Author Archives: docphd

We have no good way to talk about this and we never have

We have no good way to talk about this and we never have.

As a good friend and feminist scholar told me when the Weinstein scandal broke, “This isn’t about sex. It’s about power. That’s why we can’t talk about it.”

And yet it is the sex that draws the attention as we discuss the imbalance of power, so the two remain inextricably linked, creating problems as we continue to have these revelations of misconduct come to light.

The latest name added to the list of groping, rubbing, jerking, fondling, grabbing and forcing is Sen. Al Franken. Leeann Tweeden came forth on Thursday with allegations of Franken groping and sexually abusing her during a USO stint. Photographic evidence and Franken’s own apology clearly supported those charges of misconduct, leading to some of the most awkward public arguments on a subject like this since Todd Akin introduced us all to the concept of “legitimate rape.”

To clarify and codify the general issue, we should consider two questions and their unequivocal answers:

Were all of the victims of Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken and others diminished and violated by people of power?

Yes.

Have we, as a society and in many cases individuals, for too long engaged in victim blaming and illegitimate parsing of disgusting behavior like this?

Yes.

Taking these two answers as clear and definitive, we now lock this discussion into an awkward position for people who will have to answer for these actions and the people who support them.

The questions will come in droves:

“Is what Moore or Franken did rape or sexual assault or sexual misconduct or what?”

“Does the “law and order” morality of Moore make it somehow worse than what Weinstein or Franken did because, hey, they’re liberal hedonists anyway?”

“Is it worse what Spacey did to young boys or what Moore did to young girls?”

“Should Franken be forced out for one incident while Moore’s accusers are multiplying like tribbles?”

What so many people are awkwardly groping for is some sort of “sex crime conversion chart” in which one boob-grab equals two ass-pats or one photo equals three teen accusers and one signed yearbook or something. We have finally started coming to the necessary conclusion that shitty behavior is shitty behavior, but people with myriad agendas want to create a hierarchy out of these behaviors, as if hierarchy itself weren’t the reason these messes exist in the first place.

It doesn’t work that way because it’s not about sex. It’s about power.

The only demarcation reasonable people could draw is the one between adults and children. There’s a reason you can peruse 10,000 nude photos of people age 18 and older without a legal problem, but your ass will be in the joint if you own one such image of someone under that age. Society and law have dictated a bright line for most conduct involving children and to cross that line is to engage in the unforgivable.

To that end, and only that end, could a few of these acts be viewed as somehow worse than some of the others. Regardless, each and every case involved a man with power over someone he perceived as lesser and he used that to his advantage to demean and diminish that person.

Why can’t we see this? For two simple reasons:

  1. We are seeing a wide swath of accusations that range from things that “everybody” could agree are horrible and evil to well… what? If the Al Franken “grope” photo is as bad as Roy Moore trying to bone the “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” demographic, how many men might have to look really hard at themselves? That time they got handsy at the company party? That time they catcalled a co-worker? That time they tried to “impress” the intern? How much of that happened and how does it feel to be lumped in with the Roy Moores, Anthony Weiners, Louis C.K.s and Harvey Weinsteins? The “I would never do something that despicable” becomes, “Actually you already did.”
  2. To see it, we have to talk about it and we have no good way to talk about this and we never have.

The Roy Moore Scandal: Just “unusual” love in Darwin’s Waiting Room

I often joke about my “First Rule of Holes” which is simply this: When you find yourself in one, stop digging. Apparently, no one ever told people in the Alabama state hierarchy that rule, given that Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler came to Roy Moore’s defense with an inspirational tale from the Bible:

“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler said choosing his words carefully before invoking Christ. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Ziegler concluded. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Keep in mind, this is a guy who slammed the U.N. after a three-person panel visited his state a few years back and found it to be, to borrow Dennis Miller’s line, “Darwin’s Waiting Room” when it came to sexual issues and gender equity:

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler earlier this week issued a statement saying that the U.N. was launching “a major assault on Alabama laws protecting children” and warning that its investigation in Alabama and two other states is “the next step of an agenda to impose U.N. standards in every sate that does not resist this intrusion.”

“The U.N. is preparing to try to dictate to Alabama what we must do on abortion, contraceptives given to youth, sex education in schools, tolerance of alternative sexual orientation and other ‘progressive’ issues,” Zeigler warned in a the statement released on Monday.

So, when a 32-year-old man tries to fuck a 14-year-old girl he just met, that’s “unusual” but not illegal? What kinds of “laws protecting children” does this state actually HAVE in Zeigler’s mind? Also, what’s the difference between “unusual” and “alternative?”

So let’s review the three “cases” we have in front of us at this point to determine Zeigler’s line of thinking:

  1. Two adults of the same gender fall in love and want to be married = Major Assault
  2. A 32-year-old man tries to fuck a 14-year-old girl (or three) at a cabin in the woods = Maybe just a bit unusual
  3. A 14-year-old girl is visited by an angel, impregnated by a deity, married to a 30-something man, sent packing on a donkey to a faraway land to give birth in a cave to the savior of the world = Totally normal thing we celebrate every December.

Glad we got all that cleared up.

 

 

My Hill

The plane touched down at O’Hare early Sunday morning, jolting me awake. I looked around to see other passengers in varying states of awareness.

I flipped my phone off airplane mode and noticed I had no messages.

I checked my email quickly. Same thing.

Everything was quiet.

What a difference two years makes.

The last time I touched down on the first leg of a trip back from a college media convention in this metropolis, my life had gone from bad to worse. I had just traded some labor for airfare and a room so I could head to Austin, Texas in hopes of finding salvation for the newspaper I advised. We had been told a week earlier that we were too far in debt for our student government to tolerate, never mind they had no say over our finances or budget. As a result of the SGA’s prodding, an administrator told us that if we didn’t have $5,000 paid off of that debt in less than four months, we might be forced to close.

I found myself at this convention, begging funds from former students and offering services to fellow advisers for donations to the cause.

In one such circumstance, I had been given a tin can with a slot on the top with a simple message: Go beg for life.

So I did. And at that point, I thought it could never get worse.

When I flipped that phone on two years ago, alone and cold on a red-eye flight into the Windy City, the text messages came pouring in like a dam had broken free.

“Check your email.”

“Check in when you get this.”

“OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE YOUR EMAIL?”

“Can they DO THIS?”

“Where ARE you? Call when you get this…”

On and on it went. I had no idea what was going on, but I checked my email. There it was in black and white: The student government was putting forth a resolution asking me to resign and if I failed to do so, a request that the chancellor fire me.

I called a couple of the kids and talked them off of their various ledges.

It’ll be fine, I told them. Everything is just fine.

Did I believe that? Not for a fucking second, but what could I do? I’m on a plane in Chicago on a Sunday, taxiing to the gate for a two-hour layover before heading to Milwaukee. It really did seem like the beginning of the end for me.

I detailed most of the tumult that followed in this post, aptly titled, “Heroes Often Fail.”

What followed that post was a set of truly dark days, the kind that lead you to question what exactly it is that you’re doing here or why you’re bothering at all.

The one thing that kept me going was what A and I used to say to each other quite often when sussing out some level of student-media bullshit:

“Is this the hill you are willing to die on?”

The odd thing was that we often used that phrase as a deterrent to action. It was a way of saying, “Look, we got bigger fish to fry here, so don’t go all great guns after this stupid thing.”

The answer was always, “No, it’s not. Now, where are we on this other thing…”

As I watched my own staff have to write what should have been my career’s obituary, I could hear her asking me that question. Not “Is this the hill you WANT to die on?” but rather “Is this the hill you’re WILLING to die on?” The distinction being simple but profound: I wanted to live but I would give everything I had if it meant we could win this one and keep this paper alive.

So I stuck with it. I hung in there. I pushed back.

We got through a meeting with what seemed like every administrator in the entire university and we gained ground.

A day later, I got a call from my contact in the area of fundraising. I figured she wanted to see what our next move would be to raise money to help defray the debt. It turned out, an anonymous donor had turned up with a matching-funds challenge grant.

If we were successful in pulling in the entire match, the debt would be gone and we’d have cash to spare.

It was the first miracle in a string of miracle, each one slightly more outlandish than the previous one. We chipped away at the debt a buck at a time, with me pulling in every favor I ever earned, calling in every marker I ever collected and begging every alumnus I ever met.

We rebuilt the staff, refocused our efforts and restructured our funding, in large part thanks to a chancellor who understood that you don’t kill off something valuable just because some little dipshits have a need to feel important.

Two years later, I could afford to take eight kids with me for the trip of a lifetime: A media convention where they earned national awards and learned from incredible pros and advisers. A trip they will never forget as long as they live.

The reason?

One alumnus made a donation to our cause, but asked that if we had money left over after the debt was repaid that we use “his” portion of it to give the students an educational opportunity that linked travel and passion. If the looks on their faces throughout the convention were any indication, we did exactly that.

We have money in the bank and fund-raised cash to boot, all as we expand the paper and improve education. The kids this year, even the most senior among them, only vaguely recall what happened back then. It’s like a bad memory mixed with a foggy dream.

Still, those who went through it remember. I posted a photo of myself to Facebook from the convention and one of those kids who went through hell with me responded:

“No tin can for donations this time?”

No, but I still have that can. It sits on a shelf in my office and I look at it every day.

It’s a reminder of what can happen when you finally find your hill.

A Slice of Time

IMG_4941

 

It was a fortuitous tweak of timing that landed us at Francisco’s restaurant Saturday night: A baseball card show that had me in Milwaukee. A phone call my mom got from an old friend. Another restaurant with a wait time that we all knew my father wouldn’t tolerate.

The place had changed names over the years, but for us it would always be Francisco’s.

And this might have been the last night we ever got to see it.

Mom and Dad used to go there when they were first dating in the 1960s. It was about the width of a hospital hallway in those days. Booths lined one wall and tables seemed to randomly spring up wherever space would allow. The kitchen in the back could be seen from the street, with swinging old-west barroom doors separating the patrons from the prep staff.

As we pulled up last week, Dad pointed to a spot on the corner of Oklahoma and KK, noting, “When your mother and I would come here way back, this was always our parking spot.”

We pulled around the corner this time and parked a bit down the street. The dull awning and spackled-over brick just a few yards from where the car came to rest.

The large wooden door led into a vestibule I’d entered hundreds of times before: A group photo of some long-gone collection of black and white figures at some event I never knew, a few fliers for events or services, a small note tacked here or there. Random elements I took more seriously this time.

The second door led to the main room. To the left was the “original” part of the restaurant while the right contained a larger bar and seating area. Somewhere during my lifetime, they bought out whatever business was on the corner and opened up this newer, bigger part of the restaurant. A neon sign proclaiming pizza, pasta and drinks faced outward from the picture window onto the street where people waited for the 51 and 15 buses.

