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:

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!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fighting the Long Hair War--for Almost 50 Years!

"So let them say your hair's too long.
I don't care, with you I can't go wrong."

Just cruisin' along in the Toyota last week when Sonny and Cher's 1965 number-one record "I Got You, Babe"came on the satellite radio.

I started thinking about all the crap I've taken in my life about long hair. Most recently I wanted to adopt the "Ben Franklin look," meaning that I'd grow my hair long and accentuate my bald head.  Then I'd get some John Lennon granny glasses and have the professorial look that I should be showing as an adjunct English instructor in the hallowed halls of Dominican University.

The wife didn't like the idea.  "You'll look like an idiot!" she said.  "I sure won't go anywhere with you if you do that!"   So I'm off to the barber shop this morning to get a trim of the remaining hair follicles around my bald pate.  I'd get it all shaved, but my head is so big that if I did shave the sides, it would look like the full moon had come to Earth!

My daughter used to ask me about her hair, since it is thick and curls in the hot weather like mine used to do. 

"Wear your hair the way you want," I'd tell her. 

She would keep at me. 

"Do you like my hair like this or not, dad?" she'd say. 

"Any way you like it, honey, is all right with me."

"But do you like it, dad?"

"Yes!" I'd say.  There was no way I was going to say anything negative about her, or anybody else's hair.  I've been fighting in the hair trenches since "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released by the Beatles in February of 1964.

If only my old man would have had the same attitude as I have.  I remember coming home from Leonard and Henry's Barber Shop some time in early 1964 after getting a hair cut.  The Beatles had  five records on the charts at the same time, and every teenage boy wanted to dump the crew-cut (or in my case the Princeton) and grow his hair longer.  I just had Leonard the barber do a light trim so that my bangs began to touch the top of my forehead and the sides touched the top of my ears.  My hair was a far cry from the Beatles!

When I got home and was sitting on the stairs and taking off my shoes with my back to the kitchen, my old man came up behind me and kicked me as hard as he could right in the middle of my back.  The old man didn't like my haircut.  I stood up, backed him up against the kitchen counter, lifted my fist, and screamed, "If you ever touch me again, I'll kill you, you son of a bitch." 

The first major skirmish in the Long Hair War!

During the college summers and on breaks I worked at the Terra Cotta plant north of Crystal Lake where my mom's brother Harold Knox also worked.  He was a lifer at the plant, and everybody knew that we were related.  In 1968 when I grew my hair really long and  sported mutton chops and a Fu Manchu moustache, Uncle Harold stopped talking to me . . . completely.  I couldn't believe it, but when I told my mom, she said, "Get your hair cut, son!"

My usual ally had jumped ship!

The wife and I in 1970.  I'm still sporting the Neil Young mutton chops!

One time when I was in college, my buddies and I were refused service in a cafe in Bushnell, Illinois.  We sat there talking for 15 minutes before I realized we weren't going to get served because of our long hair.  There were only two or three other people in the joint.  "Ah, I don't think we're going to get served any food, guys," I said.  My buddy Mick started to create a scene, but I could see the 300 lb. crew cutted cook standing in the shadows behind the counter holding a billy club.  "Let's just leave quietly, boys," I said.  And off we went--three hungry hippies into the cold Bushnell night.

In 1975 my boss at the radio station told me I looked like hell because of my hair.  When I was in my first years at Fremd, the principal never missed an opportunity to tell me that I needed a hair cut.

Then all of a sudden at age 35, my hair was gone.  The war was over.  I had lost.

But if you look hard enough, the long hair war is still being fought.  The New York Yankees  have a policy banning long hair and facial hair.  As a White Sox fan, the Yankee hair rule makes me hate them even more.

 I was watching the Cubs game last night thinking how Jeff Samardzija and James Russell could never pitch for the Yankees today in 2012.  And the fact that Samardzija and Russell both pitched well last night is a comfort for this bald fighter for long hair rights. 

As Sonny sings in "Somebody," "It ain't long hair, it ain't short hair." 

It's your hair.  Wear it how you damn well please!