Thursday, November 30, 2023

"Dear God..."

        "God the Father," by Ambrogio Bevilacqua (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     Even writing every goddamn day, some scraps don't get posted. Like this missive to the Supreme Being, drafted at the end of October. I noticed it, scanning back over old material, and felt it could liven up the last day of November.

Dear God:

     I see that, in Your infinite wisdom, You have personally chosen to elevate Mike Johnson, obscure Republican of Louisiana, as the Speaker of the House. That's how he views it anyway:
     "The Bible is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority,” said Johnson, attempting to give his new post a shimmer of the divine. “He raised up each of you, all of us. And I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific time."
     Does that count for Joe Biden? The president of the United States? Or was he snuck into office while You were busy elsewhere, perhaps molding galaxies. (A process I've always thought of as being similar to making a snowball. You scrape an infinity of cosmic matter in one of Your enormous hands, pat it into a vaguely spherical shape, then set it twirling on Your divine fingertip in one of the further reaches of the universe, then step back to admire Your handiwork for a moment, or a billion years, then proceed to the next one. Thank You for that, Lord, for those spinning galaxies. They're so cool. And for Saturn. That's also very... 
     Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, religion screeching into the United States Congress. And the stunning hypocrisy of conjuring up Your Holy Approval, for people Republicans approve of, generally themselves alone, and Your Divine Scorn, for people they don't like. 
     Not to forget the plain weirdness of it all, the contortions they manage while imagining Your will. Johnson, who is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, explained his absent wife, Kelly, this way:“She’s spent the last couple of weeks on her knees in prayer to the Lord. And, um, she’s a little worn out.”
     That's the downside of the current trend toward just vomiting forth verbiage and worrying about what kernels of sense can be picked out later. Setting aside the locker room prurience of Kelly on her knees, a man offering up the image of his wife beseeching the Lord for the last "couple of weeks" not only smacks of desperation, but is kinda an insult to the Deity. I mean, you are many things, O mighty God, but slow on the uptake is not one of them, supposedly. 
     And isn't that a contradiction to Johnson's first statement, about government power being foreordained by You according to Your Divine Plan? Either you are looking out for the benefit of your flock by anointing wise and prudent leaders like Mike Johnson of Louisiana. Or you are harkening to the entreaty of politicians' wives (and, of course, husbands), desperate to advance their spouses' fortunes.  It can hardly be both.
     Anyway, You've got better things to do, Mr. Omniscient — I hope reading my letter didn't distract You too much, Lord. (Though it would explain Gaza. Distracted by some obscure politician's wife, groveling in the dirt, demanding advancement for her man, you let all hell break loose in Your promised land). 
     But since I have Your Infallible Attention, I might point out that were a particular but unspecified member of the human race to be suddenly riven by a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky, charred to a cinder on the back nine at some garish golf course, well, that would be more than enough to make this peace-loving non-believer forevermore convinced of Your Divine Majesty. Truly. I'll start lighting candles on Fridays, and preach Your unquestionable existence. Is it a deal? Or do you only slaughter toddlers hiding in basements?

Your humble servant,

Neil Steinberg

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Push back against the world’s woes

     Scary times, these. If you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention. With wars in Ukraine and Gaza — the latter on pause, for now, but that will change, and either could easily explode into a greater conflagration — and thousands of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees flowing into a Chicago still wobbly from COVID-19, there’s a line around the block of Big Frightening Problems to worry about. Did I mention the real chance of democracy dying in America next year? Or that the world is on fire? Those too.
     But fear is not a success strategy. You don’t solve problems by fretting about them. You solve them by doing something. Tuesday was Giving Tuesday, an online effort to get people to pause from fire-hosing their money at streaming services and sports betting apps and direct a few trickles of cash at worthwhile causes instead.
     My household supports The Night Ministry — the last strand in Chicago’s social safety net — and The Ark. You might want to get behind Heartland Alliance or Catholic Charities.
     If your heart goes out to those who come to Chicago seeking a better life and end up sleeping with their kids on a police station floor, consider supporting Refugee One.
     There are many more — you did, I hope, support groups you’ve already been supporting. If not, a few minutes spent consulting Prof. Google should do the trick.
     You might think this story is a day late. But it’s supposed to run on Wednesday, because Chicago Public Media has dubbed Nov. 29 CQ as “Giving Newsday.” Part of the trick of surviving in the media is to find a way to stand out from the general roar, and by focusing on the following day, the hope is we’ll take advantage of the spirit of holiday generosity while not getting lost in the crush of worthy causes.
     The Chicago Sun-Times is owned by Chicago Public Media, a 501(c)3 charity that also owns WBEZ 91.5 FM, and though I’m biased, I’d argue that, in a way, supporting us is even more important than backing some other charity, because we’re how you learn about everything going on in the world.

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Eli's Cheesecake: a holiday tradition

Marc Schulman, Eli's president since 1984, shows guests through Eli's Cheesecake World.

