Thursday, December 31, 2020

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2020

 Arts and culture frequently mirrors its time and surroundings, and this massive kidney stone we call 2020 demonstrated that in spades. (I know I said pretty much the same thing about brilliance under duress in 2016, but it still applies.) Even though most of us couldn't go to a movie theater or attend a music festival, there were artistic achievements to celebrate. A uniquely weird year certainly wasn't a bad one, and if visiting the record store wasn't an option, then we all knelt at the throne of Spotify in 2020.


1. Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple. In a year where up was down, left and right, and nothing could be taken for granted, the most outstanding release of the year was a literal shaggy dog story. Apple recorded this album with a tight quartet, on and off for five years, in between her rescue pets barking at her home studio in Venice Beach. Neither prolific (her third album since 2000) nor predictable, Apple takes any assumptions you make about her work --sometimes radically shifting a song at mid-course-- and throws it out the window. Bolt Cutters is jarring, cathartic, disarming, but above all very human. Odds are, Apple will disappear for another six or seven years, assume everyone forgot about her, then release another album that's even more astounding than this one.

2. Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee. Trading the defiant alt-rock of her fourth solo album for a contemplative, country sound, Katie Crutchfield turned inward to fight off getting complacent. Newly sober and in a state of introspection, Crutchfield's Alabama twang sounds wry and effortless. She's in a new chapter in her life, she insists, but the story is still being written. 

3. RTJ4, Run The Jewels. In a word, searing. Always killer with minimal filler, RTJ's beefy revolution anthems were both a harbinger and soundtrack to a tense and violent summer. Police brutality, systemic racism, and class injustice are not new problems, as Killer Mike and El-P reminded us, and it's not going away anytime soon. It's a vicious cycle, and without any systemic change it will keep popping up in the news over and over again. 

4. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, Perfume Genius 

5. Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor

6. Women In Music Pt. III, HAIM 

7. It Is What It Is, Thundercat

8. The New Abnormal, The Strokes 

9. The Slow Rush, Tame Impala 

10. Rough And Rowdy Ways, Bob Dylan. If 2020 was about expecting the unexpected, how about a nearly 80-year-old Nobel Prize winner putting out yet another outstanding album? Old Man Zimmerman was probably thrilled that he didn't have to tour for this latest release, where he locks horns with his legacy as well as his own mortality. As ever, Dylan speaks directly but remains elusive; he says he's weary, but has energy to spare. The last half-hour of this album (maybe his last, but who knows) has only two songs, both rambling in nature yet compelling to listen to and decipher. 

Honorable Mentions: Miss Anthropocene, Grimes; Letter to You, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band; All Thoughts Fly, Anna von Hausswolff.


1. Lianne La Havas, Lianne La Havas. Genre-bending (I debated putting on the above list) and overwhelmingly peaceful, La Havas' self-titled third album was written in the span of half a decade. Unlike Fiona Apple, however La Havas chose chill over catharsis. Detailing her split with her former creative and romantic partner, La Havas sings like a woman reborn, blending R&B, soul, and acid jazz while barely breaking a sweat.

2. Hero Trio, Rudresh Mahanthappa

3. All Rise, Gregory Porter

4. Canvas, Robert Glasper

5. Originations, Ryan Cohan

Honorable Mentions: Purple Dark Opal, Kuzu; Fearless, Sharel Cassity.

BEST SONGS: (in no order)

"All In My Head," Whethan & Grandson

"You Need Me," Nathanial Rateliff

"Blinding Lights," The Weeknd

"Hell and Back," Bakar

"Be Afraid," Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

"I Will Run," Dawes

"Shangri-La," EOB

"I'm Alive," Norah Jones

"What's The Matter," Twin Peaks

"Savage," Megan Thee Stallion

"Boss Bitch," Doja Cat

"Aries," Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook

"Sorceress," Jess Williamson

"My Game," Zella Day

"You're Not Alone," Semisonic

"Fake," Lauv feat. Conan Grey

"Together," beabadoobee

"Get Weird," North By North

"See Monkey," Elvis Perkins

"Pienso En Ti," Levitation Room

Outstanding Achievement by a Song That Was Preceded by a 13 Minute Dirge About The Titanic, and Soon to Be Followed By a 20 Minute Ballad About the Hindenburg Explosion: "Murder Most Foul," Bob Dylan 

Best Song From 2019 That I Discovered in 2020: "I'm Ready," Black Pumas


1. "WAP," Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion. Well great, the basement's flooded...

2. "Therefore I Am," Billie Eilish. The mall *looks* abandoned, but this clip was probably shot during regular business hours.

3. "Sickeningly Teeth," Melkbelly. A small army of Chicago-turned-NYC improvisers (including, ahem, some acquaintances of mine) remind you of the importance of flossing.

4. "3 Segundos," Melenas. A goofy green-screen pastiche of classic American TV shows, featuring Pamplona's modern-day riot grrls.

5. "Blind Youth Industrial Park," METZ. My annual heady, surreal, sci-fi/fantasy pick.

Honorable Mention: "Bad Decisions," The Strokes. Supplies are limited! Order now!

See you all in '21.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Random Notes, December 2020

 Hot takes, fresh from the microwave:

+ I'm burning the candle on both ends. I'm subbing, doing Lyft, and working a temp job on weekends to pay bills, among other things. I couldn't imagine 2016 me working seven days a week, but these are tough circumstances. Between December 1st and the 20th, I worked 19 days. Winter break couldn't come soon enough. 

+ President Trump allegedly wants to pardon his three oldest children and son-in-law for unclear reasons. He's already handed out Get Out of Jail cards to some cronies, as well as some war criminals. Gee, that's not fishy.

+ Without going too much into context, I've recently arrived at the conclusion that I'm a lot better at fantasy baseball than football. 

+ This year has not been easy on any of us. Even if the last few weeks (Biden's election, the COVID-19 vaccine) offers guarded optimism, we still have to hang tight and take things one day at a time. May you and yours have a wonderful holiday. 


Next Week: the year in music, 2020.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

My 16th Annual Thanks/No Thanks List

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. With five weeks remaining, very little could change the fact that 2020 has been a massive annus horribilis.  I've personally had worse years (longtime readers will remember my issues in 2009 and 2010) but I don't want to take away from anyone reading this that is struggling during the pandemic. Nearly everyone has had their lives upended this year, to the extent that we can't even enjoy ourselves with family. It's hard to feel thankful this year.

This year, I'm thankful for friends that may not be physically anywhere near me, but can be contacted on social media, as well as by phone or email. I joined Facebook 15 years ago this month, and for all its flaws it remains my primary means of communication. I'm also thankful to be working, even though I'm just as far from a real career as I was a decade ago.

Also, on this most unusual Thanksgiving I give a hearty "no thanks" to Qanon, anti-maskers, gaslighting (still), people in general that conflate minor inconveniences with liberty, and Sen. Mitch McConnell. I guess you can tell what's often on my mind. Yes, I know some of those things overlap.

To you, my loyal readers, onward and upward as we navigate the rest of the year together.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 13

History will remember Trump as Thomas Hobbes gone wrong. Trump is not conceding. I doubt he ever will. But I digress.

