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Mondays with Mike: Here’s to Bobbie

August 14, 201715 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

Last week Beth and Whitney and I traveled to South Carolina to attend the church service for Beth’s sister Barbara (we call her Bobbie), who died the week prior at the age of 78.

Photo of Bobbie with Beth and Mike's newborn son.

Bobbie, holding our then newborn Gus, with Bobbie’s granddaughter Jamie.

Bobbie was a lovely woman. She did not want for material things, but she never lost touch with what mattered even more to her—simple day-to-day gestures of kindness, and her spiritual life. She had a superb sense of design and color, which was on display in her home and in her wardrobe—and at our wedding, which she and her husband hosted in their glorious back yard back in 1984. (“Yard” really doesn’t do it justice. It was a small botanical garden.) She had a generosity of spirit that helped keep us afloat when Beth stayed with Bobbie when she was out of the hospital, between eye surgeries, while I went back to work in Urbana during the week. Bobbie was the oldest of the Finke siblings; she and Beth were bookends separated by 20 years, and pals to the end. I’m so lucky to have known her, and I already miss her.

It was good to be together with everyone, and as happens during these things, as conversations played out, everybody learned something new about their siblings and parents—who did what, when, etc. The collective memory is a lot better than one’s own.

And Whitney? Well, let’s just say that we convened at a lakeside house with a pier and a box that held a tennis ball. Whitney helped keep us all entertained.

During our stay in South Carolina, I avoided the news pretty successfully. We got home Friday night, and Saturday I made the mistake of checking the news as I gradually re-entered my routine.

Let’s just say the news didn’t cheer me up. I’m at a kind of loss in every way. There’s no way to reconcile the loss of a beautiful soul like Bobbie’s and that ugliness. Except remember that Bobbie did everything she could to make life a little better, so I’ll try to do what I can do, in my way, in her honor.

I’m going to start by doubling down on support for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and by leaving you with a post I wrote awhile back about hearing SPLC’s Morris Dees and Richard Cohen speak.

 

Mondays with Mike: Appreciating with age

August 7, 2017CommentsPosted in baseball, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

I’ve mentioned The Beachwood Reporter here before—it’s a veteran journalist’s take on current events and how well (or poorly) they are being covered by the news media. The Beachwood also produces podcasts and guest columns; one of those columns has become a favorite. Every Monday, Roger Wallenstein—who used to hang out with Bill Veeck (he did some TV work with Veeck, also)—publishes his take on what’s been going on with the White Sox over the past week.

Roger Wallenstein had the good fortune of spending time on TV–and on barstools–with Bill Veeck.

Even if you aren’t a Sox fan, Roger’s opinions on the overall state of the game he loves are worth the read. This past week, for example, he talked about the obsession with new—and seemingly always more—statistics. In particular, he wondered what the value is of the numbers we see after every home run about exit velocity and launch angle and the like these days. It’s all captured by cameras and radar and other tech. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider this year’s All-Star game played in Miami a few weeks ago, won by the American League 2-1. The game reflected the character of Major League Baseball today in the sense that two of the game’s three runs came via home runs, the second a game-winner off the bat of Robinson Cano in the top of the 10th. Keeping with a current theme, hard-throwing pitchers struck out 23 batters.

MLB.com described Cano’s blast: “Connecting on a 1-1 curveball, Cano’s drive was projected by Statcast at 395 feet with an exit velocity of 105.6.” Not where it landed or whether it was a line drive or towering fly ball. Everything is codified, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Roger and I sometimes exchange emails, and after I wrote him in regard to his latest column, Roger posited that all the stats and technology are baseball’s deliberate effort to attract young people.

And I believe he’s right, much to my chagrin. Not because I don’t want young people to play and like baseball.

I DO.

No—it’s because I’ve been part of organizations where the internal mantra becomes “we must attract a younger audience.” And that approach always produces a ham-fisted, self-conscious effort that no self-respecting young person would have anything to do with.

I get it—it’s not just a case of tapping that market segment: there is a fear of becoming irrelevant if young people don’t grow up with the game. But that’s what little league is for, it’s what the White Sox ACE program for inner city kids is for, and it’s what promotions like the White Sox Family Sundays is for. (Whomever you root for, I hope you’ll get to a Family Sunday—it’s every Sunday home game. Tickets are cheap. Parking is cheap. Hot dogs are cheap. And it feels like a time machine—it’s wholly reminiscent of going to games when I was in grade school with my family.)

Apart from that, whether it’s fans of classical music, jazz, or baseball, there’s always an existential fear that unless we get young people involved, we’re goners. But I don’t think it works that way. Exposure is important, yes. But some things—what I think are the finest things—simply require a little maturity to fully appreciate and enjoy. I think we tend to age into those things.

As a grade schooler I loved baseball. As an insane hormonal teenager, football caught my fancy and I stuck with that for a good while. But when I moved to take a job in D.C. after college, suddenly the absence of the White Sox and Cubs made my heart grow fonder of the game. I realized what an embarrassment of riches we enjoy in Chicago: Two MLB teams. We can see the entirety of the American and National Leagues.

