Saturday, October 28, 2017

'A change is as good as a rest'


     Brendan Behan is not among the first tier of Irish writers: no Yeats, no Wilde, no O'Neill. A poet known for plays like "Quare Fellow" and memoirs like "Borstal Boy," his reputation took off a bit in the late '50s and early '60s before his untimely death, hurried by drink, at age 41. 
     So I don't think I'm admitting too much ignorance saying that I had never heard of him when, some time in the 1990s, I picked up "Confessions of an Irish Rebel" from a table in a bookstore and read its opening lines:
       'You're for the Governor in the morning,' said this dreary red-headed little Welsh Methodist bastard of a screw.
     'Thanks for telling me,' said I, in an almost English accent, as sarcastically as I politely could, 'but I'm not for 'im in the morning or any other bloody time, you little Welsh puff.'
Brendan Behan
     If that doesn't send you rushing to the cash register, nothing will.  He was deeply involved in the IRA and not reluctant to let people know.
     I have no idea where I encountered the other line of Behan's that I love. It's from the play, "Richard's Cork Leg," which I certainly never read or saw. However it got into mind, I find myself quoting it again and again to colleagues at the newspaper as conversation shifts, as it inevitably does nowadays, to the Sun-Times moving next month.
    "A change is as good as a rest," I say, crediting Behan.
    What exactly does that mean? Well change is frightening to contemplate. You won't be where you are now doing what you always do, but going somewhere new, doing something different. The armor of routine is stripped off and you must confront life unprotected.  It requires focus, alertness, the sort of qualities that come to you after taking a break, having a rest. It's revivifying, or can be, if you do it right.
    There's something optimistic to the sentiment, and I'm in an optimistic mood lately. 
    I worked at the old, trapezoidal barge of the Sun-Times building at 401 N. Wabash for 17 years, and I was nostalgic for that when we left. I still have a chunk of the granite facade on my desk. I had an office facing the river, with a sweeping panorama. The windows opened. It was nice. The party when we bid it farewell; let's just say, if you've never been to a party where the guests are literally tearing down the walls with hammers, I have.
     But what can't be avoided has to be endured, and in time—the past 13 years—I grew adjusted to the new building, a less distinctive, yet not without merits setting at 350 N. Orleans. It had its advantages. Closer to the train. Right next to the youthful hive of the Merchandise Mart. Convenient to the East Bank Club. Close to Gene & Georgetti.
View from the Sun-Times offices
      The view, I think I'll miss that the most. Across the river, to the cool green convex of 333 W. Wacker. Stunning. 
      But change happens. A skyscraper is going up, directly south, between 350 N. Orleans and the river, which would cut off our view anyway. Just as well we're on the move again, on our way to the West Loop, to North Racine, where we'll share quarters with a video and sound production company. We're all morphing into one cutting edge communications entity—not a "newspaper" anymore, though I'll continue to use the term, the way my grandmother called her refrigerator an "icebox."
    There is that element, that thought I'm sure older couples have when they sell their house, the house where they raised their children, and retrench to a condo: is this where the decline will set in? Am I going there to die?
     Possibly yes. Or possibly no. I view the move with Buddha calm and equanimity, because the important thing, to me, is that we still have a newspaper—whoops, high-tech cutting edge media entity—to move. It's as far from Union Station west as the current paper is east, and while it isn't as convenient to downtown, it isn't as if I'm always racing off to City Hall to go toe-to-toe with Rahm Emanuel.
    Technology whirs forward, time flows onward, and we're lucky to be in the torrent, our heads still bobbing above the water, gasping and thrashing and sputtering, but very much alive. 
    Speaking of the Irish, Behan once said: “They took away our land, our language, and our religion; but they could never harness our tongues.” I believe that will remain true for the Sun-Times. The land under us might change, but our tongues will continue to wag, unharnessed, soon from the West Loop. 


  1. Despite his celebration of Irish loquacity, Behan didn't always shower compliments on his native land. I recall him observing, during one of his late night television appearances, that should the population of Ireland and The Netherlands be swapped, the former place would, within a year, be thriving and the latter under water.

    As for opportunities for going toe to toe with Mayor Emanuel, I would think the new Sun-Times digs a fairly short Divvy pedal to City Hall, none of it uphill.

    That Neil is looking on the bright side is all good, and his having braved, over the years, such trials as his entanglement with the grape and the over-lordship of the likes of Conrad Black makes one thinks he will make a go of it.


  2. A wonderfully upbeat rumination. "I'm in an optimistic mood lately." Boy, I don't know how you can be, given the state of the republic, but it's refreshing to hear and more power to you, NS.

    Here's a fun coincidence -- only to me, of course, but when has that stopped me... Yesterday's flashback column on the side of EGD was one about circles from 2 years ago. In the comments, as an example of a circle, I mentioned the Chicago Municipal Device -- which "symbolizes the Chicago River’s three branches" and looks like a Y inside a circle. Today's piece includes that stunning photograph looking out over the river, which just happens to be an actual real-world shot of what the municipal device graphically represents. The major city-focused newspaper's offices featuring that view seems very appropriate, indeed. While it lasted, alas.

    Since I continue to call willis tower "SEARS," guaranteed rate field (say what?) "COMISKEY," and marovitz golf course "WAVELAND," I'll have no problem calling whatever the Sun-Times is becoming a NEWSPAPER. Here's to the continued wagging of the unharnessed tongues!

    1. Well, optimistic about the Sun-Times. As for the country, there is no way to view the situation as anything other than grave. Although, given the general lurch to the right worldwide, and given the people who believe these things are there, and given we've been headed in this direction for years, one can see this as an inevitable process, something we had to go through. If we're going to experiment with totalitarianism, I'd rather it be with an incompetent like Trump. Someone dedicated and orderly could truly sink us. Just knowing that is valuable. We certainly might have need of despair later. But right now there is still hope that we can, through enormous effort and plain old American good luck that always smiles on our country, escape this bog of spite, ignorance, greed, and self-dealing we've fallen into. My optimism is in hoping this might be the worst.

  3. At least they haven't saddled you with a name like tronc.

  4. I love that picture of the river. There are two ways to look at a river: That it is a fixed piece of the landscape, a constant, secure in it's banks, or that it is forever in flux, the only constant being continuous change.
    Life is fluid. You can't live in a snapshot.
    Best of luck in your new digs, Neil.

    1. Thanks Tony. And thanks again for the frame. It's been a very welcome addition.

    2. You're welcome, Neil. It's my pleasure. And thank you for all that you do.


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