Category Archives: Big Damn Heroes

Lookit What You Did!

Thanks to your generosity, First Drafters, you paid for Christmas gifts for 85 KIDS. The money you raised for the St. Hyacinth Food Pantry bought gift cards, toys, games, mittens and other necessary stuff for the children whose parents shop there each month.

I’m heading up tomorrow to help them sort through some more donated things, but this is the nicest part: They’ll all get something new and nice for the holidays, thanks to you!

They’ll be able to go get a snack or a treat or something frivolous with their friends without having to worry about it for once. That kind of freedom is delicious when you don’t always have it.

You rock, all y’all.

A.

Big Gavel Energy

I’m not one for body language analysis when the shit that comes out of Trump’s mouth-anus is so horrific but honestly, the way he turns away from Nancy while she’s talking and looks at Chuck like, “women, amirite?” should be in some kind of Man-seum.

At this point not only am I okay with keeping Nancy “Big Dig Energy” Pelosi as leader, I will not rest until she is QUEEN. To sit there calmly while President Fucknut waves his hand at her to literally dismiss her, spews nonsense about a border wall, and says “I’m proud to shut down the government” like he’s not making campaign ads for his 2020 opponent until the end of time … well, that’s restraint I don’t have.

Everything about this is an illustration of a competent woman in a business meeting with an idiot man and his idiot enablers (Chuckles included, for not decking his ass) but it’s also, you know, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES telling the incoming Speaker of the House that she sucks, which is not how anything should work.

A.

You Can Run On For a Long Time

I thought of Sue and Kim this morning: 

They were standing by a lamp post, this middle-aged couple. They could have been my parents, in another life. They could have been yours.

Sue and Kim. He retired after 33 years working for the state. She still worked for the state, on a temporary contract that kept getting extended. They’d had pay freezes for half a dozen years, when they didn’t have pay cuts. They weren’t getting wealthy on their pensions. They weren’t sporting $60 haircuts. They lived in a small town. They were trying to hold on to what they had.

Behind them, around Madison’s beautiful Capitol, people walked with kids and dogs, and cops watched from their bikes and horses. A man in a Badger costume danced on the steps. A man with an accordion played.

“This is where we were 18 months ago when the protests began,” Kim said. “We thought we would finish where we started.”

I hope they were there last night. I hope they stayed up til morning. I hope they saw the moment they were looking for all those years ago.

There were a lot of things I wanted to happen last night that did — get ready for subpeonas, you dogfaced tangerine fascist — and lots that didn’t — Ted Cruz is still in Congress which seems insane to me. But mostly what I wanted was a win for all the thousands of people who stood at the Capitol building in 2011, in the dark in the rain in the snow in the cold, against impossible odds, against the certainty of loss, facing the whole apparatus of power and holding back defeat with drums and songs and kindness and hope.

It’s hard to describe if you didn’t see it. I know seven years is a lifetime ago. But I’m German Roman Catholic and I grew up in Wisconsin with people who were raised in the shadow of the Great Depression. When we want to hold a grudge, we make it a story and we teach it to our children and our children’s children, and until the day I die I will be telling you about the roar.

The Capitol in Madison is made of marble, with a rotunda three floors deep. Thousands strong, and it echoed, like the hammer in a forge, pounding, the kind of sound that rattles your ribs and rises in your throat.

At first it was just the teachers. Then the steelworkers. Then the firefighters. Then the ironworkers and the police officers and the corrections workers, the prison guards came not to make sure the doors were locked but to throw them open. Everyone came. Old women with walkers. Mothers with small children. Everyone, and the sound never stopped, not even in the middle of the night, rumbling down from the basement rising up to the rafters, and it seemed impossible that it would ever fall silent.

It did. The bills to gut worker protection and punish teachers passed. The recall failed. Another attempt to unseat him failed. Scott Walker had his way with the University of Wisconsin and gave away the store to Foxconn and presided over unprecedented racism as the state went for Trump with a vengeance.

If you had told me six months ago that last night was possible I’d have called you a liar. But I’d have forgotten the roar. Seven years is a lifetime but last night, as the vote totals flipped back and forth, it was all I could hear.

I hope Sue and Kim heard it. I hope they and the thousands of others who stood up all those years ago heard it and raised their voices and, in the predawn hours of a victory so long in coming, sang along.

