Adulting by Dave Schanding

I never thought of adult as a verb. Always a noun. Something one wants to become when one hits a certain age. When I was growing up, becoming an adult occurred overnight when one reached age 21. Then you could drink, get married, be seen as joining the normal flow of lifecycles. Somewhere after I became an adult, the magic age shifted to 18. I think after the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s, the country felt that if you were old enough to be drafted and fight in a war, you should be able to vote and be seen as an adult. Drinking alcohol legally is still age 21 in the USA. I’m not sure whether one can get married without parent permission at age 18. Kath and I were 25 y/o when we got married, so this minimum age thing was well behind us.

I first heard of adulting as a verb from our son, Kevin. He had lived in our home in Des Plaines while wife Kath and I spent most of my early retirement years in a condo in downtown Chicago. We were trying out the idea of living downtown as a lifestyle, and we held onto our home in Des Plaines during this trial period. After six or seven years, we decided that downtown life agreed with us and, with Kath’s retirement now coming up soon, it was time to sell our Des Plaines home. One might wonder why a young adult in his mid-30s was still living in his parents’ home. This scenario was more common than usual due to a severe economic depression that hit our country (and the world) from 2008 to around 2015. Many ‘millennials’ (persons born after 1980) were caught with long periods of unemployment due to layoffs and had fewer housing options as restrictive mortgage lending regulations were instituted to address money-lending abuses that had initiated the recession. Kevin got bumped around by the country’s economy. Ironically, he was the child that couldn’t wait to become independent when he finished college, then proceeded to live with us for another decade.

At age 34, Kevin was embarking on adulting—moving out of his parents’ home and taking on those pesky responsibilities like mortgage and utility payments. It’s not like he didn’t do any adult things prior to this. He attended college and was now employed. He took care of our home in Des Plaines while Kath and I played downtown during the work week. But there’s a difference between taking care of your parents’ home and adulting. Much of this centers on paying bills. It’s one thing to take care of day-to-day stuff in one’s parents’ home, knowing that repairs and remodels would be on their dime. One feels the pinch in renting one’s own apartment or buying one’s home. Kevin had been saving a portion of his income while living in our home, but the typical adulting bills were still ours to pay. When he described his transition to buying a condo and suddenly having utility bills, cable TV and Internet bills, a mortgage and property tax, homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, homeowner’s association (HOA) fees, he would often describe the challenges of adulting.

This got me thinking back to my transition to adulting. For me, adulting began in mild form at age 23 and hit me squarely between the eyes at age 24. For my high school and college years, I’d been in a Catholic seminary, studying to become a priest. In January 1974 (age 23), I decided that I was no longer interested in the priesthood. I moved from my all-expense-paid seminary life into an apartment. I characterize this initial period as a mild form of adulting because I shared an apartment with three other former seminarians with each of us paying $37.50 per month in rent. Today (2019), a large deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East costs that much. Of course, a dollar in 1974 bought considerably more than a dollar in 2019, but it was still very inexpensive rent, even back then. We lived at 1066 Granville in the Edgewater area of Chicago, just south of Loyola University. I was working on a master’s degree in counseling psychology and working full-time as I embarked on adulting-lite.

A bit shy of age 24, in May 1975, I got my own apartment in Rogers Park, the area of Chicago where Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus is located. Two of my Granville Av roommates got married that summer, and the third guy was pretty stingy on paying bills, so I decided to get my own place. While experiencing adulting-lite, I had been able to save money and purchase a few necessities like a color television and my brother’s used car—not too taxing on the wallet while living in my $37.50 per month rent. Then I hit the economic wall when I was on my own, paying $150 per month in rent and paying the entire phone, electric and gas bills. With a car came insurance and repair bills. My routine was to stack bills on my desk as they arrived, pay off what I could on pay day, and generally leave myself around $50 for food and cigarettes for the two weeks till next payday. That’s right, I allotted funds for cigarettes. They were $5 per carton back then, and I went through four cartons per month. I couldn’t think much about dating at this point—a movie and pizza would have wiped out most of my monthly spending money. I furnished my apartment with hand-me-downs from the guys I’d lived with on Granville Av, items that they had gotten from other friends and from their girlfriends’ parents’ basements. My former roommates, the newlyweds, were able to buy new bedroom sets, new living room couches, and matching dishes and pots and pans. I was very happy to have an interesting assortment of vintage couch, chairs, dresser, bed and dishes.

