Mom Letters by Jack Brackitt - HTML preview

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After school, I let Jimmy get a cherry ice cream. This was a big mistake, because Jimmy’s school uniform shirt is white.
Me, panicky: Jimmy, just wipe your hands on my shirt. Watch out! …

Luckily, nothing happened. Then we got home and he washed his face, and this diluted cherry mess flowed onto his white shirt.

Introduction
What is it like in St. Louis? I grew up in the “Gateway to the West,” and even
though I moved away to Chicago (north, not west), here’s a hokey write-up on a
great and greatly underrated city.

St. Louis is one primary color: red. Because of all the red clay in the region, the bricks on buildings are every shade of red: dark red, rich red, red-red, etc. When you include the baseball Cardinals, St. Louis is the reddest city west of Mars.

St. Louis is a, “Hmm, I didn’t know that” town. The St. Louis area is where...

~ Corvettes were built! From the mid 1950s to the early 1980s, they were made exclusively in St. Louis.
~ a real exorcism took place…in the late 1940s. It was the inspiration for a popular novel on the subject.
~ Ulysses S. Grant owned a farm.
~ there’s the largest brewery in the country. (OK, you might have known that.) Drive by this giant distillery, and there’s a distinct and pleasant smell.
~ a number of international shoe companies operate.
~ ice cream cones were invented…at the 1904 World’s Fair.

Many idiotic outsiders make cracks about St. Louis, because they need to feel better than something. St. Louis provides an easy target, since it spends little time bragging about itself. But the secret is: The Gateway City is a very enjoyable place. It’s large enough to have attractive attractions, and small enough to reach them in less than 30 minutes.

Wisely, in the early ’80s, St. Louis stopped worrying about being listed as one of the 20 largest cities in America, and concentrated on becoming one the most enjoyable midsize cities – great for conventions. In other words, they left the bottom of one list and are earning their way to the top of another.

Dimensions

Why does St. Louis exist? Because it’s where the big Missouri River merges with the bigger Mississippi River, and it creates a huger Mississippi River. Since water traffic was all the rage before the railroads came along, this confluence (fancy word) formed the need for a trading town – where stuff coming from one way could be exchanged with wares from another. If items from the same faraway origin were exchanged in St. Louis, everyone laughed...in that 1770s way.

Regarding the “Gateway to the West” designation: St. Louis was the jumping off point for 1840s wagon trains going to Oregon and the remaining west.

St. Louis has a lot of rolling hills, because it’s logical to have them around a river.
River: Where the heck am I gonna go? Oh, I’ll just flow in between these hills. Don’t ask me why rivers exist in flat areas.

A map of St. Louis is easy to draw:
The metro area is all around here: Y
Most of my family now lives out west on the Missouri side: ~ Y Karen grew up in the northeast on the Illinois side: Y’

St. Louis is the northernmost southern city in the nation. In STL, the country folks and the city slickers barely put up with each other. Occasionally, a young city-type will fall in love with a young country-type. They’ll have a Romeo and Juliet type romance, but luckily, it won’t end like the play.

TV news people call the area the Bi-State region and Metro St. Louis, but people never use those terms. “St. Louis” covers it all.

 

One neighborhood is called Dogtown.

Arch
If someone only knows one thing about St. Louis, it’s the Arch. Here are
some Archish things.

Under the Arch, there’s a big underground museum, and they show a movie about how the landmark was made.

The Arch is go-up-innable. This egg-shaped elevator ratchets you up to the top, where there are long windows and views of the river and city. The windows are small, because mega-tons of pressure push the legs against each other.

Around the Arch, there’s a large park, and every July 4th America’s Biggest Birthday Party is thrown there. It’s as if the founding fathers wanted to see hundreds of drunken St. Louisans with no shirts on.

Riverfront

Along the shore, there are gambling riverboats, helicopters, and brick-paved riverbanks. In fact, bricks are used to make up a whole mini-town right off the river. ...

It’s called Laclede’s Landing, and while it used to consist of 19th century factories and businesses, it’s now mostly bars and restaurants. STL was one of the first cities to clean up their brick buildings and turn them into a fetching tourist attraction. Rehabbers tore the asphalt off the streets, cleaned up the cobblestones underneath, and now cars have a bumpy ride that’s more vertical than horizontal.

Going into the more businesslike downtown, St. Louis has a modern art structure that takes up a city block. It’s a triangle made out of 10-foot high iron walls. The city has a long-standing tradition: After baseball games, hundreds of men relieve themselves on this sculpture.

Roads

In the 1800s, people laid down winding roads that went over a lot of hills and out to farms and smaller towns. But now, there are thousands of houses in those areas, and there are thousands of cars crammed onto those old roads.

A road certainly can go in a numerous directions. One is even called Big Bend – a total admission.

 

St. Louis has cool names for streets, like Kingshighway, Natural Bridge Road, and Lindbergh. Then again, there’s Skinker.

 

Downtown St. Louis streets are named after trees. There’s Pine, Chestnut, Locust, etc. They got the idea from Philadelphia.

 

Route 66 went through St. Louis, and the roads are still right there. They aren’t old highways – they’re wide streets with stoplights and lots of retail.

Here’s a typical St. Louis problem: Broadway is a big, wide street. However, in a weird spot, someone put up a stop sign. It’s not there for a cross street, but it serves a small side street that’s used by maybe 10 cars a day. It’s obvious some political jerk once lived on the side street and wanted an easy left turn onto Broadway. Now, Alderman Jerkbag is gone, but the stop sign remains.

The River Road

Here is the greatest thing the world should know about the St. Louis area but doesn’t: There’s a 15-mile River Road that, true to its name, runs along the Mississippi River on the Illinois side. It starts in a “just northeast of St. Louis” town called Alton, IL – where my mother grew up. Unfortunately, in the early 1980s the River Road lost its two best tour guides: my Alton grandparents.

Here’s an overview map of the River Road…looking north:

WWW H B WWW H B WWW H B

W: Mississippi River
H: Four-lane highway
B: Bluffs, though the B’s should be turned the other way

River side

Near Alton, there’s a dam on the Mississippi, and this leaves the water lake-like – very wide and non-rushing-river-ish. There’s plenty of boating going on. Down aways after the dam, there’s a statued tribute to Lewis & Clark, but it has that ugly Soviet statue style. (Meriwether and William were caught up in the red scare but were eventually cleared.) Thank goodness it floods out occasionally.

Along the shore, these long, flat metal barges are all lined up. They never seem in much of a hurry.
Sailor: Captain, that barge has been sitting here since 1977. Captain: We’d better get it moving.

Across the water are islands with “duck blinds” – plywood shack hangouts where hunters freeze their behinds off.

On the shore there are homes put way up on stilts. They’re trying to stay dry during the every-100-year floods that come every five years. After one flood, this man wrote the local newspaper, “Did 100 years pass already?”

Land side

 

(not “landslide” – don’t say that near bluffs)

The River Road itself moves at 55 mph then slows through some small towns. Each lays claim to a locally known restaurant or bait shop. Don’t confuse them like I did.

You’ll see a lot of 90-foot tall bluffs in a drive along the River Road. Quick notes:
~ Houses sit on top of and set into the bluffs.
~ They have caves with bats.
~ All along the bluffs, there are more legends and stories than anyone can handle.
~ There’s a small college that’s so hidden many of the students can’t find it…and are expelled.

Pere Marquette State Park

A wooded park is off the River Road. Doug and I went camping for the last time there with Dad. I’m not saying that somberly, because we had a fine adventure. We stayed close enough to the lodge that we could walk there to eat whatever we needed. My Dad loved to camp, but he loved conveniences just as much.

Homes
In St. Louis, you get more house and land for your money. Many people go
45 minutes outside town and buy 15 acres…just so they can yell, “Get off my
property!”

Some older houses have crosses set into the brickwork.

Karen observed that the rolling hills give the city a terraced effect. When you’re on the expressway, you can look off and see rows of homes on different levels. Home buyers never have to leave the highway.

Places
St. Louis has...
~ a major new ice arena, but the contractor neglected to estimate that the

building would need an ice rink…and they had to re-estimate. ~ a prison called Gumbo.

 

5. May
5.1 Timeline
School productions

I went to two spring concerts – one for each of the older boys. At these productions, I see a lot of the preparations made with the kids – rounding them up, making last-minute decisions, etc. It’s a big part of the experience.

At Ryan’s concert, he waited in line to go on stage, and he introduced me to another kid.
Ryan: This is my geeky dad.

I could see that Ryan gets along well with his classmates, because they do the following to each other:
~ make side karate kicks (“ee yah!”).
~ leap onto backs.
~ mess up hair.
If these were allowed in adulthood, it would make life considerably more interesting.

Me: Jimmy, you have a concert tonight. Jimmy: Tonight? Uh oh.
Me: Why?
Jimmy: Nothing. I just wanted to say, “Uh oh.”

Overall assessment:

 

The concerts went just fine. The biggest benefit is seeing my kids not watching TV.

 

Renting a car

My car was getting fixed, so I rented a used car – a big four-door junker – a "stale-cigarette-smellmobile." Jimmy climbed inside and laid down inside that flat area that’s under the back window and over the back seat. Every five-yearold loves that spot.

Jimmy: Did we buy this car?
Me: No, it’s a rental car. That means –
Jimmy: I know what that is.
Me: Great. What is renting?
Jimmy: Um, I know what renting does, but I don’t know what it is.

Friend Sid Flournoy (owner of two German sports cars) couldn’t believe a person would willingly rent a junker car.
Sid: How does that whole thing work?
Me: Look, I can’t let you drive it.
Sid: Don’t worry. Does the car actually go? Me: Yes. Are you gonna rent one?
Sid: Is there a waiting list?

During this time my regular car got fixed, but not in the animal way. The whole family drove down to pick it up.

Jimmy: I don’t wanna go. I’m gonna miss my TV show.
Ryan: Jim, TV is a little thing. Don’t worry about it.
Jimmy: Quiiiiet! Ryan, I don’t wanna hear another peep out of you. And don’t even say “but.”
Ryan: But, but, but.

Karen and Ryan were talking about her workplace – the tall building with two long white radio antennas.
Karen: There’s where I work, Jimmy.
Jimmy: The one with the horns on top?

We had a short amount of silence in the car.
Karen: I'm so happy my roses are really coming in well this year.
I report this to show that Karen is different from me, because under no circumstances would my mind wander to roses.

Finally, we picked up my repaired car, everything worked out fine.

Grimbo update
How’s Grimbo? I’m glad to report he’s back to his old self, and he rarely
talks about those difficult past months. The best news is that he no longer needs
his daily medicine.

However, I’m having problems with his nutritional cat food. First, it tastes terrible. Second, it comes in this giant bag – huge, like a feed sack you’d see on a horse ranch. Two notes about this:

1. The mega-bag sits right inside our pantry, and because the earth spins so quickly, the bag slumps into the door’s path. Then, however carefully I open the pantry door, I hit the bag, and it takes a spectacular fall, dumping thousands of pellets onto the floor.

2. It’s hard to pour the food from this huge sack. The thing is under my arm, I tilt it forward, and I can’t see the bowl that’s below and in front of me. So, I’ll overshoot the drop zone. Next to the empty bowl, I create a miniature of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Mother’s Day
The Saturday night before...

I went into the grocery store, got a little hand basket, and went to pick up some last minute Mom-centric items. It was “prior to Mom’s Day pandemonium” in this place. Crowds were...

~ buying cards
~ picking up flowers
~ throwing stuff everywhere.

One lady was exclaiming that someone took her shopping cart. Fine. I got flowers and cards and checked them out. Finally, I wheeled my shopping cart to the car.
I thought: Wasn’t I using a hand basket? ...Oh! I’m the one who stole that lady’s cart.

I trust that Brother Al will join you in church tomorrow, but when Al steps in there his feet get hot.

 

The Big Sunday

 

Happy Mother’s Day! You’re the best Mom anyone could have.

The following Monday
Last night we took Karen/Mommy/Nan out to dinner. Man, was traffic
slow. It didn’t help that along the route, every billboard had the same ad for
this ugly male syndicated TV judge.

We went to a row of restaurants on the west side. Some decades ago, a lot of these eating establishments (or their predecessors) moved here from the near south side, because a university took their land. This is a story of Chicago: Something big moves in, and entire groups settle together elsewhere.

5.2 Andy at 10 months

 

5.2 Andy at 10 months
Crawling

Andy is now crawling – regular crawling, and with purpose. If he wants something, he’ll scramble over to it. Since he’s become so mobile, our lives have changed significantly. In a nutshell, he’s in a nutshell. We’ve enclosed the baby inside a big living room area. Andy is happy to putt around in there and throw toys at us.

Three crawling stories:

1. Andy scooted along fast but was going toward the wall. I reached down, turned him around the other way, and he kept going like nothing happened.
2. He will crawl into corners and get stuck there – much like a big battery operated toy. I turn him around and he’s back crawling again.
3. When Andy crawls by, I’ll mischievously slip my foot underneath his chest and hold him up a little. He continues to crawl in place and doesn’t change his happy expression.

Standing
Andy just started holding himself up against furniture – another achievement!
While this is wonderful, it increases his grab zone. We have to move things so
high that I can’t reach them.

If I stand Andy up looking at me, then I slowly take my hands away, he’ll stay there on his own for about five seconds. He sways randomly about five degrees. Andy’s look: What the heck am I doing?

Notably, Andy doesn’t perform the full body on-the-diaper fall – “timbrrr!” He eases down to meet the carpet.

 

5.3 Circle update
Movie premiere

I talked with friend David Daniels. Dave is such a fan of this 1970s sci-fi movie series he’s taking vacation time around the upcoming Part 4 (which they call Part 1) premiere. Over the years, I’ve thrown him a lot of questions about this serial, and he’s been up on everything. Dave has never replied, “You know, that aspect of the series never interested me much.” …

I asked David how he would get impossible-to-get tickets to the premiere. Dave said his parents were standing in line for him.

Baseball game
Friends Joe and Jennifer Anderson invited Karen and me to a baseball game.
Since our marriage works in shifts, only I could go. Here’s the whole story:

Joe and Jennifer had a recent climatological drama. Joe’s Mom lives in Florida, and the couple flew down to help her move. The weather threw everything it could at them, but son and daughter-in-law made it to Joe’s Mom and got the job done. Reminds me how I let the movers take care of you.