I’d been coming here since before I could remember. Friday nights were the day my folks decided they deserved a break, so they would eat out. Francisco’s and its pizza was a staple of our restaurant rotation. It was a dimly lit restaurant that had the charm of a single waitress who knew your name and jukebox that always seemed to call to me but was never played. It was the first time I’d ever heard of  “Pink Floyd” because the label on the box told me they had a song called “Run Like Hell.” At age 6, hell was pretty serious stuff.

Today, that whole side of the restaurant was dark. No one would be serving food there. The sign that usually told people to wait for the hostess to seat them noted simply: “Limited menu. Pizza, Italian Sausage Sandwiches.”

The bar was where the “action” was, to use the term loosely. About six people were in there and we knew four of them. I was the youngest person in there by at least 15 years.

We weren’t there so much for the food or the company as we were to remember something special.

Francisco’s had closed in February when the owner, Franny, had a massive stroke. Nobody knew if he was going to make it or what would happen to the restaurant. His wife and longtime waitress, Kathy, stayed by his side and kept him going through it all. He recovered well enough to use a wheel chair and maybe be around some friends, so tonight she opened up the restaurant for a “look-see” at what was possible.

“She always loved you to death,” Dad always told me. “Even when you made a mess with all your crackers and you were loud, she loved you.”

I remembered her as being somewhat of a mother figure and somewhat of “Flo” from the old TV show “Alice.” In my mind, she was always about 35, dressed comfortably and doting on us, me in particular.

Tonight, she was noticeably older to me. Haggard. Rushed. Distracted. It took her three trips around the bar to get us a drink order, even as the only other people in the place had been well served and two guys at the end were watching “Jeopardy!” on an old tube TV.

I leaned on the old brass bar rail, which had been unpolished for quite some time. A slight scent of must and stale air lingered, reminding me the place had been closed for more than half a year.

Finally, she came back for a food order. Dad took charge:

“Large pizza. Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.”

For as long as I could remember, that was our pizza order.

Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

On an extremely rare occasion, we deviated from that. Once in Mexico we had pizza with pineapple before that really became a thing. When I was old enough to get a vote on food, I occasionally bargained to get black olives tossed into the mix.

Aside from that, it was always Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

Kathy wrote it down and strode slowly toward the kitchen as she sidestepped something we couldn’t make out in the left corner of the bar.

It was Franny, sitting quietly in his wheelchair, watching “Jeopardy!” with the two guys we didn’t know.

Eventually, he rolled toward us, using a single foot to power his glide in our direction. He didn’t seem to recognize us, even though my father would make regular walks from our house to his bar for a beer on a weeknight when they were often the only two guys in the whole place. He mumbled politely to people who were praising him for how good he looked and expressing thanks that the place had opened on this one day. Nobody was sure if this was the start of something more regular or a last hurrah for the place. Even with no real parking to speak of, the building was at a prime location. It would likely draw interested suitors if they couldn’t keep it going. Still, the restaurant had been life: He owned and operated it, Kathy waitressed for it.

What else was there?

A few people wandered in and out. One was a representative of the arch bishop, who had been invited via the same basic phone call my mother got: Franny is opening up on Saturday. You should come down. The source of the call was Kathy’s brother, Bob, who had become close friends with my mom through her work at church.

A few mixed drinks dotted the bar as the smell of food began to fill the room. “Jeopardy!” had given way to “Wheel of Fortune” as we chatted with some folks, occasionally glancing at the TV to see if we could solve the puzzle. Franny had wheeled away and disappeared once again.

Kathy arrived with the pizza and placed it in front of us at the bar.

Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

A fresh beer for dad. A Diet Coke refill for me.

The steaming thin-crust delicacy disappeared one square at a time. The outer edges were cracker-like in their wonderful crunch, the inner pieces were softer and contained heavier toppings.

Usually when we got one of these, we had about three or four pieces left. Today, even though we were really full, we kept eating. Maybe we wouldn’t get this again and besides, it never tasted quite this good.

Kathy swung by, handing out pizzas to the two people at the bar who had been waiting. One of them disappeared with the bagged pie while the other decided, after some deliberation, to order another drink and eat it there. We chatted with this lady, a local lawyer who helped my dad settle my grandmother’s estate, about various things she was doing now in retirement. Poetry, some work, being a Grammy (not a grandma, mind you. She told us she’s not old enough to be a grandmother. My mother, a “nana” by her own choosing of nomenclature, nodded in agreement.).

The woman also reminded me I was the person who told her Trump would never win.

I grimaced and turned back to my last two bites.

Kathy came by to pick up the battered metal pizza tray.

“This was delicious,” I told her. “Thank you so much for this.”

She looked at me and said without a smile, “Some things in life don’t change.”

What’s in a name and how many lives is it worth?

When we discuss the idea of “fame” as a newsvalue in my journalism classes, I make a point that famous people can actually be infamous.

“How many of you have heard the name Jeffrey Dahmer?” I ask.

Every hand goes up, even though he committed his crimes and died in prison before most of them were born.

Dahmer is a name that remains as prominent now as it was in the early 1990s. A mass murder with an eating disorder, a TV show once quipped.

I thought about the man, the name and the crime this week when I heard about the Las Vegas attack that left 58 dead and more than 500 injured. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant with an arsenal at his disposal, hunkered down in a hotel room and fired round after round after round into a crowded concert venue.

Researchers and experts note this was the deadliest shooting on U.S. soil in modern history (whatever that means… It reminds me of “recently” which we used to define as “reporter lost the press release with the actual date.”). They also noted that in most cases the shooters wanted to make a mark, make a statement and make a name for themselves. As one expert lamented in discussing this topic, “Records are made to be broken.”

It was true for the Aurora, Colorado shooter James Holmes, who told a prison psychologist he wanted to be remembered as considered each death part of a score or tally. Holmes shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others on July 20, 2012, when he opened fire on in a movie theater during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

It was true of Robert Hawkins, a 19-year-old man who killed eight people in an Omaha, Nebraska mall in 2007. His suicide note explained: “I just want to take a few pieces of shit with me… just think tho, I’m gonna be fuckin famous.”

It was true for Adam Lanza, who wanted people to understand what he saw as unrelenting pain. When a forensic scientist examined the case for a reason Lanza murdered 26 children and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the man said Lanza had a simple message: “I carry profound hurt — I’ll go ballistic and transfer it onto you.”

It was certainly true for Seung-Hui Cho, who held the “record” for the deadliest shooting carried out by a single gunman in U.S. history. This Virginia Tech student killed 32 of his campus colleagues and wounded 17 others on April 16, 2007. In his rambling manifesto, he noted: “Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.”

Know me. Fear me. Revile me. But always, always remember me.

What’s strange is that I don’t remember ANY of them by name. Perhaps the last two names I remember were the Columbine killers: Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold, who killed 13 people in their high school in 1999 and wounded 21 others. Even as other ratcheted up the body count to an almost incomprehensible level, these two appear to be the last of the “names” when it comes to this violent ticket to fame.

Before them, it seemed we all could remember the names of people who killed and killed.

Dahmer.

John Wayne Gacy

Theodore Bundy

David Berkowitz

Charles Manson

Charles Whitman

The names were cultural touchstones. Maybe it was because we all got news from the same places or maybe it was because we used to repeat the names so often, we couldn’t forget them. Maybe it was because there were fewer of them or they had such weird shit associated with them (A cannibal, a clown, a “sex symbol,” a dog whisperer, a lunatic and a sharpshooter).

Or maybe it’s just a sad truism that our social attention span is so limited, we’re never going to commit these new names to memory unless we take the “Arya Stark Hooked on Phonics” approach to it.

Our goal is to always forget. We have to get past it. We have to press on. We have to get back into life. Clear the mechanism.

For them, it’s a desire to force us to remember them, like they’re heavily armed Heisenbergs just begging us to hold fast to their pathetic outburst. Rest assured, people do remember them. Some will never forget, like the families of the dead, the scores of wounded and the rest of us who wonder why yet get no answer.

They are in our minds, even if their names aren’t on the tips of our tongues. Constantly at first, until life presses them and their actions to a back corner of our consciousness so we can move on and forget and live again.

Until the next time.

How trying to make free speech free can really not do that

The state of Wisconsin is in the process of considering a bill that would allow for higher levels of punishment against UW folk who “disrupt” the free speech of others. On its face, the idea seems good: Everyone has a right to speak, so let’s make sure that we let all voices be heard.

Naturally, that’s not the point of this, as previous writers have pointed out. Republicans who supported this bill (all but one of them voted for it; naturally all the Democrats opposed it) believe college campuses are filled with weed-smoking hippies who hate anyone conservative enough to wear socks, so the law is needed to even the playing field. After all, how would a campus be able to host a shy butterfly and resident Crypt Keeper Ann Coulter if a law wouldn’t allow the U to clear away the raging liberal scum so her voice of reason could rise above the hysterics of the crowd?

Today, the board of regents sent out a policy document draft that outlined its response to the bill:

The State of Wisconsin Legislature is currently considering a bill that would direct the Board of Regents to adopt a policy on free expression that includes disciplinary sanctions for those who disrupt the free expression of others, and includes other accountability requirements.
The attached Regent Policy Document, “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” communicates the expectations of the Board of Regents regarding academic freedom and freedom of expression, expectations for those who violate the free expression and others.

<SNIP>

Finally, the proposed policy supersedes and nullifies any provisions of institutional policies that improperly restrict speech, and requires UW institutions to revise or remove any such policies.

This is a good opening and a strong first step, especially considering how the regents are basically Scott Walker drones, to say, “Look, we abide by that whole ‘sifting and winnowing’ thing somebody wrote a long time ago, so let’s not get bent out of shape that Milo isn’t coming to town unless we can guarantee everyone in the audience will give him a hug.” That said, this is embedded way deep in the document (bolding is mine):

4. Restriction of Expression
UW institutions may restrict expressive activity not protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or Article I of the Wisconsin Constitution, including any of the following:
(a) Violations of state or federal law.
(b) Defamation.
(c) Harassment.
(d) Sexual harassment.
(e) True threats.
(f) An unjustifiable invasion of privacy or confidentiality.
(g) An action that materially and substantially disrupts the function of an institution.
(h) A violation of a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on expressive activities.

<SNIP>

Of course, different ideas in the university community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the university greatly values civility, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members within the university community.

Time-place-manner restrictions are part of law, so that’s always been there. The idea of function disruption is also fairly common. The key issue is WHO gets to decide WHAT is a clear violation of the items listed there? I like the explanation that we can’t just rely on civility to say, “Go away. We don’t want you here.” If that weren’t the case, I’d probably never be able to leave my basement and I’d be given food via clothes chute. However, rules are always applied at the behest of the beholder, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this stuff. If you want to make a statement to the regents on this, you can do so here.

 

Memento Mori

I was sitting in my basement early this week, sorting through the dozens of things I had to do when my wife came down to add one more:

“Do you have anything you’re doing this weekend?” she asked.

I tried not to flinch as I tried to answer in a vague way that would allow me somehow get out of whatever she was about to ask me to build, fix, move or buy while still not admitting I wanted a free weekend.

“I’m not sure right now. Why?”

