Goodbye to West town!

The moving trucks have come and gone, and for the first time in nearly a decade, I am no longer living in West Town.

I’ve lived in that area of the Northwest Side of Chicago for most(!) of my adult life.  I moved there for the first time into my first apartment that was all mine.  I moved into Noble Square, near Division & Ashland.  It was a pretty crappy apartment- it was a “convertible”, which is another way of saving that it was a slightly larger studio apartment.  Its closet was in the bathroom, the kitchen was tiny, there was no where to eat, I didn’t have internet, and so on.

It was lovely, and it was mine.  And I loved my little part of Chicago.  It’s where I discovered (what we would eventually rename) the Wicker Park High Tea and Dodgeball Association, which played every Thursday night in the bank parking lot down the street.  I wanted, God help poor little younger Scott, to be a writer or something, and cranked out weird little stories on a typewriter, and painted bad oil paintings in my bathroom/closet.  I learned to cook good red sauce in that apartment, and only mildly angered my landlord with my antics.

young scott

Oh man, I looked young back then.

I moved away in 2007- my then girlfriend got accepted to the University of North Carolina, and suggested that I come with.

So I did.

And I left Westtown for the first time.  And spent 13 month of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I won’t speak of it much further, except to say that it was a terrible time, except that that met Atticus, my lovely dog.

But when I came back to West town, I didn’t have my dog.  For the first five months of 2008, Atticus the most excellent, stayed in Chapel Hill.

And when I came back, I moved to another section of West town, to the Ukrainian Village, at Walton and Levitt.  The area had been suggested by that very same now ex-girlfriend, and she was right!

The Ukrainian Village is a wonderful part of town!  It, at the time, had this lovely mix of Ukrainian immigrants, young cheap folks like me who were willing to live in older apartments, and the coming richer gentrifiers.

God, how I love the borscht at Kasia’s.  It’s just perfect, that little deli.  And if you ever go tot he Ukrainian Village, go there, at Hoyne and Chicago.  I have tried to make it a few times, and got it close to it just once.

I spent a good 6 years in that little apartment.  I grew up a bit, fell in love with my now wife, drove own to Carolina to pick up my dog, and started law school.  I discovered Circus there- Aloft was just down the street, and I worked very hard to become a totally above average student in my spare time.  I remember the midnight Orthodox Christmas mass in January.  The military parade marching down our side street- with horses and cannons and everything!  The gorgeous Cathedrals, the pick-up soccer games, my dog’s dog friends, still tight knit community of Ukrainians that called it home.

clowning

It was wonderful.  Lisa eventually moved in with me, and when we needed a bigger place, we moved West of Western, as pairs of lawyers were buying up and renovating the area that we lived in.

It was so nice, it became the hottest real estate market in Chicago.

We got a bigger apartment, but we eventually decided to buy our place, and also escape the up and downs of living in an old apartment building.  But, you know, Hottest Real Estate Market in Chicago!

We could not afford to purchase a reasonably sized place in our neighborhood.  It’s nice that the neighborhood is getting fixed up, but I’ll take my oddball Ukrainian neighbors over the third wave gentrifiers. over rich lawyers as neighbors.  (As a second wave gentrifier, third wavers are my natural enemy.)

And so, we’ve moved on to Avondale, further up into the Northwest side.  It’s a lovely little townhome.  It’s wonderful, and close to where my circus school moved to into their lovely circus church.

Still.  It was my home forever.  And I’m going to miss it.

But..a new neighborhood awaits!  Adventure ahead!  I love thee, west town, but you got too fancy and expensive for this second waver.  Infamous place, how I adore thee.  Enjoy West Town while you can.

But alas, alas.  Onwards to my new home!  To Avondale!

kissing house

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The Monstrous Clowning of our President

trump-clown

Listen- Drumpf has been called a clown for years now.  Pretty much everyone who calls him that that means it as an insult.  I think it’s true that he is a clown, but I don’t mean it that way.  I mean it as a term very grudging respect.

I know and love many clowns in my life.  I’ve worked semi-professionally as a clown (there’s not much money in it- the people that do it full time do it because they have) and I’ve been lucky enough to work with and be trained by amazing clowns.*  There’s a power to clowning when it’s done well.

I know, I know.  Clowns get dismissed because most folks think of Krusty the Clown, hawking his products with his cigarette voice,  the silly hobo spraying seltzer water down his pants, or a man in white face making balloon animals for scared children.

Or serial killers.  A lot of people think clowns are serial killers.

But that’s not a lot of clowning.  A lot of clowning is beautiful, ambitious, fantastically mischievous art that fills the audience with a sense of wonder, impishness, and awe.

And Donald Drumpf, that bastard uses a lot of those same skills, just for evil.  Let me explain, with a little bit of clowning theory.

So, first off, what is clowning?  There are a lot of schools of clowning, and they’ve been around for a long time.  They’re tricksters, sometimes fools, and trying to find a unifying theme is a bit of a fool’s errand.

So, here are some unifying things to most clowning- at its heart, it is about getting away with something.  I think, if you wanted to boil down clowning to its essence- it is setting up a world,  a way in which things are going to go, and then the clown violates those rules.  And get away with it.  And to do that, the clown brings the audience into their game- it connects with the audience, and makes them complicit in the violations of the norms. that the clown  is about to do.  Sometimes these norms are just the basic rules of the world- say, a tattoo of a dog on Harpo Marx coming to life, and barking at the audience.

