Sunday, June 27, 2010


I turned gay earlier today.

I don't want to be going off prematurely here but from all early reports today's Pride Parade was a smashing success and everyone had a fabulous time. I'm talking FAB-yew-lusssss. News reports are putting the crowd at about 350-400,000. Brent Sopel carried the Stanley Cup, and for a brief moment, even for those of us unable to attend, we were all very very very very gay. Extremely gay. Flamboyantly I'm Going To Paint Myself Silver and Stencil Men's Names All Over Myself Just Like on the Stanley Cup gay. Burning Man gay.

But then, I realized that this year's Grand Marshal was Chely Wright, and I reverted to being not gay, as well as mildly disappointed that Chely is. It's like losing a really good veteran left hander to the cross-town rival cubs. I've always felt like I was a lesbian trapped in a man's body, and that inner-lesbian of mine is extremely gay for Chely Wright.

Also this weekend, according to Greg Kot, during the show at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Eric Clapton decided that, despite previous statements, this year would not be the final Crossroads Guitar Festival.

Kot's a customer of mine, and I was lucky enough to cop a peak at his music collection while working on his house. Well, okay he let me look. His entire basement looks like the aisles at your library, only instead of books, the shelves are filled with albums, CDs, and DVDs. He also has entire aisles devoted to books about music. You know that music freak from college with the ungodly huge music collection? Multiply by 100 and you approach Greg Kot. His column has been appearing in the Trib for about 20 years now. Along with Sound Opinions co-host Jim DeRogatis, they're the musical version of Siskel and Ebert.

Dude knows music.

Anyway, Greg filed a column on the Crossroads Guitar Festival, as well as a diary from the event. (And I'll expect a full report from you Robert.)

Our own Bill Murray hosted again. He's still funny. He keeps being funny. I'm sure he was funny again yesterday. In '07, he kicked things off by trying to find his way through the three chord into to Gloria, (perhaps the easiest song to play that's ever been written,) on a borrowed Fender Strat. (Dave Berry said of the Gloria intro that you could drop an electric guitar down a flight of stairs and it will play Gloria on its way down.) Murray must have started taking lessons earlier that day, cuz it was brutal! And then Clapton strolled out with his Strat, the place went nuts, and Eric saved Murray from further embarrassment...not that anyone could possibly embarrass Bill Murray. This year, the song Bill tried to play Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and according to Greg's diary, badly out of tune. Clapton stepped in again. Bill Murray is fucking funny.

Heavy on the Blues this year, and according to Kot and just like back in 2007, Clapton's set with Steve Winwood was a highlight. Can't wait for the DVD to come out, if only to see them do what Greg calls an "epic version of (Hendrix's) Voodoo Chile." As soon as they launched into "Presence of The Lord" in '07, I went digging for my old Blind Faith albums. By the time they played "Can't Find My Way Home", I decided that I gotta unpack all that old Traffic stuff, and the Cream as well.

Kot doesn't say anything about Albert Lee, who was also on this years bill, but oh man can that guy play. Another reason to buy the DVD. That's too fast for words.

The last time around, Jeff Beck got upstaged by his bassist, Tal Wilkenfeld, an astonishing young talent, and apparently Beck did a repeat with Rhonda Smith this year.

The Allman Brothers was scheduled to appear, but liver replacement surgery for Greg Allman caused them to cancel. Warren Haynes joined Derek Trucks and Susan Tedsci as a replacement, so I'm sure it was excellent. Trucks plays a lot like Duane, so there's that. Back in 2007, Trucks just smoked the place all day long, sliding up and down his cherry Gibson SG like it was an extension of his fingers. If you can watch this video, and not hear hints of Duane Allman, well...I can't help ya. (Kot mentioned the likeness in his review, so it's not just me. )

Ya know, a true Geezer would buy the DVD from this year's show, not only to hear Albert Lee, semi- Allman Brothers Band (sorry Robert), BB King, Bert Jansch, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, Doyle Bramhall II, Earl Klugh, Eric Clapton, Gary Clark Jr., Hubert Sumlin, James Burton, Jeff Beck, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer, Johnny Winter, Jonny Lang, Keb' Mo', Pino Daniele, Robert Cray, Robert Randolph, Sheryl Crow, Sonny Landreth, Stefan Grossman, Steve Winwood, Vince Gill, and ZZ Top....deep breath, but because the money goes to a great cause.

