Monday, July 31, 2023

Where’s Ted Lasso when we need him?

     Northwestern went to the Rose Bowl in 1996. My strongest memory of that season is a co-worker, knowing that I’m an NU graduate, naively asking if I would be attending the big game in Pasadena.
     “Well ...” I responded, amused that someone could imagine I might, “given that I never went to a football game in the four years I was a student there, it’s kinda late to start now.”
     Why didn’t I go? The honest answer is: Going never crossed my mind. Campus culture in Evanston had a distinct hierarchy, with Greek life, sports and money at the top, and the rest of us, supernumeraries filling in the background. We were admitted, given a break on tuition and tolerated. But it wasn’t as if the university was about us.
     Part of this might have been my personal outlook. I never went to games, didn’t own a Northwestern T-shirt. The school evoked in me a sort of lip-curled contempt that only got worse, in part thanks to episodes like the current Wildcat hazing scandal.
     Indifference was the school’s business model. During my four years, I saw the president of Northwestern, Robert Strotz, exactly twice. At the opening prayer welcoming freshmen. And at graduation. The rest of the time I assumed he was busy attending to Northwestern’s primary purpose: building the school’s endowment. That was the entire point of the endeavor. The students were just afterthoughts, widgets, products on which the money was made.
     This is a harsh view, and I know classmates who would disagree. Classmates who give money to the school, for instance, which to me is just unfathomable. I did have wonderful teachers, learned German literature from Erich Heller, international relations from Richard W. Leopold, magazine writing from Abe Peck.
     The campus is lovely. I don’t want to tar the place with too broad a brush. I went to NU purely for the Medill School of Journalism; it served me well, and I must laud the reporters at The Daily Northwestern who revealed the “absolutely egregious and vile and inhumane” hazing that NU administrators winked at.

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Sunday, July 30, 2023

How did Sinéad O'Connor die?

     Silence speaks volumes.
     Particularly in journalism, which has rituals as strict as any kabuki.
     In obituaries, for instance, when a deceased person is relatively young — say their 50s — and no cause of death is given, that usually means they killed themselves but their family doesn't want to say so. 
     Which is their right, I suppose, if it comforts them in their time of suffering. However, when the person in question is a public figure like Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor, who was found dead in her home Wednesday, July 26, and the family asks for their privacy be respected, the silence curdles. Nature and the media abhor a vacuum.
     O'Connor wasn't just any singer. I don't want to add too much to the geyser of general praise, except to note that like most people I admired her music, bought all her albums when they came out, and never stopped listening. I suppose if I had to pick a favorite song, it would be "Jackie," just for its mythic quality, and her angry defiance in the face of heartbreak. "'You're all wrong,' I said, and they stared at the sand/'That man knows that sea like the back of his hand/He'll be back some time...'"
     The police say the death isn't "suspicious." Which I read as, "we know but we're not telling you." Such matters could be filed under "Curiosity, idle," except O'Connor was hailed as an iconoclast and truth teller, and it would ironic — in a bad way — if she succumbed to her well-publicized demons but nobody wanted to say because they were trying to buff her image in death. Problems that can't be talked about can't be addressed, which is why woes that were once hidden now end up in the media. Sometimes. That's how change happens. When O'Connor ripped up that photo of the pope on "Saturday Night Live" in 1992 to protest the church's sexual abuse of children, it was shocking and shameful to many, particularly in her native Ireland. But eventually the problem was dragged out into the light — due to courageous acts like hers — and by the time she died this week, she was a hero for saying the unsayable.
     There is no shame in suicide, just as there is no shame in cancer or heart disease or anything else. There is shame in refusing to recognize a problem because it embarrasses you, or saddens you, or is awkward. Maybe it doesn't apply, and I hope that is the case. It's a bad end. Maybe O'Connor just spontaneously died — she did have several physical health concerns. Or maybe she took her own life. It could be valuable to know which is true.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Works in progress: "Worth the pain"

     My initial temptation was to play today's post as just another reader submitting an update on a writing project. But of course today's author, Caren Jeskey, is an old friend to EGD, having owned the Saturday post for almost three years before she decided to strike out on her own. So it's with pleasure that we welcome her back today.
 I know that she was missed. Take it away, Caren:

"I really see people in recovery from severe addictions as modern day prophets, because these are folks who have had to figure out pleasure and pain and consumption in a dopamine overloaded world. They really provide this roadmap of deep wisdom for the rest of us.”       —Anna Lempke, M.D.