Two of my school districts have gone all-remote, and the other three will likely follow. Once the apparent standard for handling COVID, the state of Illinois is now flooded with cases. (New York received more media attention.) Mayor Lightfoot is discouraging Chicagoans from leaving their residences outside of necessities, and it's just a matter of time before Gov. Pritzker announces another statewide lockdown. Suffice to say, we're bracing for a long winter.

In the event schools close again, I'm not totally screwed financially. I have a seasonal temp job on weekends, something that if all else fails will keep me afloat through New Year's. I have minimal retail experience, but so good so far. If that somehow falls though, then I have Lyft. In the meantime, I keep worrying; everything could shift again in a matter of minutes. 

Next Week: my 16th "thanks/no thanks" list.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Epilogue for a Disputed Election

 I spent most of election night *not* watching news coverage. After the mercurial election cycle of our lifetimes, I had to take a deep breath and step back. I saw a glimpse of early election results on a 60" TV as I was driving early that evening, then after dinner I spent most of the evening writing and filling out a job application.

The fact that the presidential race was so close is appalling. My worst assumptions about how Trump supporters won't waver were confirmed as Tuesday night dragged on. Even more disturbing is that 56% of white women voted Trump, which is a 3% increase from 2016. (I'm not even going to bother looking at the white guy vote.) Biden's supporters were a tight alliance of people of color, the marginalized, or both. That was what carried Biden to a razor-thin victory.

As I write this, only Georgia and North Carolina haven't been called, but it's a moot point now. This election was a rebuke of the entire Trump administration, and it's clear that more Americans than not have had enough. Trump's lapdogs are assisting him in disputing the election results, claiming voter fraud without any substantial evidence. A litany of frivolous lawsuits are pending.

Joe Biden and the Democrats did not put together a great campaign. In fact, it was almost Hillary 2016-level incompetent. Stronger campaigns were built around weaker candidates during the primaries. And yet, Biden 2020 didn't have to be well-run. There were enough exasperated Americans to get Biden over the hump.

In the end, America will get what it needs, rather than what it wants.


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bracing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best

I want to assure everyone that this is my last blog post before the election. I'm suffering campaign fatigue like almost everyone else, but I'm attracted to the news like a moth to a light. As hard as it is for liberals and conservatives alike to believe, there are still undecided voters, and those precious few might tip a very close race. To call it anxiety is putting it mildly.

In spite of positive statistics, Joe Biden is right about where Hillary Clinton was about four years ago in several swing states. The only difference is that Trump is maintaining a single-digit lead in several states (Georgia and North Carolina being the most notable) that he carried four years ago. Ohio and Pennsylvania has both parties looking nervous. 

This article suggests Trump is a bizarro Jimmy Carter. I see where the CNN brain trust is coming from, but it still feels speculative. I won't deny the parallels between the Iranian Hostage Crisis (the defining fiasco of Carter's one term) with Trump's mishandling of the pandemic. At the same time, the peanut farmer didn't have the same blindly rabid base that Trump has built. 

Even if you're reading this and completely beg to differ, I am asking you one more time to please vote. Being an American means meeting this minimum requirement every other November. A democracy functions best when everyone participates in some way. At this point, a mail-in ballot won't make it by November 3rd, so fill it out and drop it off at a polling station. Your nation depends on you.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 12

 Exactly as I feared, we're taking a collective step backward. COVID cases are on the rise in all 50 states and DC. Even though Illinois was getting high marks from the CDC, we're not immune in any way. The Chicago area is in a "red zone" like the rest of the state, and in Illinois' five-phase outline, we're probably going back to phase two, if not phase one. One of my districts will go back to all-remote learning starting Monday the 26th, just three weeks after they reopened the buildings (to appease annoyed parents). Local restaurants will stop offering al fresco dining on Friday, though that's partially because of cold weather. I guess that means more Lyft and Postmates for me. An unwanted third wave is here, and we need to stay the course. 

Other notes:

+ I think nine Supreme Court justices is just the right number. No more and no less. Increasing the number to 11 just feels like a power move to appease progressives. Also, even though Clarence Thomas is "only" 72, I'm sure he's contemplating retirement. 

+ Let me emphasize again that whoever wins the White House in two weeks will do so by a razor's edge. Here's why. 

+ I predict Dodgers over the Rays in seven. I haven't been following baseball as religiously as I normally do, but I anticipate a fun, back-and-forth series.


Friday, October 9, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 11

 This past week has been to much of a whirlwind to ignore. The unwatchable "debate" between President Trump and former VP Joe Biden begat unintended free publicity for the Proud Boys, an anti-Semetic "next-gen" hate group. Soon after Trump weakly denounced the Proud Boys, his top aide Hope Hicks was diagnosed with COVID-19, then Trump and his wife both announced they had the coronavirus. An abbreviated hospital visit led to speculation that Trump either didn't really have COVID-19, but the more likely explanation is that Trump wasn't (and still isn't) taking the pandemic seriously.

While I'm happy to be working in a school again, it's at a questionable cost. Several school districts in the west suburbs that had been doing remote learning since mid-March caved to parents' demands, and began "hybrid" (IRL and remote simultaneously) learning. Most of the students I've encountered are happy to be out of the house, but with COVID numbers not tapering off, I fear a step backwards. The adjustments made for learning remotely have been clumsy, but I have faith my teaching peers will somehow make it work.

Every other late October/early November, I write a blog post imploring everyone reading this to take part in the democratic process and vote. This is my eight election cycle since I started this blog, and with each passing election the stakes continue to rise. This election, like 2016, is a no-brainer. Donald Trump has been an abject failure, if not close to complete ignobility as president, and does not deserve a second term. If you prefer to vote by mail, do so. If you're willing to risk voting in person, do so early. Everything is at stake here.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Dispatches Part 10 / Random Notes, September 2020

 I thought I was going to have time to post three blogs in September. I guess not:

+ Fall is on the horizon in the American Midwest, and I wonder how restaurants that had to ret-con outdoor seating will recalibrate and survive. We slowly felt comfortable going outside again, and now we have to go back in. A rough Spring and Summer will give way to an equally formidable Fall and Winter. It makes sense to hoard supplies again. Alas, I am reminded of Aesop; we aspire to be a nation of ants, but in reality we're a bunch of grasshoppers.

For liberals and progressives alike, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg we both anticipated yet we feared when it would happen. She was sharp and resilient as ever, but her body failed her. It doesn't make sense to appoint anyone before the election --six weeks away, friends-- but Trump and his cronies will push it through. Amy Coney Barrett is the most moderate of Trump's three picks, though that's not saying much.

+ What becomes of the U.S. Supreme Court remains to be seen. Jimmy Carter was the last president to not appoint anyone, so from 1969 to 1992 all the justices were appointed by Republicans. Some, like Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rehnquist, proved to be more moderate than others. Today's GOP clearly doesn't want centrists. At the same time, Clarence Thomas is "only" 72 years old but approaching 30 years on the court, and could easily be succeeded by a progressive judge. 

+ Both Chicago teams made the MLB playoffs this year, only the third time that's ever happened. How fitting of 2020 that both teams could beat the odds and face each other in the World Series... in Dallas.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

32 Teams, 32 Haiku: My 2020 NFL Preview


Hey, I guess we're having a football season.