It’s a time of participatory theatre- clowning doesn’t work nearly as well without an audience to play off off.  You feed off of what the audience is giving you, and you make them part of the clowning.

It’s a lot of fun watching someone get away with something.  You have the order of the world, you have a norm that must not be violated, and the clown does it anyway.  Don’t spray seltzer water down your pants.  Don’t steal an audience members hat.

Don’t brag about the size of your penis during a Presidential debate.

Donald Drumpf did a lot of norm breaking during the campaign.  He did things that no Republican candidate was thought to be allowed to do, and then he did things that no general election candidate could do and survive.  He made fun of a disabled reporter, he called most Mexican immigrants rapists, advocated for mass torture of detainees, because they deserve it, once speculated about the size of his one year old daughter’s future breasts, once bragged about committing sexual assault, referred to a non-existent article in the constitution, said a Federal Judge in born in Indiana couldn’t be a fair judge to him because of the Judge’s Mexican heritage, and so on.  I can’t bear to try to remember that campaign, but we lived through it. We remember all of that awful shit.

He exposed himself as a monster in the campaign.  And he won- he got just enough votes in just enough places to defeat Hillary Clinton.

There are a lot of reasons why people voted for him.  A lot of people really disliked Hillary Clinton.  Cynical people like Paul Ryan are hoping to lower taxes on the rich and guy regulation.  Race had a lot to do with it- his campaign dripped of racism, sometimes dog whistled, other times just whistled.  There are a lot of true believers out there- I think he was right when he said he could shoot someone and get away with it, at least for a fair number of his followers, particularly the white working class people that he seem to be his most fervent believers.

Part of it (only part of it- good lord, this America, and he ran a racist campaign for a lot of racist people) is that is fun to watch him get away with things.  I wasn’t immune to this during the Republican primary.  I remember watching a Republican debate, and I wanted to see those asshole traditional Republicans get their asses kicked by him.  I wanted Drumpf to lose the election, lose very badly, but I wanted to see him take down Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and all the rest.  I wanted to see him misbehave, rub their face in the dirt, and kick them in the balls.  They were awful, each and every one of them, and I wanted someone to beat them at their own game.  They set up the rules, and here was a little mischief maker breaking their rules and being rewarded for it.

Shame on me.  He was a monster, I knew it, but I wanted him to humiliate those guys.

And he did.  All were crushed and humiliated in turn.  He was playing by different rules, and he made the audience complicit in his misbehavior.

His rallies played by the same rules.  He was dull when he stuck to the script, dull sometimes when he didn’t, but he learned that the quickest way to get the crowd geared up was to have them participate.  Wait for a protester to show up, have them escorted out by the audience chanted his name.  Turn the audience on the press- make them the enemy where everyone could, all together with the clown, participate in the theatre.

And to the people in that devoted base of his, who have not done well in this world, whose place in society was being threatened, in their minds, by immigrants, minorities, and Muslims, here was a man who was going to overturn the world order.  He was going to bring in some chaos to those study elites who were rigging the game.  He was going to fight for them, and shatter every norm that existed in the American political world.

This was a form of clowning.  It was an evil, malevolent form of it, but it was using the same skills that good clowns use on stage.  To start with- look at the man.  He is a caricature of himself.

That hair!   The too long tie tapes to itself with Scotch tape.  The chins!  The poorly fitting suits!  The orange skin!  He needs no make up to join the circus- he is complete, as he is, perfection indeed as the sinister clown he might eat your niece if you turn your back upon him.  Alec Baldwin does not exaggerate him, he need only imitate him to make us laugh in horror.

And when he was campaigning- oh, the status games he played!  He somehow made this gold covered “billionaire” from Manhattan the underdog- the champion of the working class, who claimed to understand what it was that the working class was going through.  He alone was your voice, laid off coal miner, he alone, in his penthouse in New York, understood what it was like to be powerless.  It was a transformation- based on a lie of course, but he can’t help but lie- but a powerful one.  When he mocked the disabled reporter, he was cheered!

Considering how many defects the man had, the self inflicted wounds that he inflicted, and the absolute monstrosity of his proposals, this dark transformation had power to it.  He tapped into, and led something awful in that campaign of his.  Something monstrous within the American Republic- our worst selves, brought up on stage to insult, mock and slander the opposition.  He was getting away with something, something monstrous, but he got away with it non-the-less.  ‘

And he is now the most powerful man in the world.

Yet- campaigning is very different than governing.  When you have to set up the rules, manage healthcare plans, quibble about the tax code, clowning loses its luster.  Once you are compared to yourself, and have to make the world presentable, these clowning tools lose a lot of their power.

The first week of this clownish Presidency has been a disaster.  I think it’s going to keep on being a disaster.  I think that unless President Drumpf finds someone to blame, and quickly, it’s going to fall apart.  He’s tried to blame the press, but it hasn’t stuck.  His lies have been too transparent, his games too poorly constructed.  I don’t know how long he can keep this up- he apparently wanted to Shock and Awe the country with his executive orders.

