Friday, February 25, 2011

Project Tuva

"...because any place that's got a capitol named K-Y-Z-Y-L has just got to be interesting."

~ Richard P Feynman

As a young boy, Feynman located a country named Tuva on a globe. Middle of Nowhere just outside of downtown Mongolia. Interesting stamps for the young philatelist. He immediately wanted to know more about it. (Being a young Richard P Feynman must have been a daily adventure. Must have been.)

Later on in the same life, at a cocktail party, Feynman quizzed a friend of his who claimed to know about geography, as to the existence of a country named Tannu Tuva. (Feynman knew the friend would think he'd made it up, which the friend immediately did, and so they looked it up.) Sure enough, an encyclopedia listing. The capitol of Tannu Tuva was named Kyzyl, and Feynman decided that one day he'd travel there.

"Travels in Central Siberia" was a book Feynman found at the library in San Francisco (he was in town to play bongos for a ballet) but the only thing he discovered from that book was that nobody, and I mean nobody, travels to Tannu Tuva. It was in central Siberia, and was located in a "bowl" which according to Feynman meant "that if you wanted to go down into it, you had to climb out of it, and there really was no particular reason to go through it so..."

Nobody knew anything about Tannu Tuva, which was of course irresistible to Richard P. Feynman.

He got sidetracked often on his way to Kyzyl, Manhattan Project, Nobel, teaching at both Cornell and Cal Tech, solving things like O-Ring induced Shuttle explosions, painting, drawing, a little poetry and what-not, but he and close friend Ralph Leighton never let that Tuva dream die.

It became an obsession for both of them. It was getting late in Feynman's life, he was battling stomach cancer, and so Leighton, son of a physics prof, former Feynman grad student and later asst prof/TA/beer buddy/weed buddy (pure speculation on my part but I know RPF smoked weed and I know he had to get it somewhere) bongo buddy, much of the bureaucratic heavy lifting. Letters to what was then the Soviet Union repeatedly informed Leighton that entry permits for their "research team" could not be granted this year, perhaps next.

Then, Feynman and Leighton came across a 1931 book, published in Berlin, written by a German historian and explorer named Otto Mänchen-Helfen that described Mänchen-Helfen's travels in the remote country of Tannu Tuva. Otto said that he was the first non-Russian to ever visit the Republic of Tuva, that he had low expectations going in, but found the experience "astonishing." They learned from Otto that the only time they turned on the power plant in Kyzyl was when the movie theater was running.

"I saw the beautiful Pudovkin film Mother there," wrote Mänchen-Helfen. "...the film broke at least twenty times that night, but that only made the audience happy. So much the better. Now the fairy-tale would last that much longer."

The Tuvans were unable to understand the Russian sub-titles, but according to Otto, they couldn't have cared less. The only time they got pissed off was when Pudovkin showed a close-up of thundering horse-hooves. They couldn't understand the reason for only showing part of the horse.

The horses they liked. Horses they understood. They rode from all over Tuva on horseback to get to Kyzyl on movie night to see a blockbuster movie that they didn't understand spoken in a foreign language. They wanted to see the whole horse, not just a hoof.

Completely removed from "modern" 1920s society except for the movie theater. Like stumbling across one of those Amazon tribes who don't wear clothes but talk on cell phones.

Leighton told of the red-tape hairball that he and Richard ("The Chief") had encountered attempting to travel to Tuva, and how letter after letter were answered with polite declines. No can do. Thanks for asking, but Intourism doesn't route through Kyzyl.

Finally, Leighton hit paydirt. He found a Mongolian-Tuvan-Russian phrase-book, and used a Russian-English translation book to complete the deal. He could now decipher Tuvan, and more importantly, write a letter in that language.

It became a puzzle. Take a Tuvan phrase, translate it to Russian, to English, do the turn-around and try to figure out a way to write a letter to the Tuvan honchos, in their own language, and bypass the Soviet travel/kgb agents. Right in Feynman's power alley. He loved that kinda shit. (Google Feynman/Dresden Codex for further examples of his love of puzzles.)