At the onset of the outbreak nearly six months ago, it looked like the NFL was in a better position than pretty much any other team sport. After all, their season wasn't halted. Then the pandemic dragged on into the summer and fall, and probably into 2021. The league bucked trends and opted to have partially filled stadiums, at least until another spike halts the season. (At least tonight's Chiefs-Texans season opener was played without relative incident.)

With or without COVID, the NFL is still ripe for drama and storylines. How will the Patriots manage without TB12 for the first time in nearly two decades? Is the NFC West really that good, and is the AFC East really that uninspiring? What if I break it down, 17 soma at at time?

*note playoff wild cards


1. Vikings (11-5). Thielen and Cook/a two-way offensive threat/make it (purple) rain.

2. Packers* (10-6). No team needs fulfilled/"don't fix what isn't broken"/a cheesy mantra.

3. Bears (9-7). The heat is on, Mitch/you need a hot start, or you'll/make friends into Foles.

4. Lions (6-10). A healthy Stafford/is load-bearing; the improved/young D must impress.


1. Eagles (10-6). Look at Carson throw/(when he's not hurt) but watch new/look secondary.

2. Cowboys (8-8). Their O is fine; the/new boom-or-bust D concerns/me. Sleeper? Just hype? 

3. Giants (6-10). Instability/holds; unproven Jones matures/with awful O-line.

4. Washington (3-13). As anonymous/as their name; rebuild phase one/red-yellow mish-mosh.


1. Saints (11-5). Beat the Vikes and we'll/talk titles; Brees is still a/Hall of Fame QB.

2. Buccaneers* (9-7). Tampa Tommy time!/High scoring balances weak/special teams, soft D.

3. Falcons (6-10). 28 to 3/odds of playoff return; this/D still underwhelms.

4. Panthers (4-12). Young secondary/faces uphill battle. Just/McCaffery on O?


1. Niners (13-3). Love the coaches. Too/much talent now; will suffer/in free agency.

2. Seahawks* (10-6). Overhauled pass rush/will turn heads; more pressure on/Russ to carry O.

3. Rams (9-7). No Gurley? Time to/man up; Goff and remaining/backs will pick up slack.

4. Cardinals (6-10). Trendy, but I'm not/sold; don't rule out Kyler, though/young D must grow up.


1. Ravens (13-3). Lamar is so good/he's done everything but/win a playoff game!

2. Steelers* (12-4). The clock's on Big Ben/no COVID opt-outs, that helps/depth, hard to ignore.

3. Browns (7-9). They'll make the playoffs/...someday; can their Baker stop/making turnovers?

4. Bengals (3-13). Burrow's not hiding/I forgot AJ Green is/still on this team. Wow.


1. Patriots (10-6). Wham, bam, thank you Cam/most flawed team in ages, but/still best of weak bunch.

2. Dolphins* (9-7). Tua good to be/true; disciplined D needs to/speed up, make big plays.

3. Bills (7-9). Running Fromm problems?/Rough midseason schedule/deters decent squad.

4. Jets (6-10). Darnold can't say he's/green anymore; vexing gap/at outside corner.


1. Titans* (10-6). No glaring flaws here/Tannehill, Lazarus act/Super Bowl dark horse?

2. Texans* (9-7). PR disasters/aside, weak pass D countered/by Watson magic.

3. Colts (7-9). Cupcake early sked/doesn't fool me; old Rivers/won't be wading long.

4. Jaguars (2-14). The new XFL/had better teams; these cats are/domesticated.


1. Chiefs (14-2). The best get better/if everyone on offense/can stay healthy... YIKES!

2. Chargers (8-8). No QB, but lots/of weapons; D ensures a/few low-scoring wins.

3. Broncos (6-10). Stiff competition/doesn't make wins a Lock; zone/heavy D works cheap.

4. Raiders (5-11). Sin City, at last/Carr needs more drive, so Gruden/drafted some hot rods.

Offensive ROY: CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys

Defensive ROY: Isaiah Simmons, Cardinals

First Head Coach Fired: Dan Quinn, Falcons

NFL MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

Super Bowl LV: Chiefs 30, Niners 27


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Random Notes, August 2020

 Hot takes from the guy that was writing hot takes before people started using the phrase "hot takes":

+ I'm a little confused about something. Can someone explain how a 17-year-old boy that illegally possessed a firearm, was driven from Antioch, IL to Kenosha, WI and back, walked past cops without any issue, fired multiple rounds into a crowd, killed two unarmed protestors and wounded a third, is a hero?

+ Just to clarify: you have to be 21 to own a firearm in Illinois, and 18 in Wisconsin. This boy is an incoming high school senior.

+ JB Pritzker is probably Illinois' best governor since Jim Edgar. Considering the four governors between them were George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Pat Quinn, and Bruce Rauner, I'll let you determine the level of praise. Regardless, he's done a good job of handing COVID-19, in spite of how much people downstate grumble. It hasn't been perfect, but given how the governors of Florida, Georgia, and California (among others) have bungled things, I'll take it. Let's see how the Illinois GOP tries to paint a weak "violation of liberty" picture in 2022.

+ I've been writing this blog for over 15 years. (The anniversary was in June, but given everything going on, it just came and went.) Even though my politics have veered from the center left to solid liberal, I've consistently tried to understand the rationale of modern conservative politics. As many regular readers know, I spent two years working at a right-wing news/talk radio station, feeling like Jane Goodall observing the apes. Not only do I fail to comprehend today's conservative moment anymore, it's almost devoid of critical thinking and independent thought. Today's Republicans are brainwashed boot-lickers. This year's election will come down to the wire again, and if Biden loses, pray for us. 

Next Week: my 2020 NFL preview.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 9

 A new school year dawns.

Two weeks ago, I sat though a 35-minute "orientation" for substitutes on COVID protocols and how things will be done differently this year. This past Friday, I witnessed the protocols executed first-hand. This particular district is doing hybrid learning; that is to say, they are attempting distance learning and in-person classes simultaneously, using Microsoft Teams. The students that are in the school are kept in consorts no larger than 14 or 15, and they stay in the same room almost all day while the teachers circulate around the building. (I was just a floater.) It was wonky in the execution, but if I sub there again this year I'm curious to see how the system evolves. Otherwise, I begrudgingly attest without personal benefit that remote learning is probably the best way to go.

It agonizes me that people are fighting over masks. I was blocked by one Facebook friend because she won't wear because she doesn't believe COVID-19 really exists. (Good riddance.) Another friend, a woman I met when we were 10 years old, went on the latest in a series of tyranny/liberty rant about wearing masks, which are mandatory in public in Illinois. Her posts laid bare her greatest character flaw: she has no concern for anyone but herself. She was called out by others for being self-centered and short-sighted, and all it did was make her double down. I didn't unfriend or block, but for now she's unfollowed. You can't fight crazy.

On the flip side of the debate, remember that gender non-binary person that was kicked out of a charity improv organization? They told someone who admitted to being inconsistent about wearing a mask that he should go commit suicide. Not only that, other people in the Chicago improv community took the person's side. A sociopath with anger issues was being validated. It was not a pretty sight. 