“There’s that benefit at the park for Jacob…”

Jacob is a 9-year-old boy I’ve written about here before, who has lived through two bouts of brain cancer . We bought his family’s home a few years back and had such trouble doing it, I honestly thought I was going to lose my mind. (Turns out, it was a shitty real estate agent on both ends and we ended up becoming more than friendly with the whole family.) The family moved into a home up the block and he would often stop by to play with The Midget. We still run the occasional stray letter or package for them that lands on our doorstep over to their house.

Now, he has leukemia and some friends are putting on a benefit this weekend for him. It includes a golf outing, food in the town park and a series of raffles. There are silent auctions, T-shirt sales and other similar things happening to raise money to help his family pay what have to be astronomical medical bills.

Fucking cancer…

I learned a long time ago while publishing a study in a journal of thanatology that I was an “instrumental griever.” The term came from the attempt to de-gender the idea of what had previously been deemed “masculine” and “feminine” grieving behaviors. Intuitive (formerly feminine) grievers deal with death, sadness and loss through things like crying, wailing and emotional expression. Instrumental (formerly masculine) grievers feel the need to “do something” even if that “something” has no hope of actually fixing the problem. People talk about instrumental grievers starting a MADD or SADD chapter after losing a child in a drunken-driving accident or carving a tombstone/memorial to commemorate the departed. The idea is that we act, even in the face of overwhelming odds that what we do won’t matter worth a pinch of shit of a difference. We’re not going to stand there with thumbs in our asses just waiting to “take it” from whatever is fucking with us.

Twenty minutes after I learned of all this, I was tearing through my basement, looking for things I could donate. I found the Facebook page for this event and discovered they were taking “silent auction baskets” to help raise money. What I saw was really nice stuff but most of it had a similar vibe: Cooking stuff, food stuff, grilling stuff, some lottery stuff… I figured some sports stuff might make for a nice complement to this, so messaged the folks in charge and asked if they were still taking donations.

They were, so there I went… The instrumental griever on a mission.

I started with the idea of one thing and ended up putting together four baskets of stuff: A collection of Packer items, one of Brewer items, one of “man cave” items and one a labor of love. The Mitchell and Ness Bart Starr jersey I always wanted but never wore? Fuck it. It’s in there. The autographs I gathered at the Lombardi open from Packer hall of famers? In the fucking box. The autographed football I had from somewhere? In there. The Max McGee autographed card I scored somehow? Tossed in without a second thought.

A Bob Uecker autograph that forced me to run across a golf course and wait for him to give enough of a shit to let his bouncer let me ask? Yep. Brewer Box. Autographed Gorman Thomas ball? Somebody’s gotta want that. The Robin Yount Rookie Card in about a two-inch-thick bulletproof plastic case? In there. Cards, posters, pennants, game-worn jersey card… I just kept adding to it. I yanked one of my newest neon signs off the wall and carefully walked it up to the truck. I tucked it next to the giant NFL Coors light mirror.

Then, I built a binder full of all my favorite refinishing projects and topped it off with a “gift certificate” for me to fully refinish ANY item somebody wanted me to rework. I don’t care if it’s a chair or great grandma’s fully dining room set. You win the bid, you make me your bitch. I once told my buddy Matt about wanting to do this for some sort of charity thing and he asked, “Don’t you worry that someone is going to make you redo something ridiculously large and it’ll cost you a ton?” Nope. Don’t give a shit. You got the cash, you win the bid, you get the job you want done. I did put in a caveat about pianos and wooden floors, as I’m not moving either of those, but for the most part, you get what you want.

Just help this kid…

I spent last weekend at a card show where I added yet another half-dozen bobbleheads to my already ridiculously huge bobblehead collection. Until I heard about Jacob, I had planned to spend the weekend trying to build some scaffolding to hold more of those damned things in my office. Now, it feels borderline pointless. What sits in my mind is not flipping furniture or going rummaging, but this image in my mind of his round, little face. The thick glasses, the almost impish smile. The superhero T-shirts he wears and how he’d march up the driveway while I was working on something or other and ask if my kid could come out and play.

I still see him and his folks last Halloween. He came dressed as Harry Potter. His tiny sibling, still in a stroller, was dressed as Hedwig. He had been feeling better that year. I threw as much candy as I could into their buckets until his folks basically made me stop.

I’m torn daily between between two wildly swinging emotional states:

  1. Persistent workaholic urgency. I have this almost guttural urge to do something, anything more to help these people and make this kid’s life somehow a little better. My baskets of shit aren’t going to cure cancer or make him better. I know that. And yet, here I am trying to figure out something else I can do that will. My wife gets it: She’s thinking about how she can make “freezer dinners” for their family so they don’t have to cook and can still have nice meals. We have to do SOMETHING.
  2. Blind visceral rage. I hate politics so much because it always feels like emotionally detached deities playing chess. The pawn doesn’t bleed or cry when you sacrifice it for something else. The rook doesn’t know it will die in three moves because you chose for that to happen.
    But guess what, assholes? The people you serve AREN’T FUCKING CHESS PIECES. We’re in the middle of yet one more attempt to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” this one even worse than the last one. Why? Because we said we would, that’s why? What’s in the bill? We don’t know, but what we have is “like Thelma and Louise” going off a cliff, so this has to be better. How do you know that? Have you read this thing? No.
    This kid is 9 years old and is basically one giant pre-existing condition. I’m sure he’s not the only one out there like this. I have no idea how Jacob’s insurance works, but if any single kid like Jacob gets fucked over just so you, Mr or Ms. Congress-critter, can say you “won” and defeated the evil Obama-Kenyan-Socialist, you need to be on the back end of Ezekiel 25:17.

This uncertain brevity of life has always scared me. Funerals make me twitch. Terminal illness horrifies me. Even though I’m a Catholic and I have that “whole better place” waiting on me (I hope), I hate change and the unknown. I’m basically Jack Burton in a a fucking elevator: In the midst of magic, afterlife and the unknown descending upon me, I’d rather climb up a three-story elevator cable because it’s real and I can touch it.

If you feel the same way, please give this page a look . Jacob deserves all the help he can get right now, whether it fixes the problems of the world or not.

My Tribe: 22 and counting

I didn’t know they sucked so bad when I fell in love with them. Given my life-long love of the underdog, I might have picked the Cleveland Indians as my team anyway.

I was about 10 or 11 years old, I think, when my dad bought into a season-ticket package with a bunch of guys who had four front-row seats at Milwaukee’s old County Stadium. The seats were along the tarp, between third base and the outfield wall, giving us the visitor’s view of the field.

When you’re a kid, you have certain magical ideas about what can happen when you are THAT CLOSE to the action. I think it comes from the old movies, where players sidled up to the railing and signed autographs or shook hands with the fans.

For me, all I wanted was a ball. The idea that a major leaguer (or two or three of them) had touched it made all the difference to me. Now, I see those balls, fouls caught by fans or batting practice tokens tossed to the stands, at rummage sales for a couple bucks apiece. You can buy brand new ones, still in the box, online for less than $20 each.

Back then, though, the only way to get one was to have a player toss you one. Your hand grabbing the orb first in that sea of hands along the edge of the field.

In our first game in those seats, it rained. My dad bought me an Indians hat so maybe one of the guys would come by and say hi or at least wave. As I sat there, a little drown rat alone in the front row, Jamie Easterly emerged from the dugout with another player and began walking toward the bullpen.

If you don’t know who Jamie Easterly is, you’re not alone. A second-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1971, Easterly and I crossed paths near the end of his amazingly pedestrian 13-year career in which he went 23-33 with a 4.62 ERA. He played for the Brewers during their 1982 World Series run before being sent to Cleveland in 1983, which at that point served as the Devil’s Island of baseball.

Easterly was walking away from me, the distance nearly 20 feet and growing, when I surprised him and myself by yelling, “Throw me a ball!” For a polite, diminutive hermit of a child, that was pretty damned bold. However, I really wanted that ball.

Easterly took the ball out of his pocket and flipped it at me. I was alone, so it was mine for sure. It got closer, closer and then…

Bam. It hit my hands and bounced out, trickling out onto the stadium’s warning track. A precious prize, just out of reach.

I stared at it, as if I could some how make it come closer. There it was. Here I was. Never the twain shall meet. It was over. My ONE shot at a ball, done in by my complete lack of coordination.

Easterly looked back and noticed my plight. He stopped walking toward the pen and jogged over to the ball.

He picked it up and placed it firmly in my hand. “Now don’t drop it this time, kid, OK?” he said with almost a chuckle in his voice. He then trotted back to his teammate and prepared for the game, the rest of which was a total blur for me.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Jamie Easterly had set me up for a lifetime of heartbreak and disappointment. There was no rationale reason to like the Indians other than that one moment. However, they just grew on me. The more the guys at school teased me about my choice, the more I dug in and learned more about “my guys.” The worse they got, the more I kept waiting for “next year.”

I didn’t care that Sigmund Snopek was an asshole who wrote and heartily performed a song at Summerfest each year called, “Thank God This Isn’t Cleveland” in which he always promised if the Indians EVER finished higher than the Brewers in the standings, he would stop singing it. I think ten years had passed between his pledge and that moment. Even so, it was just because both teams sucked that year. My team just happened to suck less.

I so wanted Brook Jacoby to be the next Mike Schmidt when he slugged 32 homers in 1987, seemingly on an upward trajectory toward stardom. Instead, he became the next Joe Charboneau of my life: A brief flame, doused by the nature of playing in Cleveland. He would only hit 44 homers over the rest of his career, petering out in the early 1990s.

Greg Swindell would anchor a pitching staff that looked like it was put together for some goofball comedy. We had Tom Candiotti, a young knuckleballer, and Phil Niekro, an old knuckleballer. About 20 years separated the bookends of a “ship of fools” approach to pitching.

Still, I remember those guys like Rich Yett, Scott Bailes and Jim Kern because they would come to the rail at County Stadium every time I went to a Brewers/ Indians game and they would sign autographs for fans who essentially said, “Hi, could you sign this to me from whoever you are?”

I also remember someone telling me that when you’re a Cleveland fan, you don’t just get the regular heartbreak. God goes out of his way to really fuck with you.

We had Ray Chapman, the only man to be killed while playing a baseball game, in our history. We had the Curse of Rocky Colavito. We had Gabe Paul, who ran the team for about 20 years and treated it like a delusional family member standing over a brain-dead relative, saying, “I think he twitched there! He’s going to make it!”

However, in my lifetime, we had Little Lake Nellie, something that sounds far too benign to ever bring heartbreak. In 1993, the team looked a little less lifeless. Mike Hargrove was the manager (the man who played for us in the 1970s and ’80s and who was once dubbed “the Human Rain Delay” for his at-bats that seemed to last longer than the director’s cut of “The Godfather.”) and he had his guys moving up in the world. Young talent was surrounded by a few veteran pick ups and hope was eternal.