A.

Go Tell That Long Tongue Liar

I voted last week, voted early, to get it out of the way and not have to worry about getting up early or staying out late. I’m coming to the end of a serious hell-period at work and Mr. A is leaving tonight for a week overseas, and the time change is fucking with Kick’s sleep in a way it never has before, and it didn’t seem sensible to leave this to chance.

I didn’t expect it to make me feel like a superhero or anything. I’ve been in the streets every other weekend, family beside me, against misogyny and family separation and the general garbage fire of the world. We are not un-engaged right now. Kick insisted we bake cookies for the volunteers at the local Dem organizing office, insisted her father deliver them.

I didn’t expect voting to make me feel like a superhero; these small things don’t feel like enough. A friend might have to leave the country. Another found swastikas spray-painted in the park where his children play. The synagogue in Pittsburgh, a friend’s father prays there. This is about faces I see every day. Faces I want to continue to see.

My new OB-GYN mentioned to me that if I wanted to get an IUD I should do it soon. While they were still easy to obtain. We both thought about Mike Pence, and shuddered.

To so many people quoted in these Trump supporter stories, the rage seems so abstract: They think someone somewhere is getting something free and they don’t like that. The caravan is miles away. Football players are kneeling, but only on TV. Their taxes have gone up but they can’t tell you by how much. They’ve heard things, think they’re at risk, like the people in Chicago suburbia scared shitless after 9/11: there is no danger here at all.

The small things I can do — vote, donate, take my kid to rallies, write letters, write posts — don’t seem like enough. But I have to believe, as we all hold our breath today and think and wish and work and love, that we are building muscles we can use for years to come.

I went looking for this video this morning, from the 2011 protests in Wisconsin against Scott Walker and Act 10.

I remember all the carping after we lost the recall election and lost the election against Walker again, all the worry that “we” had done this wrong, had talked too loud, run this person or that person and that’s why we lost. We should have had better ways to do this then, and it’s impossible to say that’s wrong. But it’s also possible to say that our rage today is built on those bones.

That loss, those losses, felt like dying, and we said at the time, pay attention, this is what’s coming for all of you. It gave us a language to use to resist, and if we prevail tonight and in the coming days, if we rise up like that again and lose and lose and keep losing those losses will pile high enough for us to climb.

The small things I can do don’t feel like enough, and that’s because by themselves, they’re not.

A.

Do Something Right Now

Well, who DOESN’T feel helpless this morning?

Friend of Blog Jude points us to this fundraiser being held in Madison, Wis. for the Trans Law Help Center, a volunteer legal aid clinic helping people dealing with the Trump administration’s ever-erupting volcano of bullshit.

If you can’t attend, I’ll match the first $100 in donations to the center, run through Community Justice Inc, just link to a pic of your receipt in the comments. Fuck the fascists.

A.

People Have Always Fought Back

In the worst times, people fought back: 

 The Bund created youth groups, newspapers, illegal schools, and a courier service that transmitted news across occupied Poland; the latter’s operatives exchanged information at soup kitchens that the Bund set up as cover. Money came from New York-based organizations like the Jewish Labor Committee (founded by Vladeck), smuggled by Jewish girls pale enough to pass as Polish gentiles. Later, that money paid for hiding places and guns. After October 1940, when Nazis began herding Warsaw’s Jews into the Ghetto, the Bund organized the teeming tenements into committees dedicated to cultural, as well as physical, survival.

[…]

The Bund’s long relationship with Polish socialists allowed them to breach the ghetto walls, sneak in Polish resistance soldiers, and provide the world with some of the first accounts of the Nazi genocide, through the testimonies of Zalman Freidrych and Jan Karski. Through these networks, news filtered out, and weapons flowed in. In April 1943, three months after the first brief battle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one final arms shipment smuggled by Bundists got through the Ghetto walls.

How many Nazi troops died in that doomed revolt is still disputed. Three hundred, according to Bundist Marek Edelman, who assumed command of the ZOB, after its first leader committed suicide to avoid surrender. Sixteen, claimed the SS commander Jürgen Stroop, who had every reason to suppress the true figures. What is known is that it took the most feared military force in Europe three weeks to subdue 750 starving, inadequately-armed captives. Even then, the ghetto fell not to fighting, but to fires, set by German flamethrowers and incendiary bombs. Some 13,000 Jews died in the rebellion. In London, Artur Ziegelboim, the Bund’s representative in the Polish parliament in exile, took poison in a futile attempt to rouse the world from its indifference. The words of his suicide note read: “I love you all. Long live the Bund.”

Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing.

A.

Not Everything Sucks: Free Food Edition

Whenever Black Lives Matter does anything in downtown Chicago, where, you know, people pay attention to stuff, the local newspaper’s highly paid scolds bitch that the young activists never “protest in their own communities” and ask where their attention is to the problems people in Chicago’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

Right here, you smug jackwagons: 

The location of the food box was picked when members of Black Lives Matter Chicago, who at the time were volunteering at the Bronzeville Community Garden, learned people in the community were going hungry, Ethan said. So they decided to commit to stocking the box with food. He said already there’s been a great deal of positive community feedback.

A.

We’ve been showing up. Every damn day.

This kind of thing spread across the Twitters during the hours when it looked certain, instead of just likely, that the GOP was going to put a rapist on the Supreme Court:

And, I’m sorry, but no, they would not have shut down the country.

They would have shut down one hallway of one Senate office building, and occupied one suburban office park, and the national media led by Fox News and talk radio would MAKE IT SOUND LIKE they had shut down the country.

That’s what happened in 2000 and the way I know it would go else-ways for Dems is that I was at the Iraq War protests. Ignoring the media disparity to slag on the only viable opposition party as being insufficiently brave is not great, here.

I’m sick and fucking tired of this meme among Democrats that Democrats aren’t doing anything to stop this. Cory Booker tried to get himself and his colleagues frickin’ expelled, to stop this. Kamala Harris walked out of the hearing, to stop this. Maizie Hirono literally called bullshit, to stop this. Diane Feinstein, who is 400 years old, pinned Lisa Murkowski to the wall and yelled in her face, to stop this. None of it MATTERS without power.

Until November, giving speeches is all they CAN do. They do not command the U.S. military and they hold neither legislative house (yet). If every single Democrat walked out of Congress right now and sat down on the courthouse steps and vowed to stay there til the end of time, Republicans would … still have the votes to do everything they’re doing, plus all the TV cameras for them to call Democrats babies.

Dem legislators and activists held a whole ass protest on the steps of the courthouse Friday, anyway, not that anyone covered it with a fraction of the urgency they lend to a Republican county commissioner bitching about his taxes.

As for rank-and-file Dems, the outside-the-Capitol leadership? Well shit, every goddamn weekend and just about every weekday there’s a rally, a protest, a march. Against separating families, against mass incarceration, for racial justice, against voter suppression. There was a whole-ass Women’s March, fucking twice. Right now in Chicago there’s a hotel workers’ strike going on. There is no shortage of fights.

Women, especially black women, have been out here fighting the fights and running the races, registering people to vote, while Dem-bros lament the lack of, I dunno, physical barricades. And if there were physical barricades, you bet your ass women would be on them first.

Women are on them now, walking literal gauntlets to get reproductive healthcare, so let’s not forget whose bodies we’re advocating we throw on the wheels. A bloody revolution sounds like a fuckload of awesome fun if you’re not the one who’s gonna bleed.

There are a lot of people who aren’t fighting at all, much less fighting on our side. They’re the ones who need to be mobilized, not the people already at the front, raising their voices as loud as they can, despite the Fox News-following national press cutting their mics.

A.

My Boyfriend John Kerry Has a Book Out and is Thus Everywhere

Globe. Twitter.  Colbert, where he was just idiotically charming and inspiring as usual:

He’s 18 feet tall and I love him so much. I love how boringly passionate he is about the actual, you know, COUNTRY, and his job, and all the ordinary stuff you’re supposed to care about when you work for us.

I’m so glad he talked about trying to bring McCain onto the ticket in 2004, because I feel like that was a real chance to stop what’s happened since, and not enough people recognized it at the time. Fuck, I will never be over the 2004 election. We fought so goddamn hard and goddamn did we lose.

