Just this one Thursday with Mike: Foiled!           

November 17, 20168 CommentsPosted in guest blog, Mike Knezovich, Uncategorized

Hey there, it’s Mike again. You may remember that on Monday I wrote about our planned trip to Washington, D.C.

Well, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way: Beth came down with a nasty, raging ear infection in her left ear, and then her right ear. For a short while, the infections left Beth barely able to hear, which as you can imagine, left her unable to fend for herself, pressed me into service, and pretty much just scared the hell out of both of us.

With Beth temporarily out of service, Whitney is really bored.

With Beth temporarily out of service, Whitney is really bored.

Three visits to the ENT, some nuclear ear drops (Cipro plus steroids), and a few doses of Advil later, she seems to be on the mend. To all her class members who’ve inquired, thanks for your kind messages, and Beth said to pass it along that she should be back in the saddle soon.

But we postponed our trip—we may be leaving tomorrow, but we’ll miss our date with Michael and Susi. And the discussion I hoped to have with Michael about the book Hillbilly Elegy and other recent events. On that subject, a few added thoughts:

As posted Monday, I liked the book Hillbilly Elegy a lot. What I failed to mention is that the book’s become a lightning rod of sorts. The author is a conservative, though I really hate labeling someone—because people are more nuanced than labels in my view—and because I don’t know what the hell being conservative means today. I kind of knew growing up. But I don’t recognize the Republican Party anymore.

Anyway, since I endorsed the book I felt obligated to add the above qualifiers. And in the interest of equal time, here’s a thoughtful  critique of Hillbilly Elegy from the New Republic.

Here’s the good and bad about this critique, in my humble opinion.

First, the bad: The author calls it out as wanting in terms of being a broad, even profound way of understanding the culture of the hillbillies writes about. I get that, but I think she’s shadow boxing. Here’s the deal: I took the book as a well told account of one guy’s life, a window on a group of people I don’t usually see, and I took whatever politics he included as his views—which he has a right to—and about which I don’t have to agree to find value in his writing. As I read the book, I noted points where I disagreed with the writer’s synthesis, and I was looking forward to talking about those points with my friend Michael tonight. (I’m sure we will, eventually.)

The good: Its criticism of other pundits and book critics, many of whom are mistakenly treating Elegy as an explanation for Trump voters, and a bigger deal than it is, or was meant to be. By his own acclamation, Vance didn’t mean it to be those things.

The best parts of the critique are the parts that don’t talk so much about the book, but about the broader issue of poverty. And about the election—smartly pointing out that hillbillies didn’t win the election for Trump. I hope you’ll read both the book and the critique—but the critique is a valuable read in its own right.

OK, to end this first and last Thursday with Mike, I’m going to repost the link to the article included in Monday’s postscript.

It’s called What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about it from blog followers who read it, so I think it’s worth another shout out.

See ya’ Monday.


Mondays with Mike: Transition team

November 14, 20167 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized

With all the ugliness and unrest and uncertainty and holy-shit-what-just happened/Armageddon is near, it seems like a good time for another road trip as a diversion.

Luckily, Beth and I have had one planned for months. We’re headed to the belly of the beast, Washington, D.C., for the wedding of my Kum Joe.

In oversimplified terms, Kum is the Serbian Orthodox word for godson. Regular readers may remember my account of Joe’s sister Sasha’s wedding last year in Philadelphia—Sasha is my Kuma.

Besides the wedding, we’ll see our friends Pick and Hank, and we’ll make a stop to have dinner with Michael and Susi. I met them via Pick, who generously introduced me to his world of friends when I was a newcomer to D.C. back in the day.

A worthwhile read.

A worthwhile read.

At the time, Pick hadn’t met Hank, I hadn’t met Beth, and Pick and I were roommates on the first floor of an Arlington, Va., apartment building. Michael and Susi lived upstairs. We were all on the front end of adulthood, and the four of us had some awfully good times hosting each other for dinner. And there was driving, motorcycling and camping along Skyline Drive and surrounding points. We also shared a lot of great live music experiences, not to mention, well, a lot of good times.

My friend Michael and I couldn’t be more different in terms of background. He was from the small-town South and his people had been around forever by my measure. My parents were first generation Americans, and I grew up in a suburb just south of Chicago where people either worked in the steel mills to the east or office buildings to the north. He had a religious upbringing, I did not.

I think those differences have always been a big part of what we find interesting about one another.

I learned during the early 1980s that Michael and I also diverged when it came to politics and moreover, the philosophies behind what we believed. We had our combative moments, but I’ve always treasured friends who are smart, thoughtful, and articulate—whether or not they agree with my politics.

A lot’s happened since those days. Kids, careers, crises—and Michael and I managed to continue our sometimes contentious but always respectful conversations. That is, until a few months ago in this ugly, horrible, drawn-out election campaign. All via some stupid-ass text messages. He infuriated me, I infuriated him, we each wanted to be the last infuriator.