As a reward for a strong effort in spring training, Hargrove gave his guys a day off. Tim Crews, Steve Olin and Bob Ojeda decided to go fishing, using the time to bond as new teammates. What happened that day still has not been fully understood, but somehow, Crews had failed to see a 165-foot dock and slammed into it at a high rate of speed. Olin died instantly, Crews shortly after. Ojeda survived, but he would never again be the same. The team had to trade pitcher Kevin Wickander, as he couldn’t handle being in the locker room where he always saw his best friend, Olin. The team staggered to a sixth-place finish in the old AL East.

Even when we became good, it was always someone else’s year: In 1995, we bludgeoned our way to the World Series, pairing an aging, retread pitching rotation with a murderer’s row of homerun threats. When all-star Jack McDowell gave up six runs in five inning to the Tribe, a reporter asked about his performance. “It’s pretty fucking good when you only give up six runs to those guys,” he replied.

Still, our year turned out to be the year the Braves finally got their ring.

In 1997, it was the Marlins’ turn to show that a team whose owner was willing to spend ridiculous sums on a group of mercenaries could buy a World Series title before gutting the team and dumping players all over the league.

In 1998, it was the Yankees and their record-setting pace.

In 2001, it was the Mariners and their record-setting pace.

In 2007, it was 3-1 in the ALCS when Boston decided it needed another World Series.

Last year, it was the Cubs’ turn. Up 3-1 in the World Series, we couldn’t get it done.

Sisyphus in cleats.

There was always a reason why: Jim Poole’s slider to David Justice, Joe Brinkman running Doc Gooden out of the game, Ichiro, Ichiro, Ichiro…

Eric Wedge going for the kill in Boston, pushing his two best pitchers to go on short rest, getting drilled for it. Cliff Lee going from pitching God to shitbox for that ONE YEAR WE NEEDED HIM to pitching God again.

Fucking Trevor Bauer’s drone injury. Who else but the Indians would lose a guy to a fucking drone?

How we still have fans, I’ll never know.

And yet, there I was last night, glued to my TV, watching as the Tribe went for 22 wins in a row, a sentence so absurd to my younger self that it seems foreign to type it.

Down 2-1 to the Royals, the Indians had run themselves out of multiple chances:

  • Runners on first and second, two outs in the fourth. 0 runs
  • Ramirez caught stealing on a bullshit play in the sixth, right before Encarnacion singled and Bruce walked. Should have been bases loaded, one out, but instead it was first and second, two away and Santana grounded out to end the threat.
  • Bases loaded, one out in the eighth with our two best hitters coming up. Both fouled out.

The pattern of that game and the history of that team just screamed, “Yep, this is my Tribe.” We’re batting against a closer with 26 saves and a nearly triple-digit fastball. We haven’t done shit since the third inning.

And yet, down to our last strike, the fans were screaming. They weren’t beaten. It was Francisco Lindor, who had gone 0-for-4 to that point in the game, who took a fastball the other way and smashed it off the wall, just grazing the tip of the outfielder’s glove, driving in pinch runner Erik Gonzalez to tie the game.

In the 10th, Ramirez led off with what should have been a pedestrian base hit, but instead, he was flying out of the box and went for two. This is the same guy who got caught stealing earlier in the game. The same guy who wouldn’t be playing this year at second if Jason Kipnis weren’t constantly injured. He’s a utility guy that looks more like your local grocer than a baseball player, at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds.

He challenges the arm of one of the better centerfielders in the game, who had no reason to be concerned that this human fireplug might try to take an extra base. The fact Ramirez did startled him and the throw was off line. The next batter, Jay Bruce (a financial dumping trade by the Mets), lined a pitch into right field, scoring Ramirez.

22 in a row. And counting.

I don’t expect the Indians to keep this up. In fact, watching this streak, the Indians fan in me keeps saying, “They’re peaking too soon!” I see a 3-2 series loss in the Division Series and a lot of people second-guessing Terry Francona and asking if the streak did more harm than good.

I see more heartbreak, because that’s what you get when you are a Tribe fan.

And yet, I’ll be back again.

Watching, hoping, aching, crying.

And I never once got mad at Jamie Easterly for getting me into this mess in the first place.

An open letter to the Wisconsin JFC in support of counting professors’ hours and trimming waste

Dear Sen. Darling, Rep. Nygren and other members of the Joint Finance Committee,

News reports have indicated that your group has included in its most recent version of the state budget some “controversial language” that would “require the University of Wisconsin System to monitor the teaching workload of every professor and adjunct instructor on campuses.”

As a faculty member of one of these institutions, I can assure you that this is definitely an important measure and a valuable first step in eliminating governmental waste and employee sloth. As many of you know, having received degrees from some of these state institutions, the clear measure of faculty value is solely the amount of time spent in front of students in a classroom. This is the purpose of our educators and we need to hold them accountable.

Given that this laser-focused approach on educational employees is likely to yield impressive results, I would actively encourage you to take a serious look at other areas of governmental employee waste and bring to bear all of your influence on other public “servants” who are failing to pass muster.

For example, it is clear that firefighters throughout the state need to get their priorities straightened out. In analyzing some recent annual reports for municipalities that contain branches of UW System schools, what I found is likely to shock you. Consider this breakdown of the Oshkosh Fire Department’s activities in 2016:

OshkoshFire

 

The entire department, which consists of 108 members of its workforce, only extinguished 109 fires for the WHOLE YEAR! That’s only one per person for all of 2016! Given the job of firefighters is to fight fires (which is clearly spelled out right in the name of the job), this is clearly an unacceptable waste of resources.

A similar examination of Green Bay’s annual report is even more troubling:

GreenBayFire

The department only extinguished 237 fires last year. That’s down from 277 the year before and from 312 in 2012! This decrease in fires fought of nearly 24 percent over the past four years should have clearly been accompanied with a reduction of workforce, pay and hours, one would expect.  This was not the case, as an additional six fire fighters were hired in February of that year.

The police departments in some of these areas are even more problematic. As we all know, the purpose of police officers is to arrest criminals, so it may upset you as much as it upset me to find out how little they are doing in this regard. For example, the Stevens Point Police Department’s annual report states the department made only 862 adult arrests and 202 juvenile arrests during 2016. This is with a total sworn staff of 44 individuals. That gives us a total of 24 PER OFFICER that year, or an average of one arrest every 15 days. I ask you, is this a good use of taxpayer money?

My most upsetting discovery came in examining the Whitewater Police Department’s statistics. As you well know, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is from this area and has spoken out against the lethargy and waste in our state’s education system. How outraged do you think he would be to find that his home town’s police department arrested only 27 people out of 162 incidents of criminal property damage?

One officer’s record in particular was troubling:

BoomerArrests

Officer “Boomer” provided no more than three arrests in any given month during 2015. Even worse, in two months he enacted NO ARRESTS AT ALL! If all this officer wishes to do all day is lick his crotch and bark at nothing, he can CLEARLY follow Steve Bannon’s example: Quit government life and do it on his own time.

Now, I guess you’re asking the same question I did, which is, “If the fire fighters aren’t fighting fires and police aren’t arresting people, what are they DOING with their time?” The answer is in front of you in black and white. Firefighters have consistently wasted time on false alarms, noxious fumes complaints and other equally pointless tasks. In addition, you’ll note heavy use of these firefighting resources on EMS calls, which is a massive waste of taxpayer money. Unless the patient is literally on fire, what purpose does it serve to send a firefighter out to see them? In addition, if the people are truly ill, that’s what hospitals are for. Call a cab and get your own ass out there.

Police have been equally thoughtless in their allocation of precious resources, wasting time on taking reports or “investigating” crimes. All of this preparation of documents and processing of crime scenes is taking them away from their primary task, namely the incarceration of criminals. Look at this data from Stevens Point!

CallsStevensPoint

As much as they talk a good game about going on “calls,” you will notice that they don’t talk a lot about arrests, which is why we’re paying them the big bucks. Even worse, you will notice that the department received a DECREASE in calls between 2015 and 2016 and yet not a single one of these officers has been fired as a result.

As you page through these reports, you will also see ridiculous claims about receiving additional “training” or “service to the community” like visits to schools and K-9 demonstrations. If kids really want to see how police procedures work, they should bring a stash of weed to school and attempt to sell it to an undercover officer. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be getting in the way of the officers’ sworn duty: to arrest criminals. The same is true for school visits from firefighters: Either shoot off a flare gun in your locker or get used to the idea you won’t be petting a Dalmatian.

I understand you are likely outraged, but you probably are getting ready to tell me, “Doc, we know how upsetting this is, but we don’t control the budgets of local municipalities. What can we do?” That thought has occurred to me too, but that hasn’t stopped you before when it came to education.

You provide somewhere around 16 percent of the annual funding to the UW System, but you somehow manage to write all the rules and do an awful lot of threatening. Something tells me you guys and gals can find a way to apply similar approach to dropping the hammer on these shiftless firefighters and police officers.

Hey, when has logic ever stood in the way of you becoming excised little rage monkeys and screaming up a blue streak about the U? Maybe if you’re lucky, a police department has offered a seminar on the “Problem of Whiteness.” That always seems to get you all in the right frame of mind.

In the meantime, I’ll be back here at the U, counting up my hours of teaching, totally ignoring the hours of class preparation, student-group advising, student registration advising, faculty meetings, staff meetings, writing letters of recommendation for students, helping students get internships, helping students get jobs, helping students get into grad school, answering after-hours emails from students/colleagues, grading papers, reworking tests, calculating grades, keeping up on changes in my field, applying for grants, completing work for grants I received, reviewing scholarship for journals, reviewing textbooks for publishers, rewriting my own textbooks, doing peer evaluations for adjunct instructors, conducting faculty position searches, fundraising for the student media I advise, taking students to conferences and 100 other things I do in a week without giving them a second thought when I complete my tally.

After all, if I’m not standing in front of a group of kids all day, what the hell good am I?

Respectfully yours,

Doc

When people are devastated, we shouldn’t care if Ted Cruz was an asshole

As the stories of neighbors helping neighbors begin to recede like Harvey’s floodwaters, the rush of stories on which politician is being an asshole is heading full steam toward us. Most of the stories are about the downside of humanity, in which people find ways to remind us that basic, common human decency isn’t common or basic for some people.

While some reporters are trying to help people figure out where damage is or where their loved ones are, you have this asshole tweeting a fake shark photo and this ABC reporter ratting out “looters” to the cops and bragging about it on social media.

While some companies are pitching in with water and supplies, you have insurance agencies trying to figure out what “isn’t covered” and people perpetuating scams on hurricane victims and those hoping to help them.

And while you have some politicians who are trying to figure out how to get these people help, you have people like these assholes, who voted against packages that helped victims of Superstorm Sandy, already trying to “reframe” their votes as to not look hypocritical.

Looking for the basic humanity and honest decency in most politicians is like digging through a pile of dog shit to find a diamond earring you think the dog swallowed: That’s a lot of shit to go through for something that might not be there and even if it is, it’s probably tainted in some way. In that regard, calling out Ted Cruz and his Texas brethren of Sandy “no votes” is a pointless task.