And let me just say, this is not the place for shit-talking Kerry nor, quite frankly, any other potential 2020 candidate as UGH GOD NO (even if said candidate is Bernie or Hillz). For starters, literally nothing a Democrat is doing right now in order to stand up to the president is bad, and after that, the earth is caving in NOW. The people throwing dynamite into the chasm hope we’re all out here on Left Twitter screaming at each other about 2020, so we won’t notice there are kids still in cages.

Hillary shouldn’t go knit and Bernie shouldn’t shut up and Kerry and Biden and every other Democrat shouldn’t go away. I’m sick of the chorus of nay-sayers for EVERYBODY.

Look. We’re gonna get who we get in 2020. We’re all gonna fight like hell for who we want and then we’re gonna get who we get and in case you think I’m just mouthing at you here are my votes in the presidential primaries in order as I remember them: Bill Clinton, John McCain (trying to stop Bush), Howard Dean, Chris Dodd, Bernie Sanders. I have never gotten what I wanted at the top of the ticket, never even once, and I know a hell of a lot of other people in the same exact boat.

Denis Leary had a joke about how dumb it was to ban gay people from serving in the military, went something like, “You want to fuck other guys? Here’s another guy and a gun, go!” That’s kind of how I feel about potential presidential candidates. I LOVE BERNIE! Here’s Bernie and a bunch of voter registration forms, go! I love Cory Booker! Here’s Cory Booker and a phone bank, go! I love Kamala Harris! Here’s Kamala Harris and some yard signs, go!

Nobody’s too old or too young or too conservative or too liberal or too socialist or too ANYTHING right now.

We need more loud and proud voices from the left AND center-left of American politics right now. We need more of literally any point of view that isn’t the Trump/Ryan/McConnell complex. I don’t want to see anybody shouted down right now. I want us all out there at the top of our lungs saying my candidate thinks what’s happening is crap and so do I and so do all my friends and we’re gonna vote.

It’s too early to tell people to shut up. We’ve barely started talking.

A.

ps. For more on the not-at-all-controversial topic of “whatever, I will vote for a pile of dogshit with a D after its name for every office in the land from now until the end of time,” see this piece from before the 2016 election. Been banging this drum for a while.

pps. Seriously, lay off Kerry, he very nearly unseated an incumbent Republican president during wartime, and until recently he was trying to keep us out of nuclear war even though nobody was paying him to do that, you ungrateful childish fucks.

Family Smackdown Day

We all have relatives whose politics we dislike. These family ties have become increasingly strained with the advent of the crude dictator wannabe, Trumpberius aka the Kaiser of Chaos. There seems to be something in the air today that led two men I’d never heard of go after two relatives that we know and loathe.

First, Stephen Miller’s uncle Dr. David Glosser wrote a scathing article about his nephew for Politico. It may be the best thing I’ve ever read in that deservedly ridiculed online publication. After detailing their family history, Uncle David let his hypocritical nephew have it:

I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants— been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America First” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.

Dr. Glosser has a future as a polemicist. It took a lot of guts to go after his sister’s son like this. It seems as if he’d finally had enough of his nephew’s wicked wicked ways. Thanks, Doc.

Then there’s Bobby Goodlatte who is the son of retiring Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte who we last met when he ran the Strzok hearing with all the style and finesse of a Kangaroo Court judge. The Good Goodlatte took to twitter to announce his support for the Democratic woman who is running for dear old dad’s seat:

Then he confessed his shame over his father’s handling of the Strzok hearing:

I’m blown away by the intestinal fortitude shown by the Good Goodlatte *and* Dr. Glosser. I hope we see more of it amid the infamy of the Trump administration and the 115th Congress. It’s time for people to speak out and save the Republic from the likes of Stephen Miller.

The holidays should be very interesting for the Miller-Glosser and Goodlatte families.  Just thinking about it tops this great scene in Barry Levinson’s ode to “chain immigration” Avalon:

Sunday Catblogging: And Thank You!

You all were amazing with the fundraiser this week, have some Slade toesies.

Every year we try to raise what we need to pay our hosting fees, whatever wear and tear there is on our laptops, sometimes a project or two, and every year I think well, this is it, they’re all gonna tell me to fuck off and they don’t care anymore and it’s time to shut this pop stand down and go do whatever it is people do when they’re not glued to the news.

And every year, every ask, every project, you all come right through. For FOURTEEN YEARS goddamn I am old and we are old and it remains one of the best things in my life, the idea that we do something here that you value.

