Monthly Archives: December 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

All the best to everyone. Hope you enjoy the holiday season. See you in 2012.

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Blago and the Need to be “Somebody”

“What is it kid? You’re not saying much?”

“Just got the jumps.”

“Take it easy. We’re not going to lose him now. We had him ten years ago when he decided to be somebody.”

Some of you may recognize this scene from “The Sting,” a great movie which I watched the other night on one of the “retro” movie channels. For better or worse, they are the ones I frequent more than not these days. But my settling into “curmudgeondom” I will leave to another column. For those eager to wield that charge (Exhibit A, our daughter Anissa mockingly referring to her cardigan sporting dad as a real “hipster”) please note that my wife, Yolanda, and I go to many live performances of music, drama and trek to a nearby “Arts” theater each month to see independent movies produced outside the Hollywood sausage grinder. So back off youngsters. In fact, you might be well-served to look, listen or read something produced more than ten years ago. Open minds search in all directions.

Wow, I do sound like a curmudgeon. Sorry. But I feel better.

Back to “The Sting.”

For those who’ve not seen the movie Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) is the “kid,” Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) the seasoned con man. They are close to completing the hustle they are running on crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) and Hooker is “jumpy,” concerned Lonnegan will wiggle free.

I can imagine the FBI agents who arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich a few years ago having the same conversation the night before they slapped handcuffs on him. In Blago’s case, they “had him” years earlier when he decided to run for public office. And for those who have any doubt as to why Blago decided to become a public “servant,” it’s time to get real.

FBI interviews, observations and wiretaps all point to a man who could not wait to sink his pudgy jowls into the public trough. Deals were cut as he was being sworn in for his first term as governor. This after he ran a campaign as a “reformer” who was going to Springfield to drain the swamp. One early red flag as to his commitment should have been his refusal to move his family to the state capital. Look, I lived in Chicago and love the place. I understand why Springfield may be less attractive to some, but did Blago understand that’s where the job was? That’s why they have a mansion for the family? That in politics and government, face to face meetings, hands on management, is still the best way to get things done?

Of course he knew this. He just didn’t care. Because he didn’t run for public office to accomplish anything for others, just himself. He saw it as an opportunity to make a fortune and enjoy the notoriety that comes with being governor. Which brings me to my perspective regarding Blago.

To me he’s just another example of someone who wants to be famous for no other reason than to be famous. Not because he’s accomplished anything worthwhile for society, like being a conscientious public servant who, regardless of whether we agree with their viewpoint, have honorable intentions. With that as a basis, we can then debate in good faith the who, what, when, how and why’s of public policy.

No such “good faith” foundation exists with an attention getter like Blago because they don’t care about anything but themselves and their public persona.  There is no “there” there, only narcissism.

When Blago was sentenced he professed to the court his regret, admitting he’d made mistakes, but still claiming he did not think he was breaking the law. Like the self-centered coward he is, Blago sought refuge in his children, his lawyers pleading to the judge that it was not fair to take their father away.  Jeopardizing his children’s future and his responsiblity to raise them was apparently not a concern while Blago pillaged the state, trampled public trust, and lest we forget, put the squeeze on a children’s hospital for a campaign contribution. The judge bought the mea culpa to a degree, knocking a couple of years off Blago’s sentence, but for the most part he was unsympathetic.

Of course, Blago’s plea for mercy was expected. No surprise.

Neither, in my mind anyway, was what happened next. After being sentenced Blago said a few words to the press, emphasizing his priority was to get home to his daughters. But as he walked toward a waiting car, he worked the crowd, shaking hands, waving, acting as if he was on a red carpet at an award show.  A few minutes later the scene was played out again at his home. Blago, unable to resist being the center of attention, even in disgrace. Kissing and hugging people, leaning over the railing of his porch as if he was his hero, Elvis Presley, shaking hands from the stage, before his wife, who had disappeared from view to enter the house, reappears and motions him inside.

Your daughters, Blago. Remember? The ones who need their father?

“Congratulations, pal,” I can hear Paul Newman say. “You’re somebody.”