They wrote their letter to Tuva, in Tuvan, mailed it, and waited. Weeks passed. Months. Just when they'd about given up the ghost they got a reply from a Tuvan guy who told them that he was delighted to know that someone like Feynman was interested in his culture, and warned them that travel to Tuva was extremely limited, very few people allowed in, good luck, nice to meet ya. And of course it was written in Tuvan so they had to crack that code, just to understand the bad news.

They discovered Mongolian throat singers, and hatched a scheme where they'd travel to the World Mongolian Throat Singing Extravagnza in a town not far from Tuva (2 time zones or so) and they'd finagle their way to Kyzyl by making up some shit about studying Mongolian Throat Singing. That busted out when the Mongolian Throat Singing Extravaganza got canceled.

At one point in their journey, Leighton traveled to Sweden to see a museum exhibit that covered the history of The Silk Road. There he encountered a Russian museum curator named Kapitsov who was traveling with the exhibit, and, essentially impersonated an American museum curator. Leighton told the Rooskie that he might be able to swing a trip to the US for the entire Silk Road production. (I guess you can do that sort of thing if you have Richard Feynman running interference for you.)

In order to schedule such a thing Leighton would need to speak to several local museums, and would the Russian be interested in a sort of cultural exchange? You know, we bring 17 of you people to America with your exhibit, you'll see Disneyland you'll have a great time. When asked what his "finder's fee" would be Leighton said there'd be no fee, but maybe you can give us a little reach-around and find a way for us to see Kyzyl, Tuva.

Well? Am I exaggerating when I say these guys were obsessed?

And so the Russians came to America. And they showed their Silk Road exhibit. And they saw Disneyland. Feynman and Leightont took the Russian delegation to a gathering area for a bunch of Hippies. People walking along the beach with parrots, and roller-skating by topless, the usual California stuff. The Russians had a great time, and Kaiptsov assured Richard and Ralph that they would see Kyzyl, Tuva.

"I'm gonna guarantee it." said Feynman, quoting the Russian to an interviewer. He was excited about the new possibility of reaching the end of a lifetime quest.

Three days after that, he went into the hospital and on Feb 15, 1988 Richard Feynman died at the age of 69.

Two days after he died, a letter arrived.


Dear Professor Feynman,

I have the great pleasure to invite you, your wife, and four of your colleagues to visit the Soviet Union. I was informed by Professor Kapitsov that you would like to visit Tuva and get acquainted of its sightseeings. We consider the most favorable time for such a trip to be period of May and June, 1988. Your trip will take three to four weeks. Kindly note that the Academy of Sciences will cover your expenses.

Yours sincerely,

Vice President Velikov

Most of that is from the books I've read about Feynman, and from Ralph Leighton himself in interviews. The Tuva story was the theme of the PBS show, and at the end the interviewer asked Ralph "What's going to happen now, the Tuva Project?"

Leighton said that he wasn't sure what he would do, that he was considering finances and logistics...things that had never really been a consideration before Feynman died. Those sudden considerations caused Ralph to conclude that "It was the adventure with my friend that this was all about."

Not long ago, I was surfing around and came across something about a guy named Curtis Wong, who works at Microsoft's Next Media Research Group. Wong had already done projects that were aimed at interactive learning via the web. Encarta Online, a CD -ROM tour of the Barnes Foundation's collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings outside Philly, and another virtual tour of one of da Vinci's notebooks.

The project Bill Gates had in mind for Wong this time involved the production of a new kind of teaching tool. Interactive. Watch a video, pop-ups along the way with tidbits of info, click on the pop-up, take notes on the side, the video stops and you can read the most current wiki entry on the subject or whatever, subtitles of the audio,...pretty cool idea.

The subject would be Richard Feynman's 1964 lectures at Cornell, the rights to which Gates had recently purchased from the BBC. Turns out Gates is a Feynman fan too. He says that Feynman is the guy who took the subject of physics and made in both interesting and fun. Bill calls the Messenger Lectures the best he's ever seen at explaining the complexities, as well as the simple beauty of physics, and that nobody is better at that than Richard Feynman.