     You know the holiday season is upon us in earnest when the Art Institute's proud lions are wreathed in greenery, the air is filled with festive music, and Eli's Cheesecake ads go up on 
     To mark the occasion, the family headed over to Eli's Cheesecake World on Saturday to get a quick tour from its owner, Eli Schulman, who took the family around his expanded factory — business is booming — before we settled in to coffee, conversation and, of course, cheesecake.
Passion fruit curd olive oil cake cheesecake
    The challenge being, if presented with the delightful dilemma of being invited to dig into literally any type of cheesecake that Eli's makes, from chocolate chip to key lime, apple streusel to blueberry swirl, peppermint bark and salted caramel, which one to choose? You can browse the available flavors at the Eli's website.
     As difficult as that sounds, it was actually an easy decision: passion fruit curd olive oil cake cheesecake made with mascarpone mousse, inspired by Natasha Pickowicz's "More than Cake" cookbook — because really, how often do you get the chance? (Who is Natasha Pickowicz, you ask? For shame! She is only the wildly popular "NYC pastry wunderkind" and "The Queen of Sticky Buns." Okay, I had to look her up, but I was glad to get to know her — eating cheesecake and learning about the new generation of rising pastry chefs)
    So how did her cheesecake taste? Smooth. Sublime. Lovely. Light. I usually like my cheesecake with a heavy dose of chocolate crumbled over it. But this was obviously something more advanced. My wife raved.
     I also learned the meaning of "POG" — it stands for "Passion Fruit Orange Guava" and was the flavor of one cheesecake we took away with us — at Eli's Cheesecake World's store you can get all sorts of exotic flavors, unavailable to the masses who have not made pilgrimage to the mothership.  I think otherwise you have to be flying First Class on United to Hawaii to be given the privilege of trying the POG cheesecake, which was extraordinary. As was the Tiramisu Cheesecake, which was the other. I'd have gone home with more — I have my sights set on the Hot Chocolate Cheesecake, which sounds heavenly. But I limit myself to three cheesecakes at a time in the freezer. Restraint.   
     So welcome the traditional holiday cheesecake ad, which you will notice on the left side of the EGD homepage. Click it, and you'll be ushered into the world of gustatory delight that is Eli's. Today is Giving Tuesday, and while I hope you are digging deep to help those less fortunate than yourself, I'd also advise you to remember yourself, and your cheesecake needs — doctors say that the average American only consumes 25 percent of their daily metabolic requirements for cheesecake. 
     Oh, that's a lie. While cheesecake is good, and nutritious, there isn't an actually FDA requirement for it, though imagining how delightful a world it would be if there were. Even though a certain tone of fabrication infects social media, more and more, we try to play it by the book here on EGD, which is why we hope you'll support us by giving yourself the gift of cheesecake.
     Let me take this opportunity to say how glad I am that EGD, now in its 11th year, has been supported by Eli's Cheesecake for every second of its existence. Many, if not most, Chicagoans love Eli's Cheesecake. But how many can truly say they are loved back? Enfolded in the cool, sweet embrace of the nation's foremost cheesecake.  It's a wonderful thing, and I consider myself blessed that the holidays have rolled around again, bringing light, laughter, family, friends and lots of Eli's cheesecake. And that's the delicious truth.


Monday, November 27, 2023

Not scared.

     One of the most fascinating aspects of my several conversations with 107-year-0ld Black Chicagoan Edith Renfrow Smith was related to her recollections of the Civil Rights era.  While the typical — almost inevitable — stance of people alive during that troubled time is to puff up whatever relationship they had to the great struggle, she was 180 degrees opposite: it didn't affect her. Not her concern. I was dubious, almost incredulous, and pressed her on the matter — c'mon, you said you couldn't shop at Marshall Field's. What about that? 
     “I don’t want to go there anyway,” she said defiantly. “They don’t have anything I want."
    She had decided that these issues didn't affect her. And that was it. She was going to live her life as a full person as good as anybody else — "Nobody's better than you" — and if others chose to think differently, that was their problem, not hers. 
     My personal take on being Jewish in America is something similar. It isn't that anti-Semitism doesn't exists, or isn't spiking in reaction to the war in Gaza. I see that. It's just that, personally, it doesn't touch me. Maybe I'm oblivious. Or just lucky. The anti-Jew mob, with their torches and nooses, was going east on Monroe when I was walking, hands in pockets, whistling west down Madison, admiring the buildings.
     Part of it was growing up only a couple decades after the end of World War II. At times, it seemed like the whole religion was about the Holocaust. A sort of death cult. Judaism was Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto with pauses to light candles and spin dreidels. I hated that. It felt suffocating.
    The reality has to be more complicated than that. Maybe because, when I meet anti-Semites, I immediately discount them, because their scorn is coming from a hater. Consider the source. It isn't about me, it's pus from a wound. Their wound, not mine. Nobody is a hater because they're so brave, and Jews are the oldest, largest, easiest target in the world. That collegiate Americans would decide to sign on to Team Anti-Semite is sad, but also typical, the familiar blend of enthusiasm and ignorance that so defines the young.
     Now that I think of it, I get anti-Semitic screeds almost every day — gathering unread in my spam filter, waiting to be flushed away.  Most aren't even read. Flushed away with the rest of the shit. If I do happen to notice one, they seem more mentally ill than anything else. Who cares why a mentally ill person you never met decides to fixate on something? If the source of that fixation happens to be me — what are my responsibilities toward that person? None. I'm not a doctor. 
     Why let the poison in? Why be any more conscious of their presence than you have to? You can't make them go away, or change. People in marginalized groups have the distressing tendency — and I think this is really what Edith Renfrow Smith is pushing back against — of acting like they're auditioning for the people who despise them. I'll get notes from Jewish readers ponderously chiding me for this or that opinion because they feel that it makes the Jews look bad in the eyes of anti-Semites, as if the haters are coolly evaluating us, and forming conclusions based on our behavior. When in reality they start out by hating us and cherry pick facts they feel shore up that hate. This isn't a contest. 
     Israel's actions in the war in Gaza are just an update on the Jews killing Christ. The bad thing that Jews did that permits them to be locked in their synagogue before it is set it on fire. That rationale, the specific bad thing Jews did changes, but it is always there, and always will be. If the creation of Israel — the naqba — was such a shock, then what did the Jews do wrong in 1947 and 1946 and 1945 and 1944 and 1943 and 1942 and 1941 and 1940, what was our crime then that so agitated so many people against them? Oh right nothing. Mere existence. Their original sin. Our original sin. We're heeeeeeeeere! 
     The photo above was taken in September in the tiny Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, now a tourist site.  I was taken aback — somewhere between surprised and aghast — to see they'd put up a big yellow Magen David in the middle of the street, the way the Puerto Rican stretch of Division Street in Humboldt Park is marked by a stylized PR flag. 
     The yellow star? Really? Maybe it's unintentional. Historical. Maybe it's trying to take control of the touchstone used against you, the way gays repurposed "queer." Maybe there's some other cultural factor at work I don't understand. But I found it ... confusing, at best. The Germans used this exact device to single us out for abuse ... and now we embrace it. Okay then. How's that workin' for you?
      Maybe that's my approach. I don't embrace anti-Semitism, I register that it's there, intellectually, then step around it, like a turd on the sidewalk. The less I think about that shit, the happier I am. I suppose I could be afraid — people obviously are afraid. I see that — and I don't want to discount their fear. It's awful to be frightened. But that's also what the haters want. Not being afraid, not even caring, seems the best revenge. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