Thank you. Thank you to every single one of you.

Now, next crisis.

A.

Not Everything Sucks: Iraqi Edition

People will always try to save each other. Always: 

‘My 15-year-old son, one of the best students in our province, decided to take up arms and go to battle without informing me or his father. It was a big shock for me. I thought that my son would go to battle and die. For around 20 days I searched for him.’

Fatima al-Bahandly was able to convince tens of other young men to disarm, along with her own son. She is the director of Al Firdaws Society, an NGO founded in 2003 in Basra, Iraq. She works to demobilise and reintegrate young people and children who have been recruited by militias. She has overseen a number of projects in a range of areas, including issues of literacy, conflict resolution, women’s political participation, and violence against women.

A.

Not Everything Sucks

Those of you moaning that nothing will ever change? Read this before you tape your pieholes shut: 

Love is a lawyer tirelessly devoted to an immigrant sector most in need of legal aid: the rural one. In 2014, she launched the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, which serves immigrant families where there is traditionally no legal aid. Love and her team of three other lawyers go out to the people—via a roaming RV office, community center, and church pop-ups, and by organizing community leaders.

The whole thing is amazing. We are saving one another every single day, and always will.

Donate here.

A.

WHAT ARE THE DEMOCRATS DOING?!!?

I’ve been seeing variations on this theme all week, like the party that isn’t in power right now should somehow magically gain power and stop family separation.

Well, they’re sitting in. They’re marching. They’re giving speeches. They’re fighting with the only fight they have. If you want them to be able to mount real opposition, we need more of them. 

Could one of them filibuster? Sure. Stand on the floor all night telling refugee stories. Could one of them start a hunger strike, mount civil disobedience over and above what’s going on already, could they find a creative way to shut shit down? Sure.

And then, as ever in the past two years, it’ll be over, the TV hairdos will either ignore it or call it a stunt and have 12 Republicans on a panel to talk about how protest is stupid, and nothing will change because THERE AREN’T ENOUGH DEMOCRATS IN OFFICE.

I know you’re sick of hearing me say nothing matters except November, but nothing matters. Except November.

Democrats can’t mount any meaningful opposition because there are six assholes who always give us a hard time. They’re from conservative states, they’re always endangered, etc, etc, they’re weak and scared and it’s infuriating.

What gives those six or so assholes who always give us a hard time their power is that they are necessary to overcome Republican regressiveness and opposition. Put 60 Dems in the Senate and 350 in the House and that handful of dickheads from red states don’t matter anymore.

They can’t hold their critical votes over people’s heads if their votes aren’t critical anymore. And if we have enough Democrats that their voices don’t matter, then we have enough to stop things like this. Things like Trump and his enablers. Things like Pence.

November, bitches. Write and call and yell and make it unpleasant for Republicans to exist in public while this is going on, and then, in November, fucking kick their fucking asses as hard as you possibly can.

In the meantime, if you want to do something, this is a great organization that needs help.

A.

How to Rise

Screw Rudy and George and the pile of burning metal they rode into myth on:

The problem with this movie isn’t so much that Rudy was shitty and then wasn’t. It’s that anyone on earth can show up in a crisis and we think that proves anything at all.

Think about it. Think about an actual crisis. Yes, shit is on fire, but you have something discrete to do. Your job is to stand in front of the cameras and calm everybody down. Approve things someone else has thought of. Say yes and no. You can be calm in that, when everybody’s watching.

But the next day? And the next? And the next? The days after, or before, all eyes are on you? When there’s no galvanizing event, when there’s no movie playing in your head complete with inspiring soundtrack? Can you show up then?

Can you do it when nobody’s watching? When nobody’s taking pictures? Can you do it when you know nobody’s ever gonna throw you a parade?

It’s not even about “in adversity,” because adversity, too, is grounding and centering and motivating. When they’re throwing rotten fruit at you you can laugh and duck and give them the finger. Can you work for others when your work is ignored? When the response to your almost killing yourself is, at most, a shrug?

That’s the test. The hard, grinding, everyday bullshit of working for the common good, that’s the prize.

W. stood on the debris pile and yelled into a microphone and the whole country listened. Rudy held everyone in his hands and said the death toll may be more than we can bear. It’s hard to remember those moments honestly now because shortly thereafter everybody lost their whole entire minds, but in those moments they were needed, these two clown princes of public life, and they did a job.

