Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pension End Run May Happen NOW! Call Your Legislators!

Pictured above is Mike Madigan's Stooge, Representative Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, who is leading the charge against active teachers and retirees.
I just heard on WBBM radio in Chicago tonight that the Illinois State Legislature plans to consider a pension bill on Wednesday, December 5th, the last day of the fall veto session.

According to the Associated Press, State Representative Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from Northbook will hold a press conference Wednesday morning which will feature at least two unnamed Republican lawmakers.

Nekritz is House Speaker Mike Madigan's toad.  Madigan is of course nowhere to be found.

According to the Springfield State Journal-Register, the bill calls for the following provisions for teachers hired before January 1, 2011:

*Cost of living adjustments would apply only to the first $25,000 of a pension if the retiree does not receive Social Security and $20,000 if he or she does. This change applies to both current and future retirees.

*Pensioners would receive no COLA adjustment until they reach age 67 or five years after they retire, whichever comes first. The summary says this provision will apply to retirees already receiving COLAs. So an employee who retired at age 58 and is now 60 would not receive another COLA adjustment until age 63.

*The retirement age would increase as follows:  Retirement ages in the current statute would apply to employees 46 and older.  One year would be added to current retirement ages for employees between 40 and 45 years old.  Employees age 35 to 39 would have to wait an additional three years.  Employees 34 and younger would have to wait an additional five years to retire.

*Employee contributions to pensions would go up by 1 percentage point in fiscal year 2014 and 2 percentage points in fiscal year 2015.

*The salary that counts toward a pension would be capped at the higher of the Social Security wage base or the employees’ salary when the bill becomes law.

Once again the two teachers' unions, the IEA and the IFT, have been left completely out of negotiations.  I'm sure Laurence Msall and his rich cronies at the Civic Federation in Chicago have had their red noses right in the middle of negotiations.  The Civic Federation has spent millions in anti-pension propaganda.

And these Civic Federation jokers will not pay a dime if this bill passes.  The burden will be placed on the backs of teachers, and the rich Civic Federation members will wallow in their tax breaks provided by the State of Illinois.

I'm bitching and moaning when I should be calling--and so should you! Call now and leave a message in Springfield for your state legislator.  Tell him or her to vote "NO" on this unconstitutional bill.

If you get no answer in Springfield, call the local office and leave a message there.

Don't let the legislature pass this bill on Wednesday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chicago: The New Capitol of Golf Misogyny

The misogynists at Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook are celebrating today after voting not to admit women members.  The all-male country club is teetering on the brink of financial ruin and would most likely host a major PGA tournament if women did become members, but the good old boys said "NO!”

Butler National hosted the prestigious Western Open from 1974-1990, and that tournament has now disappeared from the local golf radar screen.  Sadly, Chicago is not hosting an annual PGA event, which is a shame because our area boasts some of the finest golf courses in the world, and Chicago golf fans are some of the most rabid--note the huge crowds at Medinah for the Ryder Cup last fall.

But Chicago is also a bastion of misogyny, with  Bob O’Link and Old Elm golf clubs in Highland Park and  Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove all banning women.  Bob O'Link, which boasts former Bears coach Mike Ditka as a member, supposedly paid $250,000 to move its gas meter outside of the country club gates.  Apparently NICOR's meter reader was a woman and was entering the grounds to read the meter located next to the club house.  These jerk weeds didn't want any woman anywhere near their circle-jerk clubhouse so they paid the $250,000 to put the meter outside of the gate because no women are allowed on Bob O'Link grounds.

To quote the Doors Jim Morrison, "I wonder what they do in there?"

Do these Bob O'Link members have wives?  What do the wives say about Dad going to Butler every weekend? I know Ditka once said that he could get a wife anytime.  That seems to be the prevailing attitude of these jokers!

The two country clubs I have been associated with, Soangetaha and Crystal Lake, are family clubs where mom, dad, and the kids can go and enjoy the golf course, pool, tennis courts, card room, and restaurant.

But Butler National, even in the face of falling off of a fiscal cliff, refuses to change its no-woman policy.  Heck, even Augusta National has two women members now, Condi Rice and Darla Moore.  If the racists and misogynists at Augusta can admit women, you'd think that sophisticated Chicago business executives would right this extreme wrong at Butler National.

But nooooooo!

However, even the so-called family country clubs still have antiquated anti-women policies.  The wife and I were playing at Illini Country Club in Springfield a few years ago, and we wandered into the club's basement grill room.  "Can we get some lunch?" the wife asked the male bartender.  "Your husband can, but you can't" he replied.  "This room is for men only.  Our members like to come in here wearing a towel after their showers and have a drink.  Women are not allowed."

I had to get the wife out of there pronto before she caused a scene so we walked upstairs and had lunch in the country club's restaurant.  But the wife still seethes when I bring up our Illini grill room experience. 

And isn't the whole concept of male-only clubs antiquated?  Most public and private golf courses have ladies' days so there is never a problem with male golfers having to wait for women playing in front of them.  At Soangetaha the women play on Tuesday nights, Thursday mornings, and early on Saturdays.  No one complains because the schedule has existed forever.

If women are playing bridge in the Soangetaha grill room, the waitress closes the door so no one is disturbed in the other part of the restaurant. Men and women co-exist in peace.

Surely, there must be women corporate executives in Chicago who can afford the six-figure Butler National initiation fee.  And surely these women would be an asset to this very exclusive country club.

I just want the Western Open to return to Butler.  Former TV analyst and former U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi once called the Western Open "Golf's fifth major."  Let's hope the Butler members have a change of heart and let women  join and then persuade the PGA to bring back the Western.

Chicago deserves a yearly PGA event.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Basketball, Home Town Boys, and Full-Time Teaching

Evan Massey at the end of Galesburg's loss to Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin in December of 2007.
The Galesburg High School girls basketball team is hosting its annual Thanksgiving Tournament at Thiel Gym in Galesburg, and I'm not going to be there.  I was supposed to be broadcasting the games on WAIK this year, but after repeatedly asking for better remote broadcast equipment and not getting it, I gave up.  WAIK uses a cell phone (and if you've listened to the broadcasts, you already know this), which sounds like the announcers are coming out of a barrel.  So best of luck to Coach Evan Massey and the girls, and best of luck to my broadcast partner, Jimmie Carr.  Have a great season!  I'll really miss calling all the games!

*                           *                          *                        *                     

Erik Gibson and John Pepmeyer
The recent Knox County state's attorney election in Galesburg reminded me how golden home town boys can be.  I grew up with a home town boy named Itchie, who played sports in high school and went on to become a lawyer and an important member of the country club in my home town.  I played with Itchie on the high school golf team for two years (until I got kicked off), and he was friendly.  We were neighbors, and our moms went to the same college so he probably had to be nice to me when we were kids. 

But in 2005, when I went back to the country club with a former student of mine and his dad (The dad was a country club member), Itchie wouldn't even acknowledge my presence.  He completely ignored me in the grill room while we were having lunch.  When Itchie's dad died and I sent him $25.00 for the memorial, Itchie ignored that too--no thank you note was forthcoming.  But whenever Itchie's name comes up among my friends back in my hometown, he is spoken about with reverence.  Itchie is a golden home town boy!

That's why I wasn't surprised when John Pepmeyer beat Erik Gibson in the state's attorney's election on November 6th.  Home town boys like Pepmeyer are teflon, and during the campaign Pepmeyer never missed an opportunity to brag to the voters that he grew up in Galesburg, and that Gibson did not.