To compensate, I adopted what then was the nearest MLB team, the Baltimore Orioles. I read the Washington Post’s excellent baseball columnist, Tom Boswell. I read his books. I read Roger Angell.

I’ve loved the game ever since, through labor strife and other disappointments, and it never ceases to surprise me and teach me something.

We just endured another Lollapalooza weekend. Hundreds of thousands of young people doing something I probably might’ve done back then. More power to them.

But soon, I fully expect we’ll see a lot of them at the ballpark, the symphony, and Jazz Showcase.

Guest post by Wanda Bridgeforth: “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey”

August 6, 20174 CommentsPosted in guest blog, memoir writing, politics, visiting schools

Here’s a piece Ninety-five-year-old Wanda Bridgeforth wrote after her WGN Radio interview last weekend.

Remembering DuSable

by Wanda Bridgeforth

The interview with Dave Hoekstra and Beth Finke brought back more memories of my happy days at DuSable High School. On February 1, 1935, it was a thrill to be entering a Brand-New building at the time my life was changing and I was on the first rung of the ladder of adulthood.

Dave asked about segregation. Yes, we were segregated, but we accepted the status quo, got on with our lives and were better for it. Parents of my generation encouraged us to get an education. They preached that “money and possessions can be taken from you, but learning is yours forever, and education will help you have a better life.”

Photo of DuSable High School.

DuSable still stands.

We knew the new high school at 49th and Wabash was built to keep us “poor colored kids” in our neighborhood and out of their white schools, but we had the last laugh: our new high school had everything needed to make school interesting, educational…and fun!

It offered languages, science, business, fine arts, home economics, vocational shops, physical ed. And some I don’t remember.

I do remember decorating the Boy’s gym for proms, military balls, and formal dances. I remember the Friday Sock Hops and Mrs. T jamming a six-inch ruler between couples dancing too close. I remember watching the ROTC drill as Capt. Dyett rehearsed the Military Band, and I remember rooting at the top of our lungs for our football, basketball, baseball, swim and other athletic teams.

Every department had a student club to enhance classroom learning. Camera, Negro History, Drama, Creative Writing, Rifle, Service Clubs for the Principal and Assistant, Library, First Aid and I’m sure I omitted some. By taking electives, participating in clubs and working on staffs I received an interesting eclectic education.

Hey, I even joined the Rifle Club! No one asked why. They signed me up, handed me a pair of ear muffs, and I was off to the range!

Students came from every elementary school in Bronzeville. Everybody walked to school, and friendships that have lasted a lifetime were made inside as well as on the walks to and from school.

Our high school years were in the midst of the Great Depression. We were poor, but we banded together to get the most out of life. For me, DuSable High School and Hall Public Library at 48th and Michigan were havens that offset some of my undesirable living arrangements.

Through our Coalition for Action I have seen many disheartening changes in the educational system. Technology has shortened study and research time, increased solitary time with texting, mind games and instant answers to ninety-nine percent of their questions. I DO NOT envy their technological life! I am content with the see-saw life I have lived, and agree with Maya Angelou: “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey.”

Note: Commercial life was driven away from the area near DuSable in the 1960s when part of the neighborhood was flattened to make room for the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. Wanda helped found the DuSable High School Alumni Coalition for Action when Chicago city leaders first started discussing closing the school, and in 2012 the coalition’s efforts finally convinced the city to designate DuSable as a landmark. Thanks to the Coalition for Action and these personal essays Wanda writes for us, her beloved DuSable High School will not be forgotten.

My Audrey and Wanda weekend

August 3, 201710 CommentsPosted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, memoir writing, radio, writing

And now about the two Writing Out Loud events I did with writers from my memoir classes last week.

Audrey Mitchell opened our presentation at Skyline Village on Friday by reading one of her essays from Writing Out Loud. She took questions from the audience afterwards and wowed them with stories of her life and her decision to enroll in our Me, Myself and I class at the Chicago Cultural Center. “I was into Geneology,” she said, explaining that her research led her to the U.S. Census. “I found out my great-grandparents lived in Edgefield County in South Carolina back in 1870; I have oral history and written data to back that up,” she told the audience. “But what I’m missing is the voice of my older relatives, what they were thinking, what they were feeling and like that. That’s why I keep taking the writing class, to keep their stories alive, so the stories I know about them — and about my own life — won’t be lost forever.”

We were treated to lunch at the event, I gave a short writing exercise after dessert, and everyone sounded pleased to read a bit of their work out loud. Some stayed late to ask Audrey about the memoir-writing class she leads at her local library, and others had me sign copies of Writing Out Loud to read at home. An unqualified success.

Photo of Wanda and Beth in the WGN studio.

Our friend Laura did a screen capture of the live feed screen from the WGN studio. There’s Wanda in the upper left screen.

The next night 95-year-old writer Wanda Bridgeforth joined me on WGN Radio for Dave Hoekstra’s Nocturnal Journal program. From the WGN web site:

Dave Hoekstra talks with author and journalist Beth Finke about her book Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors.