Of course, after the Shock and Awe came the insurgency.  He doesn’t have Hillary Clinton to point the finger at anymore.  He’s flailing right now, his powers evaporating, day by day, as the masses of people see what kind of a world he intends to bring in.  He’s going to need a crisis- something terrible to give him something to point his finger at.  And even then- I don’t know if it will work.  He is unpopular and desperately insecure.  This are unstable times.

Everyone can laugh at the clown in charge of things till he burns the theatre down.  You may laugh when he says he’s going to do it, but clowns are typically more serious than they let on.

You get the sense that either his Presidency is going to fall apart, or the Republic will.  His rule breaking will bring him down- he knows no bounds, and has been encouraged.  He will double down, double down, and double down again till he breaks, or the bank does.

I’m sorry, I prattled on for too long, and I’m sorry to have dragged you back into the muck of Donald Drumpf, and to drag the good name of clowning into it.  But to defeat him- as I think this country must- you have to understand what you’ll dealing with.  You’re dealing with a rule breaker who has to set the rules.  You’re dealing with a monstrous clown who has caught the car with his teeth, and now has to worry what to do next.  God help us all.

Below is my favorite speech from movies.  I wish, I wish that the people cheering for his refugee ban could be moved by this speech from Chaplin.

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….”

Chaplin was a clown of course.  And yet, this is beautiful:

“The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.”

We must band together.  We must use our decency to break his hold upon his followers.  His cruelty will cut both ways- I believe this.  We are not an entirely indecent people, and he will go too far.  We must find the common ground with the other side, and learn to fight for each other, even those that have empowered Donald Drumpf.  We have to fight for each other, because no one else will.

God bless, and thanks for reading.  I’m sure I’m wrong on some counts, feel free to tell me, preferably as gently as possible.

*About me and clowning- I’ve trained at Aloft Circus arts for  odd years, doing trapeze, tightwire, acrobatics, and clowning.  I’ve worked gigs with them and part of what I call their D-Team, I’ve worked gigs on my own, I’ve run a backyard circus for 7 hours, I’ve hosted numerous circus shows as part of the Amazing Prizzini Brothers, and so on.  I do it in my spare time because it is fun.  In my day job, I’m an insurance consultant, and at night, I attend law school.  I’ve found clowning to be more useful than you’d think at law school- there are similar skills in both.  Lawyers are story tellers, and so are clowns.  They want to make the audience complicit in the stories that there are telling, and the ability to hold a stage is useful when forced to stand up and articulate an argument.

There are many, many better clowns than me.  I’m fortunate to know them.  My primary trainer of clowning has been Amanda Crockett, a former lead Cirque du Soliel performer.  She is astonishing on stage, and would never use her clowning for evil.

Every other clown I know wouldn’t either.  They are all generous, kind people who want to make people happy.  In that respect, they are the opposite of Donald Drumpf, who seeks, in my small opinion, to make himself happy through flattery and indulgence.  He is not a clown, just someone who utilizes clowning skills for vicious ends.  In case this post wasn’t clear enough, I think he’s a monster advocating for monstrous things.  I struggle with what to do with his supporters- a lot are good people, and when he does something truly terrible, we’re going to need some of them to help fight him.

Be kind to as many of them as you can.  We’ll need all the help we can get, and while it is natural to want to lash out at them, hesitate at that notion.  We hate each other enough, and we partial got into this mess because both sides stopped being able to talk to each other.  God knows I’ve been guilt of that online, and I would urge, is possible, to show more decency to each other, particularly in the face of nastiness.

 

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Thoughts on Dylan’s Ballad in Plain D and, you know, today

Bob Dylan doesn’t much like his old song, “Ballad in Plain D”, off his early “Another side of Bob Dylan” album.  When asked in 1985 about the song, Dylan said, “”Oh yeah, that one! I look back and say ‘I must have been a real schmuck to write that.’ I look back at that particular one and say, of all the songs I’ve written, maybe I could have left that alone.”

Here’s a pretty version of the song.  (Dylan’s lawyers scrub the internet clean of his music pretty well, but this artist does a pretty version of the song:

It’s an intensely personal song- in ways that Dylan almost never is.  It’s a first hand account of his nasty break, emotional beak up with his on and off girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, that culminated in a screaming match with Ms. Rotolo’s sister.

Suze Rotolo is the woman pictured on the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’s album.  freewheeling

There she is.  And her life tends to get eaten up by the Dylan mystique.  She seems like an astonishing women in the Greenwich Village days.  Most people suspect that early Dylan’s “Time’s we are a changin'” political bent came from her.  She was introduced to Dylan by her sister, Carla, who did everything she could to promote young Mr. formerly Zimmerman when he started dating Suze.

It all ends badly, eventually.  There’s a nasty fight in 1964, and Suze and Bob break up, with Carla coming to her sister’s aid in a terrible screaming match.

Dylan wrote this problematic, ballad style song that doesn’t have the usual emotional screen up.  Dylan is telling this story, and he’s telling it as he saw it.

Which is to say, because he was a selfish young twerp, that he writes a mostly cruel song, particularly towards the sister, Carla.  He calls her a parasite, tedious, petty, and so on.  Here’s how he puts it, in its worst verse:

“For her parasite sister, I had no respect
Bound by her boredom, her pride to protect
Countless visions of the other she’d reflect
As a crutch for her scenes and her society.”