     Shankar Vendantam’s comforting voice poured through my Bluetooth speaker last Sunday. It was the podcast Hidden Brain’s episode “The Path To Enough” on WBEZ. Guest Anna Lembke — a Stanford psychiatrist and researcher — talked about dopamine fasting. I’ve heard this hot topic mentioned a lot this past year, mostly from young, astute therapy clients.
     According to Dr. Lembke on NPR’s Life Kit last year, “we have to start to intentionally avoid pleasure and seek out pain. And by doing that, we will reset reward pathways and ultimately be a lot happier.” She notes that depression and anxiety are more present in wealthier countries, where access to immediate gratification is easier. She prescribes 30 day fasts from our "drugs" of choice. “I will have patients see me for depression and anxiety, expecting that I will prescribe an antidepressant. But instead what I say is ‘hey, can you eliminate cannabis from your life for a month? Hey, can you stop playing video games for a month? Can you cut out alcohol for a month? Can you not watch any Netflix shows for a month?’”
     One of the keys to reducing dependence on a screen, a habit, a feud, an unhealthy relationship — or any other mood altering substance or destabilizing behavior — is making a decision to do it, (with medical help if necessary). Getting support from others is also invaluable — support groups, therapists, friends who get it, partners. The more the merrier, as long as they offer the right kind of support.
     You can learn how to ride out cravings. When feeling the pain from withdrawal, you can distract by forcing yourself to do things you’ve been avoiding, or by pushing yourself to engage in a healthy, pleasurable activity. Once you see that you can pause and say "no" instead of "yes," you will feel empowered, and emboldened to do it again and again.
     It’s unfortunate that substance use disorders, formerly known as “addictions,” have been historically met with stigma instead of the treatments they require. Disorders are not moral failings. Unhealthy habits often begin before the brain is even developed, or after stressors and traumas, or to people exposed to drugs and alcohol as children, or because of problems with the brain, and other forgivable maladies that lead the seeker into dangerous quick-fixes.
     As we try to stay balanced in an upside-down world, cultivating inner peace as often as possible can be a panacea that keeps us away from harmful choices. To this end, I meditate daily with the app Insight Timer. It's free, or you can give a donation if you so choose. When I'm feeling overwrought — thankfully rare these days — and don't want to hear an angelic voice cooing at me, I will pick something that addresses what's going on inside, such as anxiety or stress. Learning about what's happening and addressing it makes me stronger, and more hopeful. Dr. Ken McGill’s adult feelings wheel and brief exercises to “improve emotional self-awareness” are useful.
     In her talk Healing Addiction on Insight Timer, psychologist, meditation teacher, and author Tara Brach describes why reaching for dopamine highs backfires. She uses the Buddhist concept of a hungry ghost inside of each of us. Trying to fill up the insatiable ghost inside only leads to overconsumption.
     Practicing moderation, cultivating mindfulness, staying connected to others, and cultivating a loving heart are ways that we can experience life’s challenges with more internal grace. Compassion and forgiveness have to be practiced, and sometimes taught, which can be done using Metta meditations, for example. When we send ourselves, everyone we know, and everyone in the world well-wishes using this technique, we can feel a sense of relief. At least we have taken a break from pointing fingers at others.
     Having healthy loving relationships with real humans is ideal. Some say that “the nature of the relationships we build is the biggest factor in our mental and physical health and our well-being. To explore what drives love, both objectively and subjectively, is to develop therapies to help those who may struggle to form healthy, stable relationships, the successes or failures of which will have lifelong consequences" according to The Scientist. Dr. Lembke points out that we need others for basic safety, as well.
     For those previously isolated by living lives mired in unhealthy habits, support groups can be a big piece of finding healthier relationships. For this reason, I’ve provided links to many free groups at the end of this piece.
     I felt disappointed that Dr. Lembke neglected to address secular recovery groups when she mentioned Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous on Hidden Brain. Secular groups are not anti-religious, but are science, medicine, and psychology informed. This makes them more accessible to those who do not believe in a god or a higher power.
     Alcoholics Anonymous and affiliated 12-Step groups stemmed from the Oxford Group of Christianity. Their slogans, signage in the meetings and all of their literature is religious. For example, in the Big Book of AA the participant is instructed “on awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives.” In this traditional model of recovery that was formed in the 1930s by men, people are often told to pray. Many have tried and left these programs for just this reason, unnecessarily. No one told them about non-religious A.A. Many who might have lived, have died.
     I am sure you can imagine what it might feel like to be told to go to a mosque or a temple for services if you’re Christian? Or a Christian church if you’re Muslim or Jewish? Or any church if you are an atheist? That’s how many people feel in traditional A.A., which is still often mandated by courts in the U.S. and abroad. Cases have been won against employer and court mandated attendance, but it’s a slow battle. In the meantime, many people do not have the access to this wonderful, donation based support system if they are not told that atheists, freethinkers, Buddhists, agnostics, and everyone else in the world are welcomed there.

     "Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world."
                         —Wayne Dyer

Resources and Links:

Hidden Brain: The Paradox of Pleasure and The Path to Enough

Care And Compassion Over Tough Love: Shatterproof
Secular AA Website
Secular Organization for Sobriety
Beyond Belief Sobriety
Back From Broken Podcast
A Woman's Way Through The Twelve Steps Book
Alcohol & Drug Foundation: Reducing The Risk
Support, Don't Punish: Harm Reduction Campaign
Chicago Harm Reduction Therapy
YouTube Video about AA Agnostica
Emotional Sobriety
Buddhist Recovery Network
The Sinclair Method (I personally know people this has worked for, but like many things it does not work for everyone. Most doctors will Rx Naltrexone, which reduces cravings, but not all understand how to facilitate an effective process).


Thursday, July 27, 2023

Joe Biden is too old to run again

     The median age for Americans is almost 39, according to the U.S. Census.
     Which might be surprising — we feel like a much older nation, and for good reason. Look at our leaders. President Joe Biden is 80. Majority leader Chuck Schumer is 72, and minority leader Mitch McConnell is 81. The oldest senator, Dianne Feinstein, is 90.
     To ask if that is “too old” is to ask the wrong question. Of course, people can be busy and productive to a very old age — we just visited Edith Renfrow Smith, making jelly at 109.
    But things happen. Feinstein has struggled to do her job. McConnell froze in the middle of a news conference Wednesday, standing silent and stricken until he was led away. He returned later and declared himself fine. Maybe he is fine. But the writing is on the wall. As I like to say, you can ignore facts but that doesn’t mean facts ignore you. As Francis Hopkinson Smith once said, the claw of the sea puss gets us all in the end. Sooner or later, the strong riptide drags us out to that cold, dark ocean from whence none returns.
     No wonder we cling to the dry shore. Nobody wants to leave the party. But is that a smart governmental strategy? The McConnell episode is a reminder that anything can happen at any time. It can come for you in the middle of a news conference. And the older you are, the closer you are to whatever is going to eventually come and get you.
     That’s why those handicapping the 2024 election are deluding themselves. The life expectancy of an 80-year-old man is seven years, meaning that should Biden be reelected, the oldest president ever, he’d be pushing his luck to reach the end of his term.
     Right now, Biden gives very few news conferences and hasn’t sat down at all with a reporter from a major newspaper. He walks stiffly, speaks awkwardly, was at a loss to say how many grandchildren he has or what his favorite movie is.
     Sixty-seven percent of Americans — including half of Democrats — think Biden is too old to run. I am among them.
     It isn’t that he hasn’t been an effective president, from marshaling European support for Ukraine to his infrastructure bill. The question is: Will he remain so until he’s 86? Are we willing to bet our country on it?
     This is where his probable opponent comes in.

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Big bike race in Northbrook!