A fine time

     Wonder should not be picked apart. It's too delicate, too fragile. Best appreciate it in real time, while it's happening. Then label it simply, "We had a good time," and set aside on a shelf in memory. No point writing a treatise about it. You wreck it that way.
     And so much gets wrecked as it is. Like any good cynic, I take a dim view of the forced festivity that takes place this time of year. Often quoting, in my own mind — nobody wants to hear it — lines from "Cold Comfort," a Michelle Shocked dirge: "You know, winter will soon be here. And except for the holidays, except for the holidays, it's a fine time of year."
     True, generally, and maybe that mood will set in well before Christmas.
     But it hasn't yet. This year, with the relentless dispatches of horror from Israel and Gaza, plus the ominous — no, terrifying — political situation at home — a few days off seemed in order. Time to regroup, and visit with the boys and their beloveds, our houseguests.  To do little and think about less.
     A recipe for ... surprisingly ... something special. This year the holidays caught me off guard, and I not only am enjoying them, but realized I really needed them. It wasn't so much Thanksgiving itself, which is like planning the Normandy invasion only with food. But immediately after. Just having people around. The boys and their fiances and Edie and I all went to the Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape  Friday night. 
    And it was all so ... magical, not a term I often  employ. So much, I did something unusual, for me. I decided not to even try to write about it. The music, the sense of difference — you enter through the side of the Garden, through an enormous glowing wreath, and with the dark and the music and glowing spheres, tunnels of arches, sweeping lasers, flashing, twinkling lights, the familiar grounds become strange and wonderful.  I didn't even take many pictures, except of the kids, and I'm not sharing those, lest social media decide to judge them. 
     I hope you'll forgive me. "Not everything's for the newspaper" I sometimes say. Or the blog. I'm sure you can manage to wring wonder out of your holidays on your own. No need for a road map from me. At least not today. I don't even know if I can dredge a point out of this, to stick my landing at the end. Maybe the key is that I wasn't particularly looking forward to Lightscape — we had such a good time last year, what were the odds of topping it? And it was so warm last year — a rare November day in the low 60s. It was so cold, in the low 30s Friday. That could be trouble. And would these four adults, in their late 20s, enjoy it? As if they might not be charmed by whimsy and music and hot cocoa. In the hours before we left, my mood curdled, and I found myself exhausted and annoyed. Which turned out to be exactly the coiled crouch I needed to spring into the air, and the momentary sensation of flight, of being airborne, free of all this. Gloom turned to fascination. 
     Which might be a contradiction — seek but don't expect it. Request but don't demand. Work hard then relax into the holidays, and let them flow over you. Go and see what happens. Hang out with those who love each other and you and wait for it. Anyway, five weeks and it'll all be over and we'll find ourselves blinking at the dark, frozen expanse of January and February and March. Enjoy this if you can, while it lasts.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

"Eternity's hostage"

"The Romans Taking Old Dutch Men as Hostages," by Antonio Tempesta Italian (Met)

     "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune," Francis Bacon writes in one of his most famous essays, Of Marriage and Single Life. "For they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.
     True enough. But the key concept in Bacon's first sentence is "given" — there is an unmistakable sense of the voluntary around the first definition of "hostage" in the Oxford English Dictionary: "Pledge or security given to enemies or allies or the fulfilment of any undertaking by the handing over of one or more persons into their power."
     Nothing voluntary in this recent batch of hostages, the Israelis captured by Hamas during their Oct. 7 attack, and it's painful to realize that once enemies would sometimes willingly hand over people to make sure agreements were kept. We think of the past as far more brutal than today, but we seem to be holding our own when it comes to barbarism. 
     Which makes etymology a welcome distraction from the headlines. While waiting for Hamas to release the first group of hostages on Friday — 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and a Filipino — more are supposed to be released today — I found myself focusing on the word "hostage" itself.
     "Hostage" has gone through changes over the past thousand years. That initial "h" tends to come and go, depending on what language is massaging it — the original Latin, obsidatus, "being a hostage," blending with hostis — "stranger, enemy" — turning into hostia, "victim, or sacrifice," which is how the Eucharist in the Catholic Church became known as a "host."
     Looking over the way the word and its cognates have changed, it's almost as if the  opposite views of how outsiders in your midst are to be treated is engaged in a verbal tug-of-war, the dichotomy in clear relief. There is "hostile" and "hospitality," "host" as in welcoming guests and "host," as in the body of an army.
     The very act of ransoming hostages seems more Biblical than modern, and indeed, there's hostage-taking in the Bible, as when a King of Judah breaks down the gate to Jerusalem in 2 Kings: "He took all the gold and silver and all the utensils which were found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king’s house, the hostages also, and returned to Samaria." The whole "Christ the Redeemer" concept pivots on Jesus being the guy who pays our ransom with his suffering.
      In the Talmud, redeeming captives is a mitzvah, or charitable act, one so important it has its own name, pidyon shvuyim, and tops all other good works because being a hostage incorporates most of the ills that charity tries to address.
      "The redeeming of captives takes precedence over supporting the poor or clothing them," wrote Maimonides. "There is no greater mitzvah than redeeming captives for the problems of the captive include being hungry, thirsty, unclothed, and they are in danger of their lives too."
      It might sound odd at first, but if you think about it, there is something humane about hostage-taking, compared with simply killing enemies. It's a practice based on the value of life, the idea originally being that your kinsmen or country would buy you back (Proverbs 13:8 says that rich men purchase their safety, while the poor are never even threatened — which is wistful; more likely, the poor are simply killed, without hope of ransom). There is something strange to see Hamas, eagerly murdering everyone in sight Oct. 7, but also tucking these folks away for future reference, a kind of grotesque parody of mercy that of course is all about self-interest. They had just started the war and were already looking to purchase the cease-fire that their advocates around the world have been demanding.
     The process of exchanging hostages shows how artificial war is — two sides shift from trying to kill each other with all their might to conveying a fortunate few back from the dead through intermediaries. A reminder of the enormous range of human behavior, how we slide from vile to noble and back again, depending on the circumstances.
     As I write this, the news has begun to trickle out. A list of names. That the returned Israelis range in age from 5 to 85. What horrors they must have endured, what stories they must have to tell.
     The Russian novelist Boris Pasternak wrote a lovely little poem, "Night," that suggests all creative people are hostages, obligated to see the broad sweep of life and convey it. The poem begins with the image of a pilot flying over sleeping cities, then shifts to the insomniac writer trying to grasp it all. The clunky translation I found online ends:
Fight off your sleep: be wakeful,
Work on, keep up your pace,
Keep vigil like the pilot,
Like all the stars in space.