It became a 20 year project for Gates. The pieces had to all come together. First the internet needed to happen, then he had to get the rights, and then he needed the suitable platform to share this treasure.
7 hours of lectures on Physical Laws, the Relation of Math and Physics, The Distinction of Past and Future,...the goods, delivered by the best

Unavailable on the web until 2009, and after much production effort, Bill Gates and Curtis Wong came up with, Project Tuva.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fuck me for liking Glee!

I wanted to hate this show. I so wanted to hate this show. Young, good-looking, talented people singing songs and dancing? Oh fuck yeah, I hate that kinda shit all day, every day.

That's like disco. That's when we all split up. The social schism that rocked America in 1976. Disco. Some us listened to Keith Moon play drums while smoking dope, and some of us wore satin pants with no pockets and drank spritzers. Those disco assholes are the ones who made me lose track of popular music, and I've never caught up.

I can't dance.

Okay? There I said it. When I dance, I look bad. Real bad. And I've always resented people who could dance. Envied actually, if I'm being honest. Hang a Fender Strat on me and I can appear to understand the concept of body movement in rhythm to music. I can do the guitar guy dance just fine, but take that accessory away and I'm lost. Panicky.

So I'm thinking, I'm not about to enjoy watching these young people show incredible dancing skill, while acting no less, oh and singing too. Singing, dancing and acting all at the same time. And being nice looking while they're at it.

And I stumbled across Glee the night they did the football team Thriller half-time bit. A few weeks ago. Super Bowl night? Okay, not bad. Pretty good actually. Funny dialog. Kinda edgy. Some pretty good tunes they're picking too.

And Cheerios? Excuse me, but calling the cheerleading squad The Cheerios is brilliant and I can't believe nobody thought of that before, and least not that I know of.

I think one of the teachers is transgendered, but I can't be sure. And I don't ever want to be the guy who asks..."Hey, did you used to be a guy?"

The stories are pretty good, and they seem to be dealing with issues that I imagine are the issues facing young people today without being too kick-me-in-the-balls with it. Gay students? Yeah sure, what the hell. I can see how that might be interesting since no TV shows have really had the balls to just make that part of the show, or perhaps the free reign.

See? The transgendered teacher is singing One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer in a country and western bar right now, and I'm really okay with that too.

And in an odd deja vu kind of thing, tonight they're playing the exact same Carole King tunes that I had on in the car while out and about today. Really, Been to Canaan, I Feel the Earth Move, Been So Long. If you look at the vid I posted directly below this, you can hear the Carole King in the background in the weird is that? Glee likes Carole too. Nice.

What are the odds?

Anyway, I could live without Glee if that's all they've got to show me.

However, I find it practically impossible to pull off the curmudgeonly stuck-in-the-70s thing when Jane Lynch is pushing guys down flights of stairs. Funny, funny stuff. Sue Sylvester is cool, no matter what that bitch Diane Sawyer thinks.

Friends of Rahm

It's election day in Chicago. We're about to pick a new mayor.The end of an era is upon us. Ding dong Daley's gone.

It's been suggested that with a little help, Rahm Emanuel may be able to win the thing outright today. He's gotta get 50.1% to avoid a runoff election in April against the 2nd place finisher, presumably Gery Chico.

Our outgoing mayor, Richard M Daley, is not openly supporting anyone, but it's generally accepted that he is supporting Rahm.

Now up here in the 41st Ward, which is on the far northwest side of the city, it's not exactly Rahm country. Our last alderman, Brian Doherty, was the only Republican on the city council. Plenty of cops, firemen & women, public school teachers, and other city employees live in 41. They are the ones who elected Doherty.

Recently, these people received a letter from Rahm explaining his position on their pensions, and clarifying remarks made by Gery Chico that suggested that Rahm is going to start chopping away at their money. There was immediate outcry from both Rahm's mayoral opponents, as well as the city employees.