Finally, I've only watched highlights of the the national conventions. Where the Democrats balanced inclusion and critical thinking, the GOP has opted for a weird mix of bombast and face value. I've been trying to write jokes about it, but the late night talk shows are running laps around my ideas. The election is 10 weeks away, but it's going to feel like an eternity. 


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"White Sox Set for Another Season of Blind Optimism, Distant Second Place Finish"

 Since last summer, I've been contributing to an upstart satirical newspaper with a Chicago focus. (Suffice to say, The Onion has begat many knockoffs and regional competitors.) In February I started working on an article about the hype surrounding the White Sox, with the intent of having it published online in time for baseball season. Then COVID hit, all sports shut down, and the article was shelved. When play resumed in mid-July, I tweaked and resubmitted the piece. This led to a vigorous discussion between the editor/founder, creative director, and myself over whether the Sox article was too negative. Since I don't think anything's on the line, pleas enjoy this rejected piece.

(Ed. note: for the purposes of this article, let's pretend I am a semi-credible journalist.)

By Stuart Allard

Four months after Spring Training was halted at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, the Chicago White Sox are back at Guaranteed Rate Stadium, ready and set to underwhelm for another season.

“Before the season was halted, this team was built to win 85, maybe 86 games,” said Sox GM Rick Hahn. “We’ll be watchable, but Minnesota and Cleveland will find a way to be marginally better than us, and win the American League Central.”

“With any luck, we’ll continue the White Sox tradition of falling just short of expectations.”

Optimism is high for a team that in 119 seasons, have only appeared in the playoffs nine times and have never made the playoffs in consecutive years. 

“I like this team,” said Sox great Harold Baines, who made his sole World Series appearance as a coach. “All of these guys are set for a long career of not-embarrassing baseball, competing but seldom contending, straddling the line between greatness and mediocrity. I see a lot of me in these guys.”

The Sox’ big off-season signing, former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, did not disagree. “I’m getting paid $18.5 million each of the next three years, and my goal is to pitch competently enough without [Sox fans] arguing that I’m overpaid.”

The most devout Pale Hose fans share that excitement.

“Look at this core,” said Bridgeport native Jamie Piersall. “Yoan, Eloy, Luis Robert, Kopech, Fulmer-- all promising but unproven young guys that will fall to meet the lofty and exaggerated expectations of the average, modern day Sox fan. One of them might win a championship in another city.”

Knocking back a Modelo, Piersall continued: “We’ve only been to the World Series twice since Woodrow Wilson was president, our 2005 title was kind of a fluke, and the only highlight [the Sox] had in the last 10 years was kicking Adam LaRoche’s teenage son out of the clubhouse. This 2020 team fits into the Sox’ never-ending yet linear path of nondescript baseball.”

When reached for comment, elderly Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said “Rest assured, this White Sox baseball team is tangible and exists.”

Hahn smiles as he looks at this club. “With a new young core, we hope to finish with a winning record, but only tease at playoff contention. Just like the good-but-not-great Sox teams of 2012. And 2010. And 2004. And 2003. And 2002. And 1999. And 1998. And 1997…”

-- 30 --


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 8

I hate to say it, but America just can't have nice things.

There's nothing partisan here: California, Texas, and Florida all equally screwed up. A slow domino effect has started, the states that opened too quickly are facing the ramifications, and the states that opened at a more reasonable speed to slowly are gradually scaling back. Red states like Indiana and Alabama will soon have mandatory mask laws. Any doubts about a second wave have been quashed. The entire country is about to take a step backwards.

I enjoyed my summer, albeit briefly. I took a two-day road trip to Bloomington-Normal, where I visited two friends. My roommate and I made two beer runs to southeastern Wisconsin --we love our New Glarus-- just before the governor of Illinois put the Badger State on a discouraged travel list. I tried to get autographs outside Wrigley Field before last Sunday's Cubs-Brewers rubber match, to no avail. (Wrigley has grown rather strict about autograph hounds since renovations.) Otherwise, it's just six more weeks of heat, interrupted occasionally by Lyft and socially distanced baseball.

As this happens, President Trump and his lazy, deluded response to COVID-19 is impossible to ignore. Where we struggle, other nations have all but recovered. His presidency is no longer defined by Russia, Ukraine, or Stormy Daniels, but rather his narcissistic ineptitude during a pandemic. He gaslights and spreads misinformation in an effort to save face, but his lack of real accomplishments during his 3 1/2 years in office speak volumes. And yet, there's a 40% chance he could still get reelected.  Stay vigilant, friends. 


Sunday, July 19, 2020

30 Teams, 30 Haiku: My 2020 Baseball Preview

This might be the first time I've ever had to write my annual baseball haikus in a t-shirt and shorts. I'm normally waiting for nicer weather, not trying to compose my thoughts in the middle of a heatwave. Let's not kid ourselves, this long-delayed and truncated 2020 baseball season is going to feel very different. Only 60 games, no fans in the stands, a number of "name" players opting out, the lingering presence of COVID-19. As far as forecasts go, this might be the trickiest baseball preview I've ever had to write. I fear that most of the rosters will be 50% Triple-A guys that wouldn't get a shot in a normal context.

Regardless, I'll try to break it down, 17 soma at a time:

1. Phillies (41-19) Didi? And Wheeler?/deep pockets; win-now mindset/but Bryce must rack up.
2. Nationals* (39-21) It's the Soto Show/Kieboom, a firecracker?/new Beltway bombers.
3. Braves (31-29) It's all Ronald now/will starting pitching wobble/in tough division?
4. Mets (29-31) Yoenis, stay away/from wild boars! Injuries/curb all their progress.
5. Marlins (20-40) Good, young pitching here/but run support is meager/not yet relevant.

1. Brewers (37-23) Not as much power/bye Moose, adios Eric/but will still compete.
2. Cardinals* (35-25) A healthy Yadi/would be nice; only the 'Birds/make winning boring.
3. Reds (31-29) All bats, no defense/still improved, yet hunt for Red/October sails on.
4. Cubs (28-32) Another step back/old arms and Grandpa Rossy/can't fix leadoff woes.
5. Pirates (24-36) After bad trades, these/Bucs are frugal; for now, just/enjoy the skyline.

1. Dodgers (43-17) Best team, no question/Betts rides to pennant in a/Lux interior.
2. Padres* (34-26) Hoz, Manny, youngsters/Friars now have a playoff/prayer. Hail Mary!
3. Rockies* (33-27) Gifted on offense/(as usual) though Nolan/drama will distract.
4. D-Backs (25-35) MadBum and Kole were/good adds, but Marte needs to/repeat his '19.
5. Giants (21-39) A new era dawns/surplus of outfielders is/the only intrigue.

1. Yankees (44-16) No Aroldis? Crap!/Surplus of offense still leads/way to playoff run.
2. Rays* (33-27) No star power, no/problem! Low budget wonders/"open" up the East.
3. Red Sox (30-30) No Mookie, no Sale/proves costly; will JD have/to wait for highlights?
4. Blue Jays (28-32) Vlady, Bo, Cavan/Progeny? Nepotism?/Hope for the future.
5. Orioles (19-41) Young guns and loose parts/the disarray continues/Adley, take your time.

