Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reporting To A Landmark Every Day ...

Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune


It was never my intention to stay.

I landed a part-time job at the Chicago Tribune in the fall of ’92. In Sports.

Those who know me were understandably amused.

"Sports?" they'd ask, upon learning of my new gig. "Do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football. I'll figure out the rest as I go."

But I didn't plan to figure out much because I saw the Trib as a brief stop on the journey of my career, as much as I had any sense of where I was going. Six months, tops, and I'd be on my way.

I left five years later. Almost. I was a few months shy of the five-year mark. Or maybe a couple. By then, I had worked in Sports, in News, and in Features. I learned a lot. I met some fine people. But for myriad reasons, it was time to go.

So I was surprised by the blow of sadness that landed in my chest when I read that operations for the Trib would be moving out of the Tower. I was sad when the Sun-Times building was sold but I understood. It was a squatty, seven-story, oddly shaped building on one of the most prime sites in the city. I had worked there for a couple of summers and my grandfather had worked there many, many years before. But progress churns and so the news of the Sun-Times' sale passed through me with little more than a sad shrug.

But the Trib ... .

It's not that what I did there was important. It wasn't. I was a very small cog in a very large machine. But the paper had caché. People took our calls. Publicists all but fell over themselves to fulfill our requests. (Never was the power of the paper more evident to me than after I left. I went from hearing "We'll FedEx that to you tonight" to "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with your publication. Could you submit your request on letterhead?")

The newsroom was never much to behold, though the heart of it is two stories tall, unlike most of the newsrooms you've seen on TV. That bit was dramatic. But the industrial carpet was dingy and all but vacuumed out of existence by the Polish cleaning ladies who had a stubbornly bad sense of timing. More times than I can remember, the intrusive drone of a vacuum coincided with deadlines, a few Doppler-like passes, forward and back, before someone would shout and the noise would stop. You'd think they would have made the connection. The desks were huge and matte black, editors and designers sitting around the periphery – "the rim" – and the editor in charge of the team in the middle – "the slot." The hulking computers – the Edit V! – on which I began my tenure were replaced by the ubiquitous beige desktops of the day. The transition was not all together smooth. We became well acquainted with the Help Desk.

But the building, you see, the Gothic tower – with its marble floors and wood-and-reeded-glass doors behind which you wouldn't be surprised to find the Maltese Falcon and the wood-paneled offices for the paper's leaders and legends – is its own bit of history. It is host to stones from landmarks from around the world, embedded into the facade, except for the display in the Nathan Hale Lobby that held – holds? – a tiny rock from the moon.

Tourists would wander around the building and point. Some would push through the revolving doors and step inside.

Like the newsroom, the lobby of the Tower is two stories, too. As you can glimpse in the photo above, it is beautiful and stately. The quotes are erudite and timeless and grave. There is great power in language and there is great privilege in recording history. Standing in the lobby, the sense is clear that from the time of the paper's founding until the Tower came to be, the Tribune was both aware of its role and up to the task.

A lot has changed since I worked there. So many of the staffers I knew have been let go. But the Tower – the promise – remained.

It hurts my heart, the thought of Trib staffers walking into the Prudential building next year. The Tower will stand without its soul.

I sit with the sadness but the pull is strong to return, to say goodbye.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Virtual Birthday Disc 2017 ...

There was a time when I'd invite a group of folks out to lunch for my birthday. It's been a number of years since I've been able to pull that off but I never lost my love for creating birthday CDs / place cards for the table.

This was the year I thought I might re-up the lunch tradition. Alas, life had other plans. But I spent some time compiling some tunes a few weeks ago and wrote up the "liner notes." So, in this era of Spotify and playlists, I'm sharing the virtual version of the birthday CD. Listen along in your head!

1. Adventure of a Lifetime, Coldplay
“Everything you want’s a dream away … we are diamonds, taking shape.” Indeed. Also, c’mon, that lick ... .

2. Thunder Island, Jay Ferguson
There’s a general theme to the songs on this disc. This catchy tune, though, is either “No way! I haven’t heard this in forever!” or, I hope, “Wow, I kinda love this!”

3. I Just Wanna Stop, Gino Vannelli
Because have you ever heard this song and been sorry? I haven’t. Also, the older I get, the more I appreciate tunes from further back in my musical life.

