You think it’s cold now?

November 21, 2016

Today was about 40 degrees (Fahrenheit). It was the coldest day we’ve had since about last March. In walking around this morning, I saw many people with their giant coats on–the Canada Goose parkas were out in formation!–hats, scarves, and gloves were common, too.

It all made me wonder: What are these people going to wear when it really gets cold?

Cold Turkey Day 1

November 21, 2016

[An unedited stream of conscienceness]

I walked away from my Facebook account yesterday. It was something that had been building for a long time.

I had contemplated walking away from it in midsummer, then hung on through September, then reconciled myself to go through the election. I’d thought about how I was going to walk away from it, after almost exactly eight years of nearly daily posts. The “fade to black” theme came to me in September. The original concept was to just type those words over a picture of a fadeout and leave it at that. I should have known that there was going to be no way I could simply walk away, Dylan-esque without some kind of farewell address.

My participation in Facebook started when another phase of my writing life ended. I had been writing up two or three paragraphs on something that amused or concerned me and sending it via email to a small group of friends, some of whom would then respond and a nice, smart-assed discussion would take place. The address list inevitably grew and eventually numbered about twenty. At some point, I’d received enough “unsubscribe” messages and annoyed responses, that I knew I couldn’t continue. Facebook had been a growing presence among our kids and I’d been looking at it as a news source when I decided that posting on the site would accomplish my goal of writing something  without filling the inboxes of my friends. You could read it if you wanted, but unlike an email, you needn’t react to it.

It worked well from my standpoint, although it led to unanticipated friction at home about frequency and content (once a day; anything I found noteworthy). That led to one very memorable…discussion… on what turned out to be the worst and most humbling day of my life on which no one was injured or died.

At some point I noticed that when we were out around town, people were mentioning it to me, some mockingly, others appreciatively. By following my rule to first entertain myself, I’d developed a readership and something of a following. I’m happy to say that it was never about that, it just became that.

I’ve had this blog site for quite a while, too. I’d experimented with longer form writing during my extended period of hanging around the house, otherwise known as my 16-months of unemployment, also known as the Financial Crisis. I found that experience fun, but less pleasing than I thought it would be. I found myself being dragged down fact-checking alleys and eventually losing the part of the process I enjoyed most, the writing (and the editing, although I’m better at one than the other). I think the problem was that I was trying to throughly tackle topics that were too weighty–beyond my ability to lift them.

The more time I spent on FB, the more I liked it and the less time I spent on the blog. Facebook provided a nearly perfect vehicle for me, since it represented something of a “safe space.” I limited the people who could view the posts to my Friends, as opposed to the blog, which was there for the world to see, with its inherent risks to reputation and career.

My Facebook posts became “Things I’d like to write more about if I had time,” or “The thesis statements of blog posts I’ll never write.” Embedded in those comments is the root of why the blog didn’t work for me; I envisioned it as something only for in-depth pieces, and not quick hits for things that interest me. I was getting comments and compliments from thoughtful friends right up until the very end. It’s not been easy to walk away from, but it is time. 

Not any more. It’s my intention to reimagine this place and be both quicker and more frequent. I don’t know exactly what that means yet. The post that follows this will be something of a “daily digest,” a couple things I came across though the course of my day that merit comment. It’s all an experiment at this point.

Fade to Black; The End (?) of the Great Facebook Experiment

November 21, 2016

Having recently been accused on my Facebook page of not caring about the shooting of a police officer, I think I’ve reached the end of the road on the site.

I don’t think I have the energy to sustain the level of outrage required by the times, while at the same time fighting those who think that the threats are made up or exaggerated. I’ll just say this: It must be quite comforting for some to think that their team will never find themselves in the crosshairs of these groups. I think when one American is attacked or threatened, we are all at risk.

I don’t want to be *that guy,* the one whose only song is the Alarm Bell of Justice, clanging incessantly about the outrage of the day. My heroes, Churchill and Orwell, aren’t pleased with me tonight. I’ll have to live with that.

I have always worked at balancing a strong viewpoint on the day’s issues with the other things that I find entertaining and that make my life whole. (Sadly for some, none of this involves cats, so much of the internet is useless to me.) Finding things that make me laugh has always been my life’s work. Bringing others along on that ride has been an added bonus.