Gibson is a bulldog, and he ran hard.  Erik and I did lots of girls basketball games together on the radio and rode many bumpy roads to places like Quincy, Peoria Central, and Bradford.  Gibson would never say specifically what was going on in the state's attorney's office, but enough was said to tell me that problems indeed existed.

But John Pepmeyer ("Peppie") is a home town boy, and everyone in town knows that the alleged shenanagins that occurred  in his office are probably true.  Two of the women who Pepmeyer allegedly sexually harassed have settled their law suits out of court, and the other is still suing.  No criminal charges were filed against Pepmeyer by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.  But the county has paid out money in settlements to the former employees; however, no one will say how much.

Gibson would have been a great state's attorney, and I'm not sure what the future holds for the "Peotone Flash."  But I'd have to bet that Gibson's days in the state's attorney's office are numbered.

I asked one of my neighbors the other day what it would take for him to jump off Peppie's ship and vote for Gibson.  "Those women who sued John were from Mangieri's administration [the former state's attorney]," my neighbor said.  "The gals ran the office, and they didn't like John.  He was only trying to right the ship."  Yeah, sure!

Now if that was me or you allegedly playing grab-ass in the office, we'd be out on our ears.  But a home town boy lives a charmed life, and to be honest, I'm jealous.  When I go back to my home town, people remember me from what I was doing the last time I lived there--1970 at age 22.  You can only imagine what was going on then!

*                         *                                 *                          *                        

There haven't been many postings on this blog since summer because I'm back working full-time for the first time since June of 2009.  I'm loving it!  I travel to Dominican University three days a week and to Joliet Junior College five days a week.  The big problem with retirement was the lack of interaction with the students and the other teachers.  I'm still working on getting to know the teachers, but the students are great. 

Some things I've learned this fall:

I had gained about 40 lbs. since I retired from full-time teaching, and I could barely walk around the Joliet Junior College campus because I was so fat.  I've lost 20 lbs. since the end of September and only have 80 more to go.  Hmmmmmm.

The Hispanic enrollment in Chicago Public Schools is now at 46%.  Dominican U. is actively recruiting from Chicago so about 80% of the students in my two composition classes are Hispanic.  I'm having some problems relating to them--I can only tell my getting stopped by the cops in Mazatlan story so many times--but I've learned that diversity in the classroom is a big plus compared to the lily white classes I had while teaching at Fremd.

Some students should not go to college.  I have some students in my developmental English classes at JJC who literally squirm in their seats because they hate college so much.  As one who quit college and went back--twice, I can sympathize.  One of my squirmers told me the other day that he was going to college because he couldn't get a job, and his parents told him that they wouldn't give him any money unless he enrolled at JJC.  He's a competent writer, but I'm not hopeful about his future in college--at least at this time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

60's Music: Gone from Chicago's Radio Stations

"The Wandering Adjunct Mobile"
Since the end of August, I've spent lots of time back in the automobile driving from Sandwich to River Forest to Joliet.  I call my 2002 Prizm the "Wandering Adjunct Mobile," because I'm teaching this year at both Dominican University and at Joliet Junior College.  The Prizm only has an AM-FM radio with a CD player--no satellite radio.  So I've had the opportunity to listen to Chicago's radio stations once again like I did when I drove from Sandwich to Palatine for 26 years while teaching at Fremd.

The listening results have been disappointing!

Believe it or not, the songs from the 1960's have all but disappeared from Chicago radio.  Oh, yeah, you'll hear a 60's song once in a while, but most of the so called "oldies" or "classic rock" stations ignore what is the best rock music ever produced--the music from 1964-74.

Cream:  Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton
If I hear Eric Clapton on the radio, it's the acoustic version of "Layla" or worse yet that horrible "Wonderful Tonight."  "Sunshine of Your Love" is gone, as are "White Room" and "Crossroads."  And if an Animals' song is played, it'll be "House of the Rising Sun"; "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," "It's My Life," and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" are missing in action from Chicago radio stations.  "Sky Pilot"?  You gotta be kidding!

What about the group that started it all?  The Beatles!  The corporate radio programmers have ash canned them too, except for the nominal "Breakfast with the Beatles" shows on Sunday morning.  Who listens to WXRT (FM-93.1) on Sunday morning with Terry Hemorrriod anyway? I'm racked out!

What you do hear on Chicago stations are a smattering of 1970's Rolling Stones songs, "Start Me Up" for example, and lots of Elton John music.  All that crappy late 70's music is holding sway.

Look at this gem!  Rod Stewart in his disco togs.
Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart (I'm puking now!), Supertramp, Eagles, Foreigner, Heart, Toto.  God, please kill me.  When I looked at the playlist for the the last 24 hours at WLS (FM-94.7) this morning, there was not one Beatles song played yesterday, not one.

Ask yourself when was the last time you heard "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," or "Please Please Me" on the radio in Chicago during morning or afternoon drive time?  Maybe, just maybe a station will play "Hey Jude" or "Something" by the Beatles, but I'm so sick of those songs I hit the button when I hear them.  How about "Nowhere Man"?  Heard that lately?  Or "Eight Days a Week"?

You haven't heard these songs because they aren't there.

Bon Jovi in the 1980's
The biggest disappointment is "The Drive," WDRV (FM-97.1), which USED to play 60's and early 70's songs.  When I heard Bob Stroud play Bon Jovi the other day, I swore that "The Drive's" push-button on my radio was going to be changed.  But what can I change it to?  Country music.  Nah, that stuff is worse than listening to WGN's Milt Rosenberg purposely mispronounce President Obama's first name every night on Extension 720.

The irony of the situation is that we aging Baby Boomers who turned 17 in 1965 and 21 in 1969 (Thanks for remembering us Jackson Browne, but you're songs are gone too) have more disposable income that any other radio listening demographic group.  You'd think that the radio programmers would be falling all over themselves putting stations on the air that cater to Baby Boomers' musical tastes.

So what if the stations have to advertise Viagra, nursing homes, no-fall bath tubs, or Depends.  Money is money!

But these assholes are too busy looking at the 35-54 age demographic.  That's why you're hearing Steely Dan and Foreigner so much.  The programmers have completely forgotten us.

The company I used to work for, Nelson Multimedia, has an AM station WSQR (AM-1180) in Sycamore, Illinois.  For a while, the station played classic 60's hits (It's now gone to a "Music of Your Life" format.).  Two years ago while working for the station at the Sandwich Fair, I shook hands with hundreds of listeners from Elgin, Joliet, Rochelle, Rockford, Woodstock, DeKalb, and Mendota who were devoted to the radio station and who loved the music.  "Keep that music coming," a typical listener would say.  "We can't find that music anywhere else!"

The other problem is that the same jerks who ran the Chicago radio stations in the 1970's are still around as are some of the same DJ's.  When I heard Fred Winston last week back on the air at WLS (FM-94.7), I almost drove off the road.  But Winston is not playing the Supremes or the Zombies in his latest radio gig.  He's playing some late 70's or early 80's crap.  Fred, you're a whore!

Pam and Larry Nelson
Some day someone like Larry and Pam Nelson, the owners of Nelson Multimedia, are going to wake up and realize that there is lots of money to be made programming the music of the 1960's and early 70's.

Until that day, I'll make a point to listen to North Central College's radio station, WONC (FM-89.1).  From 10:00-midnight every night, WONC plays the best of the best in 60's music.

Leave it to college kids to recognize the best music!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Sad State of American Journalism

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
 NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell comes to Bears camp last August, and the Chicago Sun-Times does a two page spread on how the Bears players hate him and how they think he's a dictator.  The Chicago Tribune runs one short paragraph under "Bears Bits," which just says Goddell was present at the camp.  Nothing is said in the Tribune about the Bears players' opinions of Goodell.  Of course, the Tribune has become famous as an anti-labor newspaper.