Rahm Emanuel is not supposed to mail election material to these people directly, and plenty of these cops are wondering, loudly, how Rahm found out their names and addresses. Must have someone on the inside, down at City Hall, with access to the city's data base or something.

I know, shocking isn't it?

On a whim, I just took a drive over to the local polling place on Birchwood Ave to see what turnout looked like. I figured there'd be the usual poll watchers (off-duty cops usually) and a handful of reporters along with those people who wanted to vote at Dodge School.

Would you believe it? Of all days, the Chicago Dept of Streets and Sanitation chose today to haul out the heavy equipment and dig a huge hole in the middle of Oleander Ave, right in front of the 41st Ward polling place. The excavator is there. The CAUTION tape is there. The barricades are up to keep people from parking on either Oleander or Birchwood. But there was no work being done. None. Not a hardhat or dayglo vest in sight. It was almost as if the Streets and San people had dug the fucking hole, blocked off the places to park, and then just left for the day.

That's going to be a problem for the people who want to go vote.

Some cynical types might say that Daley is trying to give a little help to Rahm by screwing up the 41st Ward polling place, and keeping those cops, fire personnel, and teachers from casting votes. But really, why would Richie do that? He's always had such a good working relationship with city employees.

Other cynical types night say that Daley couldn't get the plows to clear Birchwood and Oleander for a week after the Feb 1 blizzard, and yet somehow he found a way to get all that equipment out on election day, just to fuck up Gery Chico's chances of carrying 41. I don't think so. That would be using city services for political purposes, and a Daley would never do something like that.

If by chance Rahm doesn't win the Mayor's Office outright today, I'm thinking perhaps they could dig up the other two streets that border Dodge School, Olcott Ave and Jarvis St. some time in April. Scheduled maintenance.

On the other hand, if Rahm does win today, look for the cops, the fire dept., and the teachers union to give the new mayor a little help once he takes over in May. Very little help.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Dave Duerson was from Muncie, Indiana.

He was a year younger than I, and due to my marrying into a Notre Dame family, I saw Dave play his last 2 years of college ball. Hell of player.

During high school, he was offered the chance to play baseball in the Dodgers farm system, which he passed up. He was a National Honor Student at Muncie Northside High School, a member of The Musical Ambassadors All-American Band, and a great basketball player to boot.

But football was Dave's great passion and he was voted Indiana's Mr. Football in 1979. So it was a natural that he'd go to ND.

A 4 year starter, he was a two-time All-American, the Fightin' Irish MVP in 1982, and somewhere in there he found time to graduate with honors, and a BA in econ.

I remember the day the Bears drafted him in '83. One of those 3rd round picks that most people don't give a shrug about but I was glad when Dave became a Chicago Bear. I knew they'd grabbed a hell of a player.

Dave was one of those guys who was always where he was supposed to be on the field. Back in the day, that was saying something because the Bears defense was not exactly easy to break into.

The defensive coach...guy by the name of Buddy Ryan had a real tendency to hate rookies. The reason I know that is because in interviews Buddy used to say "I hate rookies."

But Buddy started saying great things about Dave right from the first training camp. Great things, like "He doesn't suck" and "He might become a decent ballplayer some day." Might as well have been putting a stamp on 22. "OK, I'll take this guy."

So Dave made the team, but imagine being 21 years old, and walking into a locker room only to be greeted by Gary Fencik, Wilbur Marshall, Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton, Mike Hartenstein, Steve McMichael, Richard Dent looking up at the FNG. Right around then, according to legend, Otis Wilson and his down-to-his-knee cock walked by and said "What the fuck do you want? Get your rookie ass out of my face motherfucker."

Ahhh. The club. Nothing like being in a club and beating the shit out of the new meat. Nothing like being the new meat either. Been both, the former is better. But once you're in, you're in.

Dave survived his rookie year, and became a starter the next.

