly show you the other side of the coin after reading your rather narrow sighted partisan article on the so called "gun crisis". You liberals act as though people that support gun rights area bunch poorly educated redneck hillbillies who want to shoot everything. Nothing could be further from the truth and chances are the gun that was used by that 6 year old boy to shoot the 3 year old boy was not obtained or owned legally. The fact is all the gun control measures that liberals propose, which no doubt are stepping stones to a mass government seizure of guns that obama advocates citing Australia and Great Britain successes, will only succeed in disarming law abiding responsible people. The bad guys who use the guns to commit the crimes you cite in the stats will still get guns and still commit gun crime. The  difference is, if you liberals ever get your way, that the criminals will know that no one can defend themselves and it will therefore increase, as it does when they know they are in a gun free zone. Notice no one walks into a shooting range to commit a mass shooting, it happens in known gun free zones. Liberal policies keep our southern boarder wide open where drugs, guns and criminals flood across daily. The drugs lead to gangs, who use the guns in the hands of the criminals to commit gun crime. So as long as you liberals and your policies keep us in danger, we will fight for our rights to defend our families. Australia can get all the guns off of their streets because they respect their own sovereignty and don't have illegal drugs, guns and criminals flooding into their country. And by the way calling Ben Carson idiotic is really one of those "I know more than you" liberal statements that show an inability to shed the brainwashing all liberals seem to have gone through. Maybe if you and your children had been marched onto a train by a bunch of armed nazis you would have appreciated having a gun and a chance to defend your family instead of walking quietly into a gas chamber. Maybe one family could not fight them all off, but every family working together could have had a chance to prevent something like that, why else would hitler have started out by disarming the country if it would have made no difference. Besides I would have rather died fighting for my family rather than walking quietly to our deaths. And really?????? citing the French as an example of why guns wouldn't have helped, that is idiotic, haven't you ever heard of the French rifle for sale........good condition, never fired, dropped once. Doubt you have open mind enough to consider any other points of view, liberals rarely do, but food for thought. If you read it thanks for reading it, if not I'm not surprised.                                              Craig 

Craig --
     Well, I tried to read your email, but you seem to be responding, not to what I wrote, but to your own general biases about "liberals." I think people should be educated about how dangerous guns are. You, I take it, do not. You imagine that you would have fought off the Nazis with your guns. Of course you do. As I point out, gun advocates are so passionate because they are people lost in fantasy.              Generally, I try not to cross a man's fantasies. But in this case, it's too important. Ben Carson is an ahistorical idiot, and you are carrying water for an idiot, which strikes me as something worse. Still, thanks for writing.
     As I expected you do not have an open mind to others points of view, and nothing in what I said states that I do not believe people should be educated on the dangers of guns or that I did not respond to your article and you are wrong on both counts. I believe that in the hands of a well trained person who owns and maintains a firearm is not dangerous. Guns are dangerous in the hands of reckless criminals who fully intend to use them for evil. The laws and restrictions proposed by liberal politicians would do absolutely nothing to change that, because criminals do not abide by laws and the point of our wide open southern boarder, highlights the fact that illegal guns will be readily available on our streets and in the hands of criminals. A car can be dangerous and have the same effect as guns in the hands of reckless and lawless people, like drunk drivers who kill innocent people all the time, but there is no liberal agenda to ban cars. Responsible gun owners are educated and trained to handle firearms safely, just like responsible drivers. As someone who has likely never owned or operated a firearm I highly doubt you should be a source of reference on how a person trained to use firearms would react. I have had the unfortunate experience of having someone break into my house while my family was asleep. I grabbed my 12 gauge and engaged it where the intruder could hear it and the sound of my 12 gauge shotgun sent him running, and had it not and he proceeded any further into my house he would have gotten a full 12 gauge round square in the chest, because my family comes first. Sorry if yours does not and I feel sorry for you that you don't think enough of yourself to have the ability to defend your family by any means necessary, besides would you have a problem with someone beating an intruder down with a bat, what is the difference? The real fantasy is that someone who has never owned, been trained on or even seen a real firearm has any idea what someone who has fired one many times and is well trained to use one would do. Your narrow minded thought process is imagining yourself in that situation knowing you have no idea what your doing or talking about and therefore would be unable to use it. The fact is that firearms are used by citizens across the country everyday to defend their homes and families, but the media will not report on it. I'm sorry but you come across as an angry liberal who has no idea about the subject he is rallying against and sounds out of his league talking about it. Why did hitler disarm germany if it would have made no difference and no I'm not saying I would have single handedly fought off the nazis, but I am saying I would rather die defending myself than marched quietly without a whimper, and you who has never fired a gun can not say what I who has fired one thousands upon thousands of times, and is well trained to use one without fear and with tremendous respect would do, you are the one who lives in a fantasy.

