Wednesday, June 22, 2011

For My Classmates Who Are Cubs Fans

Many of our classmates are long-time Cubs fans.  They can't help it. WGN was one of the three or four stations we had in Watseka before cable.  The Cubs were about the only game in town.

If you come to our reunion, you'll spot the Cubs fans from our class. They'll look a few years older than the rest of us. They'll weep easily. They shuffle when they walk.  It'll be like they're in a hypnotic trance.

The good news is that all you have to do is say "Banks," "Santo" or "Sandberg" and they'll smile and get a spring in their step. Of course, you have to say those words to Cubs fans pretty often these days.

Because it's been thirty years since many of us spent a baseball season in Watseka, I thought I'd share a few things:

1981 was the last season the Wrigley family owned the Cubs. Jack Brickhouse was still on the air. There wouldn't be lights at Wrigley Field for seven years.  The 1981 roster had a few notable players but, the Cubs being the Cubs, nothing came together.

The cubs finished the first half of the 1981 season in last place but climbed to second-to-last place by the season's end.  

Although it was released in 1983, you have to wonder if Steve Goodman starting penning “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request” after the 1981 season:

By the shores of old Lake Michigan
Where the "hawk wind" blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour that tolled
Round his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short
And on his head they put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport
He told them, "Its late and its getting dark in here"
And I know its time to go
But before I leave the line-up
Boys, there's just one thing I'd like to know

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

Told his friends "You know the law of averages says:
Anything will happen that can"
That's what it says
"But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"
The Cubs made me a criminal
Sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me
(that's the truth)
I'd forsake my teachers
To go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy

and then one thing led to another
and soon I'd discovered alcohol, gambling, dope
football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boy's hopes
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups.

Year after year after year
after year, after year, after year, after year, after year
'Til those hopes are just so much popcorn
for the pigeons beneath the 'L' tracks to eat
He said, "You know I'll never see Wrigley Field, anymore before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your score cards ready,
and I'll read you my last request

He said, "Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the "National Anthem"
and then a little 'na, na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye'
Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath

Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Sluggers baseball bats,
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow
From the prevailing 30 mile an hour southwest wind
When my last remains go flying over the left-field wall
Will bid the bleacher bums adieu
And I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said stop it that's an awful shame
He whispered, "Don't Cry, we'll meet by and by near the Heavenly Hall of Fame
He said, "I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now,
So its just what I'm going to do
He said, "but you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs,
So its me that feels sorry for you!"

And he said, "Ahh Play, play that lonesome losers tune,
That's the one I like the best"
And he closed his eyes, and slipped away
What we got is the Dying Cub Fan's Last Request
And here it is

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

Its a beautiful day for a funeral, Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
and conduct just one more interview
Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt
And I'll be ready to die

Monday, June 20, 2011

John Prine, Midwestern Guy

If I’d ever made a bucket list, seeing John Prine live, up close, and personal would have been on it.  

Friday night, thanks to my good friends Bill and Dawn, I sat ten rows back from Prine and his band.

I’ve been listening to John Prine, and singing his songs, for years. In Kris Kristofferson’s liner notes to Prine’s first album, Kristofferson said Prine was “twenty-four years” old but wrote “like he's about two-hundred and twenty.” That nails it.

I was excited to go, and the evening was perfect. I had dinner with good friends (songwriters and an artist) and then we went to the show.

Iris Dement opened.

You know how some singer-songwriters sound kind of generic? Not Iris. She did a killer thirty-five minute solo set, accompanying herself on guitar and then piano. If she’d played and sang another hour it would have been fine with me.  If she was in a special school for the gifted and talented, somebody would still have to alter the curriculum for her.

There was a break while the crew set up the stage for John Prine. During the wait, I was thinking about an interview Poet Laureate Ted Kooser did with Prine at the Library of Congress about five or six years ago. It was cool to watch the nation’s top poet gush over a songwriter. Through the interview John Prine’s wit and self-deprecation made him seem like a really nice guy.  Being skeptical, I wondered if Prine is as nice when nobody’s looking. . . .  

As soon as I waxed cynical - a late-comer to the concert arrived and claimed the empty seat next to mine. Being Midwesterners, we introduced ourselves. She (“Debbie”) told me she’d been working and had to rush to the concert.  I asked where she works . . .

It turns out Debbie waits tables at a swank steak joint in Des Moines. On Thursday night, Prine and his crew came in for dinner. Debbie said he was really “awesome” to the staff and graciously signed autographs. Without mentioning it that night, in addition to a hefty tip, Prine left free tickets for the wait staff at the restaurant. How cool is that?