“This was going to be the last one,” Clapton said, “but I don’t think it will be. … We’re gonna have to do it again.”

Works for me, and if I had decided to stay gay like earlier this afternoon, I'd have very gay thoughts about Eric Clapton.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stephen Strasburg

Okay, I'm convinced.

In the first inning, he let Juan Pierre reach first because he was late getting off the mound to cover. Visquel dumped a gorp down the right field line that somehow wound up being a double. Men on 2nd and 3rd, Rios grounds out to drive in a run, and that was it

Strasburg mowed down the next 11 Sox or something, including 8 Ks.

Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd was so late catching up to a Strasburg fastball that he looked like he was actually trying to go to the opposite field for a single, but his astonished look as he stood on first told the tale. Sox pitchers don't swing the stick very often, and when they do they usually suck. Floyd's single was the second hit off Strasburg all night.

Strasburg struck out 2 more Sox, bringing his total for the night to 10. That, added to the 22 guys he struck out in his first two starts, gave him the all-time record for strikeouts by a rookie in his first three starts. He left after throwing 85 pitches, and the Nats still trailing 1-0.

In the bottom of the inning, Adam Dunn jacked a double to the track to drive in I Don'tremember, and it was tied 1-1.Strasburg would not be the pitcher of record, but holy shit. The Sox pushed one across in extra innings to win 2-1, but holy shit.

Here's my half-assed scouting report on Stephen Strasburg. He has a fastball that he locates well, and it's coming at 98-99-100 mph. He has a curveball that starts at 1 O'Clock and hits the catcher's mitt at 7. I'd say it moves at least 18 inches. He throws that at about 82-83 mph. It buckles knees. And, he has a change-up , a CHANGE-UP!!!, that he throws 91 mph. He throws all three for strikes.

The Sox are a fastball hitting team. Konerko, Rios, Quentin, Ramirez, Beckham, and shit even AJ can crack a fastball once they get it timed up. Any major league hitter can eventually time up any fastball given enough at-bats. If all you have is heat, you won't make it in the bigs. Ask Nuke.

The thing about Stephen Strasburg is that he's crafty. He saw quickly that the Sox were fouling fastballs straight back, and so he went away from the heat on 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2 counts ( I'm not sure he went full on anybody now that I think about it, fucker only threw 85 pitches and 55 or 60 of those were for strikes.) It was at that point the Sox batters just started guessing, and guessing wrong.

Holy shit.

Assuming he avoids injuries, a really big assumption cough Mark Prior cough, the thing that's going to make Stephen Strasburg the dominant pitcher in the National League for the next decade or so is his change-up. It's ridiculous. It's embarrassing. It's like watching guys waving at Bruce Sutter's split-finger back in the 80s, before anybody had figured out what the fuck they were seeing. Missing the pitch by 4 and 5 inches. Remember, it's coming at 91 mph. So at first it looks like a big fat BP fastball. It's relatively flat, as if rolling along on a table. But about 2 feet before it crosses the plate, falls off the table. The bottom falls out of the thing. Quentin took one hack at what he thought was a thigh-high pitch, and yet Pudge had to dig the thing out of the dirt.

I saw Kerry Wood strike out 20 Houston Astros one day. His pitches that day were 99 mph heat and a slider that started over the plate and wound up 8 inches outside to righties. Kerry Wood's arm eventually turned to jell-o. I saw Mark Prior dominate an entire league for most of 2003 before his arm exploded. I saw Dwight Gooden go 24-4 in his second year ('85 I think) with an ERA around 1.9. I saw Bruce Sutter develop that split-finger as a cub, and finish his career embarrassing people with it as a cardinal (sorry Atlanta, those last 2 years don't count.)

If I had to describe Stephen Strasburg after watching him last night in DC, I'd say he has Gooden's fastball (or Nolan Ryan's if you prefer), he has Prior's curve, and his change-up has basically the same effect as Bruce Sutter's split-finger.

