Monday, March 30, 2009

For the Love of a City, Part IV

El Blogometer tells me that my last post was on March 25, and it is now March 30. My how time flies when you're having fun. At any rate, there is news to catch up on. March Madness is down to the Final Four and although I would never have chosen Michigan State or Villanova to be there, there they are, and frankly I watched a bit of the games they played to get to the Final Four. These are two teams that I vastly underestimated. On the other hand, Connecticut and North Carolina, two teams that I chose to be in the Final Four just keep on kicking butt. In the cases of Missouri and Oklahoma, Cinderella lost her slipper, never to be found again. Had to limp home to Columbia and Norman respectively.

In the continuing saga of R.D. vs. Barack Brackets, Barack got only 1 of the Final Four correct and R.D. got 2 correct. That means that I have extended my lead over the President in this Bracket challenge that he has no clue that he is in. Just let it be known that currently our President has picked 39 correctly and has gotten 21 wrong. R.D. has chosen 42 correctly and has gotten 18 wrong. It remains to be seen if my choice or Barack's will take the whole ball of wax. Frankly, I'm rooting for Villanova or Michigan State at this point, and that would mean that neither of us would be correct, but it would still mean that I am more correct than the President. To recap the point, "Economic and international terrorist crises-Barack Obama. Choice of pizza, beer and wine, and sports picks, R.D."

Aside from the chill outside today, it's a perfectly lovely day. The weather took a bit of a nasty turn this weekend. I declared it to be officially Spring a couple of weeks ago, and the Vernal Equinox actually came and went. It has begun a warmup, but blam comes one last gasp of winter. It seems Old Man Winter decided that he was not ready to give up the ghost just yet and we got an inch or two of wet sloppy snow. By Sunday afternoon it had gotten sunny out and most of it melted. There are still a few odd piles left in the shady spots, but I can hear Old Man Winter gasping his last. Tomorrow it will rain and it will be in the 50's. All remaining ice will disappear in time for April Fools Day. It's currently 38 degrees under partly cloudy skies at the Mini.

When last I was here, I was touting the glories of having anything you want delivered, so that you never have to leave home in a real city. Now mind you, I do like to get out of the house on occasion and I have to admit that this "Real City" that we call Chicago has a lot to offer. I'm not talking about the touristy stuff. They can have Navy Pier. Frankly I have never been to the top of the Hancock Building even though I live 3 blocks from it. I have been to the bar that is a couple of floors from the top of the Hancock Building. That's an entirely other matter.

When it comes to bars, Chicago has its share. My father-in-law, on one of his first visits to Chicago after Babs and I moved here, remarked, "A man sure won't go thirsty in this town." Got more bars than a dog's got fleas. We have bars of all kinds. You have your basic neighborhood tavern, just a short walk from home, the kind of place "where everybody knows your name." We have high class joints where the TV stars, the baseball, basketball, and football stars hang out. (Along with all the babes with physical enhancements.) Not really sure where the hockey dudes hang out, but I'm sure we have places where hockey stars hang too. The hockey season lasts a really long time, so I know the Blackhawks are in town a lot, and guys who fight that much absolutely have to do some drinking. You know it. We have music venues. Electric blues was practically invented here. We have comedy venues. Ever heard of Second City? Of course you have. It's a Chicago institution and they sell drinks there. I believe the standard line at that venerable hall of laughs is, "The more you drink, the funnier we are." Then there are bars that fill a nitch. My personal fave is Pops For Champagne. Specializes in champagnes. Has jazz in the basement. Then there is Hopleaf, a bar that specializes in Microbrews and Belgian imports. No jazz there, but Mussels and Frites to die for. Bars? We got em.

Not a drinker. We got art. The Art Institute of Chicago, home of Picassos, Monets, Renoirs, Grant Wood's "American Gothic," Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," and scads of other famous stuff. We have the Museum of Contemporary Art. We have a whole section of downtown with art galleries galore. Then there is the outdoor art, everything from the 50 foot tall Picasso at Daley Plaza to the piece we locals just call, "The Bean," in Millenium Park. Got parks for running, biking, swimming, golfing, tennising, baseballing, soccering, volleyballing, and for grilling with the family. Got free concerts in the park, classical, rock, country, jazz, gospel, and everything in between. Got theater in the park. Got skateboard parks. Got boxing in the park. And then we have Lake Michigan. Beaches, boats, sailboarding, swimming, and sometimes just gazing at it.

Restaurants? We got em. Steak houses. Remember Mike Ditka? Iron Mike? He has a steak house 4 blocks from my residence. Frankly every great sports figure in Chicago history has a restaurant of some sort here. Deep dish pizza? We invented it. Sushi? We got it. Italian? You want traditional Italian-American, Northern or Southern Italian, or any variation you want? We got it. Nice little French Bistro in the building next door to me. Not really crazy about Korean, but we got it. Fusion cuisine? We got it. Brazilian meat palaces? We got it. On and on and on, and you never have to go to a chain restaurant. Got the real thing here. Don't care what somebody told you about Olive Garden, we got the genuine article and it's better. Oh, and if you want you can always just go to a pub and get a burger so thick you have to hold it with two hands (with fries and a beer).

All of that being said, I'm getting a wee bit tired of gushing about the city I love. There's a lot to love here. I think I'll stay. And if every once in a while I get an itch to get out of the city, to do something else, we have two airports, and Wisconsin and Michigan are both within driving distance for biking, hiking, and exploring in the summer, and skiing, skating, and snowshoeing in the winter. Right about now I'm suffering from a little bit of Spring Fever and counting down to a Miami vacation. When that's over, though, I'll be right back here in Streeterville, and loving it. I chose Chicago, and Chicago chose me right back.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

For the Love of a City, Part III

I must admit that this is a bit odd. I don't believe that I have ever written a Part III of anything before. Nevertheless, here it is. I can't really say that it has been a glorious day, but it definitely fits into the "perfectly acceptable" category. It is somewhere in the general vicinity of 47 degrees under cloudy skies at the Mini currently. It was 50 degrees when I arrived in Streeterville from the Outpost, but it's a little later, and a little cooler just now. The view from the 14th floor is tending toward duskish. The lights at Navy Pier have come on. The big Ferris Wheel is blinking its white lights at me and rotating, as it is wont to do.

Yesterday I went on and on about how real cities aren't built around expressways and automobiles, but have sidewalks that are used and public transportation that is, likewise, used. Cabs are available and can be gotten by walking to the curb and putting your hand in the air. Today I'd like to discuss the culinary possibilities of a real city. Now of course there are 4 star restaurants, and every variety of cuisine, from traditional pub food to Ethiopian. There is food that can be had at any hour of the day or night. This is distinctly unlike some countries to remain nameless, where they drive on the left side of the road and speak really funny English. In places like that, it is sometimes the case that they'll tell you that the food is not available just now and if you come back later at an hour when people normally eat, then it will be. Distinctly un-American. What I'm talking about, though, is food that can be obtained from the comfort of your own home, delivery food.

Now in just about any city in this nation, and a great many non-cities, you can get pizza delivered. In a lot of these locations you can get Chinese food delivered to your home as well. In a real city, however, you can get any friggin thing you want delivered, and at just about any hour of the day or night. 9 o'clock in the morning pizza can be a bit dicey, but if you wait until 11 it's doable. Now I have my habits and pizza and Chinese are two of them. Got to have delivery for dinner at least once a week. Sometimes you just don't want pizza or Chinese, though. Sometimes you want Thai food. Cool, scads of Thai delivery locales in a real city. Sometimes you feel like a burger and you don't want Mickey D's or Burger King. You want one of those big fat pub burgers that are about a kazillion calories and always come with fries or onion rings, or sometimes both. Real cities have places that deliver those too. Got a yen for Italian. Somebody delivers. Feel like fried chicken. Somebody delivers.

Now mind you, even in a real city, there are some restaurants that just don't deliver. Not a problem, however. Real cities have delivery services that will go and pick up your order at a restaurant and deliver it to you for a small fee. It does not matter what your heart desires, culinary-wise. It can be delivered to your home. Quite often you don't even have to talk to anybody on the phone. You can order it online and pay for it with a credit card, and the only interaction with real people is when the delivery guy, or girl, shows up with dinner. Sometimes this interaction takes on an international flair, as a great many delivery people are very recent immigrants to this country. Hey, they have a job, so you anti-immigrant people get over it. These guys are working hard out there. Anyway, got a big flat screen TV? Ensconce yourself in front of that puppy and watch to your heart's content. Pig out on some delivery barbecue. Watch endless sports or movies on one (or several) of those 500 digital channels you have. I realize there is a world of entertainment outside of your home in a real city, but sometimes you just need to stay at home and have the world brought to you, sushi, tapas, and all.

That being said, I encourage everyone to get outside of their homes and experience real restaurants as well. In a real city, there are amazing choices. Babs and I went to one last year where we had to get a reservation 6 months in advance. The bill for two, with wine and gratuity, ran in excess of $200. There were no choices on the menu, except to choose between the 3 course and 5 course meal. The chef, on a given day, creates one culinary work of art, and one alone. You eat what is served on that day. It was extraordinary. This life, too, is available when you tire of ordering in and staying at home with the TV.