Of course, John Prine grew up in the Midwest (Maywood, a suburb of Chicago). When Debbie told me her story, I figured Prine must have spent time in Iroquois County.

The night kept getting better.  Prine played lots of his old songs (some solo with his guitar), a few of his newer ones, and brought Iris back out for some duets (including the wickedly funny “In Spite of Ourselves”).  He charmed the crowd with good natured banter. His band (a guitarist, bassist, and Prine) was superb.  Iowa’s own Greg Brown sang the third verse of "Paradise" on an encore. The whole concert exceeded expectations. Everybody left happy.

I went to bed Friday night feeling like I’d had Monical’s Pizza and got some Watseka Dairy Queen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers' Day, a Eulogy

Edited from the eulogy I gave in March 2011:

Dad loved Watseka and Iroquois County. I don’t ever, not for a nano-second, wonder why. It would be impossible for me to describe the demonstrations of kindness and love shown our family since dad passed away. 

The people in this community take care of each other.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again - if something bad happens to someone here, it happens to everyone.  

. . .

If you didn’t know dad well, you might have thought he was all meat and potatoes. He spoke directly and could be opinionated. He liked bad jokes - but he laughed hardest at himself. He drank beer and ate all the wrong foods.  He liked to keep things simple. He never wanted fine clothes or fancy cars. 

However, if you knew him, you know that dad was complicated. He was an emotional man with a tremendous intellect.  He loved to tell stories.

If you knew him really well you would have learned that he was curious and adventuresome.  He hated interstates and loved back roads. When he wanted to learn to fly planes, he did. When he got into photography, he got a darkroom. He loved computers.  The things he enjoyed involved learning. He did them to satisfy his intellectual curiosity.

If you knew dad you know that he loved his wives, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, parents and siblings.  He always put others’ needs before his own. He wasn’t concerned about keeping up with anybody else. He knew happiness was not going to be found in anything he acquired.
. . .

We don’t get to choose our fathers but, if we did, we would have picked ours. He did all the required dad stuff. He showed up at games, speech contests, band events, religious events – you name it – he was there cheering for us.  He took us on great trips; we often stayed in a pop-up camper or a borrowed motor home.

There was more . . . and I hope as a father I remember this; he let us have enough rope to hang ourselves. But, he was always there to make sure we didn’t finish the job.  He had the good sense to let us make some mistakes, and the wisdom to help us learn from them.

He doted on his grandchildren. He laughed at everything they did and would spoil them rotten.
. . .

He was proud of his nieces and nephews and kept up on them to the best of his ability. He loved them all. Terry, the day he spent fishing with you last year was something he treasured. He told us about it at least a dozen times.  And, like a true fisherman, the walleye he caught was bigger each time he described it.
. . .

Dad's commitment to his wives was visceral. You could feel it. He loved them both very much.  He was very fortunate to have been loved back by such wonderful women.

In the end, it’s all about friendship. Every person my dad met was his friend. He was a friend to all of us and all of you.

Being a friend will, I think, be dad’s greatest legacy.  He found happiness in companionship.  He understood that good friends are the source of true joy. He showed us that friendship really starts with a basic understanding of being present for other people.

I don’t think my dad needed books to show him how to be a good friend; he came by it naturally. But, I found two passages from books that I think describe my dad’s view of friendship.

The first passage comes from the Bible. That Book’s a good source because dad was a product of a Catholic education and of being brought up by parents who gave unto others.  He understood service.  At Matthew 25:37-40 it’s written:

Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you’ And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

 Dad treated each and every person he met like he or she was the least of his brothers.

The second passage comes from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  . . .

Most lawyers want to be Atticus Finch.  I say -- Atticus Finch wanted to be dad. In the book, Atticus gave his daughter this advice:

"If you learn a single trick . . . you'll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”

Dad always considered other persons’ points of view. He instinctively “climbed inside” other people’s skin and “walked around in it.”

He was fair, compassionate, decent and respectful. He lived by the Golden rule. He was a good friend; to all of us, and all of you. If he was here, I would be embarrassing him with all this talk. I’ve said all this because I know he wants all of us to treat others the same way he did.

Please, celebrate dad’s life with us. Tell us, and each other, good things about him. Don't be afraid you'll make us cry. If we cry it’s because we all loved him - and he loved all of us and all of you.

Those, in my book, are good reasons to shed tears.

Thank you.