Nobody's entirely unhittable, but this 21 year old kid is damned close.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Point Beach

It occurred to me this morning that it was 30 years ago this week.

First weekend in June of '80, I'd moved to an apartment in Evanston so I could be near my girlfriend. She had just graduated from high school, where we'd met, and would be beginning her first semester at Northwestern in the fall. I was 20, she was 18. Wildly in love, well, I was anyway. Seemed like she was at the time too, but history has raised questions about that.

Anyway, it was the first apartment I had rented solo. Lived with my brother for half a year after high school in a nice 2 bedroom place down in Naperville, and then after Bill decided to go get married I took a place with a guy named John Ison up in Elk Grove Village. Hell of a nice guy, and then he went and got engaged too. Had his first daughter 5 months later. When it was time to find my very own apartment, I settled on a 3rd floor studio apartment at the corner of Dempster St and Maple Ave.

A great place.

$268 a month.

One room that served as both living room and bedroom, a side room that could be called a galley kitchen with a cool little set of corner windows looking down at the alley, and a bathroom. Couldn't have been more than 400 square feet. I fucking love that apartment. Built in 1915. Hardwood floors that squeaked, old fashioned claw foot bathtub, no dishwasher, no A/C, no garbage disposal.

When I decided to rent my current apartment, it was because this one is almost exactly like that one, only this one has a bedroom. When I say almost exactly, I mean right down to the tiny white hexagonal bathroom tiles with the occasional cluster of sky blue tiles arranged in a circular pattern. Both of them are the kinds of apartments one either loves, or hates. As soon as I walked in that studio apartment in Evanston, I said I'll take it. Same deal with the Park Ridge place. As soon as I stepped in the door I told my realtor friend "This place had to have been built by the guy who built my Evanston apartment. I'll take it." I love my apartment, and I loved that Evanston joint.

So did Mary. She had a dorm room on campus at NU, which served as a place to store her pillow and blanket. Most everything else found its way to my apartment. She essentially lived with me starting in July, which didn't go over very well with her parents but that's a blog for another day. During June, Mary would drive up with some school stuff bound for her dorm room, and drop most of it at my place. Then she'd spend the weekend, which didn't go over very well with her parents, but that's a blog for another day.

On the third weekend in June, 30 years ago, Mary and I decided to hop in my Toyota Corolla and drive up Sheridan Rd. A few of the more affluent suburbs of Chicago lie along Sheridan as you drive north along Lake Michigan, thus the ..."they're North Shore"... designation when people want an easy way to say "They're rich people who have a kid at Yale and a 2nd house in Aspen." Most of John Hughes' teen angst movies were filmed on the North Shore.

We used to love driving north on Sheridan, through the tunnels formed by the overhanging branches of stately old trees, and marvel at the mansions on the east side. Those were the estates that had 300 foot deep back yards that end with a private beach on the lake.

On that Sunday, we decided to just keep driving north along Lake Michigan. Up into Wisconsin. Let's see how far we can go on this little ribbon of road. There were a few spots where we wound up back on the highway, but then we'd pick up Sheridan again. Through Waukegan and Zion and into Wisconsin. Through Racine and Kenosha and Milwaukee. As the day wore on, Mary and I talked and drove and talked and smoked joints and talked and looked at the rolling green of northern Wisconsin.

Sometime later, after we'd been married for about 6 or 7 years, we stopped having nice long talks. That's not to say we stopped enjoying each others company, but as we spent more and more time together, and then ultimately, all of our free time together, we just weren't as interested in going into long, deep, ideological discussions. Maybe part of falling in love is the desire to connect on that level with someone, and then once you do you feel almost permanently engaged on that level and there just isn't a need to isolate "deep" conversations from the lighter moments. Whatever it was, we eventually stopped having the kinds of chats we'd have on our long drives to nowhere.

But that June, 30 years ago, I was etching those moments into long-term memory. Didn't really know it at the time, but it turns out those conversations, and those drives, are among the happiest memories I carry with me to this day. Instantly recalled in exquisite detail.