They named The 46 Defense after the Bears D. Buddy called it The 46 because it involved substituting Doug Plank for a linebacker. Plank was a psycho who would smash into fullbacks twice his size, and was famous, infamous...for leading with the crown of his helmet. He was 180 lbs, and would run full speed from his safety position into a 240 lb running back, who was running full speed at Plank. Boom!

Plank played safety like a madman, and it was said that he was running head first into guys back in his Ohio State days too, and so by the time the Bears reached the Super Bowl in '85, Plank's body had crapped out on him. He was finished. Use that helmet as a weapon too many times and funny shit happens to your brain, only not funny funny.

Dave Duerson played safety for Buddy's 46 in that blowout against the Pats. Another hard hitting guy. Had to be if you wanted to play safety in Buddy's 46. Had to be able to drop into pass coverage, but also be able to rush the quarterback. Dave set a record in '86 (since broken) for QB sacks by a defensive back with 7.

Always smart on the field. Dave was like a defensive quarterback, only he didn't have to be because we had Singletary but that's a different story. Dave was a real heads-up player.

22 was the guy who threw the block nobody noticed when Hollywood Mike Richardson ran a Tony Eason interception back for a TD in Super Bowl XX. Hell of a season, and a real nice career with the Bears. But that's a funny position. Guys break down fast playing that shit.

That's why I liked kicking the ball. Kick it, go have a smoke, talk to some friends in the stands. Kick it again. Good times.

Dave went to the Giants a couple of years later, and won another Super Bowl with them before retiring in 1993.

Nice career stats, NFL Man of The Year Award one time, and then it was on to the Honcho section in South Bend, and a string of McDonalds restaurants. Sold his shit in that and bought a sausage company that eventually sold sosseege to Burger King. Took that company from 20something million a year to 60something million a year before selling that. Then he started Duerson Foods in 2002, but that went south on Dave.

And his marriage started to show signs of problems. His wife filed domestic abuse charges a few years ago, and that made headlines around here. Mr. Nice Guy beats the shit out of his wife. Notre Dame cut Dave loose immediately. Notre Dame is not exactly famous for dealing with things the right way. They let shit happen right under their noses and not say a word, but when the image is at stake. Adios Dave.

Duerson Foods went broke in 2006. They sold Dave's stuff. Receivership.

The Duerson's officially split up a couple of years ago and Dave moved to Sunny Isles Beach, FL.

Duerson told his family that when he dies, he wants his brain given to Boston University's med school for study. Dave wanted to help researchers learn more about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain condition that used be known as "punch drunk." Repeated blows to the head, which cause depression, mood swings, erratic behavior is believed to effect a large number of former professional football players (and hockey players and boxers.)

That's what Dave said in a text message he sent to his family on Thursday. Be sure to get my brain to Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

And then Dave shot himself in the chest.

Dave Duerson- 1960-2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dear God,

About that deal we made last night.

You held up your end, and now I promise I'll do the same.

Do not take this to mean that I actually believe you're up there, but simply that I'm not so sure that you aren't.

(And no, I'm not going back to church on Sundays.)


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Swift Road

I remember when it happened, almost exactly a year ago today. It made the papers. They were football players from Glenbard West. Two of them. Terrible car wreck, along Swift Rd. out in unincorporated DuPage County around 8PM.

Glenbard West is a big public school in Glen Ellyn that draws students from that town, as well as from neighboring Lombard. (Glen-bard.) It's very close to where the accident occurred.

That's a road I've driven hundreds of times, not more than 5 miles from where I lived in Wheaton, during my own high school years. Two lane country road back in the day, now it's a busy highway due to the population boom in Chicago's western suburbs.

They apparently lost control, drove off of Swift Road, and into a utility pole. At the time, cops said there was no sign that drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash.

Hundreds of students stood vigil at Glenbard West's Duchon Field, praying for their fellow Hilltoppers.

One of them, the driver, Pierre Washington-Steel, a star running back, was critically injured and died a week later from his injuries. He was 17.

The other, Demarco Whitley, a backup to Washington-Steel, spent two months in the hospital before being released.