They live in a unique loft space in a big old building near the west side of the Loop. There, function follows form, because the building used to be a multi-story industrial bakery, and the residences are creatively laid out within existing walls.

I walk into their main area, and the ceiling is about 35 feet up. Ascending on the right are two mezzanines (defined: a partial story between two main stories of a building). One story is a bedroom and the other is an office. Looking left, their living room is in a former oven. …

Jennifer is well organized. For example, she has these containery containers for small umbrellas and baseball hats. Like all very-together people, she wants to do more.
Jennifer: Oh, I need a hat for our team. I’ve got plenty of Kansas City hats. We’ll have to get one at the park.

We went to the ballpark and mostly sat through a rainout. This was my kind of ballgame! We could sit together and talk, and not be distracted by an important play on the field.

I took the challenge of saying five things about Joe neither of them had thought of in years. It was easy, because Joe is always deeply immersed in a work-related drama. For example, in the 1980s, he became sales manager at a company where the president spent most of his time 1) watching his house get constructed, and 2) going on pleasure trips. The chief operating officer’s main job was taking the president to the airport.

Quick side note: Joe is the wealthiest person I know...in frequent flyer miles. He is a “points tycoon.”

Since Joe and Jennifer invited me to the game, it was proper for me to buy them drinks and food. But I didn’t think of this early on, and I showed up with only $4.00. That wouldn’t go far at the ballpark. Perhaps you’re asking, "Why not go to the cash machine there?" Unfortunately, there was even less money in my checking account. I considered asking Joe to loan me $30 so I could pay for things, but that defeated the purpose. ...

Resolution: I snuck off and found a machine that accepted credit cards...and charged 30 cents on the dollar.

 

5.4 Park

The park is a big part of our lives together, and we’re looking forward to you joining us when you come up in a few weeks. So you’re prepared, here’s a write-up on what usually happens.

Beginning
It starts with Jimmy and Ryan yelling that they want to go to the park. Andy
pretty much stays home with his Mom, because we don’t want him getting
stepped on.

Travel
The park is about half a mile away – a good walk. But we like it more than
closer parks, because it doesn’t have dog droppings everywhere. To get there, we
run races down the sidewalk. Ryan always wins, and his job is to block Jimmy
from going into the street. Jimmy comes in second, and let’s not talk about who’s
last.
Jimmy, suddenly stopping: My leg hurts. And my foot. Actually, just my foot.

Jimmy: Where’s that pigeon going? Me: I don’t know.
Jimmy: I think he’s going to the park, too.

Arrival
This park is the size of a home lot – like 30 feet wide and 120 feet long – but
instead of a three-flat going in, it got swings and wood chips.

We call it Dorothy’s Park, because it’s close to friend Dorothy P. Wood’s home. You’ll recall she was kind enough to take care of Dad when he was here. It’s appropriate to name a park after our friend, because she’s a nature lover in our concrete city. Dorothy...

~ identifies different birds in the neighborhood. Before Dorothy came along, I didn’t know Chicago had birds.
~ examines every rose. Dorothy says they each smell a little different.
~ finds pieces of wood for crafts.
~ watches the moon. Aside from the NASA folks, Dorothy is the moon’s closest friend.

Jimmy: Look at that squirrel – he’s gathering nuts for the winter. No, wait – he’s just snacking.

Swings
The boys get on this modern tire swing. It’s a tire-like black plastic thing, and
it lays horizontally. Three chains extend from it and connect at one spot at the
top. Ryan and Jimmy sit in it, and they receive my super-mega spinout. As any physics professor would explain, their spinning narrows into a smaller circle, and thus it goes faster, then faster.
Ryan, afterward: Trust me, I don’t feel so good.

When we go out on the regular swing set, I underdog the kids. Essentially, this is a big push.
Jimmy, angry: Dad, you gave me a super underdog, and I wanted a regular one.

Tag
Ryan’s rules for tag are advantages he freely gives himself. Whenever he
wants, he can...
~ call a timeout for himself.
~ declare any place a “safety zone.”
~ have his fingers crossed, so even if he’s tagged he’s OK. ...

Whenever I make some progress, new rules pop up.

I was chasing Ryan. He barely got into the safety zone (swing set) then collapsed.
Me: You made it.
Ryan: Yeah, and there’s not much I can do with a broken leg.
Me: You broke your leg?
Ryan: Yeah, yesterday on the monkey bars. I also think I unattached my neck.

Jimmy wanted us to play tag, and it was his job to determine who was it. We each put a foot in.
Jimmy: Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish. How many pieces do you wish? Me: Five.
Jimmy: Dad’s it! You’re a ninny pants!
Ryan ran off.
Me: Hold it!

I chased after them.

Ryan played tag with this other kid, and the kid caught Ryan. (I could have told the boy this would be a problem, because Ryan doesn’t like getting tagged.) Once nabbed, Ryan took a theatrical fall to the ground, and then laid stunned and victimized for a long moment.
Ryan, affronted: You tagged me way too hard! When you tag, you’re not supposed to hit like that.

Jimmy: Are we going to wrestle in the park?
Me: I think we’re going to chase, ‘cause we can’t wrestle in the park. Jimmy: I mean wrestle-chase.

Andy
Later in the summer, Baby Andy went with us to the park – his first trip ever.
He sat on the tire swing with his brothers and they posed – even though I didn’t
have a camera. That was one happy baby – he loves doing new big-kid stuff with
his brothers.

Andy enjoyed the little baby park swing – the one that’s a bucket with leg holes. As I pushed, he put a large smile on his face.
Andy: Aaoohgh.
He firmly gripped the sidebars, sat upright, and showed better posture than I do. Andy: Brrrrth.

I was very proud of him. He’ll enjoy thousands of parks in his long life.

Games
We played Three Billy Goats Gruff. I was the Troll, and Andy played my
helper – Troll Jr.
Me: Who tramps over my bridge?
Jimmy: It’s me.
Me: I’m gonna get you.
Jimmy: Wait for my bigger brother to come.
Me: But I’m gonna get you.
Jimmy: Dad! That’s not the way you say it. You’re supposed to say, “Very well
then.”
Me: Very well then.
Jimmy: Wait ‘til I’m a goat again.

I’m terrible at throwing a ball, and Ryan quickly noticed this. Ryan: Oh, lame throw, Dad!
Decades ago, my brothers – your other sons – gave me plenty of trouble about my weak throwing ability. Then there was a 20-year lull, and now Ryan has brought it all back again.
Al: Ryan, when your Dad was young, we said he threw like a girl. Now that he’s older, we say he throws like a lady.

Me: Great catch, Ryan!
Ryan: Yeah! That was something you told me – keep my eye on the ball. Me: I taught you something about baseball?

Ryan, sitting atop the monkey bars: Dad, you never listen to me. Me: Why don’t you become the Dad then.
Ryan: OK, I will. Could you teach me how to drive, ex-Dad? Me: No.
Ryan: Jim, into the corner!
Jimmy: No way.
Me: Dad, can I have? Can I have? Can I have?
Ryan: Jack, you’re grounded.
Jimmy: Ryan, you’re not Dad, you’re a poo-poo brain. Ryan: Leave me alone ‘til I figure this out.

Ryan dunked his head into the water fountain. Jimmy: Ryan, don’t wash your hair.

Jimmy: Ryan, what’s 100 x 100?
Ryan: A million?
I thought: How much is it? I’m supposed to know that.

Here’s how Jimmy climbs a slide: He lies on the flat metal, and instead of grabbing onto the sides, he flops upwardly and doesn’t make progress.

Home
After the park, we’re tired, so there are no races back home. The boys focus
on their drinks and snacks, and we talk about things like cartoon trivia.

One time we were having fun at the park, and Ryan intuitively turned his head upward.
Ryan: Dad…look at the sky – it’s a weird orange.

Me, following Ryan’s direction: Uh oh. We’ve gotta get home. We started running. The winds kicked up, and the trees showered these little green nuts on us. Then the real rain started, and…we got drenched, but we made it. The storm was so bad, the electricity went out, and Karen looked for candles. Ryan: Dad, are we going back to the park?

5.5 Language

5.5 Language
Ryan

Jimmy: I brung my lunch. Ryan: It’s brang.

Jimmy: What’s the scariest place ever?

 

Ryan: Transylvania. People translate things there.

Ryan carried two MonstaSquad figures in his pocket.
Ryan: They’re called Scalazon and Spackback. Actually, it’s like Theusback, but I can’t pronounce that name so I call him Spackback.

Jimmy
Jimmy: Dad, I just said Jesus. Me: You shouldn’t say that.
Jimmy: I meant Jesus with the Bible.

Jimmy: Have you heard of Mark Jenson? Me: Matt who?
Jimmy: It’s Mark, not Matt. Use the cursive k.

Jimmy: Someone on the cartoon said “jeez,” and that’s not good. Me: That’s right. What do you say instead?
Jimmy: I say, "Oh man."
Me: Sometimes you say, "Dang it."
Jimmy: And I say, "Fiddlesticks."

Andy
Andy: Rah rigs.
Ryan: Andy talked! He said, “Hey ribs.”

5.6 Memorial Day weekend

 

Here’s a write-up on our Memorial Day weekend trip to St. Louis.

 

5/29 Saturday

 

On the drive down to St. Louis...

Since Grimbo no longer needs his daily medicine, we’re no longer a family that travels with a cat. Friend Marco stayed at our house over the holiday and took care of Grimbo. Marco is a security guard, and who better to take care of the home? He even did rounds upstairs and downstairs. I’m not kidding.

Trips down to St. Louis are uneventful, so here’s a story to pass the time. About five years ago, I was at a gas station somewhere along the route. I filled my car up, went into the restroom and changed clothes. I came out, drove off, and ripped the gas nozzle away from the standup thing. I stopped. Gas was chugging out of the torn nozzle, and I was stricken – what to do? The attendant walked out and casually flipped a switch and stopped it.
Me: You want my phone number?
Attendant: No, we’re fine.
I kindly gave him the torn off nozzle and resumed my trip.

We finally drove to St. Louis
Ryan: I see the Arch!
Jimmy: What? I don’t even know what an Arch is. Me: It’s right there. What do you think of the Arch, Jimmy? Jimmy: We’re in New York?

We got to Grandma’s house, greeted her, and had an impromptu celebration together.

Mom: Do you want to see this change of address card your brother sent out? Me: Not really.
Mom: Well, I’m showing it to you anyway.

I checked Mom’s stocks on the Internet for her. Me: You were up today, Mom.
Mom, disappointed: Yes, but not by much. She said it like I was responsible.

After the family retired, I went on one of the casino boats with brother Al. Any resemblance between this place and a boat is unintentional. The state has a "all casinos m bvvvvv
ccx cc

[I’m sorry: The baby banged on my laptop.]

must float on water" requirement, but it doesn’t look like a boat at all. It’s shaped more like a shell. Anyway, Al tended to his horrible gambling addiction, and I watched TV with no sound on.

5/30 Sunday
Morning

 

Today we saw Doug and Peggy’s new house. They have a nice place in Webster Groves, and I spent a lot of time trying to find things wrong with it.

Brother Doug’s little daughter Eva saw a Siamese cat that wandered into their yard.
Eva: Doggy!
Doug then made it a point to show his daughter a nearby dog and explain the difference to her.

It’s interesting to see Doug as a father. Twenty-three years ago, this guy practically lived at rock concerts, and now he’s a total dad. I’d like to say we all grow up, but all those ‘70s bands are still on tour.

Al and I were sitting out back at Doug’s house. Doug was mowing the lawn, and I thought Al was enjoying a side of life that didn’t involve his usual poker chips and Tijuana.
Al, suddenly bursting out: Man, you guys are so domestic! What happened to you?

Peggy is carrying a happy baby inside her – and has been for five months. She said it’s only fair for Doug to pick up and carry Eva.

Afternoon
We had a nice 40th birthday celebration for Al. The biggest problem with
Al turning 40 is that I’ll turn 40 in little over four years. It was similar when
he became 30.

By tradition, Doug buys presents at the last minute. He went to the store, bought gifts for Al and some mints for himself. Doug gave the bag to Peggy, and she wrapped everything up. When Al opened his presents, there was an extra gift with a bow on it: Doug’s 79-cent mints.

Right in the middle of Al’s birthday-present-opening festivities... Luke (Al’s friend since childhood): Al, did you get your bets in? Al: Oh. Hang on everyone, I’ll be right back.
He drove off, and we had the opportunity to wait for him.

Evening
Doug, Al and I went on a real riverboat – this was right on the Mississippi.
I sat down to play with a lot of hard-bitten poker players, we kibitzed, and
they became like family to me. Unfortunately, I gambled away all the money
Jimmy saved in his little wallet, but I’ll pay it back.

They have a free buffet right in the poker room, so you can eat three-dayold somethings while you lose money. At the food counter, there were deepfried "potato medallions" that could’ve passed for poker chips if the dealer was nearsighted. Also, a serving spoon was welded into the macaroni in cheese. Getting it out was like a B-movie version of King Arthur’s sword in the rock.

Three Brackitt brothers sat at one poker table together, and surprisingly, we were the only remaining players for one particular hand. The pot grew to over $28, and that impressed the whole room. It was too much for Doug’s fragile nerves, so he dropped out – leaving Al and me.
Me: Al, if you raise me, I’ll need to borrow more money from you to stay in the game.
Al: That’s fine – I’ll get it all back anyway.
Indeed. Al’s straight beat my flush, so he won.

Afterward, we went to a quiet sports bar (I only like bars when they’re near empty and have lots of TVs). Al flopped around like a fish out of water while waiting for his sports scores. Most of Al’s team lost, so he went through all the stages of anger, denial, and, in his case, anger again.

5/31 Monday

 

We drove back home, and I got on the scale. I gained five pounds on the trip, so St. Louis was that much lighter.

5.7 Health
Ryan

Ryan: Wow, my hair’s growing. Me: What?
Ryan: Yeah, I felt it.

Ryan: You feel OK? Me: Fine.
Ryan: You look terrible.

Ryan: Is there a gym around here? Me: Hmm, a gymnasium.
Ryan: No, a gym.

