But what about you? I want to reach through the keyboard and thousands of wires and ask you a question –
And if you live around here – are you tired of hearing about local politicians doing the perp walk at the federal courthouse in Hammond? Are you tired of this weather?
It got nice for about ten minutes during the week. Then it turned cold again, and it’s supposed to rain all weekend. We can’t catch a break.
There is a lot to be down about. I get that. I get that you might be feeling that way. I want to reach through this computer that is sitting on the bed and grab you by the shoulders and look you in the eye – what are you thinking? what kind of person are you? have you ever been in love? what is your greatest fear? tell me a story that will make me laugh.
Connections across rooftops
level with the eye of insanity
you use to scope out
gnats in the corner.
A bookcase against the wall
could fall if you put too many
James Patterson books
on the top shelf.
It’s 11:46pm on a Friday night. I rode my bike a ton today.
First, I did a radio show this morning. I can’t remember what it was about. To tell you the truth, I was just kind of waiting until it was over. I was hungry and I wanted to eat breakfast.
After the show, I drove to my sister’s house and picked up my nephew, Jack. It was an hour before the start of his elementary school, but he was already walking around with his backpack on his back.
“Wanna go to breakfast?”
Of course he did. But first he had to go in the bathroom and fix his hair – again. He takes great pride in rubbing gel into his palms and smooshing it into the swirl at the top of his forehead. The hair instantly dries crusty in place, but it looks wet.
“Uncle Jim, you’ve got to do something with your hair. You need gel.”
We’ve tried this exercise before. Jack and I go to Target and he picks a bunch of hair products out for me, along with some deodorant, after shave, Q-tips and teeth whitener. I thank him profusely for trying to clean me up, but I never use any of the toiletries. It’s a process. He is so enthusiastic to make his uncle not look like a slob. I play along. Then I go back to being a slob.
“Can’t we prolong this breakfast so I can go to school, you know, a little late,” Jack said.
We were sitting at the counter of the Round the Clock Restaurant in Highland. I go there a lot after the show. They let me order two eggs scrambled with cheddar cheese, hash brown potatoes, a couple pieces of well-done bacon for the vegetarian. And they let me read my Sports section in piece and seclusion. Everybody gets what they want out of this relationship.
“No, Jack. You gotta go to school. And I gotta go home and take a nap.”
“This should be a routine, uncle Jim. We should do this every Friday.”
“Maybe we will, Jack.”
I did take that nap. It’s a beautiful thing to get up at 4am and do a radio show on your own radio stations for a few hours. Hammond mayor Tom McDermott came in to do the show after me. He had been expressing disappointment with me about the negative things that Verlie Suggs had been saying about him on my show. But when the mayor walked into the studio, it was if none of this had happened. Not the nasty things Verlie said. Not the rough missive he had sent me.
“Sorry about your grandma,” the mayor said. “She sounded like a really cool person.”
This is a teaching moment. It’s not so much for the three or four of you, unless of course you work in media. It's more for my staff and students. Often, people of importance get mad at you for things that are said on your media. It might even be you that’s saying the things.
You get angry phone calls, texts, emails, written letters. Sometimes people even come to the studio and wait for you to finish the show. They yell at you. Sometimes they threaten legal action.
“What are you gonna do about this, Jim? This sounds serious,” members of my staff have said to me many times.
And perhaps it is serious. I mean, no one wants important people to be gunning for you. This is a fact of life. But I would also like to propose to the three or four of you that in the face of forces you can't control, you have to learn a bit of will and patience.
In other words, learn from Captain John McWhirr. He is the main character in a long short story by Joseph Conrad called "Typhoon." I have read this story many times, not because it’s Conrad’s best writing. Not by a long shot. Lord Jim is Conrad's best. We all know that.
I read and reread Typhoon to again experience how Captain McWhirr handles a storm of magnanimous proportions. The typhoon throws the ship about, turns it around, washes sea water over its decks. Underneath, there are hundreds of workers being transported to a port in Siam.
The captain understands his responsibility. He is in charge of the ship. He works for a company that can’t make money if the ship goes down, regardless if everybody survives or not. He is in charge of delivering the goods to the port in Siam. The goods, in this case, are people.