1. Twins (41-19) Call the Bomba Squad/last year's sleeper got better/and doubled their fun.
2. Indians* (31-29) The young arms intrigue/Lindor trade rumors linger/a good team in flux.
3. White Sox (30-30) Resurgent... almost/they're another year away/but these kids can play.
4. Royals (25-35) Who is catching here?/Soler power not enough/to help weak pitching.
5. Tigers (22-38) Carole Baskin, save/these cats! Young arms, old Miggy/very little else.

1. Astros (40-20) After "Banghazi"/expect a few HBPs/and villain status.
2. Athletics* (34-26) Healthy pitching would/help topple cheaters; good bats/only do so much.
3. Angels* (32-28) Fishing without Trout/Halos still have depth and arms/to at least compete.
4. Rangers (29-31) Monster rotation/burdened by weak run support/spurs lots of strikeouts.
5. Mariners (23-37) Major FOMO now/King Felix is gone, and the/serfs are not up yet.

(asterisks note wild cards, not cheating)

AL MVP: Anthony Rendon, Angels
NL MVP: Mookie Betts, Dodgers
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, Mets
AL ROY: Luis Robert, White Sox
NL ROY: Dylan Carlson, Cardinals
First Manager Fired: Torey Lovullo, D-Backs
2020 World Series: Dodgers over Yankees in 6


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Random Notes, July 2020

COVID-19 is undeniably the dominant news story of 2020, but that doesn't mean I can't give credence to other news:

+ Remember when I gave Bush 43 a C-/D+ when he left office? The appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts validates my grade. Several key Supreme Court decisions are not indicators of a liberal shift per se, but that the center is struggling to relate to Trump conservatives. As of Monday the 1st, any chance of Roe v. Wade ever getting reversed just took a serious blow. To de-fang the electoral college didn't hurt, either. Roberts is no liberal, but at least he's deciding with his conscience.

+ For the second year in a row, I don't feel up to writing out an entire Fantasy Emmy ballot. I have downtime, but not enough to keep up with the phalanx of quality shows on cable and streaming right now. I am hoping that the TV Academy selects (among nominees, anyway) the Hulu series "Ramy," Ben Mendelsohn for "The Outsider," and Janelle Monae for "Homecoming." Message me for more of my thoughts.

+ It was weird not having any concrete plans for Independence Day. I drove out to my sister's, I hung out with the dogs, then I drove back in time to see my roommate ignite fireworks that he bought in Wisconsin two days prior. I did not mind the laid-back feel, but I miss drinking with friends.

Next Week: at long last, my 2020 MLB preview. Stay safe and stay home.


Saturday, June 27, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 7

In case you hadn't noticed, there's still a pandemic going on.

I had no doubt in my mind that most states opened too early. Scientific experts warned of a second wave, and it's already hit the deep south (incidentally, the first states to open) and states with shrinking COVID cases are easing into opening with wariness. Governors that put the economy over their constituents are eating their words. The Gallants to these Goofuses (Goofi?) treaded lightly from the get-go, fully knowing the federal government wouldn't be much help.

Before you call me out for posting "old news," I am sharing this article from early March to remind everyone that Trump administration's response to COVID-19 was embarrassingly weak even before the entire country shuttered. Trump's legacy is now forever tainted by a crisis he refused to respond to until it was too late. If you still don't believe there's a pandemic, you're a godforsaken fool, and the Venn diagram between you and President Trump's most ardent supporters is practically one circle.

I wanted this post to be strictly about the pandemic, but it played an indirect part in the upheaval of the Chicago comedy community. Last week, iO Chicago co-founder and owner Charna Halpern shut down the improv institution after 39 years, claiming it as a COVID casualty. Perhaps, but that was only one reason: Charna was put on blast for decades of mistreatment of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. A number of talented performers refused to do business with iO and not without reason.

In the aftermath of iO's demise, a private Facebook group was launched called Chicago Improv Rebuild. I was added in the first 24 hours of its creation, but I had to put the group on mute within a day or so. The intent was noble, and some good ideas were expressed and exchanged, but this forum was dragged down in quick procession by interpersonal drama. Racism, sexism, and transphobia permeate through our comedy community, but the dialogue is dominated by people who are in love with the sound of their own voice. One person in question (long story) made me feel uncomfortable on a couple of occasions, but played the victim and resorted to character assassination. There are now at least six admins/moderators, but it still doesn't feel like there are enough adults in the room. The narcissism is too unyielding.

How am I handling things otherwise? I'm going to safely assume that any ambitious plans for the remainder of 2020 are shot. I might take a day trip to northwest Indiana, maybe to central Illinois too, but any chance of more travel will have to wait awhile. I'm receiving state unemployment benefits, while still supplementing my income with Lyft. Substitute teaching at the start of the 2020-21 school year is looking unlikely. Hosting remote comedy shows has been a nice relief, but I'm still restless and bored.

More dispatches soon. It feels good to be writing on a semi-regular basis again. Happy Fourth.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Two Weeks of Turmoil

Bruce Jay Friedman's 1962 novel "Stern" is a parable of man's weakness. In the book, a young Jewish businessman and suburban transplant known only as Stern is incapable of defending his wife after a neighbor makes an anti-Semetic remark. The incident circles around in his head, to the extent that he develops an ulcer and is literally immobilized by his own insecurity.

The fact that Friedman passed away last week is only somewhat pertinent here. Over the past two weeks, I have related to Stern in far too many ways. A lifetime of social awkwardness has made me second-guess and reconsider most of my interactions, itself a kind of paralysis. It has been a challenge to say something both insightful and unique about the brutal death of George Floyd. It's been a conundrum of sorts; the wrong turn of phrase will vilify you, but silence suggests being complicit. The most noble intentions can be undercut by a poorly worded statement. White privilege is my wife.

We have the seen the same vicious cycle too many times now: an unarmed black man is suspected by a police officer of committing a minor crime. There is no hard evidence, nothing tangible to suspect the man besides a hunch. The black man tries to explain his innocence, but his earnest defense is confused for belligerence. Things escalate, and in a matter of moments the man is dead. The aftermath is too similar: there is witness video, the African-American community is outraged, the police officers are vilified by the public, but they get a slap on the wrist if they're even punished at all. A few months later, in another part of the country, the same thing happens again.

With George Floyd, however, something snapped.

At long last, white people in the suburbs noticed. As protests were held in cities, suburbs, and small towns alike, a long-overdue dialogue about the treatment of people of color, both now and throughout U.S. history, was finally initiated. After downtown Naperville (a suburb near my hometown) was looted on June 1st, businesses in neighboring towns started boarding up their panel windows. Some towns like Naperville have always had an undercurrent of racism; this reckoning was probably overdue. The notion of safety and comfort, even in a "nice" suburb, has always been an illusion.

Everything that has transpired since May 25th has reinforced the ugly notion that Donald Trump wouldn't have been elected without the support of bigots and reactionaries. A substantial portion of conservative America, fed lies and exaggerations for over 20 years by the Fox News gaslight machine, found the walrus for their carpenter in Trump. Alas, Fox News was really the carpenter, and his ardent followers were the oysters.