After Washington-Steel's death, counselors were brought in, to help the Glenbard West students deal with the shock. The grief. The students wore bracelets to honor Washington-Steel.

"Kids really liked him," said Glenbard West principal Jane Thorsen. "He had a real concern for other students."

This past season the Hilltoppers played a game in his honor. It was the 7th game, a nod to Washington-Steel's jersey #7. They won the game, and afterward the Glenbard West coach held a portrait of Washington-Steel above his head.

At the end of the 2010 school year, a full page of the yearbook paid tribute to Pierre Washington-Steel.

"Forever in Our Hearts" read the caption under a picture of him in his Glenbard West uniform.

Gone, but not forgotten.

And, Demarco Whitley, while not gone, is also remembered.

Whitley, now 18, was arrested on his way to school this week, and charged with raping a 15 year old girl up in north suburban Rolling Meadows.

Gang raping actually.

They raped her in a church parking lot. DNA evidence was recovered from a condom found at the scene, as well as from a pair of nylons the girl was wearing at the time. The condom was used by Whitley. His accomplice, allegedly, forced the girl to perform oral sex on him.

According to the Rolling Meadows cops, Whitley has made a statement that officially implicates him in the crime.

The attack took place almost exactly a year ago today.

And, approximately one hour after the attack, Whitley was riding shotgun when the driver, his gang rape accomplice, the late Pierre Washington-Steel, lost control of the car and drove into that utility pole on Swift Rd.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


His name was Paul R. but everyone called him Pablo.

Fat guy back in high school. A great guy. Quickest wit you ever saw. One-liner comebacks that rivaled Rickles. He was a junior when I was a sophomore. His brother Ken and I were really good buddies. Drinking buddies, pot smoking buddies, girl chasing buddies. And Pablo quite often, along with his own friends, would join Ken, myself, and our other buds on weekends. At any given time there were 3 or 4 carloads of us idiots making the rounds. We ripped it up famously. The town of Downers Grove, IL will never be the same because of us. The Omega 24 Hour Restaurant on Ogden Ave. briefly considered naming a menu item after us, or so I've been told.

And we all played football. Not like the song and dance jocks in Glee, but more like the normally toasted jocks in Dazed and Confused. Very much like those guys in fact. Makes sense I guess, now that I think about it. Same time frame, mid 70s.

When Pablo was a senior and I was a junior, our varsity team made it to the Final 4 in our state playoffs (Class 4A, based on school size. Big schools are 8A) But that was later.

When I was a sophomore, and Pablo was a junior, we played on different teams. He played on the varsity (jrs & srs for our foreign readers) and I played on the sophomore team.

My sophomore team went undefeated that year, 1975, but Pablo's varsity team was bad. And they had a coach named, well I'll just call him Ziggy (his nickname.)

Ziggy was a fucking nutcase.

Picture the Paul Gleason character in Breakfast Club. Now, add steroids and 60 lbs along with a military background. The man hated to lose, and I mean hated. He was also an English teacher, but this psycho lived and breathed football. His practices were run like drill sessions. Stopwatches. Running from one place to another, full speed. If you had to go to the bathroom, you RAN off the field, or you paid for it later.

Everything was sir.

"What was the snap count!?!?"

"Two, sir!"

"And what did you go on?!?!"

"One, sir!"

"That's an extra ladder for you!"

A ladder consists of 75 guys lining up on the goal line, all in a 3 point stance, and on the toot of Ziggy's whistle, we'd sprint to the 10 yard line and stop. Turn around. Back a 3 point. Another toot. And sprint back to the goal line. Stop. Turn around. 3 point stance. Motionless. Don't you dare jump before the whistle or we're starting this motherfucker over. Toot! You'd run to the 20. Stop. Turn around. Stance. Wait. Whistle. Sprint to the goal line. Stop. 3 point. Toot! To the 30...and so on until you got to the 50, and then you either hit the showers, or...if Ziggy felt like you needed the exercise, he'd run you back to the 40, the 30, the 20, the 10.