     The cliche about the suburbs is that they're one big undifferentiated anodyne nowhere populated by glozing neuters, to borrow Thomas Pynchon's phrase. An attitude formed after World War II, when culture was roiled by the image of identical ticky-tacky boxes set along interchangeable streets.      
     That such living arrangements were highly attractive to people packed into decaying city apartment buildings might have been the truth that such generalizations were trying to obscure. Just as the more I hear Chicagoans complaining about people saying they're from "Chicago" instead of, I don't know, Des Plaines, the more insecure they seem. If where you live is so great, then why are you so greedy about it? Abundance should be generous. For example, I'm always shocked to see Jews who squint hard and evaluate newcomers who adopt their religion. To me, anyone reckless enough to want to call themselves a Jew should be welcomed into the club, no questions asked. 
     Yes, some suburbs, maybe even most, are sprawling bedroom communities. Absolutely. And most poetry is crap. But just as bad verse doesn't indict the concept of poetry, so bland suburbs shouldn't poison the concept. For all the talk bout "15-minute cities," I'm the one who can walk to the library and the post office, the village hall and the grocery, the hardware store and the drug store and the bank and the neighborhood book store. Most Chicagoans can't say that. My house has wide cedar flooring and a spire that some blacksmith pounded out of strips of iron in 1905. 
     You never know what's going to happen in Northbrook. I was shopping at Sunset on Sunday (an hour before my infamous trip to Aldi, which seems to have broken Reddit, based on accounts from survivors who have staggered over to fall weeping at my feet) and the bagger was none other than Ron Bernardi, 79, whose uncles started Sunset in 1937. He immediately brightened — was I going to write about the Northbrook Grand Prix Bike Race on Thursday? I hadn't planned to, but of course promised him I would.
     Northbrook has a velodrome — a stadium for racing bicycles — and last year hosted a Grand Prix. This year is a repeat performance on Thursday, July 27. 
     "Let me show you my office," Bernardi said, and sprinted up the stairs. I followed. He grabbed a press release about the bike race. I watched last year, as bicyclists tore around our downtown. Good bicyclular fun.
    While I was in the office, he of course showed me photos of his family, proud immigrants from Italy, and outside, an arcade machine that plays a real accordion when you put in a quarter, next to a photo of him at 15, playing the accordion, an instrument once closely associated with Italian-Americans.

    As we listened to the music, I thought: This is not the stereotypical suburban experience. A reminder that interesting people are everywhere, if you are open to them. Odd that some people don't know that. And if you want to claim you are a Northbrook resident, even if you've never been here, please be my guest. There's plenty to go around.
     Anyway, the race is in downtown Northbrook from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Unlike NASCAR, which charged $267 to stand there and watch the racing, admission is free.

The 2022 Grand Prix Race.


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Real men can laugh at themselves

     My mother laid the trap.
     “So what are you doing today?” she asked.
     I fell in, telling her, in my naive, Lucy-and-the-football fashion.
     “We’re going to see the ‘Barbie’ movie,” I said.
     “Not ‘Oppenheimer?’” my mother replied.
     “No,” I said. “We’ll see that later.”
     “Oh,” my mother said. My blood ran cold.
     That afternoon, my brother told me that, in their conversation, our mother was perplexed as to why I, the son of a nuclear physicist, presented with the choice between a movie about the father of the atomic bomb and a movie about a plastic doll for girls, would choose the latter.
     I was not surprised. All that meaning had been compressed within her single syllable: “Oh.”
     In my defense, I’ve already lived “Oppenheimer.” Among my earliest memories is being held over a bubble chamber in my father’s lab to see the subatomic particles flitting around. I’ve watched people use real manipulators — those robots arms at Homer’s nuclear plant in “The Simpsons” — to handle radioactive material at NASA. The linear particle accelerator at Fermilab? I’ve been inside it.
     “Barbie” was my call because ... the movie sounded fun. I wanted to do something fun. To celebrate finally giving COVID the boot.
     And “Barbie” is fun. It reminded me why people go to the movies in the first place. For two hours, I really was somewhere else, Barbie Land (though not so fully as to fail to notice the movie also spells it “Barbieland.”)
     Margot Robbie should win the Academy Award. And Ryan Gosling is Ken. Barbie’s neglected boyfriend, exiled to the periphery of the endless girl’s night dance party. This buff, superfluous figure sadly flexing on the beach for his fellow Kens. I felt for him. As someone who, in my day, has looked into the eyes of my share of Barbie types and realized they were just not into me, I could relate to Ken.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Wrangle carts, earn quarters

     Whenever I hear of "food deserts," those urban neighborhoods without access to grocery stores and fresh food, I feel a pang of guilt. Because whatever the opposite of a food desert is — a food oasis? — I live there. 
     A marvelous, if pricy, grocery, Sunset Foods, is within walking distance of my house, and another half dozen supermarkets are within a 10 minute drive: Jewel, with its bargains ($7.99 a pound for steak, I mean, c'mon!), Whole Foods, not as pretentious since Amazon bought it, plus you can bring your unwanted Amazon packages there to return. Trader Joe's, with its quirky corporate identity and ephemeral store brands, products that appear, catch your fancy, then vanish forever. Over on Milwaukee Avenue, Fresh Farms Market, with its Polish candies, fresh-baked dark Eastern European bread and juice oranges. Not to forget Costco and Target.
     You'd think that would be enough. Sunday we went shopping at Kohl's, and had to pop next door to Aldi — a chance for my wife to get her shopping done. I'd never gone before.
     Immediately we were confronted with a dilemma. The shopping carts are chained together, requiring a quarter to free one. It seemed too much trouble.
    "Let's just grab a basket," I said, already feeling my humor curdle. Paying for carts? But there were no baskets inside the store. We weren't in Sunset. My wife fished for a quarter, came up empty — who carries quarters? For what purpose would anyone do that? — and a kind woman passing by simply gave her a quarter. They're basically worthless.
     Aldi was new and kinda empty, not enough products filling the void and what they had were off-brands that I'd never heard of. Millville? I'd have left immediately, but my wife declared the prices low, and wanted to walk every aisle, exploring. 
    "Have you no pride?" I muttered, immediately realizing that I have enough for the both of us. I wondered where "Aldi" came from, and later found it to be an abbreviation of "Albrecht-Diskont," a discount grocery chain founded in Germany in 1962 by brothers Theo and Carl Albrecht. It has over 10,000 stores in 22 countries. The place didn't seem very European.
     She picked up tangerines and canned pears and tomatoes and such. While she paid, I stepped outside to take a few photos and examine the cart system. Signs that I hadn't noticed before — I should have, there were two big ones — revealed you get your quarter returned. That was the point. They weren't charging for the carts, they were extorting a quarter from their customers to corral the carts. "You better bring our cart back if you ever want to see your quarter again, buddy." Thus saving on hiring a cart wrangler, like the man Sunset has stationed full time in the parking lot. I watched a shopper return his cart, the quarter poking back out the same slot it had gone into.
     My wife came out with the cart and a small pile of the groceries. No bags. Just like Costco. The no bags situation irked me at first. It seems rude. I briefly contemplated scooping up the groceries in our arms, in order to leave the cart there. But there were a few too many. We'd parked at the far end of the parking lot, away from other cars. We rolled over. I got in and started the car, and my wife volunteered to return the cart. I hit the stopwatch on my phone.
     Two minutes and 50 seconds, to return the cart and come back as opposed to stranding it on the little raised oval of grass next to the car and letting somebody else do it. Call it three minutes. For a quarter. Or, times 20, $5 an hour to be temporarily dragooned as an Aldi cart wrangler. The psychology of the thing was interesting. It obviously worked. The parking lot, empty of carts, while at Sunset they accumulate.
     My wife came back, and told me that after returning the cart and getting her quarter, she again encountered the helpful woman who had given it to her, and returned the woman's quarter, the kind of small human encounter that embroiders life and makes it bearable.
     Still, my wife announced that Aldi would not join the rotation of grocery stores we patronize. Not because of the cart system or the weird unfamiliar brands, but because there weren't enough of them — the store didn't have a wide enough range of foodstuffs to make going there worthwhile. You save money but don't get your shopping done. 

