Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Concealed Carry

In last Friday's print editions of the Chicago Tribune, columnist John Kass expressed his humiliation at residing in the only state in the union that has yet to pass concealed carry legislation. Read here how arming Americans will make us more--not less--civilized.

No one asked, but allow me to share my (unprinted) opinion:

Dear Editor,

I was dismayed to read John Kass’ column Friday the 24th citing his embarrassment over Illinois’ failure (his words, not mine) to pass concealed carry legislation.

To the Dirty Harry fetishists aching for such legislation, I pose this question: why is this a good idea?

When confronted with an E. coli outbreak, is more E. coli the answer? When segments of the population are beset by heroin addiction, is the answer more heroin? And when a certain brand of blinds are found to be potentially lethal to children, is it best to ramp-up production of those blinds?

Of course not.

But according to the addled logic employed by cowboy wanna-bes like Kass, the answer to our endemic gun violence is still-more guns.

You’ll have to explain to me how this is wise, especially in a country where we can’t decide how far back an airplane seat can be reasonably reclined without coming to blows and forcing an airplane flight to return to its point of departure.

Is this really a population that should be armed?


La Piazza Gancio
Chicago, Illinois

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Appreciation of Clarence Clemons

It had been, at the time, a while since I listened to Bruce Springsteen. When I did, the giant piece of my young adulthood that was tied up in those songs came pouring out of me in a torrent.

It was impossible to listen to a song like Badlands without remembering the certainty and the resolve I once felt, and without realizing how drastically life had changed.

No wonder it produced a giant lump in my throat.

Lights out tonight
trouble in the heartland
Got a head-on collision
smashin' in my guts, man
I'm caught in a cross fire
that I don't understand
But there's one thing I know for sure girl
I don't give a damn
For the same old played out scenes
I don't give a damn
For just the in betweens
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul
I want control right now
talk about a dream
Try to make it real
you wake up in the night
With a fear so real
Spend your life waiting
for a moment that just don't come
Well, don't waste your time waiting

Badlands, you gotta live it everyday
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay
We'll keep pushin' till it's understood
and these badlands start treating us good

Workin' in the fields
till you get your back burned
Workin' 'neath the wheel
till you get your facts learned
Baby I got my facts
learned real good right now
You better get it straight darling
Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
till he rules everything
I wanna go out tonight,
I wanna find out what I got
Well I believe in the love that you gave me

I believe in the love that you gave me
I believe in the faith that could save me
I believe in the hope
and I pray that some day
It may raise me above these


mmmmmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmmm

For the ones who had a notion,
a notion deep inside
That it ain't no sin
to be glad you're alive
I wanna find one face
that ain't looking through me
I wanna find one place,
I wanna spit in the face of these badlands


No small part of Springsteen’s appeal was the saxophonist that accompanied him. In the E Street Band, the saxophone frequently assumed the role of lead guitar, underscoring the majesty, the salvation, or the sadness in many a Bruce Springsteen song.

It was like punctuation; an italics or bold-faced font. I can’t imagine Born to Run, Backstreets or Jungleland without Clarence Clemons. If ever one musician belonged with another, it was Bruce and Clarence.

In twenty-first century America, we often use the word legacy. Probably too much. We want to be remembered for something. For having influenced someone somehow. Clarence Clemons has no such concerns. He left an indelible stamp on some of the most singular music of his era.

I hope you were happy, Clarence. I hope you realized how the nameless, faceless throngs that filled those arenas thrilled to your playing. I hope you know what it meant to them. And to me.

I hope it meant something to you.

Rest in peace. And thank you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Brand Names and Championships

I know it’s considered bad form to celebrate the failure of others, but I can’t help it. I am happy the Miami Heat lost the 2011 NBA Finals.

There. I’ve said it. Light the fires of hell.

I’m happy because I am a sports purist; one who holds on to the quaint notion that great teams are made, not purchased. One who believes a wily general manager scours the draft for cohesive and complementary talent, pulls off a savvy trade or two and voila! A champion is born.

This as opposed to writing checks.

George Steinbrenner forever corrupted professional sports, and for reasons that are far beyond me is roundly celebrated for it. Thanks to him, the commonly-held belief, the aspired-to business model, is he with the most all-stars wins.

And the Miami Heat are merely the NBA’s Steinbrenner knock-off. They’re the Yankees of South Beach. A collection of high-profile players that, on paper, make for a can’t-miss team.

If this were a proven formula, the Yankees (with a payroll that is typically twice that of any other MLB team) would win the World Series every year. Daniel Snyder (Washington Redskins) and Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) would have split the last decade’s Super Bowls.

The Detroit Red Wings would have more Stanley Cups than President’s Trophies. And the 2003/04 Lakers—the team that Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined to form a supposed 82-0 juggernaut with Shaq N’ Kobe—would have won the title going away.

But they didn’t. These chemistry-free undertakings have by and large gone title-less.

In a celebrity-obsessed, brand-name culture such as ours, I suppose this was inevitable. Which only serves to make it more refreshing to see that titles and trophies are still based on chemistry, and not Q indexes.

Enjoy your summer, guys.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Hamster Wheel

“Please make sure you arrive at least ten minutes early” said the voice on the phone. “We’ll send a confirmation e-mail that’ll list all the stuff you need to bring.”