Even more, I wouldn’t care if Texas had elected three demons and the anti-Christ to congress at this point: People are suffering and we should help them. It’s the right thing to do. Why don’t more people who decide where money goes think like this? Is it that they are so myopic about politics that they can only see things in a “win/lose” context that strengthens or weakens an affiliation to a nebulous ideology?

When I pulled over to the side of the road to help a guy with a flat tire, I didn’t ask, “Now wait a minute… Did you vote for Scott Walker? If so, I’m punching a hole in another tire and setting your trunk on fire.” No. He needed help. That’s what he got from me, as best as I could.

I know some of the kids in my classes voted for people who fucked me out of raises and benefits and undercut my mother’s union. Would the world be better off if I refused to help those kids improve their writing or said they couldn’t come to office hours for career guidance? No. The kid needs help, the kid gets help. It’s how things work.

One of the many things I like about this blog is that we don’t agree about everything or all the time. We can be different, but we recognize basic humanity. When A put out the Batsignal for Houston, we chipped in what we could.

Even more, I have no idea who will get that money, nor do I care. Will it help a racist old lady who refers to our 44th president as “that colored boy?” Will it provide an “unearned benefit” to a guy who flew a Stars and Bars flag over his house and kept all his money in Jack Daniel’s Elvis decanters? Will it “give away” something to people who showed up at rallies for Cruz or Trump and chanted, “Build that Wall!” and “Lock her UP!”

I have no goddamned idea and neither do you. All we know is that somebody is getting a warm meal, a change of underwear, a dry blanket, a safe bed and a dozen other things they wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s important.

When people are hurting, they last thing they need is a lecture about how they should have thought about that shit when they voted for Ted Cruz. They don’t need to hear shit about how, “If you Texans are so tough, what do you need our help for?” They don’t need snide shit about attaching a lawnmower engine to their belt buckle and just boating out of there on that. They need to hear, “Hi, we’re here to help.”

And maybe after all this, the people who got that help will be better able to help the next group of people who desperately need it.

One more wedge play for Jerry Kramer

He had been screamed at by a relentless tyrant in front of his peers. All it did was make his mistakes multiply in hot August sun that burned brightly above the training camp field.

The NFL was not a place for the weak back then, and coaches were gods among men, the deities who controlled the future of these mortals. This man in particular, Vince Lombardi, had gained near mythic status as he used a domineering style to reshape the failing Green Bay Packers into a winning machine.

The player had jumped off sides during one drill and missed a block in another. Lombardi screamed the “Concentration Lecture” at him:

“The concentration period of a college student is five minutes, in high school it’s three minutes, in kindergarten it’s 30 seconds. And you don’t even have that, mister. So where does that put you?”

After practice, the player sat dejected in front of his locker, his future uncertain, his talent unsure. Lombardi entered the room and went right to him. The man braced for another set of insults and attacks. Instead, Lombardi gently slapped him on the back of the neck and said, “Son, one of these days, you are going to be the best guard in all of football.”

From that moment on, Jerry Kramer often said, his motor was always running, his body filled with energy and his goal set before him in the words of his immortal coach: Be the best guard in all of football.

When Kramer’s career was over, Lombardi’s prediction had become fact. Five times he was an NFL champion, two times he was a Super Bowl champion. He earned five first-team All-Pro honors and had been placed on the all-decade team for the 1960s. He was named one of the two guards for the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team.

He also threw the most famous block in NFL history: The 31 Wedge play that sealed Jethro Pugh and allowed Bart Starr to sneak the Packers to an Ice Bowl victory.

If one blemish remains on his resume, it is one that lies at the feet of lesser men who somehow never got around to seeing what Lombardi saw. For years, Kramer watched his teammates on those legendary Packer teams get called to Canton, enshrined as Hall of Famers for all time. Eleven players from that era are in the hall, including two of Kramer’s line mates, Jim Ringo and Forrest Gregg.

Each year, Kramer figured he’d be next. Each year, he was denied.

Conspiracy theories abounded from the idea of having too many Lombardi Packers in the hall to the idea that Kramer was not that good himself, but rather the beneficiary of greatness around him. Some said the gods of the hall don’t like to admit when they are wrong, so it has become a waiting game to see who gives first.

For some reason, organizations like this seem to “undo” their mistakes only after the players have died. It seems more “legendary,” I guess, to deify those who aren’t here anymore. The NFL did it to Ken Stabler. MLB did it to Ron Santo. It’s a sad statement of what happens when politics trumps common sense.

Kramer is 81 years old and has made the finalists list once again, this time as a “senior finalist.” I’ve gotten to meet him several times over the years and he has always been kind, patient and generous. People have introduced him as a “Hall of Famer” before, something he politely corrects or works around by noting something like, “Yep, I’m in the Packer Hall of Fame.” He has also slowed down considerably, the ache of age and multiple surgeries shrinking a man who stood as a giant during the game’s golden era.

How we measure a person comes down to what they do when everything is on the line and they have nothing left to give. With no time outs and only 16 seconds left in the Ice Bowl, Bart Starr turned to him in that frigid huddle and asked, “Can you get your footing for one more wedge play?” Kramer, frozen and battered, said he could and made sure his quarterback and coach were not made a fool.

This year will be the 50th anniversary of that Ice Bowl block. Somebody needs to gird up and throw a block for Jerry Kramer.

He shouldn’t have to sneak into the Hall. He should be able to walk right in.

Fuck You Nation: “No, NEVER!” edition

 
(NO NEVER! Hardly ever? FUCK YOU!)

I coined the term “Fuck You Nation” a few years back in looking at how people treat one another in the age of Donald Trump. So many people are less about being able to formulate something they favor, but they’re very clear about the “hey, fuck you” mentality they possess. In other words, people were less “pro” something and more “fuck you” toward people they saw as “the opposition.” At the core of the argument was a general sense of self-righteousness, absolute certainty and an overwhelming sense of anger and bile.

This week, the only thing Donald Trump has ever said that was true emerged once again. He famously noted that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose his supporters. We essentially hit that point this week, when he failed to denounce Nazis, then was kind of forced to read a “Ryan Leaf apology” on the topic and then went off the rails the next day defending the Nazis and admonishing the “alt-left.”

If anything, ANYTHING was going to sink him in at least SOME voters’ minds, this would HAVE to be it, right? Mitch McConnell came out against him. The “Bush Pack” came out against him. A growing list of Republicans spoke out against him. All those good, (R) people saying, “Nazis are a bridge too far for us,” had to sway the people who voted for him, right?

Nope.

Recent polling data, taken both before and after his Nazi nuzzling, have indicated that people who love Trump REALLY love themselves some Trump. (My president, right or wrong. And by the way, he’s never wrong, so fuck you.) Making this even more ridiculous is that these people say that they can’t imagine ANYTHING the president would EVER do that would EVER make them change their mind about him.

Having spent half my life in journalism, my mind can go to some pretty dark and evil places. Pair that with the things Trump has said or done (“Grabbing Pussy-gate,” stiffing contractors, threatening nuclear war to the point that “Duck and Cover” is up for an Emmy this year, the “good Nazi” argument etc.) and the possibilities are endless for what might be next. I can easily see Trump doing something like a cross between the home invasion scene in “Clockwork Orange” and President Camacho’s state of the union address as an upcoming Pay-Per-View event in the next week or two.

His supporters? “Cool! How much is it?”

Fuck You Nation is predicated on the idea that people cling to their own shit regardless of how horrible it smells because to do otherwise would be ADMITTING to the ENEMY that being wrong is POSSIBLE! That’s weaksauce and unacceptable.

Trump figured that out about our nation long before anyone else did. Or, at the very least, he figured out how to galvanize it for his own benefit in a way that others couldn’t or wouldn’t. This puts those of us who have a brain, enjoy thinking and are willing to reconsider things for the betterment of reality in a real bind. Either we have to counterbalance by pulling in the opposite direction of the Posse Comadumbass or we run the risk of constantly fracturing the opposition that exists as we all independently come to different conclusions on who or what we should support.

In the mean time, we might not be that far from seeing Trump grab a Luger and head to Midtown.

Only the kids have aged…

I spent the past week at our annual journalism conference, taking the chance to eat a lot of good food on my publisher’s dime and catching up with old friends. The funny thing? None of us seemed to age a bit.

I caught up with what was left of my doctoral cohort. Tracy, Andrea and I were among 17  Ph.D.-hopefuls who spent a chunk of our lives in a basement office loving dubbed “The Pit.” The place was so subterranean that you had to climb on somebody’s desk to open a grass-level window. The joke always was that they put the Ph.D. students there because you can’t commit suicide by jumping out of a basement window.

We ate dinner at a wine and chocolate bar because, hey, they had seating and we would have eaten at a food cart if we could have some time to catch up. The stories were the same: Weird colleagues, dopey campus situations, students who “just needed a little boost to pass…” We talked about possible promotions and what we were up to. It was like we were back in that pit: Tracy, loud enough to startle Chicagoans walking by and Andrea bright eyed and drawling her “y’alls” as the night progressed.

The only real way to know time had passed was when we talked about our kids.

Andrea’s daughter had just returned from a three-week trip abroad to take part in her sorority’s recruiting drive. Her son was still dating the same girl and had gotten his own apartment in advance of the upcoming school year. I remember the twins, as we called them, being at a doctoral faculty party some of us grad students had crashed. They were in their PJs, clutching stuffed animals and clinging to Andrea’s leg. “Mommy… We want to go hooooommmme…”

“Hell,” Tracy responded when I brought that up, “I used to BABYSIT them.” They lived next door and would often knock on her door and ask to play with Tracy’s dogs. Now, they could be in one of her classes, begging for “just a little boost…”

I caught up with Scott, who looked none the worse for wear after his heart transplant. Most of what we had to talk about was his move up the administrative ladder, with many of the stories reminding me why I never want to be an administrator. “Spending the day dealing with other people’s bullshit,” was pretty much the quote of the day.

In a more serious moment, he told me he had to wear a mask in public a lot, as his immune system was shit. He also had some health setbacks here and there, but overall, he was hanging in there. Life for him he said was a day-by-day measurement. Not years. Not months or weeks. Days. Each day was another moment to be on this side of the grass.

His son? He figured out hockey wasn’t going to be his future, even as he still enjoyed playing. He was going to be a college junior this year, on track to graduate. The freckle-faced kid who was riding bikes out in front of the house whenever I stopped by was now a junior.

I saw the guy who TA’ed my broadcast class in college: His sons were both in college. He, however, was the same guy who once chewed me out for running a clip of a used condom in a package I did on park sex. (My only saving grace was someone else in that broadcast included a shot of dead cats in a box as part of an animal shelter piece. Apparently, in the “what the fuck were you thinking?” spectrum a box of dead cats > a used rubber.)

My dissertation adviser? As vibrant as always, laughing at a reception with a half-empty glass of red wine in her hand. Her “7-year-old” daughter? Now out of school and married to an Army Ranger.