McWhirr stands on the deck during the typhoon and stays the course. He refuses to consider an alternate course proposed by a guy named Jukes, an experienced seaman. Instead, captain McWhirr stands on the deck through the whole typhoon. Without saying a word about patience, he teaches the crew about patience and fortitude. In other words, in the face of a storm you can’t control, sometimes you just gotta wait it out.
The crew, of course, doesn’t like this. They think they gotta do something. When the ship finally makes it out of danger, crew members just shake their heads. It is difficult for them to understand that sometimes the best thing to do is stay the course and not change anything.
That’s what I’m trying to get to. It does happen that important people get their underwear all bunched up about one thing or another. The best thing to do is to listen to these people, take their concerns under advisement, and then stand on the deck and stay the course. If you’re looking for any clue as to my media leadership style, read Typhoon and you’ll find it in the fortitude of Captain John McWhirr.
…. After a nap, I had this dilemma. I needed to pick up my car, which was getting a new oil control valve, at Team Toyota in Schererville. I could drive another car we have, but that would still leave a car left at Team Toyota.
So I did the sensible thing. I rode my bike there.
It wasn’t that long of a ride, six or seven miles maybe. But the cold changed things. When I left my house, it was 62 degrees. I wore shorts. By the time I got there, it was 46 degrees. On the last couple of miles of the bike ride, my fingers got numb and the copious hairs on my little legs stood straight up.
“It got cold in a hurry, huh?” the lady at the pay counter said. “I heard it dropped 20 degrees in two hours.”
That’s how we roll here on the bottom of Lake Michigan. One minute it’s comfortable. The next minute someone opens the refrigerator and you can see your breath. I put my bike in the backseat of the car and drove home.
At home, I was sitting in the kitchen with another dilemma. Alexis and I were scheduled to go visit her brother, Leo, who just had heart surgery. The problem was that he’s in Porter Regional Hospital, which is a hell of a long way away. Alexis’s work is kind of on the way there. I could drive my newly-repaired Lexus to Alexis’s work, and we could go from there. But we’d have a car that we had to pick up later.
So I resorted to the tried and true method. I rode my bike. This time, however, the wind had shifted. When I rode seven miles to Team Toyota, there was a stiff wind off Lake Michigan at my back. But when I rode the 14 miles toward my wife’s work, the wind had shifted. I rode directly into a rare East wind. That sucked.
I did have a happy moment, though. As the three or four of you know, I ride my bike a lot. It’s a way to listen to Grateful Dead and have to talk to anyone. I decompress, alone, in solitude, no matter how many other riders there are on the Erie Lackawanna trail.
This is a trail that runs from downtown Hammond to downtown Crown Point, Indiana. That’s a long way, more than 20 miles. I ride it a lot. Part of the reason I do this is that it’s a former railroad line. There aren’t that many street crossings, which is a plus in an area with a ton of trucks.
There is, though, a major crossing that has perplexed me. It’s where the Erie-Lackawanna trail crosses 45th Street between Highland and Griffith. It has always been a dangerous crossing. I have done Facebook Live videos about how dangerous it is there. Cars and trucks drive fast through there, and since the crossing is close to both Highland and Griffith high schools, a lot of teenagers cross there.
And teenagers don't look both ways.
So imagine my glee when I came up on the crossing and there were these two guys in the middle of the street putting down sensors. They had cordoned off the middle lanes and were spraying white paint. It was the finishing touches on a newfangled bicyclers stoplight. As a matter of fact, as I rode up on my bike, these lights on a pole started flashing and talking to me.
“Please dismount from your bicycle and wait for the walk sign before proceeding.” I did exactly what I was told. As I was walking across the street, I thanked the two construction workers for putting in a badly needed crossing. Later, when I told my wife about this, she retorted:
“Did you think it was their idea or something?”
No, I didn’t think it was the two construction workers’ idea to put in the new crosswalk. It’s just that I was so excited to see it going in that I had to thank someone.
I rode and I rode into that nasty East wind. But unlike my earlier ride in which I was not prepared for the cold, this time I had on sweats, a coat, a “dickie” to cover my neck, and a headband to cover my ears. I was so prepared that by the time I reached our meeting spot, the Walgreen’s at the corner of Burr Street and US 30, I was drenched with the sweat.
This created a problem. When I told my wife of the plan to ride my bike to her so that we didn’t have to leave a car, she said:
“You'll be all sweaty and gross.”
