HELLO FRIEND: BILL COSBY, GRANDMA’S PIRATED TAPE, & SHOELESS JOE JACKSON

“The grandparents come over… ‘now just come here and kiss your grandmommy, muh muh muh muh muh, grandmommy love you to death.’ And my children think that my mother is the most wonderful person on the face of this earth and I keep telling my children, ‘that’s not the same woman I grew up with. You’re looking at an old person who’s trying to get into heaven now.’

Those are not my words, however, I didn’t transcribe those words either. I didn’t look them up, read them, or research them. No, those words are emblazoned in my mind. My Grandma Julie came over to visit one night with Grandpa and LB, and she handed me a cassette tape (this is the early 1980’s). “You like that Bill Cosby don’t you? My friend has one of his records and I made a tape for you,” she said and she handed me a cassette tape, the kind you might use to make a mix tape off the radio. That little tape was one of the greatest presents I ever received. I took that tape up to my room, popped it into my tape recorder, (you know the little silver and black plastic things that people would dictate into) and I would listen and I would laugh and I would laugh and I would laugh. I laughed hardest when he made fun of his father. I don’t know what it is with fathers and sons, but my own son loves to laugh at me and at that time, I loved to laugh at my dad. Must have something to do with the coming of age, in any event, I laughed and laughed until I stopped laughing and began to mimic. After I could mimic, I began reciting parts of it. “I’m sick of this and I’m sick of you. So sick I don’t know what to do with myself. I am just sick and tired. ‘And tired’ always followed ‘sick’. Worst beating I ever got in my life my mother said, ‘I am just sick…’ I said, ‘… and tired’. I don’t remember anything that happened that day.”

The record Grandma Julie had pirated was Bill Cosby Himself. (I later purchased the record album, which I believe absolves Grandma of her innocent piracy) Now at that time, Mr. Cosby was already famous. He’d co-stared in I-Spy, had his own sitcom ‘The Bill Cosby Show’ in which he played a gym teacher, had been on the Electric Company (which is where I first saw him), had a short segment on PBS called Picture Pages, and of course was the host and creator of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, one of my favorite cartoons growing up. He’d already had hit comedy albums, was a stand-up major headliner, and a legitimate star, but it was this album Grandma had taped for me that would propel Bill Cosby into the realm of superstardom. This was the album that inspired the Cosby Show, the 1984 television show that is credited with single handedly resurrecting the nearly dead television format of the situation comedy. This was the one. And I had it all memorized (well, all but two bits, Chocolate Cake For Breakfast and the Dentist because Grandma Julie didn’t record those). Not only did I have the words memorized, but the delivery, the cadence, the pauses, the inflections. It was comedy school 101 taught by a master craftsman, one of the best to ever stand on stage and tell a joke.

Well, that isn’t exactly accurate, is it? Because Bill Cosby doesn’t stand on stage and tell jokes, he sits. And he doesn’t tell jokes, he tells stories. It just so happens that his stories are hilarious. Perfectly worded, perfectly timed, and perfectly delivered. I learned a lot about comic delivery and story telling from listening to that tape. But that isn’t what makes Mr. Cosby so funny. His true talent lies elsewhere.

When my grandmother gave me that tape, there were other popular comedians around with best-selling albums. It was 1982 and I was nine, going on ten. George Carlin had just released ‘A Place For My Stuff’ two years before. Eddie Murphy released his self-titled album and the next year would release ‘Delirious’. There was Richard Pryor, Cheech and Chong, and others. But, not only would my parents never let me listen to those… I’m not sure I would even think they were funny. (Some kids got a kick out of hearing the swears, but if I wanted to hear those all I had to do was hit my sister, wait for her to cry and I’d get my fair share of those words for free and in person from my dad.) The jokes on those records would’ve been way over my head. But not Bill Cosby. And that’s where his true talent lies. He can relate to, and remember what it was like to be, every age. His best stuff is from the perspective of a child. His own childhood is vivid. Not in the sense that he remembers every event, but rather in the more rare ability to remember what it was like, how he felt, how he thought. Those are the things that escape most of us. We can all tell you the story of the time when I was eight years old and such-and-such happened. But, not many of us can reach back and tap into the mindset of your eight-year-old self. Bill Cosby can. And when he does, he reminds us of our own eight year old selves, because though it’s difficult to bring ourselves to that mindset, that way of thinking and feeling of that little ‘me’ of so long ago, it is right there on the tip of the consciousness and we go willingly and easily along when Mr. Cosby takes us there, and that is where the fun is, and where the funny is. That is his true talent. He takes us back to that perspective, of how we viewed our parents, our siblings, the world and ourselves. For a split second we are eight again, or ten, or eleven, or twelve. And then, in the next breath, he brings us back. Back to now, to the other side where we have to deal with those ‘brain damaged’ people we call children. Where we have to try to reason with those eight year old minds. He articulates our frustrations, our failures, our inabilities to be the ‘perfect parent’ by pointing out that none of us are, that we all share that shortcoming that is to successfully communicate with, understand, and guide these small, still developing people with this strange view of the world.

He can at once make us laugh at our own parents from the perspective of a child looking up at authority, and as an adult looking at aging, softening at the edges, grandparents “that is not the same woman I grew up with”. And we can identify and laugh with both because he takes us there so effectively.

I don’t know when I first saw Mr. Cosby on TV. I think it was on the Electric Company. By the time I was watching Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids in the late ‘70’s, I recognized him. I knew him. “This is Bill Cosby comin’ atcha with music and fun, and if you’re not careful you might learn somethin’ before it’s done, okay? Hey Hey Hey!” I’d see him on Picture Pages, Jell-O commercials, Coca-Cola commercials. He was everywhere. It’s worth pointing out too that the civil rights movement hit its peak in 1968. Real Jim Crow style segregation was still very real in many parts of the country. By 1971, Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman were on PBS teaching all us kids phonics and math. He is a large part of the progress America has made in race relations. He is the first African American to be on mainstream television in his own show without it being about ‘a black guy’, but rather a guy who happened to be black. He co-starred, with equal billing, with Robert Culp in I-Spy in 1965. Only twelve years earlier, American TV sets were tuned to Amos and Andy. Mr. Cosby is criticized by some for not being ‘black enough’. As a white man, I can tell you that he’s black enough for racists to dislike him just the same as they would any black man, maybe even more so. What he did, is he changed the way white-middle-class-suburban people viewed African Americans and their culture.