    Editor's note: given the huge reader reaction to a post on Aldi — this was the most read thing I've written over the past 12 months — you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be back. Until then, those who are confused over what is happening here might want to avail themselves to the concept of the Dunk Tank Clown. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

No stupid history, no crime scene kitties

Photo for the Sun-Times by Ashlee Rezin

     What is it about stupid people anyway?
     You can believe the most god-awful nonsense — factually incorrect, self-flattering, steaming kettles of BS — and parade that stupidity around to the delight of your fellow idiots, cheering and high-fiving one another at big rallies, celebrations of toxic dumbness.
     Yet let somebody point it out, let them cough into their fist and mutter, “You’re stupid,” and suddenly the stupid fall to the ground, clutching themselves, declaring their injury to heaven.
     It’s so ... for want of a better word ... stupid. How can some people get upset if you call them stupid when they’re perfectly happy being stupid? It’s a mystery.
     Say your house were on fire — a situation even more dire than being stupid. And I say, “Your house is on fire,” causing you to collapse in a heap and declare yourself insulted, insisting that your house — obviously ablaze before us, thick black smoke pulsing out of the windows — is fine and how dare I suggest otherwise? Rude!
     Who does that? Stupid people, I suppose.
     I haven’t written much about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, honestly, because I still suspect he’s some kind of a sham — a performance art piece perhaps — designed to make Donald Trump look good, between his daft war on Disney and his imbecilic assault on history.
     Maybe you haven’t heard. In its constant quest to make white people feel better, the state of Florida’s No. 1 priority, apparently, is downplaying race when teaching American history.
     Florida’s new curriculum, unsatisfied with presenting racism as a dusty relic of the 19th century, is taking the next step and redefining America’s original sin, slavery, as something akin to high school shop class.

To continue reading, click here.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Central European bike


     I've owned two bikes in my entire life.
     As a teen, I had a bright green Schwinn Typhoon, with two large baskets on the back for delivering the Berea News Sun. No idea what happened to it — my mother probably threw it away when I went to college.
     And about 30 years ago, I bought a black Schwinn Cruiser, a transaction I recorded in my book "Complete & Utter Failure" in the chapter on the impossibility of perfection — I bought the bike, wheeled it out of the store, saw that someone had scratched the finish on the bike when affixing the screws holding on the "Schwinn Quality" plate, and took it back.
     It's a lovely vehicle: pure lines. Fat whitewall tires. Perfect to ride to the supermarket. Which I do often. If I'm not picking up too much, it seems silly to fire up the car for the four blocks to Sunset Foods.
     So I bike over the the post office Friday. Stop at the bookstore and Sunset Foods. I'm walking back to the bike and look at it afresh. Why? Maybe I think because I had just read about Schwinn in "Now, When I Was a Kid," a self-published memoir sent to me by its author, Dan McGuire. A nostalgic look at his Chicago childhood in the 1940s, with scatterings of business history.
    "In 1895, on the near West Side of Chicago, Ignatz Schwinn and Adolph Arnold founded Arnold-Schwinn & Co," McGuire writes.  "By the 1950s, one in every four U.S. bikes was built by Schwinn."
     But trouble loomed, and in 1992 Schwinn declared bankruptcy. 
     Or around the time I bought mine.  I wondered if my Schwinn was made in America, or if by then Schwinns were manufactured overseas. It seemed to matter, as a point of pride. Maybe, the thought continued, there is some kind of serial number that would tell me. Maybe I could plug it into some Schwinn fan site online and find out.
    I looked at the logical place for such a number, on the tubular body of the bike, and saw, in quite large letters: "MADE IN HUNGARY." 
     I never saw that notice before.  Not in more than 30 years of riding the bike.
     A reporter is supposed to be observant. Taking in his surroundings, noticing and evaluating. Yet this bit of information was right in front of me, between my legs, and I somehow never perceived it. 
     Maybe because it's not important. Who cares where your bike is made? Well I do, now. And Hungary is an interesting place for a bicycle to come from. Who has a Hungarian bicycle? It's not like we're inundated with Hungarian products.  I wondered if it would be possible to find out how that happened.
    Yes, thank you Mr. Internet.
     "Talking Deals; Schwinn Is Building Bikes The U.S. Way in Hungary" is the headline on the March 22, 1990 article that Google found in a fraction of a second. The article describes a "bustling, high-ceilinged factory in Budapest" Nice.
     Why there?
     "In late 1988, Schwinn wanted to expand its presence on the Continent and was looking for a low-cost way to do that. At the same time, Csepel Bicycle, Hungary's largest bike manufacturer, with annual production of 200,000, was seeking a wealthy Western partner to help upgrade its operation."
    A bike from Budapest. Somehow, that makes it even cooler.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Flashback 1994: "Kup Hosts 50th Cruise for Vets"

     Tony Bennett died Friday, at age 96. "The last of the great saloon singers of the mid-20th century," in the words of the Associated Press. A thorough pro with a surprising second act — he is the oldest living performer with a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart in 2014, his "Cheek to Cheek" collection of duets with Lady Gaga.
     National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian
          gift of Everett Raymond Kinstler
     Of course I thought of the time he stood six feet away from me and sang, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and dug out the story that describes the circumstances — the 50th cruise that Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet held for wounded vets. 
    I didn't mention it — I probably didn't know at the time — but Bennett himself was a vet, having served as a teenager in the U.S. Army in World War II, given "a front seat to hell," as he later described it, and was among the American soldiers who liberated Dachau. 

