Borgen and Government and Being Green

January 22nd, 2016 by Phil No comments »

Over the past weekend I finished watching the final season of Borgen. For those of you unfamiliar, Borgen is the Danish word for Government, and the show is three seasons long focusing on how Danish government – and media – function. It might sound like a snoozer from the description, but it’s among the best shows I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend it. (Yes, you have to deal with subtitles. The show is in Danish!)

Denmark has repeatedly been at or near the top of the list of places where people are happiest. It’s also a destination country for migrants who don’t look particularly Danish. The show dealt with that, with Denmark’s role in a broader global climate, and so forth. But it mostly dealt with how a fairly healthy multi-party democracy can function.

It’s hard to get into it in too much detail without spoiling big chunks of it, but it’s a non-spoiler to say that the central character is a Prime Minister from the Moderate Party, which in the context of imagined Danish politics is a “centrist” party, centrist in Denmark meaning something profoundly to the left of the Democrats in the U.S.

The parties represented in the government are, sort of from right to left: Freedom, New Right, Liberal, Moderate, Labor, Greens, Solidarity. It’s not really a precise right-to-left lineup, but it’s presented in a highly coherent way to a U.S. audience, and if you just understand that the main party of the right are the Liberals, whose policies are very similar to the Democrats in the U.S., then the alignments should fairly readily make sense.

If you get beyond the mutli-party dimensions and so forth, though, and compare it to our system – and of course recognizing this is all a fictionalized account – the main thing that stands out in terms of what’s presented is that government is supposed to be a place where people pursue policies, then build support around those policies, and then go get them passed if they can. There’s a process involved that is suspiciously like how one might expect representative democracy to have been conceptually intended to function.

Our own governments at most levels function nothing like that. Legislation is typically generated by fiat, money dictates the particulars of the language that gets pushed, and there is little to no working across party lines.

Even the “extreme” parties presented – the Freedom Party (which is sort of analogous to the Tea Party) and Solidarity (which I suppose is sort of analogous to some sort of Socialist formation) – are still involved in working across party lines and from time to time forming unusual alliances.

The “opposition” – which as the show opens up are the right-wing parties, as the Moderates lead a center-left coalition – are not presented as mere oppositionalists. They are involved in dialogue, often via the media. Nobody is so far at the edge that they’re reduced to pure oppositionalist screaming from the sidelines. It’s a mostly proportional system, therefore if you have enough support, you’ll get at least one MP.

Having watched the whole thing has given me a lot of reason to pause and consider what I have been doing over time and what might be possible given the structural problems with the system in the U.S. If we had a proportional system, the Greens might very well have been placing people in government over the last decade. But because we don’t have a proportional system, the Green Party is both formally marginalized (since it is not in government at all) and indirectly marginalized (people won’t get involved because it’s not in government) and then internally marginalized (because of its outsider status, outsiderism and oppositionalism become badges of honor, things to be cherished, which effectively precludes working with anyone in government ever, only reinforcing how marginal everything is.)

It is that oppositionalism – by which I mean a de facto policy of simply being opposed to the system because it is the system – and the way that it has manifested itself which I think explains a great deal of the long decline of the Green Party in the U.S. At one point I think more people involved were genuinely serious about being in government and working within government. But now I see that many people who have been involved in the party over time never really wanted to do anything like this. It’s much like some of the socialist formations in the U.S., perhaps most notably the ISO, in just being opposed to everything that’s actually happening. This in turn explains why there’s a lot of internal purity tests and so forth. And it also sort of demonstrates that a Green elected to an especially high government position would have a very hard time functioning, because he or she would be under attack from other Greens for ever trying to get anything done with anyone else.

I don’t consider what the Green Party has become to be tenable. The concept of the Green Party is still mostly right to me, but so much has gone wrong, and the denial is so thick, that it is extremely unlikely to be a formation which will actually meaningfully challenge the status quo. It’s not enough to me to stand on principle outside of everything which is going on. The planet does not get saved by people who choose to be on the sidelines.

I grant that what I’m saying sounds suspiciously like what people have said to me before, about how if you want to see policy change, you need to actually get somewhere where you can impact it, etc. That’s not lost on me. When I talk about “choosing to be on the sidelines” though, the distinction I’m drawing is between the party I’ve spent so long trying to build up into an actual player, and what I feel it is now, an entity where people no longer make serious attempts to recruit candidates – and worse, where nobody seems to be very bothered by the fact that there are almost no candidates. We haven’t had a single candidate for state legislature on the ballot in Illinois since 2010, and I feel like this is an extreme embarrassment, but most people who I would consider to be Green leaders just don’t see it that way.

My preference would be to see the party wake up and evolve and find a new coherent path which involves trying to function within the context of a highly dysfunctional government. The government badly needs more people involved who are sincere about trying to get positive things done, and I don’t just mean as elected officials. I’m also talking about “community leaders” here, people who actually interface with their aldermen and legislators and so forth. Unfortunately, my preference doesn’t seem to be shared by a sufficient number of people. We’re at the point now where I think on the whole people are more concerned with the Green Party being some kind of personal political safe place where they can feel good about standing for the right things, implicitly suggesting that they know they have no access to power, and – most importantly – through such an implicit suggestion, essentially conceding that they are in a certain sense okay with it all. I’m not saying that, ultimately, they really are okay with it all. But once you reach a place of helplessness, I suppose it means something to at least be able to hold on to the idea of being right.

Well, I’m not okay with it all. And so I have been trying to think through a different path. I don’t really like the idea that there are Democrats and then there are “Progressive Democrats” or “Independent Democrats” because I’ve seen too many times how people in one of those self-defining categories just serve to reinforce the dominant status quo through much of what they do. I also don’t much care for the concept of being an Independent, because it literally means not self-identifying with anything in particular.

There is also the old idea that there needs to be a Democratic equivalent of the Tea Party – not in terms of policy, but in terms of role relative to the party. I understand the thinking and I don’t think it should be totally dismissed. But the success of the Tea Party (which of course isn’t a party at all) has too much to do with money and how Tea Party types have been exploited along the way. I don’t think that’s the right model, although something which superficially looks similar might work. (I know some people would say, well, how about the Working Families Party? To that I say, what we need here is not a quasi front group.)

Without dwelling on it too much, there is a concept called “fusion” in some states, most notably New York, where a candidate can run on multiple ballot lines. This isn’t going to happen in the rest of the country, though. And it’s worth pointing out that the Green Party in New York has long been adamantly opposed to fusion.