For once, a black man wasn’t emptying the garbage, or working as a butler, or a barber… he was a doctor. He lived in a nice house, not in the projects like on Good Times, and not in some “Movin’-on-up, one-in-a-million-shot-success-fish-out-of-water-highrises” like the Jeffersons, but in a realistic, honest way, he was upper middle-class, and he was black. And he was the first to be that on television, and while white suburban families across the country sat every week in droves watching this successful black couple make them laugh on TV, Mr. Cosby made a point to integrate African and African American culture and history into the show. Yet the very existence and scope of the popularity of the show is due to the fact that, despite racial, sociological, cultural, and economic differences, there is a thread of commonalities throughout American culture that transcends those differences; shared thoughts, feelings, and experiences that come not from being black or white but from being American and in a family. There’s a lot to be said for having achieved that at the time he did, and in the manner in which he did.

So, needless to say, I am, and have for a long time, been a fan of Mr. Cosby. I respect him. I studied him. I can identify with him even though he grew up with black skin in the projects of Philadelphia thirty years before I was born and I grew up with white skin in working-class neighborhoods of Chicago, I can identify with him, as can millions of people of all races and classes across America.

So this weekend, thirty-two years after I’d first gotten that tape from my Grandma, I finally got to see the man in person. He was performing at the Rosemont Theater. My wife and I sat about five rows back from the stage, but off to the side. Good seats, had they been center, they would’ve been extraordinary seats. On stage was a chair and table. Across the chair was draped a cloth of some kind that had embroidered into it the words “HELLO FRIEND” in a rainbow of colors. On the table sat a bottle of water, a glass, and a box of Kleenex. Behind the table, a little garbage can like you’d find under a desk in an office.

It says: Hello Friend

It says: HELLO FRIEND

The house lights were still up and the audience still conversing and moving about, when, unannounced, this larger than life figure with a familiar walk, strode across the stage to the seat and said ‘hello.’ With that, the show began. Unlike every other show I’ve ever seen, the house lights stayed lit. Mr. Cosby began talking and soon asked the ‘soundman’ to turn down the level so his voice wasn’t bouncing around the room so much but rather it “sound more like a living room”. And that is exactly what the next two hours felt like. Like an old friend, an old man you’d known forever, stopped by the house for a glass of water and a long chat. And it was funny. Admittedly, it started out slow, but most visits usually do. Conversations don’t usually start with a bang, we ease into them. That’s what he did. He eased into it and before you knew it, you were engrossed in the conversation, one-way though it was, and laughing. My wife chuckled. She elbowed me a couple of times as if to say “you do that” or “sounds like my parents, doesn’t it?” But me… I was laughing. I laughed so hard a few times that it caused me to go into a coughing fit. I started sweating, I had tears running down my cheeks. By the time the two-hour show was over, I was wet. Which brings us, unfortunately, to the news reports of earlier that day. (Hell of a segue, huh?)

I’d waited, like I said, for 32 years to see my favorite comedian perform his craft in person. (I’d seen Carlin and Seinfeld years before. Carlin is like my devil on the shoulder favorite, while Cosby is like the angel on my shoulder favorite. Seinfeld’s funny, but I saw him for my wife. Great show though). So, here I am, the day I’m finally going to see Bill Cosby in person! And he’s all over the news. And it isn’t good news.

There are reports surfacing, that he drugged and raped a woman. Then reports that others, several others, have reported similar instances of having been drugged then raped by Mr. Cosby. I’ve been in the television industry myself for close to twenty years now. I’m not naïve enough to believe that the people we see on TV are the same in real life as they portray themselves to be. In interviews, on the Tonight Show, in magazines, it is a carefully orchestrated strategy at work. This is, after all, a business and their product is themselves. And so they market themselves in such a way, at least the smart ones do, that people will like them and buy their albums, watch their sitcom, go to their concerts, see their plays, etc. I’ve also been in this business long enough to know to never trust anything I see on TV. That’s the other side of the business. Grab as many eyeballs (or clicks) as possible. You have video of a fire, run it! You have footage of Japanese politicians beating the crap out of each other, it’s news! Lindsay Lohan goes to rehab or Paris Hilton gets arrested, lead with it! If it’s not salacious enough, find a salacious angle to it and present it that way! (Fox News is brilliant at that, but they’re all guilty of it to some extent) America’s favorite TV dad is accused of rape; goddamn right that’s news. Front friggin’ page. Tweet it, Instagram it, Facebook it, just tell them about it and let them know to turn to us for more info, they’re starving for it!! It doesn’t have to be true or proven; the mere allegations are newsworthy in and of themselves! Find me more women who’ll say the same thing and do it before we go on the air at six!

So what’s a fan to think? There are women who will have sex with a TV star, simply because he’s a TV star, so I find it difficult to believe someone who is the top TV star at the time this was supposed to have happened, would have to resort to drugging and raping a woman just to get laid. All he’d really have to do is walk into the right club and say “Hi”. I also know that doesn’t mean a thing.

I know there are people who will do some low-down dirty-rotten things to extort money from someone, and that includes falsely accusing him of rape. I also know it is strange that so many women have such similar stories.  It’s also strange, though, that no one did anything about it at the time.  He was very famous and very wealthy.  The woman who claims she sought representation from an attorney who laughed her out of his office can’t be trusted because if there were any way to even possibly sue him for rape, any lawyer would’ve jumped at it just for a piece of the settlement money, and yet, she was ‘laughed out of the office’.  Even a slimy lawyer couldn’t see enough to make a case out of it.  But that’s one.  Rape is too serious an allegation to dismiss it easily.  It’s also too serious an allegation to convict the accused without due process based on stories on the news.

I hope those women are lying. I hope he didn’t rape them, for their sake and his. He’s done some great things in his life, and as I stated in a previous post, it is difficult to not like someone who makes you laugh, and he has made me laugh since I was a little, little boy. My thoughts on this can be summed up with the words of another little boy to his idol nearly a century ago when Shoeless Joe Jackson was confronted with the words “Say it ain’t so.”

Please Mr. Cosby, say it ain’t so.  In the meantime, I’m getting together with some old friends for a furious game of ‘Buck-Buck’ and try to remember the mindset of that nine year old boy with a cassette tape that made him laugh so much.

Bill Cosby in concert at the Rosemont Theater, November 15, 2014

Bill Cosby in concert at the Rosemont Theater, November 15, 2014

I don't get dressed up for just anybody.  I was even going to wear a tie, but my neck outgrew the shirt.

I don’t get dressed up for just anybody. I was even going to wear a tie, but my neck outgrew the shirt.

If Mark Wahlberg is Yummy, WTF do you call this?

I have heard ‘The Boss Lady” describe Mark Wahlberg as, and I quote, “Yummy”.

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My female friends and family have described Charlie Hunnam as ‘Yum’.

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This is me:

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Images in picture larger than they appear.

Not quite ‘yummy’ or ‘yum’ I would guess.  More like, ‘send this back, it’s not what I ordered’ or ‘Holy shit! Boil some water and grab some salad tongs this hairy man is about to give birth to something!’