As I return home to add another notch on to my own kid’s age (12, she’s going to be 12. This is not possible…), I found myself smiling at the silliness of it all. Even as we all change and age, none of us is really different or older.

The only ones who really age are the kids.

 

I got defriended by a “nice young lady in a blue shirt.”

The buzz about Stephen Miller’s “cosmopolitan” comment to Jim Acosta had me thinking about the reason he can actually get away with something like that. It’s the same reason why Gov. Scott Walker gets away with ripping the University System and it’s the same reason I usually tell people I “work at the U” in hopes that they think I’m a janitor.

We have far too many people who get excised about perceived slights and publicly draw attention to things that so many others would just look at and say, “Really?”

This week, I was trying to dodge summer grading when one of my friends on Facebook (a tangential connection based mainly on doc school and research connections) noted that she returned home after an exhausting 16-hour trip in which the highlight was being called a “nice young lady in a blue shirt” during a stop at a gas station.

The woman went on to say that she had a huge problem with this “framing” of her. She sees herself as being trained to be polite and that she was NOT young and that the shirt she was wearing was from the Kinsey Institute, all things that would have better indicated her actual self.

I naturally assumed that where she was when this happened (somewhere between Texas and South Dakota), it was some old codger who was making an observation. I asked if the guy was an asshole or something, as to try to understand why this was so offensive.

It turned out that it was actually a woman in her 20s-30s who was referencing her to someone else. Her response also noted was that she was NOT young (she was 40ish although any photo I ever saw of her would have had me pegging her at about half that age), calling her a nice lady was indicating that she was in some way a compliant, pliable figure and that her “ironic chastity” powder blue shirt should not have been the first thing the person noticed. She said it was quite upsetting and that it demonstrated larger societal problems regarding how people frame women.

I decided to step off the thread at that point, worrying I was hijacking this whole thing, even though other people (women, even) asked her what the problem was with the “young” thing and how she would prefer to be noticed in passing public situations.

For some reason, I couldn’t let this go. I was having trouble wrapping my head around how “nice,” “lady” and “blue” in this (or almost any other context) would connote such a dark subtext in a public situation as to undermine her as a person. I hopped on chat to ask one, private question:

Not to belabor a point in what is clearly something that won’t end well for me, but is it at all possible that through your self-framing, you’re reading way, way, way too deeply into this passing comment? A (person) at a gas station made an observation based on recognition (color) not cognition (Kinsey, ironic chastity) and made simple and positive reflection on an interaction (wow, she was nice).

The response was as follows:

The “you’re making too big of a deal out of this” has been used for a long time to justify discriminatory comments and behaviors. This comment had an impact on me. I don’t like it, and I am going to talk about why I don’t like it and find it offensive. If you think I am making too big of a big deal out of something that I find offensive, please feel free to unfollow or unfriend me because I am going to continue to talk about all the stupid things people say to me or about me.

 

I told her I was sorry I upset her, that I disagreed but that I would leave her alone and that I hope to see her at an upcoming conference.

She unfriended me later that day.

A couple things sat in my head both during and after this exchange:

  • I did not say she was making too big of a deal out of something. I asked if, in a perhaps more reflective moment later, given what others were asking, did she maybe read into this too much. A) I’m a scholar and I’ve read the lit on stuff like this and B) I’m not an idiot, so I could tell she was upset. Obviously there was something there for her, but I wasn’t seeing it, so I wanted to know if, after not really answering the questions as to why this upset her, maybe she figured that she had made a mountain out of a molehill.
  • The defriender told me that referring to her as a “nice young lady” (not to her, mind you but in describing her to someone else who asked about something) was akin to a white district attorney once having called a black lawyer “boy” in an attempt to discredit him. “There’s literature on this,” she told me. True, but there’s also literature on the “Passage of Salt” (obviously meant as a spoof but it actually got through; we use this one in our doc sem to show that sometimes, “Lit Happens.”) and the misapplication of literature is a common dodge when we’re wrong (trust me). It’s also true that common sense has to factor into life at some point. It wasn’t a white guy shitting on a black guy on a professional environment. It was one woman offering a description of another woman at a gas station. Of all the people involved in this situation, the one person who probably would never have guessed in a million years that this much shit had hit this much of a fan would have been the person at the gas station.
  • This is exactly the reason I hate dealing with academics. Yes, I have a Ph.D. but if anything, I’m a self-loathing academic: I get that theory, practice and research all have to coexist in a broader context, but I have always hated people who spend the majority of their time looking at things only through their hyper-educated lens of reality. It’s why I found myself once being screamed at for having the temerity to call a “personal street ingress” a “manhole.” I get that language matters, but if I fell down one of those things, I’d be dead before someone figured out where I was if you kept calling it that. It’s one of the many reasons I tend to now shy away from the “Big Name U” schools when I get the urge to go job hunting: The last thing I need is to spend half my life pondering the existential dilemma of comma usage and its ability to undermine developing social constructs.
  • I honestly felt sorry for her, which I’m sure would infuriate her more. It is absolutely exhausting having to ponder every, single aspect of life, acting or failing to act for fear of engendering a deeper subtext that would lead to public castigation. I imagine it is equally exhausting and infuriating to have to apply that level of analysis to the motives and actions of every single person you encounter on a daily basis. When I’m in church with The Midget and some 90-year-old woman in front of me says, “Oh, what a cute little girl you have there!” I don’t stop her and say, “By calling her cute, you denigrate her ability to rise past the social norms that women should be judged solely on their looks. She is unlikely to be treated equally in society if you and others continue to ignore her intellectual attributes.” I say, “Oh, thank you very much,” and smile because again A), I’m not an idiot and B) there is such a thing as context. When it was raining this morning, I was entering my office building in front of someone else dashing to the door. I held the door open for her and walked through. I did not do it because I was attempting to reinforce a gender code written decades ago that men should do such things, nor was I doing it because I was attempting to reinforce the stereotype that physical activities should be gender normed toward men. I did it because it seemed like the right thing to do for a fellow human being. (And yes, I have held doors for men before. This does not make me a weirdo.)

 

It’s interactions like this that stick with people and that open the door (so to speak) for people like Stephen Miller to create the “gods and clods” argument in his favor. It’s why the term “social-justice warrior” has become a pejorative term for anyone who doesn’t think that the world should be stuck in the 1950s. It’s the academic version of the surfer buying lobster with food stamps.

And yes, there are times when calling someone “young lady” or “young man” can come with the intent to demean. And we do need to stop people from denigrating others or casting aspersions because they need to know that “check out the tits on that chick” doesn’t cut it in polite society. However, of all the things this interaction could have taught me, I only came away with two:

  1. She’s not a nice person, lady or otherwise.
  2. If you want to be considered not “young,” you might want to grow the fuck up.

 

An Eagle’s Eye View on Trump and the Jamboree

The media firestorm over Donald Trump’s address to the National Boy Scout Jamboree had me digging deep into the back of both my mind and my storage closet this week.

In 1989, I was one of 32,717 scouts who poured into Ft. A.P. Hill, Virginia for a week of camping and camaraderie. I was the only representative from my school, which meant I was stuck with another troop from Wisconsin for the duration of the event. I was one of four outsiders who didn’t come from this Evangelical school of overly sensitive kids two or three years my junior.

Three of the days we spent there were among the hottest ever on record for that area, so much so that soda was banned and mandatory hydration occurred. We had just spent a week on a bus getting there, crashing at various armories and gymnasiums on the way, so we were ripe to say the least. It also didn’t help that showers were tough to come by (a long, long hike with even longer lines, if memory serves) and a lot of us were trying to earn a patch or a badge that involved us completing a mud-filled obstacle course or a swampy nature walk.

By the time we got home several days after the event closed on Aug. 9, we were so fried that any one of us (including God’s Children who once were so offended when I told one of them to go to hell that they actually debated if I should be put on a plane and sent home) would have stabbed any other one of us for the simple crime of looking at us on the bus.

The trip wasn’t all bad, and I still have some memories of this weird adventure and some souvenirs in a plastic tub marked “Boy Scout Stuff.”

In digging through it this week, I found the package of astronaut trading cards I received, still in mint condition. Each troop received something like 15 copies of one guy or gal and we were supposed to meet people from all over the country as we traded cards to get a complete set. The kid was supposed to write his name and address on the back so we could remain pen pals after the event. Marring a card like this was appalling to me, so instead, I set up an exchange with other kids in my troop, paying them off in candy I’d squirreled away to go get a perfect copy of each card for me.

Even then, I was an industrious card enthusiast.

The cards weren’t the only cottage industry available to us. Each troop had a specialized shoulder patch for the members’ uniforms. You could buy extras in advance for trading with other troops, which I failed to do (again, one of the pitfalls of not being in with the in-crowd). However, somewhere along the journey, a lot of kids had spent their travel money down to nearly nothing and were in desperate need of cash for soda and candy. I bought them out of spare patches and went about mastering the trading game.

The trades were supposed to be one for one, but some patches were considered more valuable than others, based on design, colors and quality of manufacturing. Ours were at least a 2-1 trade, but there were some that were ridiculously “over-priced.” The Holy Grail of patches was the one from a Texas troop: As space travel was the theme of the event, that patch, which was twice as deep as a regular shoulder patch, had the shuttle flying out of the Alamo. To get one, even we were expected to give up at least six of ours to get one from anyone who had one.

Alamo-Area-Council-2017-National-Boy-Scout-Jamboree

One of the guys I hung with out there had the idea of avoiding the patch traders and trying to find the source. We went to the main office site of the Jamboree and found out who these guys were and where their campsite was located. We hiked something like three miles or whatever to get there and when we did, the adult leader said, “It’s a one-to-one trade for us. You guys really showed you wanted it.”

I still have that patch among the collection I kept in a paper bag at the bottom of my sleeping bag the whole trip, for fear of having someone gank my Alamo patch.

I remembered the presidential address, but I had forgotten if we had received it from George H.W. Bush as a VP or as president. I remembered that he spoke, but as God as my witness, I couldn’t remember what he told us. I found his speech online this week and read it top to bottom, recalling none of it. I just remembered that we were all tweaking out when we noticed the snipers set up along the tops of the giant video screens used to project his image to the scouts.

I also remembered how much it sucked to be there because we were all packed in a field, it was the middle of the morning and we had to be in full dress uniform for the event, which meant calf-high woolen socks, long-sleeve shirts and neckerchiefs. Doing laundry in the field was a haphazard act that usually left our stuff smelling worse than when we started. In fact, the last couple days, we just stuffed our dirty stuff in the bottom of our duffel bags and figured we’d get to it eventually as we survived on newly purchased Jamboree T-shirts and whatever socks and skivvies we had left.

(My poor mother. When I finally got home at something like 4 a.m., I tossed my duffel to the bottom of the stairs, expecting to do laundry when I got up. Mom got up early and began to sort through my stuff. At the bottom was a plastic bag that contained my swampy, obstacle course clothes, which had been cooked in the sun and then marinated under a bus for three days. When she broke the seal on that bag, she swore she almost passed out. Once she recovered, she threw whatever was in there into the outside garbage dumpster and coated it with Lysol.)