     Once again, the forgotten men and women gathered. Once again, from lonely hospital wards and modest apartments, they came, on crutches, in wheelchairs and under their own power, on prosthetic limbs and shrapnel-scarred legs.
     All were guests of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet, who on Wednesday, for the 50th year in a row, hosted his Purple Heart Cruise in honor of wounded veterans from American wars both recent and long past.
     "Welcome, welcome," said Kup, shaking the hand of each vet who boarded the Spirit of Chicago, piped aboard by a 25-piece Navy band and given a tote bag filled with presents.
     The ship, escorted by a Chicago Police Department boat and saluted by a quartet of fountaining water cannons from a fireboat, spent nearly six hours cruising Lake Michigan, up the lakefront, almost to Evanston.
     The 600 veterans spent the time eating, dancing, playing cards and remembering the battles they fought in, the medals they won, the wounds they suffered.
     Some of the wounds were readily apparent.
     "I had a grenade blow off my hand," said Joe Kostyk, almost cheerily, displaying his right hand, missing its thumb and two fingers. "It surprised the heck out of me."
     Some of the wounds were harder to see.
     "Post-traumatic stress," said Jerry Gillespie, 45, who served in the infantry in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. "I have the nightmares, the flashbacks. All that. It was a hell of a war."
     Donald P. Blaesing played hooky from his pain clinic to go on the cruise.
     Scheduled to go to Lakeside VA Hospital to seek relief from pain that continues 44 years after he was caught in a North Korean grenade attack, Blaesing, who was dubbed "the human sieve" by hospital workers, instead chose to cruise Lake Michigan.
     "It's enjoyable," said Blaesing. "You meet a lot of buddies."
     "It's great that Kupcinet does this every year," said Steve Glenn, 42, a former Navy avionics man. "All the guys coming back to the alcohol rehab from the cruise last year, they said it was the first time they had fun sober since they were kids."
     The group included one Medal of Honor winner, Richard Bush, who, in the best tradition of Marine heroes, was vague about what he did to win the military's highest prize.
     "I was in Okinawa," said Bush, tall and straight at 69. "I was just trying to do the best I could."
     Not all the talk was of the past. Petitions calling for the military cemetery at Fort Sheridan to be expanded into a national veterans cemetery were passed around for signatures.
     "I got an answer back from (President) Clinton," said Neil Iovino, 76, who spent three years in a Japanese POW camp. He wrote to the president about the cemetery. "He said he'd think about it."
     The highlight of the day was a visit by singer Tony Bennett, who slipped aboard when the ship docked at noon, escorted by broadcasting greats Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse.
     After signing autographs, posing for pictures and shaking hands, Bennett sang, "I Want to Be Around" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
     The day was to thank vets, but as it was the 50th voyage, gratitude was directed to Kup, as well.
     "I'm here to really thank Irv Kupcinet," said Mayor Daley, who went aboard to shake hands and greet vets. "Fifty years of the Purple Heart Cruise shows the type of citizen he is."
     Letters from the president and from retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were presented, as well as the Italian American War Veterans' first annual Bob Hope Award.
     "Without Kup, we'd be forgotten," said James Sarno. "Unless there's a war, nobody remembers the vet."
                   —Originally published in the Sun-Times, July 28, 1994

Friday, July 21, 2023

Plenty of room in the tent

Kokie Childers

     A friend once asked me to help a sergeant he knew who was being released from active duty with the Marine Corps and needed to find a job. Which can be daunting under the best circumstances. But this particular jarhead was missing part of the left side of his face, including his left eye.
     I wanted to reply, “I can barely keep my own job, never mind get one for anybody else.” But that seemed craven. I said I’d do what I could.
     So I took sarge around, to City Club luncheons and such. We’d meet at restaurants to talk. At one point, I remember sitting across from him, wondering, “Is he getting better? Healing maybe?” Because his appearance, so unsettling when I first met him, now wasn’t as disturbing.
     I immediately realized why. His face was exactly the same as when we met. What happened was, I got used to him. He had become familiar.
     This came back to me last week when an advertisement popped up on Facebook for tank tops from Lululemon, the Canadian lifestyle brand.
     The model was not the standard issue cookie-cutter athletic type seen in such ads, but had large blotches on her face. This is nothing new. Benetton did something similar in the 1990s. Catalogues now have models who are heavy, or trans, or otherwise outside the supposed mainstream. I’m not the first to notice.
     “Classic models are by far more racially diverse,” the Washington Post observed in 2021. “Models are also more varied by ethnicity, size, age and disability ... In today’s fashion ecosystem, an amputee pinup pouts from the pages of a swimsuit calendar and a young woman with Down syndrome stars in a Gucci beauty campaign.”

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Thursday, July 20, 2023

No beauty without flaw

     Your phone constantly slides advertisements under your nose as you navigate social media. Most flash by without a second thought. 
     But now and then a pitch gives pause, such as this one, from I had been looking at airline tickets — I must fly to Phoenix next month, lucky me — and so clearly the algorithm wanted me to stay somewhere while I was there.
     Look at the ad. Does anything pop out at you? Do you see why I paused, thought, and took a picture?
     The dirt. It's like somebody upended a flower pot. Or what seems at first like dirt. On second glance, maybe that's the pattern on some kind of skin rug. It's hard to tell.
    Either way, not quite the pristine hotel room you typically see.
     I have a theory, one I plan to elaborate on in the newspaper Friday: advertisers are deliberately putting intriguing aberrations into their static commercial photos. I've noticed more models with vitiligo, with dense patches of freckles. They not only expand the circle of the acceptable, but they also make the viewer pause, maybe even investigate and buy. Which is the entire point.
    Or am I mistaken?

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Will my Fresca kill me?