I was making $12,000 per year in 1976, working in mental health at Ravenswood Hospital on the north side of Chicago. This was a good salary for a young professional. I had completed a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Loyola University and was working as a clinical supervisor. In today’s dollars (2019), this would probably be $50-60,000. I spent most of my weekends at home during my first six months of true adulting, partially due to minimal spending money available and partially due to the fact that my best friends had gotten married and were now occupied with their new lives. At the time, it felt like this very minimal existence went on for a year or two, in fact, I met my future wife, Kath, at a friend’s party in December 1975, six months after I had begun true adulting. By then, I guess I had figured out how to budget for an occasional date. Women’s liberation also helped. Women wanted to be seen as equals in most aspects of life, and it was common for young couples to go out “Dutch treat”—with each paying half of the cost of tickets and food. I was not upset that Kath felt liberated!

I was pretty low emotionally many times during my transition to adulting. While living on Granville Av with friends, I was oftentimes alone. They had girlfriends and I didn’t. I was working the evening shift for much of the time, and this was a real killer when it came to establishing a social life. With little spending money, I had few alternatives to this fairly isolated life. I had a girlfriend for a while, but I was socially immature at this point in my life and she understandably chose to move on. Adulting was more than taking on financial responsibilities. It also meant acting more maturely. I would eventually get there. The one thing going for me at the time was a good job—a professional position in health care. While socially awkward and financially challenged, I could at least feel good about my educational and professional status.

Life can feel like an eternity when things are tough. I left the safe ‘cocoon’ of the seminary in January 1974. Once I met Kath and began dating her regularly, starting in December 1975, my life picked up. That nearly two-year period was a difficult adjustment into ‘adulting.’ By the end of 1975, my financial situation hadn’t changed all that much, but my mood had improved. A couple of years later, when purging old bills, I took some time to see where my meager funds had gone in my young adulting transition. The one item that had really taxed my budget had been auto repairs. I had bought my brother Greg’s car, which had been faithful to him for several years. I, on the other hand, had a more difficult time, having to replace the starter and flywheel on more than one occasion. I would have been financially better off without the car, but having a car gave me independence and a sense of adulthood.

I don’t tend to procrastinate. Kath and I met on December 6, 1975. I asked her to marry me on May 1, 1976 and, fortunately, she agreed. We married on November 13, 1976. We purchased our first home in December 1977, just in time to get a Christmas tree. Our children were born in 1979 and 1982. I completed my first master’s degree, in counseling psychology, in January 1975. My second master’s degree, an MBA in healthcare management, came in June 1980. By this time, my adulting was in full swing. Kath and I managed mortgage payments, utility payments, car payments, insurances of several types (home, life, auto, health) and we managed to have a few modest vacations. Our finances restricted us to many weekend nights at home, but It was definitely easier to be an adult with someone to share the challenges with.

Adulting was a successful transition for Kath and me, and it’s hard to imagine a time when we won’t have the responsibilities that come with it. Our son is single and lives alone. I can see him having the same feelings as I felt during my transition. It’s harder, both financially and emotionally, when one is doing all of this alone. As our son has gotten used to paying mortgage, various insurances, HOA fees, medical bills and so forth, he describes not being a ‘fan’ of adulting. Former US President Harry Truman described his role as ‘the buck stops here.’ Most of the time, personal responsibilities land squarely on the shoulders of the adults. Adulting brings both challenges and freedoms. Sometimes it’s gratifying to reach adulthood. Sometimes, adulting is a burden. The transition toward greater personal independence can be daunting. Becoming a full adult takes many action steps. And for this, I suppose it makes great sense that adulting has become an action verb and not simply a static noun.

Learning the Art of Patience by Dave Schanding

by Dave Schanding

Mom asked dad, “Can you find some duct tape or a rope so we can tie this boy to a chair and get him to stop moving for a little while?”

Four weeks ago I had hip replacement surgery and two weeks ago I wanted to graduate from a walker to crutches. I felt like the walker made me look older (I’m 64). And now I was re-entering the real world, and crutches looked younger and more athletic. I could pretend like I’d had a skiing accident or sprained my ankle doing a triple Lutz at Millennium Park’s ice rink.  Well, at least I could pretend my hip didn’t just need replacing because my over-sized body wore it out prematurely.