Work on, work on, creator-
To sleep would be a crime-
Eternity's own hostage,
And prisoner of Time.
     That penultimate sentence felt a little awkward, so I checked the original Russian — "Ты — вечности заложник" or, literally, "You: eternity's hostage." Also true. But would make the ransom ... what? Death.

Friday, November 24, 2023

"When Black Friday comes..."

Book Bin owner Alli Gilley
with one of their more popular items.

     Another Thanksgiving in the bag. How was yours? Fantastic, I hope. Ours was filled with so many great moments, I can't begin to count them all. At one point our kitchen was practically vibrating with conversation, coffee flowing, opinions and observations flying. We all piled in the CX-9 — six of us, the third row of seats, used at last! — and went out to Buffalo Grove to visit my parents. And the two fiancés were in conversation with my mother, and one slid her chair in, to be a little closer, and seeing that small gesture made me very happy.
     And that was before the holiday dinner itself. Two dozen guests, hours of eating and drinking and talking and laughing. The clean-up was ... if not a breeze, then at least nearly finished by the time we all staggered off to bed.
     Of course one holiday down means another looms. Two really. Hanukkah and Christmas; for some mixed families, both. And with them the challenge, if not the curse, of gift-giving. Maybe I can help. I realized that this past year the blog added hundreds of new readers — thank you Charlie Meyerson, thank you Eric Zorn — who might not have been around last year, when "Every Goddamn Day," the book loosely based on this blog was published by the University of Chicago Press. You might not realize that The Economist called it one of six books you must read to really understand Chicago. You can read the enthusiastic review in Newcity here.
    So I'm writing this today to suggest a holiday gift for that special person on your list — or yourself. If you buy it from the Book Bin in Northbrook, they'll shoot me an email and I'll bike over and sign and inscribe it, a nice small town touch that will set your gift apart from the generic impersonal crap. Plus you get to help out one of the best independent bookstores in the Chicago area. The Book Bin will mail it out for only five bucks and even gift wrap it for free if you like. The book was a popular holiday gift last year — the Book Bin sold more than 100 — and in case you've got a bookish sort, or a Chicago fan, you're looking to check off your list ahead of time while giving a present that is certain to please that special someone, please consider calling the Book Bin at 847-498-4999 to place your order. You can also order it online from the Book Bin here.


Thursday, November 23, 2023

Giving thanks in scary times

     “Do you think 28 pounds of turkey is enough?” asked my wife, as we stood by a freezer case in Trader Joe’s.
     She had just muscled two Kosher birds, one 15 pound, one 13, into the cart, waving away my offer to do the lifting, the “as if I haven’t been flinging these things around a kitchen myself for years” being unvoiced.
     “Well,” I ventured. “Twenty five guests, about a pound per person should ..."
     “A lot of it is bone,” she interjected. Not to inform me, I hope. I don’t think she really feared I’m so culinarily clueless as to imagine whole turkeys are solid chunks of meat — I do sometimes carve them, though invariably am body-checked away by a relative capable of more finesse with a blade.
     Last year we had three turkeys — one roasted, one deep-fried, one smoked. That was deemed “too much turkey,” though not by me. I want to spend the next few days assembling plates of cold leftovers, turkey and stuffing, and eating them standing in the kitchen, and assume every guest does too.
     “You are making five pounds of salmon,” I observed. For the pescatarians — those who shun meat, but whose moral code nevertheless allows them to eat fish: sentient creatures, innocently plying the waters, nuzzling their young with human-like affection, at one with nature and the divine until a cruel hook yanks them into the suffocating air.

To continue reading, click here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Hawk v. squirrel


     I did write a column for the paper for today, but it got held for content, in a good way. Since the column is about Thanksgiving, my editors felt it should run on the day itself, and I agreed. So this episode, not the most pressing for certain, was called in, as an understudy topic. 

     So I look out the kitchen window and — damn! — there is this bad boy, a Cooper's hawk, Accipiter cooperii. I've seen one in that exact spot before, but they usually fly away before I can snap a photo. This one didn't. He — or she — just stood there, passing the time, gazing around. I'm standing in the kitchen, marveling, and suddenly, enter stage left, a squirrel. Not oblivious. Steven Squirrel clearly sees the hawk, but looks like he's going straight for him. Up the porch stairs, to the base of the post the hawk is standing on.
     Which strikes me as odd. Would not the prudent squirrel be stealthily fleeing in the opposite direction, away from the hawk. What gives?
     The hawk meanwhile is ... oblivious. I'm figuring it's snack time for him. I'm waiting for the hawk to notice the squirrel, while trying to suss out the squirrel's strategy. Maybe he figures the closer he is, the less of a dive the hawk can go into. Maybe hawks just don't notice prey literally at their feet. 
     The squirrel is practically going on its hind legs, turning up toward the hawk, as if trying to catch its attention. As if to say, "Hey stupid! I'm here! Right here!"
      Then the squirrel passes, under the hawk, and keeps going across the porch. I see the hawk finally notice the squirrel. I see him — or her — see the squirrel. The hawk spreads its wings. Here it comes, I think. And flies away. A few flaps and it's gone.
     The truth, as least as gleaned from minutes of research on online nature sites, is that Cooper's hawks are not that into squirrels. Oh, they'll eat them in a pinch. But all things being equal, hawks prefer small birds to squirrels, which are too big and put up too much of a struggle. Sometimes it seems the hawks taunt the squirrels, even sort of play with them, before flying off to pick on someone not quite as close to their size. 
     So there you have it. The hawk sighed and flew away. The squirrel moved off without so much as a backward glance.  Though I did notice its tail was puffed up like a bottle brush — trying to look bigger to scare off the predator. It worked.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023