Dylan could write an acidic song against people he disliked- Like a Rolling Stone still have teeth to it, and Positively Fourth Street is meanest song I’ve ever heard.  But the barbs don’t stick in this one.  It’s Dylan who ends up looking like a twerp in this song.  And even he knows it, and the songs comes around a little bit, as he, even as a young and dumb man, just getting full of himself- as Bobbie Zimmerman became Bob Dylan and in turn became BOB DYLAN- realizes that he fucked up.

Two of the last verses salvage this song for me.

Here’s the first:

“All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight
I gagged in contradiction, tears blinding my sight
My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night
Leaving all of love’s ashes behind me.”

There’s a desolation to that verse. It has power, and he realizes how badly he fucked up.  And he doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s keeping on fucking it up, just by writing this song.

“All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight”- that’s mostly how I feel today, with Donald tRump taking office, replacing, one with

ahem, “sensitive instincts, she was the creative one
The constant scrapegoat, she was easily undone
By the jealousy of others around her.”

So to speak.  I feel desolation.  I feel like Dylan’s cloying, fuck you sneer is taking office, and without any redeeming verses.  Just a fuck you to everyone that ever crossed Trump.

I feel sorry.  Very sorry that we let President Obama down.  We fucked up.  We replaced with the birther-in chief.  All is gone, all is gone, admit it take flight.

Eventually, Dylan comes around a bit more.  And realizes what the hell he did, even if he can’t say it to her and her sister.

“The wind knocks my window, the room it is wet
The words to say I’m sorry, I haven’t found yet
I think of her often and hope whoever she’s met
Will be fully aware of how precious she is.”

We’re going to find out how precious Obama was.  There is a redeeming part of today.  We get to get up and fight.  We get to make President tRump the most unpopular person in America.  And we have to.

Because either either his Presidency fails, or the Republic does.

All is not lost, all is not lost, admit it, we need not take flight.

 

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Songs Against Despair

Some days we all struggle with depression, and the weight of the world upon our shoulders.

And sometimes it’s good to just listen to a pack on tunes that’ll lift our spirits, and get us up and about again.

Here then, is a list, with youtube links, where possible, on songs that fight against that awful despair that can encroach upon the soul.

Leonard Cohen- You’ve got me singing

I’ve been listening to this song a lot since the election.  It’s from Cohen’s 2014 release, “Popular Problems”.  It’s a simple, pretty song about finding beauty in the world, and, of course, singing about.  “You’ve got me singing, even though the news is bad.  You’ve got me singing, the only song I ever had…You’ve got me singing, even though the world is gone, you’ve me thinking, thinking that I’d like to carry on.”

It’s beautiful.  It’s a song about being in in times of sorrow.  Listen to it.  It’ll keep you going.

James Horner- Star Trek 2 Soundtrack- Kirk’s Explosive Reply-

Another soundtrack.  And it’s here because it is amazing.  In the movie, the greatest of the Star Trek movies, and maybe my brother and my’s favorite movie, Kirk has just gotten his ass kicked by Khan.  And all seems hopeless and lost.  Absolutely lost, and all of the men and women under Kirk’s command will be lost because of Admiral Kirk’s arrogance.

And as things look the darkness, Kirk and Spock figure out a way to punch back, to get back up, and even.  We’re going to fuck up in this world, we are going to have others suffer because of our mistakes.  And all you can do is, over and over and over again, is get back up, and do your damndest to right the wrongs of the world.  Kirk gets up, outwits that damned man, and saves his crew, at least for a little while.

Ani DiFranco- Buildings and Bridges

I think this might be my favorite Ani Difranco song (and I do have more than a few.)  It’s about coping, adjusting, and improvising.  Life will be full of troubles, and we have to be able to withstand them.  Sometimes you don’t have to take them straight on, sometimes you have to be to wave and move with the wind.

Peter, Paul, Mary- Christmas Dinner

Fair warning- this is sappy and sweet, and has been known to bring to tears if my mood is just so.  It’s a song about poverty, sadness, and loneliness on Christmas.  And a small act of kindness able to overcome it.  I can’t resist a good sad Christmas song, but this one is more than it.  It’s about sharing, and building our own little community can overcome the worst of things we face.  God bless my little communities I have, and all the kindness they show me.

Annette Hanshaw- You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Oh, such a sweet song.  Also, the song that I had my first dance to at my wedding.  Oh it’s so wonderful.  So sweet, and wonderful, and in love.  Sometimes it’s just wonderful to be enraptured with another person.  And Ms. Hanshaw’s ending to all her song’s- “That’s all”- just perfect.  Just so.

John Lennon- Oh, Yoko!

I am very happy that this song has an exclamation mark after it.  It’s just giddy, absolutely giddy.  It’s impossible to not want to sing along with this song.  He’s just charming and giddy over being in love.  It’s a little bit of a puff pastry of a song, but sometimes it’s wonderful to bite into something and get sugar all over your face.

Arcade Fire- This Must be the Place

I sorta prefer their version to the talking heads, but both are wonderful.  It’s about being home.  It reminds of me being with my puppy-dog, in a field playing.  I can deal with that feeling, deal with it all day long.