Now of course, the reason I got this way is because my definition of yummy is this:

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Beer, wine, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pizza, beer, wine, cookies, beer, wine, avocado (I do eat some healthy things).  Anyhow, you get the picture.  So here I am on my 42 birthday looking and feeling like a piece of shit because I wasn’t always a bloated man-pig.  A few years ago, I was able to shed the belly and actually, for the first time since high school, add some muscle.

Me 2011

This is the night I hurt my knee. Aug. 2011

That lasted for a couple of years or so until I hurt my knee.  I never really got back into working out after that.  That was 2011.  Since then, I’ve put on all that I’d lost and more.  And now it isn’t coming off as easily as it used to because now I’m 42 friggin’ years old.

I go to the health club and I see the guys who haven’t sat on their laurels with a hearty beer and can’t help but think, ‘that’s what I’m supposed to look like’.  Then the thought occurred to me, ‘is this what women have been dealing with all these years?  Is this how we’ve made them feel with our SI Swimsuit issues and our Playboy centerfolds and our beer commercial girls?’

SI Swimsuit(Oh my, would you look at her!!  Very lickable, I mean likable.  Anyhow, I digress…)

Where was I?  Oh yeah, is our idolatry of these unrealistic female forms creating a self-esteem issue among women in our society?  Does that make them feel bad the same way Marky Mark and Jax Teller make me feel bad? Is this why the diet industry is a billion dollar cash cow (no pun intended) with most of the marketing directed toward women?  Then I thought, ‘Nah, that’s ridiculous!  And where exactly did I put that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue anyhow?’

In any event, it hurts.  It hurts to know how much work and sacrifice it’s going to take to try to get a body like Wahlberg or Jax Teller. (Btw, why is it Jax Teller drinks beer on SOA and still looks like the above picture from Men’s Health magazine and I drink beer while watching SOA and I end up looking like Bobby Munson after they tortured him and broke his jaw?)

Bobby Munson SOA

It hurts to think about how many Sundays I’m going to have to spend watching football without eating pizza or drinking beer.  It really is painful.  But there is only one thing to do about it, I guess.  Well, there’re a few options actually, one is to be happy with myself, with who I am and how I look.  Enjoy life and try to be healthy enough to keep enjoying life for a few more decades or I can bust my ass at the gym, eat more vegetables, say no to more wine more often, dine on lean meat, and look at myself in the mirror and say ‘work harder you dumb asshole!’.

Then there is the third option, the one I’ve been following all my adult life.  It’s a combination of the two aforementioned options where I enjoy life and every once in a while look in the mirror, call myself an asshole, and go hit the gym hard for a few weeks until that feeling passes.

Now if I could only figure out which route to take.  I think I’ll pour myself a cold one, and flip through a Victoria Secrets catalogue while I think it over.  What harm is there in that?

[I have a goal to once again participate in the Men’s Health Urbanathalon in 2015.  The journey toward getting there begins now.  I plan to blog about my trials and tribulations along the way.  When I have that set up, I will let you know.  We’ll see if I can actually stick with option two and get this out-of-shape pos working harder and moving again. Time will tell]

The Conspiracy of Chance: A Middle-Aged Man at Homecoming

I took a slow drive past the old Stevenson Arms dorm today. Homecoming weekend has been fun, but it’s almost time to head back into the present time. As Tom Petty says, ‘you can look back babe, but it’s best not to stare’. So before I jump in that time machine that brought me back here, I want to reflect a little on life and the time I spent here and the dash of time between then and now.

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Homecoming Football game 2011

The first feeling that struck me as I rolled past the backend of the dorm building (which by the way hasn’t changed at all from that perspective, sans the blue instead of maroon door) was what a short time in our lives it was. Though it was a constant stream of students, a teaming bubbling flow of life, it was also a constant shifting of individuals, To a casual observer looking in from outside, that river never changed, but for those of us riding that wave we saw changes.

For me, I was a part of that current for three years. And in that short amount of time, both the dorm and I changed immensely. It was not the same place I had first moved into in the fall of 1990, but I wasn’t the same person anymore either. It’s that time of life. Lots of changes, and they are big ones. In childhood, because you’re growing physically as well as mentally and emotionally, it’s easy to see and expect those big changes, but by seventeen, they kind of take you by surprise, sweep you up and carry you to a new place swiftly and not always smoothly, but almost imperceptibly.   I think that’s part of why this place is so dear to me. I did so much growing and learning and becoming who I am there. That’s where my adulthood started, though ‘adult’ might not be the most accurate word I can use to describe what I’ve become, but it’s the best I’ve got right now.

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The part that is so difficult to grasp and completely understand is the randomness of chance and coincidence that conspired to bring me what has essentially turned out to be, simply put, my life. I hadn’t planned on attending S.I.U., but once it was decided (three weeks before school began), the dorms were all full. There was one dorm with room. Most years, this was one of the more difficult dorms to get into, freshman/sophomore approved, but off-campus and co-ed floors. Due to a computer malfunction that year, rooms that were normally booked were available. I got in.

I knew almost nobody in Carbondale. The one or two people I did know were older and lived in apartments and townhouses off campus and I really didn’t know them that well. Again chance stepped in and the lady who ran the dorm assigned me to room with the only other seventeen-year-old male in the building. He spent all of five months as my roommate and the last twenty-one years as one of my closest friends.

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The old Stevenson Arms 2014

That fall was the first year the University closed the campus and dorms for a week over Halloween and we were sent home. Mike was from Las Vegas, so I brought him to Chicago to stay with my family for the week. There he met his future bride and mother of his children and forged life-long friendships of his own in what I’m sure for him was a most unexpected place.

You see what I mean about the randomness of the whole thing. Fate, God, Luck, Chance, a random roll of the dice brought certain people to this one certain place in this one precise moment in time and set us on a path from which we could never again veer off. That is life, isn’t it? And because of those random chance encounters and unconscious decisions it is what I call ‘My Life’.

I think of the people I met here. Some friendships are the enduring kind, others are people I’ll probably never see again on this Earthly journey, but all of them are with me in that strange, hard-to-describe way. Avion with whom I was a student janitor for two or three months and with whom I went to the shooting range once is still vivid in my memory in a way in which I almost expect to run into him around campus one day when school resumes and neither of us will have changed. The mind plays tricks on you that way as the universe secretly steals time away from you.

Then there are the friends who I talk to every few years or so. Thanks to Facebook we can keep up more often without too much hassle. They are those kinds of friends who, even after ten years of not being in the same room together, after about five minutes it’s as if nothing has changed… as if life hasn’t moved much. Of course it has. It’s the connection, the shared experience of that crucial time in our lives that stays cemented and allows those friendships to pick up where they left off.