     "Would you mind bringing the apples up for me?"
      Of course not. Anything to facilitate the creation of my wife's sublime chunky cinnamon applesauce, which enlivens lamb chops and other meals throughout the year. 
      The apple tree by our garden was extra bountiful this year, and the squirrels were so busy eating the seed that fell from our bird feeder, they left them pretty much alone. Over several days back in September my wife and I had plucked the yellow apples off the branches, depositing them in our downstairs refrigerator, where they filled two bins. 
     I trotted down to the basement, where we had stashed the apples.  It took three trips to ferry them upstairs in big bowls.
     Apples will stay a long time in cool conditions. But one had gone bad — it must have been bad going in and we didn't notice. A big soft brown circle the size of a half dollar. I left that one for last, tucking it on top of the third bowlful. Fun must be seized where one finds it.
     My wife was in the kitchen. I set the last bowl down, and took up the rotten apple.
     "There was one bad apple..." I began.
     She immediately launched into song.
     "One bad apples don't spoil the whole bunch, girl!" she warbled. The 1970s Osmonds song — I would have sworn it was the Jackson 5, but memory is faulty. Though honestly, listening to it now, I realized, for the first time: the Osmonds were a white bread ripoff of the Jackson. Ah. Of course. It never occurred to me before. Slow on the uptake.
     I froze, my eyes narrowing. She caught my hard expression.
     "What?" she said.
     "Really?" I said, hard-edged. "Are you going to deny me this?"
     It took her a second to understand — not slow on the uptake — and then readjust. 
     "Oh there was?" she began, feigning innocence. "That's too bad."
    "No it's okay," I countered, recovering, with not quite the joy I would have before, but getting the most I could out of my chance. "Fortunately ...  one bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl."
     I hated to make a fuss. But really, how often do you get the chance? It was now or never. While I avoid cliches in writing, I seek them out in life. Once, visiting New York City, I made a point of detouring into Grand Central Station, strode into the center of a vast terminal just so I could look around, spread my arms, and inquire, of no one in particular: "What is this, Grand Central Station?"
     Still, I was shaken that she knew where I was going with this, even before I got there. I think she's hanging around me too much. I'm starting to wear off on her. The poor woman.

Monday, November 20, 2023

C’mon guys, read the ethics code

“No official or employee shall make or participate in the making of any governmental decision with respect to any matter in which he has any financial interest distinguishable from that of the general public ...”

     The city of Chicago has an ethics code — a quite extensive one, 50 pages long. It makes for interesting reading. Public officials are forbidden from using the city seal in photos on their personal Christmas cards, since they mustn’t include its weird symbolism — why is that naked baby on a clamshell? — in snapshots “not related to official City business.”
     Given its excruciating detail, you’d think we must have the most upright officials anywhere. Government officials can’t have any financial involvement with those having business with the city, as quoted above, in section 2-156-080, “Conflicts of interest; appearance of impropriety.”

And yet they do. In 2019, when then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested perhaps Chicago City Council members should be banned from “side hustles” and just do their flippin’ jobs, full time, a WTTW survey found that 10 alderfolk — 20% of the City Council — derived significant income from second gigs, the king being Ed Burke, now on trial for allegedly connecting patronage of his law firm with performing his official duties.
     Follow the ethics ordinance, guys. You’ll save us all a lot of time and bother.
     I, of course, cannot comment on the guilt or innocence of Burke. He’s charged with extortion — not merely violating the local code by profiting from those having business before the city but demanding a quid pro quo — patronize my law firm or I’ll block your zoning.
     This is not a victimless crime. The city itself suffers in a real and significant way. Here Chicago is behind the eight ball, reeling from the double hammer blows of spiking fear of crime and COVID-stoked downtown depletion, struggling to create a strong business environment so the whole place doesn’t crater. Meanwhile, in the 14th Ward, a Burger King can’t get a permit to move a driveway, allegedly, unless they do business at Burke’s law firm?

To continue reading, click here.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Goodbye to the Rookery

The Rookery in summer

     Hiding in plain sight amongst the profusion of the bountiful life and colorful beauty of nature is a message about death. Flowers bloom in soil made from last year's blossoms. They fade as the seasons cycle round, one after another. The fallen trees rot and provides mulch for a new crop of mushrooms. Each individual begins and ends, but life goes on unbroken. We are not forever, but we are part of something that is.
     This is seen most clearly in a national park, an expanse of forest the same now as it was a thousand years ago or, one hopes, a thousand years from now. Our petty squabbles and concerns dim, then vanish.
     But even a well-curated expanse like the Chicago Botanic Garden states this truth clearly, if you pay attention. My wife and I visit year round, enjoying the budding flowers in spring, the brilliant displays in summer, the muted browns in fall, the evergreen boughs heavy with snow in winter.
     In summer 2022, for the "Flourish: The Garden at 50" celebration, large artworks were installed all over. Most were clever and creative and enhanced the splendor around them. One clunked. "HEAR NATURE CLEANSING," barked big white block letters at the entrance, as if nature were having a high colonic. "It would be better if you snipped off that last word," I said, editing.
     And one installation was simply outstanding, Patrick Dougherty's "The Rookery," a six tower fairy castle made of willow boughs, some of them living. Kids loved to explore its little rooms, gaze out the windows. It was a surprise and delight when, at the end of last summer, when all the other anniversary artworks were removed, the Rookery stayed put. Long enough for us to get used to it, though we'd still drift in its direction, to see if from new angles and perspectives.
     Alas, even an artwork grounded in nature must take nature's cue, and this week a reader informed me that the Rookery will be taken down soon.
      "I just learned the Chicago Botanic Garden plans to remove The Rookery in early December," she wrote. "As you’ve written about it I thought you might want to know it will soon be gone. What a shame. It seems like it’s still in great shape and not a danger to visitors."
     Then she urged me to action. 
     "My daughter-in-law said I should handcuff myself to the sculpture. That seems a bit drastic, especially if they aren’t taking it down for a couple of weeks," she wrote. "Maybe you can use your voice, which is much more powerful than mine, to ask the Garden management to reconsider—maybe leave it up for another year."
     That sounds possible. But first I had to find out if her report was true. I inquired.
     "You are correct, we plan to take down the installation in early December," wrote Erin Benassi, director of public relations at the Chicago Botanic Garden. "The Rookery, which is created entirely out of willow saplings, was always meant to be a temporary installation, and the artist, Patrick Dougherty, said we’d get one great year and one pretty good year before it would reach the end of its natural life. Unfortunately, we’ve noticed this fall that it’s coming apart as it dries out with individual sticks poking out and falling to the ground. We feel now is the right time for it to be taken down before the blustery weather of winter hits."
     Even though the installation won't be there much longer, I can't see rallying to keep it, and for a reason that might surprise you. I've been going to the Garden so often for so long, I've come to admire the intelligence and stewardship behind it. Even when it means doing something unpopular, like cutting down mature black alders which were also invasive species.
     Not every change has to be battled. Isn't that the lesson of nature? Embrace and celebrate change. Good things sprout, wax then inevitably wane. Which is not something to be mourned, because new life is on the way, waiting, gathering energy, under the snow. Who knows what fresh delight could someday occupy the clearing where the Rookery once stood? The same organization that brought us the Rookery is now taking it away. I'm going to assume they know what they're doing. Sometimes you have to trust people, and trust is meaningless if it's only extended in situations where you agree with what's going on. It's when something happens that rubs you the wrong way that you have to sometimes take a step back and defer.
      Besides, honestly, when we were there a week or so ago, we paused in front of the Rookery. "Does that left tower seem like it's leaning a bit?" I asked. Hard to tell. Maybe a tiny bit. They can't afford to wait until the thing topples over and crushes a child.
     I'll certainly miss The Rookery when it's gone,the way I miss the huge sugar maple in my front yard. But I planted a tulip tree nearby, and it's going gangbusters. The world isn't ours; we're just borrowing it for a little. A brief span — in this case, a few weeks, before the Rookery is gone. If you haven't been to the Chicago Botanic Garden, this is a perfect excuse to go — the sprout of possibility unfurling from the mulch of loss. That seems fitting.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Where is your cheesecake?