Once north of Koehler, the next decent sized town along the western shore of Lake Michigan is Sheboygan. Beyond that, is Manitowoc. As we took in the sights of Manitowoc, the old shipping yards and the Maritime Museum, the place where they made submarines, and the modest sized homes, meticulously maintained with Chevrolets and Ford 150s in the driveways, looking out at the most gorgeous view of Lake Michigan, I mentioned to Mary that 180 miles to the south, people paid a couple of million bucks to look at the lake out their living room windows, but in Manitowoc, Wisconsin a shipyard worker with a wife and 2 kids has the same thing for 125 grand. Wouldn't it be great to live up here and commute down to Chicago for work? Maybe someday.

North of Manitowoc, we came across a lovely little town called Two Rivers. It was getting towards what I considered the halfway point, around 200 miles, which would allow me the same amount of time driving home while still reasonably fresh. And stoned.

As we drove north out of Two Rivers, I was just getting ready to tell Mary we're 180 when I saw a nice looking stretch of road up ahead. A winding sort of deal that started with a revealed sand dune, reminding us that Lake Michigan was just over that hill on our right, and entering an extremely dense forest.

I love forests. Ever since my Boundary Waters trips, and the Canadian fishing trips with my dad. There's just something about being surrounded by trees that makes me feel cozy and plugged into the whole nature thing. The smells are different, the sound of wind is different as it passes through the trees, and the abundance of birds is startling the first few times you go into a deep forest.

Now Entering Point Beach State Forest.

Two miles of meandering along and I saw a sign pointing me to the ranger station. Hung a right, and after a few hundred yards, came upon a little log cabin with a drive-thru window facing my side of the forked road.

"Hi dare. How are ya?"
"Good. What a great place. Is the beach right there?"
"Yah, right through those trees and over a dune."
"How much to drive through and look around?"
"Park closes in a few hours. Campers only after that. You can pay the daily fee and I won't charge you for the permit. If you plan on returning, you need a permit that you put in your car window that grants you access to all of Wisconsin's state parks and forests for one year."
"Did you say camping?"
"Oh yah, we have 121 campsites. 75 of them have electrical hookups, and all of them have cooking grates and picnic tables. Here's a map of the park, the beach is straight ahead, Rawley Point Lighthouse is at the south end. The campground is to the north. Speed limit is 5."
"Thanks Mark. Go Bears."
"Go Packers!"

Made the left, and went north into the campground. 121 campsites nestled in the heart of a red pine forest planted during The Great Depression. Mary and I looked around at the spots cleared in the woods, about half empty. By noon or so on Sunday, most weekenders are packed up and ready to hit the road. By 3 PM, most of them had left Point Beach State Forest.

Along the furthest north stretch of the campground, there are sites dedicated to tent campers only. No RVs. No pop-ups. No Winne-fucking-bagos. Just tents and campfires in the middle of a gorgeous forest. We pulled off onto the driveway of Site 119, and inched about 30 feet along a gravel driveway that led to a small clearing, just big enough for a tent, picnic table, and a couple of chairs to sit by the fire. Totally encircled by red pines except for the driveway opening. Forest so thick you can't see twenty feet into it when the ground stuff is in full green. We looked at each other, and decided that would be a really good place to camp the next time we drove up, and then we took all of our clothes off and crawled around in the sand for about 30 minutes just to be sure.

In the ensuing 10 years, Mary and I went back to Point Beach State Forest at least 15 times, and in the twenty years since we split up, I've gone back another 15 or 20. Took my girlfriend Julieann there a couple of times in the mid-90s, and went alone starting about 15 tears ago. Other women have come and gone, but Juliann was the last girl I ever took to Point Beach. I have yet to see Mary or Juliann in my return trips, but I suspect they still travel there, only now with their families.

I guess it was about 4 or 5 years ago, I started feeling a sort of melancholy when I'd think about camping at Point Beach.

My last time up was in early May of 2005. Froze my ass off. The trees had barely started to bud. I got awakened by something in the middle of the night and stuck my head out of the tent only to see frost covering everything. Frost. Thank god for campfires and Gore-tex.