The Tribune also runs a series of stories on the Illinois pension crisis, highlighting abuses of double dipping in the system.  The stories reek of bias against the pension systems.  After the series, the Tribune runs editorials demanding pension reform and calling for retired public employees to give up their cost of living adjustments or their medical insurance.  The Trib's editorial bias against pensions, teachers, and public education moved onto the front page into what should be non-biased news stories.

Channel 7's Mike Adamle
 Channel Five's Mike Adamle leads his nightly sportscast with the fact that the Cubs brought up two rookies for a Sunday game.  The first-place White Sox taking two of three from division leading Texas is relegated to the second slot. in the sports segment  The Cubs are in last place, 25 games under .500 at the time!

WGN Radio always leads its sportscasts off with a Cubs or Blackhawks story because both teams' radio broadcasts are on the station.

NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams
 NBC news anchor Brian Williams asked Texas Governor Rick Perry the following question during last September's Republican Presidential Debates:  "Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates more than any other governor in modern times. Have you struggled to sleep at night?"

Wow!  The journalism that Ray Vanderburg, Reef Waldrep, and some guy named Larry (I can't remember his last name, but he DID give me a "D" in Public Relations.) taught me at Western Illinois University seems to have gone by the wayside.  There is no attempt to judge stories for news value any longer.  The Cubs get the top slot because WGN carries the games, no matter what the White Sox or Bears do.  The Tribune is anti-union so the heck with what the Bears players say about Roger Goodell.

Brian Williams makes no effort to be non-biased in his questioning of Rick Perry.  Williams lets it be known that he is against capital punishment, and damn it, Perry better be against it too.  Did we ever know the politics of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, or Howard K. Smith when they were on the air?

I don't think I did! 

And now every night when I see Williams sitting behind the same anchor desk where Tom Brokaw used to sit, I wonder if the news that night will be filtered through Williams' liberal bias.
Fox News' Roger Ailes

Fox News is worse.  Under one time Republican campaign manager Roger Ailes, Fox makes a habit of airing the conservative side of each issue and leaving the other side unspoken.  Sean Hannity's interview of George Zimmerman, who is accused of killing Black teenager Travon Martin in Florida told America where Fox News stood.   Hannity kissed Zimmerman's butt for the entire interview.

Voters have a harder time making up their minds who to vote for because the media outlets that should be weighing candidates' positions on key issues are too busy spinning the news to promote the candidates of their choice.

Larry King
 Media experts used to complain about Larry King's show on CNN and claim that King just lobbed softball questions at his guests.  But I always found King to be thorough and probing.  He wasn't looking for a "gotcha moment."  King was looking to have his guests comment on the key issues of the day, and no one ever knew where King stood politically.  When I watch Hannity doing an interview on Fox News or Lawrence O'Donnell interviewing a public figure on MSNBC, I have to sift through the bias in order to get to the real story.  And sometimes the real story never emerges.

Our local radio station, WSPY-FM in Plano, sent its news director, Ryan Morton, to the Republican National Convention last summer.  For the entire week, Morton sent back puff piece interviews of local Kendall County Republicans giving their take on the convention.  When I sent Morton a message on Facebook telling him how I was looking forward to his coverage of the Democratic Convention the next week, he sent me a message back telling me he wasn't going to Charlotte.

I told him that WSPY's news coverage was the best argument I'd seen for the reinstatement of the equal time rule which used to force radio and television stations to air opposing views. I never thought I'd want the equal time rule back (It was a pain in the rear dealing with it), but after listening to Morton, Williams, Hannity, and O'Donnell, I'm not so sure any more.

The station I used to work for in Galesburg, WGIL-AM, runs Glenn Beck in the morning, Rush Limbaugh in the afternoon, and Dennis Miller at night--all conservative commentators.  And now WGIL owner John Pritchard is running for mayor of Galesburg.  I guess we know where he stands politically!

Will journalism in America ever return to its glory days?  Could there be a Woodward and Berstein today? 

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Noisy Bear Fans Not Alone When It Comes to Boorish Behavior in Chicago!

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler now knows what those of us who have been going to sports events and concerts in Chicago have known for a long time.  Chicago audiences are there to see and be seen, not to watch the game!

I had to laugh during Sunday's Bears game against the Colts when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was forced to call time-out in the Red Zone because the fans in the north end zone at Soldier Field wouldn't shut up.  Cutler wanted to change the play at the line of scrimmage, and his teammates couldn't hear him because of the noisy fans screaming their heads off.

Cutler now knows what many of us have known for a long time.  Bears fans (and Chicago fans in general) are mostly at the games to see and be seen.  They really aren't there to watch football.  In fact most of these newer Bears fans could care less about the games.  Going to a Bears game for these North Shore yuppies consists of four hours of tailgating, smuggling some exoctic liquor into the stadium, and being in their cars and gone before the fourth quarter is half over.

It didn't used to be that way!

You still hear national sports commentators talk about how knowledgeable Chicago Bears football fans are.  That was once true, but it's not the case any longer.  A knowledgeable Bears fan would never scream and yell when the Bears are on offense in the Red Zone.  A knowledgeable Bears fan would shut up and wait until the team scores, then let loose.

When the Bears moved into the new Soldier Field in 2003, the organization jacked up ticket prices and made season ticket holders buy expensive seat licenses before they were even allowed to buy their season tickets.  Old time Bears season ticket holders left the team in droves.

Make way for the North Shore yuppies, ladies and gentlemen!

When the yuppies came in with all their money, they made going to a Bears game an exercise in showing off.  "Here I am!  I'm dressed in my brand new designer Bears gear.  I'm good and lubricated too!  I'm ready to watch some football.  No, wait a minute.  I don't know anything about football.  I just want to be seen and get myself sloshed. Then I can drive back to Winnetka and get ready to go to the office in the morning and tell everyone I was at the game.  Oooooh!  What will my co-workers think of me?"

God help us!

And these idiots have been calling up Chicago sports-talk radio stations all week defending themselves from Cutler's complaint:  "If I buy my ticket, I can cheer whenever I want!" they say on The Score and on WMVP.


I've quit going to games and concerts in Chicago because of this crap.  When the wife and I went to a Simon and Garfunkel concert at the United Center a few years back, I was able to get prime seats on the side with a great eye-level view of the stage.  It was perfect--until these  four thirty-something jerks in front of us commenced to talking to each other about their jobs and then talked on their cell phones during the entire concert.

Artie Garfunkel sang, "When you're down and out./ When your're on the street . . ." and all I heard was.  "That was something that Jay-Bird screwed that account up and had to eat the results."


Then when the daughter and I followed Bruce Springsteen's Devils and Dust and Seeger Sessions tours around the Midwest in 2005 and 2006, I discovered that audiences in Madison, St. Louis, Des Moines, and Milwaukee did not scream out song titles or call out "Bruuuuuuuuuce" between songs like the idiots in Chicago did.  Just before Springsteen took the stage at each concert, Allison Krause's "Down to the River to Pray" would play.  In Chicago a woman behind me excitedly asked her friend, "Is that Celine Dion singing?"  My daughter and I rolled in the aisle laughing.  Celine Dion?  She sunk with the Titanic, honey!

But maybe the worst place to watch a game in Chicago is Wrigley Field.  The place is crawling with North Shore 20 and 30 something junior yuppies talking and walking round the ballpark throughout the entire game.  And none of their talk is about baseball.  I tried to keep score (I know, I'm a relic!) at my last Cubs game, and I made it to the bottom of the second inning before I gave up.  The people around me were distracting me with their inane talk to the point of insanity.