Of all the things I remember, my most vivid memory was Fucking Lee Greenwood serenading us near the end of the event. He sang, “Proud to be an American” for what seemed like an hour and a half, imploring us to stand up when he sang the line, “And I’d proudly STAND UP next to them…”

I stood up. Everyone else did too, because that’s what you did.

Everyone except for my tent mate, John. He not only stayed seated but he put his head down as well.

I tried to get him up. He resisted.

When we got back to the tent that night, I asked him why he didn’t stand up. It was such a little thing, a stupid thing, that there was no reason not to.

“I don’t like mob patriotism,” he told me. “I should feel free in this country to do as I please.”

John had that kind of “hippie” vibe to me at that point. He looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, he didn’t pray at meals (much to the consternation of the Evangelicals) and he did his own thing. He was also one of the four outcasts and a voracious reader, which is why we ended up tenting together. I didn’t get him then, but that always stuck with me. I never thought of patriotism as a “mob” issue until he put that thought in my head.

(Of course, I went back to high school and immediately became an active member in the Young Republicans, so I can’t say he really impacted me right away. Most kids rebel by smoking weed and hippie-ing out on their folks. I pissed off my mostly liberal teachers by becoming Alex P. Keaton. I doubt any of us are really proud of our high school years…)

This is one of the main reasons why I don’t fault the kids who booed Obama or cheered Trump’s applause lines: They’re like 12 or 13 years old. Between learning to do what adults tell you because they tell you it and the general peer pressure that had me standing up for a fucking Lee Greenwood song, I doubt there was malice or even understanding going on there.

One other item I found in that bin of stuff came along about a year after we got back from the Jamboree: My Eagle Scout medal. It was pinned to my uniform, next to the medal I received for the ad altare dei award (Catholic scout honors) and just below the Jamboree patch. I was only the second Eagle in our troop in almost 30 years, the first being my friend Kyle who earned his six months before I did. To me, it was a big deal, because it was one of the first times in life I stuck with something long enough to complete the task. The ability and desire to finish things, even those that seemed impossible, would eventually become my modus operandi, but it all started with reaching Eagle Scout.

I was sad to learn that a man in Moorhead, North Dakota had turned in his Eagle to the scouting office in protest after he felt the Scouting leadership didn’t do enough to deal with Trump’s unhinged speech. That award meant a lot to me when I earned it and it still does. I always thought I might be over-emphasizing it until I heard somewhere that Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 and one of the most experienced astronauts of the Apollo program, still listed his Eagle award on his resume. I don’t know if that’s true, but I still receive mail from the Boy Scouts for various campaigns and they occasionally have Lovell’s auto-penned signature on them.

To give up something like that, because of a clusterfuck caused by our human brushfire of a president doesn’t work for me. It seems more like cutting off your nose to spite your face than like Cassius Clay tossing his gold medal into the Ohio River.

It also bothers me that this quadrennial event might be tainted for this group of kids, most of whom will probably never attend another national jambo. Then again, if my experience is any indication, half of these kids probably skipped the damned thing to go catch a hike or do some rafting or earn a merit badge. Those kids who did attend were probably busy texting or screwing around, as seeing the president wasn’t nearly as cool at that age as people kept telling us it was. We wanted to get back to doing the stuff we came there to do. Having some old dude tell us about what life was like when he was a kid wasn’t anywhere in the top 20.

(I’m glad the head of the scouts apologized Thursday for not stepping in earlier and stopping this shit show. I’m sure at the time it was happening, it was like watching a car wreck. We all like to think we’d be like Neo in a situation like this, dodging bullets in real time as we deftly fought for justice. In most cases, we’d be like Roscoe P. Coltrane, flying off the damned road and crashing into a tree, even as we knew it was happening. Cut the guy some slack for not jumping in on the FUCKING PRESIDENT the minute he went off the rails. When the goddamned provost shows up at my office, I’m a babbling idiot for about the first half hour, for chrissake… )

People outside of the event have made this about Trump and what he said and how people reacted and what impact this will have on our kids and… Just stop.

The kids are fine. They’ll bring back their own version of card swapping and patch trading in terms of memories. (I took a look at the Jamboree website and found that they have a “patch trading app” that helps you suss out the fake patches that tend to infiltrate the trade. How things have evolved…) They’ll have some friends that last a week and memories that last a lifetime. They’ll keep a few patches and cards and such in a bin that gets moved from home to home throughout their lives.

As for Trump and his chaos, they should probably do what mom did for me: March the nasty shit outside, toss it in the dumpster and coat it with Lysol.

No, OJ, No…

I remember exactly where I was on Oct. 3, 1995 when the jury found O.J. Simpson not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. A bunch of J-majors were stuffed into the broadcast lab, which was the only place that had a TV with cable in those pre-real-Internet days of news. Back then, we all wanted to know, RIGHT NOW, what was going to happen with this guy. The verdict was stunning but, for us, not in the way you saw portrayed in retro shows where people were screaming and fighting and whatever. I know it mattered in a lot of ways to a lot of people, and it must still matter to me, as I remember where I was back then.

Thursday’s similarly breathless coverage of Simpson’s parole hearing felt for me like one of those “one-hit wonder” bands you catch on a side stage at Summerfest: You recognized one or two of the people, one or two of the songs, but it really wasn’t much to write home about. I seemed to be in a minority on that point, as Tweets were flying, networks broke in to show the hearing live, video clips played on an almost constant loop and it seemed like every website on earth had a different angle on this. TV morning shows found the Goldman family and brought them out for a “hot take” on this 70-year-old parolee. Netflix was plugging its original film on “Kardashian: The Man Who Saved O.J. Simpson” in the wake of the hearing. My friend even sent me, a die-hard Cleveland fan, a snarky article on how the Browns had just signed The Juice to a 2-year, $14 million contract to anchor their backfield.

O.J. Simpson was about “the moment” for so long. The 1968 Rose Bowl, where he scored twice and rushed for 128 yards. The snowy night at Shea Stadium in 1973 where he piled up 200 yards to break the seemingly unbreakable barrier of 2000 yards in a season. The Thanksgiving Day in Detroit where he ran for 273 yards as the team’s only weapon.

In later years, he was also about “the moment” in life: The famous low-speed Freeway Chase that had every Ford executive wondering why AC couldn’t have grabbed the keys to a Bentley or something. The moment he put on that glove with all the exuberance of a man cleaning out a septic tank with his own toothbrush. The look on his face when the jury acquitted him. The years of random “pop up” moments like his book, “If I Did It…”

CNN noted that we need more “OJ moments” for a variety of reasons.

I’m more with Crash Davis on this one:

The moment’s over.

“I had to eat.”

Three elderly men sat at an 8-foot plastic table outside the ballroom of the Red Carpet bowling center in Milwaukee. Among them, they possessed five NFL championships, three NBA titles, one World Series ring and the most famous home run ever hit in the annals of baseball.

It was the summer of 1987, still the height of the nation’s sports card craze. The card show was packed with people just inside the door behind this makeshift shrine to sports immortality. As was the case during that era, older athletes who lived near these shows would gladly pocket a few hundred bucks from the promoters to show up, sign autographs and tell stories.

The bald, gregarious man on the left was once the most feared man to ever remove his teeth and don a helmet. Ray Nitschke anchored the Lombardi defenses of the 1960s, prowling about his linebacker position like an animal waiting for the opportunity to ravenously pounce upon a fearful prey.

The dour-faced man on the right kept to himself, writing his name upon photos of himself in penmanship that bordered on artistic calligraphy. His claim to fame as a Milwaukee Brave was that he broke his ankle early in the 1954 season, forcing the team to call up a minor-league prospect by the name of Hank Aaron. Three years earlier, on Oct. 3 in the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to earn the New York Giants the pennant. At the time he signed a personalized picture for me, I knew none of that and only years later, after I had sanctified that homer, did I realize I had met Thomson. It was a sad disappointment in retrospect, in which the man had already undermined the legend.

The round-faced fellow in the middle was Gene Conley, a pitcher for the 1957 World Series championship team, who died this week at the age of 86.

Nitschke took off his Super Bowl ring and let me try it on. The golden circle heavily dangled from my 12-year-old finger, looking something like an expensive game of ring toss. Thomson wouldn’t say a word to anyone and refused to interact with the other men. My father tried to engage him and was cut down with a glare for his trouble.

Yet it was Conley, a man I never knew about before that day, who made the biggest impression on me.

As “Big Gene” signed a photo for me and a card for Dad, my father informed me that this gentle giant had not only won a World Series title, but also had three NBA championships to boot. It was around this time that Bo Jackson was playing for the Royals and considering a “hobby” as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders.

“I don’t know why they’re giving Bo Jackson such a hard time for playing two sports,” Dad began. “This man played for the Braves AND the Celtics!”

Conley stopped in mid-signature. A blip in his penmanship remains a reminder in Sharpie of the moment I’ll never forget.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Conley said in a contradictory tone, punctuated with a laugh. “Don’t be comparing me to Bo Jackson! I had to EAT!”

The 6-foot-8 Conley earned $10,000 as a rookie in 1954, with $20,000 being the most he’d ever earn in as a pitcher. Like most players of his era, the off season meant it was time to find a Joe Job to hold the fort until the next season came in.

Yogi Berra sold hardware and worked as a restaurant greeter.

Phil Rizzuto sold suits at a store in Newark, New Jersey.

Jim Bunning and Rogers Hornsby were just two of hundreds who sold insurance.

Willie Mays and Willie McCovey sold vehicles of all kinds.

Jackie Robinson had a traveling vaudeville routine.

Conley’s height and basketball experience at Washington State College made him appealing to Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics.

He earned about $4,500 a season playing basketball, a much better deal than having to hawk clothes or cars.

Baseball players weren’t alone in this need for off-season employment. The minimum wage for an NFL player in 1977 was $14,500, or about $60,000 in today’s dollars. As Herm Edwards said in the documentary “Broke,” players he coached in the 1990s and 2000s would ask him what he and his teammates did in the off season as a player.

“Guys WORKED!” he shouted.

Conley lived long enough to see men in his profession have enough money to never need an off-season insurance gig or even a deal selling autographs at a card show. Less than a week before Conley passed, Steph Curry signed a five-year, $201-million contract, the richest ever for an athlete. Seventeen years earlier, Alex Rodriguez became the first “quarter-billion-dollar man,” signing a 10-year, $252-million deal with the Texas Rangers.

Even in his comedic rebuke of my father, I never sensed that Conley begrudged the players of today for their fortunate timing of birth. I also never got the sense that he wished he could have spent his off seasons lounging around at one of his half-dozen McMansions. In 1960, the Phillies offered Conley $20,000 to NOT play for the Celtics. Conley refused and was shipped to the Red Sox in midseason.

He liked both games and enjoyed playing them. He also knew his deteriorating rotator cuff made it more likely that he could stick with basketball longer than baseball.