And then something happened. We each came to our senses. I can’t speak for Michael, but the question for me was, did my thoughts about the election and the candidates outweigh the importance of my friendship with Michael?

I can tell you, there are people out there about whom I can answer “yes” in a heartbeat. (And have.)

But not Michael. So we got on the phone. In simple terms we made clear to one another that whatever happened, our friendship was more important.

Which was a relief, and in a small way, a proud moment when you think you’ve actually grown up at 59 years old.

But one thing lacked for months: Our way of dealing with the flare-up was to just not talk about it. We disciplined ourselves by withdrawing that privilege. And I think we both lost out for that.

Last month Michael was in town for business. Beth and I met him for brunch. A couple days before he came to town, he told me about a book he’d read called “Hillbilly Elegy.”

“Have you read it?” he asked.

I said no, but I’d read good things about it.

Mike brought it with him. He proceeded to tell us about the similarities between his own and author J.D. Vance’s backgrounds. And the gratitude they both held for having had key figures in their lives that shined the light on a world they’d never have otherwise known.

He loaned it to me. I read it and loved it. I don’t agree with all of Vance’s analysis and conclusions, but he’s a great storyteller and a person I’d love to talk with sometime. A little background: J.D. Vance is from a family that migrated from Appalachian Kentucky to southern Ohio. They were strangers in a strange land, but mostly the factory jobs made for good lives. Until they didn’t, and things went sour.

Vance had a successful stint in the Marines, and eventually graduated from Ohio State University (sorry, never using The), and eventually Yale Law. He describes the plight of many of those who didn’t have his advantages, and it ain’t pretty. Lots of poverty, drug addiction, and general dolor. All this continuing, right now—in Middle Ohio and elsewhere.

Over brunch, Michael—who’s had an enormously successful business career—said he’d likely be in a different place but for a few people who helped make sure he didn’t. And he pondered out loud, “I think there are some people in these places that never see that there is any other way of life. How do you provide that?”

I agreed. And then Mike wondered out loud, “What government policy can provide that?:

I didn’t have an answer.

But I was reminded that my old friend wants people to have what he had, and wants to do right, just the same as I do. We probably will always disagree on what and how much the government can do.

I’m looking forward to returning the book this week, and to having more conversations about such things with Michael. I always learn something, and I like to think he does, too.

P.S. Here’s another, shorter read in the Harvard Business Review that is in keeping with Vance’s book. The article’s entitled What So Many People Get Wrong about the Working Class, by Joan C. Williams. It’s not pedantic, and it’s not condescending, but it’s very insightful. 


One last letter: Dear Abby

November 9, 20163 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing, politics, Uncategorized

My “Me, Myself and I”memoir-writing class meets this morning at the Chicago Cultural Center. Ages in that class span from 66 to 96, they’ve lived through a lot of election cycles, and it’ll be interesting to hear what they have to say about the decisions made yesterday.

I sure can’t think of anything myself to say for a blog post about the 2016 election, so instead, I’m publishing one last letter, this one written by a writer in the Monday memoir class I lead for Lincoln Park Village. I’d asked writers to write to someone in the future or past about this year’s election, and our guest blogger Pam Washburn read this letter to Abigail Adams out loud in class this past Monday, a day before the 2016 ballots were cast.


by Pam Washburn

I’m writing to you today to share news that I know will delight you. Tomorrow, the second Tuesday of November, Americans will be going to their local polling stations to vote for national political candidates. For the first time WE (I’m speaking, of course, of all registered male and female voters over the age of 18) will have the option to vote for a woman for president of the United States of America.

Dear Abby...

Dear Abby…

No one has ever forgotten your admonishment to your dear husband John and to the Continental Congress when it met in March of 1776. “Remember the ladies,” you said. “If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we do not have a voice, or Representation.”

After the defeat of the British, the hard work of forming a new government was grueling. You remained at home running the farm while your husband John was occupied in Boston and Philadelphia, seldom seeing you or the children.

General George Washington, selected unanimously, wasn’t sworn in as President until 1789, when your dear husband John joined the administration as Vice President. During the eight years that John served as Vice President to General Washington, and during the next four years when John and you served as President and First Lady, you must have had your hands full! Afterward, you were both abroad in France and England, serving to represent America’s interests overseas.

Unfortunately, the new federal constitution only enfranchised white men. In 1848 the first unofficial Women’s Rights Convention was held at Seneca Falls, New York, and it wasn’t until 1890 that the National Women’s Suffrage Association was founded. By then women were speaking out in public and writing letters to government officials and newspapers, seeking the right to vote and to have their concerns addressed.

In 1920 the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was approved by the States and became law. Women could finally vote in America.

Let me tell you about the current candidate that I hope will win the Presidency. Her name is Hilary Rodham Clinton, she’s married to a former two-term US President, and their daughter is a lovely young woman. Mrs. Clinton, an attorney, has already served as a US Senator and as our country’s Secretary of State. She began her career 40 years ago, as a public-interest lawyer fighting for children’s rights.