So now I only go to electric concerts in Chicago.  Paul McCartney was so loud at Wrigley Field that the yuppies could have talked about their jobs all night and I wouldn't have heard them.  I was grooving to Paul singing "The Night Before" and "Paperback Writer" (I still can't believe he did "The Night Before"!).

So I hope that the fans at Soldier Field will be silent the next time Jay Cutler leads the Bears offensive inside the 20 yard line.  But I sure ain't betting on it!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Bitter Strike Ends Badly for CAT Workers

CAT worker Vickey Pogliano reacts to results of the strike vote outside of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union hall in Joliet on Friday.

The rich, corporate hacks at Caterpillar Tractor are celebrating this weekend.  They have busted out another union, this time the Machinists Union at the Joliet, Illinois CAT plant.  Look at the above photo of CAT worker Vickey Pogliano.  It even makes ME cry!  Vickey and other 600 machinists in the local voted to return to work on Friday--they HAD to--they'd been without a salary since May 1st.  But Joliet CAT workers will be paying double for health care, their pensions have been frozen, and those hired before May of 2005 get no raise.  There is a $3,100 one-time signing bonus for all workers.  Big blankin' deal!

CAT CEO Douglas Oberhelman is smiling.  His company has busted out another labor union.

This is in contrast to CAT's CEO,  Douglas R. Oberhelman, who made $49,114,564 in 2011, according to Morningstar.  Six CAT "group presidents" averaged over six million dollars for the same year.  That's like winning the lottery every year!  The executives' salaries go up, the plant workers' salaries go down.

Tier I Cat workers (workers who were hired before May 1, 2005) will continue making an average of $26.35 an hour for the next six years.  There is no raise. 

So it is in the corporate run America of 2012.

What CAT is doing to its workers is criminal.  Here is a company that is getting $330,000,000 in tax breaks per year from the State of Illinois, is making money hand-over-foot, and CAT cannot pay give its workers a cost of living increase?  Shouldn't the CAT workers be sharing in the company's good fortune? 

Yes they should!

The Republicans like to talk about President Obama starting a campaign of class warfare when the president proposes raising the income taxes of those making over $250,000 per year.  But what CAT did to its Joliet machinists is the real class warfare.

Just think what Vickey Pogliano and her family will have to do.  First, Vickey will have to work longer because her pension has been frozen.  The night when she and her husband took the kids out to Pizza Hut will fall by the wayside.  Instead of having chicken every Sunday, the family will eat rice and beans.  Any hope of sending the kids to college will disappear.  They will have to find their own way to college.  The back-to-school supplies and clothes will not happen this year.

Meanwhile Doug Oberhelman's salary went up 42% this year because of CAT's record profits.  Doug and his wife Diane will have a multi-million dollar pension when he retires.  They can vacation anywhere they want in the world.   I can't believe this guy's from Woodstock.  In my next life I'm going to have a long talk with him in 1965 as I hold him by his shoe laces over the side of bridge above the Chicago & Northwestern tracks. ("Now when you grow up, you're going to be a Chuck Percy Republican, Dougie! Got that?")

The question then is how long will Americans sit by and watch this go on?  How long before you get up off your dead ass, head out into the streets, and protest what CAT and all of corporate America is doing to the middle class?

Here's hoping you get up soon.  Time's running out!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Governor Gets His Oats at Illinois State Fair

Take a look at the photograph above, fellow teachers!  This picture of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, which was taken at the Illinois State Fair yesterday, should scare the crap out of you as the Illinois State Legislature gets ready to re-convene on August 17th to consider pension reform for Illinois teachers.

I get as paranoid looking at this photo as I did when a Crystal Lake cop car pulled up behind me in 1968.  Madigan and Quinn have been at odds over school districts footing the costs of future pension payments for active teachers.  Madigan thinks the Illinois school districts should pay the pension costs since they are giving huge end-of-career salary increases to administrators; Quinn and his new-found Republican buddies believe that property taxes would go way up if the school districts have to pay pension costs.  Quinn and Republican House Minority Leader Tom Cross want to wait and phase in a system where school districts pay teachers' pensions over a ten year period.

Now Madigan and Quinn have their arms around each other?  Yikes!  Have they made peace?  And Madigan in a White Sox cap?  I'm going to ask the wife if the Cubs will have me as a fan (like Mike Royko did in reverse!).  I want nothing to do with either of these two jokers.

All the experts are saying that nothing will happen on August 17th, but this photo tells a different story, fellow teachers.

Union members are not sitting still.  According to the Springfield State Journal Register, Governor Quinn was booed off the stage when he spoke Wednesday at the Illinois State Fair.  The union protesters followed Quinn all the way from the Democratic County Chairmen's breakfast until the governor finally bailed out and fled the fair grounds after the booing in the afternoon.

Look at the photo above, no one will shake Quinn's hand!  Don't you love the look on the farmer's face?  Classic!

Quinn was so flustered during his boo-shortened speech that he called President Obama, Osama bin Laden:  "I think everybody knows that Obama, uh, he's gone, he's dead, and the American auto industry is alive and well, thanks to our president."

Madigan also got booed, and the unions hired a plane to fly over the fair grounds with a banner that said, "Gov Quinn--unfair to workers."

Get to the phones, teachers.  Quinn and Madigan can't screw us unless they have the Republican votes in the legislature.  If you have Republican representatives and senators (like I do), call them and tell them to vote "no" on any bill that would raise property taxes.

It may be our last chance!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Taking an August Breath During Chicago's Sports Season

The Chicago baseball teams had a day off yesterday, so all sports addicts had a chance to reflect on the baseball season and what's going on with the other off-season team.

Let's take a look!

White Sox righthander Jake Peavy
Chicago White Sox:  The first place Sox have been lucky and good.  And you need that during a pennant race--look what happened in 2005!  Kevin Youkilis was a real steal from the Red Sox (Is Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine really that bad?), and Brett Myers has pitched well so far in a set-up role.  I just love starting pitcher Jake Peavy, who was maligned by the Chicago media establishment as a "waste of money" all last season when he was coming off surgery.  Just goes to show you what those idiots in the sports media know.  Peavy will top 200 innings pitched, and he'll make it hard for the Sox to let him go next year.  Here's hoping that the Sox re-sign Jake, and look to get a 2nd baseman.  Robin Ventura FINALLY benched Gordon Beckham on Wednesday against the Twins.  The problem is that back-up Orlando Hudson's batting average is worse than Beckham's.  The Sox also need a back-up catcher who can hit over a buck eighty.  Some think starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski is the best catcher in modern Sox history, and I'm not arguing with that premise--at all! (Sorry, Pudge!)

Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman.
Chicago Cubs:  Get ready for 100 losses, Cubs fans.  Any chance of a .500 season went out the door when the Cubs dumped Paul Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Geo Soto, and Reed Johnson at the trade deadline on Tuesday.  Man, that was a house cleaning!  What's left?  Well, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, that's what!  I don't think Darwin Barney will make the down-the-line cut, and Steve Clevenger will NEVER be an everyday catcher.  Who else is there?  Vitters?  Jackson?  More minor leaguers?  Cubs GM Theo Epstein wanted to trade Matt Garza and Alphonso Soriano last Tuesday but couldn't.  Garza has a bad elbow, and Soriano supposedly  nixed a trade to the Giants.  I went to a game last year that Casey Coleman started, and I swore, never again.  Let's see if the lemmings that are Cub fans continue to fill that ballpark.  I know I won't be there.

Chicago Bears:  The Bears hype machine is in full throttle.  In fact it's worse than ever.  Even some of the national mopes point to the Bears as a playoff team and a threat to unseat Green Bay as Central Division champs.

