10 Unusual Things For Which I’m Thankful (November 25, 2010)

1. Getting Fired

Yes, though I remain out of work and the unemployment experience is often panic-filled and emotionally draining, I am grateful to have been let go. That’s because the job I worked, under the thumb of an arbitrary and capricious narcissist, was wrong for me and my long-term goals in just about every way. But because I will often continue to push a boulder up a hill even after my back gives out, I’m not sure anything short of termination would have allowed me to look beyond my immediate surroundings to strive for something better.

2. Bristol Palin Finishing 3rd on “Dancing with the Stars”

This bit of justice served demonstrated to me, on a microcosmic level, that the rational middle can band together to combat the hysterical and determined fringe, if only their organizational abilities are channeled in the right direction. All that remains is to inspire people to vote for their national leaders and the direction of their children’s future with the same enthusiasm. Maybe one day we can vote for President via 888 number, text and email?

3. Tendonitis

When a recurring case of deep tissue tendonitis on the underside of my right foot ended a burgeoning running career, I felt despondent. Forced to sit on the sidelines for eight weeks until I could consider cardio again, I felt like the oldest 32 year-old in the world. But then my friend and trainer Rob repaired my old bicycle and a new world opened. I have covered the entire North and West sides of my beloved hometown of Chicago on a trusty Schwinn, and I have people watched until the eyes literally stung. And my problematic thighs and rear end have never looked better. Boo ya injury!

4. My Father’s Final Break With Reality

Tragic and more painful than there are words to describe, but also oddly transformative and liberating at the same time. For the first time in 32 years, I am not living anyone else’s life or paying for anyone else’s mistakes but my own.

5. My Husband’s Anxiety

My nickname for Eddie is “Aunty,” because in many areas of his mostly together life, he carries himself with the needless worry of an old Indian woman. I tell him often that he loves to conjure crisis where there isn’t any. But in one particular case, when he fretted for naught this year that he was about to be let go from his contract position at work (instead, they wanted to offer him an extension), his jumpiness paid dividends. He now has a permanent managerial job with a huge and stable company – with plenty of room to grow. In a year plagued with my own employment instability (see #1), there is something to be said for insurance.

6. The BP Gulf Oil Spill

Of COURSE I wish this catastrophe had never happened. So much coastline, so many animals, jobs and resources destroyed by the carelessness and greed of a government/corporate dynamic. Horrifying. But since the tragedy did occur, I learned a lesson, one I am afraid much of America has not yet received. We MUST liberate ourselves from clutches of oil consumption. It is bad for our environment. It is bad for our nation’s security. It is bad for our economy. We need a plan, and we need lawmakers who aren’t more interested in lining their pockets with Big Oil slush funds.

7. Mayor Daley’s Resignation

Ding dong the witch is dead! Whatever the King’s reasons, I could not be happier to rid this fantastic City of his corrupt ass. The sickening property taxes, the astronomical cost of housing, the horrendous parking meter lease, the Chicago Olympic never-should-have-happened bid. Waste, graft. Rarely have I seen a lawmaker so overstay his welcome, although John Boehner has been House Majority Leader for like 10 minutes and I’m already past my limit. Anyway, Daley’s departure also opens up one of the most wacky and exciting populist contests to hit the Chicago machine since I don’t know when. Rahm Emannuel, Roland Burris, and Carol Mosley Braun? Nuts!

8. The Finale of Lost

Thank you Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse for teaching a control freak such as I that it is possible to be utterly mystified, vexed and awed and still love every moment of what I am seeing.

9. Brett Michaels

The former hair metal hasbeen taught me this year that it is possible to cheat death twice (major stroke, hole in the heart) and still come back to win Celebrity Apprentice and bust up Billy Ray Cyrus’ marriage. Inspirational middle finger to the Grim Reaper.

10. Nicoderm CQ

For saving Eddie’s life.

Gang Members Get Schooled in the RP (July 29, 2010)

gang-member-signs

I grew up in Chicago, and couldn’t be more proud to call this busy, diverse metropolis my home. Most of my youth was divided between the neighborhoods of Ravenswood (where my tiny Lutheran grade school sat) and Portage Park, where my folks bought a home in 1985. I attended a fairly rough Chicago Public high school, but no venue was better suited to teach me the street smarts that are necessary in life. Instead of lamenting my lot, I celebrated it, somehow realizing that overprotection doesn’t well prepare one for the adult world.