In Part IV of this little extravaganza, I anticipate discussing the possibilities of stuff to do outside the home. In a real city, the possibilities are endless. Tune in again in a couple of days. I must take a day off tomorrow. Work stuff has come up and must be dealt with. Meanwhile, I believe that is my Thai food order at the door.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For the Love of a City, Part II

I repeat, the spring rains have come. It is currently 60 degrees in Streeterville under cloudy skies, with periods of rain. More of the same tomorrow. The view from the 14th floor is, well, a bit gray. The tour boats and dinner cruise boats have begun coming by on a regular basis. A few police boats go speeding by now and again. It will be a while before the sailboats and jet skis return, even the crazies in the wet suits are not that crazy. The Chicago Sun-Times tells me that the water temperature is currently 40 degrees.

Yesterday I forgot to report on the current sports news, such as it is. I must apologize, a mere oversight I assure you, not a planned slight, for the sports fans in the group out there. At any rate, two full rounds of March Madness have now been completed. Many of the first round upsetters, the so-called Cinderellas have been beaten now. Alas Cinderella very rarely makes it to the Sweet 16. The big guys do. Names like North Carolina and Duke, Memphis and Louisville, Kansas and Connecticut come to mind.

That being said, President Obama, after two complete rounds, has chosen 33 correctly and 19 wrong. R.D.'s Predictor Machine has chosen 37 correctly and has erred on 11. It is early yet, but after two rounds R.D. is in the lead. When you want sports predictions, who ya gonna trust, some guy who graduated at the head of his class at Harvard Law, or a guy with a Master's Degree from Northeastern Illinois University? I think we all know the answer to that one. World affairs and economics? Obama. Sports picks or a bowling partner. R.D., or for that matter someone to shoot 8 ball with. We all have our strengths. And for that matter, Babs has one more correct NCAA pick than Barry Baby, and she's a girl for goodness sakes!

How I do digress. I believe that when I left you yesterday, I was in the throes of telling all about why I love cities, and what it is that makes a city "a real city, and what it is about that that I love. Let me just say here and now, the first requirement for a real city is sidewalks, and not just sidewalks, but sidewalks that are used. I have been to Dallas, Texas, and by all definitions that take into account population, Dallas is a city. Dallas is not a real city. There are way too many places in Dallas where there are no sidewalks, and in those places where there are actually sidewalks, no one uses them. Everyone drives everywhere. That's not a city. That's an overgrown suburb. That's why many of us from places like Chicago do not consider Los Angeles a real city. It may have more people than Chicago, but who walks? The R.D. Department of Made Up Statistics tells me that there are 3 cars for every single citizen of Los Angeles, and none of them have a clue how to parallel park. I challenge any of them to a "Park Off," where you have to drive around the central business district of a major city (a real city) and find a parking place, and then parallel park your car within certain time constraints.

Real cities have a viable public transportation system, as well. I'm not so fond of riding the bus, but I will when I have to. Lots of people in suits do it every day, not just poor people (Can you say minorities?) like in those overgrown suburbs. Actually I like riding El trains and subways. It's a real city experience. Oh and when every seat in the train is taken but one, and there are a lot of people standing, don't even think about sitting there. That dude in the next seat is going to be a problem. Smelly? Maybe. Crazy? Likely. Just a part of the real city experience. And don't play 3 card Monte with the scam artist. You can't win. Anyway, in a real city you don't have to own a car if you don't want to. You can get anywhere you want on inexpensive public transport and if you're in a hurry or feeling snooty just walk out to the curb and put your hand in the air. A cab will be there shortly. In a cab you usually get a little social enrichment as well, by being introduced to different cultures. Most cabbies aren't from this country.

I once knew a person in Chicago whose mantra was, "If you have to go beyond Western Avenue, it's not worth going there, so don't." I believe the translation is, "If you have to go someplace where you have to drive to get there, you're way too far from the center of the city and you're in a cultural desert. Don't bother." I've sometimes heard a version of this that includes some of the inner suburbs and goes, "If I have to go past Mannheim Road, I don't go." That's a more liberal interpretation, and allows for some expressway driving. Frankly, I'll go to work on an expressway, but most places I prefer to go are within walking distance. If I can't walk there, it's probably not worth going there.

That just about covers the transportation requirements of a real city. Tomorrow we'll consider other aspects of "The Real City." I hear President Obama on the TV that was just turned on, and I don't believe he is talking about his bracket predictions in the NCAA tournament, so maybe I should listen to him. Later on.

Monday, March 23, 2009

For the Love of a City, Part I

The spring rains have come. While it is not raining at the moment, it was raining when I drove to work this morning and it is forecast to rain some more tonight and tomorrow. Furthermore, that early spring, cooler by the lake thing is in full effect. It was 58 degrees at The Outpost this afternoon, but in Streeterville it was 48 degrees at the Mini, under overcast skies. We anxiously await a shifting of the winds to the West, so as to defeat some of the lake cooling.

I grew up in a suburb of Little Rock, Arkansas. It had a population of about 20,000 people, existed right on a freeway, and like many such places, had no real downtown. Downtown had been destroyed by the freeway, and resulting suburbification. We had an Air Force Base, a few factories and warehouses, shopping malls with big honking parking lots, and strip malls galore. I like to tell people that I grew up in a suburb like any other suburb in America. We just did it with a Southern accent.

People I grew up with reacted to this upbringing in surprisingly different ways. Some people opted to stick around. Some people went looking for a better life. A better life can mean a great many things. I have friends who decided they liked life in the country and, in Arkansas, this usually means moving to the Ozarks. Some lasted and stayed in the country. Some didn't adapt really well and moved back to the Little Rock area. Some went looking for a better life via a better job and moved to larger cities elsewhere. Some of those couldn't hack it and moved back to the Little Rock area. Some stayed away. If you're from Arkansas, this usually means moving to Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Memphis, or some other Southern locale. I was the odd one. I headed north, to really big cities.

It is true that before I landed in Chicago I lived in a couple of medium-sized cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Austin, Texas, and then in Minneapolis again. Texas didn't agree with me. Then when I was once again in Minneapolis, it became really apparent that it wasn't quite big enough to hold me. Minneapolis is one of those cities that small town people hype as being a big city, "with a small town feel to it." Chicago was the next stop. Chicago has proven to be a real city, in my estimation. It has everything a city needs.

Still, Babs and I (We got toether in Minneapolis, and both of us proved to have a penchant for larger cities. We moved to Chicago together.) seriously considered a move to Manhattan. Babs was being considered as the Communications Director for a Think Tank. I went so far as to get myself certified as a teacher, and school administrator in the State of New York. I interviewed for a couple of jobs. I was offered a job in Harlem. We looked at real estate. People we met either lived in Brooklyn, or on Long Island, and they all commuted to Manhattan. We considered it. As it turns out, the money wasn't good enough to warrant a move to Manhattan. We already lived in a neighborhood in Chicago that is very Brooklyn-like. If we couldn't afford a move to Manhattan, it wasn't worth it. We came back to Chicago and regrouped and moved from the neighborhood to downtown, to Streeterville, to the 14th floor in a Mies Van der Rohe building on the National Historic Registry. We have our city experience, just not in Manhattan, and we love it here.

The suburbs do not hold an appeal for us. The country is a nice place to visit. Wouldn't want to live there. The question is, "What is it about a large city that draws us to it? What is it that makes a city large enough? What is it about a large enough city that makes it liveable and satisfying?" That is a very large question. Part II of this tale will appear here tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Born With a Plastic Spoon in My Mouth

It's been a reasonably pleasant day in Streeterville, albeit a little cool. The wind shifted to the East on the back side of a weather system and the wind off the lake dropped the air temperatures to somewhere near the water temperature. (Cooler by the lake.) It's currently 43 degrees under partly cloudy skies at the Mini. Needless to say, I went to the gym and ran indoors this afternoon, rather than go to the lakefront and run in the wind off the water. Another day.

In other news from the 14th floor, the water is beginning to take on that warm weather look, although the wind off the lake and the lake water/air temperature differential is producing a haze out on the lake. In sports news, after one full round of March Madness, President Obama got 19 picks correct and 13 wrong. The R.D. Prediction Machine got 24 correct and 8 wrong. On the other hand Barry Baby got elected President and I got elected to continue teaching history in the Chicago Public Schools. He doesn't have to be able to pick winners in the tournament or bowl worth a damn for that matter. He just has to be what was once known as the leader of the "Free World," now known as the "Heavily in Debt to the Chinese World."

Babs and I were talking just the other day and she brought up an interesting point about the state of our economy. What it was was basic truisms. They go as follows: #1 If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. #2 If you can't afford it, don't buy it. These are basic axioms that ring true for our entire country.

It seems that our entire country has been on a binge of spending and buying, and convincing itself that things that can't possibly be true, actually are. The really sad thing is that a great deal of the world has bought into the American vision of reality, and consequently when the American economy went down the tubes, so did Europe, Japan, and all the rest of the industrialized world. Forget the 3rd world. They always have been in dire straits. They still are.