     Cancer is not the dreaded “c-word” death sentence of old. But the word still catches your attention. So when a division of the World Health Organization announced that aspartame, an artificial sweetener commonly found in diet soda, “could possibly cause cancer,” this can-a-day Fresca addict, of course, took notice.
     It would be the type of irony you expect in a topsy-turvy world — all those years of guzzling Jack Daniels, and Fresca does me in. Of course.
     I checked the ingredients of my beloved grapefruit-flavored carbonated beverage. Yup, aspartame.
     Then I went back to the article that had delivered the bad news — important to do now that we absorb scraps of information by scrolling, flipping and glancing — and kept reading. Seven paragraphs in, the threshold of danger, as explained by another WHO unit, is presented as consuming more than a dozen cans a day, for a 150-pound man. Or about 20 for me. Quite a lot, really. And I don’t even drink a Fresca every day. Some days I’m in a restaurant, and restaurants typically don’t serve Fresca, through some mysterious general menu exclusion. Or I splurge on lemonade.
     So I’m probably safe. In that regard.
     The process of balancing dangers, evaluating them, changing your behavior accordingly — what you do despite the peril, what you refuse, despite the benefits — doesn’t get a fraction of the attention it deserves. Like the computers we’re increasingly enslaved to, we’ve become creations of 0s or 1s, safe or dangerous, when most of life actually transpires in the great gray region between.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Trump is a fascist who would destroy America

     “This is a crusade!" said Trump troll Stephen Bannon. "This is a Holy War against the Deep State! Donald Trump is our instrument for retribution!”
     If you haven't been paying attention — God, I envy you — then the past week has been a particularly grim news cycle. Publications such as the Economist and the New York Times outlined the meticulous efforts of Trump supporters to prepare for his second administration, a careful program of hobbling the government and concentrating power in Donald Trump's hands.
     You can read the Economist piece, "The meticulous, ruthless preparations for a second Trump term," here. And the NYT here (and stop whining about paywalls. Go the 7-Eleven and try to walk out with a can of Coke. Pay for stuff).
     The bad news is that the 2024 election is scarier than 2016 or 2020. Nobody expected Trump to win in 2016, least of all Trump, and he wasn't prepared to dismantle the institutional guardrails that kept him from going full-on totalitarian. Next time he will be. He had trouble attracting talent to help him, as many Republican operatives took a wait-and-see approach. Not this time — power not only corrupts, it attracts, and one of the most sickening aspects of the Trump experience is realizing just how many people are fine with him, if it means they get a slice of pie. They're busy preparing recipes to take full advantage of the next opportunity. 
     The good news is the situation is clear as day. Trump is a fascist. He is opposed to democracy because a majority of Americans are against him and the narrow religious bigotry he represents. So he must try to win by gaming the system — claiming a corrupt election, leading a coup against the Capitol, and dismantling the "Deep State" of institutional knowledge and democratic standards. Anyone who supports him is, knowingly or not, betraying the core values of American life. Period.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Fake abortion clinics ‘bigger than ever’


   I haven't done a lot of investigative pieces for the paper. But one of the very first stories I wrote for news side, back when I was still writing for the features section, was about fake abortion clinics, and involved me going around and visiting them, with the staffer from a pro-choice group posing as my girlfriend. That was 35 years ago, and it was disappointing — though not surprising — to find they're still a feature on the Chicago landscape. That's why I snapped at this when it came my way.

     Lizz Winstead was 17, a high school senior in Minnesota.
     “I was a Catholic teenager who found myself pregnant, making deals with God and myself,” said Winstead, now 61. “Pregnancy tests weren’t available.”
     There was no internet. She saw an advertisement on the side of a bus about free pregnancy tests. She went to the address, an old house, oddly.
     “I never forgot it,” she recalled. “There was a person in a lab coat, impersonating a doctor. She gave me a pregnancy test. It was positive, and she pulled out a book with all those pictures of bloody fetuses you see at protests outside clinics. She freaked me out.”
     Winstead had stumbled on one of the fake abortion clinics that anti-abortion activists run to lure in young women who fear they are pregnant, so they can be harangued about hellfire and the alleged horrors of a medical procedure far safer than carrying a pregnancy to term.
     Nor are these fake clinics a relic of the past — Illinois, despite being a blue peninsula of women’s rights jutting in an angry red lake of Midwestern religious intolerance, has three times as many sham abortion clinics as real ones.
     “They’re bigger than ever,” said Winstead, a comedian who went on to co-create “The Daily Show” and, in 2015, started a group that became the Abortion Access Front, which came to Chicago over the weekend to rally in front of one of Illinois’ 97 fake abortion clinics.

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Sunday, July 16, 2023

The story right now

     As someone who mines his daily life for material, often of a truly insignificant nature — I wrote three columns in July, 2021 about picking up after dogs — I notice when I'm avoiding something that is actually quite a big deal, and pause to ask myself why.
     Usually I have good reason. The boys, for instance. I wrote about them for years and years. But they're not boys anymore — they're men, adults in their mid-20s, both lawyers, who are by nature circumspect. I want them to feel comfortable sharing information with me, and my not rushing the details of their lives into print, here, on Facebook, or anywhere else, seems part of that bargain. When one of them argues in front of the Supreme Court, or is appointed to it, I'll let you know.  If it's okay with them.
     Or COVID. I was diagnosed June 30, and while I've mentioned it a time or two, I decided to spare you the full range of particulars. Why? Being sick isn't that interesting, for starters. An off-putting mix of the squeamish and the dull, a variety of mundane symptoms like constant coughing, set into an empty day of exhausted langor. Plus I've seen older bloggers try to turn their medical woes into "Aida," and made a mental note to myself: don't do that.
     I did start a column this morning on the hideous side effects of Paxlovid, but liked it so much I thought I'd save it to run in the newspaper Wednesday — I've found myself still able to write, which is fortunate, if odd. I can be completely drained, sprawled on the sofa, a motiveless bag of skin, my mind a blank. Yet heave myself in front of the keyboard, the fire bell clangs, the old wagon horse stirs on its straw, and away we go. At least so far.
     Anything else? When my wife, who also has COVID was in the worst of it — and we seem to be trading off, back and forth, one sinking while the other improves and does the nursing  — and I was executing my caregiver duties, I came up with a term I feel could be worth putting into an empty bottle and tossing out onto the electronic waves: "chuppah sick."
     If you are not familiar with the term chuppah, it is the canopy that Jewish couples stand under when they marry. In my neologism, it refers to a situation so unspeakably gross that you flash back to your wedding day and wonder what you would have thought then had this particular aspect of married life been shown to you. A reminder that old marriage couples deserve respect, because we are tough old birds. We do what has to be done.
     I know where the term came from. There's a scene on page 50 of my memoir "Drunkard" where, in the first week of recovery, my wife and I go to Shir Hadash for Rosh Hashanah services. During a sermon on caregivers, Rabbi Eitan Weiner-Kaplow says: "How many couples look back to the day when they first stood under the chuppah and then look at their lives today and think, 'We never imagined it would be like this!"
      The book continues:
     Edie and I burst out laughing. No shit, Rabbi. We never imagined it would be like this. We laugh and don't stop. Not discreet, into-the-fist giggling. But big guffaws that draw curious looks. I don't care. We keep going, the chuckles beginning to ebb, until we glance at each other and then erupt again. We never imagined it would be like this. That helped. A lot. Laughter usually does. 
     We haven't quite managed to laugh at COVID, yet, though we have exchanged a fist bump or two, and do appreciate the besieged-soldiers-in-a-foxhole aspect of the past two weeks, when time has lost its meaning, and we have nothing better to do than wait, and care for ourselves and each other. Which itself is a kind of meaning.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Works in progress: "Good for somethin': A Twitter Tale"