I had in-home physical therapy on the Friday before my transition day, and I asked my physical therapist if I could practice walking with crutches outside. Thirty feet into my walk she grabbed the back of my jacket and asked me to slow down. There was no need to rush. We would get where we wanted to go in plenty of time. But I handled crutches like I’ve handled most things in life—with little patience.

I flunked the Palmer method of handwriting. I guess I was in too much of a hurry to carefully form letters. I don’t know who Palmer was, but Catholic schools seemed to love him or her. My mom saved all of my report cards and my kids loved seeing that their dad actually got an “F” in handwriting one year. I got the usual, ‘you should be a doctor when you grow up because no one can read their writing either.’ Even at age 64, I continue to take classes and take notes. Many of the courses use Power Point and have lights dimmed. My punishment for not doing well in writing in grade school is that I can’t read my own writing today.

Let’s try putting together a model car or airplane. Or maybe a LEGO set with instructions discarded.

Model cars that I put together were liberally smeared with glue as I wasn’t patient to wait for two pieces to truly bond together before trying to add more. While I finished quickly, I was reluctant to show my messy finished product. And I was frequently compared negatively to my one year younger brother, who did everything slowly, deliberately, and to perfection. So I realized impatience had its shortcomings.

But the world is against my mother, my third-grade writing teacher and my physical therapist.

We drove down the Kennedy expressway (Chicago) on Sunday in a snowstorm. A BMW was apparently in a hurry and zig-zagged between cars in the express lanes as we neared downtown. I oftentimes wonder what drivers do with that precious 30-60 seconds they gain by putting us all in danger. I did learn patience here.

For me, trying to learn foreign languages is an exercise in patience. I must be doing something wrong. The TV commercials say one can learn a language in a weekend with their revolutionary teaching system. I remember hearing that we speak hundreds of words every day. And some of today’s words are different than yesterday’s words. Can one really learn 800 words of vocabulary in a weekend? One night many years back, our son put on headphones and started the CD of a language program. They promised fluency by morning. I guess the headphones must have fallen off sometime during the night. I have learned that worthwhile accomplishments take time, and I’m more patient with my language progress.

In my working days, I was director at a time when our agency was just getting computerized. Computers would freeze up, crash, and occasionally wipe out things we didn’t want wiped out. I was able and willing to plow through getting these temperamental machines up and running again. A co-worker diagnosed my seeming endless patience to having children. One hopefully learns patience as children go through stages of development. They learn some new tasks quickly and others much more slowly. I seemed to have become more patient through that process.

Now TiVo has a feature that allows one to speed up a television show by 14%. At this enhanced speed, speech is minimally distorted, and a 30-minute show, which can be reduced to 22 minutes by speeding through commercials, can now be further reduced to 19 minutes. So between 6pm and the 10pm news I can watch almost 13 shows in the time that I would have seen 8 shows at regular speed with commercials. I should become an expert on solving Wheel of Fortune puzzles and selecting the right house on House Hunters. I’ll also have to figure out how to shave 14% off meal preparation, dinner and showering.

Being impatient has had its pluses and minuses. I have my printed photos in albums, where many buy albums but never managed to get their photos out of those envelopes from Walgreens (large drug store chain). I have scanned all documents and old photos so that I don’t have paper clutter. On the one hand, these are handy accomplishments. But most people are content to not get these things done. So my impatience has only led to partial satisfaction.

So where is this impatient young man today? I feel less driven on a daily basis as I don’t have the energy I had in my youth. I still want to feel like I’ve accomplished something each day, but I’m more content with what I actually manage to do. I still like my way of doing things, so I will likely still try to learn languages, type out my class notes, and rid my life of most paper clutter. Mom never really duct-taped me to a chair in my youth, and I think she’d feel a partial success in getting me to become more patient. And, no, I haven’t started watching television 14% faster yet either.

D-O-N-K-E-Y by Dave Schanding

D-O-N-K-E-Y is a card game for three or more players. There are clothes pins in the middle of the table—one less pin than the number of players. Each player is dealt four cards. The object is to get a four-card pair, then grab a clothes pin. Once one person grabs a clothes pin, everyone else is entitled to grab one. The player that doesn’t grab a pin gets a letter.