The point is that a group of wealthy, powerful people have behaved like low-class con-men and convinced huge numbers of people, who should have known better, that something that seemed too good to be true was possible. We could all own nice houses, nice cars, that we could all have the good life, without the necessary hard work and sacrifices it takes to get those things. Those white collar con-men have absconded with the cash, in the same way that all con-men do, leaving the victims to pick up the pieces and suffer the consequences. It's time that we all realized that you can't get something for nothing and when it seems too good to be true it is.

This leads us to the second point, "If you can't afford it, don't buy it." There are now, and always have been people who profit from the foolishness of those who think they can somehow figure a way to have something they cannot realistically afford. They are banks. They are shysters. They are repo men. We are a society, and to a large degree, a whole industrialized world that has been living beyond our means. Now the bill has come due, and it's not just the poor foolish men and women who want what the folks on the hill have. It's all of us. It's whole societies that have been living on plastic and promises. The plastic has crumbled and the promises are echoing false now. It's the time for the repo man, but there are not repo men for whole countries, for the whole of the industrialized world. Who would buy a used country, a used concept that has seen its better days. It has all come to a screeching halt, and now the best and the brightest are trying to find a way out.

Some of us who lived a little more wisely than others, who realized the value of hard work, and who remembered those two little maxims are doing better than others. Some nations are doing a little better than others, but we will all be struggling for a while to fix the problem. It will not be repaired overnight. The solution will require hard work. The solution will require us all to tighten our belts a little. It will require us to do our best to convince a world in denial of the truth of those two little maxims. Now if we can only bring some of the most culpable to justice, to make them bear the responsibility for duping huge numbers of people and hiding their ill-gotten gain in off-shore accounts. It might not even make things better in our faltering economies, but it would sure as hell make some of us feel better to see them getting their come-uppance.

Just make it your mantra when it seems overwhelming and you start to wish too hard for things to come more easily than they really do. "If it seems too good to be true. It is. If you can't afford it, don't buy it." These are not revolutionary concepts. They're just the honest, down to earth realistic truths of sensible people who work hard for everything they have, because that's how most of us actually get anything. Most of us were born with plastic spoons in our mouths, not silver ones.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Vernal Equinoxes and March Madness

Welcome to a special TGIF/Vernal Equinox Edition of Views. It's not been a bad day, although perhaps a bit on the cool side for the First Official Day of Spring. It's 39 degrees under partly cloudy skies at the Mini.

More important than the Vernal Equinox at this juncture is the arrival of March Madness. There are certain things in life that our culture demands of us as guys in America. Guys get to take out the trash. Guys get to change the light bulbs. Guys get to take care of getting the oil changed in the car. Guys have to know how to predict winners in the NCAA tournament.

In the larger sense, guys are expected to be able to discuss all sports with a degree of knowledge and interest. Some actually care about this stuff. Some just read the sports page daily so they have stuff to talk about with other guys. I actually care about some of it. Other stuff falls in the category of stuff I just read on the sports page. I haven't a clue about soccer or hockey, but I know the records of local teams and how they're doing at any given time. A Croatian friend actually took me to a soccer game once. It was an experience. I still don't get it. Thank God I don't know anyone who's into cricket.

As for hockey, I grew up in the South. I was never on ice skates until I was 40 years old. I lived in Minneapolis for a while and had to fake it in bars where the locals were watching it. Never yet been to a game. A friend that I run with keeps trying to give me tickets to hockey games or take me to hockey games. I may have to go yet, just for the experience, so I can check one more thing off the list. Between you and I, I think I'd rather go watch Australians play rugby. That looks like fun. I kind of get what a scrum is.

Back to the NCAA Tournament though. I followed pro basketball during the Michael Jordan years. It was fun. The home town team was always winning. Jordan was amazing. After he retired I tried to watch the Bulls for a while and found after a while that I just couldn't. They were and still are very mediocre. Once a year to watch the best college guys in the country,though, that's fun. I actually like it. I printed out a bracket this year and filled it in with my predictions.

This year there is one more little added plus. The President of the U.S. is a basketball fan. President Obama filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket. He's a real guy, like the rest of us. OK, he can't bowl for shit. That just raises his stock in my eyes. I know I'm better than this Harvard grad at something. I wouldn't actually go so far as to play basketball with him. I hear he's actually pretty good. I will put my basketball fan prediction abilities up against his, however, and his bracket is printed online for all to see.

Half the guys in the country are currently in a predict off with the Prez. It makes him real to us. It's kind of fun. Do you know more about something than the most powerful man on the face of the planet? I think I do and after Day 1 of the tournament the result is. R.D. Ray has more correct choices than Barack Obama. Woooooo! Hooooo! North Carolina win the whole shooting match. Not in your dreams Barry Baby. We're gonna see about that one.

Of course, when it comes to rescuing the country's economy and bringing an end to war in the Middle East, I'd put my money on Obama. R.D. may be good, but not that good. Now if I could just get Obama to put a couple of bucks on his picks to back up that bracket he set up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Life and Death and In Between

Alas the normalcy of this time of year is here, 49 degrees under cloudy skies that are trying to allow a peek of sunlight at the Mini. The view from the 14th floor is at least momentarily pleasant. A break in the clouds has allowed the sun to remind me of the blue color of the lake, instead of a reflection of gray. On the other hand, Larry the Doorman was in an up mood this afternoon. Larry reminded me that it's only 3 days until the Vernal Equinox. His enthusiasm was positively infectious. Too bad he didn't know that I had already, in these pages, declared it officially spring several days ago.

I found out today that a good friend has prostate cancer. While they caught it at an early stage and they are very certain that they can excise all of the cancerous growth, other issues beckon. In the aftermath there may be impotence and incontinence, at least for a while. Considering the possibilities with cancer, that may not sound so bad. He'll still be alive and active, but the quality of life will not be the same.

When aging relatives began to have issues related to getting old, it never really bothered me. This, however, is another issue. This is a friend, an artist, a person I talk to about ideas and have drinks with, a person who's not supposed to get old and suffer from those issues that grandfathers and fathers and aunts and uncles suffer from. This shoves the issue in my face that I too am getting older. What if Mr. Marathon Runner, Mr. Looks Good For His Age, suddenly went in for that checkup and found out that something fatal was oozing through his system? Damn, is that depressing or what?

Babs is eleven years younger than I and she constantly has fantasies regarding health issues and death. They never are about her. They are all about me, and I'm generally dead. Her fantasies about herself usually include severely reduced income and her living alone in an apartment with a skinny German Shepherd, maybe sharing the canned dog food with Rover. I hate knowing that she is thinking about post-Rex life, but the thing I hate the most is the logic behind it. Being eleven years older, I will most likely go before her, and I want to keep that at bay as long as I possibly can.

Facing one's own mortality sucks. It seems like only yesterday that we were all twenty something and life was forever. Now at age 58 I feel like the same person, but logically I know that there is less life left than has already been lived. Some people seek refuge in religion and it's promise of an after-life. I only wish it were that easy. My logic leads me to other conclusions. Better get all I can out of this go round. Won't be anything more. It leads me to Dylan Thomas, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light...." What a pisser! All too soon we'll all be dust and the echos of our existence will be tiny little ripples on the waters that will be gone, gone, gone.

I find that I am not yet ready to make peace with my short lifespan, and ready myself to give it all up. I still have a great many things I want to do. I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up. I have a feeling that a great many of us arrive at this point. Is anyone ever ready to get old? Is anyone ever ready to finally give it up and die? No time is ever the right time. I suppose the thing I'll do is just keep on keeping on as I always have and finally when the time comes that the body won't do it any more, I'll just go while I'm in the middle of yet one more unfinished project.

In the meantime, this is all about me, and I have a friend who is facing these issues a great deal more seriously than I. He has cancer. We can do our best to put on a happy face and try to be supportive, but when we go away he will still have to face reality, and we can go home to our non-cancerous lives and forget about it until one day something equally dire sticks its ugly maw in our faces. I wish I had something clever, something profound and enlightening to say here, but the truth of the matter is that we're all very centered around ourselves and life is short and that sucks. Don't dilly-dally. Try to get the most you can out of life while it's here, and do try your very best to care about others. They need you, as you need them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ode to the Promised Land or Sunny Days in March

A lovelier mid-March day there cannot be. It's 75 degrees under cloudless blue skies at the Mini. Navy Pier is bathed in afternoon sunlight and there is not a trace of ice to be seen on the lake. It was a great afternoon for a run so Babs and I ventured into the great outdoors, that is the lakefront in Chicago.

Along the way from our front door, albeit revolving as it is, we encoutered not one, but two weary pilgrims seeking entrance to the promised land that is the lakefront running path. That is to say that two dudes, one business guy from Southern California, and another from Vancouver, Canuckland were marveling at how lovely it can be in Chicago and wanted to know how in the heck to get across to the other side of Lake Shore Drive. Trying to get across eight lanes of traffic at highway speeds during rush hour can, after all, be a bit dicey.

Babs and I, in all our leading the pilgrims to the promised land glory, said a few incantations, and gestured to the heavens (Must please the gods of sunny day running, mustn't we?), and told them "Come with us. That's where we're going." I began to feel a bit like Dorothy collecting lions, tin men, and scarecrows at some point. Every few feet it seemed like we picked up a new member of the crew. Sadly no Toto, but then there were no witches either, good or wicked.