The Beatles- Fool on the Hill

Sometimes, we should be allowed to be silly fools on hills.  And skip and dance, and spin around to fall over down the hill.  Puppy dogs and kids have it right some times.

 

David Bowie- Ashes to Ashes-

This is not as happy a song as the previous ones.  There’s a fair amount of despair, as Major Tom has been heard from again, back from the abyss.

And he has a message- “I’m happy, hope you’re happy, too.”  Every time I hear that line- spoken twice in the song, it fills me up with  hope.  I’m stuck with a valuable friend- I’m happy, hope you’re happy, too.

George Gershwin- Rhapsody in Blue

How can you listen to this chaotic, beautiful, astonishing, rapturous piece of music and not have a little hope for America?  We may have elected Donald Trump, yes, but we also made this.  Good god, is there a prettier moment in music than when the orchestra comes in with those quiet, beautiful notes halfway through after that pause?  Listen listen listen to this song, and have a little bit of your soul buckled up a bit.  Gershwin can do that.  It’s astonishing.  Go, go, go, put this song on.  These words will wait.  Go!

 

 

Back?  I know, it’s a difficult to piece to put down.  I had to take a break.  I had to listen to that end- that thunderous, foot stomping end to it all.  This is the one song that I have wanted to learn the piano on.  I would love to play just this one song, even if meant I could play no others.  But onwards!  Onwards!  There is more despair!  We must defeat it!

Ennio Morricone-The Ecstasy of Gold-

This is simply an astonishing piece.  What can you not do while listening to this song?  The drama- the suspense!  The murder!  The Gold!

And then…and then and then and then!  The Opera singer kicks in!  Onwards!  Onwards!  Let me evil man stand in your way, for it is time!  Time!  Time!

One more song- a good old fashioned Civil War Song.

Jimmy Driftwood- The Rock of Chickamauga

Some back story to this song- General Rosencrans had led his Union Army down to Georgia, and had the misfortune to meet General Bragg, reinforced with General Longstreets troops.  There was a mix-up in orders, and a giant gap was open in the Union lines.  This was at the battle of Chickamauga, names after a little Creek nearby which means means The River of Death.  I have drunk from that little Creek, and savored every drop.

Exactly where General Longstreet’s troops were charging.

Charging into nothing.  They smashed into the interior of the Union line, and the southern half of the Union army fled.  Just took off, all the way back to Tennessee.  And what was left was General George Thomas, in command of the other half of the Union forces, surrounded, and facing the entire rebel force.  And he stood his ground on Snodgrass hill.  He was assaulted from all sides- there was a constant sheath of flames.  The dead piled up on all sides.  The damnable charged 25 times.  Eventually General (and future President) Garfield made his way from the fleeing half of the army to General Thomas, and advised retreat.  And still Thomas would not retreat till he had the safety of night.

He was the God Damn Rock of Chickamauga, and saved the Union on that day.  God Bless General Thomas, and may we learn from his example.

Regina Spektor- Don’t leave me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)-

This is such a giddy, wonderful song.  Those horns at the end!  it has me, the consummate Anglo-File, singing and dancing along to a chorus of “I love Paris in the Rain!”

Astonishing song in every way.  My word!  My Word!   And now, I do love Paris in the Rain!  Oh, how I love it!

One last song, I promise.  Wait, no, two more.

Regina Spektor- The Light-

I love Regina Spektor, and I think this might be the most beautiful song she’s ever made.   It’s a love song to her child.  It’s about feeling optimistic about the future, that there is beauty to be made.

“So many stories I want to tell you
I wish that I could show you the many things I’ve seen
You and your daddy, you both look like poets
Your eyes are open wide while you are in a dream”

I want to drink wide that optimism that she has in this song.  My God, it’s beautiful.  Oh, the light she shows in this song.

“Count the stars inside your mind
Count the breaths, count heartbeats
Count the sounds of life”

My goodness gracious.  This song got me through the days after the election.  If I was feeling low (and goodness I was feeling low that week), this song would pick me and keep me going.

Ok, really last song.  I can’t end this without a Tom Waits song- as dark and scraggly as he gets, there’s always some hope in his darkness.

Tom Waits- Come on Up to the House

I love me song Tom Waits, and I think this is his greatest song he’s ever written.  And I’m telling you, there’s a whole lot of optimism, or at least resolve in these battered notes.  Yes, the moon broken, and the sky is cracked.  Yes, we are all just passing through this world, and life may seem nasty, brutish and short.

And still, we must come on up to the house.  We have to keep going.

“Well, you know you should surrender, but you can’t let it go
You gotta come on up to the house, yeah”

It’s a barn burner of a song.  And it’ll keep you going.  Keep on going, keep on going, all the way up to the house.


And that’s all I got for now.  I want to get up, and fight, as they say.  I hope you do, too.  God bless, and good luck.

 

 

 

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On Getting Lost!

As you all probably know, I got back last night from a week long trip to Rome.  I wasn’t there entirely for fun- I was a guest of the wonderful Community of San’Egidio, who are a Catholic charity group who do all sorts of things for the poor in Rome and around the world.  They had me speaking to various high schools and in cities (got to speak to a group including a Mayor!) against the Death Penalty.

I’ve never spoken, publicly, against the Death Penalty.  I consider it a sin against God and man, of course, but it was an interesting experience to, pretty much, make up a half an hour speech on the fly.