And then there are the others. The ones I haven’t seen or spoken to in the better part of sixteen years or more. They are here with me. A part of who I am. I know, it sounds like I’m talking about dead people, but I’m not… at least I hope I’m not. They’re here, somewhere on the Earth following their own path, living out their personal journey one moment to the next somewhere, but I imagine this invisible tether, one we cannot feel nor see. We came from different stations into this one hub for a short time and affected each other, and then like locomotives in the night each branched off in our own direction, each on a separate journey to that final destination that lies, with any luck, in the much distant future. But that tether is there. It’s in a song, a smell, a feeling on the breeze that takes you back for just a fleeting second to that shared place and those people who made it special to you.

And so, here I sit on the edge of Thompson Woods, twenty-one years and two months after I first ventured to this place. I’m waiting for the Student Center to open so I can use the washroom and get a Starbucks for my long ride. The woods here on campus was always a place of reflection for me… a calm, serene escape from homesickness, classroom stress, worry and longing for my girlfriend hundreds of miles away. A venture off the beaten path even if just for a few minutes walking from one class to the next, taking the wooded trail through Thompson instead of across the campus was a respite, a rejuvenation of mind and spirit between lecture halls and lab hours. Much needed because, of course, not all the time I spent here was good. I know I’m looking back at it more romantically than realistically, but isn’t that what the past should be… at least sometimes?

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From a more recent trip 2014

I’m grateful to have this place to visit. I’m grateful to have had the chance to visit this place with Mike again, and with his daughter and her friends. It’s kind of like being suspended between two places in time. But the thing about this journey we’re on is: the changes keep coming. They should keep coming. I feel I have just recently awoken from a decades long sleep… a fear induced walking comatose state. I’m awake now, and for the first time in a very, very long time I feel alive, and new, and ready to tackle those things I had previously allowed fear to keep from me. No more. So many lost moments and so many lost opportunities to become the ‘me’ I always wished I were. I feel a little like Dorothy coming to the realization that I had the power to get what I’ve wanted the entire time. Maybe I had to go through it all to get to this place, but I’m glad I’m finally here. So in a way, today as I leave S.I.U. again, I do so to face an uncertain but wide-open future of possibilities, but this time I’ll do it awake. And as I do, I take with me this place, this place that has given me enduring friendships, chance encounters that touched and changed my heart, and some of the most precious memories of my life… we are all tethered together by that force of nature that by chance brought us together and gave us this invisible link that lies within us and that force that set us on our way.

I thank God for that randomness of chance. It is the unplanned and unexpected moments of my life that have changed it and shaped it the most. Go ahead, keep making your plans, just don’t fight the current.

Starbucks is open. Time to hit the open road.

Brian Schnoor

Campus of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Carbondale, IL

October 16, 2011

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From my favorite Carbondale bar, Sidetracks

You Depraved Little Monkey

My goal was to publish a new blog post at least once a week.  I missed last week, and here I sit on Monday night with nothing written yet for this week, light on topics, and short on time.  And so, I’ve decided that in such a circumstance, rather than tell you about my thoughts on the Skeleton Twins (it’s great btw), I figured I’d tackle the nature of mankind.  Specifically the question of whether human beings are inherently good or evil.

I know, I know, everyone from Plato to Carrot Top has weighed in on this one, but I haven’t and really how can I leave this world one day without having shared with the eternal webosphere my thoughts on this subject.

Is man (of course meaning men, women, children, LBGT, etc, etc.) inherently good or evil.  Religion tends to adopt one of three doctrines depending on the sect, that of total depravity, limited depravity, or restored doctrine of atonement.  Think about that for a second.  Your spiritual leaders think you are either completely and totally depraved, just kinda-sorta depraved but definitely depraved, or are born good will become depraved but will find redemption from your depravity.  “You were created in God’s image, you depraved little monkey!”

Shame on us all.  Of course, that is the business of our religious leaders, isn’t it?  Shame us, then show us how to overcome the shame through prayer, penance, and Bingo every Tuesday night?  Anyhoo… I digress.

Philosophers have philosophized about this very question since time began.  I could tell you all about Plato’s take on Ethics (I studied that for a semester in an attempt to avoid math.  Instead I learned that Philosophy is simply a mathematical way of thinking about non-numeric ideas.  Should’ve taken Algebra II), but I won’t.  You’ll have to look it up for yourself.  (No cheating)

Instead, I’m going to give you my take on the whole shebang right here.  Is man inherently good?  No.  Is man inherently evil? No.  We’re all capable of both good and evil.  What man is, is inherently selfish.  We are all selfish, and by necessity.  It’s survival.  It is us at our most basic level.  Strip away all else and what have you got???  Selfish.  Survival. Me making it to see another day.  Goes right back to primitive man and it is ingrained in our DNA.

It is a person’s ability to control that selfishness that dictates whether the bulk of his deeds are good or evil.

Mother Theresa was selfish.  Adolf Hitler was selfish.  Mother Theresa was able to control the natural instinct to be selfish and, through selflessness, the bulk of her deeds were good.  She is in line for Sainthood, to go down in the annals of history as one of the most giving and caring people there ever was.  Adolf Hitler on the other hand, had very little control over his selfishness.  As a direct result, his actions were vile and millions of people lost their lives.  He was evil personified.  He became one of the most reviled and despised people to ever walk the face of the Earth.

Is that because one was born evil and one good?  No.  They were both born with the capacity for both, not either-or, but both, and like most of us, I’m sure they, to some degree, each engaged in both.  Nobody is perfect.  Nobody is perfectly good, and nobody is perfectly evil.  Did Mother Theresa ever lose her temper or become annoyed?  The mere fact that she is human would suggest that of course she did.  Did Hitler ever respond to a sneeze with a considerate gesundheit?  Probably.

What made all the difference in the world between these two extreme examples was the desire and ability to control naturally inherent selfishness.

Of course, these are extreme examples.  None of us are Mother Theresa, yet none of us are Hitler, though there’s seems to be no shortage of people looking to unseat him as the most evil of modern times.  For most of us, we do both a little good and a little bad everyday, often without knowing it since we’re so wrapped up in our own objectives to notice the effect we have outside ourselves.  Looking back on one’s life, you can see monumental moments when you know you did something, if not quiet evil, at least certainly wrong.  And you can see monumental moments when you know you done good kid.

You see, we want to be able to say, “Deep down, I’m a good person, I just made a mistake.”  And we like to look at the mongrels of the human race, the two-legged rats and say “They’re simply born evil.”  Neither is true.  We were all born selfish and we can’t just do away with selfishness completely.  We need to keep a little of it to survive, but not so much that we’re blind to any moral obligation to our fellow man.

Suppress the selfishness.  Look outward as well as inward.  Keep your moral compass pointed to true north which is kindness and caring for others.  It goes back to one religious tenant, the golden rule.  “treat others as you’d like to be treated”.  In other words, you’re friggin’ selfish.  To be good, realize other people matter too, and feed their selfishness as you’d feed your own and in the end, you’ll come out pretty much even on the good-evil scale.  Guess religion knew this, they just let something obscure this beautiful Ethic of Reciprocity with all that depravity talk.  Wonder what that something was.  Oh well, I can’t answer every question tonight.