They did a job and did it well. But it wasn’t THE job, and the problem with a redemption story is that it ends, redeemed. We get so angry and disappointed with our leaders and our lives because nothing is like that, nothing at all.

What is the story if it’s just getting up every single day and making the coffee? Where’s the soundtrack for that? For the long walk home after you cross the finish line, for the stretch and the laundry and the dinner the next night? What if you were judged by the public not on how high you rise in the moment but on where you settle down, at the close of the day, when you’re bone tired and all you want to do is sleep?

What if we judged based on what you did then? What would that look like? Just you, alone in the dark, working on something that nobody cares about, sanding it down and making it fine and true. No one will ever see it. No one will properly appreciate it. No one will even know.

Do you do the job then?

That’s your fucking Capra film.

A.

Not Everything Sucks, Farming Edition

At my ‘hood’s Farmer’s Market recently Kick and I spent half an hour talking bees with this organization, which manages hives all over the West Side of Chicago and makes delicious honey. I thought of that when I read this story: 

Brown formed a partnership with Boe Luther and Wallace Kirby, two gardeners from Ward 7 who started Hustlaz 2 Harvesters to offer people released from incarceration ways out of poverty into urban agriculture careers and other social enterprises. Brown, a certified master composter for the city, helped Luther and Kirby transform an empty lot into the Dix Street community garden as part of an urban agricultural initiative called Soilful City.

Only 1 in 10 Americans eats the daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and people living in poverty have especially low rates of consumption of fresh produce. Access to healthy produce is difficult in low-income communities like Clay Terrace, because major chain supermarkets are reluctant to locate their stores there. Ward 7 has only one large grocery store, and that means the people who live there have a harder time obtaining more fruits and vegetables to help reduce cardiovascular risk.

Yet Brown, Luther, and Kirby believe the community can grow its way out of food scarcity through the Dix Street garden and similar projects. They say crops that were staples of their African ancestors’ diets hold an essential key to restoring the community’s health.

“It’s not just about vegetables—we’re building a new way to rebuild neighborhoods,” Brown says.

People are trying to save each other every damn day. Don’t forget that.

A.

Your Occasional Reminder That It’s Possible to Be Good and Brave

One hundred and seven years old, and god damn, what a badass: 

An inspector from the Dutch education ministry arrived at Johan van Hulst’s teacher training institute in Amsterdam on the morning of June 19, 1943. He noticed youngsters and, with SS soldiers standing nearby, asked, “Are those Jewish children?”

“You don’t really expect me to answer that, do you?” Dr. van Hulst replied.

The garden of Dr. van Hulst’s Reformed Teachers’ Training College bordered the garden of a Jewish nursery. Under Dr. van Hulst’s supervision, hundreds of Jewish infants and children had been passed across the hedge and hidden in his school. As Dr. van Hulst recalled, the inspector shook his hand and said, quietly, “In God’s name, be careful.”

Keep stories like this in mind when you hear about how it’s just too hard these days to stand up to Donald Fucking Trump.

A.

Rise Up

We forget, all the time, what we’re capable of.

How often, how many times a day, do we tell ourselves won’t, can’t, doesn’t? How many times do we say inevitable, impossible, never?

And then a girl stands in front of the whole world and she shakes their windows and she rattles their walls.

Do you know what it takes to hold a stage, to hold a crowd in your hands, for even one minute? To have them breathing with you, every indrawn breath yours to control? There are veterans of Broadway who can’t do that, not on nights when they’re visited by God himself.

I get the cynicism. I get the fear. I get the worry that somebody else will succeed where we’ve failed and I get the shame that drives us to push that away and I don’t care about any of it anymore, I reject it wholeheartedly, I shaven’t it, you can see what I see. Something happened there and when the world brings you a moment like that you thank God you were alive to witness it and you put your feet flat on the ground and you stand up.

We have been telling these children stories, telling ourselves stories, all our lives about those who rise above, about becoming heroes, about fighting back, and we’re still so astonished, almost offended, when someone listens. You told me I could be anything, so I became, and you don’t believe? How dare we?

We have eight months, and then the rest of our lives. Listen to that silence, and I don’t want to know you if you don’t hear the roar.