One traffic light and one tunnel under the drive later we arrived at the promised land. It was a great evening on the path, with runners, bikers, and roller bladers by the dozens? scores? hundreds? Who the heck knows? There were a bunch of people out there. There were people at the beach with their dogs. There were the nerdy hacky sack guys, who look like University of Chicago students trying to be cool. The jugglers were there with their balls, and whatever you call those things that look like bowling pins that they juggle. Better yet, the TV crews were there in their trucks with the big antennae on the top. "Hey dude. Where do you think we can find some news in this big honking mobile unit?"..."Duh, at the beach. Let's go."

Usually at this time of year, the only place a runner can get some drinking water is at what, in Chicago running, is known as the "Horse Trough." It used to be an actual horse trough, but since virtually no actual horses are found in Lincoln Park these days, it serves as a year round source of running water for exercise junkies. They took out the original horse trough and the Chicago Area Runners Association put in one that looks like a horse trough for the runners, along with a statue of a foot next to it. Anyway, for some reason the Chicago Park District has seen fit to turn on the water fountains early this year, abeit running constantly so they don't freeze up overnight when the temperature dips. Then they have also opened the restrooms at the North Ave. Boathouse surprisingly. I've seen years when they didn't do that until Memorial Day.

Anyway, it's March. The sun is shining. It's 75 degrees (Fahrenheit). The water is on. The restrooms are open. The TV crews, and runners and bikers, and roller bladers and assorted hanger outers are all at the lake. Life is good in the promised land today.

In the cold weather months there are always people at the lake, crazy suckers that they are, but in much smaller numbers. The wind blows off the lake and you start to wonder why it is that you live in this city, in this locale. Then a day like today comes along and it all comes back to you. There's no other place quite like Chicago. Somewhere back there in the late 19th and early 20th century the city fathers decided not to allow commercial development along the lakefront. It's all park land from Rogers Park on the North to Hyde Park in the South. When the weather is right, the water is beautiful, and the lakefront is the city's playground. Rich and poor and in between, we live here, we share the lakefront, the great equalizer, the jewel of the City of Chicago.

I live on the lakefront in downtown, so I see a lot of out of towners, from all over the country, from all over the world. An awful lot of them want to know how to get to the promised land, and I'm always happy to show them the way to the lake. I especially feel pride when those out of towners are from places people regularly covet, Southern California, or even Vancouver, British Columbia. When I show them what this city has to offer and they are wowed, I feel a sense of pride. I know I found the promised land when I landed here. I am awed still, after 23 years.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dissimilarity and the Need for Friends

It's another lovely day in Streeterville. The Mini tells me that it was 59 degrees at the Outpost, and it's 49 degrees at the lakefront. The view from the 14th floor doesn't give a damn. It's blue above and blue below as well. The afternoon shadows of the high rises are taking hold on the lake. No reason for complaints at all.

It's that time of the year in Chicago when it's as they say, "cooler by the lake." If you're thinking literally, then damned straight it's cooler by the lake, 10 degrees cooler. If you're thinking figuratively, then hey it's always cooler by the lake, to the nth degree. Wouldn't live anywhere else.

An old roommate recently found me on Facebook. He was a roommate in college and for a while post-college, before our life paths sent us in different directions. We once had an act we performed at parties, and anywhere anyone would let us. I couldn't play guitar, but I could sing. He could play guitar and his singing was suspect. Eventually our musical tastes directed him to people with more similar tastes and I somehow became an actor. He stuck around the old home town, and I left the state to attend grad school. He's still there and several cities, locales, and umpteen thousands of miles later I have found myself a home in Chicago.

Sometimes it's a wonder how we find our friends. Kit and I obviously had very little in common. He had a love for the country and big dogs. I had a love for great big cities and I loathe dogs. I've had cats my entire life. He had a love for country and folk music. I have a love for rock, blues, and jazz. We could not be more dissimilar and yet we became fast friends. And he reached out and found me via the internet 30 years since we last talked.

When Kit asked to friend me on Facebook, I went to his Facebook page and found that he had exactly one friend, besides me. He had no photo posted. I felt a little sad for him, but why? He gave me an e-mail address that was the e-mail address for a band he was playing in when I left the state over 30 years ago, and he asked for my e-mail address so he could send me something. I sent the guy an e-mail and waited. I don't think he has a photo posted on Facebook yet, and he didn't send an e-mail for a week or so.

Finally this past weekend I received three e-mails from Kit. There was no text in these e-mails, just 3 MP3 files sent as e-mail attachments. I downloaded the attachments and transferred them to a CD. Today I listened to the CD. It was Kit, the Kit I know, the side of him that everybody loves, the musician. After 30 years, his guitar playing is a bit more refined, a lot of the music is instrumental, and the songs with lyrics, well they're a lot better than they used to be 30 years ago. He's learned to work with the voice he has. The lyrics are a bit more refined. I couldn't help feeling, though, that some of the instrumental pieces were crying out for some lyrics. But then again, that's just me. My life is chock full of words. His is chock full of music.

Today I got an e-mail from Kit and it was one short paragraph. It said something about there being a great many changes in the last 30 years and he had sent me some music, and he'd never been much of a writer. He told me that, "I usually prefer to talk face to face or ear to ear, but I'm getting the hang of this e-mail and texting. Got to go now." And that was the end of the e-mail. I had to laugh.

I have a life where a great deal of my communication is electronic. I write and I write. When I started this blog, I was told to keep it short. It turns out that I'm not very good at that. Words R us. I hold 4 separate e-mail accounts for different purposes and to interact with different categories of people, businesses, etc. When I encounter new people to interact with I always go through a categorization process where I decide which account to assign them to.

Here I am this guy who lives and dies by the written word, and my old friend Kit can't find a way to write more than a paragraph. He sends me an album length MP3 file, however. It's what's important to him and so he masters the technology, as we all do. When I look at my friends over the years, I find that a great many of them are quite dissimilar to myself. I wonder why and the answer that comes to me is that we all need friends. Friendship is not about being alike as much as it is about acceptance. If you can accept me and I can accept you, then we can be friends and God we'll have a lot to talk about. Now if I can only get Kit to talk to me in some way other than his music, and hope he masters e-mail. It's so much cheaper than phone calls and traveling the hundreds of miles that separate us.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

There's Always Someone Better

It's a lovely afternoon in Streeterville, 48 degrees at the Mini, under clear blue skies. The lake is calm and Navy Pier is bathed in the afternoon's pale yellow sunlight. The Chicago River was dyed green today and the streets are awash in seas of American youth dressed in green and drunk on everything from green beer to things known as Irish Car Bombs.

I went running with my Saturday group at 8 AM this morning, and I was reminded of one of life's great lessons. There is always someone better. I sometimes go out for runs with my training group and feel a little bit smug. I started running shortly after I turned 50 because I woke up one morning and got on the scale. To my horror I realized I weighed 220 pounds. I knew it was time to do something.

When I started running I could barely run around the block. Soon, however, I was running 3 miles and then 4 miles. The weight began to drop off. I was encouraged. I upped the mileage. I upped the length of time I would be out running. I upped the number of days per week that I was running. Pretty soon I was running 25 or so miles per week.

It was at this point that someone noted all the miles I was logging and suggested that maybe I should run a race. I was flabbergasted. Me? A race? I was a former smoker. I was a certified intellectual anti-jock sort of guy. I signed up for a race. I went out and ran a 10K race at a time when I had never actually run 6 miles before in my life. I was hooked. I just knew that I could run it faster, so I signed up for a 10K training program to see if they could teach me anything that would make me faster.

That fall I took 2 minutes off my 10K time, and I took 3rd place in my age group at that race. I got a bronze medal in the mail. The next spring I didn't know if I were capable of running a marathon (26.2 miles is daunting.) so I signed up for a Half Marathon Training Program. I strained a calf muscle 7 miles into the race and limped 10 minute miles for the remaining 6.1 miles and still finished in 1:58 for the entire 13.1 miles. I felt pretty good. I took some ibuprofen and signed on for Marathon Training. That fall I finished the Chicago Marathon in 4:21, a respectable finish for a 53 year old novice marathoner.

The rest is history. I became a regular runner. I dropped my weight from 220 pounds to 192 pounds, a net loss of 28 pounds. I had to buy a new wardrobe because all of my old clothes were too big now. Quite an inspirational story to repeat to scores of newbie runners who I signed on to train for half marathons and marathons as a pace group leader. Then I was chatting with a friend during our run this morning, and mentioned my fat to less than fat transition. When he heard what I said he said, "I did the same thing. I used to weigh 360 pounds. I got down to 188 pounds at one point. I got to where I could run 6:30 minutes per mile. I ran a 10K in 39 minutes. I was proudest when I lost so much weight that I began to see the actual shape of my face again. It wasn't lost in the roundness of the fat anymore."