But when I wasn’t being shipped off to somewhere, I would spend my time wandering the streets of Rome, typically in the morning before I’d talk, or in the late afternoon afterwords.  I had a map, it’s true, in case I got very lost, but I didn’t like relying on it.

It was much more fun getting lost.  I would look at a an area with some interesting things in it- say, the Villa Borghese, which was in the North Center part of Rome.  I would then take off from where I was staying (in Trastavere) and get there as best as I could.

Rome is full of winding, weird streets.  I would always get lost, or at least sidetracked.  And it was magnificent.  Of course, it works best in a city like Rome, where every corner, there is something wondrous to behold.

fountain

I must have run into this fountain 4 times.  It’s very famous, of course, there were always crowds taking selfies of themselves around it.  With good cause- it’s magnificent!

But you’d run into little things as well that would take your breath away- look at this, from the tomb of St. Cecilia, whom the Romans tried to behead three times, and failed each time:

St cecilia.jpg

It’s beautiful!  And I stumbled into it.  I also stumbled into her original burial place, in the catacombs of St. Callisto.  Her body was moved in 900 AD after the barbarians came, and then the catacombs were lost for 900 years, till they were re-discovered in the late 1800s.  They had most of the early Popes there, originally, but they got moved to St. Peters Basilica in the 900s as well due to imminent invasion.

The catacombs are off the Appian Way, a good mile outside of the eastern gate of Rome.  I got lost trying to get there, too!  I originally wanted to see the Pyramid that was built in ~15 b.c. by a council, which I saw, but then went around the wall to go try an find the museum of the wall, which was closed, and then, huzzah, there was the Appian Way, where I suspected the catacombs were.

Across the road from the catacombs is a little church, where St. Peter is supposed to have Jesus, long after Jesus had been killed.  Peter was fleeing from the Romans, and boom, runs into Jesus just outside of Rome.

Where are you going, Jesus, Peter asked?

And Jesus replied, to get murdered, since you are running away.

And Peter went back to Rome, to get murdered by the Romans.  I don’t know what Jesus did.  Here is a picture, it is said, of Jesus’s footprints:

jesus footsteps.jpg

That is run drawback to wandering- you might run into Jesus, who might insist that you go back and be martyred for the good of the church.  Hasn’t happened yet to me, thank goodness.

But that is the joy of getting lost.  You don’t know what’s going to happen next.  There’s a sense of wonder, and the beauty is increased by the fact that you don’t know that it’s coming.

Look at this!  The Romans call it the typewriter, and hate this monument to Victor Emmanuel II.  But I love it!  Somehow, I just ran into it, and, behold, there it was, in all its marble glory.  I don’t think that I would’ve loved it as much had I not stumbled into it looking for something else, but oh, such a wonder to behold!

victoremmanuel.jpg

I’m sure I could’ve spent my time more efficiently, but damn efficiency!  Give me chance, give me a little chaos, and give me wonder!  There is still time in this world to get lost, and let the Universe surprise you.  You never know what you’re going to run into- you might run into Jesus, you might run into a glorious typewriter.

Myself, I ran into the ghost of Julius Caesar in the forum, and I stabbed him, of course, for good measure.  I am a good republican (small r, thank you) and do not believe in dictators.

Et tu, Scottini?

Indeed, Caesar!  Bwa-hahahahahahaha!

One more wonder- in that Villa Borghese, there was just a field of puppies, where everyone let their puppies run free and wild!  I made a good dozen puppy dog friends, and oh, such fun!  Oh such fun.  I could not have planned such joy, and, I don’t think I would have wanted to.  Sometimes you just have to get lost, and play in a field of puppies.

puppies.jpg

In short, I had a lovely trip, thank you for asking.  Hugs and puppies to all.

Scottini Prizzini

The Amazing Prizzini Brothers

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Love in the Time of Trump

great-dictator-4

It’s been a rough couple of days for me and a lot of people I know.  God help me, I kept breaking down on Wednesday in tears.

I don’t break down in tears.  I haven’t done so in a long time.  I have friends who support Trump.  They are still my friends.  I have friends that are libertarians, and don’t understand the terror and, in their words, whining that folks like me have been doing.  God bless my wife, who on Wednesday night, was picking me off the floor.

There’s a lot to fear in a Trump Presidency.  The best hope is that he didn’t really mean much of what he said at various points in the campaign.  That he isn’t going to form a deportation squad, that he won’t ban refugees, that he won’t make Muslims register, that he won’t immediately repeal Obama care and take away health care from 20 million people, that he won’t pass Paul Ryan’s tax plan of re-distribution to the wealthy, that he won’t appoint reactionaries to the Supreme Court, that he will defend NATO allies, that he isn’t going to give up American interests to Putin.

That he won’t ask our American forces to commit war crimes, or be so damn gullible and provocable that he would start a nuclear war.  That he will fight the planetary event of global warming.

All of this is anathema to me.  The machinery of Unilateral Executive Action has been built in the past few decades.  If Trump wants to engage in his immigration policies- if he wants to deport 11 million people, he has a lot of lee-way in doing it.  If he wants to ban immigration from specific countries that have a heavy Muslim population, he can do that, too, fairly easily.  And as for Congress- the best hope may be a Lindsay Graham backed counter-push.