It's an amazing sound when 75 guys in football gear are at a dead sprint, and then slam on the breaks and spin round. It's loud. You can feel the ground under you tremble a bit. A human stampede. And then, total silence. Waiting, waiting, waiting....toot.

The first kind of ladder is known as a "half-ladder." Just to the 50, and call it a day. The second kind is known, of course, as a "full-ladder." Full ladders are a killer after a 2 hour football practice, especially one run by Ziggy. Half-ladders are no picnic either. Doesn't sound that tough until you've run one.

Ziggy loved ladders. Ziggy also loved my older brother, the football star. That was when I was a freshman. Ziggy had his eye on me even then. He knew I could kick the shit out a ball, but he wanted me to play. So did I. Whatever.

The first week of my sophomore year, Ziggy had my team join his team for a week of double-session practices. Pre-season stuff. Let the little guys get a taste of what comes next when they're varsity athletes. And that whole week, Ziggy dogged my ass. Right up in my grill. "You better believe I'm watching you!! Can't you jump in and out of that tire any faster than that??? Move it move it move it!"

I decided then and there that I would never play for Ziggy. He was a sadistic son-of-a-bitch.

Midway through that season, after a Monday practice, I sat on the back stairs by the AD's office and watched Ziggy torture people. Varsity athletes.

They'd lost to lowly St. Francis of Wheaton, and they were going to pay. When I sat down to watch the torture, Ziggy was on his first half-ladder. He didn't stop there. He didn't put them through a full-ladder either. He ran, for the first I ever saw it, a full 100 yard ladder. By the time they were done with their last 90 yard sprint, even the fastest guys were unable to sprint. You just can't. Your legs refuse to obey commands at a certain point.

When they hit the goal line, Ziggy told them to line up again. Not fast enough. This time, I want your all! And he ran a second hundred yard ladder.

Sitting on those stairs watching was a regular thing for me. I watched Pablo, and Ice, and Schrods, and Augie. They were my friends.

By the time they were halfway through Ziggy's 2nd full field ladder, people started dropping.

Dropping dropping. Barely conscious, on all fours, puking.

Pablo made it all the way through two full field ladders. And, he made it to the showers in the locker room next door to ours. And that's when he collapsed.

Flopping around of the floor of the shower like a carp on the beach. Convulsions. People screaming, people running around frantic. AD came sprinting into the shower, fully clothed of course, and immediately grabbed Pablo's tongue.

"Call an ambulance!" snapped Ronnie B.

I stood outside that shower next to my friend Ken, Pablo's little brother, and watched in absolute fucking horror.

Pablo lived. Spent a week at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers (right near Omega.) Dehydration, exhaustion, shock, fucked up blood sugar, the works.

Calls from outraged parents. Calls for Ziggy's ass. It was, without a doubt, the biggest story that school had seen,...maybe ever. If it had happened today, those Benedictines would be paying out a lot of money to Pablo's parents. Millions.

Instead, they allowed Ziggy to finish the season, and the school year. He was a very hated man in those halls. His practices became a breeze for the last half of the season. He knew he'd gone too far. I don't think he ran another half-ladder the rest of the year. They quietly eased him out the door that summer, and he took a similar job over at Hinsdale South.

To this day, the mere mention of his name causes anger in some people who remember. Me for instance. I hated that guy as much as I've hated anyone in my life. That dude was evil.

This past summer, I was helping my sister run the annual alumni golf outing at Cog Hill and who do I see walking up with a big smile on his face, but Pablo. I don't think I'd seen him since 1980. He's a gynecologist now. That makes sense. He was always a big fan of that area of study, even in high school.

And we were sitting under the big tent by 18, where the BMW honchos party when the PGA comes to town. Just shooting the breeze, catching up on old times. Ken's fine. Married, got 4 kids, tell him I said hello and blah blah blah...

You guessed it.


Fucker walked right up to our table and reached to shake our hands. He's older now, as are we. 35 years older. He's an old man. Gray hair, no more rippling muscles, the fiery insane look in his eyes was all I could do to not stand up and kick him right in the balls.