At the same time, I know I can’t ignore what’s happening around me and blithely post only about distractions. It’s increasingly hard for me to figure out how to fit these pieces together and to use this space in a way that is meaningful to me (i.e., to amuse myself and perhaps you; to enlighten the discussion and to perhaps prod you to think about something you’ve not yet considered) without falling into either trap (perhaps I already have). I don’t want to set people up to be hectored, nor do I want to be hectored and spend my day shooting down theories or having to defend myself from people who don’t really know me or my views, and whom I haven’t seen in several years and then only at cocktail parties. If only the site could have named “Acquaintences.”

So, off I go to try to figure out how to balance these things in a way that I can tolerate. Shoot me a note and I’ll give you my Twitter handle. This blog site has fallen into disuse, although that will likely change going forward. Being able to moderate comments is an under appreciated resource these days.

I’ve appreciated all the comments–well, most of them anyway–and positive reinforcement I’ve received about my Facebook posts. I’ve enjoyed finding my writing voice and where it’s led me.

The Facebook Reading List Challenge

September 8, 2014

I’ve dreaded the thought of being challenged to list the books that have meant the most to me through my life or that have stuck with me. Like many, my reading habits were shaped in high school. It’s when my addiction to news and history doused whatever small flame of interest I had in fiction. It’s when my habit of 2-3 newspapers a day and all three weekly news magazines started. To my regret, that news and current information habit hasn’t been broken, as anyone who has seen my Twitter “follows,” or Facebook pages periodicals I’ve “liked,” or my sixty Feedly subscriptions will vouch. A couple of years ago, I posted a list of my news and periodical intake; it deserves to be updated, but is still directionally correct.

The book reading I’ve done over the last few years has been dominated by first person accounts and analysis of the financial crisis or in preparation for the Ethics in Financial Markets classes I’ve taught. So when the  challenge came (thanks, Dennis), the thought of exposing my rather pedestrian list left me intimidated.

I have what has been referred to as “one of America’s great collections of unread books.” I love having books around; real ones, with pages and bindings. The used bookstore and I are quite well acquainted. Despite what you’ve read above about my non-fiction habit, I often buy fiction–I just don’t read it. I know I should. The books that I pull down are skimmed them here and there for sections on something specific (see? all non-fiction), going back and re-reading sections in the way that I watch only selected scenes from the endless cable airings of Forrest Gump or Caddyshack.

I know there are more than ten items listed. I’m terrible at following directions.

Here we go (in no particular order after the first item):

bap_orwell.0Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
While not technically a book (it’s an essay that appears in a collection of essays called “Why I Write,” among other places) it is the single most important piece of paper in my life, next to my birth certificate and marriage license (which I show to my wife periodically to remind her that she’s stuck with me and it’s legally binding). Without being too dramatic, it changed the way I think about politics, those who run for office, government, and generally the way people speak to one another. I find myself reading it about once a year and several times a year during presidential election cycles. People who know me well and are familiar with the work will recognize that much of my commentary on politics, political advertising and the messages delivered by those who seek public office is driven by this piece.

Golf My Way by Jack Nicklaus
I read this nearly book every day in high school study hall, which explains both my golf practice habits and poor academic performance. I was so obsessed with it–it’s the single best, most accessible golf instructional book ever produced–that when someone else would take it off the shelves, the Librarian would ask, “Does Mark know what you’re doing?” I still use it and think about its lessons.

The Modern Fundamentals of Golf by Ben Hogan
Originally five articles for Sports Illustrated, this exquisitely illustrated work is something of the Rosetta Stone for golf. It took me at least five readings to really start to grasp it. Unlike the Orwell article, those who know my golf game will argue that I still don’t get it. I agree.

The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate by Dan Jenkins
Also a series of Sports Illustrated articles accumulated in book form, Jenkins is among my favorite writers about anything, but his golf work is extraordinary. This book is doubly special for me because it provided me with a chance to meet and spend an hour with one of its subjects, Dave Marr, when he was broadcasting the US Senior Open, shortly before he died. I asked Marr to sign the book and we had a lovely visit. It was unfortunately back in the days before cell phone cameras. It’s a memory I treasure. I was also able to get Jenkins to sign it.