Thanks to my secondary education, I learned a lot more than how to write an essay or dissect a fetal pig. I learned how to jostle myself and my heavy book bag through a tight crowd, without letting the bigger, meaner looking kids intimidate me. I learned how to focus and avoid the distractions of cross clique trash talk. I learned how to look beyond graffiti and grime to appreciate the architecture beneath. Most importantly I learned that all of us kids, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status, wanted the same things: good grades, parental approval, freedom and a love life. We also rebelled against the same influences, albeit in our own different ways: authority, convention and the status quo.

Though there were some dicey and violent incidents that occurred on school grounds, I developed a sixth sense for staying away from trouble, in ways I might not have had I attended a more pristine institution. Gang activity was always around, but if you steered clear of the people sucked into that world (and you well knew who they were), everything was copacetic. I learned to feel sorrow, rather than disdain, for the peers who found their lives over before they really began- often from broken (and notably fatherless) homes, victims of world weary hopelessness at an age that should be flush with promise and opportunity.

Several months ago, I relocated with my husband to the lake front neighborhood of Rogers Park. This area, from the 1970s until fairly recently, was well known as one of the most dangerous places North of downtown. But like every other waterfront locale in Chicago, Rogers Park has enjoyed a boom in development and gentrification. However, this economic rise is exclusive, and one of the many reasons I take issue with the policies of Mayor Daley. It is not difficult to walk the streets and encounter the faces of those who have been left behind: the homeless and mentally ill who line up to solicit change from commuters disembarking the Red Line, the pre-op transsexual, shabbily made up, and furtively looking for love at the local bars, the exhausted mother with five children who walks down the street, heavy with grocery parcels paid for with limited WIC card means.

Part of the reason I was drawn to the area is that it reminded me so much of my high school experience. But now, unlike then, I am in a position to advocate on my neighborhood’s behalf. I am enjoying the diversity, the richness of my daily experience and I do not want to see people with limited opportunity and resources driven from the area. Through my day job as an activist for human services, my involvement with the Rogers Park Business Alliance, and through connections with the local alderman’s office, I am striving to make sure that the wealthy white collar crowd doesn’t make diversity an endangered species.

However, just as it was in high school, gang activity in the area threatens to encroach upon the collective peace of mind, and efforts to uplift the community. As a student, as I mentioned already, I knew who the players were and how to keep my distance. I do not always have this same benefit today.

On Tuesday night, around 9 PM, not an hour after alighting from the train and walking through my front door, on the same street that serves as playground to scores of unburdened neighborhood children enjoying long summer hours, two rival gangs (the Latin Kings and the Grand Disciples – well known to residents of Chicago) decided to open fire on each other on the crowded block. After talking with my neighbors, I learned that the melee was started over the same tired “turf wars” that have always accompanied gang activity. I am happy to report that no civilians were injured in the event, but that was just dumb luck, rather than deliberate consideration on the part of enemies, who might otherwise be friends if not for the brainwashing of their organizations.

I stood on my porch watching as Chicago’s finest chased, and then apprehended the gunman. This was met with a loud whoop of approval from my apparently fearless fellow citizens. A few brave and sporting souls even assisted the police by loudly tracking the suspect’s movements. The victim was loaded into an ambulance, and witness statements taken, before the police moved onto to deal with the next violent crime.

These bystanders, my neighbors, were the true heroes of the evening. Not only did they set aside concerns for their own safety to aid and abet the law, but they stood their ground on that street corner – at times the crowd six people deep. They were sending a message to those who would engage in violent crime: “This is OUR turf damn it and we are not afraid of you!” Is it any wonder I love the neighborhood?

The recent Supreme Court decision to strike down Chicago’s handgun ban, and the City cash crunch that is increasingly forcing the layoff of public servants, seems to suggest that incidents like Tuesday’s may become more frequent. I already overheard some of the people in my building (notably white and upper middle class) discussing plans to relocate. That would be a shame. Stay and hold your ground. Learn through exposure, as I once did, not to let the bigger, meaner kids intimidate you.