One state that offers a variant on fusion, though, is Vermont. Vermont has a coherent, functional, state-level third party – the Progressive Party – which actually boasts several elected state legislators, and with which a certain U.S. Senator is closely aligned. Now, I already said that fusion isn’t arriving anywhere else. And Vermont is maybe not the very best place to look for a political model which can be used across the country. And yet…

When I was at the Left Politics forum in Chicago several months ago, which for me was mostly dispiriting, one thing which stood out was when one of the people from the Vermont Progressive Party talked about how the mechanics of how Bernie Sanders has run for office. I don’t fully understand the relevant Vermont laws here, but the concept as I understand it is that Bernie essentially runs in the Democratic primary, wins the Democratic nomination, but then declines it, and uses a separate mechanism to get on the ballot as an Independent. In this manner, he appears on the ballot as an Independent; there is technically no Democratic candidate; and there is technically no Progressive candidate. It’s a method that is simply not available in most states, but as the VPP representative explained it, the peculiarities of Vermont law allowed for a situation where Bernie could actually function as a nominal Independent, even while de facto being the Democratic candidate as well.

In turn, the reality is that Bernie Sanders has at least some kind of legitimate chance of winning the Democratic nomination for President, even though he is still regarded as a nominal Independent in Vermont. He had to do something to become a technical Democrat (though I’m not sure precisely what that action was), but as I’ve previously written about, there was no other real mechanism for someone like him to run for President anyway. And even if he ultimately fails – and the odds are still strongly against him, just no longer staggeringly so – I think he’s gotten far enough to prove that this was the right thing to do and the right way to do it, at least generally speaking. It is the aftermath of his campaign which will really tell how “right” this all has really been – if absolutely nothing comes of the campaign then what? – but I think to pre-conclude that his losing will consign the legacy of the campaign to the kind of irrelevance with which we now regard the likes of Dennis Kucinich is at this point somewhere between spiteful and ignorant.

Some of my erstwhile Green colleagues may be loathe to admit it, but circumstances have changed. There are sitting aldermen in Chicago today who we should be happy to stand with. There are candidates running as Democrats against Machine types here in Chicago who are eminently worthy of support. And to suggest that we should not be voting for them because they’re Democrats, when Greens are literally not running anyone at all for any such offices… I don’t see how such a position can be defended anymore. I am mindful here of Peter Camejo’s strident imploration to NEVER VOTE FOR THESE PEOPLE EVER AGAIN. But “these people” were different in 2004. Today, while I think the vast majority of elected officials who call themselves Democrats are somewhere on the spectrum from lousy to horrific, the reality is that a decent and maybe even a growing number are not. The electorate is evolving, even though it’s happening at a time where there is not a strong third party for the evolving electorate to identify with. Some people may deny that, but, as I’ve painfully found in recent years, Greens are especially good at denial.

I’ve fought and fought and fought over time to put the Green Party on the course I thought it should be on. Anyone who would try to belittle what I’m saying now by claiming I’m not pitching in or not working for the change I want to see is choosing to ignore what I’m saying and choosing to ignore my body of work over time. The Green Party I tried to build is clearly not possible at this time, and continuing to fight for it in the same old ways is the kind of repetition-as-stupidity that we have long tried to pillory Democratic voters for. Instead of perpetuating the fight, instead of continuing to put myself through the agony of horrible meetings, I will attempt to blaze a new path and lead by example.

It is time to accept that Greens will not be running a lot of candidates – and in so doing, to also accept that there may be people running as Democrats who are worthy of support. And, beyond that, to actually support them.

It is time to accept that a person can put themselves out as a Green and still work with people from other parties. We have to deal with legislators and aldermen and others. We have to deal with them as reasonable people, not grit our teeth through the process. We have to actually do things community leaders should be doing, like rallying people to contact those elected officials about important legislation, instead of blowing off such political work on the grounds that no Democrat (or Republican) would listen anyway. These people aren’t automatons. They will be responsive to their constituents about things that you might not otherwise expect. Let’s embrace that instead of dismissing that.

And beyond all that, I think the party itself should embrace these positions as well. For a very long time I have adamantly maintained that the Green Party should not be endorsing candidates in other party’s primaries. Well, I’ve changed my mind. If the Green Party has no intention of fielding a candidate for a given office, and if there is a particularly vital primary for that office which everyone knows is the de facto real election, then the truly appropriate thing to do is take a position. The best example at hand is the Cook County State’s Attorney’s race. Kim Foxx may or may not be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but we all know what Anita Alvarez is, and if the party is willing to take the position that Alvarez should resign, then it should be willing to take the position that people who are going to vote in the Democratic primary anyway should be voting for Foxx. That doesn’t mean that this should necessarily happen. Maybe closer examination of Foxx’s questionnaires reveals someone who isn’t truly worthy of an endorsement. My point is, narrowly, that the party should be willing to consider such an endorsement. Maybe this doesn’t sound like so much of a stretch to some, but from me, it’s a huge break, and reflects a very different vantage point about the party.

In short, I no longer think it makes sense to talk about the Green Party in terms that it could or should be another major party. Maybe such a goal is realistic at some much later date. This may seem like a strange analogy, but I think one which kind of works is one involving the English Football Association. There are 20 Premier League teams, and then 20 teams in the Championship League, and then there is a League One, and then there is a League Two. It is very difficult to imagine most teams which are currently in League Two winding up in the Premier League at any point – they have nowhere near the financial resources, they play to much smaller crowds, the best players will always go sign somewhere else. But sometimes a squad can actually get promoted in a hurry. Bournemouth was almost relegated completely out of the Football League in 2009. Then in 2010 they were promoted from League Two to League One. Two years later, they were promoted from League One to the Championship League. Two years after that, they won the Championship League, and are now in the Premier League for the first time. A dynamic coach, a dynamic bunch of young players coming together, maybe some lucky breaks here and there… this sort of stuff can happen. But it can’t happen to an entity like the Green Party which is hardly doing anything at all. Resetting expectations does not mean resetting permanent expectations. But refusing to change anything means permanent irrelevance.

Still, it’s not an internal argument I’m likely to win. So as I said above, my choice is to lead by example instead. If there are candidates running as Democrats who are sincerely worthy of support, then they will have my support. I’m thinking here of people like Jac Charlier, running for 15th State Representative against an ultimate Machine Democrat in John D’Amico.

I’m sure all of this feels a long way afoot from my having started writing about a Danish television program. But inspiration can come in a lot of different ways. For me, the vital takeaway from Borgen is that things change when people get involved in processes which can lead to change. It may not always be clear which processes those are, but when it becomes obvious that what you’re doing is not affecting any change, then you need to evaluate what your principles actually are. If your desire is to a principled oppositionalist, then you and I simply don’t have that much in common. My desire is to be affect change in a principled way, and I refuse to accept that there is no way to do so.