With that said, I believe it is time for me to put all of this nonsense about mankind away and do something good – for me.

Unknown images 113px-PlatonUnknown-1

AND A CUP OF COFFEE FOR THE KID!

We wake up early, before the sun, and gather our gear for the day. There’s a chill in the early summer morning. My head is foggy from too little sleep and too much beer. There is a cure though. By the time we reach the boat and the first winks of daylight are stretching up from the horizon, our fishing poles and tackle boxes neatly stored below, I’ve got a greasy breakfast in my stomach and a steaming cup of coffee in my hand. The coffee jolts me awake, flipping the switch in my brain from dim to fully lit. The fog clears and I am ready to catch some walleye.

Dining complete. The glorious meal consumed. Wine bottle emptied. Plates cleared. A beautiful woman sitting across the table from me glowing by candlelight.   The waitress brings two cups of cappuccino, each flanked by a cookie, and paper straws of raw sugar.

Rushing out of the house to get to work. Grab a cup and race off.

Working late. The moon up and most others gone for the day. Burning the midnight oil they call it. A cup of Starbucks gives me the added oomph I need to finish the job and get the hell out of there.

Christmas morning. The presents are opened and wrapping paper is scattered around the front room. Two aromas fill the air: cigarette smoke and brewing coffee. Grandma is here.

Coffee. It is my drug of choice. I need it to wake up. To feel right. For that, I’m not picky. I can slam down swill in a Styrofoam cup from a gas station or whatever K-cups are handy in the house from the Keurig (instant coffee gratification, no-fuss, no-muss, no wait, not great, but quick and good enough). I’m not looking to savor the flavor, I just wanna gulp it and get it working. Hot and black and bitter and satisfying.

But, on a Sunday morning, the skillet breakfast downed and the morning paper spread out, I care. I care what it tastes like. I have expectations. I’ll use cream and sugar, not too much, just enough. I’ll sip it from a ceramic cup. At just the right temperature, a good cup of coffee can be among the best things I will taste in my life. Better than cookies, better that steak, better than beer, better than wine. It is wonderful. It stands alone as one of the best treats we can spoil ourselves with.

Coffee runs in the family. My maternal grandmother, Grandma Sis, made arguably the best coffee in all of Chicago. Though third-generation Irish, she made her coffee in a Swedish enamel pot decorated in Berggren art. No filters in the pot, you used a strainer to catch the grounds as you poured it into your cup.

There was always a pot of coffee on her stove. When visitors would stop by, she’d either have a pot already made, or she’d put on a fresh pot for her guests. I don’t know how much coffee she drank a day, but it was a lot.

When I was a little boy, I think about three years old, but whatever age, I was too young to walk down the stairs so I had to turn around and crawl butt-first from our upstairs apartment to her first-floor apartment. When I reached her door, I stood up and knocked. “Who is it?” she called in her grandma voice, as if expecting a puppy or a fawn or a little grandson. “Me,” I called back, as if there were only one ‘me’ in the world.

“Me who?” She opened the door and feigned surprise, “Oh, Brine!” (Her thick Goose Island accent made Brian sound like Brine.) “Come in.”

She escorted me as if I were an old friend from the neighborhood to her kitchen table and offered me a seat. Just as she did when her brother Tommy would come by, or when my Mom or one of her siblings would visit, Grandma Sis pulled two coffee cups, each with a matching saucer, down from the cupboard above the kitchen sink and poured, through the strainer, two steaming cups of fresh coffee. She left a lot of room for cream and sugar in mine though, then added a splash of half-and-half and a teaspoon of sugar and had me stir it. We sat there talking and drinking coffee together and I felt special. I wasn’t some little kid sipping root beer or milk from a sippy-cup. I was her special boy having a cup of coffee and talking like I was a real person, like I mattered.

A small, shy, uncoordinated kid with thick glasses and a crossed-eye, I rarely felt special and almost never felt as if I belonged. Throughout my life, whenever I would get down about feeling like an outcast, or tread toward the depths of self-loathing, deep inside, there was always a part of me that knew that no matter what the rest of the outside world thought, or what I myself thought of me, I was special to someone, and there would always be a fresh pot of coffee on the stove and time to let me know she loved me.

Now, even though I’ll gulp down a cup of Kuerig something in the car, or Starbucks while I write, or even sip a decent cup at a diner, the best coffee I have these days I make myself from an old recipe in an enamel coffee pot, no filter, decorated with Berggren art inscribed with the Swedish saying: Kaffetåren den bästa är av alla jordiska drycke, which means ‘Coffee the best of all earthly potions is’ — Ain’t that the truth.

Farewell Wrigley Field, It’s Been A Great 100 Years

At 41 years old, I still get a thrill when I wind through the dimly lit, chill of the ancient concourse and ascend the concrete stairs to emerge in the warm sunlight, welcomed by blue skies, green grass, red brick and emerald ivy. The majestic scoreboard perched atop the center field bleachers towers over the cathedral, keeping watch like the bridge of a sailing ship about to take us for a voyage where time dissolves and timelessness envelopes me along with the smell of fresh peanuts and stale beer. I can’t help but smile. I am at once 41, 24, 16, 10, and 4 years old. I have grown up with her, and over the past few decades, we’ve both changed some, but at heart, we are both the same – for now.

My dad would take me to games when I was small. It was the late 1970’s. He worked security there and, with a single bleacher ticket for me, he would escort me to the far left corner of the back row of the right field bleachers and sit me there. If I needed anything, I was to see the women who ran the concession stand directly behind me. (They usually slipped me free gum – Wrigley’s of course) I sat there alone, surrounded by the Bleacher Bums, the ones Lee Elia would lash out at a couple of years later. Dad would check on me and bring me a pop and a hot dog. I was in heaven. Wrigley Field would become my favorite place to go.

After a few years, I was grouped with other boys and released into the upper deck, where there were plenty of empty seats. We yelled, we booed, we undoubtedly annoyed anyone near us, and we had a blast.

Soon I was able to hop the bus and buy my own ticket with grass cutting money. Big Gulps and hot dogs were cheaper at 7-11, so my friend and I would stop there, load up, and find a slab riser in center field to claim as our own. We’d stretch out and take in the game. I got my first whiff of marijuana sitting there.

At 16, I got my first real job there.

She’s seen me from boyhood, through my teens, into adulthood, and eventually fatherhood. I have made friends, found romance, learned how the real world works, how the Chicago-way works, been thrilled and had my heart broken in and around that ballpark, and have shared its joy with each of my three kids. Wrigley Field has been special to me. It is with a heavy-heart that I now must say farewell to that grand old lady. She’s not being torn down, but the changes that will made this off-season is enough to alter the very soul of her in a way that I’m afraid will never be undone.