And then, I stopped going there. All of the sudden, the memories made me feel a weird fucking sadness. I don't know why. The times I spent there with people I love were happy. The times I went there alone didn't cause me to spin into a blue funk. I enjoy solo camping. What the fuck? Why did Point Beach suddenly bum me out? It shouldn't have. And yet, looking back on 25 years of my life, and how that one little spot in the world, that one forest, and Campsite 119, had played such a big role in my life, suddenly made me sad.

Mid-life crisis?

No fucking doubt in my mind.

Well, last year I decided to make reservations for this Spring and another res for the 3rd weekend in July. Don't ask me why, but I began feeling that tug again. Point Beach.

So on Saturday, June 5th I packed up my car, closed the shop at 2 and jumped on the Tri-State Tollway. No melancholy. No sadness. I was looking forward to camping again. In order to reserve a site at Point Beach in advance, you have to do so for a minimum of 2 days. I made my res for overnight Saturday and Sunday, and I had to be out by check-out time, 3 PM on Monday. (Low pressure people at Point Beach. If you dawdle until 4, they don't beat you up.) I figured if I got up at 6 on Monday, I could be back at the shop by 9, and not miss Monday at work.

I knew the Blackhawks were playing the Flyers in Game 5 of the Cup Finals Sunday night, so I was glad that they'd lost a couple in Philly. I knew Sunday wouldn't be the last game of the series, so I set my recorder and set off for Wisconsin. I could watch Game 5 Monday night. THAT's how much I wanted to be at Point Beach.

In making my reservations, I noticed that Campsite 119 had moved. Something looked out of place on the campground map online. A new shower and bath building? That wasn't there before. Hey wait a minute, they eliminate 119 and put a building there! I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone. So, I reserved Site 120, which is across the street from where 119 used to be and hoped for the best. They're all nice sites, and from what I could remember, 120 looked really private.

The weather driving up was not what you'd call inviting to soft-core campers. Gray skies, occasional rain, and temps in the low 60s. By the time I passed Milwaukee, I decided that I was pitching my tent no matter the weather.

It started to drizzle steadily around Sheboygan, and by the time I got off at the 2nd Manitowoc exit, it was a steady downpour. In passing through Two Rivers, I stopped at my usual spot, the Pick N Save, to grab some Coleman lantern fuel and a steak. They had steaks, but no lantern fuel.

Oh fuck me. It's 5PM on a Saturday in Wisconsin, and I'm looking at being tentbound with a good Clive Cussler book, but no fucking lantern.

"No Coleman fuel? You used to keep it right there by the paper fireplace logs and BBQ stuff. What the fuck?"

"Yah. The trucking company needs a special license now to transport that stuff, and they don't have that license, so no, we don't have it any more. You could try the Farm and Fleet in Manitowoc."

"It's 5 O'Clock on a Saturday dude."

"Yeah, you might have to wait until tomorrow morning. They are open Sundays."

"No that's no good. You think maybe the Walgreens has it?"

"Worth a try. It's right at the stop and go light at the top of the hill."

"Yep. Know right where it is. Just passed it. Thanks. Go Bears."

"Go Packers."

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

I don't want to pitch a tent in the rain and then crawl into a dark tent for the night. That sucks monkey ass. That ain't camping, that's enduring.

"Hi Jenny. Do you by any chance have a place for camping and stuff?"

"There's some over here in aisle 5. Here I'll show you."

"That's no problem, I can find it."

"Oh it's not a problem. Happy to help."

"I fucking love you cheeseheads!"


"Thank you Jenny."

Charcoal. Kingsford lighter fluid. Oven mitts. BBQ tongs. Foil pans.

Coleman propane fuel.

Oh get the fuck out of here. My weekend is saved because the Walgreens trucking guy has the license to carry the thing.

I bought two.

By the time I was checked in (log cabin ranger station gone. New welcome center.) and loaded 3 bundles of firewood in the car, I was already a little wet, and tired. I guess part of being 50 is that the miles add up.

Yep. 119 is gone. A big fancy shower and bath building with handicapped entrance ramps. Oh well, I won't have far to walk if I need to read a magazine.