4. Love Make the World Go Round, Jennifer Lopez & Lin-Manuel Miranda
Written and recorded as a response to the Pulse massacre, it’s only become more poignant. “And love is love is love is love is love is love ... .” I am awed by Miranda’s talent.

5. Wonderful, Gary Go
I know it sounds like music for a commercial or the final scene of a rom-com but I love it for just those reasons, as well as the lyrics.

6. You Give Me Something, James Morrison
For a bit of a shift in tempo and tone. Also, I love the story of the song, love the delivery, love James’s voice.

7. Something Just Like This, The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
Yup, Chris Martin makes a second appearance. I was hooked the moment I heard this and I haven’t tired of it. What is going on in the chorus?! Also, there’s a symmetry to the notes that pleases me.

8. Shake It, Metro Station
We live in Chicagoland, kids. We get stuck in traffic. We need to prevent blood clots. (Yes, I’m now that old.) Music to dance in our cars! Let others see! Prevent road rage!

9. Best Days, Graham Colton
Because guys with acoustic guitars are underrepresented in American music. But seriously, I like Graham’s tune. Perhaps he should tour with James Morrison.

10. Dreams, Beck
Have you heard this tune? Then you understand.

11. What Is Love, Haddaway
Yep! (You know you love it!)

12. Sweetheart, Franke & The Knockouts
For some reason, this is the lone 45 I still possess. Loved it then and it holds up.

13. Looking Out, Brandi Carlile
Brandi and her guitar will never not wow me. So glad she opened for Shawn Colvin years ago.

14. Love Is All That Matters, Human League
Simple message, more necessary than ever. See No. 4. Also, a long-ago concert memory.

15. Drift Away, Dobie Gray
Because couldn’t we all do with getting lost in some rock ‘n’ roll and drifting away?

16. Talkin’ Bout A Revolution, Tracy Chapman
Revolution indeed. We’re so past due.

17. Night Fever, Bee Gees
‘Cause why not? We need more joy, kids!

18. Got To Be Real, Cheryl Lynn
Again with the movie-soundtrack tune but enough with artifice. Realness. Please. I crave it.

19. She’s The One, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Recorded live. In ’75. And still one of his and the band’s finest performances. It builds subtly then the piano at 2:03 unleashes ebullience the likes of which is almost never heard. True genius.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Let's Talk About Sex ...

Steve King, Republican Congressman from Iowa and – more importantly for the purposes of this post – male, introduced legislation that would effectively ban abortions, as they would be illegal after six weeks, a point at which many women don't yet know they're pregnant.

A goodly portion of the commercials I see are for Viagra or Cialis and I don't watch sports. So if I'm seeing commercials for erectile-dysfunction pills during the programming I watch, I'm going to presume that the ad buys are much bigger, say, during NFL games.

These medications are covered by insurance. [ Update: Alison commented to mention that ED meds are not, in fact, covered by insurance. My Googling reveals that that is sometimes the case but not always. I've amended item No. 4, below, accordingly. The federal government does pay a hefty tab for ED meds for VA patients each year, though I'm A-OK with our vets getting all that we've promised and more. ]

I am also aware, anecdotally, that men really like to have sex. So it stands to reason that they would be willing consumers of anything that enables them to pursue that pastime.

I am also also aware that men really do not like to wear condoms – "It ruins the sensation!" – nor do they like to get vasectomies. Snip-snips are no-nos for the Y-chromosome set.

Ergo, we womenfolk are expected to be the responsible party.

What else is new?

Let's review the miracle of possessing wombs:

Somewhere around 12 years old, give or take a couple years, our bodies begin the process of menstruation. In some cultures, girls and women are shunned from their communities while they're menstruating but in this country, we don't have to live in a hut or subsist in the forest for one week every month.

We have the creature comforts of sanitary napkins or tampons. (Many women don't. Think about what that's like.) Never mind the delight of shoving cotton into our vaginas on a regular basis. My point about these products is this: we have to buy them from, for a round number, 40 years – from the time we're 12 until the time we're 52. Every month. They are not inexpensive. They are only now, in some places, becoming tax-exempt. And, again, we have to buy them for 40 YEARS.

Some restrooms have napkin / tampon dispensers. Many do not. (In her book, Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?, Alyssa Mastromonaco writes of getting such a dispenser installed in the women's restrooom in the West Wing.) Many women carry a few tampons in their purse at all times. Most of us, I'd wager, have shared our stash with a woman in need.