A.

Good night, Jack Hamilton

(Posting a bit early because of a sad bit of news. Hope it’s acceptable. – Doc.)

Of all the baubles and trinkets I’ve collected over the years that adorn my office, one of my favorite ones is a baseball signed by Jack Hamilton, who died earlier today.

Hamilton

The reason I got it was that I taught one of his grandchildren during one of my many stops in journalism education. I still remember her approaching me during our introductory reporting course to ask for special dispensation when it came to her profile.

“I know you said that we can’t do this on family members, but…” she began.

I had heard all sorts of excuses over the years: “I don’t have time to find anyone else,” or “My mom is my hero” or “I don’t know who else I’d do.”

I kind of did that “Justify your existence” thing and said, “Who and why?”

The answer was “My grandfather and he used to pitch in the major leagues.”

I decided it would be OK. After all, I let some kid do a piece on her grandmother because she was Jerry “Beaver Cleaver” Mathers’ mom, so why not a pitcher? Besides, I liked baseball. It was only after she turned in the piece that I realized who this man was.

Jack Hamilton had a relatively pedestrian career record of 32-40 during the heart of the 1960s. He bottomed out with Cleveland and the White Sox in 1969, going 0-5 before retiring. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, he wasn’t a giant, but a solid man who could mix his pitches well. His best season ended up being his most memorable one for all the wrong reasons.

In 1967, he started 2-0 for the New York Mets, who sent him to the Angels for Nick Willhite, who would retire from the game following a 0-1 campaign for New York that season. He was 8-2 and on the way to his only double-digit winning season on Aug. 18 when he threw the pitch that would define his career.

“It was a fastball that just got away.” I remember reading that line in my student’s profile. It stuck with me all these years and it hung with me today. I never heard the man’s voice, but I can hear it over and over in my head.

The one that “got away” smashed into the head of Boston’s Tony Conigliaro, a promising slugger who had already hit 100 home runs faster than any man in the game. The pitch fractured Tony C’s cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and damaged his retina. He sat out all of 1968 and would never really become the player everyone thought he would be.

Hamilton finished the season with an 11-6 record, but he too would never be the same.

“I had trouble pitching inside,” he told his grand-daughter. I didn’t blame him.

I remember reading that profile my student wrote, almost in awe and yet almost in shame. I felt like I was leering in on this man’s most difficult moment. I was thinking, Good God, man… you let this student ask her grandfather about all this? The hell is wrong with you? Still, I had to grade the thing so I kept on reading and I was glad I did.

He left baseball and settled in Branson, Missouri, where opened up several restaurants and raised a family. People liked him for who he was then, not because he was “a former baseball player.” He was just a great guy.

A year or two later, the student was working in the newsroom near Thanksgiving when we started chatting about something or other and she mentioned she was going home for the break.

“Are you seeing your grandpa?” I asked. “If so, tell him I loved reading about him.”

She said she was and that he’d be glad to hear that someone liked reading his story. I laughed a bit and tossed in a line: “Tell him I’d love to have his autograph.”

When she returned from Thanksgiving, she handed me a baseball. She had explained our exchange to her grandfather and my ask, he got this great big smile on his face and asked, “Really?” He then went out and actually bought a baseball so he could sign it for me. (I would have taken a turkey-stained napkin, for Pete’s sake.) His hand writing was a tad jittery, but right across the sweet spot, he inked his autograph for me.

I bought a plastic container to display it and subsequently found a 1968 copy of his baseball card. It was amazing but I could really see the family resemblance between that man on the card and his grand daughter in my class. I found it to be a nice reminder of a wonderful moment.

He also served as a reminder to me about how life can mix things up on you from time to time, but in the end, if you know who you are and you value the right things, everything will turn out OK. When I finished reading the profile on him, I felt I knew him and how he had become comfortable in his own skin.

He was just the kind of person you’d want as a grandpa.

So, good night, Mr. Hamilton. I hope you are at peace knowing you really were an incredible man.

Thome, my homie

Jim Thome made the Hall of Fame this week in the same way he began his career: As an afterthought.

Baseball pundits flocked to Larry “Chipper” Jones, writing stories about him “headlining” this class of inductees. Or, as one writer noted about him, he “feels” like a Hall of Famer. Vladimir Guerrero had more votes, so he deserved more attention. Edgar Martinez didn’t get ENOUGH votes, so people were talking about him as well. Oh, and let’s not forget talking about the steroid guys who we are somehow either too soft or too hard on.