Don't believe it!

Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi.  Will he make the whole season?
Here's why the Bears won't win and won't make the playoffs.  First, the offensive line can't protect quarterback Jay Cutler.  First round draft choice Chris Williams is a a bust, and the rest of the line (except for center Roberto Garza) is a piecemeal bunch.  Right tackle Gabe Carimi's knee is a big question mark, and there is absolutely no depth behind the starters.  How can a team that was so lousy up front last year not draft an offensive lineman?  Easy, every offensive lineman they draft is a bust.  We'll know about Carimi soon.  The Bears sure botched his surgery--wait, his two surgeries!

Second, Cutler will get hurt because the offensive line is so bad.  Back-up QB Jason Campbell will be better than Caleb Haney, but anyone's better than that guy (It makes you wonder how these coaches evaluate talent, doesn't it?).  The Bears will become more of a running team under Campbell, which will result in running back Matt Forte going down.  Michael Bush will be better than Marion Barber, but anyone is better than Barber (No, Jim, don't think of the Denver game again!  You'll have nightmares!)

Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett.  How's the lacerated liver?
Third, the receivers are definitely better in 2012, but the number two guy is still a rookie, Alshon Jeffery.  And look at the questions about Jeffery's conditioning and his heart.  I love Earl Bennett, but the Bears just admitted this week that Bennett sustained a lacerated liver in that New Orleans game last year.  Can Bennett be a no. 2 or 3 receiver?  And I'm so sick of the talk about Devin Hester being the new Johnny Morris.  Hester will be 30 this fall.  Watch for a fall off in his production.  I know, I know, Brandon Marshall, Brandon Marshall!  All I have to say is look at his track record.  Miami gave him away.  That's telling!

Defensive end or linebacker?  Bears No. 1 draft choice Shea McClellin
Fourth, the defense has no depth--none, nada.  When Green Bay won its last Super Bowl, the Packers were decimated by injuries, but they  overcame those injuries with depth.  There is no depth on the Bears.  No. 1 draft choice Shea McClellin is undersized for a defensive end, and Bears Coach Lovie Smith is determined to play McClellin at end, not linebacker where he seems to fit better.  Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is age 34, outside linebacker Lance Briggs will be 32 in November, and cornerback Charles Tillman is 32.  Heck, Julius Peppers will turn 33 in January.  These ages are not a bad sign alone, but when you look at the players behind these starters, there's no one home.  Safety Major Wright has been a major disappointment.  Safety Chris Conte is bordering on being a bust and hurt all the time, and defensive tackle Stephen Paea must become a factor this season.  I'm scared that this defense, if left on the field too long, won't be able to stop anybody. 

Bears assistant coach Jeremy Bates
Fifth, coaching.  The Bears players love Lovie Smith, but he continues to be the worst game coach in the NFL, and his talent evaluation is horrible.  Remember Earl Bennett being inactive for a whole year when he was healthy?  Jeremy Bates is a breath of fresh air on the coaching staff, but he's kind of a free spirit who doesn't fit into Smith's rigid tell nothing to the media mantra.  Lovie better produce because this team can't miss the playoffs again.

Unfortunately, I think the Bears will just sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 or will duplicate last year and finish 8-8. 

Hopefully, the White Sox will be entertaining us in October!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pension Games--AGAIN!

Grab your wallets, fellow teachers, Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois State Legislature are getting ready to try to pass pension reform again.  Quinn called a special session of the legislature for Friday (You didn't think they'd have the session on a Monday, did you?), August 17th to consider changing the pension benefits for active and retired teachers.

I love the transparency of these guys!  Just as teachers are getting ready to start the new school year, the governor calls for the special legislative session.  And we thought trying to slip the bill through during the long Memorial Day weekend was sneaky and unethical!  How much time are teachers going to have to call their legislators when they are back in their classrooms teaching or preparing to teach?  I'm teaching five classes this fall; I will make time to call, but I know that many of my colleagues will have trouble finding the time.  However, call we must, fellow teachers!  Call your state senator and state representative starting today, and then keep calling up to and through the special legislative session!

Now you can see why Quinn didn't call the legislators back in June.  Having the special session on August 17th is a tactic to thwart the teachers unions from mobilizing their members.  After all, we're the largest state pension system by FAR!

I  began to get suspicious something was brewing when I watched a baseball game on Channel 9 last week, and saw the station heavily promoting anchor Mark Suppelsa's show Pension Games, which ran tonight on WGN-TV and on CLTV.

Whatever happened to ethics in journalism?  Mark Suppelsa of WGN-TV (Channel 9
Suppelsa has become a pawn of the Civic Federation, which is made up of millionaires and billionaires who receive huge tax breaks from the State of Illinois and who have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign to fix Illinois pensions and screw active and retired teachers.

Channel 9's Suppelsa and the Chicago Tribune newspaper, both owned by the bankrupt Tribune Company, have been banging the drum all this year about the abuses in the state pension systems.  Suppelsa tells us about double-dipper politicians in Chicago and how they are making hundreds of thousands of dollars drawing from multiple pension systems, about superintendents who retire from a school district in Illinois and then move to Iowa or Missouri and get a job there making three or four hundred thousand dollars a year, blah, blah, blah.

These are the exceptions, fellow teachers, not the norm!

The norm that Suppelsa and his media cronies at the right-wing Tribune never talk about is the retired downstate teacher whose pension is right around the average of $30,000 per year, who gets NO Social Security benefits, who pays $445.00 per month for a state PPO health insurance policy that sucks, and who now must make a decision whether she should lose her 3% per year cost or living adjustment or lose her health insurance policy from TRS.  (I say "she" because 85% of retired and active teachers in Illinois are women.  (Feminists, that little 85% tid-bit is for you!)).

Laurence Msall, President of the anti-teacher Civic Federation
On tonight's show Suppelsa had the nerve to have Laurance Msall, the president of the Civic Federation sitting first at the table in the WGN-TV studios.   There was no representative from the Illinois Federation of Teachers or the Illinois Education Association, the two teachers unions.  The only voice that remotely spoke for us was Democratic Senator Michael Noland, and he wasn't much of pension defender.  In fact, he was pretty sad.  The others?  Governor Quinn; Senator Christine Radogno, Republican minority leader; Rep. Tom Cross, Republican House Minority Leader; and Representative Elaine Nekritz, who is House Speaker Mike Madigan's lackey.  Madigan, of course, was nowhere to be found!

All of this comes as Peoria, Illinois based Caterpillar Tractor last week reported record profits.  Caterpillar announced Wednesday that the company’s sales and revenues grew 22 percent from second-quarter 2011, which adds up to $17.37 million. In the same amount of time, profits grew from $1.02 billion in the second quarter of 2011 to $1.7 billion in the second quarter of 2012, an increase of 67 percent.

Meanwhile, 800 union workers at Cat's Joliet plant have been on strike since May 1st.  The company wants to raise employee health insurance costs which would negate the workers' miniscule raises.  According to the Peoria Journal Star, Cat received $330 million in tax breaks from the State of Illinois last December.  Add Motorola, Boeing, Sears, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange--the list of companies receiving corporate welfare from Illinois taxpayers goes on and on!

And don't forget these companies pay little in the way of taxes back to the State of Illinois.  The percentage of taxes we teachers pay is higher than any of these corporate welfare hogs.  Maybe if these big companies stepped up to the plate and said, "O.K., we see you have a problem.  Let's all work together to solve the pension deficit," the teachers unions would agree to help out. 