I hung-up. When it comes to mounting productions that ooze ego and self-importance, only Broadway can compete with corporate America. There are screenings and pre-screenings and online tests and personality profiles, and you still aren’t anywhere near an interview.

As directed, I arrived ten minutes early for the 9:30 screening, bringing a sheaf of papers that contained the vital information requested by my would-be employer. Copies of my high school and college diplomas. My W2s. Lists of previous addresses, employers, schools, and references. My driver’s license and of course, my social security card.

I brazenly left last week’s grocery store receipt at home.

Upon entering the lobby of the hotel hosting the job fair, I saw a sign mounted on an easel. It read ‘Peapod’, with a big, green arrow underneath. Things were going swimmingly.

As directed by the big, green arrow, I turned right. I found myself in a corridor lined with hotel rooms. Ahead lay only an emergency exit and a vending machine room. It was difficult to imagine how either was connected to the job fair.

I turned back, and found myself being followed by half a dozen people, also attired in business casual.

“The arrow is wrong” I said. “There’s nothing down here.”

This was met by the tepid smiles of those reluctant to socialize. We trudged back to the lobby.

Only it wasn’t really a lobby—it was a hallway with pretensions. Architectural criticisms notwithstanding, I approached the teenager behind the desk. He politely looked up from his cell phone as I approached.

“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Yes” I said. “Where is the job fair being held? And while you’re at it, where are they hiding the Ferris wheel and cotton candy?”

A look of concern clouded his young face. He did not know. His eyes darted left, then right. His head extended just a bit beyond the confines of the desk as he scanned the hallway, er lobby.

“Just a minute.”

At least I wasn’t the only one to whom the location of the job fair was a mystery. I listened for the sound of calliope music. Nothing.

“Sir?” The clerk had reappeared.

“Um, Peapod isn’t ready yet. But when they are, it will be in there.”

He gestured to an area beyond the sign with the big, green arrow. Behind frosted glass windows, figures could be glimpsed.

“I see” I said. “Thank you.”

The clock read 9:35. I faced the others and shrugged. As the de facto head of the job fair search committee, it was my job to communicate.

“They can be late. They already have jobs.” one of my committee members noted bitterly. I didn’t argue.

I found an empty stretch of wall and attempted to lean against it inconspicuously. I took great care not to appear shiftless or lazy. First impressions, you know.

About 9:45 a joyless young woman emerged from behind the frosted glass and made an announcement. Her voice cleaved the silence like a hatchet.

“People—if you’re here for the job fair you need to cross your name off the list and come in the conference room and fill out an application.”

By now there were over a dozen of us waiting, and we moved en masse to a clipboard on a small table and scanned the list for our names. Free pens were available for those who did not have them.

I noticed a woman dressed in dark green pants with a light green top. I wanted to ask her if this was on purpose or just a happy accident. I refrained.

In the conference room, a large screen TV had been turned on, presumably for the entertainment of the woman who had barked at us in the lobby. I was relieved that my selfish search for financial sustenance wouldn’t interfere with her need for noisy, mindless entertainment.

“Hello and welcome to You Choose, the game show where you’re the boss! And how is everybody doing? Great! I’m your host Darrell Woodson, and today we’re going to be looking for two special contestants to compete for cash and fabulous prizes! Is everybody ready?”

I thought of asking her to turn it down, but realized my future lay in her hands. And if prolonged unemployment teaches you anything, it’s to be fearful. It would not be a good idea to provoke her.

If she wanted to watch a game show while I listed my previous employers and the extent of my education for the 1,422,309th time, so be it.

“Is there anyone here from Connecticut? I’ll give two-hundred dollars and a chance at today’s grand prize to anyone who can prove they’re from Connecticut! Who’s from Connecticut? Oh come on! There must be someone in our wonderful audience from the great state of Connecticut!”

I began to supply the names and locations of my elementary, junior high and high school, and of the two colleges I attended and the degrees received from each, and the names, addresses, phone numbers and descriptions of employment at the previous decade’s employers.

When I was done I reviewed my application. I wanted to ensure that my ‘t’s were crossed, my ‘i’s dotted and that my p’s and q’s were minded. I stood up and approached the table where Barking Woman sat.

“Hi!” I said, attempting to simultaneously convey warmth and enthusiasm.

“Have a seat” she said, without looking up.

She took the sheaf of papers and looked them over wordlessly. She pulled out the fresh copy of my resume I had been instructed to bring and inspected it.

“Why did you leave New Mexico?” she asked.

I told her it was a tough place to earn a living.

“What is Rio Grande?”

“A jewelry supplier”.

She fell silent. The game show seemed incapable of doing so.

“That’s right Gloria! You have your choice of a year’s supply of Captain Bob’s barbecued shrimp and an all-expense-paid trip for two to Las Vegas or whatever’s behind the curtain Monique is standing in front of! What do you choose?”

Satisfied she had extracted whatever was worth extracting, Barking Woman dismissed me.

“If the hiring manager feels your experience is a good match with the opening they’ll call and schedule an interview. Otherwise, you’ll get an e-mail. Okay?” She turned the papers over and placed them on the left edge of the table.

“I’d love the opportunity to meet with Peapod again” I said. “Thank you for your time.”

Barking Woman leaned to her right to make eye contact with the applicant behind me. “All set?”

I got up to leave.

On the big screen TV, Gloria chose the curtain. Behind it was a box of dog treats.