And then, Pablo shook Ziggy's hand. It was one of those handshakes you almost have to witness. Hard to describe, and hard to believe so much can be said without words. And then, so as to not seem petty, I shook Ziggy's hand too.

After Ziggy walked away, I sensed that Pablo sensed my anger. He shrugged.

"Can't carry shit around with you forever Michael. Life is just too short."

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

All is well enough

Nobody hung me from the ceiling for days and days of interrogation, nor hit me in the head with a club for standing in the wrong place. The Army didn't take over, nor did the cops. The politicians are assholes who couldn't find their assholes if you spotted them their taints, but last time I checked they hadn't tortured anybody.

Writing something about our weather seems, ...trivial. Very.

We were warned more than a week ago. Ain't that a bitch? WGN's Tommy Skilling (Enron Jeff's sweetheart brother) called this thing almost two weeks ago. Meteorological bragging rights. Tommy's a weather savant, and you could almost feel his excitement building as the day approached. Doppler radar. Massive massive motherfucker building down in Texas and Arkansas that was poised like a dagger. A really, really big dagger.

On Sunday, Tommy said that it was going to snow Monday, about 2 inches. And then it would get sunny, and the skies would stay clear until approximately 3PM on Tuesday.

Then, according to Tom, it was going to get windy, and it was going to snow, and it was going to be extraordinarily intense. And, it was going to rage for about 16 hours.

Closed up the shop at noon, stopped at the store. Happy Foods on Northwest Highway. Coffee, soda, spuds, normal shit. Girl at the checkout tells me they've emptied and restocked the bread shelves and the pasta shelves (..?..really, ...pasta?) twice in the course of the morning.

I was laughing as I remarked to her "It's Chicago for God's sake. They've never seen snow before? It's not a hurricane."

And she rolled her eyes and said "We'll probably get about 5 inches or something. They always say these storms are going to be huge."

"Tommy Skilling is comparing it to '67. You're too young to remember '67 but I do. I was 7 years old, and it was unbelievable. Mountains of show everywhere. Kids jumping from roofs into snowdrifts. Trees whose trunks were completely hidden up to the lowest branches. Full grown trees. Cars completely buried in their own driveways. I hope it's not like '67."

1967 was a hell of a bad winter.

Same year, by the way, as the Six Day War.

So anyway, I got home and loaded up the fridge. Battened down the hatches. Got my cameras ready. Watched daytime TV. I'm never home to watch daytime TV. I think, "Oh dear god, please don't make this like '67, I can't take too much daytime TV."

At almost 3 O'Clock on the dot, it started. Skies turned cobalt, and the wind began to build. And build. And build. At around 6, the first real snow started falling, but it was falling horizontally. Not so much falling I guess, as sailing.

Skilling said the heavy stuff will start around 9, as much as 3 inches per hour. Maybe it was coming at that rate, but in 50 mph gales, it's a whole different deal.

And then came the lightning.

You're just not ready for something like that. Imagine peeking out of your quonset hut down at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica. Almost total whiteout as the raging wind is blowing so much snow across your field of vision that it's really all you see, and then throw some lightning and thunder into the mix.

That's what it was like.


That's what we're calling it?

That sucks.

That awesome phenomenon needs a way cooler name.

Icy Flash-Hammers or some fucking thing. You ain't lived until you've seen blue lightning and heard booming thunder in the middle of a raging blizzard.

I stayed up most of the night. Crashed about 4:45 and got up around 8. Snowplows out on Summit.

I was only out for 4 hours, but in the light of day, it's a hell of a sight let me tell you. A little snow still falling but the bulk of it now covering everything with 2 feet of frosting, the first thing I noticed was that the wind had finally died.

We'll dig out, again. We'll be at half-speed, at best, for another week. Outer Dive still closed. 900 cars stranded. Emergency rescues. Power outages. No rail service. Practically every road partially or totally impassable. Snowmobiles driving down Prospect Ave. Midway and O'Hare closed!

No way in, no way out.

It is very much like 1967 all over again.