But noooooo, what do these companies do?  They hire Laurence Msall, Ty Fahner, and other Civic Federation mopes to go out and spread lies about our pensions--which we paid for--and try to make us agree to take the hit ourselves instead of spreading the cost around.  When negotiations are held in Springfield, representatives of the unions are not invited, but the Civic Federation gets the first chair.

The problem is that the anti-teacher pension campaign is working.  My brother, who is covered under the flush IMRF pension, said to me tonight, "Well we've got to do something!" implying that we teachers were going to have to bite the bullet because of years of legislative mismanagement of the state pension system.  My brother's wife feels the same way.

Remember, fellow teachers, that you paid, or are paying, over nine percent of your salary to TRS for your pension.  The State of Illinois has not funded TRS to the level required by law.  THAT is what has caused the pension deficit.

Teachers should NOT be forced to bear the palm alone!  Call now!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tom Cook's Mom, Howie the Assistant Golf Pro, Shannon, and the British Open

Ernie Els holds up the Claret Jug after backing into the British Open championship on Sunday.
Headed over to the country club on Monday morning to drink coffee, and shoot the bull with my buddy Howie, the assistant golf pro.  As I pulled into the parking lot on my bike, Tom Cook's mom, who is a cocktail waitress at the club, was exiting the cart shack where Howie has an upstairs apartment.  She glared at me as she walked toward her car, a 1968 blue Chevy, which was sitting alone in the parking lot.  Howie's apparent paramour was still wearing her cocktail waitress uniform, and her hair was all messed up.  She wore no make-up.  I stood there staring at her as she put her nose up in the air, looked at me like I was a piece of garbage, and proceeded to her beat-up Chevrolet.

A few minutes later Howie appeared.

"What's going on, my man?" I asked him as I pulled my bike over near the caddy pen.  Howie's face was covered with lipstick and his neck full of hickies.  He glanced at me and began to open up the cart shack doors; he was kind of hang-dog like and wouldn't look at me, apparently embarrassed that I had seen Tom Cook's mom coming out of the cart shack at 6:30 on a Monday morning.  Howie and I have known each other for a long time.

"Must of been a hell of a night!" I said as I walked past the pro shop toward the cart shack where the coffee was.

Howie still didn't say anything.  He just began pulling out carts for the country club's afternoon golf outing.  That was my cue to head to the back of the cart shack and put on the coffee pot.  A few minutes later Howie finally appeared in the coffee area.  I was already sitting down sipping my coffee.

"Not a word about Donna!" he said as he held his right hand up in a stop motion.

"Who's Donna?" I asked.  I had already forgotten the forty-ish red-head I had seen in the parking lot.

"The waitress you saw leaving my apartment," Howie answered as he walked over to grab a cup of java.  "You know, Donna, the waitress?!"

"Oh, I just know her as Tom Cook's mom," I said.  "Hey, at least you're not bopping members' wives like the last assistant pro did.  That's a one-way ticket to unemployment."

Howie frowned, coughed, and looked away, not saying anything.

"Hey, Howie," I said, changing the subject, "how did "The British Open" ever become 'The Open Championship'?"

"What do you mean?"  Howie asked.

"You know, we all refer to yesterday's golf tournament as 'The British Open,' but the announcers and advertisements all call it 'The Open Championship,'" I said.  "How did that happen?"

"You're Irish," Howie responded, "you know how arrogant those English are.  They invented golf so they think by calling the tournament 'The Open Championship' instead of 'The British Open' that they are making their tournament the only open golf tournament." Howie sat down and actually looked at me for the first time.  He had washed his face and covered up his neck with a turtle-neck.  He looked human again.

"What about the U.S. Open and the Canadian Open?" I asked.  "Isn't the U.S. Open just as important as the British Open?

"To an American, the U.S. Open is the most important golf tournament," Howie said.  "You remember when Kenny Pinns was a member here how the club used the fact that he had played in a U.S. Open as a way to get new members.  Those British snobs are just trying to lord it over the rest of the golf world by calling their tournament 'The Open Championship.'"

"I think it's confusing," I said.  "But at least I didn't have to listen to Mike Tirico, Curtis Strange, and Paul Azinger yesterday."

"How'd you avoid them?" Howie asked.

"DirecTV had a channel with international coverage so I watched that.  Peter Alliss was on there, and I can't understand him because his British accent is so thick.  It was great.  But Nick Faldo came on about half way through so I had to turn off the sound."

"You're just in love with Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie!" Howie said as he laughed heartily.  "I like Strange.  But nobody likes Tirico or Azinger.  The problem is that ABC only broadcasts a limited number of tournaments each year so they're not as good as NBC or CBS.  Nobody saw the end anyway," Howie said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"When Tiger got that triple-bogey seven on the sixth hole, millions of television sets went off around the world."

"Mine didn't," I said.

"I'll bet you fell asleep in front of the television," Howie said with a gleam in his eye.

"Well, I did miss Adam Scott bogeying 15, 16, and 17, but I saw his last putt on 18," I said sheepishly.

"See, I told you," Howie laughed.  "Golf's television ratings depend on how well Tiger does in a tournament.  When he flops, the ratings go in the toilet.  What it shows is how weak the PGA tour is.  If it wasn't for Tiger, the men's tour would be in as sad a shape as the women's tour is.  When was the last time you watched a LPGA event or even saw one on TV?"

"Uh, not lately,"  I said.  "But don't viewers hate Tiger after what he did with the porn stars?"

"Nobody talks about it!" Howie said.  "The network commentators never say a word about the golden showers and the porn stars.  You'll hear a reference to Tiger's wife Elin taking the three-iron to him once in a while, but that's it!  They're trying to protect Tiger and the TV ratings so nothing is said!"

"You should be on TV, Howie," I said.  "You know all the inside dope!"

Suddenly we heard a noise in the front of the cart shack, and Shannon, the wife of one of the members appeared.

"Oh, Howie, I was looking all over for you,"  Shannon said in this Marilyn Monroe voice. "The pro shop is locked, and I need to find out when my new golf cart is going to be delivered.  Do you know?   You said you would bring the cart over when it came in.  Don't you remember that?  Is the cart here?"

She put her hand on Howie's shoulder and leaned down so her ta ta's were exposed to Howie's gaze alone.  I was completely ignored.

"Let me check on that, Mrs. J.," Howie said as he got up, walked to the pro shop, and unlocked the door.  Shannon followed him inside.

"I'm getting the hell out of here," I thought to myself as I headed toward the caddy pen and my bike.  As I was riding down the country club driveway, a '68 blue Chevy turned in.

"There's going to be a hot time in the old pro shop this morning," I thought as I pedaled down Riverside Drive to Lake Avenue.

Hope Howie is still employed for next week's coffee klatsch.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ron Santo: Cubs 3rd Baseman's HOF Induction Way Overdue

The wife with Ron Santo in Mesa in 2009.  Ronnie was simply the nicest guy you could ever meet.
I'm sitting here wondering today about these idiots who kept former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo out of the Baseball Hall of Fame for all these years.  Who are these jerks?  They are hard to find and hard to name.

What a tragedy that Ronnie will not be in Cooperstown this weekend to savor this supreme moment.  I just seethe every time I think about these bozos who kept Santo out for so long.

Number one on the culprit list are the sportswriters who use the Hall of Fame balloting as their revenge on players they didn't like when they were covering them.  Santo wore his heart on his sleeve, and he never missed a chance to let a sportswriter know when the writer was asking a stupid question.  He also had run-ins with teammates, notably Don Young and Dick Allen, when Ronnie felt the teammate wasn't pulling his weight.