After an hour or so of setting up shop, the fire was going, the wine had been uncorked, my little Grundig was giving me some oldies, and I was thoroughly soaked. It wasn't a pouring rain, but if you stand in a steady drizzle for long enough, you're wet. Shoes, socks, undies, the whole deal.

Changed into some dry clothes, and by dark it was pretty obvious that the rain was here to stay.

Kept a steady fire going, made my steak which I ate from the pan along with a side-order of Lays potato chips and chased it down with a nice Monte Antico Rosso. Until about 10 PM, I sat in my tent listening to the falling rain in the forest, sipping wine, and burping contentedly

Deep Six is a Dirk Pitt novel by Clive Cussler. It starts out like most Pitt adventures, only it's better read in a tent by lantern with a glass of wine and the constant patter of raindrops on the rain fly. A small quantity of marijuana is also recommended.

By morning, everything was soaked. The forest after a steady rain has smells that defy description. The bad part is that after a long rain, things don't dry very quickly in a forest. Every item I had was wet.

Made a decision over breakfast; coffee and the world's greatest wet omelette, that I'd break down the campsite and head home later that day. Staying overnight made no sense. I had to go home and get clean clothes and shit. I was wearing the only semi-dry clothes I had and another day in the steady drizzle would mean I'd be sleeping and then driving home with wet underwear, which I hate.

As it turned out, I headed for home by noon on Sunday. Back in time for a nap and the Hawks game.

360 miles of driving round-trip, 6+ hours on the road, for 16 soggy hours at Point Beach and a night in my tent listening to the rain.

Insanity, right?


Loved every minute of it.

Going back July 17th, and hopefully this time I'll spend two nights.

It looks a little different now than when Mary and I first pulled off US Rte 42 back in 1980, campsite gone and some modern conveniences added, but it's still a wondrous place. Whatever the hell it was that was depressing me about Point Beach is gone. I'm making my reservations now for next summer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ain't That Peculiar?

You ever get to a point where you think you might be falling in love and you resist?

I'm there.

I'm too old.

I don't need it.

I can't handle it.

And, I can't ignore it either.


I'm sure it'll pass.

Ain't That Peculiar?

Marvin Gaye

Honey you do me wrong but still I'm crazy about you
Stay away too long and I can't do without you
Every chance you get you seem to hurt me more and more
But each hurt makes my love stronger than before
I know flowers go through rain
But how can love go through pain?

Ain't that peculiar?
A peculiar ..ality
Ain't that peculiar baby?
Peculiar as can be.

You tell me lies that should be obvious to me.
But I'm so much in love with you baby that I don't wanna see,
That things you do and say are designed to make me blue!
It's a dog gone shame my love for you makes all
Your lies seem true.
But if the truth makes love last longer
Why do lies make my love stronger?

Ain't that peculiar
Peculiar as can be
Ain't that peculiar baby
Peculiar ...ality

I cried so much just like a child that's lost its toy
Maybe baby you think these tears i cry are tears of joy
A child can cry so much until you do everything they say
But unlike a child my tears don't help me to get my way
I know love can last through years
But how can love last through tears

Saturday, June 12, 2010


And soul food.

That's just the way it's been here since 1966.

You mention soul food, and someone invariably will bring up Edna, and someone will specifically mention Edna's biscuits. Hard to argue with facts, and the fact is that Edna's biscuits are the best biscuits on earth.

Most things are open to debate, but that's not one of them.

Soul food.

In more ways than one.

(Edna serving her peach cobbler in 2006)

Bobby Rush said that Edna Stewart "nourished and fed the civil rights movement." Her restaurant at Madison and Kedzie was a meeting place for civil rights workers, a rallying point. Edna would feed them ham hocks and greens, and they'd discuss the next steps in the movement. She'd dish up that ridiculously sinfully delicious fried chicken and sweet potatoes, and she wouldn't take any money. Edna Stewart was plugged into the civil rights movement in a big way.

Soul food and Edna. Hand in hand.

Martin ate at Edna's regularly.

Presidents, Daleys, Aldermen, bookies, mobsters, preachers and limo drivers have eaten at Edna's, as have people from all over the world.