Supreme Court Son of a Guns (July 1, 2010)

dc_handgun_ban_main

I am both pro-Bill of Rights, and anti-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. While the latter has done much to beautify and invest in the City’s downtown/lakefront infrastructure, his tenure, at 21 years and counting, has gone on way too long, and is one of the best arguments for term limits I have ever encountered. While Daley Jr. has ushered in the reversal of a decades-long pattern of affluent urban flight, he has presided over the all-but-crushing of the City’s poor who no longer find transportation, housing, City fees, parking, gas and a whole host of other necessities within their reach.

Having been born and raised in the Windy City, I can clearly remember a time when middle class families (my father a clerical worker, my mother a nurse) could buy a single family home on the Northwest Side, and make plans to get ahead. This is a distant dream for that same class in 2010. The cause of this can be traced to one very complicated factor: systemic corruption, waste and incompetency at the highest levels of the Daley machine.

Yet that said, and despite my rampant distaste for the Mayor, we find ourselves on the same side of a very important issue: gun control. As you may be aware by now, the Supreme Court on Monday cleared a path to overturn the City’s ban on handguns — among the toughest in the U.S – by remanding an earlier Federal Court decision to uphold the law back to its source for reconsideration.

As I mentioned in the first sentence, I am a big fan of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that acts as the centerpiece to protecting our civil liberties. I understand that one of those rights, whether I choose to exercise it or not, is the right to bear arms, protecting my person and my property. Whether I feel that this right is as necessary in 2010 as it may have been in the late 18th century is another argument for another time. I accept that the Bill of Rights is for eternity, and that is as it should be.

However, I can’t help but find myself in agreement with Chicago Alderwoman Freddrenna Lyle, who was quoted as saying, “If the City can pass a dog ordinance that can protect the public from a dog bite, we should be able to tighten handgun regulations.” Well said, Ms. Alderwoman. Dogs are not illegal, but as they can be somewhat unwieldy under the wrong circumstances, they must be regulated: leashes, licenses etc. Why is the same not applicable to potentially lethal weapons?

Word on the street is that Mayor Daley, an outspoken critic of gun access, reacted “angrily” to the Supreme Court decision, motivated by reasons for once loftier than simply having his unchecked authority questioned. Our Mayor is not a well-spoken or gracefully mannered man. I would have given a year of my life to be a fly on the wall for the initial outburst.

But I digress. Chicago, need I tell you folks, is a violent City, and growing more so all the time. Rampant gang activity and a debilitating economy breed a sense of despair and hopelessness which quickly morphs into lawlessness. In 2009, the Windy City’s murder rate was approximately three times higher than that of New York City. That is a very telling statistic in a calendar year in which lakefront citizens were unable to buy handguns. This of course begs the question: once these weapons are available on the open market, what then?

State and local governments already squeezed budgetarily do not have the resources to step up the pursuit of violent criminals. Are we naïve enough to believe that predatory crime syndicates are not ten steps ahead of the rest of us, preparing to use this development to advantage?

So what is the answer? I don’t have it, and clearly, neither does Mayor Daley, and the Supreme Court justices deliberately chose to be hands off. Their job is to locate legislation that doesn’t jibe with the Constitution and undo it. Fine. Understood. Be that as it may, we are all, at the end of the day, responsible to a degree for each other. That is another foundation of the loose confederation of these States.

Children playing in the streets of Chicago are already being killed at an alarming rate. How do we explain to them that grown-ups have the right to own any kind of gun they like, even ones that have no use for other than killing, and they just may have to get used to the occasional death of a friend?

Seems Un-American. The Bill of Rights offers some implicit right to safety, does it not? By protecting our rights to speech, arms, and against unreasonable search and seizure – these fall under the umbrella of security. The Supreme Court’s black and white interpretation of Chicago’s ban against handguns makes all of us in the Windy City less safe.