    "Do you have cheesecake?"
    Asked my older boy, over the telephone from New York.
    Thanksgiving approaches. The nuclear family, scattered across the continent, is primed for their transit back home, like comets, trailing stardust, sweeping back toward their ancestral planet. A son working in Phoenix. Another in Washington, D.C. Bolstered by a fiancé in New York. A second fiancé in Hyde Park (for the younger boy; can't have you thinking the older boy has two). Packing bags, calling taxis, boarding airplanes. While my wife and I scrub and fret and fill the freezer with hors d'oeuvres. Their last Thanksgiving as single men. 
     "Do you have cheesecake?"
     Starting at ... 12 midnight Tuesday, when a certain individual, aka me, will be at O'Hare International Airport for the final leg of the ferrying home process. Sure, I could ask him to take an Uber. Just as we could serve frozen turkey TV dinners on Thursday. ("The frozen is just as g-g-good as good as the real" stutters one of Woody Allen's guests at the mournful end of "Broadway Danny Rose." "And the frozens are much cheaper than the real ones," he agrees.)
     "Do you have cheesecake?" 
     Asked only once. But a question that resonated, being posed, not by a child, any longer. Not by the radiant boy curled up in my lap, being read Harry Potter. But by an adult, a professional, a lawyer, who might appear in court someday, an assistant U.S. attorney, zeroing in for the kill, leaning over the mahogany rail, staring intently at the cringing witness, another malefactor. "Please answer the question with a simple 'yes' or 'no.' Do you ... have ... cheesecake?"
     We will not be serving frozen turkey dinners. There will be a fresh roasted turkey and a deep fried turkey. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, challah stuffing and green bean casserole. Homemade cranberry relish and canned jellied relish, because some people prefer the canned, like the little rounded rings the can leaves on the relish. Countless cookies and pies and flans and brownies and what have you. Sweets galore.
     You would think, with all that high quality homemade grub barrelling down the pike, that store-bought cheesecake would be the last thing on his mind. 
     "Do you have cheesecake?"   
     A question demands an answer. 
     "," I muttered, guiltily reflecting on the fate of the once considerable amount of cheesecake in the freezer. The boys ... they weren't there. But rather, far away, out in the real world. Making their own lives, separate and apart from us. Gone gone gone. "Gone like yesterday." But the cheesecake ... it was there. Not gone. Here. Available. Delicious Eli's cheesecake. Right here. What would you do?
     "Umm, no," I said quietly. "I ate it." Not all at once. Not even a slice at a time, necessarily. A half here. A big forkful there. The whirligig of time takes its revenges.
     My son did not growl, "Then you better frickin' get some, huh?" He did not say, "Then what the hell am I coming home for? You? Bah!" 
     We raised them to be better than that, kinder than that. He did not say it, aloud. Only thought it. Of that I am certain. I could almost feel the thoughts, fluttering around his head like luna moths. You mean I have to put up with days of you, you stupid old coot and your endless self-agrandizing stories and your off-point garbled quotations and your decaying, cluttered, dusty old house and I don't even get a slice of CHEESECAKE out of the deal? Fuck you, I wish you were dead!
     No, he didn't say that. What he did do — his beloved was also on the line; they often call together, which is so sweet — was reflect on a visit to Eli's Cheesecake World about a dozen years ago. He and his brother toured the plant, met the great Marc Schulman, who showed them the gold wristwatch that Frank Sinatra gave his father, Eli, the man whose trademark "The Place for Steaks" (on the site of what is now the Lurie Children's Hospital on Chicago Avenue) lives on in the cheesecake company his son created. (And, I should point out, has advertised on EGD since its inception, not that my impartial high calibre journalism would ever be affected by something so trivial as a boatload of money, and cheesecake, passing from one party to another).
     My boy explained how he and his brother donned white coats and hairnets, like scientists, and were permitted to decorate their own cheesecakes.
     It was immediately decided that, during their Thanksgiving visit, a trip to Eli's Cheesecake World is in order. Nor do you have to be related to a plugged-in, big-ass newspaper columnist to get a look behind the scenes. Anyone can arrange a tour. Or just stop by — Eli's Super Sweet Thanksgiving Sale, the biggest of the year, ends today, if you're reading this on the 18th.
     The only difficulty was finding a free morning, which in our case was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Which led to a problem — what to do about any cheesecake needs that should arise among our houseguests beforehand? Luckily, Eli's delivers, and an Original Favorites Sampler — four slices each of plain, chocolate chip, strawberry and Heath Bar — arrived last Thursday, packed in dry ice. I thought I should take the plastic off, to make a better picture, and then realized if I tore open the plastic, purely for aesthetic reasons, in the service of professional photojournalism, the cheesecake within might not make it to midweek, certainly not in its pristine, complete condition ("Hey kids, welcome home! Who feels like sharing a slice and a half of strawberry cheesecake? Wait, where are you going?")
     I carefully slid the cheesecake, unopened, into the freezer to await their arrival. Our home is now ready for guests. Is yours?