When I think of specific people on Facebook that post right-wing memes, I noticed a pattern that transcended mere political beliefs. Just looking at high school acquaintances alone, I saw they fell into four categories: I remembered these particular kids as bullies, "slow on the uptake," assholes, crazy, or some combination of the four. At the risk of throwing around offensive labels, I can't think of a single Trump supporter that I remember being kind, quiet, or even-keeled. These people don't want a dialogue, they want to get a rise out of you while projecting their shortsighted beliefs. Why I'm still Facebook friends with any of them might be baffling, but I suppose I'm more patient than others. Plus, the unfollow button has been rather helpful.

Anxiety and politic cannot be conflated here. If you're not angry and sickened by what happened to George Floyd, you're on the wrong side. In the nearly two weeks since his death, I've seen a handful of people on social media admit they can't comprehend what's going on, beyond near-nightly reports of violence. The best thing I can tell them is this: if you want to understand why people are angry, listen to the people that are angry.

Black lives matter.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Through a Freshman's Eyes, War on Terror Edition

Better late than never, I give you my annual mindset list. In a way, the lives of this year's high school seniors so far have been bookended by tragedy. They were born in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and are now matriculating during an out of control pandemic. Their entire lives, all 18 years or so, have been surrounded by some level of uncertainty, and above all I'm sorry your final semester of high school didn't go according to plan.

If you are a graduating senior...

...September 11th has always been a national holiday.
...we have always been at war with Afghanistan.
...Iraq, Iran, and North Korea have always been referred to as the "Axis of Evil."
...Enron has always been insolvent.
...Andrea Yates has always been in prison.
...eBay has always owned Paypal.
...Google has always had an image search option. have never seen, used, or heard of a beeper.
...Halle Berry's name has always been preceeded by "Academy Award Winner."
...Jimmy Carter is better known as a Nobel Peace Prize winner than as a politician.
...people have always complained that there are too many reality shows on TV.
...Fox News Channel has always been the #1 cable news network.
...all cable news channels have always had a news scroll on the bottom of the screen.
...Adult Swim has always aired after dark on Cartoon Network.
...the only time you've seen Will Ferrell on SNL was on some old DVD.
...there has never been an NBA team in Vancouver, British Columbia.
...the New England Patriots have always been a Super Bowl contender.
...the Houston Texans have always been in the NFL, and there have always been eight four-team divisions.
...George Harrison, Nigel Hawthorne, Dorothy McGuire, Issac Stern, Ken Kesey, Foster Brooks, Troy Donahue, Lance Loud, Dick Schaap, Avery Schreiber, Dave Thomas from Wendy's, Michael Bilandic, Peggy Lee, Night Train Lane, Daniel Pearl, Waylon Jennings, Princess Margaret, The Queen Mother, Lawrence Tierney, Chuck Jones, Spike Milligan, Robert Urich, Billy Wilder, Milton Berle, Dudley Moore, Justice Byron White, Left Eye Lopes, Seattle Slew, Dave Berg, Stephen Jay Gould, Sam Snead, John Gotti, Jack Buck, Darryl Kile, Ann Landers, John Entwistle, Pete Grey, Ted Williams, Rod Steiger, Alan Lomax, Leo McKern, Chaim Potok, Chick Hearn, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rosemary Clooney, and Lionel Hampton have always been dead.

For reference here's last year's list.

Next Week: back to topical commentary. I fully acknowledge that a lot has happened, and I'm still processing my thoughts.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 6

Public opinion is starting to sway toward reopening. That's not to say we're ready by any means; the United States is collectively fatigued after 10 weeks at home. The threat of COVID-19 hasn't gone away --I'm going to keep repeating that-- and states that have reopened have all seen spikes in cases and deaths. People are fighting on social media and in real life over wearing masks. These bold and brazen folks are calling us fraidy-cats. We're only thinking about ourselves, not others, and especially not the immuno-compromised. Illinois still has stay in place, but the governor is buckling.

Admittedly, I'm getting rather bold myself. At first, I was limiting driving for Lyft and Postmates to two, maybe three nights a week. With my unemployment benefits lapsing in two weeks, I'm hesitant to keep dipping into rainy day money. I'm waking up a little earlier, trying to get more stuff done around the apartment in daylight, then go out driving just in time for rush hour. Unless businesses completely reopen (that is to say, are safe to reopen) this is pretty much my life for the next three months.

My latest concern is whether I can afford to stay in my apartment. I'm 6 1/2 months into a one-year lease. Unemployment benefits from the state would help somewhat, but I don't want to face that ordeal again. My roommate is a furloughed cook; he leaves the apartment maybe once a week, and he's practically paying rent as a loan shark. (More on that later.) My sister's best friend and tenant is mostly back at her parents' house; her father died suddenly in early May, and her mother is immuno-compromised. Whether she stays at my sister's house remains to be seen. I still drive out once a week to pick up mail, see the dogs, and soldier on with our never-ending cleaning project. I feel guilty, as if making the 40-minute drive is a wasteful luxury.

Next Week: my annual mindset list.


Friday, May 15, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 5

I had a particularly strange Lyft ride last Friday night. I picked up this passenger less than half a mile from my apartment; he wasn't wearing a mask, and almost immediately after he got into the car, he asked about "Plandemic." For the unfamiliar, "Plandemic" was a documentary uploaded to YouTube that reinforced several unfounded conspiracy theories about COVID-19. It's been removed and uploaded back to YouTube multiple times in the last week, citing misinformation rules. I saw the video, I know it's nonsense, but he thought it "made you think." I asked politely if he could change the subject, but he persisted. I hate that I had to snap at him, but I did what I could to avoid a more heated argument.

People are getting restless, but there's little we can do. That notorious curve isn't flattening. The death totals aren't tapering off, either.  The health experts aren't giving any indicators that the US as a whole is making progress in the COVID-19 fight. Misinformation is spreading as fast as the virus. The federal government's response has been (to put it mildly) slow, feckless, and unhelpful. Other countries have recovered while the U.S. population bickers over haircuts. Theaters of any kind likely won't open until late in 2020, which puts my weekend job on the kibosh.  Wisconsin reopened, probably too soon. There's no timetable for anything else.

There's a sliver of hope, though: baseball will be back. Two-plus months without this sort of diversion has been rough. I'm acclimated to going to a bunch of games during the spring and summer, but I can handle only watching baseball on TV. (I've haven't bothered to stay up to watch Korean ball, an ESPN "exclusive.") Otherwise, it looks like the rest of our summer has been cancelled. Fatigue has undoubtedly kicked in, but there's little we can do. We just have to persist.


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Promotion Commotion, Ten Years Later

I'm taking a breather from essaying about life in quarantine to discuss something personal:

I don't normally broadcast this out of fear of jinxing myself, but I had a job interview in Schaumburg on Thursday. I thought it was going to be a phone interview, but I was asked to drive out for a socially distanced sitdown. (Yes, it's essential work, and I can't elaborate further.) It occurred to me while driving out of the city that not only was my interview one town over from my old office, it was on the 10th anniversary of when I was replaced.