     Hmmm, I should probably not respond. Because it's a waste of time, at least for me. But you're just making stuff up, because it sounds right to you. For instance, you write, "You who has never fired a gun." 
     What makes you say that? Attached is a photo of me firing a gun, at the FBI range in North Chicago. I have fired many guns. Another one of those facts that you might have trouble wrapping your head around. 
     It isn't my job to fix the world, person by person. And yet, it's hard to see such a bolus of delusion and not reply. 
     One more thing — really, responding to you is like eating candy; it's hard to stop. When you refer to a "liberal agenda to ban guns," that's another hallucination. Seven years of Obama has lead to absolutely nothing on the gun front. Not only aren't liberal changing gun laws, we don't even have hope that gun laws might be changed. 
     But I'm just curious. Can you really not perceive that?  Thanks for writing; answer my question if you can. 

           I assumed that would be the end, but there was one more email, which just goes to show, if you treat people with respect, they do begin to come around, sometimes.

       Rest assured it is not a waste of time to respond to my emails, your article has generated a healthy civil debate between two people who don't know each other and have opposing views, but may be able to find common ground in the end. I want to start by thanking you profusely for responding at all, I have a ton of respect for that. I have written to other writers and have never received a response, I guess that's why I didn't expect to get a response in the first place. Secondly I guess that I came out "guns blazing" (no pun intended) because I thought I had one chance to say it all and that would be it, because I did not expect to get additional responses, and for that I am again very grateful as well. Now you are absolutely right, I should not have assumed that you have never fired a gun, I do apologize for that, that is not typical of me and I was wrong. I guess that would be rooted somewhere from the fact that most of the people I know in life being from Chicago are in fact liberal (yeah I know big surprise) and we of course get in heated political debates because we are all political junkies, but are also in the end all good friends and although I am outnumbered I love and respect them all as friends and wouldn't change a thing about them. And in those debates I find them to be often angry and passionate about their various causes, as am I. In particular though when it comes to the gun debate, the people I often debate have never seen a live firearm let alone used one and often have no idea what they are talking about, and so to answer your question, I guess I made an incorrect assumption that anyone against guns has never been trained to use them, and for that I do again apologize. Clearly you have had some training so will you not at least concede that people who are properly trained and know how responsibly own and maintain a firearm,  should be allowed to continue to do so. I am particularly sensitive to that because my family was in fact saved by my firearm and I don't want to think of the things that could have happened if I didn't have it, I get overly sensitive and I say things I don't mean on this subject because of that experience in my life and I am also sorry about the other things I said about you defending yourself and your family, also very out of character for me and I apologize. I have three beautiful daughters that  I do not want see become a crime statistic. It just seems to me that the policies put forward by the left target (again no pun intended) responsible law abiding gun owners rather than the illegal guns that are responsible for the horrible crimes we see. I see liberal political pundits portray conservatives raving lunatics who want to shoot children and in fact the exact opposite is true. I also feel very strongly that obama's boarder policy has opened up out streets to even greater amounts of illegal drugs, guns and gangs all in the name of getting votes. And his response is to target law abiding people. You must concede I have a point. Something else you should know about me is that I am not a raving right wing lunatic, I am a physician and surgeon and I specialize in limb salvage surgery. I work hard to prevent amputations, in mainly patients with PVD and diabetes, but it unfortunately also puts me on the front line of the other end of the "illegal gun problem". I am a patriot who loves this country and everyone in it, my brother served in Iraq and I always try to be a good person who does the right thing. I don't think you wasted any time in writing to me and I really am thankful that you have. You may not have changed mind on the gun debate, but you have reminded me not to make assumptions about people, which is something I do pride myself on, so thank you and you can hang your hat on that. I hope that maybe you can see that there is more to the gun debate and that people like me are just as saddened and horrified by the illegal gun violence these days in America, especially in our great city of Chicago, it hurts inside because I love this city so much, to see what is happening here. We just disagree on the cause and solution. Maybe a better title of your editorial would be "Case symbolic of U.S. illegal gun crisis" and that would get some attention on both sides of the isle. I am glad you choose to engage me on this topic and hopefully we are both learning something. One of these days both sides have to figure out how to come together because the country is becoming more and more divided and it isn't good for us. I have to say I have a ton of respect for you and will now be a regular reader of your work.
Craig --
     Well, that's more like it. Remember, I'm not suggesting we change laws at all. Just that we educate people as to the risks so they can make their own decisions.
I thought I might post our exchange on my blog. Would you feel ill-used if I did that?