My theory is that the sportswriters and players outside of Chicago are jealous of the Cubs and the fan adulation they receive.  Major leaguers WANT to play in Chicago for the Cubs; they don't want to play in Cincinnati!  And can you believe that these sportswriters have never unanimously elected any player to the HOF--that includes Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Cy Young?  Santo never came close to the 75% of sportswriter votes needed for induction.

The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee was worse when it came to inducting players.  Led by former Reds second baseman "Little" Joe Morgan, who has always had a hard-on for any Cub player, Santo was left out.  Year after year Ronnie hoped and waited, and year after year these pricks left him out.  Hell, the Veterans Committee left everybody out!

Ron Santo (#10) clicks his heels after a Cubs win in 1969 on his way to the clubhouse with his teammates.

Santo naysayers point to Ronnie clicking his heels after Cubs' home wins during the 1969 pennant race.  Mets pitcher Tom Seaver thought Santo was bush league when Ronnie did the heel click, and Seaver mocked Santo by clicking his own heels when the Mets beat the Cubs and passed them in September.  Santo always said that Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who was always looking for some kind of publicity, told Ronnie to do the heel click.

What does Santo clicking his heels have to do with getting in the Hall of Fame for God's sake?  It was 1969!  The Cubs lost!  The Mets won!  Who is the hell is going to carry a grudge that long?  Seaver sounds like my hard headed German grandmother!

Another argument is that there are too many members of the 1969 Cubs team in the Hall of Fame and that the team never won anything.   Here are the other Cubs Hall of Famers from  the 1969 team:

Ernie Banks, first baseman
Billy Williams, left fielder
Ferguson Jenkins, starting pitcher
Leo Durocher, manager

Please tell me which one of the above players/manager is not deserving.  I can remember President Richard Nixon visiting the troops in Viet Nam during the summer of 1969 and talking to the soldiers about how good the Cubs were playing.  Nixon thought the Cubs were going to win the whole thing--everybody did!  The whole country was captivated by that '69 team.

As much as I dislike sabermetrics (Cubs play-by-play man Len Kasper drives me to the vodka with his constant stat spouting during a Cubs broadcast), John Grochowski has a great story in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times about how Santo stacks up with other Hall of Famers:  http://www.suntimes.com/sports/baseball/cubs/13816327-573/ron-santo-a-rightful-hall-of-famer-according-to-sabermetrics.html

Grochowski uses offense and defense to evaluate Hall of Famers.  The statistic is called Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  Santo's WAR is 66.6.

Hall of Famers with a higher WAR than Santo: Rickey Henderson, 106.8; Cal Ripken, 90.9; Wade Boggs, 88.3; Ozzie Smith, 73; Paul Molitor, 72.5; Larkin, 67.1.

Lower WAR than Santo: Gary Carter, 66.4; Tony Gwynn, 65.3; Ryne Sandberg, 64.9; Carlton Fisk, 63.7; Eddie Murray, 63.4; Roberto Alomar, 62.9; Andre Dawson, 60.6; Dave Winfield, 59.4; Tony Perez, 50.1; Kirby Puckett, 48.2; Jim Rice, 44.3.

Ronnie sure belongs if you look at the WAR stats!

My greatest argument in favor of Santo's HOF induction is personal experience.  I watched him from his first game to his last game, and I listened to him on many, many radio broadcasts.  I can even remember where I was when Cubs left fielder Brant Brown dropped a fly ball in left field on September 23rd, 1998 against the Brewers.  I was driving home from school on the North-South Tollway at Roosevelt Road.  I'll never forget that moment.  Santo's groan put me on the I-355 shoulder. 

Santo was a great clutch hitter and an even better fielder.  He may not have been as good defensively as Brooks Robinson, but Ronnie was in the conversation, and Santo was the better offensive third baseman.  No one knew Ronnie suffered from diabetes.  Santo never wanted his medical problems to affect how fans or the media perceived him.

Ronnie with his fan club in the 1960's. 

Santo was a great broadcaster, despite what turds like WSCR talk show host Dan Bernstein say about him.  Bernstein never misses an opportunity to make fun of Santo.  Guys lie Bernstein like to hear statistic after statistic recited during a broadcast.  Not me!  I like a broadcaster with personality like Santo or Jack Brickhouse who groan and scream when things happen in a game.

Surprisingly, the Santo family has not shown any bitterness toward the Hall of Fame and the fact that it took so long to induct Ron.  Ronnie's wife Vicki was a guest on Chicago Tribune Live on CSN Chicago last night, and she would not say a bad word about the sportswriters or the Veterans Committee.

I just see the voters' delay as meanness and jealousy.  Ron Santo's personality is bigger than the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It's as simple as that. I sure hope Ronnie and my old man are sharing an Old Style in heaven this weekend. 

Here's to you Pizza Man!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Waiting for a Dark, Dreary November

I was busy building a pile of books and magazines on the corner of the living room table the other day when the wife stopped me and asked me what I was doing.

"I'm getting ready for November," I said.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"I'm getting some reading material together so that when this horrible summer ends, I'll be ready to sit here and look up from my reading at the gray and rainy golf course," I answered.  "Then I'll be happy."

"You're goofy!"  my wife, a clutter-hater and summer lover, said.  "You're not going to leave that stuff sitting on that table till November, Buddy-Boy.  Stick it in the closet or put it in the basement.  Besides, you always used to like summer."

Not after this year.  I hate this Arizona-like summer!

When we were kids, my brother and I used to laugh at my mom because she loved cold, dark, and rainy November days.  And snowy December or January days were even better for her.  My brother Bob and I were both summer lovers.  There were kids all over our neighborhood in the 50's, and we could play baseball all day long.  We lived only two blocks from Crystal Lake so Bob and I could swim or fish whenever we wanted.  We used to sleep out in tents with our buddies and go down to the lake in the middle of the night and skinny dip.  Summer was our favorite season by FAR!

Not any more.

I've been out of school since May 1st, and every morning I get up and peek out the crack in the corner of the venetian blinds and see that sliver of sun coming through.  "Crap, another sunny, hot day," I think to myself.  The wife, a former life guard, loves it.  "Let's play golf," she says.  When I make an excuse why I don't want to play golf (allergies always works), she says, "I'm going out and weed and get some sun."

And off she goes.

I look longingly at the roll of aluminum foil sitting on the counter and contemplate covering the windows to keep out the sunlight like I used to do in college when I could actually sleep until noon.

I guess my mother's Irish ancestry has been passed on to me at the advanced age of 64.  My mom used to sit in our living room in this rust colored chair that was comfortable but terribly worn.  She had the chair situated so that she could look out the picture window at the front of our house.  On a dark and dank November day when she didn't have to teach school, Mom would exile my brother and me to the TV room in the basement, send my dad off to work, and then grab her cup of coffee and cigarettes and set up shop in the rust chair.

My brother and I thought she was nuts.

When I was teaching at Fremd High School, I would call my mom every night and ask her how her day went.  "Oh, it was lovely," she'd say on a particularly snowy day when it took me two hours to drive to school.  "I sat in the chair and watched the snow come down and the phone never rang.  Mr. Markee got stuck in his driveway and someone came along and got him out.  I had the best day!"  Then she would realize that I had struggled to get to and from work and she would add, "But I was worried about you on the road too."  Yeah sure she was!

In February of 2011, I was teaching at Monmouth College and just barely made it back to Galesburg before the blizzard began on Ground Hog Day.  I stopped at the grocery store and got enough beer and supplies to last me a month and headed home.  The wife was in Chicago so I was alone in the house as the blizzard hit in all its fury.  I set up a spot at the end of the couch and had a great view of the golf course piling up with snow.  The wind was so strong that the house was shaking as I watched the bird house in my neighbors' yard move back and forth like a crazy pendulum from a Poe story.