Jimmy
Jimmy: I know why you hide the matches in the house.
Daddy: Why?
Jimmy: So Andy won’t play with them.
Daddy: That’s right. And so who else won’t play with them? Jimmy: Ryan.
Daddy: Yes, and who else?
Jimmy: No, hold it, stop. I know about matches, so I don’t need to say me.

Jimmy: Under my armpit it smells like noodles.

Andy
I’ll tissue Andy’s nose then check his reaction. At best, he’ll get a frustrated
look, make a fast “wah,” and that’s it. At worst, Andy pauses, scrunches his face,
and then screeeeeeaaaaams! I can’t predict which extreme he’ll go to.

Me: What makes you so big and strong?

 

Jimmy: Baby and me do our exercises. We flap our arms together.

Jimmy: Inside the baby’s mouth it’s really hot. Me: Did you put your finger in there? Jimmy: Yes, I tested it.

Karen
Me: Where’s the baby’s ointment? Karen: It’s somewhere.

Jack
I went to buy myself a new pair of glasses, and wowzie, they really tried to
sell me a lot of extra stuff. They wanted…
~ $40 for anti-glare.
~ $50 for insurance.
~ $30 for scratch resistance.
~ $30 to make the lenses thinner than usual.
Wouldn’t they reduce the lense width as a public service?

Someone needs to tell the drug companies the world has reached its limit on the amount of headache remedies. If a company markets a new pill, that’s wonderful. But they’ll have to stop production on an old one. The reason: All those choices make my headache worse. The truth is, I barely kept up with the ibuprofen/acetaminophen revolution, and naproxen is way ahead of me.

I’d like to see one health insurance claim get processed without a problem.

 

Talk

 

What’s this? Now they’re saying smoking might be bad for us.

 

I’m impressed with these workout products sold on infomercials. It’s amazing they can conjure up 25 exercises for a three-dollar lump of plastic.

 

5.8 Chicago profile: Tone

 

Pre-note: There are no absolutes with humans. Everything I’m about to say regarding people should have an “In many cases” before it.

Work
Chicago is an “I gotta get to work” city. People understand they’re expected
to be more productive, and act accordingly.

Chicago is headquarters to a lot of familiar companies. Many make wellknown items, and who’d have guessed they’d be here. For example, the #1 car wax is made in Chicago.

A lot is “just done that way” in Chicago. For example, most of the food manufacturers are located south and southwest. Thousands of South-siders work their entire careers in south-side food companies, live somewhere south, and that’s how it is.

Chicago contains at least 25 major industries. Off the top of my head, there’s…
~ advertising
~ associations
~ commodities trading
~ computers
~ construction
~ food
~ insurance
~ money
~ product manufacturing
~ telecom
~ transportation
~ wholesale/retail trade

There are even more “industry concentrations” as you go out to the suburbs.

A lady could specialize in selling insurance, work for eight different insurance companies over a career, and do it all right in the Chicago area. Why wouldn’t she switch to, say, food product sales? Because the city is obsessed with industry experience! A company looking to hire will choose a lackluster candidate from the same industry over a star performer from another field.

Ironically, all this industry specialization makes Chicago a fairly small city. Many in the same field get to know each other.
Phil: Do you know So and So?
Kathy: Sure I know him! I worked with him 10 years ago at the XYZ Company. I’d be glad to call him for you. We’re old friends.

Chicagoans are always sizing up and assessing. They scan a scene to make sure everything fits in correctly. If something is out of place, they question it.

 

The best worker in Chicago would be alert, savvy, confident and industrious.

Chicagoans make good use of their time. They multi-task. Talk to a Chicagoan and he’ll be simultaneously…
1) listening to what you’re saying
2) determining why listening to you is helping him
3) glancing the work in front of him
4) mentally solving some completely unrelated problem

Even if he says, “You have my undivided attention,” you don’t.

Weather
Quick notes:
~ Only Neptune has greater extremes of hot and cold temperatures. ~ I’m an authority on the effects of Chicago weather, because I’m always

dressed wrong for it.
~ Chicagoans have better winter wardrobes than summer ones. ~ The wind goes out of its way to get me. It sneaks around corners. ~ It’s bad to eat high-powered breath mints while walking in zero degrees. ~ Winter is tiring for Chicagoans. Warmer temps infuse life into everyone.

Why Chicago has fewer flies:

1. Apparently, our deep freezes kill the insect larvae (?) – the goo that wants to become a fly.
2. There’s a lack of yards and woods. Flies have to walk on the streets, and they don’t like it.

Significance
~ I’m an extra in a very long movie called Chicago.
~ It’s not a big deal if the president comes into town. ~ Stories worthy of national news come out of this city. ~ Being here is an affirming experience.
~ If you tell people you live in Chicago, they know where that is.

A lot of different things go on at once, so the newspapers can usually blast good headlines. We have political corruption scandals that would be a huge deal in a smaller city, but here they’re part of an ongoing swirl.

Hollywood celebrities come through Chicago every so often, and they usually don’t act more important than the city.

 

Typical star on the local talk show: Oh, I love coming to Chicago. We always have a lot of fun when we’re here.

 

Chicago produces most of those trailer trash national talk shows. Their guests keep our police busy.

There’s history here
Chicago has so much history, the city doesn’t know what to do with all of
it. And there seems to be more every year. Note that the city was really big
even in, like, 1905, so it’s been something for a long time.

As much as Chicago projects a positive image, people around the world talk about Al Capone first.

If you’re hooked on any aspect of American history after 1840, you’ll find some interesting part of it in Chicago. The city always delivers on the past – it’s worth a trip.

Vibrancy
Manhattan has Chicago beat for excitement, but Tokyo has the Big Apple
whipped, so we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in comparisons.

Chicago isn’t sleepy, laid back or relaxed – it’s always moving. If you have energy, you’ll feel at home in Chicago. Walk to a busy intersection and you’ll probably see…

~ buses
~ L tracks
~ pedestrians
~ drivers running red lights
~ stores
~ sandwich boards (triangular signs that set in front of shops and have luring

messages)

 

The exception is the “corporate part of the Loop after dark,” because that shuts down.

Access
If you’re looking for something, you can probably find it in Chicago. There
are millions of resources – and they’re always less than an hour away.

People used to drive from all around to get items in Chicago. Two examples:

In the mid ‘70s, Dad went to Chicago and paid $105 for a short wave radio. Today, that radio would be for sale in a St. Louis store and on many websites, but back then making the drive was a big deal.

In 1950, my Brace, Illinois grandparents (on my Dad’s side…Brace is a small town in central Illinois) traveled two hours north to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart and purchased blonde furniture. It was delivered to their home first by train, then by truck.

Travelers have layovers in Chicago.

 

People
Business

More than anything else, why does Chicago grow? Because for 150 years, it has attracted millions of the world’s hardest-working people. The immigrants who arrive here have courage, energy and a drive to succeed. They make it, and most of their children pick up those industrious qualities.

Chicagoans…
~ are always looking for shortcuts – ways to streamline.
~ feel they understand the whole situation after they hear one minute’s

worth of information.
~ calculate non-stop. For example…
Wendell: What do you do for a living?
Alfred: I’m a tsdfkjjasdflk.
Wendell thinks: Hmm, a tsdfkjjasdflk.. That job pays him about $50,000

a year.

 

Every male Chicagoan thinks he’s smarter than the man he’s talking to.

 

Immigrants

 

Karen: Chicago has little slices of the world.

 

The stories tell about huddled masses of immigrants, but they always have the latest mobile phones and video recorders.

 

Every four years, the world championship of soccer is played, and countless Chicagoans wear the jerseys of their home countries.

When folks move here, they generally live where people of their nationality have already settled. It makes sense: If I moved to Micronesia, I wouldn’t know the first thing about their culture, so I’d plunk down where other Americans live. They’d recommend a good bank, doctor, etc. That same story is told millions of times over 150 years in Chicago. It’s the reason we have a Ukrainian area, a Scandinavian area, and a Mexican area.

A lot of people have dialects. If I meet someone with a British accent, he’s probably not faking it.

 

A lot of Chicagoans are from Michigan. Wisconsin and Indiana are closer, but I guess Michigan has a larger population.

Strangers
The amount of strangers is dizzying. I see these humans once and never
again. Give me a laxative.

Chicagoans won’t engage with strangers. If someone is doing something obviously different on the street (screaming, for example), Chicagoans don’t flip out. They’ve 1) seen weirder things before, and 2) got better things to worry about.

Coupla more things
North Chicagoans won’t go to a store or restaurant if it’s good but too
affordable. It has to be a little pricey.

Chicagoans make it a point to be nonchalant about everything. Two examples:
1
Man yelling: Zoo animals just escaped, and they’re running up the street! Chicagoan: That doesn’t surprise me.

2
Man reading: “Flight delays are up 37% this year.” Chicagoan: [Half shrug]

96% of Chicagoans have a good heart – they’ll do anything for you. The remaining 4% are spread out equally. It’s untrue that some neighborhoods have more mean people. Being a Class A jerk (to use my Dad’s term) takes a lot of effort, and most Chicagoans have better things to do.

The fussy folks
Too many people become uber-fastidious when they get success in Chicago.
They…
~ feel they’re much better than people who serve them.
~ look for opportunities to be offended.
~ say idiotic things like, “This is unacceptable.”

Cabbies
I learn a lot from cab drivers, primarily because 1) they’re usually from
countries I’ll never get to visit, and 2) they’ve had a lot of time to reflect about
life. The educational experience is worth the price of cab fare – a good trade.

At least once, a cabbie has told me about...
~ the reasons he came to America.
~ the economic and political status of his home country. ~ the war he fought in.
~ differences between stereotypes and reality. ~ how he met his wife – here or back home. ~ the Chicago neighborhood he lives in. ~ his religion.
~ advantages to his culture.
~ what a particular world leader should do.

Cabbies know a lot about human interaction. One cabbie told me: “If a customer is angry with me, I make him laugh. People can never have two emotions at the same time.”

I talked with a cab driver from Nigeria. He said his family could get plenty of food and drink in his village back home, but they couldn’t afford clothing and other necessities. He wanted to get more out of life, so he brought his family to Chicago.

Thoughts about selected age groups:
Teens

 

A lot of 19-year-olds used to beg near us, but I have no sympathy for healthy teen panhandlers.

20s
There’s a lively 20-something population that immigrates to North
Chicago. They usually come from 1) towns inside a 300 mile radius, and 2)
countries two continents away. In all cases, they spend a lot of money at the
bars.

50s

In the mega-money part of town, the older men have this successful, “I’m really wealthy” walk. It’s slower, but not in a lazy way. It’s in a, “I have it made and I don’t need to rush” way.

Clothes
I understand there’s an old clothes shop that will pay $100+ for 1970s jeans in
good shape, but I’ve never seen the place.

There was this small store that sold black t-shirts, black leather, black everything – and ceramic gargoyles. Over time, the store grew in popularity, quintupled its space, spawned new hard-edged shops, and now it’s the Goth minimall.

There’s a fashionable used clothing store that’s close to the unfashionable one. Obviously, the fash store buys from unfash, then sells at a jacked up price.

People show more freedom to wear different clothing styles. There are a whole lot of dry cleaners. Our cleaner/tailor friend Fikret theorizes that the apartment dwellers have more spending money, and thus send their clothes out for cleaning. When a dry cleaner has a theory, I listen.

Generally, women don’t wear the latest fashions. They prefer styles that were new three years ago and have stood the test of time.

Quick notes:
~ A lot of immigrants wear styles from their home countries. ~ There’s very little urban cowboy going.
~ Guys live in branded sportswear.

Media
Newspapers

 

Chicagoans read a lot of newspapers. I don’t know how this pertains, but the city doesn’t charge tax on newspapers and magazines.

 

There are several good-sized free newspapers.

I would have thought this international city would be brimming with international newspaper shops, but I hardly ever see them. And this was true even before the Internet came along.

Radio

 

Chicago has traffic reports 24 hours a day, and it’s smart to listen to them.

 

One DJ commuted between Chicago and Dallas every day. He did the morning shift here and the afternoon there.

 

The city is large enough to absorb multiple successful radio personalities. There are at least seven morning teams who have relatively safe jobs.

Other towns I’ve been in have a lot of syndicated junk airing on Sundays, and mercifully, Chicago doesn’t do that. Live local humans work all over the dial overnight and on weekends. There’s good late-night radio entertainment, because they have a big audience at that time.

The most commonly used line on Chicago sports radio is, “I think we’ll make third place this year.”

The upper parts of the AM dial sound more like short wave radio. There are a lot of foreign language stations, and every international store plays the station for their nationality. For example, a Polish bakery has Polish radio on in the background. What they’re talking about, I don’t know. They might be talking about me.

Some of the radio stations don’t follow national canned formats put together by overrated consulting groups, but they actually think for themselves. Two examples:

1. At an AM station, the announcers read most of the commercials live, because it’s more personalized and spontaneous.
2. An established FM rock station lets DJs decide which songs to play – something that’s been unheard of for over 20 years. This station proves that radio doesn’t need to be reduced to prepackaged shinola, and maybe that army of “experts” who over-think and group-think everything is wrong. (Can it be said?)

TV
Local TV is stronger. Production people make few mistakes, and on-air
talent doesn’t fumble around. It’s apparent that workers are being paid a real
wage to do it.

One TV show helps public school kids do their homework.

Chicago used to have an international broadcast channel. Each major nationality had their own hour. I’d watch a Korean soap opera and try to figure out the plot, which was no easy task. Then on Sunday night, they had wrestling – the universal language.

Billboards
Coming into town on Interstate 55, there are a lot of liquor billboards.
They give visitors an interesting first impression.

The national advertisers create billboards specifically for Chicago, and usually it’s some variation on “Windy City.”
New York copywriter Fred: I have to create these billboards for Chicago.
Copywriter Mark: Why don’t you do something with The Windy City? Wind. What can you do with wind...

~ There was a billboard for a gay/lesbian cruise line.

Entertainment
There’s no way I can adequately discuss entertainment in Chicago,
primarily because I’m a hermit. Instead, I’ll tell you about an independent
play Ryan, Jimmy and I went to.

I like independent theater! The cast and crew don’t work for money, but – it seems to me – they want to improve their skills, move the audience, and catch a break. Many of these productions (and there are many) are performed in broken down 1890s storefront sites, and everything gets done for under $200.