And then there are cramps. Some women have terrible cramps every month – sometimes incapacitatingly so – others experience them rarely.

And then there are hormonal shifts. We can't control those. That's nature's doing. And yet, if we're not sunshine and roses, we reliably hear, "What the matter with you? Are you on your period?" That last word is often spat out with contempt.

Pardon us for being responsible for continuing the human race.

So then: birth control.

Thanks to better living through chemistry, womenfolk need not get pregnant constantly! Huzzah!

Birth control, however, also costs money. For women who are fortunate to have insurance, it has traditionally not cost a lot of money. Under the Affordable Care Act, birth control was paid for by insurance.

The Trump administration recently gutted that provision.

The GOP, you may also be aware, was doing its damndest to repeal the ACA and strip tens of millions of people of their health insurance all together.

I saw many people spouting variations on "So what? Birth control only costs a few bucks a month!"

It depends on a) whether you have insurance and b) the type of birth control. Some forms are more expensive than others.

Regardless, for someone making minimum wage, those dollars really count.

Still, pregnancies happen.

But the GOP does not want us to have access to abortion, never mind that it's a Constitutionally protected right, never mind that most of the people trying to prevent us from accessing abortion are men, who see nothing wrong with dictating what women can and can't do inside their bodies.

On Twitter recently, I saw a tweet from a guy asking Jeff Sessions which part of his body he's OK with the government controlling. Thanks, Guy on Twitter! We appreciate allies.

So, let's say a woman gets pregnant unintentionally. For the purposes of this discussion, let's say it wasn't a rape or incest.

The guy, who is literally responsible for the pregnancy, as women do not produce both egg and sperm, can stick around or not. He can contribute financially or not. Depending on the circumstances, women may end up having to go to court to get child support, another expense for them.

But let's rewind a bit:

A woman finds out she's pregnant. (Perhaps because she bought a pregnancy test. More dollars spent.)

She has morning sickness. It's bad. She has to call off often from her hourly wage job.

She gets fired.

So now she's pregnant and out of a job.

Does she have insurance?

Maybe. But if the GOP gets its way, insurance providers won't be required to cover maternity care.

Or maybe not.

If not, how is she supposed to access medical care for her pregnancy? She'll need to see an OB/GYN. Eventually, she'll need to give birth. Even if she gives birth at home, she'll need someone there who can help her through the process.

Once the baby is here, the baby will need a doctor for routine check-ups, inoculations, etc.

There was a time when we had a healthcare program specifically to cover children: CHIP.

But the GOP has let CHIP expire. It hasn't been renewed. Will it be? Who knows. The GOP, even with its unified control of government, has yet to pass any meaningful legislation (other than more sanctions for Russia, which have not been implemented, and gee, I wonder why).

So what's our new mom to do? Has she been able to get a new job during her pregnancy? I hope so. I hope she still has that job. If she takes time off of work after the baby is born, she may or may not be paid for that time, an absurd reality in this country.

If she still has her job, whether or not she takes time off, she now needs to pay for child care. Child care is expensive, often more expensive than someone earns. So they don't work. But they need income. They need to provide for the child they now have, the child they were forced to have by the government.

But people who apply for welfare programs are derided as "lazy" and "takers."

So, to recap:

1. Men like to have sex – so much so that they will take medication to ensure the ability to have it – but they don't like to wear condoms or undergo vasectomies.

2. Men expect to have sex.

3. Women also like to have sex but may get pregnant as a result.

4. Insurance [ sometimes ] pays for ED meds.

5. Insurance is no longer required to pay for birth control.

6. If a woman gets pregnant, the government is trying to mandate that she carry the pregnancy to term. Also:

— The man can stick around or not.

— The woman may or may not have health care to help her through her pregnancy and delivery. In the richest country on the planet, health care is not guaranteed to all citizens. It's a privilege, not a right.

— The woman may or may not be able to continue working. If so, she will be shamed for needing welfare assistance.

— The woman should not expect any government assistance with:
- Caring for her child medically
- Caring for her child so she can work
- Housing her child
- Feeding her child
- Clothing her child
- Educating her child (even public education costs some money)

And all of this is being dictated, by and large, by men, who will never face any of these issues head on. After a few minutes of pleasure, they can absent themselves from all of it.

Yes, we're angry about this. Even when we're not on our periods.