All in all, not a lot of hope there.  And that’s not even getting into the greater movement that Trump seems to have unleashed- the inner demons of America that are spray painting swastikas and attacking Muslims.  I don’t know if it’s just isolated incidents or a decent chunk of the country is accepting of that.  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

We won’t until he does it if he will, but his followers seem ready to attack the weak and the marginalized.  I am a straight white male in Chicago.  Tolerance is stronger here than elsewhere.  It’s the other places, outside of this island of blue, that you should be most worries about.

Trump is a clown, and I saw that as a sometimes professional clown, and said with a bit of respect.  He know how to work the crowd, he knows, in his own twisted way, to improvise and feed off of and feed the emotions of his base.  He is using clowning to some terrible, awful ends.  And I think he is using that power to come after the weak, to weaponize economic despair, intolerance and fear.

Ok, ok, pick yourself up off the floor Scott.  There’s work to be done.

Today is Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday, November 11th.  He would’ve been 94 years old today.  He was born on Armistice Day, back before they called it that before calling it Veterans Day.  He thought Armistice sacred, in a way that veterans, while noble and wonderful, are not.  I tend to agree with him.

I wish he was around, and could help us through this.  He’s dead now, and probably a little happy that he doesn’t have to live through this all.  He seemed bitter at the madness and folly of George W. Bush.  I don’t know if he could bear to watch this election season.  I can barely take it, and I’m young and full of pep and spirit.

My still favorite newspaper columnist, Neil Steinberg wrote a list of things to do if this election season is getting to you.  Number 1 was the suicide prevention hotline, which is  1-800-273-8255.  Call them if you need it, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

His 11th thing to do was fly the flag.  The other side doesn’t have a monopoly on patriotism, as much as they may wrap themselves up in old glory.  There’s a lot to admire in this country, and a lot to critique.  But this is our country, too, and most of it comes from the liberal side of the equation.  There’s been progress in decency.  But there’s also been reverses.  My best bet is that this was an election like 1876- a set back, a very serious set back.  It took 80 odd years to reverse the machinations of Jim Crow that election put into motion.  Reconstruction ended, and we left the most vulnerable to be left to the tender mercies of the KKK.

Done in the name of political power, of course.

And what can we do?  We need to organize, and fight back.  And be defenders for the weak.  There’s been a lot of people telling us big city liberals how we need to emphasize with the poor working class in the Midwest that gave Trump this victory.  There’s some truth to that, but it works on the flip-side, too.  They elected Trump, and you don’t vote for a man like that if you have much empathy for the people that he’s pledging to come after.

I don’t think that people would have voted for a man pledging to make all Muslims register if they knew and cared for Muslim friends.  Empathy can break down this kind of nonsense- it’s how we came along to support gay marriage- everyone began to know and care for the people that had had previously been so eager to take away equality from.  Trump and Pence come after Gay marriage at their political peril, but they will come after people that are trans.  And so will their followers.  We need empathy and strength for the vulnerable, fight and organize for and with them.

And it is empathy for the folks on the other side that will bring them over.  Contempt will harden their hearts against us.  And we need their help.  God, we need everyone’s right now.

There’s a speech I keep coming back to when I am full of despair.  It’s Chaplin’s final speech from the Great Dictator, where he turns Hitler into a Clown.  It is a speech that is remarkable, remarkable for those times and remarkable still, for it’s faith in humanity.

Listen:

“To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.”

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder!

In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.”

The entire speech is magnificent.

And I repeat him:  Do not Despair.  You are not alone.

There is power in the basic decency and kindness of man.  Our empathy can overcome this man that is our President elect.  We’ve gone into our various bubbles.  There is misery in rural America- misery where little help came to.  There is misery elsewhere.  There is misery in Chicago.  They seem immune to caring for ours.  We seem immune to caring for there’s.

There’s another speech that I turn to.  It’s from Kurt Vonnegut, that child of Armistice Day.  It’s from a conversation between the main character of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and his estranged wife.  He is trying to remind her of empathy, which she has lost.  It’s his advice to new babies:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded.

At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here.

There’s only one rule that I know of, babies

—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

I don’t know what’s going to get us out of this mess.  I don’t know if there is a way out of this mess.

There’s something that I would add to Mr. Steinberg’s list, that I’ve been doing these past couple of days.  I’ve been writing thank you notes to my friends and loves ones.  It’s silly and simple, but it helps.  There’s room, and a necessity for organizing politically.  For flipping Congress in two years, to protecting the weak from the worst of Mr. Trump.  But there is room still for empathy and kindness, even, and especially, towards those that voted for President-elect Trump.

I’m sorry for the length of this.  I don’t know how well empathy will do against the worst of them.  But there’s so many decent people in this world, that I do not believe that they want his excesses or his cruelty.  And if he is as awful as I think he will be, we will need them to help us fight back.

I’m not religious, but I do rather believe the line from the Gospel of St. Luke’s that the Kingdom of God is within man.  That most people do have basic decency within them, that they are capable of empathy, that they will join with us to build a better world.

There must be love in the time of Trump.  Love for each other and love for the other side.

We still have the power to make this life a wonderful adventure.

I love you all.