This was one more in a long line of life's humbling experiences. I was out there feeling pretty damned proud of myself and my accomplishments. I lost 28 pounds. I ran a marathon. I won a few age group medals. Meanwhile, this guy had gotten to the point usually referred to as morbidly obese, and managed to lose half of his entire body weight. He lost over 170 pounds, and ran races at a pace I can only dream about. Holy cow! Knocked all the smug right out of me.

There's always someone better, no matter how good you are. This is a lesson everyone needs to recognize. It is harder for some than others, egos being what they are. For some it is total heartbreak. The thing we can take from it is to recognize that whatever you did, if you gave it your all, you should still be proud of yourself. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a season. Roger Maris hit 62, and he did it without use of steroids. What Babe Ruth did was still an amazing feat. Tim Christopher lost 170 pounds and ran a 10K a full 10 minutes faster than any I, personally, have been able to run. Still, I lost 28 pounds, ran a marathon, and have won medals for finishing in the top 3 in my age group 4 separate times, 3 bronze, 1 silver medal. It pales compared to Tim's accomplishment, but I have given it my all, and I think I can still feel proud of myself. I just need to lose the smug.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring Has Sprung

It's a partly cloudy Friday the 13th edition of Views today. It was 44 degrees at the outpost and is currently 40 degrees in Streeterville. This is unquestionably better than the previous two days when winter decided to let us know that it is not spring yet. This, in spite of the fact that I saw my first crocuses up and bloomed earlier this week. It's not the Ides of March yet. The river hasn't been dyed green yet. Still, looking outside at the lake just now one could believe that spring is imminent.

Of course this begs the question, "What is spring anyway?" I know that the Vernal Equinox is coming up on March 21. That's just a little over a week away. Then the hours of sunlight will overtake the hours of darkness, and the warmth will slowly crank itself up to a reasonably toasty temp. Right now it's just the longer days and a few assorted crocuses popping up, though. It's still cold out.

When I go to meet people for my group run on Saturday mornings, it's undeniably winter just yet. People are still dressed in long running gear, long-sleeved tops, and with hats and gloves. Two weeks ago, it took me 10 minutes of running to be able to feel my fingers. This was definitely not spring.

To tell you the truth, spring in Chicago has never come very early, at least not close to the lake. In my memory, it usually stays in the 50's because of the cold water temperatures, and then suddenly one day we wake up and Mother Nature has flipped the switch to 80+. This happens in early June. Winter straight to summer. No in between.

Is spring just the lengthening of the days, and a slow rising of our spirits. Is it crocuses and tulips coming up because at least it's gotten warm enough to melt the snow. Is it an artificial designation that we reach after the big binge that is St. Patrick's Day? Is it spring because the schools have had a week off to recuperate and ready themselves for the final push until June?

I suppose it's possible that my perceptions of spring are unrealistic, biased by a Southern upbringing where it was 75 degrees in early spring, 80 degrees in late spring, before giving way to full-blown heat of summer. Then again, there were the Minneapolis years where it always snowed one really big wet last snow in April and where people put on shorts and t-shirts if it got above 50 degrees. That was spring for them, warm enough to melt the snow, and no mosquitos yet.

Considering all of that, it appears then that spring is just a state of mind. Spring is as different from location to location as is the difference between dusk and dark, German and Dutch, English and American, white and dark get it, gradations. One thing I find is universal, though. No matter where you are and what springtime means locally, everyone gets tired of winter. Everyone starts looking forward to more moderate temperatures and longer days, to those late afternoons where you can sit outside and enjoy the yellowish slanting sunlight.

With all of that in mind, and recognizing that spring, more than a designation on a calendar, is a state of mind, I hereby declare it Spring 2009. The doggone crocuses have come up. It was in the 40's this afternoon, not the 20's. It's after 5 PM and the sun is still shining. It's a wonderful Friday afternoon, and there is no more ice on the lake. I spotted the first dinner cruise ship of Spring the other night. Robins be damned. What do birds know? That's why they call them bird brains. Happy Spring to you. Just be sure to wear a coat for a while yet. It's March, not June.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Sailor I Never Was

Life sometimes takes odd turns and gets in the way of things like posting blogs, so it's been a couple of days. Babs had her manuscript ready to be copied and FedExed off to New York one day, so we went and copied it and sent off copies to New York to her editor at Random House, to her agent in New Jersey, to her co-author in Oregon, and of course copies to her sister and mother in Iowa. I suddenly hear strains of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show in my head, "Gonna send 5 copies to my mother...." It was unreal after a year and a half ordeal for "The Book" to be finished so we went to a bar and had wine and hors d'oeuvres. As it turns out we wandered in on 1/2 price bottle of wine night and it was a reasonably inexpensive celebration.

Yesterday I was just late getting home from work and had to go to the gym to work out. By the time I got home it was time for dinner, and then it was late, and well another day gone. I do try to be daily in my writing so I have to apologize to myself for missing.

It's the second day of an early March cold snap today, 25 degrees at the Mini under mostly cloudy, somewhat windy skies. Tomorrow it's supposed to warm up a bit and more so on Saturday. All of the ice is finally gone from the lake, so I'm actually looking at water of a blue color out in the deep water. Closer to the shore, inside the concrete barrier, and consequently in shallower water the wind and waves make it a bit murkier. It still bodes well for the near future, however. The tour boats will be back soon, and in a little longer while the sailboats will be back. Hold that thought. It's warming.

It's funny how things develop in your life. As a child, my family didn't have much money and none of my relatives had any either, so we didn't do boat things. Boat things are expensive. I had one uncle with a small ski boat, but we didn't like him much, so we didn't ride in the ski boat, or ski often. I remember, exactly once on the boat. Then too,as it happens, I chose to play Little League Baseball instead of going to swimming lessons at the pool so I didn't learn to swim, and when any boating opportunities came along I never was never very hot on such activities.

As an adult I finally learned to swim when I was in my 40's. I was teaching on the island of Guam and friends took us snorkeling. I put on a mask and took one look under that clear blue water in the tropics and I was hooked. Babs wouldn't let me even think about it until I learned to swim. I would come home from work every afternoon and we would go to the pool in the complex where I lived for swimming lessons. Babs grew up with a swimming pool in her back yard and was once a competitive swimmer, as was her mother. Part of the family history is that Babs's mother and her two sisters and herself taught nearly an entire town of 1000 people in Northern Iowa to swim. She was Red Cross certified and quite adequate as a swimming instructor. I was not just taught to swim. I had to learn to tread water. I had to learn to dive. As I recall Babs held up a broomstick and I had to go over it in perfect form for my dive. No belly flops here.

Then I was allowed to go snorkeling and snorkeling we did. In Guam, in Yap, In Palau, in Saipan, in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand. With all of this water, you'd think boats would come into the picture too. Not so. As it turns out, Babs gets motion sickness. No boats for her. A friend in Chicago restored a 1950's vintage wooden sailboat and invited us out for a sail on Lake Michigan. Babs got sick and the trip got cut short. Babs worked as a journalist and she was hired to write a piece about this Japanese sail training outfit that gets people to pay them for trips on their 3 masted briggantine and teaches them how to sail it. Babs got sick, but she couldn't get off the boat. She puked for days and still had to write the article about what a wonderful thing learning to sail is. Swimming, yes. Boats, no.

I could list the times Babs has had to go on boats of one sort or another and the times she has been sick as a result. Ferry across the English Channel. Check. Ferry from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi. Check. Don't get me started on canoes and sea kayaks. That's another issue as well. Anyway, it's a lock, Babs and I don't do boats and frankly I don't miss them. I'm just not a big water kind of guy, except for the occasional snorkeling excursion. Life directed me in such a way that I went in other directions. As life turned out, I hooked up with a love of my life who doesn't do boats either, for a whole other reason. Still, they're really lovely to watch on the lake in the summertime, when the water is aqua, and the sky is blue, and the sails are white and full of wind.

Monday, March 9, 2009

You Can't Escape Your Past

It's another dreary early March day in Streeterville, 38 degrees and overcast at the Mini. the water movement in the lake continues to herd all the leftover chunks of ice toward the shore to die like a pod of whales playing follow the leader to their deaths on the beach. Today the little oval ice chunks that look like white corpuscles are back, all huddled against the shore and one another. The icepuscles are gathered attempting to fight the warmth, and fighting a losing battle.

As it happens I have re-invented myself several times in my life. I enjoy being able to do that. It allows me to grow, to change, to move on, to experience new things in life without having to recycle the same old experiences with all the same people.

When I was really young, I only knew my family and immediate relatives. They knew me as this kid who was precocious, really picky in his eating habits, and very strong-willed. I went off to school and when I began to interact with other kids and saw what they were like, I re-invented myself for them and for the teachers. I became the smart kid, but I learned how to be cool as well. I learned how to be popular. I was one person at home. I was another at school.

When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a typewriter and a suitcase for graduation. I suppose it was because they knew I was going away to college soon, but I always preferred to tell it as "They gave me a typewriter and a suitcase, so I took the hint and I left." I went away to college and away from both family and childhood friends at school, I became someone else entirely. Everyone at home knew me as that kid who won a scholarship and was in all probability going to be successful. I became a radical intellectual. I became a hippie.