I am a proud member of the Green Party, but I will no longer engage in internal actions which have no hope of accomplishing anything. One of the Ten Key Values is Personal and Global Responsibility, and I find nothing responsible about bashing one’s head endlessly into a wall. Those of us who are serious about affecting change, and who very well understand that societal change requires governmental change, and who further understand that the Green Party is not currently equipped to lead the way in affecting such governmental change, should join together to find a different path that exults the Ten Key Values. The Green Party can still play an important role, and may one day be again poised to play an even more important role. But we came together in the name of lofty ideals like Social Justice, Non-Violence, Ecological Wisdom, and Grassroots Democracy, not in the name of doing the same thing endlessly and hoping it would turn out different. To respect what the Green Party stands for requires that even if the party itself will not evolve, those of who self-identify Green will evolve nevertheless.

Yes, Rahm Can Still Be Recalled

January 5th, 2016 by Phil No comments »

Today’s big news was that Governor Rauner came out in favor of LaShawn Ford’s recall bill. But the way the press picked up on it… let’s just say that some of them whiffed.

Let’s take the Sun-Times article first. Rauner said he hasn’t studied HB4356, but based on what he knows about, he’d sign it. Then he is quoted as saying that he would be “broadly supportive of the recall concept in general for all elected officials in the state.”

Two and a half weeks ago, this is what I said:

Rauner might even find it politically expedient to champion broader recall provisions, including ones that could ultimately make even himself subject to recall.

Now, I forgot at that point that gubernatorial recall actually had been snuck in to the Illinois Constitution in the aftermath of the Blagojevich mess. Bad on me there. But I got it right that Rauner would support recall, and I wasn’t just stabbing in the dark with that.

Now, Greg Hinz has his own theories about Rauner’s motivations. I’d say he’s got it mostly right. Importantly, Hinz nails the nuance in Rauner’s remark about the applicability of the law, and it’s something people really ought to pay closer attention to.

Back to the Sun-Times article first. Mark Brown wrote there: “Rauner said he has been advised any such legislation could not apply to current elected officials. That might tamp down the implication that he was taking a swipe at Emanuel, but you know that Emanuel doesn’t want the Legislature to pass such a bill.”

Then there’s the AP article which Crain’s picked up on. It just blandly states, off the top, that Rauner “says the law wouldn’t apply to Rahm Emanuel.”

But Hinz sees through it. He knows that it’s an open legal question as to whether the recall provision could apply to Emanuel. If the bill passes as is, and recall proceedings actually take off, then the whole mess will wind up in court. For a long time. And that will be terrible for Emanuel. Not as bad, you might argue, as being recalled. But it would involve an extremely expensive, extremely ugly, neverending public spectacle. It would cripple Emanuel’s ability to get much of anything of substance done. And that may very well be Rauner’s point… just like Hinz suggests.

Meanwhile, HB4356 has picked up three more sponsors… all of them suburban Republicans. Pat Quinn came out in favor of recall. More importantly, so did Lisa Madigan. And the General Assembly overplayed its hand when it put forward the constitutional amendment which allows for recalling the Governor without mentioning anyone else. Ford’s bill practically copies the language from the gubernatorial recall provision verbatim. This means that the General Assembly thinks recall is fine conceptually, right?

So this bill is not going to be killed off any time soon. It faces a more difficult road in the Senate, because John Cullerton is a much closer ally of Emanuel, but what’s being set up right now is a coalition of Republicans who want to please Rauner, Chicago Democrats who want to flaunt their independence, and… it won’t take a whole lot of other people. And while the reasons people might rally around recall might be to pursue their own agendas, in the end, recall should always be a fundamental democratic right.

In the wake of Rauner’s statement, look for more Republican co-sponsors, and look for more Chicago Democrats as well. Often bills like this would get assigned to Rules and buried there, but if that happens now, it will be blatant case of Michael Madigan protecting Emanuel. His best bet may be to let it squeak out of the House and then die in the Senate, if he and Cullerton are pretty sure that can happen. But can they really be sure?

This isn’t going away.

On Being Healthier, Losing Weight, Numbers, etc.

January 2nd, 2016 by Phil 1 comment »

In August 2014, I weighed about 184 pounds. Today, 16 months later, I weigh 159.

My one resolution for 2015 was to run a 5K. I did this, in late September, running it in 30:24. Then in mid-November I ran a second 5K, and my time went down to 24:54.

I’ve learned a lot over this time that I think could be helpful, inspirational, and/or cautionary to others. Now, I won’t claim to be an expert on being healthy. I’m not writing this from the “here’s what you need to know” perspective. Rather, I’m writing from the “here’s what I think you might be interested to know” perspective. Nominal experts might disagree with some of what I write. And you might too. And that’s okay by me.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to note three things. First, weight is not some sort of end-all be-all number, and I’m not going to claim it is. Rather, it is a very simple benchmark, a figure which allows for some sort of imperfect quantification of “how much healthier” a person has become. It’s been very useful to me, but as I’ll explain below, there are some very real potential problems with it.

Second, I didn’t do anything exotic. This is a story primarily about fairly ordinarily diet and exercise, or at least I think it is. It’s because of the “regularness” of the story that I think it’s worth sharing.

Third, I want to note a bit about my methodology. I will weigh myself in the morning before I eat or take a shower, as doing so gives me the best apples-to-apples comparison (i.e., no fluxuations in terms of how much my clothes weigh, or time of day, or how much I’ve eaten on a given day, etc.) I also think less in terms of how much I weigh on a given morning and more in terms of what my average weight has been for the last couple of mornings. My weight can potentially be +/- 5 pounds over the course of a given week. Eat a lot one day, eat little a different day, it makes a difference. Thinking in terms of a moving average levels that out, and keeps a person from freaking out too much about being +/- 3 pounds on a given day.

Officially, I’m 6′ tall, though I’d probably need my winter boots on to pull that off. Over perhaps the last 5 years, my average weight has probably been somewhere around 180. My peak weight of 209 came about 17 years ago when I was in grad school. I definitely weigh less today than at any time since high school.

I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years. I’ve never been a smoker. I’ve never been a heavy alcohol drinker. Those are all kind of baseline things to know.

I know I was about 184 in August 2014 because that’s when I came up with a half-conceived plan for steady weight loss. I wasn’t huge and I wasn’t thinking “Oh crap, I have to get healthy.” But I was thinking, well, I’ve got an infant at home, and I’m in my later 30s, and I simply have to get in shape if I’m going to be chasing him around.