P.S.:  One very important caveat: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” James Baldwin. This goes doubly true for those who would seek oppress others.  Even my love has its limits, and there is a time and place for resistance, of course.

 

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The Curse of Mordechai, “Three Fingered” Brown!

Thank God, we have at long last made it to the World Series.  We have defeated the Curse of the Billy Goat, cast upon our beloved team in 1945.  We have, at least, made a Steve Goodman lyric obsolete.

(“Told his friends “You know the law of averages says:
Anything will happen that can”
That’s what it says
“But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan”)

But we have not yet climbed the summit.  The Cleveland Indians and their expert bullpen staff await us.  And we have not yet triumphed over all of the curses that have been placed upon this damned team.  This drought did not begin in 1945, but began in 1908!  There no accursed billy goat in Wrigley Field, there was only one, amazing pitcher, by the name of Mordechai Brown, who had not yet earned his nickname.

Listen my friends, as I tell you the World Series Curse placed upon the Chicago Cubs, as I tell you about…

THE CURSE OF MORDECHAI “THREE FINGERED BROWN!”

Mordechai is, arguably, the greatest pitcher to have ever put on a
jersey for my beloved Chicago Cubs.  He pitched for my Cubbies from
1904-1912, during the most successful period in franchise history.  He
had an amazing career ERA of 2.06, a record of 239-130, and helped win
the Chicago Cubs their last two World Series.

He, also, according to the story, made a pact with the devil to win
those two championships.

Let’s go back to the year 1906.  The Chicago Cubs, playing out of the
old West side park, fielded, for my money, the greatest team ever to
play Major League baseball, relative to the eras.  They won 116 games,
with is still tied with the 2001 Mariners for most games won in a
season, even though the Mariners had an extra 20 games to get there.
They won the National League by 20 games, and faced off against those
no-good South Side bums, the hitless wonders, the Chicago White Sox.
(Later called Black Sox.)

Somehow, the White Sox won the series 4 games to 2.1906

And Mordechai pledged it would never happen again.  This is where the
story gets a little weird, recounted in the wonderful book, Some Hits but Mostly Errors, a compilation of Chicago cubs History and Humor.

This is the way the story goes:

It was at a bat on the South Side ofChicago- at Paddy Bear’s tavern at 1308 S. Halstead, where Mordechai was taunted by some South Siders.  He decked two of them, was
manhandled by the rest, and forced out of the bar.  Mordechai grew
furious, and let me quote here, from Frank Chance’s account, who was
with him:

“We had just been tossed out of the bar, and Mordechai has a black eye
for his troubles.  He went to the alley next to the bar, and he took
out his hunting knife.  We were all afraid he was going to go back
into Paddy’s place, but he instead got a crazy look in his eyes.  He
started breathing deeply, and he said,

‘We’re going to win it next year, and we’re never going to have to put
up with these Irish South Siders again.  We’re going to win it next
year, and year after that, and every year for every finger I cut off
my hand,” Mordechai said.  (Give or take a word- we’d all been
drinking.)

And so, before we even realized what he was doing, and mind you, we
were a little afraid of our friend who had been drinking and was
wielding a knife, he sliced off his first finger, and blood started to
come out.  He went for his middle finger, and he cut it deep, to the
bone, but not all the way.  There was a lot of blood, sure, and we
flagged down a hack to take us to the hospital, where they patched
them up as best they could.  But his hand was ruined, or so we
thought, and we thought he would never pitch again, let alone lead us
to the series in 1907.”

This is what Mordechai did to his hand:

350px-Mordecai_Brown_3_fingers

Here’s the weird thing, of course.  Mordechai did come back and pitch
for the Chicago Cubs.  And he did it with three fingers, a mangled
hand, and a new pitch- the split fingered fast ball.

The Cubs came back and won the World Series in 1907 and 1908, the
first team to repeat as World Series Champions.  They made it back to
the World Series in 1910, but lost 4-1 to the Philidelphia A’s.
Here’s what Mordechai had to say about it (from the Chicago Daily News
Edition of October 24th):

“Of course he lost, just like I told them we would.  Tinkers and
Evers, and Chance, stopped me from taking my other finger off, and we
still won last year, but there’s a cost to these things.  We won last
year, but I swear to every thing I hold holy- we’re not going to win
again for at least a 100 years.  Maybe never.  Yeah…yeah!  Never again!”

Mordechai was always a little dramatic.  But it did come to pass- the
Cubs haven’t won since 1908.

The Cubs went to the World Series a fair number of times between 1908 and 1945.  The lsot every time.  They even had the pleasure of having Babe Ruth call a home run at Wrigley Field in 1932.  But they have the finest Chicago Cubs team that has been assembled since 1908 this year.  They are superior, on paper, to the Cleveland Indians, in nearly every facet of the game.  (I’ll give the Indians marks for having a better bullpen.)

But the Cubs do not merely fight against the Indians.  The fight against curses, ghosts, and time itself.  This Chicago Cubs team is strong, but is it stronger than a 3-fingered maniac?

Only time will tell.  I believe in the Chicago Cubs.  I believe in the Rizz Kid , President Wilson Contreras, Kyle “The Hen” Hendricks, and Kris “Just try it!” Bryant.

But I also believe in curses.

Go Cubs Go…If you dare!

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