Brave New World by Cliff Huxtable
1984 by George Orwell

A great one-two punch on the post 9/11, Internet “future” that we’re living today. An eerily accurate view of our current time from 50+ years ago. Security theater and cameras on every street corner on one side, distracted driving and texting the person sitting next to you on the other.

I love Orwell’s work. One of the many reasons I have loved the work of Christopher Hitchens was his deep admiration for Orwell. Hitchens cranked out essays and books about Orwell that enhanced my appreciation for the work. New Yorker writer, George Packer also a Orwellian (!), produced two works of Orwell’s work: “Facing Unpleasant Facts” and “All Art Is Propaganda.”  They are among one of America’s great collections of unread books. Spend an hour with two Orwell scholars here.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
It’s entirely possible that this is on the list only because of the joke: “At halftime, the score is Slaughterhouse 5, Cows 0.”

The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr
I really like Niebuhr. I think I found Niebuhr after the running joke on Night Court about “what kind of name is ‘Reinhold'” led us to talk about the unusual name and someone mentioned Niebuhr. This is a little bit like how I discovered opera through Bugs Bunny. Kill the wabbit.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
I don’t know why I liked this book so much. Probably the words. I take that back. I know why. Though written in the 1950’s, it describes modern American in a profound way. It makes a nice companion piece with Neibuhr.

The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill
Part one of Churchill’s five-part history of the Second World War, it is possibly my favorite history book. The period between the wars has always fascinated me and taught me much about diplomacy, realpolitik and the relationships that govern the world in which we live today.

cord dandlionCorduroy / Dandelion / Norman the Doorman (or anything by Don Freeman)
Brief children’s books, full of charm, burned into my memory from hundreds (thousands?) of readings with our kids who delighted in the stories.

All the President’s Men by Woodstein and Burnward
It could only have been better if it were a novel.

Anyone sense a theme yet? Orwell, Huxley, Neibuhr, Steinbeck, Woodward/Bernstein?

Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler / The Elements of Style by Strunk & White / A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Garner 

I love words.

The Complete Collection of Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
In terms of contributions to my intellectual life, this is high on the list. A wise-beyond-his years 6-year old and his foil, a stuffed tiger, their names chosen completely at random, of course (not). If there were Bugs Bunny books, they’d be listed here, too.

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Meltdown
It reads like a crime novel. Oh. Wait.

Any list of books needs to include my brilliant and award-winning brother-in-law, Richard Powers. He’s a genius and has the paperwork to prove it!

So there it is, narrow as a two-lane road without a shoulder. There’s much I’ve left off that I’d love to add–books about Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, books by Calvin Trillin and David Sedaris among many others, but I will leave those for others to mention and discuss.

Please Go Back to School — Update

August 23, 2014

An update to my prior post.

College kid finds and cracks a nice, expensive and sentimental bottle of wine I’d been saving for that moment when it’s just us, “because I was thirsty.”

Please Go Back To School

July 31, 2014

Three weeks from today, we will drop off our youngest child at college for his freshman year. We will come home to an empty house. Many people ask me how I’m handling it. I think they’re surprised and sometimes confused when I give them an answer that reveals my mixed emotions.

Sure, we’ll miss him and his sister when they go back. But perhaps a recounting of the last hour of my life will reveal why I’m anxious to have them on their way.

The younger one, the boy, announced that he was taking off to get Jack so that they could go get “supplies” for their weekend at Lollapalooza.

“Supplies?” I asked. “Like poster board and markers to make your “Free Bird” signs to hold up while the bands play?” I joked. I don’t want to know the answer to that question. At some point late tonight or early tomorrow he’ll come home and be ready to go for three days of peace and music with the 100,000 other Lollapaloozers. He’s a good kid, but he’s 18 and looking for more freedom than living with us will offer. I don’t blame him.



The 20-yr old, with an uninformed sense of her own security, is on her way to meet a friend whose sister lives on Armitage in Lincoln Park. She’s going to take the L. As I’m taking her to the Linden St. Station, it becomes clear that she’s not, as I was told, spending the weekend there and using it as a Lolla Base Camp, because she has no gear with her. No, she’s coming home tonight.

Let me give you the same minute to process that information that I took: She’s coming home tonight, by herself, on the L, transferring at Howard.

Not as long as I’m involved she’s not transferring at Howard at midnight by herself.

“Get in a cab, please. I’ll pay for it.”

It was easier when they were nine.