That initial plan kind of went nowhere. I tried to start running a little that August / September. There was one particular day in October where I ran outside and thought I’d done pretty well. Then the next day my body kind of fell apart. I had crazy joint pain, was very weak. Whatever exactly that was at that point, it degraded into a sinus infection. I wound up having numerous sinus infections over the course of the winter and into the spring of 2015. All of this could have demoralizing to the point of not getting anywhere, but two things kept me driven throughout this. First, that 5K resolution was intended to be a very tangible goal, not to be sloughed off. Second, I was adamant about being in shape for Dylan.

At some point in the spring, I finally got to where the sinus infections were less frequent, and the weather was more forgiving, and I slowly got into a running habit. We live about three-quarters of a mile from four different parks, three of which have loops through the inside of the park. What I settled into was putting earbuds in and listening to music while running to a park, running through/around the park, and then running home; or, I would just run around the blocks of our immediate residential neighborhood, which is very easy to do.

As the summer came on, and I got a little more focused, I also downloaded a couple of running apps to my phone. The one I’ve settled into using is MapMyRun, and for me, it’s legitimately made a big difference. It’s given me the ability to better understanding pacing myself; to think in terms of how often I’m running and how far those runs are; and even to kind of challenge myself by trying to run better times on a couple of “courses” which coincide with loops through or around local parks.

I also lucked my way into being able to play 16 inch softball this summer with the Gapers Block team. I’m not going to claim that playing 8-10 softball games over the course of 2-3 months made a huge difference in terms of fitness, but it did make a difference in terms of my measuring myself. By the end of the year, my stamina was higher, I was hitting the ball better, and I went from being kind of just an extra guy out there to holding my own (or at least so I’d like to think!)

In mid-September I changed jobs. I went from working in the Loop and taking the El downtown everyday to working from home. As of this point I had gotten myself down to about 170.

Working from home presented a couple of challenges. First, most days I had been doing a lot of walking just to get to and from train stops, perhaps 2 1/2 miles of walking on a typical weekday. Second, working from home means taking all meals at home, with a full refrigerator immediately available.

The first challenge was fairly easy to address. Although I was no longer walking as much, I had won back about 2 hours a day which had previously been spent in transit. It made it far easier to find time to run or use my exercise bike. But it’s the second challenge where I think the second part of the overall story kicks in.

When I was going into work downtown, it was very common that I would have coffee and something like soy yogurt or a smoothie before I left, and then I’d stop and get a latte and a pastry before I got into the office. I tried to have something like peanut butter and jelly on hand at the office, but I’d still often wind up having to get something like Subway for lunch. If I was hungry for anything else that I didn’t have immediately on hand, my first option was usually the weird convenience store on the ground level, run by someone we simply new as Snack Guy, which probably says a lot about what kind of fare was available.

I made a conscious decision to keep extra junk out of the house. As a result, what I essentially did was cut out the latte/pastry combination, in favor of more basic coffee, plus a lighter snack like an apple or a piece of cinnamon toast or some cheese. That whole change in and of itself pretty much slashed 300-500 calories from the day, most of those in sugars. Lunch has wound up being very redundant – it’s peanut butter and jelly the vast majority of the time – but one other thing I did was I simply stopped bringing sugary soda into the house. Almost all of the time now, the only soda in the house is one or another kind of Zevia, which is sweetened by stevia; and when I have coffee, my sweetener there is also stevia. In addition to excising a sugary soda from lunch, it also meant I haven’t been having one for dinner either; and what else has happened along the way is that I’ve simply stopped drinking beer at home. It’s not that I was ever drinking to excess, but if my drink with dinner is now Zevia or water instead of Dr Pepper or beer, that’s another 150 calories slashed.

My daily existence, then, involved getting up a little earlier (since I start work for the day at 8); exercising more often (because the recovered travel time has made it easier to find exercise time); and also cutting down significantly not just on calories but on really shitty calories (pastries, sodas, beers) – perhaps 700 calories a day. On top of all that, I’ve saved money. (Lattes are expensive!)

And so about 4-6 weeks in to working from home, I went down from about 170 pounds to the low 160s. And in December, it’s slipped slightly below 160. The goal I had set in 2014 had been solely to get down to 170. I didn’t expect to keep falling from there, and I never anticipated eventually getting down under 160.

I can be very obsessive about numbers. I keep logs of every time I get gas, so I can try and see if the car’s performance is badly slipping. So as I saw that weight very steadily slipping down over time, it was almost like a game at times. It was a strange kind of game, admittedly. It’s not like I ever went to any extremes out of some need to see the number keep dropping. But the thinking about it is always there, and I know that it’s led to a lot of decisions about what and when to eat and not eat.

At 6′-ish, with slightly broad shoulders and slightly long arms for my height, I arguably shouldn’t be below 160. As I’ve lost this weight, the fat from a lot of parts of my body has just kind of gone away. My arms are really skinny now, for a good example. My exercise regimen hasn’t been solely about running, but it also hasn’t been super-balanced. Even though I feel stronger, and I’m definitely in much better shape, I arguably ought to bulk back up a little. But I still look in the mirror and wish what’s left of my gut would tighten up too. It’s kind of a weird mental place to be in.

I think what makes it weirdest, though, is that really, I’ve moved beyond “needing to get in shape” and “hoping to lose weight”, and I’ve really moved into that place where I “simply” need to maintain. I have to put “simply” in quotes because while maintaining really just means doing more of the same, it’s hardly an easy thing, and I find it’s an especially difficult thing to mentally wrap my mind around, if for no other reason than because there are no obvious targets available. I guess I could lose more weight, but I’m kind of at the point where I think it might be counterproductive to do so. I could set new physical / athletic challenges – for example, this year I intend to run a 10K, maybe working myself up to a half-marathon after another year or so – but in terms of that being a target that helps push me to real fitness, that’s beginning to feel kind of esoteric.

Now, one thing I could do is make an even bigger point of improving my diet. We’ve talked about this at home – every few months we read or watch something which reconvinces us of the need to cut out even more processed foods. But here too it’s so hard for this to turn into anything measurable.

I think maintenance is going to prove more difficult than having gotten to this point. I think, somehow, I’m going to have to find some way to turn basic diet and exercise into something else measurable, just because that’s how it works for me. It’s kind of a way of harnessing my OCD tendencies. But it’s also kind of a way of giving in to them, when they might just drive the people around me a little batty. That’s a hard balance to strike.