Plus, a man has to eat…

It’s Blog, It’s Blog! Help me not to suck…

I’m asking for help from the hivemind, given the wide array of experience you have in writing for blogs, reading blogs and probably eviscerating shitty blogs.

I was on the phone with my publisher the other day when she made an obvious statement that had previously had no answer other than, “No shit.”

“The problem most of your reviewers had was that by the time the book comes out, the examples you list for the students are dated,” she noted. “That’s a problem with this book that we need to address…”

My answer was the more professional version of “No shit” but even as I said it, I could feel Admiral Ackbar wheeling around in his chair…

“That’s a problem with any media textbook, though,” I argued. “Given the time from writing to press, there’s no real way around it…”

It was a trap.

The idea that marketing had (screaming red flag) was that to address this problem and distinguish us from the rest of the books in the area was to have me run a blog that would update features, engage readers and talk about stuff that was important in the field.

I was hesitant, give that a) I don’t know how to build a blog. I got lucky enough to join this traveling circus after A had already established a tone, built an audience and got people interested… and b) See point a.

So I had two basic rules going for me going into this agreement:

  • It’s got to be about the readers’ needs, not my desire to tell people stuff.
  • It’s got to have useful tools on it, not just shit for the sake of having shit.

Their response was that I couldn’t cuss, so I’m a bit limited there.

So, here’s where I’m begging like The Fly:

  • Tell me one of a few things about your best and worst blogging experiences as writers and readers.
  • What options should or shouldn’t be on there?
  • What tools are helpful for sharing and engaging people and what are just bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles?
  • How do you gather readers and how do you keep them?
  • What is the best bit of advice you can offer?

I know not all blogs are for the same purpose, but I figure if you can tell me what you like and don’t, I can fake the rest of it.

Thanks and have a great weekend.

Doc

A Deaf Frog

One of the best jokes about jumping to the wrong conclusion is that of the scientist and the frog. The scientist tells the frog to jump and the frog does so. The scientist then cuts off one of the frog’s legs and repeats the command. The frog continues to jump until the scientist has removed all four legs, at which point, the frog remains still.

The scientist then makes this entry in his notes: “After removing all four legs, frog goes deaf.”

An equally disgusting and yet not nearly as funny series of answers emerged this week in regard to how public figures dealt with problematic situations.

Bill Cosby, who has apparently told more people to “relax” than Frankie Goes to Hollywood, had his fate delayed when a Pennsylvania jury deadlocked 10-2 in his sexual-assault case. Cosby has been accused of scores of women (and that’s literally accurate, sadly) of drugging and raping them over the past several decades. In this singular case, involving an administrator in the Temple University athletic program, Cosby was said to have used Quaaludes to knock her unconscious before having sex with her against her will in 2004. Cosby remains free on bond while the state considers its next move, which will likely be a retrial.

What will Cosby be doing with all this free time, now that a Cosby Show reunion show is likely out of the question? He’s planned a series of town-hall meetings in which he will “educate” young men and married men how to avoid accusations of sexual assault in this litigious society:

 

Ebonee M. Benson, who works with Mr. Wyatt and joined him on the program, said the need for awareness had grown because the statutes of limitations on sexual assault have been extended in several states. In some cases the legislative efforts were aided by women who have accused Mr. Cosby of molesting them.

“People need to be educated on a brush against the shoulder,” she said. “Anything at this point can be considered sexual assault.”

 

Or, y’know, the lecture could just be, “Don’t drug and fuck people against their will. And pull up your damned pants.” However, as Cosby sees it, the problem isn’t the fucking, but rather needing to find ways to make sure it doesn’t come back to haunt you.

Speaking of things that can come back to haunt you, the White House has figured out that people will actually recall the official and unofficial comments people make and hold you to them. Everything from the evening news to late-night comedy shows use the clip montage on an almost daily basis to showcase what an official is saying now compared to the exact opposite thing that person said over the past six months. Trump, Spicer, Conway, Sessions and more all have fallen victim to the “Here’s a statement they made today that is directly contradicted by the nine times they said the exact opposite thing.”

The answer was clear earlier this week: Stop the taping. The White House has set up a series of bizarre rules that limit live presentation of the press briefing, no cameras and limitations on audio. In an even dumber decision, it issued an edict to the media (whose job it is to tell the public stuff) not to tell the public the instructions the news outlets received on how this off-the-camera approach was supposed to work. So, in short, we’re doing something shitty to you and we want to tell you what that shitty thing is, but don’t you dare report that we told you about this shitty thing we’re going to do to you.

Speaking of shitty things that are being done to the public, the Senate has drafted its version of the “Repeal and Replace Obamacare with Something Great” bill. The Republicans have known for quite some time that debating health care is a long, tiring and dicey process. The Affordable Care Act hearings went on for an interminable amount of time, with all sorts of maneuvering in hopes of derailing it. Although the ACA isn’t perfect, thanks in large part to these speed bumps and road blocks put up by opponents of the bill at the time, it is providing insurance to more than 23 million more people than the House version of Trumpcare would.

The senate realizes two things:

  1. Cutting people off of health coverage, including Medicaid and any other Medi-help, is likely to result in people losing their shit.
  2. Since they are essentially doing exactly that, people are likely to lose their shit.

The solution is simple: Don’t show people what you’re working on. Much like a 4-year-old who is covering up his homework so mom can’t see how shitty his penmanship is, Mitch McConnell and his crew of unnamed bill-makers have sat in secret for the past couple weeks, crafting whatever it is they are crafting. The reveal on Thursday showed that it was essentially the same shit as the House bill, only potentially worse. McConnell upped his game by pushing for a vote within a week and refusing to say he’d allow for at least 10 hours of debate and discussion on it.

It makes little sense to attempt to apply common sense to these kinds of solutions, as none really applies. At best, the solutions are Machiavellian maneuvers and at worst they are like people who put pennies in the fuse box to get the power back on.

It also does little good to call people out on this kind of bullshit, given that most of the people who display this level of chutzpah lack the inherent ability to be ashamed of themselves. All they see in front of them is what their myopic vision of self-assuredness allows them to see.

A deaf frog.

A Golden Anniversary Explained

Fifty years ago tomorrow, two scared 20-somethings gathered with family and friends in a cathedral-esque church on the south side of Milwaukee to pledge their lives to one another. Her father thought the man wasn’t good enough for his daughter. His father thought the woman was far too strident and interested in a career to be a good wife.

Nobody, least of all these two kids, knew if they’d make it, if they’d be OK.

Still, there they were in front of a three story slab of pink and white marble with a giant crucifix, saying they would live together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death shall they part. When they emerged onto a set of concrete stairs that led to East Plankinton Avenue and slipped into a borrowed 1965 Plymouth Roadrunner, they were on the way to the rest of their lives.

Husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs.

A married couple.

The fact that my mom and dad remain married and relatively happy often amazes me, given that almost everyone I knew as a kid had divorced or miserable parental units. When they fought or yelled, I never once thought, “Wow, this is the end.” Things would calm down, peace with honor would emerge and life would move on.

When I considered marriage, I asked them how they made it work. “What keeps you together, even when things are bad or when you are really pissed?” I would ask. Neither of them could really put a finger on it, so I kind of “observed a lot by watching,” to quote the late Yogi Berra.

Here’s what I figure makes them tick:

See the problem, fix the problem: My parents had a very “work the problem” approach to life when it came to the day-in, day-out stuff that confronts married people. When they realized they were often broke early in their marriage, the looked at where the money went. Granted, there wasn’t a lot to go around, but they were able to find a couple things that ate into their budget. On Sundays, they’d get the newspaper, look through the circulars and go to the store to buy “a bargain.” Turned out, they tended to not need the stuff they bought and it cut into other things they did need, so they stopped going to the store. The same thing was true for groceries, linens and other things. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it just because you think you should.

 

Commit to it: Promises and commitments ran deep in our household. Dad loves to tell the story about how he and Mom would make envelopes for all the monthly expenses and put their pay into those envelopes. Whatever was left over was for fun, and usually that wasn’t much. Still, they found a process that worked for keeping the lights on and the rent paid, so they committed to it.

They also stuck to the commitments regardless of if they were positive or negative. When they said, “We’re doing X,” I knew we were doing it. That’s how I ended up getting to see my first Brewers game, even though it was on a Friday night, in the heat of a pennant race and on bat day. It was the worst game to attend for traffic, crowds and generally everything else my dad hated. Still, he committed to it. Same was true with punishments. When I got caught for speeding, he and Mom agreed I lost car privileges for a month. That meant he had to drive me to and from after-school commitments and I had to take the bus to school, which cut into other plans. It sucked as much for them as it did for me (or at least sort of), but they stuck with it because they said so.

 

Have a united front: Agreement wasn’t always the first word that came to mind when it came to my parents. They argue about half of everything, from what we should do for dinner to who was the lady who ran the corner store on Packard Avenue in the 1950s. However, when they had to make a decision about something important, they never threw one another under the bus. This made life difficult for me as a child, since you couldn’t play Mom off of Dad. Whenever I screwed up badly enough that life and limb became a potential punishment, they would send me to my room and talk things over. When they figured out what they were going to do to me, they both came and told me. Together. At the same time. No bullshit.

 

No grudges: Even with the arguments, I never saw them hold a grudge. Whatever arguments happened before bed were settled before the kiss goodnight. In the morning, life moved on. I imagine that over 50 years of marriage, there could be plenty of the “Y’know in 1978, that thing you did REALLY pissed me off” conversations that could emerge on any given day. They never did. It was, “OK, what’s next?”

 

Laugh: Humor, even some truly crude stuff, always flowed through the house. If Dad wasn’t telling a bad joke, he was telling a weird story. Mom always found humor in the dumb things her students did that day and loved to share with the family. I spent my allowance on joke books, trying to find the one joke that neither of them had heard before but would still make them laugh.

In some of our darkest hours, humor became the thing that kept us going. I remember when Dad’s mom died, something that hit us out of the blue. We never saw it coming. It was the first time I ever saw my father really cry. I wondered if he would ever snap back from this or if his whole sense of being would merely crumble away. The funeral home was a hatchet-job of a place that charged him in advance for everything, going so far as to interrupt the visitation to tell my dad his credit card wasn’t going through. They charged him time and a half for everything done on Saturday as well. We drove in silence from the funeral home to the cemetery, passing by the very spot along the road where my grandmother would be interred. Dad looked over past me, out my window and took a deep breath. I was waiting for him to come up with some deep, dark sense of mortality and love. Instead, he muttered, “They better’ve dug that fucking hole already if they’re charging me time and a half for it.”

After that, I knew he’d be OK.

Saturday marks 50 years of marriage for two of the most incredible people I know. They always knew to talk and to listen to one another, even if they didn’t fully understand or agree. However, when it came to a vow renewal, they both saw this as something to behold.

Thus, they will once again be in that church, standing in front of that giant slab of marble, pledging their love to one another. They will be surrounded by the family and friends who remain, telling each other and anyone who will listen that they will stay together, through good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.

One thing that is different now, however, is they already know they’re going to be just fine.