Friday, November 17, 2023

The teachers who started a museum


   Oh, you’ve got to tell the story.
     Not to take anything away from my colleague Ambarcq Colón, whose excellent article in Wednesday’s paper shared the news that Carlos Tortolero, founder of the National Museum of Mexican Art, is retiring. There was a lot of real estate to cover — quotes from the ever-effusive Tortolero, the search for a new museum president, the honors and accolades rightly laden on the Pilsen landmark.
     But three simple words, “opened in 1987,” just don’t do justice to the reality, and spur me to blow the dust of decades off them. Opened why? Opened how? How did a history teacher at Bowen High School — as Tortolero was — start what became the preeminent institution in the country showcasing Mexican, Latino and Chicano art?
     It should be part of Chicago lore, alongside Uno’s inventing deep dish pizza in 1943. But it isn’t. The only reason I know is from interviewing Tortolero for my recent book, “Every Goddamn Day.” But since every Sun-Times reader hasn’t read that book, alas, I should lay the tale out here, briefly.
     Wander back in time, not to 1987, but to September 1982. Tortolero was disgusted with a Chicago Public Schools system that would treat Spanish-speaking students as if they were learning-disabled. Where Mexican culture was pretty much limited to the bad guys at the Alamo. Inclusivity is such a mantra today, we forget the headlock that white culture had on education not so long ago, and what did show up in classrooms about Mexican history echoed the joke about food at a Catskills resort: lousy, and in such small portions.
     “Beyond bad,” Tortolero said. “The misinformation was unbelievable. No one knew about Mexican culture. The students, young people, don’t know the impact of Mexico. These kids were not getting any of their history, all the great things. They knew nothing about it.”
     So he met with five other CPS staffers on Sept. 15, 1982, at Benito Juarez High School. That date was picked deliberately: the evening before Mexican Independence Day. “El Grito” the anniversary of Father Miguel Hidalgo ringing his church bell and calling for the Spanish oppressors to be driven out. “The Cry of Dolores” — a perfect day to start a revolution.

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Crimo father’s T-shirt stunt a thumb in the eye of real victims

Museum of Contemporary Art

      Regular readers might know that I don't usually have a column in the newspaper on Thursdays. But my editors asked if I would weigh in on Crimo's surrender to jail on Wednesday, and I was happy to comply.

     Robert Crimo Jr. got off light.
     He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, two years of probation and 100 hours of community service for signing the gun ownership application that allowed his disturbed teenage son to purchase an assault rifle — the gun the younger man is accused of using to slaughter seven people and wound 48 others at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade massacre in 2022.
     That’s about one day for every casualty.
     A decent person would be grateful, humbled, remorseful at that sentence. But then a decent person wouldn’t help his clearly troubled son buy an assault rifle.
     The sort of person the elder Crimo is was on full display Wednesday when he showed up for his jail time wearing a T-shirt with the words “I’m a political pawn” printed on the front and “LAWS, FACTS, REALITY” on the back.
     Let’s talk about laws. The law would allow Lake County Judge George Strickland to declare Crimo in contempt of court, void his plea agreement, haul him back into court and send him to trial. There’s plenty of precedent for that, such as when a federal judge — irked by a photo of Ed Vrdolyak on the front page of the Sun-Times, smirking after receiving probation in 2010 for a real estate kickback scheme — dismissed his probation as “a slap on the wrist” and re-sentenced him to 10 months in federal prison.

To continue reading, click here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

How to always win at a casino

     People love gambling but hate taxes. Which is odd, because both do exactly the same thing: take your money.
    Frankly, I prefer taxes. At least with taxes, your lost lucre often goes to good use: building roads, funding schools, and such, rather than gilding a toilet in some casino owner’s yacht.
     Then again, I am not a gambler, and nothing is more ridiculous than passion you don’t share.
     Despite lack of interest in gambling, personally, I closely followed the opening of Bally’s temporary casino at the Medinah Temple, having tracked the decades-long chase after the will-o-the-wisp of a Chicago gambling den. Now that one’s actually open, a visit seemed in order.
     Stepping into the Medinah Temple had none of the existential sorrow of Vegas casinos. I’d pondered how much to gamble and, more importantly, whether I could expense my losses. While I have in the past stuck the newspaper with a variety of vices in the name of research, from a $200 bottle of champagne at the Ritz-Carlton bar, to table dances and tips to strippers at Thee Doll House on Kingsbury, something told me that Chicago Public Media might look askance at financing my casino spree. So I figured: eat my losses. Besides, a gambler should never bet anything he isn’t prepared to lose. I initially thought: $100 but then dialed it back to $50. Frugal.
     That plan lasted until I walked in the door. When I told the security guard this was my first visit, he directed me to a desk where I was issued a card — a Bally’s Rewards card, with “Pro” emblazoned in the corner. “Pro?” That made me smile. If I’m a pro, I’d hate to see what an amateur looks like.
     A quick glance at the cover of the brochure I was given revealed the truth. Pro is the lowest rung. The others: Star, Superstar and Legend. “LEVEL UP YOUR LOYALTY” it declares. Perks include free check cashing to cover your losses. I’m surprised there isn’t access to a VIP pawn shop.
     The card also came with a $10 credit. I headed to the slot machines. This $10 grubstake was unexpected. I’d point out the echo of drug dealers — your first hit is free — but don’t traffic in the obvious.