With all that said: I think that the having been able to measure both “health” using the proxy of weight and “fitness” using running frequency and distance – and, importantly, measuring them in tandem as the weeks have gone on – has made a huge difference. Having sort of instituted “house rules” which I follow mostly strictly has been very important as well.

I know for a lot of people it’s very hard to break habits, or to set new habits, or anything like that. And I know most people aren’t as OCD or as number-obsessed as I am. But I hope there’s something in here that can help other people who are trying to figure out how to get on a healthier and fitter track. And I also hope by sharing some of this it can spur some conversation which will in turn benefit me as well.

Fitness has simply never been a top personal priority until recently. It might have gotten lip service as such, but honestly, it was always pretty far down the list. Even at times when I was going to the gym 3-4 times a week, I feel like it wasn’t because I’d made a huge priority of fitness, but more so that I’d kind of made a priority of putting a fitness show on, if that makes sense.

I’ll be 40 this year, though, and damn it, I’m going to be in good shape throughout my 40s and throughout my 50s. I’ll be in my mid-50s when Dylan graduates high school, and when that day comes, I’m going to be fit and I’m going to be regularly exercising. I’m going to be a good example for him, and I have to be, because this kid is going to run us ragged, and we better be in shape enough to keep up with him for a long time.

Statement to Chicago Board of Education

November 20th, 2015 by Phil 1 comment »

The following is my pre-prepared statement made in front of the Chicago Board of Education on November 18, 2015. As I read it, it was edited slightly given what others present had already said.

Members of the Board. My name is Phil Huckelberry and I am on the Local School Council for Prussing Elementary. As you know, on October 30 our school experienced a major carbon monoxide incident.

In front of you are Relevant City of Chicago Ordinances Pertaining to Boiler Operation. You may not have been previously aware of these specific ordinances. We believe, however, that your administrators have been very much aware, have knowingly been in violation for some time, and that because of high-level conversations, City of Chicago inspectors have been instructed not to enforce the ordinances.

We believe that this reality, in conjunction with the history of issues with the boiler system at Prussing as partially outlined on the reverse of the document, combine to demonstrate a pattern of negligence, for which this Board must hold senior CPS officials accountable.

The Prussing community demands the following actions be taken:

First, we demand a comprehensive systems upgrade, including replacement of the school boilers, heating controls, and any other elements previously identified as being so needy.

Second, we demand the permanent reinstatement of a full-time building engineer at Prussing, and at all relevant CPS schools, so as to ensure compliance with city ordinance, and to help ensure safety in all schools.

Third, we demand the issuance of thorough CPS protocols governing the installation and inspection of carbon monoxide detectors. Adding 5,000 detectors is great, but not if most of them stop working.

Fourth, we demand a thorough internal investigation into the history of the boiler situation at Prussing, the results of which will be made readily available to the school community.

Fifth, we demand the immediate reinstatement of our building engineer, Patrick Kelly, pending an actual fair process. He has clearly been made a scapegoat to cover for the systemic wrongdoings of CPS, and if he is terminated today as CPS administrators are seeking, it will only further infuriate our community.

See, ladies and gentlemen: Either you sincerely care about the health and safety of our students and staff, or you don’t. If you don’t care, well, then, you don’t care.

If, however, you do care, then it is about damn time you showed it. This experience has convinced parents that neither the Board nor your administration truly care about their kids, and they desperately want you to prove otherwise, and move to rebuild their trust.

Thank you for your time.

Remembering Michael Dahlquist

July 14th, 2015 by Phil 1 comment »

Ten years ago today, we lost Michael Dahlquist. He was, in my opinion, the greatest rock drummer on the planet. He was also just a goddamn nice guy.

Michael was the drummer for Silkworm. If you know me then you know how I feel: Silkworm was the single greatest American rock band of all time. I consider only the Beatles to be greater.

Upon his passing, I remember an article in which Tim was asked if Silkworm would continue. The answer was: “He’s irreplaceable.” It is a testament to what kind of guys they are that rather than continuing the band, Tim and Andy formed a different band together and retired all of the Silkworm songs. Michael didn’t write most of those songs. They didn’t have to do that.

I saw Silkworm 9 times. This is even though, as of the time I first saw them in 1997, they were no longer a persistently touring band. They’d all moved to Chicago by 2005, but I hadn’t. Every single time I saw them it took at least two hours to get there.

Michael seemed like a very tall man. I don’t think he was actually all that tall, but he was thin, lanky. He’d usually take his shirt off while playing since he’d get so sweaty. And he played with gardening gloves on. There was no blatantly intended comedy in any of this, and yet here was a power trio, co-fronted by two straight-laced, serious rock guitarists, and the guy behind the kit was wearing just shorts and sneakers and a beard and gardening gloves, and he was tearing the shit out of it all.

Look. I’m not an expert on drumming. Don’t take my word for it. Read the tribute written 10 years ago by Steve Albini. Here, I’ll provide the link. But don’t click it yet. Let me finish up first.

Silkworm never sold a ton of records. They were not rock stars. And it’s been 10 years now, so it’s that much less likely that people are familiar with their discography.

If you give a good goddamn about rock and roll, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted, not only with the extensive back catalog, but also what Tim and Andy are still doing today.

Start with these:

“Bourbon Beard” from Italian Platinum, one of the few songs Michael sings on:

“Nerves” from Firewater, the opening track from the band’s first album as a trio:

“Dremate” from In The West, back when they were a four piece:

The Night I Saw B.B. King

May 15th, 2015 by Phil No comments »

I can’t say anything more profound than what scores of better-equipped people have already said about the passing of B.B. King. Flags should be at half-staff and this should be the lead story everywhere. But the eulogizing is best left to others.

Instead, I will tell the story of the night I saw B.B. King. In retrospect, having seen hundreds of concerts over the course of my life, it might just be that seeing B.B. was the absolute weirdest one of them all.

It was a Friday night in Beloit, Wisconsin in June 1993.

I had spent the week at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, attending something called the World Affairs Seminar. It was nominally a bunch of people like me, high school students entering their senior year, gathering to learn about, you know, world affairs. Among other things the week consisted of:

  • A Mexican trade representative extolling the virtues of a then-current proposal called NAFTA.
  • A walk to the only known record store in the city – Wal-Mart – at which time I bought a copy of Dream Police. On cassette.
  • Hanging out in a laundry room with a cute girl who lived in Mount Morris!
  • Watching the Bulls-Suns NBA Finals in a large dorm lounge with many people but most prominently a self-identified Mavericks fan from New Hampshire who was the only person in the room rooting for the Suns.
  • The burning of a Canadian flag.