The location: Inside, a lot of plywood was used to make the stage and risers for the audience of 40. Their seats include 1970s kitchen chairs, a couch, folding chairs and lawn furniture.

The actors: Our being there meant a lot to the performers. They made eye contact with everyone, and they got more enthusiastic the more we laughed. Afterward, all the players stood in costume and shook hands with us as we left.

Summary: For entertainment, I recommend seeing a small production that’s gotten strong reviews. It’s an unforgettable experience.

 

A lot of TV shows and movies are shot in Chicago, and if you have a favorite, you can probably find the locations it was celluloided.

Another film was about that homerun king from the 1920s. This is something: They took the street around our L station and covered it with dirt. Then get this: They covered the post-1920s retail stores with molded plastic facades that made them look like early century banks and barber shops.

6.1 Timeline

 

6. June
6.1 Timeline

I was really proud of Ryan the other day. We were out on the sidewalk, and we saw this family we knew. While we were talking, their four-year-old daughter got away on her bike. She was heading toward traffic – aghh!

Me: Ryan! Run and stop her!

 

Ryan ran his fastest speed, and he held up her bike about six feet from the intersection. Excellent! The family thanked him. Ryan is our hero.

Jimmy: Can you turn off the air conditioner? Me: It is off.
Jimmy: Can you turn it on?

I went to Jimmy’s preschool graduation tonight. He stood on the stage and used his rolled up diploma like a telescope.
During the ceremony, a teacher had to shush friend Lou Morgan and me. I promise – it was all his fault.

I couldn’t use the remote because Grimbo was lying in front of the VCR. He was blocking my phaser action. At one time, I would have thrown a pillow at Grimbo, but we’re all getting older.

For our eighth wedding anniversary, we went out to eat with longtime partners Evan and Sebastian. They’re artists, and they live imaginative lives in a city that wants them to be blah. For instance, they hand-make three-dimensional Christmas cards. In return, they receive one of my “50 for $3.99” holiday cards. …

Sebastian and Evan also have an American friend who gave herself a British accent.

 

6.2 Andy at 11 months

6.2 Andy at 11 months
Ryan was instructing Andy.
Ryan: Baby, come on. Try walking. It’s an easier way to get around. Watch me.

Andy is now holding the bottle, and he learned to tilt it back.

 

Today, Gwen gave Andy his first French fry. He liked it.

 

Trip to the doctor

 

Andy was a little under the weather, so I took him to the pediatrician.

 

The baby and I sat in the waiting area, and there were a lot of magazines about how to be a parent. That’s the last thing I want to read.

Andy behaved well for the doctor, and only got annoyed when she looked deep into his ears – understandable. It turns out Andy has an ear infection, and so he’ll take a pink liquid for a while, and he’ll be fine.

6.3 Circle update

 

6.3 Circle update

Friends Sid and Elizabeth Flournoy had me over to their nice home for an afterwork visit. They’re into listening to CDs in the house rather than running the TV constantly, so that was a different experience for me. They’re also wine collectors. Sid uses those phrases like identifying the nose and bouquet. I used them too, and they were clearly impressed.

Here are a couple things about Sid:
He knows streets and traffic, and he keeps himself as traffic central for me. One morning, I was late for a meeting, and I called Sid from my cellular phone. Me: I have to be in Lisle in 50 minutes.
Sid: Where are you now?
Me: I’m near my house.
Sid: Let me check the web.
Chicago has various online sources that tell traffic conditions. Sid: OK. Don’t take the Eisenhower. Get yourself down to North Avenue. Me: But –
Sid: When you get to North, check your odometer. After you drive five miles, I’ll tell you how to get to 88.
Me: I’ve never done that.
Sid: It’s fine – you can do it!
And thanks to Sid, I got to Lisle in plenty of time.

Here’s the best service Sid has ever performed: He was doing computer consulting work for a potato chip company, and he suggested they put more chips into the little bags.

6.4 Al Brackitt profile
Al…
~ was born close to 1960.
~ loves to gamble on most anything. Anything, actually.
~ studies the object of the game when playing pinball.
~ can draw a map showing all the US interstate highways.
~ prefers to eat cheese pizza, chicken, spaghetti, plain hamburgers...and not much

else.
~ can explain all the US presidential elections, including who lost and why. ~ loves traveling to Eastern Europe, because it’s like the US in the 1930s. ~ gets a high from thrill seeking.
~ peppers his conversation with obscure historical facts.
~ spends many afternoons in his law office playing guitar.

Four things have affected Al’s life more than any other:
1. Having a very high IQ.
2. Being the oldest of four boys.
3. Studying history, especially US and 1914-45 European.
4. Admiration of Moe Howard.

Al’s best quote: “In America you can do whatever you want, as long as you’re doing what everyone else is doing.”

 

Al’s best serious observation: “The inability to control your emotions is one of the worst afflictions you can have.”

 

1960s

When I was five, we went on a terrible family canoe trip. The canoe tipped over and the following floated away: a foam cooler, Mom’s other clothes, and me. Al grabbed me and sacrificed the cooler.

Al read the big, famous “beginning and end of the Nazi Party” book when he was eight. Three years later, an instructor said Al knew WWII well enough to teach a class in it.

Al was walking through a lady’s yard and she gave him one of her cats. Al named the cat Buff and she was welcomed into the family. Unfortunately, an hour later Al put Buff down the clothes chute. Though kitty was OK, back she went to the lady.

1970s
I was by myself watching a WWII documentary on TV.
Narrator: After the disastrous Battle of Bagration in White Russia, the Germans
had just one choice –
Al, walking past the TV: Retreat to the Courland Pocket. Narrator: Retreat to the Courland Pocket.

Dad passed his good-hearted cynicism onto Al more than anyone else. To Al, most things come down to greed and base enjoyment. When something is presented on a higher plain, he gets skeptical.

One Christmas Al gave me a book as a gift. He borrowed the book that night, and I never saw it again.

In the days before calculators, Al figured out how many seconds our greatgrandmother Mutte was alive. Al called Mutte and told her.
Al: Mutte, you’ve lived 2,838,240,000 seconds.
Mutte: Oh, my goodness.
For the record, Mutte was born in 1883 and passed away in 1991 – 98 years later. That’s about three billion seconds.

Business friends of Dad’s would sometimes come to our house for dinner. One was a British gentleman who knew a lot of card tricks. Al tried one on the UKer.
Al: I’m flipping through these cards, and you pick one.
Brit, unexpectedly: 14, 72, 1, 5, 43 –
Al: Ergh, you got me!

The Englishman knew that Al was silently counting the cards he was fanning through, so our Euro friend said a jumble of numbers to trip Al up.

Vacations
We were swimming in a motel pool, and I found myself in the deep end –
going down. Al grabbed onto me and pulled me into the shallow end. I
coughed for five minutes.

We were on a trip to Canada and there was a quick shop. On the side of their building sat stacks of returnable bottles.
“We’ll grab as many as we can,” said Al. “Then we’ll return them at the other store and make some money.”
We started to do this, but the owner came running out. “Hey!” he yelled. “Put those bottles back!”
We dropped them and ran. After 10 minutes on the lam, I got tired. “We’re OK now,” said Al. So, we walked on the main road back to our cabin. A few minutes later, that owner drove by us in his pickup and screeched in front of us.
“Get in!” He demanded. We did so. “Where are your parents?”
Al told him, and the owner drove to the cabins. “There’s our Dad,” said Al. We all got out.
“Your sons stole my bottles,” said the owner.
“Those aren’t my sons,” said the stranger.
“What?!” barked the owner. Then he looked at Al – the kid who had duped him. Al turned and ran. I surveyed the situation and did the same. We hid in the woods and have been on the run ever since.

We took a family trip to Chicago, and muggers on the Clark Street Bridge (over the Chicago River) confronted Sam, Al and me. They threatened to harm the nine-year-old me, so Al told Sam to give them money, and we got out of it OK.

1975s

Al got this cushy road crew job with the county. He sat around with an orange vest on and drank coffee. But then the 10 o’clock news did an expose on his "work" team, and one worker spoke on camera.
Worker: Some days we don’t do nothin’.

That sound bite was played repeatedly on the news promos, and after that, the county worked Al’s tail off.

Al went to college and learned something: He couldn’t stand the price of textbooks.
Al: It’s a total price fix. They have two bookstores – and both have the exact same prices.

Even today, Al’s interested in hearing any developments in that industry.

 

In college, Al made $35 a week by giving plasma.

 

Al got the highest grade ever in the class Jazz, Pop & Rock. He never missed a question.

We took a family vacation up in Canada and Al hung out with the bad element in town (though Al was worse than them). Al got picked up by the police and was brought back to our motel room.
Dad to Al: Get a sign, boy!
Translation: Dad told Al to leave the vacation – hitchhike back to St. Louis. Al did so, and he got home in three days.
Al, later: They strip-searched me at the border, beamed a flashlight up my arse, and one night I slept in the back of this unlocked car. Those were the highlights.

1980s

Al worked as a DJ, and he got himself committed to two wedding receptions in one night. So Al prerecorded two hours of songs and had his friend Louis fake it – act like he was DJ-ing at the other wedding.
Louis, a few weeks afterwards: It was terrible. People were yelling, and I ran out of music about halfway through.

After college, Al worked for a shoe retailer. He flew to remote towns to install cash register systems. One time he went to the airport. Al to the counter clerk: I’m flying on your airline. Clerk: You Al Brackitt?
Al, surprised: Yes.
Clerk: OK, let’s go.
The clerk picked up Al’s bags and even flew the plane.

At the shoe company, Al would show up having had 0-2 hours of sleep. He’d tell his boss he was taking a break, then go out to the backseat of his car and snooze.

Al had a 1968 Dodge Coronet, and he spray-painted graffiti all over it. This art-on-wheels conked out in front of another family’s house, and it sat there for a few days.
Mom: Al, the police called. You have to move your car, because they got two complaints.
Dad: Only two?

Me to Al: I read where Jimmy Carter was his own chief of staff for awhile, so he actually scheduled who would use the White House tennis court.
Al: Yeah, that’s a common story.

Al loved this famous spaghetti restaurant chain, but suddenly their sauce was getting worse. He learned from an employee at the restaurant they had cheapened their recipe. So, Al wrote to the company CEO and stated his concern. Oddly enough, the CEO called Al.
CEO: We haven’t changed our recipe. Who gave you this information about watering down our sauce?
Al: No way! You’ll fire him.
CEO: We wouldn’t do that. Please tell me.

Al never divulged his source.

When Al was in the Loop, he saw Roger Ebert getting into a taxi. Al, screaming out: Roger Ebert!
Roger looked up...then got into the cab. A few months later, I was reading Roger’s book, Questions for the Movie Answer Man. Ebert wrote: "A person of taste and manners will notice a star, be pleased to see the star, and grant them their privacy. A nod or a smile is fine. Shouting out their names or pointing them out to other people is a way of indicating you have not made it as far up the evolutionary ladder as you think."

1985s

In law school, Al had no money, but he still went on vacation. He took free weekend tours of timeshares at Lake of the Ozarks (“Redneck Riviera,” says Al) and let them try to sell him.
Timeshare salesman: Look at this – we’ve even been written about in this national magazine.
Al: Sir, that’s an ad.
Salesman: Well, they don’t accept just any advertising.

We were in Gary, Indiana looking for this famous rock and roll family’s original house. It’s on Jackson Street.
Doug: I think we went too far.
Al: No, haven’t you noticed? The streets follow the reverse order of the presidents. We’re at Harrison, so Jackson’s coming up after Van Buren.

We went to Macinac Island, Michigan. Al and I floated on this little inflatable raft out to a lighthouse. Al looked up and saw a ferryboat speeding right at us. Me, panicked: I’m jumping in!
Al, waving his paddle up high: Don’t jump!
These big floodlights shone on us, the ferry slowed down and turned away from our raft.

I was in the back of Al’s car and had to relieve myself badly. So, I quietly went in an empty soda bottle and put it near my feet. Awhile later I glanced down, and all the...liquid...had poured out under Al’s seat. I didn’t tell Al what I did because he’d have been angry. I informed him a couple years later. Al: That car stunk! I took it to a mechanic, and he said a squirrel must’ve died in the air system, and it all had to be cleaned out. And it still stunk.
Me: Well, that was some years ago, so we can all laugh about it.
Al: I’m not laughing.

When Al was in law school, he recruited me for a mock court trial. I played a karate instructor who had accidentally killed a student. I got off on the criminal charge, but now the student’s family was suing me. Al was my defense lawyer. Opposing attorney to me: Could any karate hit kill another person? Me: Yes.

My defense lawyer shot me this horrified look.

Me: Uh – can I change my answer? No – most hits wouldn’t kill someone. Miraculously, nobody jumped on me for doing that. Now, did Al win the
mock trial? They don’t decide in these class exercises, so we’ll never know.

Our Gram and Grandad kept their car immaculate, and though they owned it five years, they only put 4,000 miles on it. The car was given to Al, and 10 months later, it caught on fire (it started in the wheel-well), and it was junked.

1990s

 

Around this time, Al decided to remain 19 years old the rest of his life.

 

When I leave Al’s apartment, he’ll give me a friendly goodbye and a sack of garbage to throw out for him.

Al and I were at a famous Chicago racetrack, and we saw a jockey surrounded by fans.
Me: When was the last time a St. Louis jockey signed an autograph? Al: When they were subpoenaing him.

Al relates a lot of information – stuff I haven’t heard from others. For example:
~ The Art Deco style came about because King Tut’s tomb was discovered. It had the architects going Egyptian.
~ The Impressionists came along because of photography. Since painters no longer needed to make accurate pictures, they got creative.
~ Spiro Agnew was pushed out of the vice presidency because the powerful in Washington didn’t think he was presidential material.

Al and I took a trip to Manhattan, and the sidewalk vendors were out.. Vendor, yelling: Hey, cheeseballs here!
Al: What did you call us?
Vendor: What? I didn’t call you nothin’.
Al: You called us cheeseballs.
Vendor: Ah, shut up.

Al buys birthday/holiday cards by going up to the rack, skimming the front of the cards, grabbing one and buying it.
Me: You don’t even read the inside?
Al: I can assume what it says in there.