Weekend Headlines (December 6, 2009)

While I was away at the Renaissance hotel on State and Wacker last night with Eddie, living like a lucky princess: (room on a restricted access floor, steam room and jacuzzi, deep tissue massage – I guess there are some perks after all to having a husband who traveled all year and earned enough Marriott points to settle the national debt), I awoke from the lazy haze of anniversary pampering long enough to pay attention to the following:

1. ‘SNL’ criticized for Tiger Woods skit

http://tv.yahoo.com/news/article/tv.accesshollywood.com/tv.accesshollywood.com-snl-criticized-after-airing-tiger-woods-domestic-violence-skit-while-rihanna-show

Like anything could be more “insensitive” than portraying yourself as the ultimate stable family man to millions of fans, while in fact being a dirty, shameless, immature manwhore. I thought Jon Gosselin had an absolute lock on being the sleaziest husband/father in the public eye this year. But in a photo finish, it appears Tiger Boy may upset the poster boy for Ed Hardy after all.

2. Cutler stumbles after fast start but Bears earn must-win over lowly Rams

http://espn.go.com/nfl/recap?gameId=291206003

The Bears managed to win one. Yeah! Dubiously, they are decalred by CBS broadcasters to be “in the hunt” for a playoff berth. Not with Lovie in charge and our superstar quarterback calling plays. I never thought I’d miss Rex Grosssman. Ever. But at least he sucked without eating too much of the payroll.

3. Slew of tax, fee, fine hikes across the city – GOING UP City taxes and fees on everything from booze to museum admissions have soared since ’04

http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/1922861,CST-NWS-taxes06.article

When will we the citizens of Cook County let Daley (pick any one) and Stroger (pick any one) stop violating us? I am so tired of it.

CTA: The Chicago Threatening Authority (November 13, 2009)

cta

I seriously cannot believe the gall of these people.

http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2009/11/cta-board-approves-budget-with-no-fare-increases-but-service-cuts.html

This is not an exact figure but I think the last few days represent roughly the 10,000th time in the last two years that the CTA has threatened a “Doomsday” scenario without the aid of some immediate cash. Of course this bloated, corrupt, inefficent and retarded agency would never once consider pulling its head out of its ass as a cost saving measure. Do they truly think anyone would pay $3 for the “privilege” of riding that rickety, undependable shit in the first place? I know the good citizens of Chicago depend, in many cases, entirely on public transportation, which only makes this continuous extortionist chain yanking the more criminal. Be that as it may people, the time is upon us when we must declare “enough! We will endure no more!”

Where I ask you, does the hard earned cash that so many of us spend on fare cards even go? Does anyone actually work for the CTA anymore? Ah yes, I remember: as the #30 South Chicago bus driver Richard W. Linn, a 25 year veteran of the outfit (word used purposely), told me, upper management is so packed with Daley patrons, there is little left in the till for full-time, trained staff. You know, the kind that actually give a shit when you have an issue and don’t just yank your 30-day pass two days early (I remain fumed about this incident at the Damen Brown Line stop)?

What I love the most about this farce is that our fine Mayor would have you believe that despite the department being named the CHICAGO Transit Authority, rather than the State of Illinois Transit Authority, the City is in no way culpable for this mess. There is nothing the King does better than blame shift, and he is ever ready to place the villain’s mantel on Governor Pat Quinn. Our highly educated leader had this to say about the two year fare freeze compromise:

“They don’t permanent fix too much in Washington, D.C. or Springfield. They don’t permanent fix it.”

Um what? I am not even going to touch upon the rampant illiteracy of that statement. It’s fish in a barrel. Getting past that however, I actually have to give Pat Quinn a small hand. The two year fare hike at the very least gives us a 24-month reprieve from any more blackmail about hitting transit riders harder than they already are. And Governor Quinn accomplished this without yanking the free ride privilege from seniors, which if I may, was one of the few things ex-Governor Blago did right. Daley and his cronies were ready to charge Granny and Gramps full price again as long as the wheels continue greasing. Sickening.

This is a rhetorical question of course, but why is the answer never to fix the way the goddamned CTA operates? This fare freeze has not silenced the agency a whit when it comes to service cuts and layoffs. I say, let the layoffs start at the top. Let’s start with Daley.