I didn’t think of this as a possibility. It was, after all, 40 degrees or so as I was riding. And the first time I rode south to Team Toyota, I didn’t sweat at all. But that time I was wearing shorts and a Grateful Dead teeshirt, and I was riding with the wind. This time, I was wearing tundrawear and riding into a wet wind. So as I took off my helmet, I noticed that my hair was sopping wet, greasy, and smelly. The same held true for the rest of my body.
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “Better think of something quick. Alexis will be meeting you here in ten minutes. Can’t be sweaty and gross.”
So I decided to change into the clothes that I had brought in my backpack. I walked through the Walgreens toward the back where they keep the bathrooms. And a miracle happend. There was this wall full of travel toiletries. I grabbed baby wipes, Axe deodorant, Axe gel, a comb, a disposable razor, and a one-use toothbrush. And I got it all for seven bucks, which appealed greatly to my Polish-Dutch sense of frugality.
I went in the Walgreens bathroom and peeled off the sweat-soaked attire. I was standing there in my underwear when a worker came in. He looked at me and kind of harrumphed, and then went into the stall next to where I was standing. He sat down and started making fart noises.
And then he left. I don’t think he even actually went to the bathroom. He just came in to fart. I stood there in my underwear and held a sweatshirt to my nose.
After the smell cleared, I wiped my whole body down with the baby wipes, wet my hair, rubbed Axe gel into it, brushed my teeth and put on some deodorant. I even dry shaved with a razor. Then I put the jeans and sweater and shoes on that I had carried in my backpack. By the time it was all said and done, I looked in the mirror and actually said out loud:
“Not bad, mutherf---er.”
Then I walked out of the bathroom onto the stage where I knew that I would be judged - by a real judge. That’s what my wife is, by the way, a referee in the courts of Lake County. All day long attorneys say stuff to her like, “Judge, if it pleases the court may I…..”
Or, “objection, your honor.”
It’s a pretty good job for my wife of nearly three decades in that she already in real life judges things fairly and concisely. For example, she can tell in an instant when something doesn’t look good on me.
“That looks horrible. Wear something else.”
When she says these things, I know that she is correct. When we first met, she chastised me for how I talked to people I knew well, especially my family. Often, when I would run into a family member, I would open up with an insult. It was my way of welcoming them.
“Why do you talk to your family like that? It’s demeaning. Don’t they ever complain?”
I had to think about it. For years, my family had been trying to tell me what an A-hole I was for doing this. I didn’t listen to them. I didn’t listen to anyone about anything then.
Six months after Alexis and I were dating, my cousin Phyllis came up to me.
“I don’t what that woman has done to you. But you used to be the biggest A-hole. Now you’re not.”
I share with you that I carried great apprehension as I emerged from the bathroom at Walgreens. I didn’t want to allow my wife the judge the satisfaction of being able to say “I told you so.” She had told me that I would be all sweaty. I didn’t want her to be right.
So imagine my satisfaction when I caught up with her in the greeting card aisle.
“Oh my god. You look nice. Better than you normally do.”
… We drove to Porter Regional Hospital and visited with my brother-in-law Leo. He used to be a manager with Inland Steel. He took retirement and became a full-time valet at the casino in Michigan City. He parks cars up until about three in the morning and then reads books until he gets off at 7am. The casino gets an experienced, reliable parking lot attendant. Leo gets to read Tom Clancy and James Patterson. Everybody wins.
Leo, by the way, is also my newest hero. He seems happy parking cars. He had a big, high-pressure job for the longest time. He had to travel away from his family to Mexico. He supervised people, told them what to do. And then he just stopped. He took a simple job with little pressure. I want that life. Don’t you?
Leo’s doing well after heart surgery. He, his wife Kathy, Alexis and I sat around in the hospital room talking about when Leo and Alexis were kids. They grew up in downtown Gary before moving to East Chicago. They’re tough people. I wouldn’t want to mess with either one of them.
After the visit, I texted my buddy Bill Baker, who works in Valparaiso.
“Quick. We’re at the Porter Regional Hospital. Where should we go to dinner?”
Baker directed us to Lucrezia’s in Chesterton. That was a great suggestion. Alexis had chicken. I had salmon. For dessert, we got a flourless chocolate cake. I ate almost all of the cake because, as I often remind Alexis, “I am a pig and I am an animal.”
On the way home, we drove down the Borman Expressway with semi trucks all around. We listened to WXRT and held hands. Good night.