When I got out of college, there was a bit of a college hangover, but I re-invented myself again. I became an actor. I became the struggling artist. I went off to graduate school on the intellectual part of my being, but I ended up in an improv company and became one of those guys with a day job and a calling that took up all his spare time at night. I had left the state of my birth. I had left all that people back home knew of me. I lost my Southern accent.

The starving artist version of me lasted for a number of years, but in 1985 I met Babs and our lives intertwined. We came to Chicago. The acting gig led to a certain pride in many things I'd done, but it never led to riches. I re-invented myself. I went back to school. I became an educator. I took a job overseas in Guam. Babs re-invented herself as a journalist. We re-invented ourselves as world travelers. We saw Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and scads of islands in the Pacific Rim. We returned to Chicago wiser and more experienced.

Babs re-invented herself as an editor, as a writer who makes academic prose understandable to ordinary citizens. Now she is on the verge of re-inventing herself as an author. I re-invented myself as a guy who runs marathons, who plays guitar, and writes songs. Babs and I separated ourselves from a great many of our friends and re-invented ourselves as downtown people, living in a high-rise on the lakefront, just down the street from Oprah. Now I am on the verge of another renewal with my writing, and suddenly the past came calling at my door,....via Facebook and the internet in general. I have been tracked down by my past.

Most of us change over time. We move from place to place. We change our mode of dress. We change our hair. We change what we do. We begin to think that we have left it all behind, and then it all finds us once again. People from another era friend you on Facebook. People from another era find your e-mail address. People from high school find you. People from college find you. Old girlfriends, ex-wives, old roommates, oh and relatives. It's then you realize that you haven't really re-invented yourself at all. What you have done is build layer upon layer through years and years of life experiences. Through all that processing, what comes out at the end of the tube may look entirely different than it did when it went in at the other end, or than it did at various places in transit, but it's all just you.

You cannot escape who you are, and all of those permutations from the past are just as legitimate as the current new, improved version. All of those people from the past own a piece of who you are and it is impossible to just divest yourself of them. They helped make the current you. The question is, "How can you make them a part of your current life, without resorting to living in the past?" I guess you let them know who you currently are and if they can accept you on those terms you become new friends, if not, you reminisce for a brief moment and move on.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Replacement Parts for People

It's been an odd day in Streeterville. At one point there was fog so dense that I couldn't see the lake from the 14th floor perch on the other side of the street. Then there were thunderstorms with lightning. Then it rained really, really hard, the kind of hard rain my father would have called "a real gully washer." It's currently 50 degrees under cloudy skies at the Mini.

I've been looking at the state of the lake, now that I can see it and the water movement seems to have herded all of the loose chunks of ice floating around to a place in the little artificial bay formed by the shore, concrete barriers on two sides and the little jut of land that holds the water treatment plant and Navy Pier. There is a restless herd of iceberglets bumping one another and floating around across the street, and not so much ice out in the open water. "Yippy Yi Yo Ki Yay. Git along little berglets. Git over yonder and melt."

It is the first full day of Daylight Savings Time today, and lo and behold Happy Hour arrived while there was still full light outside. Can shorts and t-shirts be far away? Of course not. They're packed away in that cedar chest where they were exchanged with sweaters and scarves last fall. Put away the sweaters and scarves? Oh I think not. That would indeed be Pollyannaish folly. It's not that time just yet, but not long, not long.

I've been reading in the news, and seeing the news on television, recently and it seems that President Obama is reversing the Bush administration bans on stem cell research. I say "Bravo." It's amazing that they have found a way to grow stem cells and with scientific manipulations they can make those stem cells grow into anything they need for scientific research purposes.

I once worked as a shipping/receiving clerk in the warehouse at a hospital. In the process of checking in all of the items that came through the receiving dock at a hospital, it is amazing what you see. There were various knee parts, hip joints, and assorted replacement pieces for orthopedic surgeons. There were valves for hearts, lenses for eyes, and replacement fluids galore. At the time I was simply amazed by all of the replacement parts for people that are available, as though we are like a Ford automobile and all we need do is go to the parts store to pick up a replacement for old and worn out parts. That was almost 30 years ago now.

With stem cells, the possibility actually exists to grow new parts for people. Medical science is making it possible to replace defective parts and worn out parts. People in the more advanced, industrial, technological societies routinely live to be 80-100 years old now. I can honestly see a day in the not so distant future where people will accept and plan for living to be at least 100 years old. Can it be so far away that scientists will find the switches in our DNA that cause aging and learn how to flip the switch, so that our bodies continue to rebuild new tissue and Dorian Gray won't need that picture any more?

Isaac Asimov wrote a whole series of books that started with a novella called Methuselah's Children. The premise was that medical science had advanced to the point that they had extended people's lives to over 200 years. Then they learned how to grow entirely new bodies for transplanting one's mind into. You could live an entirely new lifetime in another body. You had been short. Now you could be tall. You had been born a woman. Now you could see what it was like to be a man. You were born with a body with imperfections. You could have a scientifically engineered body with all of those imperfections neatly removed. In light of current developments, is this really so far-fetched?

Medical science is in the process of making amazing strides, in growing new tissue, in DNA analysis and manipulation, to defeat disease and body failures. We are currently struggling with the ethics of a lot of this. Should you be checking the DNA of unborn fetuses and correcting conditions before birth by DNA manipulation? Should we be creating designer children who are all beautiful, intelligent, and highly gifted intellectually and physically? If so, who decides who gets this kind of treatment. Will the poor be left behind while the rich continue to assure their dominance in their designer world?

These are legitimate issues, but they are issues that need to be discussed rationally. Religion has no place in this discussion. Science is that which is observable and can be proven. Religion is something that is based on faith and is not observable, nor can it be proven by observation and documentation. It is science that has gotten us to the place we are in now. It is religion and its faith that placed Galileo under house arrest for insisting that the Sun, not the Earth is at the center of our solar system.

As for designer children, replacement parts, or even replacement bodies, and lifetimes far beyond our current expectations, and as for the rich vs. poor conundrum, we need to take this all one step at a time. Let us come up with reasonable, equitable solutions. Let us not hold ourselves back by the politicking of those who have removed their brains and inserted their Bibles. Let us allow scientists to do that which they are trained and anxious to do. Let them make our lives better. Let our government do that which it can do for us if we allow it, provide solutions. I believe one positive step we can take is for our government to help us all to have access to health care. Then maybe we can also take on that problem of melting polar ice caps. Of course, our government also needs to make it possible for those scientists to do their jobs, not interfere with legitimate research because someone thinks we are attempting to usurp God's power and go against his laws.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I Feel Good (just like I knew that I would)

Most would say that it's a dismal day in Streeterville. It's 40 degrees at the Mini, with intermittent periods of rain and fog as seen from the 14th floor. So why am I not feeling dismal? First of all, it's 40 degrees outside and not 20 degrees. Secondly, it's raining and foggy (Very Londonlike again) and not snowing and icy. The last remnants of ice in Lake Michigan are trying desperately to melt.

I was just speaking with my friend Chris and, unprovoked by any hints or suggestions, he feels the same as I do about the weather. "I can handle the rain, as long as it's warmer. It means that the general trend is warming." Mix 40 degree days intermittently with 50-60 degree days and that means one thing, "Yoo! Hoo! Spring is on its way!" I feel good.

There are a number of other things to feel good about today. The Cubs are on TV. It's only spring training and Zambrano only pitched 3 innings, but it's Cubs on TV. One can forget that one's favorite college basketball teams suck this year and will not be going to the big dance that is the NCAA Tournament. One can forget that the Bulls are struggling to even make that last playoff spot available. One can forget that the Bears had another mediocre season. Baseball and games in the sun have begun in Arizona and soon will be moving to Wrigleyville. I feel good.

Now call me a Pollyanna but even though my stocks are in the crapper, nationwide unemployment is creeping toward 10% (It's already above that in minority communities.), and 1 of every 8 mortgage holders is facing default, life is not bad. I have a job and it's not going away anytime soon. I have a traditional pension that will pay me every month when I retire (It even gives a 3% per year cost of living raise.). I have a huge chunk of equity in a condo on the 14th floor overlooking Lake Michigan. I can afford my life. I feel good.

In one of the oddest things that has happened in a long time, a really smart guy is sitting in the White House and both houses of Congress are controlled by Democrats. Instead of trying to get on board with the "Let's fix what's wrong with this country movement," the Republican Party seems determined to cement in the public's mind that they are part of the problem, obstructionists, obfuscationists, and finger pointing "Call everyone we disagree with a bunch of communists," idiots, one and all. Obama's approval ratings go up. The GOP's approval ratings dive ever closer to zero. I feel good.

Perhaps best of all, though, is the fact that Babs and her co-author are at this moment putting the finishing touches on "The Book." After a bit over a year of ordeals, book proposals, finding an agent, pitching to publishing houses, two authors nearly at each other's throats at times, hiring a professional editor to polish before turning over the manuscript to Random House, and daily crises, it is almost over. The final product is going to Kinko's on Monday and will be going to New York to the publishers on Wednesday. Babs is almost a published author and as they say, "It's all over but the shouting." I feel good.