     Writing for publication is hard. I sometimes forget that, because writing for publication is about all I do. But this Saturday feature, Works in Progress reminds me. Even professional writers can have a tough time with it — I had a pal whom I asked to write a single sentence about a current project. Just one; I'd fill in the rest. The pal phoned me, genuinely panicked, stuck. Couldn't get a handle on it. I of course replied there was no need. But it was surprising. Then again, I've always had the gift of facileness. Or maybe the curse.
     So it didn't surprise me when the Saturday "Works in Progress" spot began to go unfilled. Until this week, when there were two offerings — it never rains, it pours. One, from a fiction writer, went into the weeds over a comment on the Tylenol killings column, and I decided the matter had been aired enough. 
     But this, by perennial reader Jakash, I'm happy to share. "Jakash" isn't his real name; he asked if I could preserve the fig leaf of anonymity. It IS daunting, to hang your identity out there — another reality that often flies past me. Sure, I said, why not? Take it away, Jakash:

     Almost exactly a year ago, my wife and I were taking a casual Saturday stroll through one of the non-descript parts of Lakeview in Chicago. As we walked south on Ravenswood, we noticed workers on scaffolding taking the siding off a building near Addison. Crossing to the south side of the street, by Dunkin Donuts, we turned back to see that an old advertisement was being revealed as the siding was pulled off: "Ward's Soft Bun Bread," certainly unfamiliar to us. My wife took a photo of the partially uncovered sign, and we figured we'd come back later to see more.
     Everybody knows that Twitter has its problems. More so since having been picked up at the bargain price of $44 billion by that emerald-encrusted champion of free speech, Elon Musk. (It was recently characterized by our genial host in the Sun-Times as "a toxic hellscape run poorly by a right-wing South African egomaniac..." Personally, I never signed up for it, since a) I realized that it would be a huge time sink and b) I'm not really what you'd call a joiner. 
     However, enough people I respect are on it that I've haphazardly sought out maybe a dozen  accounts. Looking at just those is also a time sink, of course, but not to the extent of becoming the time drain it could if I were actually participating.
     At any rate, many of the folks I follow are local history, architecture, infrastructure or nature-minded Tweeters who are frequently posting interesting ephemera or more significant news about under-reported goings-on in the city. I knew from them that the sign we'd seen was a ghost sign, i.e., a sign painted on a building that used to advertise something which has either been blocked from view by a newer building, or covered up by renovations. 
     "The ghost sign people are gonna love this!" I thought. 
      Since the corner of Addison and Ravenswood is not exactly in an uncharted wilderness, I figured I'd be seeing tweets about it soon. So, I waited, checking my usual suspects each day, pretty sure that if anybody posted photos of this sign, they would go viral, at least among the select group of like-minded Chicagoans. 
      We saw the workers on Saturday morning, July 9. By Tuesday evening, still nothing to indicate that the building had been discovered. I felt people were missing a treat, and figured I had 3 options: a) keep waiting. b) Join Twitter and post about the sign myself. Or c) pick somebody that I followed and hope that he'd visit the location and put it on his timeline, to then be seen by others. 
      I went with the third option. That night I decided to email Robert Loerzel, a journalist and photographer whom I consider the King of Local Twitter (editor's note: he is correct. Robert Loerzel is indeed the King of Local Twitter). He has over 20,000 followers and maintains a very robust and interesting timeline, thriving in the midst of the hellscape.
     I was pretty sure he'd be interested in this sign. Alas, for whatever reason, he didn't jump at the chance to visit the site and I went back to waiting for somebody else to stumble upon it.
     By the following Sunday, still nothing about this building. I couldn't believe it. Especially since we'd gone back and there were a number of other ghost signs now uncovered on the north side of the building. I knew from looking at his interesting Twitter account that Bill Savage, a professor at Northwestern and a lover of local historical minutiae (and literature) (and baseball) (and bicycling) (and...) (editor's note: and hot dogs, and editor of my Chicago memoir) sometimes rode his bike on Damen Ave., which is two blocks away from Ravenswood. I thought perhaps he might make a slight detour sometime if he was riding by to see the signs. So I emailed four photos to him, specifying the location. 
     That worked. Within hours, he had stopped by, taken several of his own photos (much better than ours) and posted the news of these ghost signs to Twitter.
     And from there, it was off to the races. They were quite popular, among the people who find something like that appealing. Bill's tweet went viral in a low-key, non-Obama version of viral. (No doubt assisted in this regard by being retweeted by Robert Loerzel...) The signs were reported about and photographed by Colin Boyle on the news website Block Club Chicago and even made the TV news. Many folks took their own pictures and posted them. We had thought the building would most likely be torn down within a week. But the signs stayed up for over a month. People who are interested in preserving such historic material got involved and proceeded to painstakingly remove them. "Local experts dated the ads to the late 1920s and early ’30s," Colin Boyle wrote on Block Club. "They were painted directly onto wood panels as opposed to the common practice of painting onto brick, adding to their rarity.
     The moral of this tale is that Twitter contains multitudes. It's not just a free-fire zone for anybody with a wacky conspiracy theory to promote. There are a lot of folks who use it as the most efficient way to broadly share information. Though currently I don't even look at it, because Elon Musk, flashing his galaxy-brained brilliance, has decided that you must sign up in order to browse tweets now. And pay, if you want to enjoy certain features of the site. He's talked in the past about his wish for it to be a virtual town square, but doesn't seem to recognize the disconnect when it comes to his desire that people should pay one of the richest men on Earth in order to step onto the village green.
     Anyway, it was quite enjoyable for my wife and me to see what happened once this discovery became better known, and the signs ended up in good hands. As for the "Wards Soft Bun Bread" sign that we originally glimpsed? It's now in the possession of the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Enjoying life immensely at 109