In Hamilton!OH folks hung out their worsh (Chicago translation: wash) to dry, and everyone had clothes lines in their back yards and a basket of clothes pins to pin the wet clothes up. On rainy days and late evenings, our family sometimes played DONKEY, borrowing some of mom’s clothes pins. With a family of six kids, we could usually muster up at least four kids and one parent to play. There was strategy, of course. Greg was quiet and quick of hand. Margie distracted everyone by talking constantly, oftentimes bringing up real or imagined embarrassing stories to unnerve. Jane was quiet and moved a little slower than the rest, so sometimes a clothes pin would be nudged her way. Chris was wiry and also quick of hand. Little Kath was the youngest and shortest, and, since she couldn’t reach the middle of the table, she also was the recipient of frequent nudged clothes pins. Dad and Mom had enough years’ experience with card games to provide for a strong advantage. I probably played it the straightest—no real strategy other than to look for a four-card pair.

After the dealer distributes four cards to each player, he or she begins looking at cards in the remaining deck. Discards go to the next player, who examines these cards against the ones in his hand. Each round continues until someone manages to get a four-card pair and picks up a clothes pin. Then a mad scramble takes place, with the final player getting no clothes pin and gaining a letter. The first time you don’t get a clothes pin, you get a “D”. Second time is an “O”. You get the idea.

Greg and Chris were quick-handed enough that sometimes they’d grab a clothes pin, then continue passing cards along. A game might go a minute or two before someone realized that a clothes pin was missing from the middle. Then the mad scramble would begin. Sometimes one of us would grab for a clothes pin and not have a pair. This fake grab might draw others into grabbing one for themselves. While this stopped play, I don’t recall anyone being penalized for grabbing a clothes pin when no actual pair was present, but we had fun fooling one another.

The deal rotates, so each person gets first-shot at looking for pairs. Sometimes someone will notice that the threes or queens are passing by, alerting a player down the line to consider collecting them. According to rules, a person should never have more than five cards in their hand, and should discard one before picking up another in the rotation. As a practical matter, as time passed, players would grab a small handful of cards. The downside of having a mitt-full of cards is that it’s harder to free up a hand to grab a clothes pin.

Aunt Julia was one of those persons that always lets the child win. She was known to announce, “I have four fives.” Everyone, except her, would grab a clothes pin. We kids generally didn’t like this strategy. While we liked the adults giving us breaks, we wanted the game to be competitive.

One might think that it would take hours for all participants but one to get DONKEY. Here, the second phase of the game begins. Once a person is a DONKEY, his or her task is to get the other players to talk with him.

Margie could annoy as she never shut up. Chris was more cunning and would ask the player next to him if they were saving, say, sixes. If the person responded, they became an instant DONKEY. We rarely got mom or dad to talk—I guess they had too many years’ of card playing experience. It didn’t seem to take long for all but one to become DONKEYs, either by clothes pins or by talking to a DONKEY.

After I married and began a family, I introduced the game to our children, and the first thing I had to do was acquaint them with clothes pins. We always use a clothes dryer and have never had a clothes line in our back yard. Even in recent years, when I have returned home visiting Hamilton, we now-adult children have been known to dig out the clothes pins and play like old times. Margie still talks too much. Greg and Chris still laugh quietly and grab a clothes pin when no one is looking. Little Kath is 52 years old but still gets help from some older brother or sister.  And I don’t think Dad has ever become a DONKEY from not grabbing clothes pins. Ah, the simple pleasures obtained from a deck of cards and a pile of clothes pins. I wonder if my smart phone has an ‘app’ for that.

I am that guy by Dave Schanding

Writer’s note: We were to write as if we were another person. Beginning around 2010, my wife and I began taking and enjoying cruise vacations. I wrote about a Filipino housekeeper we got to know on one longer cruise. I got into a little difficulty in class for singling out one ethnic group. I realized in discussion with a classmate afterwards that our classmates didn’t realize that 70-80% of cruise staff come from the Philippines and Indonesia. I intended to portray the reality—that the majority of service staff on cruises are from these islands and that they are universally seen as being extraordinarily friendly on cruises. But one must keep one’s reading audience in mind, and I missed the mark that day. The learning curve continues…

These cruisers must think that all Filipinos are perpetually happy and smiling. Most of us have learned to be this way as our job is to make the cruise patrons feel like they are REALLY on the vacation of a lifetime. My friend, Maribel, tells me she enjoys seeing the smiles on people’s faces as she sprays their hands with a hand cleanser as they enter the dining room. Her “happy, happy, washy, washy” sounds like she just came from a remote village, but it gets a smile and helps keep food borne illnesses down on our ship.