Time marches on they tell me and the only constant is change. Well that’s what’s made her so special, even with superficial changes over the years, they’ve never quite dissolved her charm and timelessness. This time, we aren’t so lucky

They’re putting a jumbotron in her. Why not some Groucho glasses on the Mona Lisa as well? They claim it is the only way the Cubs and their loyal fans will ever see a World Series. I say their bologna has a first name and it’s J-U-M-B-O. Here’s why…

I would take the Congress-Douglas from Jeff Park to Addison then transfer to the 151 Addison bus. The Congress-Douglas line is now known as the Blue Line and it originates, or terminates however you wish to view it, at O’Hare Airport. Travelers flying into O’Hare can ride the rails into the neighborhoods and downtown. One day on my way to work, I got off the ‘L’ and walked across to the bus stop when a man approached me. “How do I get back to O’Hare?” he asked. “You get back on the same train you just got off of but going in the opposite direction,” I told him. Seemed logical and obvious to me. “I just flew in from San Francisco,” he went on to say which explained why the logical and obvious evaded him. “I flew in to see Wrigley Field and I’m flying right back out again after the game.”   Think about that for a second. He didn’t fly from California to Chicago because he’s a Cub fan, or to see a great ballgame. The Cubs were not playing the Giants that day either so it wasn’t to see his team play. He “flew in to see Wrigley Field”. Those were his exact words. How many people do you think have flown across the country to see Miller Park or Camden Yards or U.S. Cellular Field? Few I’m sure. Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, old Tigers Stadium, and Wrigley Field. That’s about it.

I know, I know. Yankee Stadium has been rebuilt, Tiger Stadium is no more, and yes Fenway has a Jumbo-Tron and has for a while. And that only bolsters my point. Even those other iconic ballparks aren’t what they once were, what baseball once was. That makes Wrigley Field that much more unique.

People have flocked to Wrigley Field to see a baseball game for the past two decades because it’s Wrigley Field. Because it is a bridge to the past, a link from son to father to grandfather to great-grandfather. To experience Wrigley Field is to catch a glimpse of what previous generations experienced when going to a game. It’s not a stadium, it’s not complex, it’s a ballpark. It looks like a ballpark, it sounds like a ballpark, it smells like a ballpark, but most importantly it feels like a ballpark.

It is listed among Frank Lloyd Wright houses as must-sees when visiting the city. On any given afternoon, even in the dead of winter, you will see someone standing at the corner of Clark and Addison snapping pictures of Wrigley Field. They aren’t doing that at the United Center. They aren’t doing that at Soldier Field (and they weren’t even before the spacecraft landed in it). They aren’t doing that at the Cell. And they aren’t doing it at Wrigley Field because they’re Cub fans. At least not all of them.

If the ballpark has been the draw more so than the team that plays there, how does it follow that to have a good team play there, you have to change the ballpark?

The reality is though, they’re going to go ahead with the plans. They’re going to turn the area around Wrigley Field, commonly known as Wrigleyville (a term I have hated since the yuppies deemed it so in the late 1980’s) into a mall. They will take away that neighborhood feel that exists outside the ballpark and inside they will remove that link, that bridge to the past. Wrigley Field will, starting next season, be just another baseball stadium. It will be indistinguishable to Camden Yards or Citi Field or Busch Stadium. Bricks and ivy will still be on the outfield wall, sure, but that is already starting to look more like a replication than an original. The hand-operated scoreboard will still sit in center field, but it will lose its majesty, after being dwarfed by the big screen TV in left field.

It’s been a slow death. It started in 1988 with the necessary addition of lights. I was against it at the time, but I will admit I had an awful lot of fun nights at Wrigley Field, some I can remember, others I cannot.

That first season I worked there was the first full season with night games. As I rolled empty beer kegs down the upper deck ramps, the saxophone player serenaded from the sidewalk below and the city was alive, a living breathing thing, and that bridge opened up. Close your eyes, breath in deep, and listen. It could be 1989 or it could be 1945. Not much different than it would have been like had Mr. Wrigley installed the lights he’d sacrificed for the war effort. And so, I accepted them.

Then came the skyboxes and that ugly freaking press box in the upper deck behind home plate. The Tribune Company couldn’t have designed a more out of place looking addition to the park if they had hired a blind monkey with a seizure disorder to draw up the plans. The skyboxes themselves though, fit in nicely; hanging where the old press box used to be.

In the following years, little changes here and there occurred, but nothing outrageous. I’m not unrealistic about change. Change has been necessary over the years. Change is why Wrigley Field is still here for us to enjoy after 100 years of existence. If money hadn’t been spent and renovations been done over the years, it would’ve been knocked down long ago. But there is a way to make changes, to update the park while remaining true to the structure.

Do the Cubs need a new clubhouse? Definitely. Is there desperate need for more restrooms? By God YES! Should they include some advertising in the park? By all means, yes. It’s been done before, and if done well, could be made to fit in while still standing out. Do they need a new, larger press box? Indeed, fix what was never right to begin with. But do they need a Jumbo-Tron? Absolutely not.

There are necessary changes that can be done while retaining the charm and the heart of the place. And then there is that awfulness. A giant flashing light-show on a flatscreen. The death knell. The nail in the coffin of baseball’s last vestige of a time gone-by. The bridge to baseball’s hey-day (or Hey Hey day if I may) will be closed. No orange cones and barricades, just a big flashing sign that says, “Guess which virtual running hot dog will win the race.” Because, according to the ownership, this is what has kept us from winning a World Series, no Big-Screen hot dog races between innings.

We didn’t have one in 1984 when we came so close. Nor in 1989, 1998, 2003, 2008. We’ve had more opportunities in this modern age with this ballpark than in the 39 years between 1945 and 1984. We’ve come close. Have had good teams. Have been in contention. Have had the talent. Someone has to lose; unfortunately that someone has been the Cubs. It was not for a lack of spending money though. Money was spent and revenue came in without a Jumbo-Tron. I know, this family doesn’t have the resources the Tribune Company had, nor is it as wealthy as the Wrigley family was. But is the answer to destroy your most valuable asset?

Ballplayers come and go, and no team ever really has a dynasty. The Yankees didn’t make the playoffs last year despite all the money they bring in and put out. The closest team to dynasty status is the St. Louis Cardinals, a small market team whose spending, according to CBSsports.com, was less in 2013 than nine other teams including the White Sox, Red Sox, Phillies, and Toronto. As of September 23, 2014, Boston and Philadelphia are last in their respective divisions, while the White Sox are below .500 and in fourth place, and the Blue Jays two games above .500, third in their division. In 2014, the Cardinals spent less than twelve other teams including the Texas Rangers who are dead last in their division, the Arizona Diamondbacks who are dead last in their division, and the Cincinnati Reds who are only 3.5 games ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central. Spending big doesn’t always result in winning as we have so brutally learned over the years.