Edith Renfrow Smith in 2022
   Happy birthday to you, Edith Renfrow Smith!
     While this column is not typically directed toward one specific individual, Ms. Smith, who turns 109 years old Friday, is no typical individual.
     Readers might recall her incredible story from two years ago, on her 107th birthday — she was the first Black graduate of Grinnell College. Class of ’37, who came to Chicago, where she became secretary to Oscar DePriest, Chicago’s first Black alderman. Future jazz great Herbie Hancock lived across the street, and taught her daughter to play “Chopsticks.”
     When Ms. Smith turned 108, we revisited, and were rewarded with sound advice (“This is a wonderful world and you need to take care of it”) and a jar of her homemade raspberry jelly. I figured, if turning 107 and 108 were noteworthy, how could 109 not be?
     Besides, I was curious: How’s she doing?
     “Oh, I’m just fine,” said Ms. Smith. “I’ve been doing fine.”
     I apologized for not visiting in person, as in previous years. But I had unwisely put off reaching out until July, and by then COVID had settled in for a prolonged stay. She understood completely.
     “You go keep that to yourself,” she said. “I don’t want it. I don’t need it.”
     What Ms. Smith did not mention — and this might be a clue to how one gets to be 109 — is that she herself already had COVID, last May.
     “She didn’t have COVID like everybody else,” said her daughter, Alice Frances Smith. “She was in the hospital for something else. They tested her, and the day she left, the doctor said, ‘You know she has COVID.’ And I said, ‘No, no one told me.’ My mother didn’t have a fever. She had nothing. That was her big excitement for the year.”

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Thursday, July 13, 2023

A hot time below the old town


Under City Hall

     As a subscriber to the New York Times, it's interesting to see how that paper always gets Chicago just slightly wrong.
    Take the story on the front page Wednesday, "Heat Down Below is Making the Ground Shift Under Chicago," which begins, "Underneath downtown Chicago's soaring Art Deco towers..."
     Stop right there. Is there anyone familiar with Chicago who thinks of the city first as a place of "soaring Art Deco towers"? I hope not. I mean, we have them. The gilt-topped Carbide and Carbon Building comes to mind. But our most famous deco-era skyscraper, the Tribune Tower, isn't really "deco" at all, in a design sense, but a monstrous 1920s gothic cathedral pastiche rearranged into a high-rise.
     And the most purely deco building in Chicago, if you ask me, is the Rockefeller Center knock-off NBC Tower, finished in 1989. 
     The story is of the "professor publishes a study" genus, extending climate change to the earth below our feet. In the 20th century, "the ground between the city surface and the bedrock has warmed by 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit on average."
     As to the significance of this, there is talk of unpleasant subway conditions and "tiny shifts in the ground beneath buildings, which can induce structural strain." But if the city's buildings are actually sinking and cracking, that part was left out.
     The article is based on a paper, "The silent impact of underground climate change on civil infrastructure" by Alessandro F. Rotto Loria, an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern, published Tuesday in the journal Communications Engineering. 
     The Times story is written well enough, and climate reporter Raymond Zhong gamely accompanies the professor on a tour of the white temperature sensor boxes placed underground around downtown. Perhaps the most interesting fact, deep in the story, is the CTA wouldn't permit the sensors to be placed in its stations because they were worried that passengers might see them and think they're bomb detonators.
    Otherwise, the thing struck me as something of an oversell, given its page one placement. The ground is shifting, but the buildings seem unaffected. It should have taken the next step, and reported all the cracks and crumbling foundations, if they exist. My guess is, the buildings are designed to tolerate slight shifts. 
     Given the national shame being poured on Northwestern at the moment, thanks to its football hazing scandal, for one moment I wondered if this wasn't something rushed into print, trying to provide a positive light for the old purple and white — look, we have this important study! But that's conspiratorial thinking. Sometimes random events just line up.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Tylenol killings and the mystery of murder

Voodoo figurines, The Field Museum

     Domestic terrorism is a young man’s game. I have no idea why. You’d think it would be the other way around — old men, having lived most of their lives, tempted to go out in a blaze of imagined glory for whatever grudge is stuck in their wrinkly craws.
     But no. It’s the young who pitch away others’ lives, and their own, too, for what always amounts to nothing.
     Take the idiot who shot up the 4th of July parade in Highland Park last year. He was 21. You shouldn’t include the killer in the circle of sympathy, but I do think about that guy, sitting in jail, night after night. For the rest of his life. What must he be thinking? Maybe if you’re the kind of person who could do something like that, you don’t have the usual human feelings you’d expect to find in a person.
     Timothy McVeigh was 26 when he blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children in a day care center. He was executed in 2001; McVeigh is as eloquent an argument for the death penalty as I can imagine. Yes, it’s sometimes administered unjustly in an overburdened and racist criminal justice system. But some crimes cry out for it.
     Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was a little older — his first bomb exploded, at Northwestern University, two days after his 36th birthday. Living in a cabin in Montana, he conducted his bombing campaign — 16 bombs over 17 years — while the government fruitlessly tried to track him down, distributing a drawing from a witness who saw him at a post office, a man in sunglasses and a hoodie. It wasn’t much help; his brother ended up turning him in, after recognizing the style of the writing in the rambling manifesto he forced two newspapers to print.
     Kaczynski died in June, a suicide — finally hurting someone who deserved it — bringing up his crimes all over again. The media is funny that way. We only need a pretext, a transition, any excuse to unspool the tale once again. “Tylenol? Funny you should mention that....”
     I guess the justification is that some people don’t know.

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