In other words, it was a completely normal week.

That Friday afternoon, my dad picked me up from the campus and we drove down to Beloit. We were going to Riverfest, or whatever exactly the fest on the river is/was called. We were going to see B.B. King. And also Blue Öyster Cult. Because that’s what would logically happen in Beloit in 1993.

And so okay, we got to Beloit, and I really don’t remember anything of what happened between Whitewater and when B.B. took the stage. I sort of doubt anything too notable happened. If I forgot any kind of highly important life message imparted to me during that drive, Dad, I apologize.

B.B. took the stage. We didn’t know going in, but it turned out that he was touring with his boogie band, not his strict blues band. There were a lot of Hawaiian shirts being worn on stage.

I specifically remember that the bassist was a very uncool looking white guy playing a square bass. And every time anybody else would do a little solo, B.B. would put his hand to his ear and peer over at the soloist. His hands were immense. When he would put his hands to his ears it looked unreal. In retrospect, the word that comes to mind is Ferengi.

Now, I was 16 at the time. I didn’t totally understand the distinction between him hauling out his boogie band as opposed to his blues band, even though I tended to listen to the blues show on WXRX (the X!) every weekend, and even though I’d seen other blues luminaries previously. I mean, I did understand the distinction. Just not totally. It was all kind of weird to me.

And then somewhere along the way it started raining. And then raining kind of heavily. It wasn’t cold out per se, but after a while, wow, it was cold. And it being a Friday in late June, nobody had any jackets.

Now at one point, B.B. went to take his pick and throw it out into the audience. Okay, fair enough. It landed somewhere in what was becoming a soft mud lawn and a couple of people lunged for it.

But then somebody on stage and went up to B.B. and handed him many picks. In my mind it was a total crapload of picks. He flung them all. And some people went crazy. In particular I remember a couple of women near me freaking out and diving for picks and bumping into people and since we were all wet and cold it made me even more cold and it was ridiculous.

I’ve been to other shows in the rain – though I don’t remember that much rain. I’ve stood in the mud – though I don’t remember anybody diving through the mud. I’ve seen other outright legends – though I don’t remember them wearing Hawaiian shirts.

Eventually the set ended. And, absurd as this seems in retrospect, we were like, well, is Blue Öyster Cult going to play now?

We walked to the other stage and nothing much was happening. Chants erupted:


“Blue Öyster Cult! Blue Öyster Cult!”

And my favorite:

“Fuck the rain! Fuck the rain!”

It was all to no avail. The stage was too wet. Blue Öyster Cult would not appear.

It was okay, though. I managed to see them a few months later at the MetroCentre with Nazareth, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash. Andrew and I went. We saw our Spanish teacher there. The next day, Señor commented about how odd it was that Nazareth tried to get the crowd to sing along with “My White Bicycle”. He was right.

Anyway, since Blue Öyster Cult did not come out on stage that night, my dad and I got in the car and went back home to Winnebago.

I think that I was intentionally in Beloit once since that night. I’ve had to drive around it and maybe stopped there for gas. But I do remember winding up at of all things a ska show in Beloit some time during my senior year. MU330! Buck-O-Nine! Gangster Fun! But I have not been back since. I mean… it’s Beloit.

And I never got a chance to see B.B. again in a less absurd setting. I can sort of make a throw-off comment that I regret that, but really, wasn’t it fabulous to see an icon in the rain in the armpit of Wisconsin? Why would I want an experience like that to be diluted in my memory?

As for other things, I talked on the phone a couple of times with the cute girl from Mount Morris, but for some reason we never actually hooked up, probably because I was 16 and had no idea what the hell I was doing. The Bulls beat the Suns in 6 games. I specifically remember listening to “Gonna Raise Hell” right before getting out of the bus in Oglesby before the regional math tournament. Also, NAFTA passed.

All of this is a long way of saying: Rest in peace, B.B. King. Thank you for the rain and the picks and the boogie. But mostly, thank you for the blues.

Life as a series of unread periodicals

May 4th, 2014 by Phil No comments »

There are 4 periodicals larger than newsletter size which I read on a consistent basis:

Chicago Reader.  Publication frequency:  Weekly.  If you’re in Chicago, this needs no explanation.  If you’re not in Chicago, it probably still needs no explanation.  It’s the city’s main weekly paper.  I read most of it.  I don’t tend to read the theater reviews or things having to do with visual art or dance, and I don’t read Dan Savage’s column.  I tend to read pretty much everything else.

MAGNET.  Publication frequency:  Monthly.  This is a music magazine.  It published either quarterly or bimonthly from the mid-late 90s until about 2009 or 2010.  Then it stopped.  Then, inexplicably, it returned a couple of years ago, and suddenly publishing monthly.  It is basically an indie-rock magazine.  There are short articles on about a dozen bands each month, a mid-sized feature, a long feature, a couple of regular columns, and a boatload of album reviews.  I read it almost word for word.

Preservation.  Publication frequency:  Bimonthly.  This is the official publication of The National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Ostensibly the writing is mostly about American historical treasures which have been saved or which are in danger of being demolished.  It’s very well done.  A large chunk is devoted to place-specific advertising; I don’t read that.  I read everything else.

Journal of Illinois History.  Publication frequency:  Quarterly.  A typical volume of JIH has 3 pieces about 25-30 pages long and then about 8-10 book reviews.  At least 2 of the book reviews are always for books about Lincoln.  This is the last vestige of scholarly interaction I have with my once-chosen field.  I read everything.

At any given point in time, I can assess “how far behind” I am relative to “the world” or “whatever” by counting the stack of unread periodicals.  Now, since the Reader is weekly, it’s a bit preposterous to declare the current week unread as of 7:00 on a Wednesday night.  But if I get to the weekend – yeah, then it’s unread.

Right this very minute, I have no backlog of unread periodicals.  It is liberating!

This is a stupid way to approach existence, of course.

Here is the thing:  I simply have a hard time reading books anymore.  Five years ago, I kept track, and I read something like 50-60 books that year.  Four years ago I was at maybe 40.  Last year I maybe read 4?

There are a lot of factors that play into this.  I used to read primarily on the train, and I used to have a longer overall train ride.  I spend a lot more of that train time jacking around on my phone.  And the periodicals always seem to get in the way of books.

But the main thing is that I can’t just sit down and absorb a book.  My attention span is shot.  The phone is definitely part of that, but the phone is symptomatic at least as much as it could be considered causal.