In 2009 and 2010, the Cubs spent more on salaries than every team in baseball except the Yankees and the Red Sox. They finished ’09 second in their division, but with a very average record of .516 and couldn’t secure a playoff spot. The results in 2010 were dismal. They finished fifth in their division with a .463 average, but drew over 3 million fans, 7th in all of baseball, ahead of Texas, Tampa, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Atlanta, all playoff teams that season. So what did the Cubs have that those teams didn’t? Wrigley Field. Many of those 3 million were there to see baseball at Wrigley Field, to cross that bridge to baseball past. To soak up the history, the tradition, the endangered aura that exists nowhere else but there, in that cathedral.

It seems to me the key to winning is more about spending wisely than spending big. The Cubs have been doing that in recent years with young acquisitions and the development of their farm system. Gone are the days of dropping millions on the Milton Bradleys of the game. It also seems to me that to make it through the lean years between good teams, it’s nice to have something besides the product on the field to bring in revenue. The Cubs have that in Wrigley Field. It draws fans even when the team stinks. When there is no star slugger whose jerseys fans clamor to buy, you still have merchandise (t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, hats, signs, flags, posters, postcards) featuring the star that never leaves, never retires, never gets injured, and never corks a bat – Wrigley Field. As evidenced this past season when the major attention and marketing was given to her 100th Anniversary as there was very little to market on the field. She not only bridges past to present, but present to future by alone bringing in revenue while the team rebuilds the roster. With the right custodians, she’ll continue to do so for several years to come.

This is not the right custodian. He doesn’t get it. He is not a Chicagoan. He found the team when all the other transplants found the team. When the white-flighters returned from the ‘burbs to revisit the team and the city they’d forsaken when both needed them most. When the Superstation brought the beauty of Wrigley Field to the farm fields of Central Illinois and Iowa and Indiana and Nebraska and Colorado before there was a team in Denver. After one winning season brought the Cubs national attention and TV and movie stars made being a Cub fan cool. That’s when this owner found the Cubs, when the bandwagon was already crowded. After the other yuppies had jumped on board with the out-of-towners. In the time when the blue collar Cub fans were being pushed out with the old ladies and the kids to make room for pink polo collared men with mobile phones and feathered hair, their siliconed lady friends, and the frat boys with their sorority girls. When that so very non-Chicago accent could be heard declaring into cell phones across the park, “Oh my gawd, guess where I am … Wreglay.”

He came with them.

When they took over the park and the neighborhood. When the suburban raised children of the white-flighters demanded their first grown-up apartment be in ‘Wreglayville’. Post-skyboxes, post-bleacher expansion, post-box seat expansion, post-rooftop monetizing.

He is one of them.

It’s no surprise he would be at the helm when Old Style beer is booted from the park and a Jumbo-tron is to rise above it.

He is one of them.

The outsiders who make me feel I have a better connection with those others from the numbered streets wearing black and white than I do with those adorning red, white, and Cubbie blue.

I think he is their leader.

“I want to be able to see replays,” they cry.

“Then stay home,” I answer.

“It’s the only way we can have a World Series,” they demand.

“Bullshit!” I reply.

“Any other owner would do the same thing,” some lament.

“That doesn’t make it right,” I declare.

“They have to move into the twenty-first century,” they assert.

“What does that have to do with a Jumbo-Tron?” I ask.

What we generically call jumbotrons today have been a part of baseball since 1980. Wrigley Field is the only professional sports arena to not have one. You can either view that as a child would, “everyone else has one why not us?” or as a person of intelligence and forethought who realizes that that is what makes the place so special. That is what you’ve been marketing when the team is bad.

The last time Wrigley was the ‘only one without’ was during the 1980’s fight over lights. That issue affected not only the Cubs, but all of baseball and the networks that covered them. The team couldn’t avoid installing lights any longer. The jumbotron affects only them, and with the proper business acumen, it wouldn’t be an issue. It is the easy way out. A child’s perception and solution.

And so it has come to pass. The view from the grandstands of the old girl will be forever changed, and with it, so will the notion of what it is to be a Cub fan. What I grew up with will breathe its last breath tomorrow and then silently slip into the past.   In 2015, when fans ascend the stairs and transition from shadow to light, they’ll not be overcome by the natural colors of blue sky, green grass and red brick, but rather by the flashing LED colors of a two-story television screen, and odds are, a still mediocre team on the field.

My prediction for the future of Cubs baseball is that they will finally win a World Series Championship when I no longer care.

Rest in peace old girl and thank you for the memories.

Me as Pirates batboy 1986 with Tony Pena

Me as Pirates batboy 1986 with Tony Pena

More wrigley pics

The old Bleachers

More wrigley pics 86

Bob Denier chasing a fly ball. No lights, no skyboxes, no ugly press box in the upper deck.

2013-08-30_11-42-35_85

This view will be gone.

IMG_20140404_090328487_HDR IMG_20140404_104227885 Wrigley in the '80's Me as Pirates batboy 1986

Opening Night 8-8-88 rain

8/8/88 Rain

Opening Night 8-8-88 Marquee

First Night Game 8/8/88 Before the rain began

Harry & Me

Harry Carey and me

Some shots through the years.More wrigley pics 2

Full Metal Sweatshirt! Urban Outfitters, Kent State, and the Viet Nam War

For the past 35-40 years, we’ve been inundated with pop-culture depicting Viet Nam Veterans as ‘crazy’, ‘loose cannons’. drunkards, dope fiends, racists, nut-jobs, and all different kinds of fucked-up.  In the movies, on television, in music.  Those crazy, half-cocked Viet Nam vets. They’re either two seconds from blowing someone up, or they’re homeless bums talking to garbage cans and raping women.  And now one sweatshirt comes out that offends the sensibilities of those same people who, for the past 40 years, have propagated the stereotype and fallacy that all, or at least most, Viet Nam Vets were and are crazy, and they are all up in arms.  Sucks when the shoe’s on the other foot, doesn’t it?  It is hurtful when callousness refuses to see truth for truth and human beings for human beings and tragedy for tragedy.  Sucks when it’s your friends, your family, and your brothers in ideals who’re made a mockery of, whose sacrifice is ridiculed for profit.  I know I’m preaching to deaf ears.  I know they will still go on thinking the hippies were the heroes and the veterans the villains.  I know that the Urban Outfitter sweatshirts will be vilified and removed from the shelves and I know we’ll see another ‘crazy Viet Nam fucked up Veteran’ movie come out of Hollywood again.  But I have to call bullshit when I see it.  There is little that offends me more than hypocrisy.  When you look at that Kent State sweatshirt and see the coldness and trivialization of something you hold dear and tragic, think of the harm movies like Full Metal Jacket have caused and ask yourself how different is this sweatshirt from that?

The Great American Battle Cry!

