Category Archives: Newspaper

9/11 at 11

We go from here.

When I was growing up my father said this to me when I did something that threw me off stride in my march to adulthood.  No choir boy, I heard it often.

I’m grateful to have been raised by parents born in the 1920’s. Mom and Dad weathered the Great Depression and WWII. “Potato pancakes” was a staple at their supper tables. Mom was a survivor of polio, Dad, bloody combat.  When he was nineteen his platoon was decimated in the Battle of the Bulge, seven soldiers alive at the end, five walking, they carried the other two to a field hospital.  The platoon was filled with replacements and Dad and the others followed Patton across Europe to victory.

We go from here.

My parents experienced suffering in a way few from succeeding American generations have. But that suffering provided a sense of proportion to their daily lives. Far too often now, Americans, as individuals and a country, invoke the term “crisis” to describe things that I’m certain my folks would view as challenges, but not crises.

9/11 was different.

I asked Mom if it was worse than Pearl Harbor.

“Yes,” she said, voice cracking.

I called Dad.  Only months from death, three packs a day of Lucky Strikes taking their toll, he struggled to breathe and his short-term memory was shot. But he understood what happened on 9/11.

“We’ll beat ’em,” he whispered.

We go from here.

A few weeks after 9/11 I drove to West Lafayette, Indiana with three buddies from high school to watch the Illinois-Purdue football game.  I don’t remember who won. I recall a small plane approaching the stadium, a wind-whipped advertising banner in tow. Everyone’s attention went from the game on the field to the plane in the sky.  I realized I’d never hear the approach of an airplane or gaze at its flight path in the same way again.

Ten years passed.

The fall of 2011 I was at the Illinois home game against South Dakota State with a friend I’ve made since 9/11. Two trumpeters played taps and there was a moment of silence. Throughout the game uniformed service men and women, Illinois alums, talked and waved from the big screen on the stadium scoreboard, some holding babies, others taped from overseas posts.

The next morning, the tenth anniversary, I stretched in front of the TV, preparing to run three miles on a quiet Sunday morning.  Relatives of people who were killed on 9/11 read names of victims, ending with their loved one and a brief remembrance of what they meant to them. Tears welled in my eyes.

I ran.

Along the way I waved to friends, neighbors and a local cop on patrol.  I thought of the last decade, years 9/11 victims and their families lost. With rare exception, my wife, Yolanda, and I put our children to bed every night and awoke with them each morning.  We went to piano recitals, soccer games, swim meets, first communions, birthday parties, and high school graduations. Our daughter, Anissa, blossomed into a woman. Our son, Michael, survived a horrific auto accident. The paramedics told us there was a ten percent chance someone survived such a crash in one piece. Our son walked away and, two years later, off to college.  Both my parents died.

I finished my run strong, racing up the final hill to our house.  I snatched a cold bottle of water from the fridge and wandered into the TV room where Yolanda was watching the 9/11 memorials.  Paul Simon sang “Sound of Silence.”

When he finished, Yolanda told me that earlier that day a suicide bomber injured seventy-seven American service men and women at a base in Afghanistan. Five Afghani civilians, including a three-year old girl, were killed.

It’s Sunday, September 9th, 2012, and I open the Champaign News-Gazette to articles about memorial plans for the eleventh anniversary. At the bottom of page one is the headline “On average, U.S. has lost a soldier each day in 2012.” One of the latest casualties was Pfc. Shane W. Cantu, twenty, one year younger than Michael. Cantu was, according to his buddies, a lot like my son, a gregarious guy who lit up every room he entered. Cantu was ten years old on 9/11. In the story, a military historian says Afghanistan has become the “’Who Cares?’ war.”

Ten years, now eleven.

We go from here.

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Filed under 21st Century America, 9/11, Citizen Soldiers, Family, Friends, Greatest Generation, Illinois Football, Newspaper, Running, September 2012, Small town America, World War II

Dream a Little Dream

“What’s the skinny guy sayin’?”