I’ve been with the company for eight years now, cleaning bedrooms, 10 per day, twice a day. We call the bedrooms ‘staterooms’ or ‘penthouse suites’ and this seems to make our guests happier with the money they’ve spent. And I’m NOT a housekeeper. I’m a stateroom attendant. Some of my cruisers learn my name and talk with me like I’m a fellow human being. Others just talk with me when they need an extra towel or a bucket of ice. Regardless, I do my job well and keep smiling.

I could write a book on the habits of my cruisers. Some leave clean staterooms that look like I’ve already been there. Others don’t seem to know that drawers and closets are the preferred location to store one’s clothes. I won’t go into the conditions of bathrooms I clean.

I start my day at 8 a.m.. I get a three-hour break in the afternoon, then do my evening rounds. I put in 10 hours of work. We work every day for eight months, then we get a two-month paid vacation. Sometimes I use my 3-hour break to head into the town we are visiting. This week we’re traveling to Croatia and Greece. Over the years I’ve visited several of the Greek Islands.

Yesterday I used my afternoon break to head into town in Corfu. I went along with Maribel, and we stopped for some local cuisine. We looked at trinkets that looked like Corfu, Greece but probably were made in Corfu, China. I ran into the couple from Stateroom 8662. I don’t think they recognized me. 8670 seemed embarrassed that they didn’t know my name and didn’t know what to say to me away from my job duties. The fellow in 8630 yelled out my name and chatted like we were old buddies. I feel really good when I’m greeted like this. After all, I am more than my stateroom attendant self.

I’ve learned to swallow. Like when I ask a guest how his day went and get a barrage of how it was too hot and the pavement was too uneven and how the filet wasn’t cooked to his satisfaction. Oh, you poor thing, I think. I had to work extra today, so I missed the chance to get out. And my feet are ALWAYS tired at the end of the day. And the only filet mignon I get is ground up and says 84% lean. Yes, I swallow and smile. Mr Smith, it must have been a trying day for you.

It’s a strange life working on a cruise ship. If my guests are nasty, I have solace in the fact that they will be gone in a week or two. And I always seem to have one room of this type. When my guests are friendly and ask about my life, my family, my opportunities to see the sites they see, I feel sad when their tour of duty is over. People come on cruises to be pampered and to see interesting places, and I enjoy helping this happen, at least most of the time. And I’d definitely rather clean staterooms than greet everyone with ‘happy, happy, washy, washy’.

by Dave Schanding

The Race Midpoint That Never Ends by Dave Schanding

The sign reads 35th St exit 1 mile.  Southbound Lake Shore Drive has been closed to allow for the Soldier Field 10-mile run to use this novel running surface.  The runners have navigated through this turn-around point.  Now we walkers are approaching the half-way point of the race.

In Spring, 2011, Kevin and Dave decided to improve their stamina.  They set their initial sites on the Hot Chocolate Run, 9.3 miles from Grant Park to the United Center and back.  After its successful completion, they sign up for the Soldier Field 10-mile run.  The novelty of this race is completing the run on the 50-yard line at Soldier Field.  What Bear fan could pass up this opportunity?

Dave has discovered that walking in a race is a bit different than sauntering down Michigan Av.  Participants are required to average 4mph, or a 15-minute mile.  Most of us typically walk 2.5-3mph.  As Dave nears the turn-around point, his son, Kevin, waves from the northbound path.  Kevin has done a combination of jogging and walking.  Dave checks his left knee with its titanium insert—no more running after the knee replacement the prior year.

In Dave’s driving mind, 1 mile to the exit at 35th Street should be reached in a minute.  When one is on an expressway, a mile takes a minute.  After that minute, Dave doesn’t feel any closer to the exit.  His body reminds him that he’s not driving today.  Dave looks around and sees ‘the bus.’  Race organizers have paid a pretty penny to have the city shut down Lake Shore Drive, and they are strictly enforcing the 15-minute mile race standard.  ‘The bus’ picks up stragglers and returns them to the starting line, without accolades and without the race medal.  Fortunately, the bus is a good half-mile away—Dave is a little ahead of schedule thus far.

He notices the next 1/10-mile marker.  Each marker should be passed every 6 seconds—10 markers per mile, one minute per mile.  That 5/10-mile marker remains annoyingly fixed in Dave’s sights.

Dave maintains a steady pace, staying a little ahead of the 15-minute-per-mile.  He is joined by many weekend warriors.  There are folks of all ages that seem to think they can run 10 miles but instead have to make frequent stops.  It’s the tortoise and the hare all over again. Some folks are actually wearing dress shoes or flip-flops.  Dave’s feet ache just thinking about going 10 miles in that footwear.