She talks about how losing her eyesight affected her career and her approach to writing (and listening to people), and celebrating the “community” of all the people she’s connected with during her time teaching the course. One of her students, Wanda Bridgeforth shares some of her stories of growing up in Bronzeville and going to high school with Nat King Cole and Redd Foxx , why she was inspired to take Beth’s class, and more.

Dave was an excellent host — he’d actually read Writing Out Loud before the show and complimented the book on the air. “It’s “very conversational,” he told his listeners. “Very breezy.”

The interview started with questions on how losing my sight changed the way I write, and when he turned to Wanda to ask her what made her sign up for my memoir-writing class, she laughed and described coming to one of my booksignings a decade ago. “When I saw she was blind,I thought, holy Toledo, how in the Sam Hill is she going to teach writing? I had to find out!”

We all laughed along, but soon Wanda got quite serious. “Her class was my salvation,” she said, almost whispering now. “I was just retired at the time and at loose ends.”

A music lover, Dave was particularly intrigued with Wanda’s years at DuSable high School on Chicago’s South Side: Wanda walked the halls there with jazz great Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues. “Nat Cole added King to his name later,” Wanda said with a laugh. “You know, like Old King Cole!” She remembers Dinah Washington when she was Ruthie Jones, and she knew comedian Redd Foxx when he was John Sanford, another DuSable alum. “he was a bowl of fun,” Wanda told Dave during the interview, explaining that the TV show Sanford & Son was named for John Sanforrd’s brother Fred, who also went to DuSable. “We only had one school we could go to, we were a group, we all went to the same parties, shopped at the same stores.”

When Dave asked how Wanda felt about living in Bronzeville before integration, she said, “I think we were so used to segregation that we just accepted it.” She told Dave that she regards her time at DuSable among her happiest years. “We had our city within a city, we hired our own, we patronized our own. We were family.”

But hey. Wait a minute. Why the Sam Hil am I quoting the entire interview here? You can hear Wanda tell her stories in her own voice — the interview is available online now, just click here and hit play. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Mondays with Mike: Dirty jobs

July 31, 20174 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike

We like to look at other peoples’ jobs as easy. If they don’t meet our standards? They’re lazy or incompetent. Sure, we bow to brain surgeons, airline pilots, elite athletes and the like. But waiters, bartenders, construction workers who have the nerve to be taking a break—we freely disparage them when they fall short. We’re a bunch of Yelpers.

I’ve come to realize that everybody’s job is actually harder than it looks. I had a discussion with a bartender a few days ago and after trading stories, we agreed: The United States should adopt a military draft with a national service option. Don’t want to go into the military? Then national service, with an emphasis on service. Waiter. Customer service agent. Gate agent at the airport. No one gets out of it, regardless of family wealth or education.

I got to thinking about all this after getting the chance to do a ride-along of sorts with our friend, Chuck Gullett, who’s a successful real estate agent. (We’re not moving, so sorry Printers Row, you don’t get rid of us.)

Chuck was one of Whitney’s walkers while Beth was incapacitated by her heart issue a few years ago. You may remember he guest posted about a visit to the eye prosthetic studio with Beth, too.

Now, I’ve groused about real estate agents in the past—but really, it’s more about the whole process—which a good agent like Chuck helps one negotiate.

There are the requirements of the clients, which aren’t realistic. And not always consistent between both parties of a couple.

Then there are the descriptions, which make pretty much every cozy cottage seem ideal. So you don’t know anything until you visit a place.

Photo of Chuck attempting to open a lockbox.

Let’s play guess the lockbox!

That’s when Chuck becomes chauffeur. And he drives, and drives. North Side, Lincoln Park, South Side, West Loop, and back again, and sometimes during rush hour.

Chuck has a dash cam.

I asked him about it. Seems he got clobbered awhile back and while the car is back in one piece and he was uninjured, the settling of things remains messy. He doesn’t want that to happen again, so he wants video.

He’s already caught one accident—a scooter in front of him getting put down by a car. He stopped to get the scooter rider’s email, and he later sent the video for insurance purposes.

Then, finding parking. You think we can get away with doubling up here? Can we be done in 15 minutes? Take a shot.

Sometimes there’s a building with a doorman that has a key. Many, many other times, there are lockboxes. Plural emphasis. Sometimes a dozen, lined up on wrought iron fences, or low-lying pipes. As in low enough to be left-dogleg level.

Directions can go something like this: It’s the lockbox to the left of the water meter right next to the hydrangea bush.

Eventually, it’s found. If it’s one of the low lying ones and liquid comes out when you open the box, you hope it was from a recent rain.

Sometimes, there is a not a key, but a ring of say, a half dozen unlabeled keys. After trial and error and jiggling, you finally get in and…

…it’s a dump, not a fantastic cozy cottage.

The client’s face droops. Chuck goes into his best therapy routine.

Off to the next one, it’ll be better.

Then, once a property is found, there are inspections, closing agents and lawyers.

Thank goodness it’s not my job! And thank goodness there are the Chucks of the world, who can do it with aplomb.