Come as you are, and you will get the next available table or booth. Casual attire.

Nothing fancy about Edna Stewart nor Edna's Restaurant, which is why they fit in so well here. Part of our fabric really. Always clean as a whistle, but with that Garfield Park vibe running through the joint.

It's been said that Edna would hire someone just released from prison, as long as she got a good feeling about that person.

There is just something about both the person and the place that are utterly impossible to describe. The kind of person you wish you'd known your whole life. The kind of place where you feel like you really want to belong.

February 19, 2010 was declared Edna Stewart Day in Illinois by Governor Pat Quinn.

Yesterday morning, while a million or two people were making their way into The Loop to celebrate the Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup, Edna Stewart died at Oak Park Rush Hospital at the age of 72. She'd been diagnosed with ovarian cancer last November, and in the words of her brother Sam Mitchell Jr. "She wanted to make her birthday."

Gov Quinn released a statement...

"Today, I join the people of Illinois in mourning the loss of Edna Stewart, who was renowned nationwide for her legendary soul food cooking and landmark restaurant. Throughout her life, Edna Stewart proved, in the words of one philosopher, that `No mean woman can cook. It calls for a generous spirit, a light hand, and a large heart."'

Amen to that.

Sister had soul.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Opening Statements

The jury has been selected.

18 people including the 6 alternates.

11 women and 7 men. (I'm sure some day I'll come to understand why that's the first bit of info divulged.)

According to the local press, Zagel hasn't actually specified who will comprise the "regular jury" but the first twelve people seated were 8 women and 4 men. College kids, a human resources manager, a guy who was born in a Japanese internment camp, and an accountant to name a few.

Blago made a brief statement to the media, and then grabbed Jimmy Breslin and used him as a human shield while entering the Dirksen Building.

Blago said that this is an "historic day."

Zagel told Blago that it's his right to speak, but warned him that his repeated use of the media could come back to haunt him. (ha! ya think?) Zagel also issued a hard and fast rule in his courtroom. No Twitter during the trial.

Blago, stop Tweeting this instant! (I'm already enjoying this trial.)

Assistant US Attorney Carrie Hamilton came out firing for the prosecution. She described Blago's 6 years as Illinois governor as essentially a feeding frenzy of corruption, noting state construction contracts given to donors, $10billion state loans from friendly investment banks, and of course attempts made to profit from the appointment of Barack Obama's US Senate replacement.

It was also revealed that Blago and Lady MacBlago were $200,000 in debt back in 2008, which I found a curious thing to reveal. If I'm prosecuting Blago, and trying to connect him to 6 years of gorging at the trough of ill-gotten-gain, I'm probably not going to mention that he was broke at the end of that 6 years. Maybe it's me.

Tony Rezko, Lon Monk, Stuart Levine, and the late Chris Kelly were mentioned as people who were in on the take. Hamilton pointed out that as Rezko went down for the count, and Kelly whacked himself, Blago's income decreased, and the household debt increased, so I understand where she's going. Personally, I'd have stayed focused on the big money shakedowns and the sexy Obama Senate seat auction for the time being.

Hamilton's tag-line was "What about me?"

She's painting a picture of consistent self-serving on Blago's part, and putting the people of Illinois second. He even involved his own brother, co-defendant Robert Blago. According to Carrie Hamilton, it's always been "What about me?" for Blago, and she's got 500 hours of federal wiretaps to back up the claim.

Michael Ettinger, Robert Blagojevich's lawyer, took his turn and opened by saying that "My name is Michael Ettinger, and I have the honor of representing retired Lt. Col. Robert Blagojevich." He went on to describe his client as an innocent businessman who was never "in it for the money." He called Robert Blago a 'great man'

Ettinger needs to be careful with those military credentials, as Mark Kirk (R-Senate Candidate) discovered these last few days. If not for the Blago trial, Mark Kirk's misrepresenting his career as an award winning member of the Naval Reserve Intelligence Brigade would be front page news. (Why is Fox News not all over the Kirk thing? They lapped at Blumenthal for days.)