Have a happy weekend ladies and gents. Life is good on the 14th floor. I feel good and I hope you do as well.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Phil the Groundhog vs. Larry the Doorman

It seems as though we are on the cusp of spring today. It's 60 degrees under mostly cloudy skies. I have documented in these pages already, through a pseudo-scientific study, that the Ground Hog (We just call him Phil.) is a more accurate predictor of weather than the TV weather guys. In a continuing series of pseudo-scientific looks at weather prediction, I have another interesting study today. Both the Chicago Sun Times and the TV weather guys predicted that there would be a high temperature in Chicago today of 57 degrees. However, yesterday afternoon, a full 24 hours in advance, Larry the Doorman assured me, "I'm telling you Mr. Ray, it's gonna be 60 degrees. Mark my words." And by golly he was right. Score-Larry the Doorman-1, Chicago Sun Times weather page and TV weather guys-0. Hey there were two of them against Larry the Doorman and he kicked their butts, predictively speaking.

Now as a result there have been demands for a Predict Off, a sort of Super Bowl of Weather Prediction, between Larry the Doorman and the Phil, the Ground Hog. Unfortunately, Phil only predicts once a year, so that contest will have to wait until next February. In the meantime, acting as Larry the Doorman's manager, I am trying to arrange a bout between Larry and The Old Farmer's Almanack. Train hard Larry. I hear "The Almanack" is one tough customer, certainly no Channel 7 Weather guy.

In news from the Outpost in Back of the Yards, an amazing event occurred today. In a radical departure from the usual apathy, tardiness, and smoking in the bathrooms, a teenaged student asked an intelligent question, showing that there was actually some brain activity in her cranial cavity. The teacher involved in this incident, one Michael Healy, was astounded and amazed, and has opted to stay for another year,in the hopes that maybe one more student will actually show some interest in what he is attempting to teach. There has been no actual documentation that this event occurred, however, and it is under investigation to rule out the possibility of a hoax.

Perhaps it is just spring fever, I went out and ran 6 miles in the warmth this afternoon. I really am enjoying the warmth and the prospect of spring. I am cutting this blog short, shorter than any I ever did write before, and leaving you with this short word today. No long stories. No moralizing. Just a short poem.

Late Wintertime

The snow is all melted.
Puddles lie on the ground.
Lake ice in pieces,
And icebergs float round.

Gloves in my coat pocket,
Seem useless just now.
Scarves and big hats need,
To leave and take a bow.

Daylight lasts longer now,
And Savings Time is near.
Hot toddies and warm fireplaces,
Soon beaches and cold beer.

Tomorrow may be snowing.
The sun roof closed again,
But today is late wintertime,
And the sunshine's my friend.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Dear Chicago, and Bob Ray

It's a perfectly acceptable early March day in Streeterville, 47 degrees at the Mini under sunny skies. The shadows of the high rises are very long and majestic this afternoon. The lake is still frozen as far as the eye can see though. When is that crap going away? Just asking.

This is a special birthday edition of Views. Today, the City of Chicago is 172 years old. Today my brother Bob is 64 years old, so don't feel so old bro. My city is a lot older than you and she looks great. Doesn't look a day over 125 to tell you the truth. As for you El Bobbo, well you look great in that Spider Pig outfit on Facebook. Happy birthday to the both of you.

Anyway, the City of Chicago is celebrating its 172nd birthday. For the math impaired in the group, that means that Chicago was incorporated in 1837. A lot has happened to her since then. Based on her location where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan, Chicago became a major shipping and industrial center and grew rapidly. Then she burned to the ground in 1871. Learned a lesson there about building everything from wood. Lots of brick after that. Oh, and developed a serious fire department too.

By the time the 1890's rolled around Chicago had become a major player with a population measured in the millions and an opera house and the whole shebang. Somebody or somebodies, Daniel Burnham among them I believe, decided that Chicago needed something to really bring the world's attention to it, a World's Fair or something. The plan was hatched to put together an exposition, the likes of which the world had never seen to celebrate the 500 years since Chris Columbus's arrival in the Americas in 1492. I have a sense that the Native Americans weren't as excited about celebrating this as the white guys. Anyway, the Columbian Exposition was created. It was just a year late in arriving. 500 years would have been 1892. The Columbian Exposition arrived with a bang in Chicago in 1893. It was a smashing success. The Museum of Science and Industry still occupies a building that was a part of it. There is a big ditch at the University of Chicago where the Exposition's Midway was. The one way streets along the two sides of the big ditch are oddly enough called The Midway Plaisance. No water in it now. It's a big grassy playground for U of C students.

Somewhere along the way Chicago decided that if New York and all of the other major cities had subways and electric trains, then by golly Chicago would have one too. The El was born. Mostly above ground, but it goes underground downtown in the loop. "The Loop" is so-called because there is an El track that loops around the central business portion of the city. Still there and functioning with brown lines, purple lines, and who knows what other odd shades of lines.

Then there is architecture. Early on, the effort to prove that Chicago was more than just America's "Second City," the city attracted a lot of cutting edge architects. The skyscraper was born here in Chicago, not in New York. William LeBaron Jenney made that happen. A little later Louis Sullivan made skyscrapers lovely to the eye. A guy named Otis invented elevators that were fast, safe, and functional. The rest is history. Louis Sullivan from Chicago? Oh yeah, and later there was Frank Lloyd Wright and an immigrant named Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, and a host of other people no one but architectural scholars know of, who made the City of Chicago an architectural wonder second to none.

Oh, and there is art, a lot of art, a lot of public art. There is the Art Institute of Chicago that has a lot of world class art. There are pieces by Grant Wood (American Gothic, remember that one?), Edward Hopper (That Night Hawks guy, you know?), and Pablo Picasso, and oh some of those French impressionist guys, and oh that big pointillist piece by Seurat, "Sunday Afternoon at the Island of La Grande Jatte." My favorite Art Institute piece is, of course, the big Chicago Bears helmets they put on the concrete lions out front in 1985-1986 when the Bears won the Super Bowl. Public art at its finest.

Anybody can go inside to an art museum, though. Chicago has great outdoor art. Pablo Picasso loved the City of Chicago so much that he donated a 50 foot tall sculpture to the city. It sits at Daley Plaza to this day. Some guy named Calder did another 50 foot tall sculpture that sits in front of the State of Illinois building. There are sculptures of note all over the city, and the latest, greatest sits in Millenium Park, which like the Columbian Exposition was a wee bit late in arriving (Not at the millenium like it was supposed to.). It is called "The Cloud Gate." In Chicago we know it as "The Bean." It is big and exceptionally shiny and is shaped like a bean.

Then there is the park system. The City of Chicago owes a great debt of gratitude to Daniel Burnham, who planned the City of Chicago for the future. In doing so, he saw to it that the land along the edge of Lake Michigan would forever be parkland for all the citizens to use, and never to be opened for commercial development. New York has its Central Park. Chicago has a stretch of parkland along Lake Michigan that stretches for roughly 26 miles. In that stretch there are harbors with docking facilities for boats, beaches for all comers, tennis courts, softball fields, running tracks, one golf course, soccer fields, a running and biking path, facilities for barbecuing, places to fish, places to row, places to learn to sail, a protected wetland for migratory birds, and amazing views of the Chicago Skyline.

I am happy to live on the 14th floor of a high rise that is on the National Historic Registry as the first all steel and glass facade high rise ever. No internal steel beams. Mid-century modern. Mies Van der Rohe. On a clear day I cannot see the state of Michigan. The lake is too big. On a clear day, or night for that matter, I can see Indiana. There is much history here. There is much beauty here. It's a great place to live. Happy birthday Chicago, and oh happy birthday brother Bob.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


It's been an acceptable day in Streeterville, 30 degrees at the Mini under partly cloudy skies. The views from the 14th floor were okay when I arrived home from the outpost. The afternoon sun was causing those shadows of the high rises on the ice on Lake Michigan. Yes I did say that, "on the ice on Lake Michigan." Still hasn't warmed up enough to melt it away. There was no biting wind in my face when I walked to the gym about 5 PM though, and the sun was still up. Prepare yourself for longer days. Daylight Savings Time starts next Sunday.

Yesterday, I mentioned, in passing, people who drive everywhere and never walk. I've given this some thought and I strongly suspect that people such as myself who do a great deal of walking are quite in the minority. America is not built for it. Most people are almost required to drive everywhere.

So who walks anyway? People who live in rural areas most certainly do not walk, except for a few odd ducks here and there. There are large amounts of space in between anywhere you have to go, and that means getting in the vehicle and driving there. Walk just to be walking? For recreation? That would mean that people would have to abandon the big flat screen TV with 100 + channels, and for what? There are most certainly some rural areas that are lovely and worth a walk through. Most, though are full of corn fields, wheat fields, pastures for cattle grazing, stinky old pig farms, and various assorted crop lands. Not scenic variety walking territory.