Jake Plotner plopped on the bar stool next to mine in the cool darkness of the American Legion.  Jake’s a sixty-something fireplug with blue eyes and white flat top who claims to be the small town cousin of the late, great Chicago columnist Mike Royko’s alter ego Slats Grobnik. I cannot confirm the identity of either fellow, but they both enjoy a good conversation over a cold beer. Some say Jake retired from a local factory where he ran a press that punched tin can lids. My son Michael worked a similar machine one hot summer.

“Toughest job I ever had, Dad,” Michael said, this from a kid who detassled, painted barns and shoveled soybeans and other things for farmers since the age of fourteen.

Jake punched that press for forty years according to local legend.

Without a word the blonde bartender handed Jake a beer and the three of us stared up at the TV.

Thanks to the proliferation of 24/7 news channels Americans have a choice in how the events of the day are presented on TV. We have networks that lean conservative, liberal and the one that’s in every airport which appears to be simply dazed and confused at this point. But the channels do share a few things in common like banner headlines signaling “Breaking News: Kim Kardashian Divorcing after Seventy-Two Days of Marriage,” a plethora of “buy gold” commercials and talking head “experts” who seem to have so much time on their hands that they do not work a day job. Or maybe being an “expert” is their day job.

Give me a steaming cup of Joe and the morning paper.

I gestured at the flashing screen.

“He says since Congress hasn’t acted on comprehensive immigration reform he’s not enforcing the law to deport illegal immigrants under the age of thirty who meet certain requirements,” I said.

“It’s good to be King,” Jake said. “But heck, his party had control of Congress for two years and never did nothin’ about it. What’s ‘Mister Gentleman’s Quarterly’ got to say?”

A news ticker ran along the bottom of the TV highlighting civil war in Syria, Iranian nuclear denials and the announcement that a Reality TV couple was having a child. GQ appeared on cue, square-jawed with every black hair in place, sixty-something like Jake but not showing the wear and tear of forty years in a factory. He said something about not necessarily disagreeing with the idea of not deporting young illegal immigrants who fit the criteria but objected to the skinny guy’s unilateral pronouncement. GQ also called for comprehensive immigration reform.

Jake and I swigged our beers. The blonde wandered to the end of the bar.

“So they agree?” Jake said blue eyes wide. “We need new rules on this whole deal, right?”

“Yep.”

Jake brushed his flat top and shifted to face me.

“This is crazy. These guys agree we need to secure the border, be reasonable about the folks already here and set up a new system to make it fair for everyone who wants to come to the U.S. That’s what they’re both sayin’, right?”

“You’re correct, my friend,” I said.

“Then why the hell don’t they get it done?”

“Devil’s in the details, I guess. But some say it’s not good politics.”

“Come again,” Jake said leaning on the bar.

“Stirs the pot.  Fires up each party’s base. Helps get the vote out. It’s not about governing or doing the right thing like both sides claim. They don’t want to make proposals that the other can criticize and turn against ‘em.  It’s all about winning elections.”

“Geez,” Jake said, rubbing his chin, “with all the problems this is causin’ for all sorts of people, it’s hard to believe that even politicians can be that cynical.”

Our eyes met and we laughed.

“Another round,” Jake called to the blonde. “And for Pete’s sake…change the channel. I’d rather watch the Cubs lose than listen to any more of this.”

The screen glowed with green grass, blue sky and a Cub batter kicking the dirt after a swing and a miss.

“Hell, at least he’s swingin’ the bat,” Jake said, raising his glass. “At least he’s swingin’ the bat.”

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Filed under 21st Century America, Barack Obama, Chicago Cubs, Corrupt Politicians, Exploitation, Immigration Reform, Institutions, July 2012, Mitt Romney, Newspaper, Small town America

Morning Paper

The older I get the earlier I awake. If the trend continues, I ‘m concerned I might be rising at 4:00 a.m., eating supper by 3:00 p.m. and hitting the hay at 8:00. The jokes about senior citizens early bird dinner specials starting at mid-afternoon taking on a different, more practical meaning to me.