I especially can’t read at home.  I used to read before bed.  I can’t do that anymore.  I can mess around on the computer for a long time but it’s incredibly difficult to stay focused on a book for a long time.  If it’s a book of essays or short stories – especially if it’s sort of light, something like David Sedaris or Chuck Klosterman – then it’s all potentially a little easier.  But I still just can’t seem to sit down and read.

In my mind, it would even be hard to go to a movie anymore.  That would require sitting there for 2 hours.  That’s not how we watch movies at home.  Hell, we don’t even watch movies at home!  It’s too involved most of the time.  We watch TV on DVD or Roku but those are all like 45 minute episodes.  We’ll watch a documentary, but most documentaries are in the 60-75 minute realm, and even then, we’ll probably get up at least 2-3 times each.  And we were doing that before there was a baby involved in the process.

And so in the context of all this, the periodicals take on a weird, strangely heightened importance.  They become actual tasks.  Sometimes I really have to buckle down and focus to finish an issue of MAGNET.  It’s not that I don’t like what I’m reading – it’s just that even the feature-length articles can sometimes seem too involved to sit down and read at once.  They’re like 6 pages!

I have seriously been thinking about the idea of hauling this tiny family off to some place for 4-5 days of reading and not much else.

Part of the problem, and this is a long-standing problem, is that if I do read something, there’s no followup, nobody to talk to about it.  I’ll read a Nelson Algren novel, and it’ll be amazing, and there’s so much in it to talk about, and it’s all about Chicago, and I’m, you know, in Chicago, and there are thousands of people somewhere around me who have read Algren and have things to say about it, and I know like 1 of those people and I don’t know that guy well at all and how can this possibly make any sense?  A few years ago I blitzed through 3 of Fitzgerald’s novels back to back and somehow had nobody to talk to it about any of them.  This isn’t some random schmuck writing some weird YA fiction that might vaguely involve wicca.  This is F. Scott Fucking Fitzgerald, and I can’t actually talk to anyone about this?

We’re a very fragmented culture.  I don’t mean that entirely in a bad way.  I think it’s fascinating and interesting that everybody seems to be interested in very different music or books.  Now, yeah, it seems like everyone is interested in the same television shows.  But there’s really a rich diversity of thought and taste when it comes to so many things and I think in a lot of ways this makes for a stronger society and it is indicative of how much better a world this is than it was for my parents.  And yet, there is something really bizarre about feeling culturally isolated when I’m reading books straight out of the decades-old established canon.

The culprit, and the savior, is the Internet.  The Internet has been this amazing engine of allowing people to pursue their own tastes.  It brings ideas together in unquantifiable ways.  But it also boils so many of those ideas out to tiny nuggets, often hyper-disposable.  People become united in weird ways, pushing into greater abstraction.  It’s like a Big Bang of Culture – the universe keeps expanding and things are flying all over the place and it’s all terribly exciting but it’s so chaotic.  In the midst of the chaos we seem to be able to be transfixed by things like major sports and political stories but there’s precious little depth there.  The Internet holds us together, but in the loosest possible way.  We’re so fractured now that if not for Facebook we’d be lost.

And so the impending arrival of another issue of MAGNET provides cohesion and regularity.  The two primary touchstones of the week are Monday morning when we go back to work, and Thursday morning (or Wednesday evening if lucky) when the Reader magically appears.

The rumours of print being dead?  Don’t believe the hype.  Someone, somewhere, is going to keep printing something on a periodic basis, and it’s going to provide an important serving of mental fiber for our bizarrely constipated existence.  They – in some form – will never stop arriving, and so life will truck along, perpetually a series of unread periodicals.

Now, if I could just find somebody to talk about that article from JIH about horror movies being broadcast on Quad Cities television in the late ’70s, I’d be all set.

Football, America, and the Frontier

May 4th, 2012 by Phil No comments »

I don’t know when it was exactly, but at some point, football overtook baseball as my sport.  I don’t think it was anything baseball did wrong.  I think it’s just that the nature of football, and the nature of America – of the media, of the workweek, of other aspects of mass culture – those things just made it inevitable that football would be our sport.

One thing we can lose track of with football is how at a base level it requires so little equipment.  All you really need is the ball.  When I think about recess from fourth to sixth grade, I remember playing 500 and kickball and basketball but when the weather got cold it was mostly football.  And the other weird thing about football, I think, is how you just didn’t need to be that athletic to play football at recess.  Basketball took a lot more coordination.  Even kickball did more to separate the athletes from the wannabes.

The idea that you could get injured playing football – I think it’s always been easy to think of that as a known risk.  Even the idea that it could really mess you up… that’s a tradeoff in the eyes of people who think about it at all.  Football screwed up your brain because you got hit so many times in the head?  Well, what did you expect?

While it’s true of all professional sports, and for that matter of a great many other things, football in particular embodies the idea of pushing boundaries without acknowledging the consequences of pushing those boundaries.  In this sense, football really is the quintessential American sport.  The boundaries that are pushed in football are largely individual and physical, with payoffs coming in terms of boundaries in media and money.  Similarly, the American approach to mass energy consumption has largely been about pushing the boundaries of energy extraction.  The American approach to finance has largely been about pushing any boundary you can imagine.  The last two presidential administrations are fascinating case studies in pushing boundaries – and in seeing which boundaries they really aren’t that willing to push.

Is it possible that football is reaching a breaking point?  It may not get there this year, but there’s this sense that football has gotten too fast, too powerful, too violent.  Of course it’s always been fast and powerful and violent.  Dick Butkus was a previous generation’s Junior Seau.  But Dick Butkus went on and did whatever kind of goofy acting Dick Butkus did.  Junior Seau shot himself in the chest at age 42.

Roger Goodell seems to get it.  The Bountygate suspensions are evidence that he gets it.  The growing number of casualties – he sees this.  But isn’t there an irreversible trend here?  How can you tell football to stop being even faster?  How can you tell football to stop being even more powerful?

Isn’t the NFL just a manifestation of that simple game we played as kids, pushed to its logical extremes?

Isn’t America’s excessive energy usage just a manifestation of everything America has been for two-plus centuries?

Isn’t Wall Street exactly what we should expect from the continuing evolution of an economic system based in a heavy mythology of capitalism?

Aren’t all of these things basically just examples of the Frontier Thesis in operation?  Specifically, the idea that there will constantly be new frontiers, that there will always be an aggressive push toward being smarter, faster, more powerful, etc.?

And at some point, does that push reach a breaking point?