I’m as anxious for them to be on their way to live their lives and enjoy their freedom away from home as they are.

Frances Jurs, The Fifth Beatle

March 16, 2014

Remarks delivered Saturday, March 15, 2014 at the funeral service for Frances M. Jurs, (October 27, 1914 – March 10, 2014), held at Immauel Lutheran Church, Crystal Lake, Illinois.


What we have done for ourselves dies with us. What we have done for others remains immortal…so long as those who remain tell the stories. That’s why I’m here today; to pay tribute to my grandmother.

I feel a little like the diligent student, who watches the teacher and absorbs the lessons, but at test time has a brain freeze. I hope that what I say today is worthy of her contribution to my life and that you’re sympathetic graders.

When I think of Grandma, the first things that come to my mind are her love of sports and her laughter. She watched sports and talked about them constantly. In younger days, she was an all-around athlete. She was always in touch with her favorite teams, telling stories about going to watch the high school football or basketball games. Ask her how the Cubs were doing and not only could she tell you, but she could tell you why. Although looking back on it, her saying, “they can’t hit and the pitching stinks” wasn’t really that remarkable, for it seemed to always be true. Regardless of their record, she always knew and she always watched and she loved the Chicago Cubs.

When I was a young boy and we’d play baseball in the back yard, she would infuriate me by running around the bases carrying the bat. She knew that it got to me. I’d get mad and she’d laugh. She loved sticking that needle in. She tried to teach me that stupid little skip that she used to start her bowling approach, but I wouldn’t have it. It was her thing and it worked magically for her.

She was such fun to be around. She knew my friends and they knew her. She took great pleasure in hearing my friends tell tales on me out of school. And once she heard something, she wouldn’t let me forget it, especially if it was something stupid I’d done–and it was always something stupid I’d done.

I loved the smell of her kitchen when she was making fried chicken whether it was for a family reunion in Algonquin or before fireworks at Walkup’s Woods. She made this rice pudding concoction that she would bring to us in a container the size of a mixing bowl, that I would eat in one sitting. I’m not sure my sister ever knew what it tasted like, because when it was in the house, it was mine and it was gone quickly. Such are my childhood souvenirs.

I’ve always used Grandma’s life as a measuring stick of history. She was nearly 6 years old before women got the right to vote. At age 10 she heard a new song by George Gershwin, “Rhapsody in Blue.” Just 15 when the depression started, she was 30 on VJ Day. She was here when they put in the Crystal Lake Black Top. They called it “THE black top”, as if that description alone was enough to distinguish it from all the other roads in town. She was 55 when men first walked on the moon. From dirt roads and horseback to the moon, she was witness to a remarkable century and accelerating change.

She was a constant presence in my life. Sunday dinners, vacations, ball games, banging pots at the stroke of 12 on New Year’s, at tennis tournaments where her nervousness and enthusiasm were so noticeable that it distracted the players. The green ’67 Ford Galaxy and later the red ’76 Chevy Nova in our driveway, she was the Fifth Beatle of our family.

But it shouldn’t have been that way. Robbed of the love of her life by the time she was as old as I am now, she lived half of her life as a widow. It’s common for people to say nice things about someone who has died, but throughout my life, whenever I’ve encountered someone who knew my grandfather, there’s a sense of genuineness sometimes bordering on awe in their descriptions of him as a great man, a great father, a gift to the community, that it’s hard to believe they’re just being nice. I wish I could have known him.

Letters to 116 McHenry Avenue were to be addressed to “Mrs. A. R. Jurs.” It may have served other purposes, but to me it was a lasting tribute to the man she loved and a small way to keep his memory alive for a kid like me. Trips around Crystal Lake were frequently filled with sentences that started, “That’s where your Grandpa…” Even as I wrote this, the mention of Walkup’s Woods a minute ago sent my mind to, “That’s where Grandpa played baseball.”

To try to fill the unfillable void, she had a collection of live-in student teachers, the folks at the butcher shop and the card store and other places and of course, countless friends. She was, to me, the greatest pinochle player ever, and she was frequently off to some floating card game somewhere in town.