Now according to the Census Bureau, most Americans live in urban areas and with urban areas you think sidewalks and you might think that some serious walking might be going on. When you examine what the census bureau means by an urban area, though, you discover that the majority of Americans live in suburban areas and small cities. Less than 3 million of us actually live in Chicago. Over 5 million people live in the suburbs of Chicago. Almost all of these suburbs and small cities are built around freeways, bypasses, and big honking shopping malls with immense parking lots. People don't walk. They drive, and the bigger the vehicle the better. If you try walking anywhere you risk being run down by someone in a Hummer on their way to the mall in a hurry who just didn't see you. Biking? Strap your bike to the back of the car and drive to the nearest state or national park with biking paths.

Now mind you there are a great many of us who actually live in major cities, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Phoenix, etc., etc., etc. You might think there is a lot of walking going on in these places. In some of these places there is some walking going on, in the older style cities, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. The others are a bunch of overgrown suburbs that outgrew their suburbanness and they, like the suburbs are built around freeways and shopping malls with big parking lots. The second largest city in the U.S. is Los Angeles and it is a drivers' city. No car. No status. No functioning. I heard a rumor that they built a subway system there, but no one wants to ride it. How declasse. I remember living in Austin, Texas for a short while and not having a car. When some redneck Texan found out I had been riding the bus they remarked, "You rode the bus? Nobody rides the bus but Mexicans." If it had been a redneck in St. Louis, no doubt the remark would have said the same, only instead of Mexicans it would have been n----s.

What I am saying is that in most American cities, it is not only necessary to drive most places, it is a matter of status of class to be seen driving in your car. No one rides the bus or the train but poor people, of whatever race or ethnicity. With that in mind I am proud to be a resident of one of the few cities in America where you can actually function without a car if you wish, where you can ride the bus or the El or the train, and no one thinks a thing about it. I walk a lot. I can get to shopping, restaurants, or entertainment without getting in a car and driving. There is a vibrant life on the streets of my city. People walk to do things.

It is crowded. There are people of every possible ethnicity, religious belief, and sexual inclination. We all learn how to get along. We all share the streets and sidewalks. We sit in cafes with sidewalk seating. We watch as others walk by. We go out and walk our dogs. We go for walks after work. We walk to get some coffee and a pastry. We walk to have breakfast on the weekends. We go to the parks and walk just to enjoy the scenery and the sun. You see so much more when you walk than you ever do when you are buzzing by in your car. You notice things. You stop. You look. You go in little shops and peruse. You say hello to your neighbors and sometimes just to the homeless guy on the corner selling Streetwise as you give him a buck.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Getting Older or Getting Better

It's been a productive day in Streeterville. I got the rest of the laundry done, ran errands, applied for a couple of jobs, and got an application off for a writing fellowship for this coming summer. Not holding my breath on that one, but who knows? The weather has been marginally better today, 21 degrees as per the National Weather Service. It has been partly cloudy and bright out today as opposed to yesterday's blowing lake effect snow.

The sun woke me up this morning when it came streaming in the window and landed straight in my eyes. I thought that perhaps it would be a great March day today, but as it turns out, the lake is still wholly frozen. That means that the view from the 14th floor is still wholly white, as lake views go. Not even little melty spots. Ice as far as the eye can see off toward Michigan and/or Indiana. The jury is still out on the wind chill factor, but let's just say that when the wind off Lake Michigan hits you in the face it hurts.

I have a friend who recently turned 59 years old, and is somewhat obsessed with getting old. Fifty-nine is as close to 60 years old as you can get and not be 60. Sixty is that spot in our minds, at least most of our minds, where you are unavoidably old. It's a landmark. Hair has gone gray, even if some fight against it and dye the gray. Lines appear in our faces, even if some get some surgery to get rid of them. Our metabolisms slow down and it gets increasingly hard to take off weight. Some get tummy tucks, liposuction, and maybe a tushy tuck. Some start running marathons to burn calories. Some, with the resources to do so, get a personal trainer and consult nutritionists.

So, what to do? There are several options when one reaches this age. One option is to spend as much money as possible getting artificial solutions, the plastic surgery, the dyed hair, and deny, deny, deny. I think we all have seen enough of aging actors who have taken this option and we all know how we laugh at them and tsk, tsk at how phony they look. (Think Joan Rivers.)

Another option is to get healthier to fight the aging process. Exercise, marathon running, biking, active lifestyles. Start actually watching what you eat. Actively fight the aging process and keep it at bay. Trouble is that you still get older. You just get older in a healthier manner. At least you can sometimes thumb your nose at younger people when you kick their ass in a 10K race or amaze them with your play on a tennis court. You'll, in all probability, be an old fart for a really long time.

A third option, and don't get me wrong here, I'm not advocating this, is to just give in to it. I know those who have done this. Just let it all hang out. Continue to drink copious amounts of beer while eating chips. Sit on the couch and watch endless TV. Drive everywhere you go. Make fun of people your own age who do stuff that you think is for younger people. Get fat and old and be at peace with it. This may very well be a good approach for your psyche, but the down side is that it often leads to early heart attacks and an early exit from the ballgame of life. "You're outta here," says the Grim Reaper. Ready to go? I'm not.

Of course, none of these options is mutually exclusive. In real life most of us may choose one from column A and two from column B. I personally run long distances and try to watch my weight, but I still like deep dish pizza regularly and I've accepted the thinning gray hair on top of my head. I refuse to get fat and old. I accept that I may not look like the youngster I once was, so I will not be dying hair getting hair transplants, or getting any plastic surgery done.

I sometimes look at Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and marvel. They look older than dirt, but they still keep on keeping on. You have to admire their ability to do that. It's a model to aspire to. I'm still active. I still keep on producing creative things. And on the plus side, I don't look nearly as old as Mick Jagger or Keith Richards.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Like a Lion

The newspaper this morning said partly cloudy. Hah! I'll go with the weather predicting skills of the groundhog, The Old Farmers Almanack, and my uncle Lloyd's trick knee. At this point, what I have observed out the 14th floor windows is snow blowing sideways out of the northeast off of Lake Michigan. The National Weather Services says it's 19 degrees with winds out of the northeast at 11 miles per hour.

It is true that this may very well be a localized phenomenon, that we in Streeterville know as Lake Effect Snow. I checked online and apparently it isn't snowing at O'Hare. Those of us right next to the lake are being hammered, though. While perusing the weather online I also noted that they are predicting that New York City may get slammed with up to 14 inches of snow in an early March storm. Good! Snotty New Yorkers always putting down us hardy Midwesterners. Serves em right. Need a little of nature's humbling power every now and again.

Anyway, the verdict is definitely in on that lion or lamb thing for the month of March. The great out of doors for two of the three largest cities in the US of A is undeniably arriving like the leonine beast, slapping us in the face with a "Winter is not over yet," message. Now if the month of March will uphold its end of the bargain and exit in an observably lamblike manner, life will be good and all will be right with the world.

March is an odd month. Winter ends. Spring begins. It's often windy and rainy. Poor old Julius Caesar met his demise in the midst of the month. As a child in Arkansas I could not wait for winter to end and for the warm weather to return so I could shed my shoes and run around in the yard barefoot. I recall one winter day asking my mother when I could go barefoot. She replied "In spring." Then I had to know when spring came. She replied, "In March." That fact stuck in my little kid brain like Super Glue. On March 1st I proudly marched in the kitchen and said, "Mom you said I could go barefoot in March. Can I?" Forget the fact that at the time it was 45-50 degrees outside, wet and rainy, and definitely not barefoot weather. The saner thinking of Mom prevailed and barefootness did not take hold for a while.

March, as I recall, has always been the month where the general windiness causes stores to stock kites. When I was a kid I never really thought about kites,as such, until a Jif Peanut Butter promotion was giving away free kites one particular March. They were yellow and had the Jif kangaroo on them. I bought a lot of stuff in those days based on stuff they would give you for buying their product. I grabbed that jar of Jif peanut butter and showed my Dad the kite that came with it and he saw the gleam in my eye and before you could say "Go fly a kite," I was taking a Jif kangaroo kite (Some assembly required.) home with me. My Dad and Mom and my older brother all worked and didn't have time to help me with it. My older sister wouldn't be bothered with little boys and kites and my little sister was no help at all. I somehow managed to put together that Jif kangaroo kite by myself and attach a ball of twine to it.

At that point it was time to take the kangaroo kite out into the March winds and watch it fly. It must have been one of the few March days on record with no wind whatsoever. I ran and I ran, pulling that kite on its string behind me. It bounced off the ground repeatedly, tearing holes in its paper kangaroo, and eventually breaking its balsam wood frame. Charlie Brown, with his notorious kite-eating tree, had it better. At least his kite was airborne long enough to get stuck in the branches of a tree. My pitiful little kangaroo kite never got more than 6 inches off the ground at any time. I took that broken and torn kite inside and discarded it, never to attempt kite-flying again.

Of course there was a time in my early 20's when I had a girlfriend who had a little boy who had a kite. Couldn't get that sucker airborne for more than 10-15 seconds either. My relationship with said woman and child did not last very long. At age 21 I was not much of a father figure, and I couldn't fly a kite in the March winds to save my life. I was not destined to be a kite-flying guy, or Step-Dad, in the March winds. The month of March, in my memory, is mostly just wet and blustery and cold, with regular flooding. Then comes St. Patricks Day and if you don't wear green, the other kids pinch you.