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Filed under 21st Century America, Corrupt Politicians, Crime, December 2011, Elvis Presley, Institutions, Paul Newman, Robert Redford

Dreams of Writing

This week some regular readers asked if I was planning to write about disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich or the St. Louis Cardinal’s loss of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, two major, if unrelated, news events for many Illinoisans. Depending upon one’s attitude as to how we should spend our scant days on earth, an argument could be made regarding the relative importance of each. For some, the loss of Pujols is more newsworthy than another Illinois politician getting thrown into the penitentiary. Illinoisans have been there, done that and will do so again. A player of Pujols stature, on the other hand, is a rare commodity and his loss not to be underestimated.

I will probably write about Blago or Pujols at some point, but I’ve not coalesced my thoughts on either.  An English professor from my undergrad days said writers should always keep pen and paper next to their bed to record ideas emanating from an uncensored subconscious which kicks into high gear when we sleep.  I don’t always do that, but I do my best to recall certain dreams because they do help with my writing.

The other night, for example, Mark Twain winked, raised a mug of beer and motioned me into a party. Dressed in his signature vanilla suit with black string tie, Twain’s  white-haired head returned to the knot of admirers gathered around him and the tale he was telling.  As I elbowed my way through the crowd laughter erupted, Twain reaching the climax of a humorous anecdote.

Moving to another room, I plopped into a ragged and tobacco stained easy chair which I knew was Twain’s favorite.  There were flat screen TVs on the walls. Folks were cheering at a baseball game gleaming in glorious high-definition. Seeing no familiar faces, I left the party and walked over to a red and white striped store across the street.

“Hi, Mike,” my younger sister, the wife of a rabid Cardinal’s fan said, “good time to go shopping, isn’t it? Everyone’s watching the game.”

This dream is yet to repeat. Others have appeared like TV reruns.

I am wandering in a huge, unfamiliar home. I know my wife, Yolanda, and I have purchased the house, but I do not know why. We love the one in which we live and have more than enough space. Every room I enter is larger than the previous and each has water dripping from the ceiling with gaping holes exposing rafters beneath an ominous grey sky. I find myself standing in the rain on a green lawn the size of three football fields talking with Yolanda and a roofing contractor. The house before us is the size of a European castle and, the contractor informs me, the entire roof needs to be replaced.

“Why did we take out a mortgage on this, Yolanda? We loved our house and it was paid for,” I said.

But Yolanda and the roofer have disappeared.

Scene shift.

I am working in my business on Main street in Hoopeston. Two guys in black suits enter and tell me the company I am associated with is questioning my credentials. They have discovered I did not take the Constitution exam in college. My degree is worthless. I must pass the exam or face the loss of my contract with the company. Suddenly I’m rushing down a hallway in Hovey Hall at Illinois State University. I’m middle-aged but dressed in white painters pants, a flannel shirt and hiking boots with a backpack slung over my right shoulder (college attire, circa early 1980’s.) I am late for the Constitution exam and cannot find the room.

As I say, these dreams have not occurred on the same night. In fact, the house with the leaky roof stopped once I replaced the porous one at my office. The bogus degree, an oldy but a goody, I have not experienced since I earned my Masters. In their day, however, both were vivid and panic evoking, waking me with squirming intensity.

Sigmund Freud studied dreams from many angles. He believed in their symbolic interpretation, the images representing unresolved feelings.  For Freud, dreams, at one level, are a form of “wish-fulfillment,” our subconscious searching for resolution of ongoing issues. These can run the gamut of deep, dark disturbances of the soul dating back years or recent conflicts of a more mundane nature. A soldier recalling combat is an example of the former, my musings on leaky roofs the latter.  Insecurity regarding my education, a questioning of my self-worth I suppose, falls somewhere between the two.

Blago and Pujols have been the lead stories in newspapers across the state. The Missouri born, politician mocking Twain, baseball in high-def, and my sister shopping at a red and white emblazoned store, race through my dreams. I don’t think we need Freud to tell us that something’s cooking in my subconscious.

I just need to keep that pad and pen by the bed.

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