Going to her house in the summer often meant “Adventures in Hedge Trimming” with my father. My mom and Grandma would make the mistake of leaving the project unguarded. My memory of it, perhaps distorted by time and my sense of comedy, was that we ended up with more branches on the ground than remained on the bushes. Think Edward Scissorhands meets Sweeney Todd. Upon their return, all I remember Dad saying was, “Once I got started….” and “Ya gotta even it out!” ‘Twas ever thus. To her credit, I think Grandma appreciated the effort and the fact that the job wouldn’t have to be done again for another decade.

It’s fitting that we gather here at Immanuel, a place that was a big part of her life and meant so much to her. Though the events of her life sometimes challenged her faith, it was a continual source of comfort and strength for her. This beautiful church and its family meant so much to her and carried her so far. All through her life, she accumulated so many friends, some of whom are gathered here today, and we are thankful for that.

I’ll add a note of gratitude to my mother, who cared for her so diligently over these last few years. It wasn’t easy for either of them. But Mom, you made her life better than it otherwise would have been, and for that we are all grateful. Your effort stands as a testament of your love and devotion not only to your mother, but to your father. Thank you for doing that.

You often hear people who have lost a loved one ask for “just one more day” with their departed. But for Grandma, as the years wore on, I’ve thought that it became “one more day before she could be with Al and her Lord.”  That day has finally come. They are reunited at last, and for that I am happy.

At the end, there was no unfinished business. She was fully prepared, and she finally got what she’d wanted for so long.

So as Paul wrote, we should not lose heart. Though her outer self wasted away, her inner self was renewed every day by her faith, which prepared her for the eternal weight of glory.

She was radiant, and will always be so in our memories.

May she finally rest.

A life well lived.

A rest well earned.


With Apologies to Bobby Hebb and “Sunny”

January 20, 2014
Vortex, thank you for the frostbite on my face.

Vortex, you came last week and really made me hate this place.
Oh now you are back and the cold days are here
This Votex shit has made it clear
If Climate Change is for you, come here soon.
Vortex, yesterday my life was filled with slush
Vortex, you come again and its my soul that you will crush
You made me dowload wind chill widgets
And now I can not feel my digits
Vortex, our lips are blue. We hate you. (a wonderful version for a TV show with just Hebb and Ron Carter)

Obituary for The Lodge Brothers

January 2, 2014

A final goodbye

There’s been a death in the family. My oldest t-shirt, picturing Fred and Barney in their Royal Order of Water Buffaloes Lodge #26 hats, is no more. Purchased on a business trip to Atlanta, home of The Cartoon Network, in 1996, the Lodge Brothers t-shirt was with me through many notable occasions–some of them suitable, others not: the birth of our son, visits to the local country club pool, under the tuxedo at fund raising events, random Saturdays.

It’s not right to call it my “lucky t-shirt,” because those of you who know my wife will understand that it’s far more complicated than that. It more than fulfilled the minimum requirements for a t-shirt in that it provided some level of coverage of things that no one wants to see, while also making me smile. It was impossible to put on and not do so.

It being older than our son and having been tattered since he was in middle school, I bid it a sad farewell this afternoon and turned into a museum piece for posterity. It will be hung in a place of honor, although whether it will displace any pictures of our children or pets is yet to be determined.

It was proceeded in death by its brother and sister, acquired on the same day, Dastardly & Mutley and Penelope Pitstop. A fourth, thought to be a sibling but of unknown heritage, Huckleberry Hound, died at an early age. No traces of the siblings remain. 

The Lodge Brothers. One era ends; a new one begins.


In its final resting place.

Underappreciated Facts about the Desmond Jones School of Mime

May 15, 2013

The Desmond Jones School of Mime is known for many things. Here are a few things you might not know about them.

  1. The school’s pep band plays no songs; the musicians play only “air trumpet,” “air Sousaphone,” “air piccolo,” etc.
  2. There are no words to the school’s fight song
  3. The Dean of the school makes no morning announcements over the PA
  4. The students’ favorite ringtone is…silent.
  5. The school’s librarian has never had to “shhhhhh” a student. Ever.
  6. The school nurse has never reported a case of laryngitis
  7. They’ve won the State Charades Championship so many times, they’re no longer allowed to compete
  8. Opposing basketball teams have little problem shooting free throws in the Jones Gymnasium
  9. The debate team sucks
  10. There are no “poetry slams” on campus
  11. It is always windy on the campus of  the Desmond Jones School of Mime
Desmond Jones

Mr. Desmond Jones

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