Her opponent is a thoroughly disreputable, reputedly wealthy man who speaks vilely, in public, about women. He knows nothing about governing, and he lies without compunction.

Unfortunately, the electorate seems to be evenly divided between the two candidates, which I find disheartening. Of course I’ll be voting tomorrow; I just hope I’m joined by others who still want to see America try to live up to the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence.

We may not know the outcome until Friday morning—please wish us luck!


Pam Washburn

Mondays with Mike: Listen to Chance

November 7, 20164 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, politics, Uncategorized

Chance the Rapper’s giving a free concert early this evening, and Beth and I are going. It’s all happening outside the Virgin Hotel at Wabash and Lake, according to this Chicagoist piece. (The piece also links to a decent voter guide.) Presumably, it’ll mean street closures, but it’s for a good cause: Chance is doing it to remind people to vote Tuesday, if they haven’t already. Since we’re fans of Chance and voting, we’ll be there.

Chance is on the GOTV case.

Chance is on the GOTV case.

I’ve got some pretty strong feelings and thoughts about who to vote for, as we all seem to this year, but, please, just vote. Voting is an investment, it’s skin in the game. It makes you pay attention. It makes you accountable as a citizen. You think it’s a mess? Part of the problem—a big part—is that a lot of people don’t vote. And not voting won’t make it better. Even, say, a 65 percent turnout would turn things upside down for the next cycle. Because once you vote, the parties start paying attention to you.

And before you go to the polls, do just a little research—it takes less time than it does to find the best airfare. Go to or the League of Women Voters site to look up a sample ballot for your location. Here in Chicago, you’ll be voting for judges—if you want to know how members of the bar association rate the judges who are running, check out the Chicago Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluations. (You can download and print a pocket guide to take with you to the polls.)

Awhile back, Beth wrote about attending Hamilton. She prepared for the performance by reading Ron Chernow’s exhaustively researched biography. I listened to a great deal of it with her. One thing that was at once disturbing and inspiring: It was a big nasty mess back then, just as nasty and messy, in my view, as it is today.

Hamilton himself ginned up a pen name he used to write scathing criticism of his rival Thomas Jefferson. One of his accusations was that Jefferson was having an “affair” with one of his slaves—and that was true. And it was published in a newspaper. So some things don’t change.

Out messed up democracy is a lot like life: It’s a lot of striving, struggling, disappointment, occasional short-lived triumph, screwing up, surviving, and striving some more.

And it beats the hell out of the alternatives.

So don’t be a deadbeat: Vote.

My sister Cheryl's letter to our dad

November 6, 201617 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing, politics, Uncategorized

Have I told you that one of my sisters is enrolled in the memoir-writing class I lead in Printers Row? It’s true! Cheryl chose to write a “letter to dad” for this week’s assignment just like guest blogger Bruce Hunt did yesterday. I was so young when our dad died that I don’t remember him, and I appreciate Cheryl for agreeing to share this letter to give you a glimpse of what our dad — and her relationship with him — was like.

A letter to the future or past generation about the 2016 national election

by Cheryl May

Dear Dad,

I know politics wasn’t a big topic of conversation around our house when I was growing up, but I assume you remember the last Presidential Election that you voted in on November 8, 1960.

Remember the incumbent, President Dwight Eisenhower, was not eligible for re-election. He was the first president affected by the 22nd amendment that said the president could only serve two terms and the 1960 election was also the first-time voters from Alaska and Hawaii could vote after they had become states the year before.

Cheryl's collection of campaign pins she's saved over the years.

Cheryl’s collection of campaign pins she’s saved over the years.

I remember people wondering if the Democratic Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts, a Roman Catholic, could ever beat the Republican Vice-President incumbent Richard Nixon. But Kennedy proved to have excellent campaigning skills that far outweighed Nixon’s experience.

I wonder if you remember the commercial that was televised from a press conference with President Eisenhower? He was asked if he could give an example of a major idea of Vice-President Nixon’s that he had heeded. Eisenhower responded with a flip comment, “If you give me a week, I might think of one…”

Both Eisenhower and Nixon claimed he was joking but I’m sure it stayed on voters’ minds as they went into their voting booth.

Dad, when people go to their voting booth on November 8, 2016, they’re going to have a lot more on their minds then whether a candidate is Catholic or if a candidate might not be getting the backing of one guy he was counting on.

First of all, we have a woman nominated for the President of the United States for the first time, can you believe that? She’s a Democrat and if she wins she will succeed our first Black President. Lots of changes since 1960, right?

The Republican candidate this year was never a lawyer, Senator, Congressman or Governor…. he’s a business man. We did have a Republican candidate who was a movie actor and was elected President of the United States in the 1980’s, but he had also served as a Governor of California. (Actually you may have known him as a Democrat because he switched parties in 1962.)

The campaigning of the 2016 candidates has included name calling, lying, accusations of womanizing, (excuse my language Dad) but groping and even possible rape. Needless to say, this is not a national election that you could have ever imagined, and I can’t even imagine what the Presidential election will be like 50 years from now.

Love, Cheryl