Me to Al: The President’s always sending the Secretary of State into these world hotspots. What if some dictator decides to keep him?
Al: Oh, yes! They’ll say, “Ah ha! Now we’ve got your Secretary of State!” I dunno...did I get an answer to that?

Al has a lot of stories about being a lawyer. Once, a prosecutor read the following to him: “Philip generally stated he wasn’t there at the time.” Al: What do you mean, Philip “generally” said this?
Prosecutor: No, Generally is his last name. Philip Generally. Al: Generally? The man’s last name is an adverb.

1995s
Annoyance with the media

 

Al is continually tormented by/fascinated with the popular media, and the following stories reflect that.

When that ex-football star was accused of a capital crime, he escaped authorities and was the subject of a slow-speed chase. Al was bothered that the network interrupted his basketball playoffs.
Me: C’mon, it’s a big story.
Al: Yes, a celebrity is accused of a double murder, and now he’s going down the highway with a gun to his head. I recognize it’s a big story. But I wanna see my game.

Me: That was always a good sitcom.
Al: Yeah, but didya ever notice the kid on that show? He was terrible. He was always looking over at his acting coach.

Me: Didya see that movie?
Al: Yeah, I saw it on a flight. The worst punishment anyone could give would be to strap me in a chair and force me to watch that film, and that’s exactly what they did.

Rule of thumb: The more a celebrity is viewed as a genuinely nice person, the more Al thinks he or she’s a total phony. However, Al likes many motivational speakers.

Al: These huge celebrity salaries no longer impress me. I want to see the first star who’s paid an unlimited amount of money.

Al and Doug were making commercials for their law partnership, and they wanted to look at other ads for reference. Al was assigned to watch several hours of daytime TV – speeded up on the VCR.
Al: Do you know how tough it is to sit through those shows, even on fast forward?

Back to the regular stories
Me to Al: Lincoln said something like, “The law is only there to get you to do the right thing.” Are we supposed to follow the law, or is it OK to break the law if we’re doing the right thing instead?
Al: C’mon. You’re talking about one of the most basic arguments in the law. This has been debated for centuries.
Me: Oh – I had no idea I was doing that.

Al and the family went to a nice restaurant.
Al: Party of four, non-smoking.
Host: It’ll be about 20 minutes. Could I have your last name? Al: Chickin. C-H-I-C-K-I-N.
Fifteen minutes passed.
Host, calling out: “Chickin, your table’s ready.”

Al, friend Luke Westerhold and I went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins– a “natural water slide/rapidly rushing through smooth rocks” state park in Missouri. Unfortunately, we went after a flood, and the water was moving way too fast – nobody was going in it. So, we swam up top – in the quieter lake area. While Al and Luke were looking elsewhere, I lost my footing and got drained into the rushing crushing rapids. I stopped myself halfway through and climbed onto an island-ish rock. I was OK, but stuck – I couldn’t go anywhere without getting back in the torrent. A couple sat close by (they had a way out) and observed my personal drama.
Me, yelling over the rushing water: My brother is swimming up at the top! Can you tell him to run down here?

They looked at me and smiled.
Me, louder: Please – get off your behinds and tell my brother to get down here! They finally acted. Al and Luke came near to me and surveyed my strandedness. Al, yelling: Go through the rest of the rapids! We’ll watch and make sure you’re OK.

I did and they did, and everything turned out fine.

 

The moral to this whole profile is: If I ever go on an ocean cruise, Al is coming with me.

 

6.5 Food
Ryan

 

This is something: I offered to buy Ryan a treat and he said, “No thanks.” No thanks. Ryan said no thanks to a treat.

I bought these waffles that were wheat free, dairy free, and fat free. They tasted like molded sand. Ironically, only Ryan likes them, and he’s always picky about food. I guess it’s because these waffles contain nothing.

Ryan had a bag of marshmallows for dinner.

Ryan: You mind if I crack some of these nuts? Me: No, go right ahead.
Ryan: Do I have to eat the stuff inside?

Me: Ryan, did you ask for that cupcake? Ryan: I had to get it before somebody else ate it.

Jimmy
Jimmy: Do you know what bon appetite means? Me: What.
Jimmy: It means goodbye.

Jimmy: I learned how to make ice pops. The TV told me. Dad, let’s make ice pops.
Me: OK, we’ll do that.
Jimmy: But Dad, we have to let it cool overnight.
Me: Overnight?
Jimmy: Yeah. You have to let it cool overnight. Put the tray in the freezer and let it chill overnight. Then tomorrow on Sunday, we can have banana flavored ice pops. I just wanna make your favorite flavor. Dad, we need to buyyy it. Me: You really know how to do this.
Jimmy: Yeah, ‘cause the ingredients told me.

Jimmy was on the couch with the end of a French bread roll. He burrowed out the white part and consumed it.
Jimmy: I don’t want the crust.
Me: Oh, you can give me that part.
Jimmy: OK, just a minute.
A moment later I looked over, and he had the "crust end" stuck on his big toe.

Here’s Jimmy’s recipe for something he calls, “I should say, the peanut butter cup cookie thing that I made up.”
Jimmy: You get cookie dough. It’s chocolate chip. I mean not chocolate chip. It’s cookie dough without chocolate. And get little tiny pieces of peanut butter cups in the cookie dough. Then you bake it. But don’t eat it.

I gave Jimmy a green flavor ice.
Me, later: Jimmy...did you have another flavor ice? Jimmy: Why do you ask?
Me: Your lips are purple. ...

As punishment for his flavor ice misdeed, Jimmy had to sit with me and watch the news.
Me: Jimmy, there’s the president.
Jimmy: George Washington?
Me: No, it’s –
Jimmy: Abraham Lincoln? ...

Jimmy: Can I go watch TV now?
Me: OK, give me a hug. Are you ever going to take a flavor pop without asking? Jimmy: Yeah.
Me: No, are you going to take one again?
Jimmy: Yes.

And he ran off.

Andy
If Andy doesn’t want to eat, he gets mad at me for trying to feed him and
screams...and I put food in his mouth. He swallows, but gets even angrier and
screams again. More food goes in. This is baffling for him.

Andy got spaghetti for the first time today, and I’m sure you can picture it.

 

I was eating my soup, and the baby threw a toy in it.

 

Karen has a dreaded fear of salmonella bacteria. I’m surprised she allows chicken nuggets in the house.

We had a lot of an almond cereal left and just a little of a raisin cereal. So I poured raisin into almond, shook it up, and hoped I’d get away with it. I half did. Last night, I saw Karen with a puzzled expression. She was pulling raisins out of her cereal.

Jack

Karen had dinner out with important corporate people from a huge national company. Since the VPs were leaving town the next morning, they gave Karen their doggie bags. Later that night I was hungry, of course.
I thought: Do I eat the leftovers from these people who are wildly more successful than me?

Actually, that’s untrue, because I didn’t consider anything. I wolfed down their scraps.

 

I can’t taste the difference between sweet peas and early June peas.

 

My body needs to understand that if I eat a fatty meal, and I don’t enjoy it, then I shouldn’t gain weight.

 

I’d like fish if it didn’t taste like fish.

 

I was eating my cereal. I saw a burned black flake in the bowl, and I put it in my pocket.

Family
Jimmy: Mommy, I like good food.
Karen: That’s great.
Jimmy: Yeah, I like ham. That’s meat, right? Karen: Yes, it’s meat from pigs.
Jimmy: And I like horsemeat, too.
Karen: Where did you get horsemeat? Jimmy: From a horse.

Jimmy: You know what part of the fish I don’t like? The lips. Me: Oh.
Jimmy: Have you ever had baloney fish?
Me: What’s that?
Jimmy: It’s like baloney.
Me: Where does it come from?
Ryan: Baloney Fishia Island.

Ryan, whispering: Dad, agree with me. Tell Jimmy the gum he swallowed is radioactive, and tonight he’ll be glowing.

Original family
Next time you’re here, and you feel Chinese food in the guestroom bed, you
can blame me.

Talk
I’m amazed when I see someone leave 1/4 of a large cookie. How could
someone not want the rest of a cookie? Especially a big one.

I hear about these food recalls, and it’s always for brands I’ve never heard of. Haven’t heard of the brand...the food is recalled...ahem.

 

Why are products always promoting what they don’t have? As if it was a struggle to not put in caffeine or coloring.

 

6.6 Trip to Boysangirls Amusement Park

 

Today, I took Jimmy to Boysangirls Park. It was a school outing, I was a designated leader, and the kids were going to lead me around all day.

 

It was a notable morning, because Jimmy awoke in a happy mood. Jimmy: I’m up! Can we go now?

 

8:05 am

We arrived at the school, and the teachers said I wouldn’t need to report back for 45 minutes. This meant...45 minutes of freedom...in the morning timeframe. I can’t tell you anything entertaining about this, because all I did was drink coffee and read a newspaper. But…free time – in the morning! What an experience.

8:55 am

 

The teacher walked us all out to the school bus. Five minutes later, the bus took off, and all the kids yelled almost as one, “Hey, we’re going!”

Buses aren’t too different from when I rode them in the 1970s, though this bus was probably from the ‘70s. Buses now have two-way radios, but those really aren’t necessary, because these days all the kindergartners have cell phones.

On the trip there, Jimmy and Tommy mostly sat quiet and looked out the window. The third boy in their seat (three to a seat is easy at that age) was having a conversation with the kid sitting across the aisle. I noted that my middle son has his own life. He looks out the window by himself and he processes the world.

The silence ended – inevitably – because someone talked about his favorite playing cards.
Tommy: I’ve got every card in the collection.
Jimmy: No way!
Tommy: I do.
Jimmy: Un unh! I seen ’em – you don’t.
Tommy: You didn’t see my other shoebox.
Jimmy: Oh, that shoebox. I saw that.

9:50 am
We reached Boysangirls. All the kids wanted to see their outdoor sign, but
Jimmy couldn’t and was frustrated. Once we were stopped, I pointed out the sign
to Jimmy, but he didn’t care then. They were really excited!

Two paragraphs about Boysangirls
It’s one of Chicagoland’s oldest amusement parks. They have ornate
1930s-era rides that 1) look nothing like modern ones (good), and 2) are kept
in mint condition. Watching my son on a Boysangirls ride is like seeing him in old home movie. Any grandparent who likes to bring back childhood memories should go to this park.

They have a lot of little kid rides that go around in a circle – helicopters, rocket ships, boats, airplanes and racecars. These rides don’t require heavy duty strapping in and big signs warning "pregnant men with heart conditions." They have the right amount of safety.

11:45 Lunch

We each had one of those pre-made, everything-is-in-a-sealed-box lunches – real popular these days. After all that tearing open, I got 4.2 ounces of food – what a rip-off. However, if I ate the plastic and cardboard wrappings I’d find these meals quite filling.

12:15

Back out we went, and we decided to go on the bigger-kids rides. One was this giant swinging Mayflower. It rocks back and forth and sends your stomach into the seat behind you. Before we started, one kid looked off somberly and said, “It’s going to be a tough ride.”

Last summer we went on one of these ships, and Ryan made the mistake of yelling to the ride operator that he wasn’t going fast enough. One should never challenge a ride operator. The guy stopped the ride (!), had Ryan and me get into the rear seat, and gave us a profound experience.

We wandered into the arcade area, but I wasn’t going to pay for video games when there are all those free rides outside. Unfortunately, Jimmy and Tommy were too old to play the three-year-old’s favorite videos: Game Over and Insert Coin.

The next ride was this spidery thing – it goes around as these eight legs move up and down. I was in a spider foot by myself, and I tried to get an in-the-air photo of Jimmy and Tommy. But every time I was in the right position, all I’d see were the backs of their heads. Who’d have guessed there’s a set pattern to this spider-like ride?

We went on the Ferris wheel, and I helped the kids think we were stranded at the top.
Boys: We’re stuck! Help us!

We finally got down and they thanked the ride operator profusely. Tommy, later: I knew we weren’t stuck.
Jimmy: I was pretending too – going along with the scene.

We got on the ride that puts us in half-pods and swings us around. Jimmy, afterwards: That was dizzeating.
Tommy: One time we went on this ride and my Dad was a big, big chicken, and I had to help him.

We were about to get on the log flume.
Kids: Yay! We’re gonna get wet!
Me to the ride operator: What’s the driest spot in the log?
Operator: In the back.
Suddenly, "in the back" became my favorite spot in the log. Then our log arrived, the kids jumped into the back, and I got the drench seat. Since there wasn’t a line, the ride operator let us go through again. Then he offered to let us go yet another time.
Tommy: Can’t we do that again?
Jimmy: No, I’m getting seasick.

2:00

 

When I finally get a map in my head of these parks – when I learn where everything is – it’s time to leave.

This school knows just when to end events for these little kids. Jimmy was getting particularly grumbly. We only had seven minutes and thus couldn’t go on the roller coaster – there was a long line.
Jimmy: Ohhhhhhh....DANG IT!

This is a big curse in Jimmy’s world, so it was a serious moment.

Naturally, I thanked the teachers very much for giving us a splendiferous day. We were driving back and I got reflective.
I thought: It’s weird that I’ll never see Boysangirls Park again. No wait, hold it. I can see it any time I want.

6.7 Money

6.7 Money
Ryan

Me: I thought that food was way too expensive. Ryan: Dad, just learn to let it go.

Me: What would you do with five million dollars? Ryan: Buy CDs.

Jimmy
Jimmy: Can I have cash for my wallet?
Me: Um, no.
Jimmy: But Grandma Martha says I’m allowed to have cash in there.

Jack

Karen manages all the money in the family. I receive an allowance that isn’t too different from the one you gave me many years ago. Back when I was 11, I got $4 a week from you. Adjusting for inflation, it’s clear I was wealthier then than now.

I’m always looking at the price of things. I want to know how much everything costs. If someone buys something substantial and I don’t ask them the price, they should rest assured I’d like to know, but I’m being mannerly.

Talk

The hardest part about being super rich would be the horses – all that riding, polo playing and jumping. If one of those horses bit me – with those big teeth – I’d flip out. I choose to stay poor and free of horse bites.

6.8 Trip to Stoughton, WI

We went away to Stoughton, WI – about 2 1/2 hours north of us. We visited with our friends the Johansen family: Heather (wife/mom), Terrence (husband/dad) and Taylor (son/son). Karen packed nice little suitcases for the boys, and I used grocery sacks for me.