Four months ago on Facebook, I wrote a lengthy post comparing and contrasting where I was in 2010 as we approached the new decade. I discussed my last radio gig, but not what led up to losing my job. To sum up another long post, I had my EOE-obligated job interview on February 8th, then spent the next 11 weeks waiting for a decision that was supposed to take 14 days. I discovered by accident that at least two rounds of interviews were held without my knowledge. During my last week in the office, I noticed people were strangely avoiding me, and Administrative Professionals Day came and went without a mention. I was the receptionist, for chrissakes.

On April 30th, I was summoned to the business manager's office. It was about 90 minutes before the office closed for the weekend. The manager informed me that after some deliberation, it had come down to me and another candidate... and they went with the other candidate. This business manager, someone who made absolutely no effort to get to know me in the time we shared an office space, watched disdainfully as I clean out my desk. The traffic/billing manager --my actual boss-- escorted me out to the parking garage while fighting back tears.

The timing was awkward, to say the least. I had my Level E (graduation) show at Second City the next day, and I had mentioned that to people in the office. None of my now-former co-workers showed up, and even though the show went okay, I felt numb. The next day, after my last training center class, some of us went out for drinks across the street. I had a train to catch, so I only stuck around for a half-hour. Before I left, I said thank you and farewell to my classmates before noticing that my voice was quivering. I noticed then and there that I was waking up the next morning to nothing. As I walked from Corcoran's Bar to Sedgwick Brown Line, it was my turn to fight back the tears.

That was what was on my mind after my job interview on Thursday. Inexplicably, one decade and another ratings quarter on the outside looking in, the management at my old station hasn't changed. A number of other people, including my old direct superior were forced out for myriad reasons. Almost everyone I've been in touch with had comtempt for the general manager, but especially that business manager. The corporate office in Camarillo, CA couldn't care less who's in charge as long as the Chicago branch is turning a profit. Maybe its more symptomatic of commercial radio in general, but the cutting of corners to stay in the black is absurd. Six different people have come and gone in my former position, no one lasting more than 2 1/2 years.

As time has marched on, I've only grown more embarrassed to have ever worked for Salem Media Group. It's just another outlet for right-wing misinformation, something I barely tolerated in the late 2000s that I can't bring myself to listen to now. The same people that are encouraging armed protests against stay-at-home orders, that insinuate Jewish elected officials are somehow Nazis, are stirring outrage over temporary inconveniences, that gloss over President Trump's failures. They are (albeit indirectly) enablers of unnecessary chaos, gaslighters of the highest order.

So, while I was in the neighborhood, I took a selfie of myself flipping the bird at my former office. I figured it was the least I could do.

Clearly, I'm not ready to forgive. I don't know if I ever will be. I'm a bit more pragmatic than I was 10 years ago. I did everything I could to not burn bridges, but things have grown too dire and too polarized. My work situation is imperfect (for now) but I've made peace with the fact that I'll probably never work in radio again. I'm too out of the loop. Someday, I hope to write a book about my time in radio, with a plot structure not unlike "Gulliver's Travels." My two years at Salem were going to be the last chapter of the book. Unlike Swift, I'm grasping to find any kind of happy ending.


Friday, April 24, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 4

The quarantine was supposed to last a couple of weeks. Two weeks became three, then a month, then seven weeks, and now likely about three months. Each one of my optimistic predictions has come and gone, and my most recent prognostication --my aforementioned loosening of stay in place around May 22nd-- is likely to be for naught. Whatever plans I had for May, including the now postponed Omaha Comedy Festival, have been scuttled.

The rest of the 2019-20 school year in Illinois has been officially left to E-learning, which leaves me out of steady work until the third week in August. I've applied for temp jobs but haven't heard back. I had been depending on Lyft and Postmates, but the hacking of Instacart, an apparent Google Maps glitch, and an ensuing domino effect has thwarted any real source of income for the moment.

Also during week six, I accidentally stumbled into an argument with a conservative college acquaintance and a friend of his on Facebook. (Rest assured, on the rare occasion I get into a Facebook argument, you will hear about it here.) I believed that the extended stay in place order was hardly desired but necessary; we can't ease ourselves into anything remotely normal until COVID-19 is eradicated. My friend of a friend lived in a rural area in central Illinois, and was frustrated that she and her family can't go fishing. Both made a valid point about how this is destroying small businesses, though that has been a problem everywhere.  I kind of wanted to know more about she was getting by in a less densely populated part of the state, but her condescending attitude about Chicago turned me off. I failed to articulate that everyone is struggling right now. At least neither of them spit out any Trump rhetoric.

Besides unexpected petty squabbles on social media, how am I entertaining myself? I'm catching up on magazines and the Sunday papers. I downloaded a Sudoku app on my phone, something I haven't done in maybe four years. I've struck up conversations on OkCupid and participated in an online (Zoom) dating event. My barprov show is doing one hour remote (again, Zoom) shows twice a week. It may seem like a lot, but it's barely enough. I treated the first round of the NFL Draft like appointment television; otherwise, I feel too distracted to binge on any TV shows. Obviously, I'm still writing.

In the meantime, I will continue to update this blog as things progress and regress. We've all seen a lot of crazy together, and like a certain curve that has barely flattened, it's probably going to get worse. I've never had much interaction through my blog --well, not since the days-- but if you're reading this, don't be afraid to comment or drop a line. I want to make sure you're okay, too.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 3

Warren G. Harding is largely considered one of our worst presidents. His legacy, beyond being corrupt and a philanderer, was the word he unintentionally invented while campaigning in 1920. In the wake of the Great War and popular support for American isolationism, he promised a "return to normalcy."

Normalcy, whether or not you think its a real word, has lingered all over the news and on social media as the quarantine ends week five. Even when businesses and public places re-open, things won't go to normal immediately. There's no timetable yet, and the most educated guesses aren't optimistic. (Incidentally, I told a friend that I was hoping for May 22nd, and she winced. So much for hoping against hope.) As optimistic as some people are, you can't force the machine to run normally in a matter of seconds.

The executive branch knew about a potential pandemic in January, then swept it under the rug. I'm just as furious and frustrated as anyone else, but luckily the late night talk shows are still around to make articulate, witty commentaries about the Trump administration's epic blunder. COVID-19 news may be exhausting for some, but I find satire to be a welcome distraction.

When (and if) everything reopens, everything will have to be eased in. Events of no more than two people will give way to groups of five, then ten, perhaps fifty. Social distancing will be "normalcy" for a while yet. Rushing ourselves out into the open (like what President Trump implied in his "LIBERATE" tweets) will only make things worse.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 2

Since Saturday, March 21st Chicago has been under a "shelter in place" order. Not enough Chicagoans were taking this seriously, so on the 26th, Mayor Lightfoot ordered all the beaches and parks closed. The weather was gorgeous on the 25th, but necessity took priority over everything else. There's a pandemic, and this mayor is not here for populist pandering.

The most optimistic projections are getting crushed. President Trump ignored advisers and medical experts alike, and projected everything reopening by April 12th. In spite of the Christian conservatives that Trump pandered to in 2015-16 (and still does) businesses aren't resuming normal operations by Easter. The new projection, if all goes well, is closer to April 30th.