5 minutes have gone by and that 35th St exit sign looms just as far in the distance as it did 5 minutes ago.  Not really, but it feels like it.

After 15 minutes, the crowd reaches the exit ramp.  Another revelation.  Dave’s mind is in driving mode again.  One zips down an exit ramp only worrying about whether to turn left or right at the end.  But Dave is still walking.  He wonders if he will have to move into the left-turn lane to legally stay in the race. The exit ramp is interminable.  He’ll have plenty of time to figure out which lane to get into.

Dave finishes the race a couple of minutes before the 2 ½ hour time limit.  He goes into sprint mode for the final 200 yards, including that magical run on soldier field.  His sprinting self-image is dashed as he reviews the photo-for-purchase that shows a lumbering 60+ y/o fellow rather than an athletic 30 y/o.  Kevin finished 15 minutes earlier and the father and son team take a couple of pictures of themselves on the field.  They proudly wear their medals through the park and cab ride home.  They are feeling every mile, but they’ve made it.

D&K finish at soldier field 05262012

The Power of WE by Dave Schanding

A bit over seven years ago, my friend, Mike, asked me to join a history book club. He described how he had felt his brain thirsting for something challenging, and reading and discussing history books was his prescription.

I had hated history in school.  It consisted mainly of memorization of dates, which I did not excel at, nor did I find it particularly interesting.  I also hate sound-bites.  Life and its challenges are almost always more complex than a 30-second segment I hear on the news.  I thought that a history discussion could provide an opportunity to look at events in detail and to begin to understand them in context.  I readily joined.

Our discussion group is an eclectic bunch.  Mike works in human resources.  Bob and John are attorneys.  Another Dave is a handy man and Bill a teacher.  A second Mike works in commercial real estate.  Peter was in pharmaceutical sales.  I worked in mental health and drug abuse treatment.  It’s always been a men-only group.  The ground rules of the group are pretty simple.  We meet every other month to discuss a book.  We take turns picking the book and hosting the meeting.  The books can be about anything historical, with preference for actual history rather than historical novels.  We are to remain respectful of one another’s opinions.  We can agree or disagree, and we oftentimes do plenty of both.  Some clearly have deeper knowledge of history, and we appreciate their perspectives.  But no one seems reticent to speak.  Our membership spans the traditional conservative-moderate-liberal scope of opinions.

As of the summer of 2017, the group has discussed something over 40 books. It has been eye-opening for all of us.  Mike chose two sociological studies.  Why is the Dominican Republic thriving while Haiti is not, despite the fact that they share the same island?  We learned that, at some point, the ruler in Haiti wanted a massive palace made of wood.  Haiti’s forests were leveled.  Topsoil no longer had roots to hold it into place and much of the topsoil blew into the sea.  No top soil, no food.  No food, poor economy.  A similar event occurred in several South Pacific islands.

John tossed in a book about epidemics and governmental responses to disease outbreaks.  I felt pretty smart that meeting, as I’d worked at a health department.  I could describe the system we had in place to assure rapid distribution of prophylactic antibiotic medications. The group was comforted to know that someone was thinking and planning to handle large disease outbreaks.

Mike had us read a book about George Washington’s revolutionary war spy ring.  Six individuals in New England spied in plain sight against the British and helped turn that portion of the war.  Most of us had no clue of this phase of the American Revolutionary War.

I believe that most of us think of Prohibition as a puritanical movement against the evils of alcohol.  While there certainly was some of that, the reality at the turn of the century was that beer was served routinely in factories starting in the late morning—a recipe for disaster.  There were no safety standards for what we typically call ‘hard liquor,’ leaving many poisoned or dead after consumption of bad batches of brew.  Per capita consumption of alcohol was 2-3 times today’s rate.  Something had to be done—Prohibition makes much more sense in this context.

Bill, our resident historian, tossed in a book on the portion of history where Great Britain controlled India.  At one point, it used India as a wedge to battle against Russia.  Most of my school-based history only discussed foreign life as it related to U.S. history.  Looking at history from the perspectives of Britain, India and Russia was an eye-opener.  Dave, the handy man, selected General George Rommel, the German ‘desert fox’ who was initially very successful in northern Africa during World War II.  He also brought us Hannibal’s battles against imperial Rome.