Saturday
I’m not a big fan of tollways. It seems much of the toll money we pay goes to
collect the toll money – a little redundant. I propose we cut the toll cost in half
and nobody collects it.

We stopped at one of the exclusive gas/fast food places along the toll route, and a medium frozen yogurt was $3.40.
Me: Ryan, that’s way too expensive. We’ll get you something else later. Ryan: But I haven’t had dessert in three days.
Me: What about the ice cream you had yesterday?
Ryan: That was just a treat.

Griping in the car

 

Jimmy: It’s not my fault I’m grumpy. You woke me at 7:30.

 

Andy was crabby. He knocked the ba-ba out of my hand, and that comforted him a little.

Me: I’m glad we’re not going all the way to St. Louis, because you guys complain a lot.
Ryan: I know. Look how much we’ve been complaining so far.

Arrival

 

We suddenly brightened up when we saw our kind hosts.

 

Some fun facts about the Johansens

Heather runs a company in town, and she gets involved in neighborhood activities. Notably, her father produced the 16mm school films everyone has seen…those 1950s/60s ones covering science, safety, other countries, and so on.

Terrence Johansen is a big fan of tasteless roadside attractions – giant fiberglass dinosaurs, weird museums, etc. He writes about them. Terrence also worked at a major pizza/video kids place for nine years, but surprisingly he’s not jumpy.

Taylor Johansen is all kid.

Their home…
Their Victorian house was built in 1892, and that makes it one of the newer
homes in Stoughton.

Heather has discovered all these creative home-enhancement products. For example, she has a basket with a zig-zag bottom – it sits on two steps. Reason: If you’re upstairs and you need to take something downstairs later, you throw it in the basket, carry the basket down and leave it at the bottom of the steps. We have a similar arrangement at our house, except there’s no basket and things lie all over the steps.

Also, Heather has a nightlight that goes on when the light switch goes off.

 

Taylor has his own playroom, and Dad Terrence spent a lot of time straightening it for us visitors. Then the three boys tore it apart.

We adults and Baby Andy were sitting in the living room enjoying conversation.
Noises above us: Wam! Wam! Bam! Stomp, stomp, stomp. Taylor came running into the living room.
Taylor: Mom, can you put this shield on me?
Heather did so, and the gladiator gave her a hug in return.

Terrence: We’re always doing laundry. I think we should go around naked more.

 

A little about Stoughton

It’s a small town, and extremely charming. They have a quaintness police – a tough committee that scrutinizes the look of stores, houses, etc. If a fellow put up vinyl siding, they’d make him 1) replace it, and 2) put a wicker rooster on his lawn for three months.

Sunday
Heather baked some apples for breakfast. They were good – better than my
toaster waffles. This meal reminded me that many ladies have their special
recipes, and these dishes don’t find themselves in restaurants…even though they
should. I mean, every restaurant has open-face turkey dishes, but, hmm. I guess I
don’t know what I mean. Next week, I’ll try baking apples for the boys.

It was time to head back to Chicago. Of course, we thanked the Johansens for their great hospitality.

Some weeks later, we told Grandma and Grandpa Markley about the Stoughton trip. Grandpa Fritz said he likes Stoughton, because of this story: When Fritz was playing high school football, his team came up against the bigger Stoughton team. This large Stoughton player was supposed to catch the ball, but it bounced out of his hands, landed in Fritz’s arms, and Fritz got the touchdown. Fritz: It was my moment of glory.

6.9 Technology
Jimmy

Jimmy: Never plug something in when it’s on.

Karen
This story is told in five easy steps.
1) It was dark, Karen was asleep, and I was about to get in bed. 2) I took the alarm clock and pushed the wrong button – the one that gives you

59 minutes of radio and counts itself down. It blasted out music and almost woke Karen.
Me: Oh jeez!

3) I reduced the volume and clicked the 59 minutes down to zero. Why not let the radio drone on soundlessly for 59 minutes? Because the radio and alarm volumes are tied together, so if I didn’t have a high setting, the alarm would go off silently, and that wouldn’t wake me.

4) After clicking down, I forgot which button was which, and did step 1 again. But this time I hit that wrong button twice and got 1 hour 59 minutes of music.
5) I clicked it down 119 times, and that might be a world’s record.

Karen assigned me to change the light bulb in the bathroom ceiling. This turned out to be a multi-day project.
Day 1: Went to sleep early, so I didn’t do it.
Day 2: Discovered we didn’t have light bulbs.
Day 3: Was informed by Karen that we did indeed have bulbs. But then I couldn’t find the ladder.
Day 4: Realized I could stand on the sink and change the bulb. I got the old one out, but I couldn’t remember which way to put the new one in – clockwise or counter-clockwise. Standing on the sink gave me a poor vantage point.
Day 5: Rested and contemplated.
Day 6: Got the ladder and did it!

Jack
Here’s something I learned the hard way: Don’t put AA batteries and spare
change into the same pocket. It brings a new meaning to hot pants.

Extended family
Martha thoroughly reads the manuals for our cars and appliances.
Martha: Oh, here – setting the clock is easy. I’ll do it for you. What more could a son-in-law ask for?

Talk
Why is it some radios won’t get decent reception unless they’re upside down?
They should just design the radio upside down.
I’d pay $200 to resolve all the small questions that machines throw at me.
Yes, I want...
~ regular unleaded.
~ to start the pump now.
~ to continue starting this computer even though messages like, “Conflict with
your network extension, continue? Yes/No” messages always pop up…since it
works fine despite these dire warnings.
~ to hear that one voicemail message that I have, because if I didn’t want to
hear it I wouldn’t have accessed voicemail. …

Getting beyond technology: No, I don’t want...
~ an apple pie with that.
~ to change my cellular service. No, but thank you for calling. Really, no –

thank you for calling.

 

~ It’s B-R-A-C-K-I-T-T. Two Ts, yes.

I can’t understand why digital alarm clocks have to be reset forwards. For example: The clock reads 11:00 pm, and I need to change the time to 10:45 pm. That requires 23 clicks forward for the hour, and…I can’t figure out how many clicks for the minutes, but it’s a lot.

6.10 Trip to Lake Zurich and Freeport, IL

We took a quick trip to see Karen’s brother, Neil Berensen, in Lake Zurich – 40 miles northwest of Chicago. The whole region is called Lake County, and that gives an indication of what’s up there. (Lakes.)

Me: Do you have to use the bathroom before we leave? Jimmy: No.
Me: Ryan, do you have to go?
Ryan: No.
We left, and I had to go.

We pulled up to the tollbooth, and the attendant was engrossed in a conversation with his coworker.
Me, handing him a dollar: Here you go.
Booth attendant to his coworker: I was telling the guy that.
Me, after receiving my change: Thank you.
Booth man: I don’t know why he called me.

Neil has a split-level bachelor’s house. This means there is...
~ one room for his stereo equipment.
~ another for his videotapes.
~ a different room for his computer.
~ and the living room holds his hockey-related collections...including a row of

seats from a torn down Chicago stadium.

We went to the real live lake in Lake Zurich, but since the kids didn’t have swimsuits, all activities were limited to the shoreline. Of course, they still got wet. Ryan swung out on a rope swing and ended up waist deep in the water. Ryan: Aw, nuts!

Jimmy walked along the beach with no shoes on.
Me: Jimmy, stay where I can see you.
Jimmy: Dad, I’m looking at a dead fish.
He leaned in, almost fell on the fish, but did a half-twist and sat down in the water. Jimmy: I kind of fell.

It was a memorable experience, primarily because lake odor permeated the minivan for a while.

An ignorant person writes about Lake Zurich
In the early half of the 20th century, Lake Zurich was mostly a same-day
vacation spot for big city Chicago folks who wanted to loll around in the lake but
not over-vacationize. In the 1970s, big companies sprang up relatively close to
the town (those giant campus-ish buildings with the pond out front). Lake Zurich grew because people wanted to live in a nice town near these big
buildings. In 1980, the population of Lake Zurich was 3,000, and now it’s
20,000.

Near Neil, they’re building a new subdivision with maybe 24 homes. The developer wants a change in zoning laws so he can get more houses onto smaller lots, and that about says it all.

Freeport, IL

After seeing Neil, we drove west to Freeport, IL, 110 miles from Chicago. Doug’s wife Peggy has a twin sister named Madeline, and she lives in Freeport with her husband Irvin Nielsen. Freeport is the site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate – the one where Douglas pulled a knife on old Abe.

Me: Do you want to be the map-reader? Ryan: Do I have to?
Me: Yes.

Ryan was reading the map. Me: Does it say Highway 26? Ryan: It says 24.
Me: Close enough.

Along the way, there’s a huge car plant. I like seeing manufacturing facilities, because they mean jobs for the region. The only problem is: They don’t have a display car on top of their front entrance – up high there. What’s the world coming to when an auto plant won’t put a car on top of their entryway?

Ryan: Jim, on this trip could you do me a favor and not tear up Dr. Irv’s house?

Freeport has a lot of small stores. It also has a mega-place called Feed & Truck. There was some sort of ownership breakup, so in Wisconsin it’s called Truck & Feed.

Ryan: Aunt Madeline, this is a nice place. Do you have a maid? Madeline: Yeah, I’m the maid.

 

Madeline and Peggy are fraternal twins, but they do look alike. At Peggy’s wedding, I got confused and gave best wishes to Madeline.

Peggy and Madeline became nurses in the Philippines together, came to Chicago together, and even shared a bed because one worked the first shift and the other the second shift. Then Doug came along and whisked Peggy off to St. Louis. Instead, Doug should have become a nurse and worked the third shift.

Dr. Irvin Nielsen is an orthopedic surgeon, so I never know when we’ll be especially grateful he’s around. He’s also a woodworking fanatic. Other people have metal garden dispensers and yard lights, but Irvin makes them out of wood. He’s the only bone doctor who’s sad they don’t use splints anymore.

Wedding memories
A few years back, Irvin and Madeline married up in Racine, WI, and of
course, I was the center of attention. Three stories about that day:

1. Doug’s parrot Sylvester was also on the trip (long story), and he accidentally flew away. Sylvester had to be given up for lost. Weeks later, Irvin’s mother was looking through the local newspaper and saw an ad about a found bird, and it turned out to be Sylvester. He had landed on this kid’s shoulder and was hungry for real food – none of that wild stuff.

2. Brother Al was supposed to usher at the wedding, but he got caught in rotten traffic and arrived way too late. Luckily, Al’s tuxedo was already at the church. Madeline simply put friend Bert Dunne into Al’s tux, made him the usher, and went on with the ceremony.

3. Irvin and Madeline planned a nice honeymoon in Toronto, but Irvin was on call, so Madeline went without him. (Of course, they met up there later.)

 

7. July
7.1 Timeline

We have all these fans and air conditioners going, so we can’t hear each other. I was upstairs and Ryan called for me.
Ryan: Dad! [Something something] boogie board [something]?

I didn’t ask him to repeat it, because any topic about a boogie board could wait.

Outdoor classical music
We went to this Chicagoland outdoor music-playing place. I walked in, and
they had two major sections:
1. The traditional theater seating with the orchestra on the front – like I see in
the cartoons. They’re well known for playing classical music – that’s what we
saw – but lotsa types of musicians perform there. I dare say no punk rock. 2. Off to the left is a large grassy area where people sit, but it’s nothing like
Woodstock. Patrons have expensive picnic-ware: folding chairs that sit two
inches off the ground, special containers for wine and cheese – they’re living it
up.

An employee walked around with a sign reading, “Please Remain Quiet.” I couldn’t stop talking about it.

Naturally, they played classical music. I never know when these pieces are ending their subsections (auras?) and I shouldn’t applaud, or when I’m supposed to cheer...so I just clapped along the entire time.

Haircut
Jimmy: I don’t want to go get a haircut. Me: Then Mommy will do it for you. Jimmy: OK, I’ll go.

I was dreading this because it was Saturday, and the place is always packed then. I called ahead and made three reservations for us – me, Ryan and Jimmy. (Andy receives haircuts from two stylists: his Mom and daycare provider Gwen.) Ryan: Can they spell my name in my hair?

As I suspected, the stylist shop was crammed – about 10 people were waiting, and some looked quite impatient. I figured we’d wait a while, but... Clerk: Ryan, Jimmy, Jack – you are next.

Those waiting were in angry disbelief – how could this be? (It was because I called ahead.)
Me, not wanting to start a riot: Two of us can wait if you want.
Clerk: No, you three are next! Come on.

I’m lucky nobody threw a fancy shampoo bottle at me.
Ryan sat down with the stylist.
Me to the coiffeur (I looked that name up): Can you make his hair short. Ryan: No, I want it long.

I wasn’t going to get into a big disagreement, so we left the stylist with these contradictory instructions. But, ah! This man was clever. He cut Ryan’s hair short, but then...he jelled it. Ryan looked like Rudolph Valentino, Jr., and he loved it.
Ryan: Jim, stay a mile away from my hair.

I again forgot to make one request: Give Jimmy bangs. I always let them part his hair on he side and cut his bangs at an angle. This lasts about an hour, then the part goes away, and it looks like the boy is falling over.

Me: And how’s my hair? Ryan: It looks like a cactus.

 

7.2 Andy at 12 months

 

7.2 Andy at 12 months

 

I say nice things to the baby like, “We love you,” and, “Oh, you’re so special to us.” But he really likes me to speak his language: “Dah! Bah! Grgh!”

Andy’s current vocabulary: uh oh
ba-ba
up

Baby handed his little plastic star to me. I looked at it, examined it, and handed it back.
Andy: Gah! Mmem la!

I made a home video of the baby crawling, walking and talking. He walks all the way across a room now. It’s funny, because all the parts of him haven’t grown up evenly yet. He’s still got the little baby face and expressions, but now they’re on this roaming body. Unfortunately, the two older kids were in rotten moods in the taping session. Ryan tried to look annoyed at being there, and Jimmy kept throwing pillows at me. It’s all in one cherished video.

7.3 Circle update

 

7.3 Circle update

About every night of the week, I talk with friend Marco Torez, and I want to tell you a little more about him. Marco is a Puerto Rican bachelor who works overnight as a security guard. Marco...