Okay, now Sam Adam Jr. has taken the podium, and after insisting that his client is an honest guy, he has just pointed out that "He's broke! He's broke! And do you know why he's broke ladies and gentlemen? It's not hard. He never took a dime." (Okay Sam, maybe it's not just me then.)

And, now Adam is saying that Blago is the man who pointed the feds at Tony Rezko.

Oh Jesus Christ, this is great! Blago wouldn't possibly be in cahoots with the guy, he turned him in!

In the course of his opening statement, Adam Jr. found a way to mention peacocks and a 'specialized gynecologist.' (Goddamn I wish I was in that courtroom!) In summing up how he feels the feds are targeting his client, Sam Adam Jr. said that "This is the federal government. The same people who are chasing bin Laden, are chasing him!

Ho-lee shit! Osama bin Laden. Maybe I should blog this trial over at Shameful Conduct.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Blogging Blago

Of the 60 odd seats in the courtroom, about half were assigned to members of the media. The remaining seats were filled by people who'd waited in line outside the Dirksen Building.

A second courtroom is being used to hold the overflow of media creatures, where they sit and listen on a lousy sound system.

Jury selection began today, and US District Judge James Zagel's little corner of the world is the center of the universe for Illinois Democrats, and several other prominent Dems who currently live in Washington, DC.

Zagel denied the request to subpoena Barack Obama, but he apparently feels Rahm Emanuel's schedule isn't too booked up.

The pool of potential jurors have all filled out a questionnaire. Zagel started with a group of about 350 people, and without any input from Blago's team or from the prosecution, immediately dismissed around 260 of them for various reasons; work, school, inability to work for $40 a day for the next 4 months, previous marriage to a prosecutor, bladder control problem, other health reasons.

Defense counsel requested Zagel start over with a fresh 350 yesterday, motion denied.

Despite a late request by the Chicago Tribune to release the names of the final jury, Zagel has ruled that they shall remain anonymous throughout the course of the trial, and specifically cited the "internet age" that we live in now, and the potential for people to email info to jurors during the trial, among his reasons for the Juror #1, Juror #2, Juror #3 routine.

Today's screening from Zagel was to give both teams a glimpse of what these people look like, sound like, act like. Defense gets 13 peremptory challenges, but realistically lawyers can run off as many prospects as they choose, for cause.

Prospect #101, the first one in the barrel, was (still is I'm sure) a white woman in her 60s. Likes include hiking, 60 Minutes, and listening to the radio.

Prospect #102, black female, 50s. Knows that Patti was on "some reality show" and mentioned that it had "something to do with bugs." Did campaign work for Alderwoman Sandi Jackson, wife of US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.. Jesse Jr. is on the potential defense witness list.

Prospect #111 was an international flight attendant. Watches TV mostly for the weather.

Zagel got through about 35 prospects today.

By the time this little process is over, we'll be down to 12 jurors, and likely 6 alternates.

And then the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial will be under way, although technically I guess the trial started this morning, but you know what I mean JackD.

We'll probably get to finally hear from Tony Rezko. We'll certainly hear some steamy shit from former Blago Chiefs of Staff John Harris and Lon Monk. Patti B may take the stand, and they may trot Durbin and Reid in from DC.

Jesse Jr. has been sweating this trial since he first heard that Fitz's office was calling him "Politician X" or whatever the hell letter they gave him. Valerie Jarrett is a possibility, and of course so is Rahm.

Our current Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan might be called by the defense, and that means her dad is sweating bullets too. (I think Sam Adam is trying to get a late subpoena issued to Jim Joyce, the ump who blew Armando Galarraga's perfect game call last night.)

This being an election year, the Dem Party in Illinois really wishes this wasn't happening. This trial is an Illinois Dem's nightmare. Blago's defense is going to involve airing out some of the nastiest behind-the-scenes stuff that our corrupt system has to offer. Adam and the rest of his team are about to explain how Pay-to-Play is the Only-Way in Illinois politics, and many of those who were also in positions of power during Blago's reign of greed and corruption...are STILL in positions of power.

This trial will effect the November elections in Illinois.

It's about to get ugly in Chicago folks.

The circus has come to town.