Did you know that British tea was essentially stolen from China?  The Brits actually sent a botanist secretly to China to steal hundreds of seedlings.  Charles Lindbergh was an amazing pilot and inventor, but had many shortfalls as husband and father.  Ty had us read about the U.S.-led overthrow of the democratically elected government in Iran in the 1950’s.  In our sound-bite world, we wonder why Iran hates us wonderful democracy-focused Americans.  It has only been with the recent declassification of CIA documents that we learn why we’re not on their Christmas card list.

It has been interesting to learn that U.S. presidents assist one another in what one author called ‘the presidents’ club,’ and party affiliation is largely irrelevant. Sometimes this has meant that former presidents assist in diplomatic travels representing the country; sometimes it has meant calling for public support and financial donations related to humanitarian needs; and sometimes it has simply been a phone call or visit. Regardless of the expertise of staff in each White House administration, there’s nothing like talking through a difficult issue with someone that has faced it previously.

Two books I brought to the group discussed the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg and the building of the Panama Canal.  In both instances, I’d visited the locations shortly before the gatherings, and so I was able to add pictures and video to the discussion.  This helped get a more complete understanding of the stories behind the history.  Gettysburg lasted just three days, and primarily a foolish decision by Southern generals to charge through open fields against the North turned the tide.  The Panama Canal was started by the French, who unfortunately had more political than engineering knowledge.  A large sale of stock meant that a large number of French citizens had supported the unsuccessful effort to build the canal.  Fortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was more successful.

Our group membership seems to remain at between 8-12 members, although the make-up of the group changes over time.  And while we’ve covered a hodge-podge of stories, we can see that we’ve filled in many blanks on our historical journey.  I have found the history discussion a personally enriching experience.  History is no longer dry and dusty and filled with dates.  It has complexity and challenge—things I always guessed were present all of the time.  And while our membership comes with a wide range of knowledge and background, I believe that our collective wisdom has made us all smarter historians.

A long sentence about a ride down memory lane

My my wife, Kath, and I have our schedule, dutifully returning to downtown Chicago on Sunday afternoons, hoping we’ve left early enough to avoid the heavy traffic that invariably heads downtown and hoping against hope that we can catch the express lanes, but today after smooth sailing through the incessant freight train tracks of Des Plaines, we’re slowed at the River Road toll booth, giving us a chance for a five miles-per-hour ‘up close and personal’ encounter with our fellow travelers, but fortunately we have good air conditioning and a radio to help us pass the time of day as we hum along to some of my favorite songs, when, with little warning, both of us break into song with ‘Taking Care of Business’ by Bachmann Turner Overdrive (BTO), reminding me of my days in summer camp in southwest Ohio, probably the first crank-it-up-real-loud-and-roll-down-the-windows song that I remember,

“You get up every morning From your ‘larm clock’s warning

Take the 8:15 into the city

There’s a whistle up above And people pushin’, people shovin’

And the girls who try to look pretty”

and I feel younger again even as I feel like my grey hair is growing faster than my progress on the Kennedy Expressway, and Kath remembers all the words to the song, adding that she remembers hanging with friends in Evanston when BTO was big, and that our lives were nothing like the song where the band never adheres to a regimented work schedule like we have because they “can love to work at nothing all day” while both Kath and I have managed work and family, but our nostalgia is broken a bit when we hear that we can ‘save big money at Menards’ with their big spring garden sale, and out-of-the-blue I experience the exhilaration of my Camry hitting 25 mph as we near Foster Av and I wonder about hearing loss in the driver next to me whose base is making his car vibrate, but my thought of complaining about it is sidetracked as Simon and Garfunkel begin to sing, reminding me of my tumultuous late teen years, when their Bridge over Troubled Waters was popular, and we again join in, “When you’re weary, feeling small” and I recall that the mood of many of my friends whose emotions vacillated from day to day and sometimes minute to minute, and how we all felt we could save one another as we belted out “if you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind,” loving a song with some depth to it at a time when so many songs were about unrequited love and drug experimentation, and I don’t even care if the folks in the cars next to me think I have a screw loose as I belt out “like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind,” as now, at long last, we creep through the Edens-Kennedy merge at Montrose, but then, commercials seem to have taken over the airwaves until, on the eighth radio button, I run across the Clancy Brothers and I again join in song,