~ discusses everything about Chicago.
~ is an authority on the Bible. He’s read all of it at least five times. ~ has a friend who doesn’t trust banks. If someone gives this man a check from a

bank that’s 50 miles away, he’ll drive to the bank and get his cash right then. ~ learned how to drive when he was 30. Previously, he carried a state ID card.

I got together with friend Tim Campbell in Woodstock, IL. It’s about 62 miles northwest of Chicago, and it’s where they filmed that movie where the fellow relives the same day every day. Some years ago, the Campbells left St. Louis city life, and they bought this impossibly long house in the country. I’m one of the few people who has walked from one end to the other.

7.4 Andy’s birthday

 

7.4 Andy’s birthday

Yesterday was Andy’s first birthday, and we had a nice party for him. These occasions are also a lot of fun for adults. But the best thing about any party we throw is finally having our home clean and straightened.

Related note: When the wife is complimented on how nice her home looks, she replies, “Thank you.” The husband replies, “You should’ve seen this place yesterday – it was a pit. We spent five hours cleaning it.”

Preparation story: In the pantry, we had an unopened pack of birthday cups that had been hanging around for two years.
Me to Karen: We’ll use these for the birthday party.
Karen: Oh, those are so old.
Me: Hmh. Should I throw ‘em out?
Karen: We’ll find a use for them.

Then the folks arrived. This was my opportunity for friend Sid (the wine connoisseur) to try a sip from my $6.99 jug of burgundy. He smelled it and winced. Sid: Ho man, Jack – c’mon!
Me: OK, what? Explain the problems from a wine expert’s perspective. Sid: It’s pure sugar, man. It’s got nothing else going on. Why do you drink this stuff?
Me: Red wine – clears your arteries.
Sid: Yeah, like drain cleaner.

As for the birthday boy, he was just happy to have a free run of the entire floor, because no gates were up.

We grownups mostly talked about Chicago real estate, because there’s always plenty to discuss. I pulled out a couple of city maps (one showed rapid transit rail lines), spread them out on the floor, and we all hunched over them. This made a baby’s birthday party look more like a war room.

Marco was particularly helpful, because he knows most neighborhoods and street numbers. Lou and Jessica Morgan also added information, because they remodel homes in the city.
Jessica Morgan: Is Sid handy?
Elizabeth : You’ve gotta be kidding me.

Ryan: Can I balance the cake?

 

7.5 Birth of Andy

 

Don’t be confused! This story is a flashback to July, 1998.

 

7/24/98 Friday, 6:00 pm

On Sunday at 5:00 pm, Karen would go in for her inducement, and I wouldn’t be able to do much with Ryan and Jimmy for a few days. So, the boys and I pitched a tent in the yard. Ryan ate a whole bag of crunchy cheese snacks. I read them a spooky story about this family of pioneers, and it flipped Jimmy out in a positive way.

9:00 pm

They got tired of it all, so I took down the tent. Karen was watching this ongoing news story about a tragic shooting at the Washington DC capitol. Of course, we felt terrible for those poor people and their families.

Saturday, 12:10 am
We turned in. I slept downstairs and she upstairs – because these days, Karen
was taking up a lot of the bed.

3:00 am

 

I half-heard Karen saying she was in labor.

 

4:00 am

Karen woke me and asked if I could get her purse so she could call the doctor.
Me: Sure, of course.

I paid attention to the call, and the doctor was telling Karen to go to the hospital. Karen had her suitcase already packed – a little hard-sided one with a top handle, just like the ones used by 1950s sitcom women in labor.

4:20 am
I woke Grandma Martha and she got up right away. Martha walked with
Karen outside, and I ran four blocks for my little car. Karen got in carefully
and off we went.
Me: Do you want any air?
Karen: Yes, a little bit.
No traffic at this time of night. We pulled into the parking garage and
walked around to the emergency room. Karen was put into a wheelchair and
we were taken right past this big sign: “No Entrance to Main Hospital,” into
the main hospital.

We got to the Labor Receiving ward and were put in this little "curtains all around the single bed" area. The medical people came in and out and talked to Karen. I put my feet up on my briefcase (I always carry that), read a biography of Ben Franklin, and quasi-slept in the chair.

8:45 am
Doctor to Karen: You’ll be fine. I suggest you go home for a while.
Back we went. I dropped Karen off at the house and found a parking space
some ways from home.

10:15 am

Karen immediately went to bed, and Ryan and Jimmy stayed affixed to their Saturday morning TV shows. Martha went downstairs then rushed back up.
Martha: Jack, there’s a parking space! Right in front of the house. Me: Wonderful! Go lie down in it!
We got the space. I was glad to see Karen sleeping, because she worried she wouldn’t be able to. I talked with Ryan.
Ryan, looking at the television but talking to me: I thought you’d be coming back with the baby.
Me: Not yet – this is kind of a long process.
Ryan: We made a spot for Andy in front of the TV.

I took a nap.

 

3:30 pm

 

Martha: Jack, wake up. Karen’s water broke.

Oh my gosh. Was this an immediate “the baby’s head’s popping out – get her over there!” situation? It wasn’t that urgent, but we left again. Lots more traffic this time.

Karen was put into one of the “birthing rooms.” This is a regular patient room, but it’s got the equipment and rocking chair necessary to have the baby right there.

I forgot the stopwatch, so I called Martha and drove back home to get it. When I arrived, Martha was on the steps with that stopwatch in hand, making her look like a pit crew chief. I went inside. Jimmy was there, and he asked about Mommy. He also wanted to see a carton character’s Internet site – but that had to wait.

On my drive back, a particular 1970s song was on the radio. I took it an omen and called Brother Doug – that band’s biggest fan – and updated him on the delivery.
Doug: Tell Karen we’re patiently waiting down here for little Andy.

5:15 pm

Karen was in bed and having painful contractions every five minutes. She squeezed my left hand, but since I had my wedding ring on the squeezing Really Hurt Me. I asked Karen to switch to my non-ring hand and she punched me.
Karen: Take the ring off!

I think she meant temporarily.

Karen was screaming to high heaven, and security came in (!) to inquire what all the noise was about. Apparently, women in labor aren’t supposed to yell anymore.

The Epidural Man (EM) came to the rescue. He asked Karen to sit up, and she did. EM: I’m sending a line around your spinal cord, so you’ll need to sit still – even if you have a contraction.
Me: She won’t move, don’t worry.

EM was right in the middle of his procedure and a contraction came over Karen. Even so, she held herself completely still.
EM: That was impressive.

Then Karen had to lie flat, and that caused a problem.
Karen: This is making me pass out, I think.
Me: Could she lay on her side?

The EM explained she couldn’t be on one side or the epidural would only work on that side, and nothing could be done then.
Karen: Lay me flat – I’d rather pass out.

6:10 pm

 

Karen stayed conscious and started feeling better. The epidural was working!

 

7:05 pm

I called Martha and said Karen’s cervix was at seven centimeters, and that meant we were on our way (10 is the magic number). But I heard wrong, because it was only two. And she’d been in labor a long time.

8:15 pm

Concern was rising a little. Karen wasn’t dilating much, and the doctor didn’t like the amount of oxygen the baby was getting. Oh man, I thought. Doctor: How would you feel about a c-section?
Karen: I’m ready for that.
Me, thinking about the oxygen: Absolutely.

The c-section was somewhat familiar to us, because four years earlier, Karen had the operation with Jimmy.

 

8:35 pm

Three residents came in to wheel Karen off for pre-op (fancy term). Resident to me: Do you need anything?
Me: No thanks, I’ve just gotta work the TV remote.

They chuckled at this, but I was serious.

Let’s talk about someone extremely unimportant in this whole process – me. They gave me hospital garb to put on, because I was going to be close by Karen during the delivery.

There was a comedy movie on TV. Since it was one of my Dad’s favorites, I took it as a great sign.

A nurse came in and took me into the operating room. Nine medical people were in there. I won’t detail what was being performed on Karen, but it was like being inside a public television surgery documentary.

Karen was quite conscious but tired. I stood on her right, up near her head.
Anesthesiologist to Karen: Baby’s coming. There’s going to be a lot of pushing.
Karen: It feels like somebody’s pulling on my dress.

After much effort, this little head emerged from Karen’s lower stomach. We heard him scream, and Karen said later that relieved her tremendously.

 

Nurse: What do you say? 9:14.

Andy was taken into an area off to the side.
Nurse to me: Do you want to come over and see him?
Me: Oh sure, yes.

This surprised me, because they didn’t ask if I wanted to see Jimmy right before he was born. This was because Jimmy had stopped breathing twice and was revived. Reason: Karen had necessary medication that made her sluggish, but it slowed Jimmy down as well. (I’m not giving this enough space here – it meant everything to us.)

When I met him, Andy was three minutes old and lying under a lamp. He was a very good boy.
Me to the nurse: How is he?
Nurse: He’s big – 9 lbs 8.9 oz. – and he’s got good coloring.

I remembered how the other boys looked on their birthdays. Newborn Ryan swam in place for a long time. Because baby Jimmy came out a month early, he had tubes everywhere.

Andy was just looking around, biting on his hands a little bit. Me: So Andy, your name is Andrew Charles Brackitt. You have two older brothers – Ryan and Jimmy. Ryan’s 8 1/2 and Jimmy’s 4 1/2. They’ll take care of you a whole lot. You have a Mom who’s Karen, and a Dad who’s me. You have Grandma Martha and Grandpa Fritz, and you’ve got Grandma Alice and your Grandpa up in heaven. We all love you very much.

The nurse attended to Andy with great skill. She put a little tube into his stomach and got some goop out. Then she took his footprints for the birth certificates, and his feet went off the page (carrying on a family trait).

The nurse swaddled Andy and asked if I wanted to take him over to see Karen. Sure! Karen turned her head to look at him.
Karen: Ohh, my baby! His skin’s so soft. What a handsome baby.

I watched Karen getting sewn up.
Me: If you could see what’s going on down there, you’d – Karen: Don’t describe it.

Important note: We’re completely grateful to the doctors, nurses and all for delivering a very health Andy. And Ryan. And Jimmy.

9:40 pm
I gave Andy back to the nurse. Karen was transferred to a rolling bed, and
I walked with her to the recovery room. She closed her eyes, and I went out
to the pay phones. I called Grandma Martha and said the excellent news. Her
voice was breaking.
Martha: I’m very relieved everything was fine.

Then I called my mom.
Mom: Oh, I wish I could see him right now. That baby weighed about as much as you did. You were 8 lbs. 16 oz.
Me: Mom, I think 16 ounces would be another pound.
Mom: Well, that’s what you were.

I went back into the recovery room with Karen, and we talked for an hour about...
~ Andy, and what a good baby he is.
~ the older boys – how they’ll be protective brothers.
~ the bright mood Karen was suddenly in – no more big stomach lump.

The nurse wanted Karen to wiggle her toes, and Karen could... Karen: But I can’t feel myself doing it.
She was on the recovery trail.

Karen was wheeled into her room, and they brought the baby in. I took a flash picture of those two, and it made Andy jump – sorry! We admired our baby, then they took him away for a little while. Karen fell asleep, and I went downstairs.

11:00 pm

I walked to the nearby open-till-four-am pizza place (an advantage to being in Chicago), and I talked with two homeless men in front. Me: My wife just had a baby boy.
Man: Is he all right?
Me: Yes.
Man: It’s a miracle! Ah ha.

7.6 Doug Brackitt profile
Ryan: Uncle Doug’s always saying to me, “Ryan, I’m under a great deal of pressure.”
Me: Why does he say that?
Ryan: I have no idea. I mean, it’s his problem, not mine.

Doug...
~ was born close to 1960.
~ sneezes when he steps outside...just like I do.
~ has the longest set of “rules to lead your life by” of anyone I know. ~ is fun to aggravate, because he’s such a defined character.

For someone only in his latter 30s, Doug’s been through many stages in life: # Dates Ages Era
1) 1962-69 00-07 Rambunctious
2) 1970-72 08-10 Working
3) 1973-84 11-22 Entertainment
4) 1985-87 23-25 Reality
5) 1988-93 26-31 Climbing
6) 1994-98 32-36 Success
7) 1999- 37- Reentertainment

Let’s figure these eras out.

1) 1962-69 00-07 Rambunctious
Dad, recalling: I was sitting in the family room and I heard water running. I thought, “What? Who’s doing that?” So I went into the kitchen and there was two-year-old Doug, frying bacon.

Mom: I was always running after Doug, because he got into everything. Once, he fell out of a window, and to this day, he says I pushed him. (Oh gosh, he’s joking.)

2) 1970-72 08-10 Working

 

Doug got me up in the dark hours of Saturday mornings to watch cartoons – so early we’d see the farm reports first.

CB radios were all the rage. On one family trip, that radio didn’t help Dad much, because he got pulled over for speeding. Dad was sitting with the officer in the squad car, and Doug’s voice came over the cop’s CB radio. Doug: We’re feedin’ the bears!
When Dad got back in the car, he smacked Doug.

In the car, Doug and I played Hangman. In this game, players try to decode a familiar phrase or name by choosing letters. I was winning, so Doug made me figure out “by bulls,” and he won. By bulls?

Doug’s second grade teacher read them the famous book about the pig and the spider, and at one point – everyone who’s read it knows where – she was overcome with emotion, and she had to leave the room.

About once a day, Doug and I would get into a scuffle over something. It usually involved me taking his possessions, because he had money to buy things and I didn’t. Al described our fights as the battling windmills.

Doug was much shorter than the other kids on his basketball team – this is evident by their team photo. But Doug showed courage by staying on the team, and got an award for Mr. Improvement. (Doug is now 5’10", but that’s where he stops.)

3) 1973-84 11-22 Entertainment

When Doug was in 5th grade, he talked me into playing hooky with him and his friend. Part of the day, we hung out at this creek. Then, we went home (nobody there) and spent a few more hours trying to type up excuse notes for ourselves – handwriting was out of the question. ...

We got caught because Doug’s friend left his schoolbooks at home. His dad thoughtfully took them to the school, and our tutorial crime was discovered. Surprisingly, we didn’t get punished too much. I think Mom and Dad were just too speechless.

Doug gave me advice about algebra. Doug: Just remember that X is always seven.

During the Bicentennial, we were on vacation at Kentucky Lake, and the state/county/town didn’t allow fireworks. On the big 4th of July day, the motel we stayed at threw an impressive outside party...no fireworks, of course. However, someone snuck behind a bush and set off an entire brick of illegal firecrackers. ...