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Simple point

    I wonder how many of those Americans who are going on about the supposed colonial nature of the founding of the State of Israel realize that every square inch of the United States was formerly owned by indigenous peoples, before it was stolen or swindled away from them. 
    If not, it was owned by Mexicans. The entire state of Texas, for starters. 
    And I further wonder if they realize, despite the popular expressions of chin music recognizing that fact, such as the plaque at right, at the entrance to the Field Museum, how they would react if the descendants of those cheated Native-American tribes, or else the heirs of those defeated Mexicans, decided they wanted their forebears' land back, and toward that end started randomly slaughtering people, the better to drive their point home.
      How well would that work?  How persuasive would that be? My guess is: not very. A reminder: it's always easy to give somebody else's land away. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Art Institute hopes to broaden its scope

     This has been a good year for me and major museums.
     One glorious day at the Prado in Madrid, including half an hour gazing at Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” which I’d previously only seen as a square inch detail in textbooks. In reality, it’s 12 feet across and almost seven feet high. Then in September, a day at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Four, count ’em, four Vermeers.
     Despite inhaling all this high-octane artwork, it’s always good to come back to Chicago to the Art Institute, a world class institution by any measure. My wife and I are members, which means we can stroll in anytime we like and wander around. And I do, literally if I have an hour to kill and am in the vicinity.
     So I’m trucking into the American wing not long ago, and I notice this little niche, with room for five paintings. Something new.
     “Folk Art and Belonging” announces a sign. The text explains that folk art — also called “vernacular art” — is a wide range of creative endeavors, from handmade jugs to embroidered samplers to amateur portraiture.
     “Museums often present vernacular traditions as separate from the larger histories of art,” it says. “Embracing a more expansive vision of the arts, we are rethinking this approach. ... We likewise plan to reintegrate such artwork throughout the galleries downstairs as part of a major reinstallation in the coming years.”
     Golly. What does THAT mean? “Let’s put a potholder next to this Rembrandt”? Seeking clarity, I emailed the Art Institute and, since they can ... um, how to say this nicely? ... take a while to find their ass with both hands, I also reached out to the Cleveland Museum of Art, as a control.
     Cleveland leapt from the blocks.
     “In the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Strategic Plan, we prioritized diversifying the collection to include more important works by historically underrepresented artists including BIPOC and women artists,” said deputy director and chief curator Heather Lemonedes Brown. “By expanding the scope of our world-class collection, we help all audiences see themselves, as well as discover the culture of others in our galleries.”

To continue reading, click here.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Plumbers at work


     Good design can stop me in my tracks. Like this cute little plumbing truck, spied on Illinois Street last Monday as I was walking from Union Station to Navy Pier — a hike, I know, but I had the time, the weather wasn't bad, and I take my exercise where I find it. 
    When I got home, I checked in with the owner.
     "We've been in business over 30 years," said John Baethke, whose company, founded by his father, is based at Cicero and Addison in Portage Park. "When we started, for 10 years we had a white van with a magnet on the side. Then a white truck with red, white and blue lettering. Probably three years ago, we wanted something a little more unique, a little more attractive and simpler."
      Just as you wouldn't do your own plumbing, so smart plumbers don't do their own graphic design, and Baethke brought in KickCharge Creative, a New Jersey company specializing in "truck wrap designs for home service companies."
    "Through a process of working together, we rebranded together," he said. Now they have 10 of those trucks.
     It was a lucky break for me to catch them downtown.
     "We try not to work in the downtown area," said Baethke. "Difficulty parking." Otherwise, they try to stick to the Northwest side.
     Because they were downtown, where parking is difficult, they sent two men. That's why there was a guy in the truck, Ron, to see they didn't get a ticket while a second plumber was inside. I notice him, but balked at rapping on the window and quizzing him.
       "That's an attractive truck you have there, my good man." Maybe not. 
       But fortune favors the bold, and when I got to the end of the block, I realized I should find out what kind of job they were on. So I doubled back, resolved to do just that. But the truck pulled away, turned left in front of Navy Pier, and was gone.
   Baethke filled me in. "They were looking at a unit being remodeled, checking the plumbing."
   Always smart. Easier to make sure the plumbing is right before the drywall goes in. Spend money to save money. Just as I'm sure getting those graphics on 10 trucks did not come cheap. But neither does good plumbing. Both are a sound investment.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Songs about soldiers

Marilyn Monroe entertains troops in Korea in 1954.

     Today is Veterans Day. Thank you to all the men and women who have worn a uniform in defense of our great country. Your service is greatly appreciated.
     This year, I found myself thinking of entertainers who thanked the troops — perhaps because my mother was a singer with the U.S.O., and went overseas to put on shows for soldiers in Europe in 1952, when she was 16. Flying aboard an Army Super Constellation.
     There are a lot of good songs about soldiers. I thought immediately of slightly before her era, the Andrews Sisters singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B" — "a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way." There is a good version on YouTube with Katie Perry, Keri Hilson and Jennifer Nettles, of all people. My wife loves Cher, so I have to mention the video for "Turn Back Time" shot aboard the U.S.S. Missouri at dock in San Diego. While not necessarily military, we can't forget Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in Uniform."
     Military families also make sacrifices, which often get overlooked. Though musicians take notice, such as the melancholy "Gun Shy" by 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant's half salute, half criticism to her little brother, who had enlisted in the U.S. Army. She recorded it on a cassette and sent it to him in Germany:
I always knew that you would take yourself far from home
As soon as, as far as you could go.
By the 1/4 inch cut of your hair and the Army issue green,
For the past eight weeks I can tell where you've been.
     A lot of people confuse Memorial Day — to honor the military dead— and Veterans Day, to honor the living; so "Billy Don't Be a Hero" wouldn't count, since young William never comes home. Of course some songs do both, like Big & Rich's "8th of November," is about soldiers lost in Vietnam, but focuses on a survivor. The Vietnam era was a confusing time, and some military-themed songs are just obscure, like Neil Young's "Soldier."
     Elton John's "Talking Old Soldiers" captures the struggle of vets growing old alone.  Reservists are sometimes seen as second tier, but Toby Keith's American Soldier gives them their due. Just as most soldiers don't see combat, so most songs involving soldiers skip that experience, though the trippy "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" in the musical Hair doesn't mince words (including the n-word, so be forewarned before you click). And Jacques Brel's queasy "Next" is a reminder that military awfulness isn't confined to battle. 
     That should do — I'm sure I've overlooked some, and feel free to mention them in the comments. I put my flag out yesterday, but if you have one, fly it, and if you know a vet, you might want to give them a call and see how they're doing.