I felt like I was in heaven!

This summer has me longing for November--or December--or January and even Feburary.  The wife and I played in a golf tournament yesterday, and I was so hot afterward that I thought I was going to faint.  Plus, the dinner was in a tent set up on an asphalt parking lot.  Man, was it hot!  The wife was sitting there jabbering away, drinking beer, and having the time of her life, and all I could think was "November, please come."

Colonel Palmer House in Crystal Lake
My brother Bob feels my pain.  A few weeks ago we were talking on the phone about the Colonel Palmer house in Crystal Lake, which is an 1858 farm house and the home of the Crystal Lake Historical Society.  "Wouldn't it be great to go out there to the Palmer house during a blizzard, watch the snow come down, and see the traffic disappear from Rt. 176," I said to Bob.

There was a long pause, and Bob started laughing.  "You're right, it would be great, just like Mom!" he said.

"You get the beer, and I'll get the pile of books and we'll be ready," I said.

Here's hoping November gets here FAST!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Helen Schersten (1928-2012): She Made the Fremd English Department Great!

Sad news this week as former Fremd High School English Department chair Helen Schersten passed away in Palatine at the age of 83.  Former students will remember Helen as THE teacher of British Literature in the Fremd English Department.  She had more literature and composition knowledge in her little finger than I will ever have.  I just feel very lucky to have worked for her for twelve years.  What a classic Helen was!

Today's Fremd English teachers like to say that their department is the best high school English department in the country, and they're probably right.  But most of the teachers teaching English at Fremd today never heard of Helen Schersten.

Well, it's time for you to learn!

Helen was teaching English at Palatine High School in the late 1960's when an opening occurred at Fremd for a department chair.  She always said she left P.H.S. because "of that damn coffee pot!"  Apparently the teachers at PHS always were arguing about who would buy coffee, and the coffee pot used to get left on and smell up the office.  Somehow management of the coffee pot fell to Helen, and she had had enough of the department coffee pot.  I smiled when I was in the Fremd English Office last year and saw a coffee pot sitting over in the corner.  "What would Helen say about that!" I thought.

Helen saw the Fremd English Department grow from a handful of teachers to almost 30 full-time faculty during her 20 + years as department chair.  She worked with three principals:  Dick Kolze, Stan Smith, and Tom Howard, and between them they assembled some tremendous English teachers.

I was completely intimidated by Helen and by my colleagues when I first started teaching English at Fremd in 1981.  Dwight Aukee always gives me a hard time about wearing a suit to school my first two years, but the reason I wore a suit was because I felt so inadequate next to teachers like Dwight, Chuck Morlock, Henry Sampson, Anne Hume, Merle Taber, Pam Bylsma, Rosemary Herringer, Judy Augspurger, Kevin Brewner, Len Fiocca,  Linda Cannon, Thom Smith, Kathy Sobeski, Margaret Lang, Karen Atchison, Mary Ann Fritz, Sharon Hein, Fred Wilkens, Carrie Kolder, and others who I am sure I'm forgetting.

But as the years wore on, I became close to all of the above teachers and especially close to Helen, which is ironic because she really hated me when I was first hired.

I remember during my interview with Helen and Principal Howard how Helen looked at my Western Illinois University undergraduate transcript, looked at me, and then looked at Mr. Howard and said, "I don't know how he can teach English; he never even  had a Shakespeare course!  These are all broadcasting and journalism courses, and his grade point average is abysmal."  It was 2.316!

On my way home to Sandwich after the interview, I was so depressed I stopped and picked up a six-pack of beer in St. Charles and drank it in the car.  The wife was ironing in the dining room when I walked in the house.  "She hated me!" I said to my wife about Helen.  "I just wasted half a day.  There's no way I'm going to get that job--not with her in charge!" 

But Principal Tom Howard liked me because I was 33 years old and had eleven years of what he called "life experience" so off I went to Fremd to teach English in August of 1981.

My first classroom evaluation from Helen was mediocre:  she said I "was too friendly with the students," and she checked "needs to improve" in numerous boxes on the form.  But as I was working on my English master's degree, Helen and I started talking more.  I discovered that I liked Shakespeare and would ask her questions about Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar.  We would also have long discussions about writing the term paper for the expository composition class.  After my second year teaching, she gave me two English 108 classes, which is accelerated freshman English.  This was a real honor for a second year teacher.  Later, she cajoled me into teaching Advanced Placement English.  Suddenly I realized that I had arrived as a teacher.

There were lots of battles over the years that Helen fought with the Fremd administration and the honchos at the district office.  We had developed an elective program at Fremd for junior and senior students.  Instead of taking English III or English IV, students could sign up for a course like Science Fiction and Fantasy or Film Study and get credit for junior and senior English.  There were lots of courses, and students could even choose their own teachers, just like they would later do for their college courses.  The kids loved it!

But the district administration didn't like the electives.  "All schools must be the same," the superintendent said.  And Conant High School's English Department didn't want the elective program either and was fighting to return to English III and English IV.  Yawn!

I can remember us sitting around the office just chatting about how the district wanted to dump the electives, and somebody would come up with an argument supporting them.  Helen would say, "That's a good point!  I'm going to go talk to Tom about that!"  She'd grab her purse, walk rapidly out the door, and motor along the halls with her head down and her right shoulder brushing up against the lockers.  When teachers walking the other way saw Helen walking like that, they knew not to say "hi."  Helen Schersten was on a mission.

Helen made sure that all of us attended the district curriculum meetings to support the elective program.  We would pack the room, and listen as Helen defended what we were doing at Fremd.  Occasionally, she would ask one of us to stand up and talk about a specific class.  I remember when she asked me to stand up and talk about expo. comp.  "This is Jim Wyman," she said to superintendent Gerry Chapman.  "He's one of our best composition teachers."  I must have blushed thirty shades of red, but I stood up and described what Kevin Brewner and I were doing in the class.

We lost the elective program, but it wasn't for lack of effort.  Helen used to say that we would just incorporate elements of the electives into English III and English IV, and that's what we did!  As Dwight would always say, "The closed classroom door is a great equalizer!"

Last Sunday I was looking for some World War II stuff of my dad's for an exhibit at the Palmer House in Crystal Lake sponsored by the Crystal Lake Historical Society.  I came upon one of Helen's later classroom evaluations that my wife had sent to my mom back in the late 80's.  Helen wrote about how far I drove to school and how I was always one of the first teachers there in the morning.  Then she wrote about the amount of time I spent with students working individually on writing.  My mom treasured that evaluation.  She still had it sitting next to her chair when she died in 2006.  It was pretty spooky that I read it on Sunday morning, the day of Helen's death.

Then yesterday I went to a job interview at Joliet Junior College for an adjunct teaching position in the English Department.  The secretary had me filling out forms before the interview, and one of them was a form for direct deposit.  "How can I be filling out a direct deposit form when I don't even have the job yet?" I thought to myself.

When I went in and met the department chair at JJC, the first thing she asked me was what classes I wanted to teach.  All I could think of was that Helen was looking over my shoulder.  I'm scheduled to teach three writing classes in the fall. 

I last saw Helen at Dwight Aukee's end of the year party in June of 2009.  She and her husband Howie were drinking draft beer as we chatted about what was going on in our lives.  I remember watching Helen and Howie walking arm-and-arm up the driveway to their car in the summer twilight. 

There are lots more stories about Helen that can be told.  She had been chair for more than a decade before I started at Fremd.  Helen was the foundation for what the English Department at Fremd has become today.

Rest in peace, Helen.  You were one in a million!