The motel people were furious. They conducted an impromptu investigation, but they never learned who did it. Even now, I’ll bet some of those motel people would like to know who set off those fireworks.

Concerts
Doug was totally into rock concerts, and this obsession has never left him
– he attends as many now as he ever did. Back then, concert tickets were
about $6 each, and there were a lot of shows.
Doug had tickets for a concert by a particular rock band (the lead singer
swings the microphone like a lasso). Someone stole Doug’s tickets off the
kitchen table, and he still talks about it roughly once a month. Doug could
live to be 400 years old...
Investigator: We went back in the time machine and found that [name] took
your tickets.
Doug: I knew it!

It was a huge deal when the biggest album band of the 1970s put St. Louis on their tour (April, 1977). Mom let Doug skip school so he could stand in line all day for tickets. It took 9 1/2 hours – no water, food or bathroom. Everyone was allowed a maximum of four tickets (which would be highly scalpable later), but Doug had only $7.
Doug, after finally getting to the clerk: One, please.
Clerk: You only want one?

Doug...

~ went to one concert and they couldn’t get the keyboard going. Roadies were wrenching on it the whole time.
~ saw a band that had only one hit song, so they played it twice.

Doug saw a general admission concert – infamous for trampling people... Doug: It was one of the most fearful experiences of my life. We were outside waiting to get in. There were thousands of people smashing in at once, and since I was only 5’2", they were really squishing me. So, I got above it all – I climbed onto the back of some guy in front of me, and I placed myself there. It was that jammed. Suddenly, all the admission gates collapsed. Everybody crashed forward on top of each other, but at least we could get in. We walked over the broken gates, never gave ’em tickets, and all the security people were standing off to the side, just dumbfounded.

Cooking
On weekends, Doug worked as a cook at an all-night neighborhood diner.
This wasn’t an "our family needed the money," situation – Doug wanted the
money.

Doug would call Al and ask a ride home, and Al would only do it if Doug brought him fried clams. Getting them was a problem for Doug, because the restaurant didn’t allow employees to take food out the door. So, Doug hid the clams in his hat, and Al ate them out of it.

Doug had two managers over his time at the restaurant. The first boss always got breaks from the health inspector, but the second one didn’t. Doug knew why: The first manager made payoffs.

Doug...

~ owned this special, long pancake turner called a spat – it was very professional looking. I found it perfect for cleaning out our gutters.
~ prepared breakfast for a three-hit Midwest band, which brought together his concert-going and cooking.

Doug was the only cook working at 2:00 am, and he started doubling over in pain. He called his manager and asked for a replacement. The manager said no way – stay and work. ...

Doug knew he needed to get to a hospital. He looked into the dining room, and there was a former cook eating there – the restaurant had fired this fellow some weeks earlier. Doug talked the guy into taking over, and a waitress drove Doug to the emergency room. The diagnosis: Doug needed his appendix out. The next morning, the manager called Mom and apologized profusely.

College
In college, Doug moved into the stupidest and loudest dorm on campus. ~ Several students had 0.0 GPAs.
~ Guys turned on fire hoses.
~ Someone put a telephone pole on the main floor.
Why did Doug live there?

Doug: These are my friends.

Doug and his roommate often crashed parties.
Doug to a gal: Hey, this party stinks. Let’s you and I get out of here. Gal: I can’t – this is my apartment.

After a while, Doug tired of the rioting in his dorm and decided to live in my dorm. It was a designated “quiet floor,” and the silent residents there never understood Doug. For example, one of them had special permission for an air conditioner, and Doug felt the cool air seeping from his room. So, Doug slept outside the guy’s door.

4) 1985-87 23-25 Reality
Right after college, Doug was the poorest person in the industrial world.
Strange as it may seem now, Doug’s computer science degree was an oddity –
there weren’t lots of offers in that field. For a while, Al, Sam and I each had two
cars – it’s a St. Louis thing – but Doug was car-less. So, it was ironic that he only
got approved for a gas station credit card. But he sure used it – it was all he had
to purchase things. Doug learned what every one of these stations in the city sold,
and he even shopped there for Christmas presents.

Fate has a way of sorting things out. Our grandmother was terminally ill with cancer, and she was convalescing at our home. Doug was able to be with Gram hour after hour, and he brought her companionship.

Doug landed a good night job in the computer department of an insurance company. How much value was college?
Doug: Actually, being a cook was my best experience, because I learned to do several things at once.

Doug finally got a car, and he used his horn so much it wore out.

I worked at a radio station and my friend, Larry Lawrence, was a rush hour DJ – very good at making crank phone calls.
Larry to me: Where does your brother work?
Me: He’s the night computer guy at this company that processes insurance checks.
Larry offered to make a crank call on Doug, and I jumped at the opportunity. ...

Doug, answering: Can I help you?
Larry: My name is Phil Ryerson, and I work at the meat processing division here in Jefferson City – we’re a customer of yours. I’m told you have my disability check there, and it’s been real hard for me to get it.
Doug: I’m sorry to hear that, sir. If you could call –
Larry: Hey, tell you what. If you send me my check right now, I’ll mail you a box of steaks. How about that.
Doug: Sir, I couldn’t do that. ...

Then we let Doug in on the secret.

 

Doug: I was tempted! I know where they keep those checks.

5) 1989-93 27-31 Climbing
Doug, recalling: I saw that Al was successful as a lawyer, and I decided I needed to be successful too.

Al got Doug an interview with the Dean of his old law school, and we anxiously waited. Would Doug get accepted into this prestigious school of law? Doug...squeaked in! On the bottom of the standard acceptance letter the Dean hand-wrote, “You have caused some concern with faculty members. Law school will be a full-time job for you.”

It turned out to be easy for Doug – he graduated one of the tops in his class. His biggest problem was needing to invest three years there. Doug wanted to double up his class load and get out early...but that was forbidden.

Indeed, Doug was a determined student. He’d study in an empty classroom, and he sat so still the motion detector would think the room was empty and turn the lights out. Doug would wave his arms and back on the lights would go.

In another marathon study session, Doug and his friend Bert drank large quantities of that cola with double the caffeine.
Doug: It turned our ears bright red.

After graduating, Doug set his sites on Chicago. He saved money by sharing a studio apartment with a good guy. It looked just like a dorm – they had two twin beds and one small room. Good guy was out of town weeks at a time, and Doug shipped off packets of mail for him.
Good guy, in a letter: While I appreciate what you’re doing, you don’t have to send me the supermarket inserts. Also, please don’t send me the flyers from under the door.
Doug to me: Well, he said he wanted me to mail him everything.

Doug’s parrot died, so Doug and I went to a famous Chicago graveyard and buried the little bird not too far from a railroad tycoon.

 

During this era, Doug identified himself in the third person. “What Doug Brackitt thinks is as follows:”

Doug should always be the driver rather than a passenger. If I’m at the wheel, he says things like, “Oh. See, you took a left turn. But if you’dve gone right, you’dve avoided all this traffic, and now it’s going to take us a lot longer.”

Two-year-old Ryan had these small stuffed animals, and he named each one after family members. Ryan called two of them Uncle Doug.

Doug got a good job as a prosecutor for the City of Chicago’s traffic court. He processed about 800 cases a day – no exaggeration.
Defendant: Your honor, I got rid of the tinted glass on my car – here’s a picture. Doug, looking at the photo: Sir, your windows are rolled down – I can tell. Defendant: What? You’re kidding me.

Doug then started his own practice, and he advertised it with zero dollars. How? He named his law firm so it came up first in the yellow pages. Here’s the three-part story:

1) That first spot was already taken by, “A FELLOW WHO’S AN ATTORNEY.”

 

2) Doug topped “Fellow” by naming his practice “A ABLE ATTORNEY.” This was grammatically challenged, but it pulled in business.

3) The next year, Doug got out-positioned by a law firm with the name “Aah." It turned out that was fine, because Al was calling Doug home to St. Louis – they would build a law practice together with him.

Hold it! First, we have to stop at a popular Chicago dance club in June, 1992. There, Doug’s life changed forever and for better, because he met a Filipino nurse named Peggy. Three years later, they married, and now they’re the happy parents of two girls.

Before Doug and Peggy tied the knot, they went through the pre-marriage classes that the church gave, and they took a compatibility test. They flunked it.

Doug will make a point, and instead of asking for agreement from Peggy, he’ll stick his palm out for her to smack it – in that unspoken ‘70s way. If Peggy agrees, she’ll casually slap his hand. I think they’re the only two people still doing that.

6) 1994-98 32-36 Success

 

The law practice really picked up. One of Doug’s clients had an alcoholic seizure in front of the judge.

Doug and Peggy moved into a new house, and they opened a box of dishes Doug brought from Chicago four years earlier – dirty dishes.
Mom: I washed them and they were fine.

7) 1999- 37- Reentertainment
Doug came into town, and we watched old tapes of the Clarence Thomas
Supreme Court confirmation hearings – I have 20 hours of it.

Websites sell a lot of 1970s memorabilia, and Doug is buying most of it. He recently re-began collecting baseball cards and beer cans. Also, Doug’s still trying to find this out-of-print book written about the restaurant chain he cooked at. He put in a search request at a popular online book source.
Doug: Every time I go to that site it says, “We have been unable to find your book. Do you want us to continue looking?” I’m like, “You’re darned right I do. Keep searching.”

So, what’s the next stage for Doug – Utah farmer? Probably not, because whatever he gets involved with combines with something from his past. Here’s my guess: Doug will teach his daughters to be the world’s youngest authorities on 1970s bands.

7.7 Summer days

7.7 Summer days
Ryan

Me: Does it get hot at the day camp? Ryan, bugging his eyes: Puh ho, yeah!

Me: Do you like to swim there?

 

Ryan: Yeah. Yesterday I dived into the deep end, and my nostrils exploded.

 

In the yard, Ryan took the lid off the sandbox turtle, turned it over, poured water and sand into it, and made his own beach.

Jimmy
Me: Are you and Andy having fun at Gwen’s? Jimmy: Yes.
Me: Can you tell me more about it?
Jimmy: No, ‘cause you tied my shoes too tight.

Me: So Gwen doesn’t take you into the park if it’s raining a little? Jimmy: Yeah.
Me: Yes, she does, or yes, she doesn’t?
Jimmy: Yes.

Andy

Gwen has a good dog named Odin. He’s a big help during daycare, because the little tykes love to pass the time by petting him, and he doesn’t mind getting his tail pulled. Also, he’s about the same age as Andy, so they have a lot in common.

Jimmy: Today, Odin took a drink out of the toilet. Me: Was Gwen mad at him?
Jimmy: Oh hooh, was she.

Gwen said that sometimes she tells the kids to “shoosh,” and now Andy calls her Shoosh.

 

Jack

 

I coined the phrase, “It’s like an oven outside.”

7.8 Trip to VirtuAction Amusement Park
I took the two older kids to the big virtual reality amusement park in the Loop.
Here’s the story on that.

8:15 am. Preparations

 

I got the kids ready, and we dropped off Andy with Gwen. Andy is still learning the regular world, and he’s not ready for the virtual kind yet.

While getting into the minivan, Jimmy avoided getting his dew-soaked shoes on the driver’s seat. That’s one of my few rules, because wet pants change my whole mood.

Back at home, I gave Ryan his donuts, and he had them with a glass of diet root beer.

 

Ryan: At the park, can I be in charge of the chips?

9:10 am. Driving there
Ryan, pointing: That’s where Nan works.
Jimmy: There?
Ryan: Not the warehouse. The tall building. She’s an accountant. Jimmy: Have they got a bank up there?
Ryan: Nobody knows.

Jimmy: This one girl in my class, she’s getting married. Ryan: Really? How old is she?
Jimmy: Six. Her Mom gave her permission.

10:00 am. Arrival

 

I parked in a lot, and the parking fee was ultimately $20.25.

This amusement park is in the fashionable part of town, inside a building. The good part of this: They’re limited by code to holding only a certain number of people, so it’s not overcrowded inside. There are about three rides on each floor.

We went to Goblin’s Maze. We each sat in cars, put on our headsets, and looked on ahead to an animated and spooky world – it was like we were living inside a 1972 Saturday morning cartoon. …

It’s also notable that we each became a goblin. I turned to Jimmy next to me and he looked back at me as a little green creature – true! We flew on these batlike-dragons and searched for this pathetic goblin who had fallen into a well. Ryan found the elfie and rescued him.

As the above shows, these weren’t typical “ride then get off” attractions. We were put in competitive situations. Another example: We were in an underwater rover, and we had to rescue virtual reality soldiers trapped in a deep-sea station. I’m sorry to report we failed, and we left our comrades to deal with the giant urchins. But you’ll be glad to know that we escaped safely.

They had a game that pretended to give us an electric shock, but it just shook our hands fast.

11:30 am. Lunch
We went out to the car and ate in the minivan.
Me: Where’s my cell phone?
Sudden panic! I had dropped it somewhere. We went to guest relations,
asked about it, and the lady came out with something behind her back.
Lady: Can you describe the phone for me?
Me: Yes, it’s a black phone. It’s kinda...larger than most phones, and it’s got the
flap thing on it, yes.
Lady: Where do you think you dropped it?
Me: On the fifth floor – no! It was on the one, the twisty turny ride.
Lady: OK, here it is.
Me: Yes! My phone! Thank you.
I dunno…with those answers of mine, I wouldn’t have given me the phone.

We went on a few more rides, then the kids asked to go home and watch cartoons. They’d had enough virtual reality games, and they wanted animators to do all the unreality for them.

1:30 pm. Returning
Ryan was on the phone with his Nan.
Ryan: We’re done – we’ll be home about 20 minutes. Hey Jim, that’s the
building we used to live in. It’s actually four buildings, and they’re all connected.
Jimmy: What did you do there?
Ryan: We swam, and there’s a restaurant –
Me: Aren’t you still on the phone with Nan?
Ryan: Oh yeah. Nan?

7.9 Chicago Profile: the Loop
Introduction

Me: Jimmy, you need to use the bathroom before we leave. Jimmy: I don’t have to go.
Me: But we’re driving to a place that doesn’t have bathrooms. Jimmy: Where’s that?
Me: The Loop.
Jimmy: Whoah.