As I mentioned before, I am predominantly a substitute teacher. When the four districts I work for all shuttered their schools on March 13th, I had to accept the reality that I would be mostly out of work until their projected date, April 6th. It was a domino effect, each local district one by one making an announcement, until Governor Pritzker more or less forced an extended shutdown, all in a matter of hours. I added the Postmates app on top of driving for Lyft, my summer job. Alas, ride-sharing and food delivery have both gone bone dry, and I wonder if sitting on my car waiting for nothing is worth risking my health.

I see people on social media lose track of the day of the week, as whatever signifies their routine (school, church, etc.) goes on the wayside. I have no problem distinguishing Tuesday from Wednesday, but time is different matter. I'm having a hard time getting out of bed; I've been up until 2 most nights and walking up between 11 and noon. My normal idea of "sleeping in" is more like 9:45, maybe 10 o'clock. There's always things to do. Now I can't find the motivation...


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 1

I am an ambivert. For the unfamiliar, an ambivert is someone who shares traits with introverts and extroverts but doesn't really qualify as either. I find balance in alone time and human interaction, but do neither in excess. On Tuesday the 17th, I only interacted with my roommate and a six-month-old kitten. I did something similar on Thursday the 19th. With all due respect to them, this is gonna suck.

The government has to take most of the blame for failing to address COVID-19 until it was too late. As a society, we also have to take some accountability for not taking this seriously. Shutting down society as we know it is straight out of some young adult novel about a farmgirl who's also an above-average archer. Desperation moves are already happening.

I am mainly a substitute teacher, which have been mostly furloughed as regular educators are forced to teach online. I'm a Lyft driver over the summer, so my backup plan has faltered because no one is traveling or commuting. (Hooray for bailout money?) That's not to say I've been doing the best job at quarantining, either. During the first full week of staying at home, I made three trips back to the west suburbs to get mail, buy supplies, and see the dogs.

The experts say the United States needs to quarantine for at least another month. President Trump, someone who has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of empathy, wants businesses to reopen around Easter (April 12th, for the heathens). People are still getting sick, and efforts to "flatten the curve" are right now in a losing fight. In the meantime, I'm going to try and update everyone on my well-being on this blog three, maybe four times a month until things settle. Wash your hands, and take care.


Thursday, March 19, 2020


(I wrote this first paragraph the first week of March)

As I write this, I'm catching my breath from a whirlwind weekend in the state of Texas. From Thursday the 27th to Monday the 2nd, I spent quality time in Dallas, Austin, Hornsby Glen, Huntsville, Willis, Navasota, and Bee Cave. "The Bob Zula," a small independent film that I partially financed two years ago, had screenings at two festivals in opposite ends of the state. That meant driving nearly 500 miles in the span of four days (I flew from Chicago to Texas) and an unintended scenic tour of the Lone Star State's rural areas. From what I saw, the view is beautiful, though I could have done without the Trump/KAG signs every 100 yards. More info on streaming soon.

(I wrote this second paragraph the third week of March)

My Austin trip was one of two major trips I'm taking this year. Later this month, I had hoped to cross off a bucket list item of sorts by visiting Los Angeles. I'll elaborate more on why (and I'm sure everyone knows why) in my next post.

Later This Month? Maybe April: my annual all-haiku baseball preview.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Random Notes, February 2020

Goodness, is February almost over?

+ The decision to acquit President Trump was not surprising, but disappointing regardless. The trial was a slapdash mess, a rushed effort by Democratic congressman in a feeble attempt to persuade Republican senators that weren't going to listen. You could even argue that it was complete cowardice, of self-protection in a contested election year, disguised as a moment of party solidarity. More evidence of Trump's wrongdoings with Ukraine is bound to surface, and the GOP took the fast way out.

+ I make no illusion of my misgivings about Bernie Sanders. However, if he does become the Democratic nominee for president, so be it. Even though the logjam has subsided, the primary race is still very contested. Sanders is the front-runner for now, though one wonders if he'll stick to his agenda, swerve further left, or make any sort of appeal to moderates.

+ I'm heading back to Austin! For the third time in 23 months, I'm flying to central Texas for some "Bob Zula" related business. My friend Brandon's indie bildungsroman made it into two film festivals, both in state. I will keep you all posted when the film is available for wider release.


Monday, February 3, 2020

Random Notes, January 2020

January 2020 was an eventful for a lot of bad reasons. Let me attempt to break it down:

+ I grew up a Monty Python fan, and it's one of the few things I've enjoyed that I've carried into adulthood. (I even wrote about the second series as one of the seasons of any TV show ever.) I was saddened to hear that Terry Jones had been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia in 2015, and even more so that he succumbed to it last week. It wasn't that long ago we lost Python-adjacent singer-songwriter Neil Innes, who appeared on Python and co-created the underappreciated Rutland Weekend Television. Rest easy, you wacky Britons.

+ Speaking of blog subjects, I always found the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case rather suspicious. Now the two main conspirators of the case, Bryant and then-NBA commissioner David Stern, are both gone, 25 days apart. There was an intense debate on social media about Bryant's culpability in the wake of the helicopter crash. In the era of #MeToo I'm marginally more willing to forgive someone who tried to rectify and learn from his misdeeds. Kobe became a mentor and philanthropist, but what transpired in Summer 2003 leaves his legacy more of a mixed bag than most people will admit.

+ A distant third on my RIP list: academic and "disruptive innovation" theorist Clayton Christensen.

+ The impeachment trial has been such a mess that I'm both exasperated and still collecting my thoughts. Expect me to elaborate on a future post.

+ On a positive note, I was legitimately looking forward to this Sunday's Super Bowl. It's not just the history: the Chiefs haven't been (or won) in 50 years, the Niners are making only their second appearance since 1994. It was a good game with a spectacular fourth quarter. Congrats again to Kansas City, my ancestral homeland, the one and true Emerald City.


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

My Belated "Best Music of the 2010s" Post

And what about this decade?

It's tough enough finding time to listen to at least 60 new releases a year --rock, hip-hop, jazz or otherwise-- and whittle it down to my favorite 20. The task is harder when you find an album you enjoyed from a particular year, but you discover it after the fact. Sometimes said album doesn't quite hold up as the brilliant piece of art that you thought it once was.

Forgive the forced wordplay, but 2020 is the so-called "year of hindsight," and for my first blog of the calendar year I'm looking back (and wincing) at my past music blogs. Initially, the only rule is set for myself is that there is a minimum of one album from each of the last ten years on this list. (Some albums have aged better than others, KANYE.) Call it wonky, call out some omissions, but I think these 10 albums will stand the test of time.

(NOTE: parenthesized numbers are for the year of release, and original rank)

1. My Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West (2010, #1)
2. To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar (2015, #1)
3. The Suburbs, Arcade Fire (2010, #2)
4. Lemonade, Beyonce (2016, #2)
5. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar (2017, #1)
6. Agent Orange, Frank Ocean (2012, #1)
7. Lazarus, David Bowie (2016, #1)
8. St. Vincent, St. Vincent (2014, #1)
9. Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood (2019, #1)
10. A Seat at the Table, Solange (2016, NR)

Honorable Mentions: Civilian, Wye Oak (2011, NR), Random Access Memories, Daft Punk (2013, #2), 7, Beach House (2018, #1).

I meant to post this right after New Year's, but better late than never. Onto the next post.