Thome? Mmph. OK.

For all the bitching people do about how we don’t have any heroes left or how we are constantly a people distracted by scandal, it seems that we don’t pay enough attention to those things we pine for. Things like work-ethic, playing by the rules and remaining inside yourself are all deified but never recognized when they present themselves, which is one of many reasons why Jim Thome never really got his due until now.

Thome grew up in Peoria, Illinois where is father worked for the Caterpillar and his brother worked construction. Before Thome, Peoria’s most famous citizen was Richard Pryor, who used the city’s crime and brothel culture to evolve his comedy. Thome grew up a few blocks from that part of town, so while he may have grown up to be country strong, he wasn’t a country boy.

The Indians drafted Thome in the 13th round in 1989 and signed him for a bonus similar to what I paid for my first shitty car. Only one other player from that round even made the majors (Mike Oquist, a righthanded pitcher with a 25-31 career record). In his first minor league season, he didn’t hit a single home run.

It was Charlie Manuel, who would later be his hitting coach with the Indians and his manager with the Phillies, who found the power in the lefty’s swing. Manuel used Robert Redford’s habit from “The Natural” of pointing the bat at the pitcher before each delivery to help Thome calm down and focus. He added hip movement to the arm strength the young man possessed. The actual country bumpkin from Northfork, West Virginia and the perceived country bumpkin from Peoria bonded over the art of the swing.

Still, Thome wasn’t a lock for anything. He was up and down in his first few years. When he finally stuck with the Indians in 1994, he didn’t even make the Opening Day line up, sitting out in favor of the immortal Mark Lewis. The next year, Thome would hit 25 home runs as the Tribe captured its first AL pennant since the Eisenhower administration. He batted sixth in a line up just flat-out crushed teams. In a 144-game strike-shortened season, the Indians won 100 games but lost the World Series to the Atlanta Braves.

The problem for Thome was that he was always overshadowed by something. In that 1995 season, his teammate Albert Belle hit 50 homers to lead the league. The next season, Thome hit 38 dingers, only to be outdone by what seemed to be half the league. He barely cracked the top 20 in the MLB and guys like Brady Anderson, Jay Buhner and Vinny Castilla all out homered him.

The numbers for Thome never seemed to be big enough. In 1998, he crushed 30 homers, but that was the year in which Mark McGwire hit 70 and Sammy Sosa hit 66. Only once in his career did he lead the league in home runs: 2003 when he hit 47 for Philadelphia and tied with Alex Rodriguez at the top of the MLB. And the mentioning of those three guys brings to light some of the “why” when it comes to Thome’s relative obscurity in those years: Steroids.

MVPs, home run kings and even pedestrian players trying to make an extra buck found the Fountain of Youth at the end of a needle during Thome’s prime. McGwire, Sosa, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Mo Vaughn and more… Powerhouse sluggers who rewrote the record books, gave pitchers nightmares and profited greatly back then will now have about the same chance of making the Hall of Fame as Thome did of making it out of Peoria. Thome’s name never once came up in the list of users of “the cream” or “the clear” or whatever shark piss people shot up their nose to get six more inches on a home run in those days.

Thome’s homers had the lack of majesty that McGwire’s had. His swing lacked the poetry that Ken Griffey Jr.’s had. And yet to watch him at the plate was something to behold.  I remember him pole-axing a grand slam that looked like it should have shattered the foul pole off some Red Sox pitcher in a playoff game. When he dropped the head of that bat on a too-slow fastball or a non-curving curve, it was like watching Paul Bunyan take out a giant redwood with a single swing of an axe.

Thome wasn’t perfect and his career didn’t end in the best of ways. I remember him leaving Cleveland to take more money in Philly, which broke my heart. I remember him coming back to Cleveland for a “farewell and thank you” tip of the cap to the fans. I forgot he played for the Dodgers for about 12 minutes or that he finished his career in Baltimore Orioles orange.

The biggest thing I remember was that this guy was always exactly who he was. He never took the easy way, didn’t make the game about him and he just kept doing his job.

Just like a blue-collar kid from Peoria would do.