The conundrum that faces the NFL, and, I’d argue, the conundrum that faces America, is that there are such breaking points.  Again, Roger Goodell seems to get it.  His approach seems to be to try and steer the NFL away from some of these breaking points – maybe even to the idea that the product really doesn’t need to evolve much more at this point, except in terms of safety, and that instead of the product evolving, the focus can be on pushing its reach internationally.  But this is really just a recognition that one frontier has been met, and an attempt to try to find another frontier, another direction for growth.  I’m not convinced that direction for growth is going to work, because I feel like the inherently American nature of the game will tend to undermine that growth.  And so I think what we’re actually witnessing right now is the beginning of the peak of football.

Similarly, it’s fairly obvious that the American economy is in some really deep shit, whether people in Washington want to admit it or not.  It’s not just America, of course.  A lot of the Euro zone is experiencing negative growth.  Well, gee, maybe there’s something inherently flawed with the idea of a constant-growth-economic model.  But of course we can’t talk about things like that.

And also similarly, our energy situation is pretty damn hosed.  We’re at Peak Oil.  Why else would there be attempts to do such insane things like hydrofracking through the slate of Southern Illinois?  It’s just an attempt to pick up the frontier boundary and go somewhere else with it.  There’s no serious discussion of scaling back on energy usage.

The thing is, I like football.  It’s my sport.  It has been since I was young.  And I like making money.  I think I’m worth more money than I’m currently making, so why shouldn’t I try to make more?  And I like using energy.  We pretty much all do.  It’s about as unrealistic to think that I could “break up” with football as it to think that I would somehow go off the grid, or that I would be content to stay at the same or a lower salary for the rest of my life.

But I know those are the directions we collectively need to be headed.  I might fall short on a personal level in some ways, but the deeper into all of this we get, the more I think in terms of somehow needing to challenge the Frontier Thesis.  In simplest terms, the Frontier mentality is not sustainable.  This is a brutally difficult thing to get across to people.  It might not be so hard for some of us to accept it on an intellectual level, but let’s face it, a lot of the endeavors we think of as sustainable are really just an attempt to sustain the Frontier mentality.

Will it take more suicides like Junior Seau’s to fundamentally alter the way people approach football?

And what will need to happen in society more broadly that can fundamentally alter our Frontier outlook?


awww yeah

April 28th, 2012 by Phil No comments »

So.  This blog has been moved, and has been switched over to WordPress, and I am trying to make something coherent happen with it.  I’m downloading something called GIMP to try and accomplish something graphical.  We’ll see how all this goes.

the day I came down with the chicken pox

March 7th, 2012 by Phil No comments »

This was spurred on by a recent discussion I randomly started about 11th Street in Rockford. This is the story of the day I came down with chicken pox. I am not sure if I should say the chicken pox.

I want to stress, though, that this story is not really about chicken pox. It is about 11th Street. Really, it’s more about 20th Avenue, and important lessons people learn in their lives.

So. I was in third grade! We had a substitute teacher that day – a substitute we’d never had before, and by my recollection she was kind of cranky.

I can’t remember exactly what happened, if I said I was feeling bad, or if somebody asked why I had red bumps all over me, I don’t know. School had only just begun, or maybe it hadn’t even begun yet, who’s to say. But I was in my classroom and all of a sudden it was like, oh hey, you’ve got chicken pox. I don’t really remember anything else about all of this except that I remember putting my coat on and the substitute was cranky and was all like, you should be doing that out in the hall. Okay.

So, my dad came and got me. At this time our car was a Ford Pinto. I don’t know what year it was and I doubt it mattered. The reason we had a Ford Pinto is because our AMC Gremlin had been totaled in the previous year. The Gremlin had been brown, kind of a metallic poop color. The Pinto, I think, was kind of a faded orange-brown, but I may be getting the exact color confused with my grandfather’s Mercury Bobcat, which was kind of a burnt orange. The Bobcat, of course, was the step up from the Pinto. I swear I am not making any of this up.

Now my school was King, and King was on the west side. We lived on 6th Street. So for us to have been on 11th Street doesn’t really make sense – we must have stopped somewhere else.

Anyway, it was a school day, and it was the morning, and it was cold enough for me to have a coat, so it was probably early in 1985 though maybe it was late in 1984, and I had come down with the chicken pox, and my dad picked me up, and now we were driving south on 11th Street, just past Bowl-Mor, and yes, that was the actual name of the bowling alley. And so we turned right onto 20th Avenue.

And as we turned, my door flew open. Not like, immediately it was wide open, just like, it came unlatched, and just kind of started to open. So when I say flew, I mean “fly” in the graceful, birdlike sense, not in the speedy, timelike sense.

We were not going that fast. As the door started to fly open, and I think I said something, but who knows for sure what was or was not said, and my dad realized that my door was flying open, he naturally stopped the car. That is when I fell out of the car.

I really do not remember if I had tried to reach for the door at some point and failed… I just know I fell out of the car, onto the street. It was not a violent fall. I was not injured. I did still have the chicken pox.

And so all of this is how I came to be sitting on the street, on 20th Avenue, alongside my father’s stopped brown/orange/tan Ford Pinto.

All of this was not far from our house. I am pretty sure that I got up and back in the car, and we locked the door, and I held onto the door as we continued slowly home.

Several important lessons were learned that day:

First, wear your seatbelt! In 1985 this was not exactly standard practice, not even for an 8 year old in the front seat. I know this sounds crazy but I was wearing my seatbelt long before most people I knew.

Second, do not drive a Ford Pinto! Now, this was before it was widely known that upon side impact a poorly located fuel tank would cause such vehicles to explode. Pintos were still common then, even though they hadn’t been made since 1980.

Third, maybe do not drive a Ford at all!

Fourth, quarantine yourself when you have the chicken pox! Or, alternately, visit people who wish to receive it themselves, or who wish to have others receive it. My mother was keen on having me give chicken pox to my sister, then age 3, and she did indeed receive it. She therefore missed out on ever getting to go home from school because she had come down with the chicken pox. Jessie, I am sorry.

All of you fall into three camps: those of you who know nothing about Rockford, those of you who know precisely where I’m talking about but haven’t seen the area in many many years, and those of you who are intimately familiar with the area as it stands today. 11th Street, in the vicinity of 20th Avenue, is a post-industrial hovel. Bowl-Mor has been shuttered for years. Most of the nearby factories are not operating. It is not the worst part of the city by far, but it is, as was pointed out earlier tonight, “vaguely creepy”, and this is the case both by day and by night.

Whatever else may happen, though, that corner, of 11th Street and 20th Avenue, that part of 20th Avenue specifically, from now until the end of time, it can be said, Phil Huckelberry Sat There, and I can say, Yes, I Sat There, The Day I Came Down With Chicken Pox.