“You know,” I say to my wife, Yolanda, “and I’m not saying we’ll ever do this, but eating early kinda makes sense if you’re startin’ the day before dawn. I mean, think about the pioneers, Ben Franklin, early to bed, early to rise…all that jazz.”

“Iy, vato,” she says, slipping into Spanish when aggravated, “you’re staying awake with me until 10 to watch the news.  I’m not ready to live with an old man.”

Often, around 9:30, I’ll nudge her awake, both of us asleep on the couch and we’ll stumble upstairs to bed. With the hard-earned judgment of a man married for over twenty years, I make no comment about living with an “old woman.”

As was so often the case, Ben Franklin was correct regarding the pluses to rising early. I can write, check email, and take a soul-centering run through my silent, slumbering small town. It also allows time to read the morning paper while drinking a couple of cups of steaming coffee, two practices which Ben would approve. The solitary act of reading the newspaper gives me the chance to consider the news of the day at my pace with no hyperactive news anchors, flashing “ALERTS,” or gold commercials touting the end of the world. (Apparently a lock box filled with precious metal will, according to G. Gordon Liddy, make economic Armageddon more palatable since those of us with gold will yield a profit.)

A newspaper contains none of these distractions. We are in control of the process, interacting with a newspaper in ways we do not with other media. We read what we choose, lingering over an article or ad that catches our attention, scanning past those that do not.  We separate the thin pages with our fingertips, smell the “fresh off the press” scent, hear the snap, crackle, pop as we crisply fold it to the shape we desire.

Of course, not everyone has time to read the paper in the morning or has delivery available. When I lived in downtown Chicago and rode the El to work I purchased the Chicago Sun-Times at a newspaper stand. I chose the Sun-Times not because I thought it was a better paper than the Tribune, but for its tabloid design which made it easier to read on a crowded train. When Yolanda and I lived in Dallas and drove to work, dropping the kids off at daycare along the way, there was no time to read the Dallas Morning News.  Busy with two toddlers up to bed time, we never woke up any earlier than necessary. So I’d read the paper on my lunch break as I munched on a sandwich.

Newspaper readers also have the choice to prioritize sections per individual tastes. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren famously said: “I always turn to the sports page first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

As a sports fan, and a person who grows weary of what seems to be an increasingly dysfunctional world, I enjoy the sports page as well. The Champaign-Urbana based News-Gazette, our daily, has one of the best. But I save sports for last. First, because for me, like Earl Warren, it is the most entertaining and satisfying section so I savor it like dessert. Second, and more practically, Yolanda and I share a love of the morning paper. Since I rise about an hour before her, there is usually no conflict. But to preserve early morning peace I read the hard news, editorial and local sections before she comes downstairs. These are Yolanda’s favorites and she pours over them like she’s preparing for the bar exam, mumbling in Spanish when, you guessed it, she disagrees with a point of view offered in a column or editorial.

The other section I make sure to look through is the obituaries. Some may think this macabre, but for me the obits are similar to the sport section because they highlight an individual’s accomplishments. Even more so, they provide insight into the deceased’s life by recording lineage, loves, and passions. This is particularly interesting when the individual has lived a long and productive life. The list of parents, spouse, children and siblings go on for paragraphs followed by the place of birth and a recounting of a life from childhood to death. Even in the tragedy of a life cut short, there is always a paragraph or two about the individual’s love of family, friends, music, reading, model trains, doll houses, school or any number of passions. You certainly will never learn such personal things by listening to brief obits on the local radio station.

No, it is only the newspaper which gives us the breadth and depth of coverage we need to digest local, national and international events. From coverage of local bake sales to the machinations of an international economy, from high school softball scores to the Olympics, from the death of a fellow you knew as Frederick, but his friends called “Spud,” the newspaper covers it all.

Most importantly, for an “old man” like me, I don’t have to stay up until 10:00 p.m. to learn about it all.

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Filed under 21st Century America, Family, Newspaper, October 2011, Running, Small town America, Sports page