“A gypsy rover came over the hill,

Down through the valley so shady,

He whistled and he sang ’til the green woods rang ,

And he won the heart of a lady”,


and Kath asks how I know an Irish drinking song since I’m of German extract, knowing full well that she and the girl I’d dated before her, both ladies of my dreams (sequentially, not concurrently!) are Irish, and that I’d become acquainted with the Clancy Brothers through trips with each to the ‘Emerald Isle’ which was somewhere downtown, and that over the years I’d been well indoctrinated into being an honorary Chicago Irishman, and as the song concludes,  Tommy Makem encourages us to sing the chorus along with the band, and I oblige,

He whistled and he sang ’til the green woods rang
And he won the heart of a lady, “

while at last I find myself at the Ohio Street exit ramp and progress at moderate pace across Ohio toward our downtown home, continuing to punch buttons and settle on one of my favorite karaoke songs, one with some good advice from Kenny Rogers and The Gambler,

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,

know when to fold ‘em,

know when to walk away,

and know when to run.

You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done,

As our building’s garageman smiles seeing us belt out along with Kenny, grateful that what should have been a 40-minute trip downtown only took 90 minutes on this warm Sunday afternoon, and grateful that we’ve enjoyed a trip down memory lane as we traversed once again between the suburbs and our home downtown.


And in case you’re wondering:

Takin’ Care of Business” is a song written by Randy Bachman and first recorded by Canadian rock group Bachman–Turner Overdrive (BTO) for their 1973 album Bachman–Turner Overdrive II.

Bridge over Troubled Water is from an album of the same name, the fifth and final studio album by American duo Simon & Garfunkel, released in January 1970 on Columbia Records.

The Gypsy Rover, is a ballad composed and copyrighted by Dublin songwriter Leo Maguire in the 1950s.

The Gambler is from an album of the same name, the sixth studio album by Kenny Rogers, released by United Artists in 1978


As I heal from recent hip replacement surgery, it strikes me that I’ve inconvenienced many. I think you’re all happy I’m doing well, and I really was a docile patient. Yet, some apologies are in order.

First, to my family. Kath, Megan and Kevin, I’m sorry I put you through the challenges of my recent hip surgery. I thought that if I could take it in stride, it was probably no big deal. It seems the three of you were more keyed up about the surgery than I was. I suppose it’s emotionally taxing to go through how we pay our bills, where the life insurance policies are, and which mattress has all of the money hidden in it, just in case I didn’t wake up from the anesthetic.

And by the way, hip, you should be sorry for shedding all of that nice cartilage. Most of the rest of my body is doing just fine with cartilage keeping bones apart. And while I’ve met many persons with new titanium hips and knees, most of humanity seems to do fine with their original equipment.

I’m sorry to the hospital admissions office that got the surly Dave when I arrived for check-in at 6am. I’m guessing I was a brilliant conversationalist in the pre-op staging area as well, but truthfully I don’t remember what we talked about.

Nurse’s aide and housekeeper, I’m sorry the doctor didn’t put enough stitches in my hip and therefore I bled like a stuck pig all over the floor and bedding. I remember wondering whether I should be scared since I don’t usually bleed all over things. I guess the good news is that I still had enough blood left in me to stay alive. The medical resident sure put enough bandages on my hip to keep me from decorating any more floors and linens.

Dr Lyon, I’m sorry I couldn’t stay awake till 10:45 pm when you made rounds. I remember your saying that I wouldn’t have to wax that part of my leg for a while after you pulled 8 bandages and a half roll of surgical tape from my bleeder.

Kitchen staff- you were very nice letting me call down for my meal like I was in a restaurant, then I had the gall to fall asleep mid hamburger bite and didn’t finish my lunch and dinner. What I remember of it was delicious.

And home-health nurse, Renata, I’m sorry I gave you a little jolt when trying to get a smile on your face. There are three no-no’s with hip replacements: don’t bend over more than 90 degrees, don’t cross your legs, and don’t stand pigeon-toed. After being asked to repeat these precautions at least a dozen times, I couldn’t resist having a little fun. I’m sorry I created a look of shock on your face by telling you I practiced touching the floor 20 times per day and crossing my right leg 10 times.

And finally, I’m sorry, fellow CTA bus rider, for whacking you in the leg with my cane. I’m afraid I’m not used to carrying around such dangerous contraptions. I used to walk up and down Michigan Av and the halls of work and school without incident. Thanks to my hip, I now am given wide berth in many venues. But unlike Donald Trump, I’m not afraid to say ‘I’m sorry.’