The War of 1812 saw the White House burned to the ground during a British invasion of Washington D.C.  War was here, on our soil.  It was during this war that Francis Scott Key penned the poem that would become the National Anthem of the United States of America.  An anthem about war for a nation birthed by war in the name of liberty and justice for all, an ideal that would send that nation to war nearly every other generation from its inception to today.

The idea that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights including the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not always a popular one.  There are those greedy for power who see weakness in such ideals and others who grow envious of those living with the bounty provided by those ideals.  And so it becomes necessary to stand and fight, not only for the ideals, but the reality that accompanies them.  On September 11, 2001 we were violently reminded that our ideals and our way of life are not shared by all, that there are those in the world who would do us harm simply because the very idea of equality and the unalienable rights granted us by our creator and secured through our Constitution are appalling to them.

Yesterday, on the thirteenth anniversary of those attacks, we honored those who paid the price for the simple act of having freedom.  Today, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of that dear poem that, with eloquence and timelessness, describes the American resolve to fight for, and to defend, those ideals upon which our nation was founded.

May it serve as a reminder for us of the sacrifices laid for our freedoms and let it continue to serve as a battle cry to our enemies, a vocal reminder of the resolve of the American people and our never-ending desire to defend those rights we hold to be self-evident here in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.  Here is the poem, written by Francis Scott Key during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, in its entirety.  Enjoy.

The Star Spangled Banner

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

ARGH! I’M FLAWED! (DEALING WITH FAILURE)

We all fear it. We all try to avoid it. We all commit it. There really is no way around it, but when it happens, damn does it feel bad. Like coming out of the boxing ring defeated, or sulking off the baseball field having dropped the would-be-third-out to lose the game, or throwing the interception that allows the other team to march into your end zone, you replay the moment over and over in your mind thinking ‘if only I had done this instead of that’. Then you look for someone else to blame, ‘you know, had so-and-so blocked his man, that never would’ve been an interception’ or ‘I told my coach I needed work on catching flies’ or ‘hey, my boss should’ve known he’s been overworking me, and he gave me no budget, and the support staff was dismal. I had to do everything!’. But those excuses quickly dissolve because deep down, we know better. It was my fault. I screwed up. I made a mistake! Argh! I’m flawed! Son-of-a-bitch, I’m flawed! (I knew that, but I didn’t want anyone else to know. Now I’ve shown the whole world!)

Then the self-hate starts. Every girlfriend who ever dumped me was right! I am a loser! I suck! Every group of guys who picked me last to be on their team knew I had the capacity to be this sucky one day. Every human resources person who has thrown my resume away after a brief glimps was a hiring genius because they knew I would be a horrible addition to their office or any office for that matter. Woe is me. Let the dog piss on my leg, I am that low a creature that I deserve it. At least then, I’d be contributing something.

Of course that’s not true either. There is a difference between being a failure and experiencing failure.

We all experience failure and we do it from a very young age. Every infant who stares up at you with that cute little voice and says, “aba aah dah ooo gah” is a failure. He has something to say to you and he can’t. He speaks gibberish trying to emulate the language he hears you speaking everyday, and the little angel fails! Can’t do it. Wants to tell you your earrings are shiny and he likes them but it comes out “eeeee ooo mah-bah”, little failure that he is. When he’s hungry and wants to eat, he goes “ah-ah” fails to communicate then reverts to crying, because that is a proven tactic. Then, he tries to move. First he scoots his belly across the floor. Then he does the military crawl, belly on the floor, elbows doing the work. Then he realizes he can go faster on his hands and knees. The final goal of course is to do what he sees everyone else doing, which is to walk. Then one day, he pulls his chubby little butt off the floor by holding on to the coffee table and he stands. He looks around, proud of his accomplishment. Then he turns, lets go of the table and… falls flat on his chubby little ass. Failure! No walking for you!

But think of the courage it takes for someone who knows nothing of the world, to venture off into an act he has never once attempted before. It would be so much easier to wait for Mommy or Daddy to pick him up and carry him, but instead, this little person who’s been on the Earth the length of a mid-season TV show, decides it’s time to get up and try this walking thing. Granted, he doesn‘t know he’ll probably fall down on his fat bum, but he also doesn’t know he might fall forward on his tender little head either. In time, he’ll learn about both, but he doesn’t give up. He’s fallen on his butt a hundred times, and he’s fallen on his head at least a half dozen, and yet, he keeps pulling himself up on the coffee table and venturing away from it step by step, whatever may come be damned.

He has failed. Over and over again, he has failed. But he is not a failure. He’s not a failure because, despite his failed attempts, he keeps trying, keeps learning, each time he does better, goes farther, until one day, he’s running through the house so fast, his mother has given up her spinning class because chasing the kid is exercise enough.

Experiencing failure doesn’t stop him, and that is what prevents him from being a failure. The only real way to experience anything is to be open to the possibility of failure. Whenever something is new, or different, there is a good chance that we are going to fail at first. However, as the old adages go, practice makes perfect, and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. By keeping at it, you not only lessen the experience of failing, you prevent yourself from becoming a failure. Yeah, yeah, we know that. It doesn’t make it any easier though, does it?

That shitty feeling stays with you like a punch to the gut. It hangs in your belly, then moves to your brain, then weighs on your soul. Wouldn’t it be great if, like in the movies, you could just commit yourself to something, become great at it, and, after a short musical montage, show the world you’re a hero not a zero!   But it doesn’t work that way either, does it? Sometimes you try and try and try again, and no matter how hard you work nor how hard you try, you simply cannot succeed. Well, you know what, that’s okay. Not everyone is destined to be Lance Armstrong, including Lance Armstrong himself apparently. Sometimes the hard work doesn’t pay off. Sometimes you fail again anyhow. Does that make you a failure? Maybe in some people’s eyes, but it shouldn’t in your own. The only true way to be a real failure is to let the fear of failing prevent you from trying, from stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new, from taking the chance that she might say no, that you might drop the fly, that you might embarrass yourself in front of people, that you might lose, forget your lines, trip, fall, hit a the wrong note, get beaten, screw up, mess up, fuck up, throw up, or bust-up, be gawked at, laughed at, spit at or frowned upon. There is no reward without risk. You have no guarantee that you will succeed, but without taking the chance, you are guaranteed to fail. I know, we’ve all heard that before, so what to do after you’ve tried and fallen flat on your face?

I don’t know. You do replay it over and over in your head. You go through the five stages of grief. And eventually, you come to terms with it. You eventually have to shake it off and face the chance of it again. It sucks, but you have to. It’s the only way to keep on living. So you try and try again. In love, in work, in play. There really is no other option. Anything else is immediate failure. So you have to take that chance again, and when you do, at least take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Even the most successful people in the world, the ones who seem perfect, fail, and they’ve been doing it off and on since they first tried to talk to their Mommy.